Why so complicated

Chuck Ellis

Tellico Plains, Tennessee
I turn a lot of pepper mills and periodically I like to see how others do theirs and just finished watching 2 or 3 Youtube videos showing others techniques.... they seem to make the process complicated. Not bragging and don't want to sound condescending or smug, but doing a crush grind pepper mill is relatively simple. It generally takes me about 30 minutes or 40 or less to have a mill body finished, sanded and ready to put my finish on. That's from the square blank to a ready to finish mill body.... inserting the grinder mechanism takes about another 10 to 15 minutes, since I still epoxy the grinders in, have to let the epoxy set, then cut and shape the shaft to the size of my mill.

The little crank mills takes about the same amount of time or maybe a few minutes more since you have to make sure you don't drill through the top where the crank has to fit.
Inserting the grinders takes a few minutes because if you get the mill body slightly short, you have to reduce the shaft, or if it's slightly long you'll need to redrill the bottom slightly, the the bottom plate has to be screwed in with tiny little screws that are hard to see and handled because of their size.... I predrill the holes to facilitate getting the screws in.

I often due them in steps, for production efficiency, but to do one...
I start with a 3 x 3 blank at what ever length I think the mill will be... most of mine are between 8 and 11 inches....
1. turn the blank round (I turn them at 1500 to 1900 rpm.
2. measure for the top piece
3. cut tenons on the end that will be the top, then mount in my chuck.
4. mark off where the top ends, cut a tenon there that will fit inside the lower body and another that will at the top of the main body
5. part off the main body from the top
6. with the top still mounted in the chuck, drill the hold for the mill drive piece, then cut a notch inside the hold that will take the tabs on the drive piece.
7. set the top aside while I do the body.
8. mount the body in my chuck using the tenon, drill the bottom hole at 1 3/4" as per instructions, the switch to the next size drill bit and drill through the body.
I don't use the 3rd drill bit the instructions call for, just the 1 3/4" and the 1 9/16". (The tenon on the bottom of the top that fits inside the body is at 1 9/16".
while still in the chuck, cut the groove inside the body to take the tabs on the grinder mechanism.
9. switch my chuck to the jam chuck I've turned to take the bodies... I turn with the top of the mill to the headstock so that jam chuck is tapped to 1 x 8 tpi and threads onto the spindle... it has a 1 1/2 inch tenon that fits inside the mill body... the other end has another jam chuck that fits in the 1 3/4" hold and is held with the tail stock with an
appropriate cone live center.
10 I shape the body to what ever design I'm using... usually a relatively simple design... with a few beads or coves for decoration...
11. sand and apply my abrasive grit.... set aside while I finish the top.
12. mount the top with an inside compression grip using a pin jaws that fits inside the 1 1/16" hole in the top.
13. brind up the tail stock until I get the top turned near round, then back off to clean the top.... sand and apply abrasive grit.
14. Apply my sanding sealer inside and out, set on my rack to dry
15. apply multiple coats of wipe on poly, sanding between each coat.... make take a couple of days as I like to dry overnight... less time in summer when it's warmer in the shop.
16. because of the taps locking in the grooves, I can't dry fit, but have done enough to know my groove is in the right place, apply epoxy on the shoulder of the second hole
then push the grinder into the body.
17. do the same with the top.
18 after the epoxy sets, insert the shaft into the top and determine how much of the shaft needs to be cut.... I measure from the top of the body to where the curve of the ball top will sit on the body, mark with a marker and then cut the shaft with a pair of pliers..... I then take it to the belt sander and smooth the cut.
19. put it together and take my photographs and ready to put on ETSY.

The little crank operated mills are done much the same, I drill the bottom, then drill the pepper chamber nearly to the top, reverse the blank and drill the little hole for the crank... I have another jam chuck that screws onto my spindle that fits in the bottom and I use a 60 deg live center in the top... this mills is turned with the bottom to the head stock. I don't use epoxy on these as the bottom is held with screws.

I didn't realize there were so many steps... I do them all so automatically that I had never counted the steps.... but seems like the videos they spend a lot of time measuring, matching, etc etc.... there's one fellow who has 7 videos in doing a crush grind mill.

And I may be off in my time estimate as I usually do them in batches of 3 to 6 at a time.... my drying rack will hold 6 mills.
A good deal of my time is taken with the drilling.... if the wood is hard (or my drill bit dull) it can take a bit of time to do the frilliing.

Dan Noren

Staff member
falcon heights, minnesota
i know the feeling chuck. the instructions they give are way overthought. with the salt mills i do, i turn down to round, do the finish turning on the body, then sand and finish while on the lathe. once done with that, drill the top and bottom holes, then drill the center hole, half from the top, half from the bottom, meeting in the middle. add the hardware, and on to the next one. the same with the pepper mills, except i drill the top hole for the mechanism to fit in, then bore out 3/4 of the hole for the pepper to fall through, then part off, and finish the drilling on the drill press. add the hardware, and on to the next one. with a production run, i will turn all of the bodies first, finish on the lathe, then do the drilling, then add the hardware.

Dave Hoskins

Parker County, Texas
I have watched some of those tutorials and wondered a lot the same thing. I think some of those who do those are too set in their methods to be flexible and learn easier ways to accomplish the same thing.