Big Peppermills

The secrets to some of the biggest peppermills around


Step by step procedure

This woodturning project makes a unique gift or even a sale item for some restaurants, cafe's and other businesses. Many woodturners have made peppermills but they're usually under 12" while some are up to even 18" to 24" long.  Those are good sellers and great gifts.  But when you need something just a bit different, try scaling your next peppermill up a bit.  There are unique problems along with tricks and tips when going so big though.  I'll address some of these in this article.  This woodturned peppermill isn't the biggest in the world.  I have a couple of friends that have made 6' and 8' long ones!  But it's big enough to be visually striking and unique while still being able to fit into most places.  This article is what we'll call an "on-going series" article.  As the project progresses, I'll post updates so everybody can follow along.  Keep checking back periodically to see what's new.  On with the background....

So, one day I get a phone call.  It's a friend of a good client of mine with a request.  She wants something unique for her new restaurants in the  Memphis, TN area.  Her friend (the former client of mine), knowing of my "uniqueness" in woodturning suggested that she contact me.  Well, we got to talking ... and talking .... and talking about what she was looking for and I came to find out that she also would like to incorporate something into her restaurants from her Grandfather who, nicely enough, taught her how to cook.  She had saved some old lumber and beams from his family farm dating back into the 1800's.  Great luck!  I took a look at the beams and found that they would work wonderfully.  So, we decided on a large peppermill with several more smaller peppermills that will actually get used on a daily basis.  The big one is destined for display although it'll be fully functional and ready to be used when those really big parties need it!  And now I'm chronicling the process.  Go to Part 2

Part I - Prep and a Hole


IMG_1793.JPG (91932 bytes) This is how it started.  A few big beams from an old barn.  These had obviously been hand hewn.  I'm told that they were made at least 95 years ago.  They were about 6" x 6" x 15'.  Quite heavy and dry too.  I had to cut off the ends a few inches to find some really good solid wood to start from but after that, everything was fine.  I cut 5' (feet) off and took it into the shop.
IMG_1799.JPG (103392 bytes) First, I chose a fairly straight side and ran it through the jointer until it was flat.  Then flip it 90 degrees with the flat side against the fence.  Run it through until that new side is flat and at a right angle to the first flat side.
IMG_1801.JPG (91782 bytes) Being so big, I then took it to the bandsaw and cut the beam down to just a little over 3.5" wide. At this point, I then took it to the planer and planed down those cut sides down to exactly 3.5" wide.  Remember, 2 of those sides were jointed flat.  I didn't plane those, you know.  I guess I could have.  But why?  Why not?  I don't know.  Why are you asking?  Ummm ... never mind.
IMG_1764.JPG (92886 bytes) There's lots of different ways to make a hole down the middle of a normal peppermill blank.  But, then again, this isn't a normal peppermill blank.  It's 5 feet long !   Sure, you could use an extension (or a few dozen) for that Forstner bit but drilling through 5 feet (!) isn't easy (yep, I've tried ... don't ask why) and bit wander is a major problem.  You'll be lucky to get an exit hole anywhere near the end of the blank most of the time.  "Hey, don't keep us in suspense, Andy!"

OK, here's a fairly quick and easy way to do it.  The problem is that it makes a line right down the middle of the blank.  You can hide this line or use it as an accent but if you're really careful, it's quite unnoticable.  Let's see the process...

IMG_1765.JPG (95658 bytes) First, I chopped off about 5 inches off of one end. This will become the top of the completed mill.  We don't want to put a large hole through the center of it.  We'll put a smaller hole in it with a regular bit later when we start turning it.

Cut the 3.5" x 3.5" x 5' block of wood down the middle of one side.  Do this carefully and as straight as you can.  This will waste as little wood as possible.

IMG_1766.JPG (86882 bytes) The mandatory close-up shot.  Wow, neat, eh?  Hey, here's something ... Notice the round blade guide on the side?  Do you know what that is made from? It's Osage Orange.  It's very hard but doesn't wreck the blade if they touch. Much better than the steel ones that came with the bandsaw.  And I can make more as needed ... although I haven't had to for years.  Now back to the regularly scheduled article ... 
IMG_1768.JPG (85626 bytes) The Red Oak block cut apart down the middle now.
IMG_1769.JPG (99917 bytes) Very lightly plane the just cut sides.  You don't want to take too much off in order to keep the grain match as close as possible.
IMG_1774.JPG (88224 bytes) This isn't good enough. Those rough spots will cause problems later on.  It just won't glue up well enough to really hide the seams.  Plane it just a weeeeeee bit more.
IMG_1776.JPG (91387 bytes) All ready to go on to the next step.  "Hey, Andy!  Aren't those cracks I see in the wood?"  Why, yes, they are.  How observant of you.  I saw those too.  Amazing, isn't it, that after 90+ years Red Oak STILL cracks.  I hate Red Oak.... with a passion.  Not only for the cracking but it would be enough I think.  Absolutely no cracking was visible or suspected from the outside 3.5" square block.  But you cut into it and there it is.  Amazing.  Well, it's not a deal breaker.  Those cracks aren't a big problem unless they get much bigger.  We'll see what becomes of them later on in the process and deal with it, if need be, at that point.
IMG_1780.JPG (80480 bytes)     This is a round router bit about 1" wide.  It'll make a round (actually half-round) groove in the wood. You don't necessarily need it round.  It could just as well be a square groove or whatever you want.  Don't make it the total hole diameter (1/2" deep for each side piece) more than 1".  You'll see why later.  It has to do with the diameter of the peppermill mechanism that will fit into the bottom of this wood blank.  If you get that hole over 1", it'll be a sloppy fit later.
IMG_1781.JPG (92181 bytes) Mark a centerline on both halves and put those cut sides face down on the router table.  What you'll do is route down the center of it.
IMG_1782.JPG (88456 bytes) Raise the bit up so that only half of it will go into the wood.  You'll route a half-round down the center.
IMG_1783.JPG (93211 bytes) This is what you'll get.  Yeah, I know the color of the wood is messed up.  I spritzed part of it with water so that it'd show up better.  Of course, it didn't.  Live and learn, eh?
IMG_1784.JPG (84303 bytes) Another mandatory close-up. Nothing earth-shattering here.  No incredibly insightful commentary on this picture.  Just a round groove down the middle of some Red Oak.  Kinda looks like a sideways "C" though, right?  That's not interesting.  Oh well, it can't all be Shakespear or Twain. Ever notice that the really big literary people are all recognized by just their last names?  What, like there's no big, important Bubba Shakespear or Mary Twain writer out there?   Sorry, it must be the Red Oak dust ...
IMG_1788.JPG (96399 bytes) Well, maybe it's that nasty Red Oak dust but that's not a very round hole!  This hole will certainly work.  No problem.  You just need enough of a hole to fit the Peppermill mechanism shaft and some peppercorns in there for it to work just fine (and with 5 feet, there's going to be no small amount of room in there for enough peppercorns!).  What happened, is that the router bit wasn't raised high enough.  Just a smidgen off.  Let's raise that up a bit and run them through again.
IMG_1792.JPG (96095 bytes) Ahhh, much better.  A round hole that actually looks round!  Just imagine the possibilities.  Like I said above, it doesn't really matter.  It just looks better here.  Later on, you'll see that we're going to re-make this hole on the lathe.  Not the entire length of it, mind you.  Just about an inch or two on both ends