Definitions

burr millstone

Millstone

[mil-stohn]

Millstones or mill stones are used in windmills and watermills, including tide mills, for grinding wheat or other grains.

The type of stone most suitable for making millstones is a siliceous rock called buhrstone (or burrstone), an open-textured, porous but tough, fine-grained sandstone, or a silicified, fossiliferous limestone. In some sandstones, the cement is calcareous.

Millstones used in Britain were commonly of two types:

  • Derbyshire Peak stones of grey millstone grit, cut from one piece, used for grinding barley; imitation Derbyshire Peak stones are used as decorative signposts at the boundaries of the Peak District National Park. Derbyshire Peak stones wear quickly and are typically used to grind animal feed since they leave stone powder in the flour, making it undesirable for human consumption.
  • French burr stones, used for finer grinding. Not cut from one piece, but built up from sections of quartz, cemented together with plaster, and bound with iron bands. French Burr comes from the Marne Valley in northern France.

Patterning

The surface of a millstone is divided by deep grooves called furrows into separate flat areas called lands. Spreading away from the furrows are smaller grooves called feathering or cracking. The Marshalls and lands are arranged in repeating patterns called harps. A typical millstone will have six, eight or ten harps. The grooves provide a cutting edge and help to channel the ground flour out from the stones. When in regular use stones need to be dressed periodically, that is, re-cut to keep the cutting surfaces sharp.

Millstones come in pairs. The base or bedstone is stationary. Above the bedstone is the turning runner stone which actually does the grinding. The runner stone is supported by a cross-shaped metal mill rynd fixed to a "mace head" topping the main shaft or spindle leading to the driving mechanism of the mill (either water or wind powered). The pattern of harps is repeated on the face of each stone, when they are laid face to face the patterns mesh in a kind of "scissoring" motion creating the cutting or grinding function of the stones.

Millstones need to be evenly balanced, and achieving the correct separation of the stones is crucial to producing good quality flour. The experienced miller will be able to adjust their separation very accurately and precisely.

Idiom

A Millstone around one's neck is also a phrase used constituting a metaphor meaning a burden or large inconvenience one has to endure.

Ancient history

Neolithic man used millstone functionality to process grains, nuts and other vegetable food products for consumption. These implements are often called grinding stones. They used either saddlestones and rotary querns turned by hand. Such devices were also used to grind pigments and metal ores prior to smelting.

See also

References

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