Weekend Projects – Hollow Pepper Mill

Monday 9 July 2018

If you are like me, you love a bit of freshly ground pepper on your evening meal. And if you are really like me you dislike refilling the mill with fresh pepper. You will be picking up peppercorns on the kitchen floor for days. Typical mills have always been bored out with a 25mm hole. If you think about it that is not much storage space. With a very simple hollowing technique we can give any mill lots more storage. While we are at it let's make an object that will facilitate ease of use, have something beautiful to display in the kitchen and hopefully last generations. There is no particular cut out of the log that I choose for mills, the only criteria being that it is at least 100mm in diameter and beautifully figured.

Before you start you need to choose the mechanism that will go into the mill. Mechanisms can be found at most woodworking and woodturning outlets. Most of them are of good quality and basically work the same. I would suggest you ask a technician at one of these stores to explain the differences in quality and price and go with those recommendations. I feel comfortable recommending any modern mechanism a reputable store would be selling.


Rough turn the wood for the mill into a cylinder to dry and round the corners to facilitate the drying process. This is an important step that many people choose to miss. If you dry square stock it is more likely to split than cylinders. If you use dry stock that is square and cut it into a cylinder to make a mill, all in the same day then the dry stock will usually go oval in the first day or two making your parts not fit like you would like. After you round the wood it is a good idea to coat it entirely with green wood sealer. I have had a lot more success – less cracks – by coating the whole blank instead of just the end grains. This may be different for you – I live in a very low humidity area that tends to remove water too quickly from wood I am using


Next, after sufficient drying time the blank is ready to become a mill. Put a 180 x 100mm cylinder between centres to true it up with a 32mm spindle roughing gouge. Then put a 50mm tenon on both sides of the cylinder with a 12mm beading chisel


Define the base of the mill and mark a line to part the top from the base 125mm along, leaving 50mm for the top


The next step is to part the cylinder partially through with a thin parting tool and then a handsaw to separate the two parts of the mill. Place the base of the mill into the chuck and true it up


Narrow the top of the base to 65mm with a beading chisel. Design the exterior of the base making sure the neck will get no thinner than 45mm. The neck of the mill should have a lip to facilitate the grip. Mark a 45mm groove on the top that will be a tenon held by shark jaws


Use a 10mm spindle gouge to cut a recess 5mm deep


Depth drill through the entire piece with a 16mm drill bit


Use a 12mm hollower to rough hollow the interior shape


Next, you need to hollow three-quarters of the way down to a 15mm wall thickness following the exterior form closely. At this point let the project sit for a day to move a bit. Even though the wood is dry the cylinder will go slightly oval in the next 24 hours. If you neglect to let the project rest then the parts will probably not fit as well as you would like. Come back to the project. True up the piece and hollow the walls to 10mm. Now sand the top and interior neck of the base to 400 grit. Turn the piece around and secure it in your shark jaw chuck


Remove the tenon with a 10mm spindle gouge. Next, you need to mark another 45mm groove


Cut a recess with your 10mm spindle gouge that is 10mm deep and 45mm wide to make a clearing for the finished mechanism


Measure the grinder part that fits in the bottom of the mill and cut a hole with the 10mm spindle gouge


Now you need to continue with the hollower and connect the interior with the earlier hollowing


Be careful to leave about 7mm at the base to screw the mechanism down


Sand the entire piece to 400 grit. Mount the top into the chuck and shrink the entire diameter to 70mm. Cut a tenon 7mm deep so it fits loosely into the base – this should be approximately 45mm. 45mm is also the same diameter that will fit into my chuck without marring the surface. Measure the diameter of the mechanism's washer that secures the shaft


Next, cut a recess 2mm deep so it fits loosely


Drill an 8mm hole three-quarters of the way through the top


Cut a beaded shape on the underside of the top


Reverse the piece and secure it in the chuck, then finish the shape. Pull it out of the chuck a few times and fit it to the base until you come up with a shape you like. Note that all chucks vary in size. By cutting a diameter a fraction larger than the chuck completely closed it should not mar the surface, leaving your finished surface clean. Use a spindle gouge to finish the rest of the top leaving a 15mm flat on the upper surface where the knob will sit. I drill an 8mm hole to meet up with the previous drill hole. Next, sand the piece to 400 grit. To assemble the mechanism measure the excess length of the shaft


Cut to length the square section drive shaft – not the threaded end – which is required for the mill mechanism to work and peen/burr over the cut end with a hammer


To give the mill a special touch we will add an African blackwood (Dalbergia melanoxylon) knob to replace the factory chrome knob. Use a bolt that has the same thread. Cut it so it fits into your chuck


Use a parting chisel to turn the knob into a dowel to 8mm


Chuck up a 15mm diameter x 20mm long piece of African blackwood and drill an 8mm hole the length of the metal – dowel – knob


The next step is to glue the knob into the blackwood


Screw the knob onto the thread that fits into the chuck


Use a beading chisel to make a shape that fits with the mill


Finish the mill with three coats of fast drying oil based polyurethane. Brush on each coat and carefully wipe it with paper towels to remove the thick coating the brush leaves behind. This gives a good durable finish without the plastic look polyurethane can produce. It is now ready for assembly. I believe this mill has five times the volume it would have if you had bored a straight shaft through the centre of it, giving you much more time between refills