Then the fanning mill came along! Fanning mills were a great technical advance over winnowing, the hand-process of pouring grain from one container to another in a breeze to blow away the lighter matter. It’s a peculiar-looking device made of wood, with a metal crank and wooden hand grip, and with sliding drawers, rounded board edges, shaped carrying handles, and sometimes lathe-turned knobs atop the frame posts, appearing almost like a piece of furniture.
Many times, fanning mills were attractively painted in bright colors which, when restored to their natural beauty, are quite attractive.
Fanning mills removed straw, chaff, stones, dirt and dust, weed seeds, and light immature seeds from wheat, oats, rye, barley, and other grains. It was important to remove contaminants for better preservation during storage, to have mold and grit free flour, and for securing viable seed free of weed seeds that would compete with a growing cereal crop.
In many ways, a fanning mill resembles a miniature threshing machine. Both machines have shaking sieves over which the threshed grain kernels mixed with bits of straw, chaff, stones and soil particles rattle. The smaller pieces fall through holes to a lower sieve where smaller particles are separated. Both machines have fans that move air across and upward through the sieves to float off the light straw, chaff and dust. Only the threshing machine has a mechanism for knocking the grain kernels free of their attachment to the grain stalk.
A fanning mill did a much more efficient job than winnowing, and it cleaned grain more thoroughly than a threshing machine. Mills were kept around farms for a long time to reclean oats and wheat in the spring for planting.
Source material credits: Richard Palmer, former editor & historian of New York Canal Times
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