Friday, September 27, 2013

Victorio Back to Basics Grain Mill – Review

I like to make and eat whole wheat bread, but whole wheat flour does not store well.  I have been buying whole wheat flour, a bag at a time, and using it to make my whole wheat bread; and then I have been keeping white flour in my food storage.  The problem is that I don’t ever use the white flour, and it doesn’t keep for very long either (about a year).  The other day I had about 30 pounds of white flour come up for removal, meaning that I had to dump it in my compost bed.  This did not make me happy.  It is just too wasteful.

So, I decided that I would go the route of storing hard red wheat and grinding my own whole wheat flour using a hand operated grain mill.  Hard red wheat can be purchased in nitrogen packed barrels that hold about 45 pounds of wheat and have a storage life of around 30 years if left unopened. 

I am not one to jump into anything without doing a little research and experimentation, so I decided to buy a bag of hard red wheat at the local health food store (25 pounds for $12.10) and a medium grade grain mill to test the process out.  I went on-line and looked at several grain mills and read the reviews.  I didn’t want to buy a piece of junk, but I also wasn’t ready to invest a bunch of money in a mill only to find that I wouldn’t use it.  I decided that the Victorio Back to Basics Grain Mill looked like a good middle of the road mill that I could use to test out the process without a huge investment.  The Back to Basics mill retails for anywhere from $65 to $80 dollars.  Always one to look for a good deal, I went on E-bay to see if I could find one there.  There was one, new in the box, up for bid, and I ended up getting it for $28.00 plus shipping.

When the mill arrived I removed it from the box, washed it off and assembled it.  Assembly was pretty straight forward and simple.
Insert the rod with the grinding burs through the hole in the body of the mill.

Slide the neoprene washer over the rod.

Slip the cranking handle onto the end of the rod.

Insert and snug down the screw that holds the crank on.

Attach the mill to the edge of the counter.

And, finally, place the hopper on top of the mill.

The first thing that I noticed is that the burs of the mill sit fairly low, so you will have to use a shallow bowl to catch the flour.  After I had a bowl in place I decided to test the capacity of the hopper.  It holds about two cups of head red wheat.  I wanted to measure the amount of flour produced and the time it takes to grind the flour, so I decided to put only one cup of wheat into the hopper for my experiment.

I loaded the hopper with one cup of wheat and started grinding.  The crank was fairly easy to turn, and the flour started spilling out into the bowl.  I set a fairly slow but steady pace with the crank, turning it one revolution every two seconds.  I felt that this was a pace that I could keep up for an extended period of time.  At this pace it took me almost exactly seven minutes to grind one cup of wheat.  That one cup of wheat produced just a little over one-and-a-half cups of flour.  Since my bread recipe calls for four cups of flour per loaf, I figure that it will take about twenty minutes of grinding per loaf.

I noticed that the flour is a little more coarse than what comes from the store, so I ran a cup through the mill a second time.  It didn’t seem to make much difference. I went ahead and ground up enough flour to bake a loaf of bread and cooked it using my usual recipe.  It turned out very well. Click here for a link to my bread recipe.

My over all impression of the Back to Basics Mill is that it is a good middle of the road grain mill.  It is well made and operates easily.  It is the perfect mill for hobbyists who like to bake the occasional loaf of bread, make home-made tortillas, etc.  I do not think that it has the capacity, speed, or durability that you would look for in a mill that you plan to use on a regular basis for year after year.

I enjoyed grinding my own flour to bake with, so I will pursue the idea of storing hard red wheat.  In the mean time I will be looking for a more suitable grain mill.  I have read good things about the Country Living Grain Mill and that may be my next purchase; but at $429.00 I may have to save my pennies for a while.  I particularly like the idea that the Country Living Mill can be attached to a bicycle so that you can grind by pedaling.  I’ll let you know more about it when I get one.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Build a Moving Target for Your Shooting Range

I live in the country in East Texas, and like most of the country folks around here I enjoy shooting.  City people don’t get the fact that shooting is an enjoyable pass-time for us country cousins.  If you live in the city you probably play golf or tennis or something like that for recreation.  In the country we shoot. 

So since most people around here shoot, most have a designated place where they can do it safely.  Some people have a creek bank or hill that they shoot into, and some have actual shooting ranges.  I have shot on some really fancy ones but mine is just a small shooting range on my farm.  It’s a fifty yard range with target boards for about eight targets.  It’s functional, but nothing fancy.  I recently had to rebuild the target boards, so I decided that I wanted to add a new element to the range; a moving target.  Now you can get as fancy as you want on something like this, but the one I built is pretty simple, and I’m going to share my plans with you.  My moving target is hand operated, so it takes one person to move the target while another person shoots.  I don’t think I spent over twenty dollars to build it.

Here is an overview of how my moving target works.  Basically it’s just a target board that moves on pulleys along a steel cable that is suspended above my stationary target boards.  The moving target is attached to a continuous loop of string that makes it possible to move the target board from one side of the range to the other and back again.  You can move it fast or move it slow.  You can stop it suddenly, then back it up a ways, then move it forward again.  In other words, its motion can be as erratic and unpredictable as you want to make it.  It is way fun to shoot at.

So here’s the step-by-step of how build it:

First you need some uprights to hold the steel cable.  If I had planned this ahead of time I could have just left the end posts on my stationary target board tall enough to hang the moving target.  I didn’t plan ahead so I had to add some uprights to the existing posts.  I used some old steel tubing that already had brackets welded to the bottom, but you could use anything that is rigid and will stand up straight.  I took the two pieces of steel tubing and bent one side of the bottom brackets at a 90 degree angle so that I could use lag screws to attach the up-rights to the wooden post that already had in place.  I also drilled a hole through the tubing, about an inch down from the top, so that I could attach an eye-bolt to each one.  I then screwed the two up-rights to the tops of the existing posts on my stationary target board.  The up-rights are sixteen feet apart.

Next I attached a 3/16th inch steel cable through one of the eye-bolts using some cable clamps.

Before attaching the other end of the cable, I slipped a couple of small pulleys onto the cable. 

I then pulled the cable as taunt as I could by hand, and attached it to the other eye-bolt with a cable clamp.  I left plenty of thread on the eye-bolts so that I could tighten the nuts down with a socket wrench and get the cable really taunt.

With the cable now in place, I went back to the pulleys and clipped a snap connector to each of them.

I cut my moving target board out of some old one-by-twelve inch shelving and put a couple of eye-screws in the top.

Now I can hang the target board onto the pulleys.

Now I attached an eye screw to each side of the target board so that I could tie my string to each side: and two eye-screws to the back of the target board to act as string guides for the moving string.

I attached an eye-screw to each up-right to act as string guides.

Finally, I set a 4”x 4” treated post into the ground up at the firing line so that it is about even with the right end of the stationary target board.  I put an eye-screw into this post to act as a string guide.  The post was about five feet tall and I put about two feet of that into the ground so that the post would be good and solid.

Now I had to attach the nylon string that makes the whole thing work.  This looks kind of complicated from the instructions, but it’s not really.  I’ve added a drawing at the end of the directions to give you a better idea of how the string is rigged.  I started out with the target board moved all of the way to the left end of the steel cable as you are facing the target board, so these directions are written using that scenario.

First, run the end of the string through the eye-screw on the left side of the target board then drop the roll of string on the ground so that it will un-spool as you pull the string through the various eye-screws.  You won’t actually tie the ends of the string to the target board until you have finished running it through all of the eye-screws.

Now run the string through the eye-screw of the left up-right.

Next start the string toward the other up-right, running the string through the two eye-screws on the back of the target board.

Now run the string through the eye-screw on the right up-right.

Pull the end of the string all the way up to the firing line and run it through the eye-screw on the 4” x 4” post.

Now pull the string back down to the right up-right and go back through the same eye-screw.

Finally, pull the string over to the moving target board and tie it securely to the eye-screw on the right side of the moving target board.

You can now pull the string tight on left side of the moving target board, cut the string off, and tie it securely to the eye-screw that you started this whole trip on.

Here’s that drawing I promised you.  This is how the string would look if you were up above, looking down at the target range.

You are now finished.  You have a long continuous loop of string with the moving target board tied into it.  You can go back up to the firing line and test it out by pulling first on one string and then on the other.  If you did it all correctly the target should move from side to side on the cable.