High Maintenance: 19th Century Millstones

grist mill stones Many decades ago, skilled artisans hand-carved millstones into patterns resembling radiating spokes of alternating higher and lower depths. Because of the resemblance to plowed farmland, the grooves were called “furrows” and the higher surface, or ridges, were called “the land.” Millstones wear as they grind grains, and their grinding surfaces have to be “dressed” periodically, a very difficult art because the wear on a pair of stones is greater near the circumference than at the center. The depth of the furrows is important because it is the device by which the ground meal is expelled around the outer edges between the two facing stones. When necessary, the furrows were deepened with a tool called the pick. Determining which of the lands needed to be smoothed down a level was called “proving” the stones. The process of dressing, or adjusting the level of the lands was called crackling or stitching and if not done, the stones wouldn’t cut the rough, fibrous outer skin cleanly away from wheat. It was also important that the stones did not run dry—that is, turn without the lubrication of grain between them—otherwise the stone faces could be damaged. It took an experienced man two days to dress a pair of stones. Dressing tools were sledge hammers, wedges for supporting the upturned top runner stone, mill picks, sharpening files, and chisels.


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