I’ve been hunting for a new coffee grinder (also known as a coffee mill) for at least a year. Sure, I could have found one on eBay or bought one new, but it’s also about the hunt and the joy of managing to locate something that was hitherto unavailable. I do this occasionally to challenge myself. It’s quite fun.
So today I actually found the coffee grinder in a shop in Royal Arcade. It was $15 but the lovely lady gave it to me for $10 because that was all I had in my pocket. Bargain! Hunter Gatherer is pretty cool!
It had coffee in it so I could tell it ground okay. Of course, this meant I’d need to clean it (really I knew I’d need to do that anyway).
So here it is. In its natural form. It’s a reproduction of an old-school grinder, with a little drawer at the bottom to catch the grounds. Quite nice really!
So, the cleaning process was pretty difficult. I began with the logical approach of holding it upside down and banging it with the palm of my hand. Quite a bit fell out at that point. Then some work with an old toothbrush and a pastry brush moved a bit more crud.
But this was never going to do the job properly. I really had to dismantle it.
So I began by unscrewing these screws:
Of course, once I did that, I heard two distinct “clunks” from inside the box: the nuts that held the screws in place had fallen off.
Now here were the real issues with the grinder: first, how to reattach these screws, and second, how to remove the grinder from the assembly.
Hard to see in the above image, but the shaft is too long to allow the grinding assembly to come out.
The gentle art of persuasion
Clearly this grinder had not been designed with maintenance in mind and was potentially the reason the previous owner gave it away. Grinders like this retail for anything between $10 and $30 on eBay and this is basically why: they’re impossible to clean without dismantling the hard way.
So with a flat-head screwdriver and a bit of gentle persuasion with a hammer, I removed the base, and the whole thing came to bits. The base was slightly warped which helped somewhat, giving gaps to insert the tool. Not exactly the right tool for the job, as expressed by Montgomery Scott among others, but it was on-hand.
Here’s the disassembled grinder.
The dish on the top left is full of the plating off the sides. I thought these might reveal some screws, but alas, they were just a bit of cheap plated brass held on with thumbtacks.
So from here I could have at it and clean the whole assembly. This involved a lot of hot water, a big scrubbing brush and some effort. I dusted out the inside of the drawer (centre, top; it’s upside-down here), and cleaned the brass top also which was caked with old coffee and dust.
Okay, so it was now clean. Here’s the next issue: putting it all together again.
When in doubt, use a screw.
I had to counter-sink holes for the screw heads because these had to sit flush with the wood. This also involved a little creative improvisation (tautology? perhaps) with a larger Philips-head screwdriver and a bit of effort. Thankfully the wood is pine or some equivalent, otherwise I’d still be here twisting the screwdriver and no-doubt swearing the next thing I’m buying is a drill.
Screwing it all together from this point was somewhat of a breeze.
Falling between the cracks
The next problem was one I had defined. It wasn’t a gigantic issue, but I thought it worthwhile fixing.
The brass at the top was in two pieces, a top and bottom. They fitted together quite well.
The hole is the same size as the hole for the grinder. Things fall through and straight into the grinder.
Except the hole doesn’t seal over the grinder. There’s a void (where my thumb is in the image). This meant that things accumulated in the void which would just hang around gathering dust and would also become a problem in the long-term. I needed a solution.
I tried several different things, including just abandoning the bottom of the assembly. It would have worked but didn’t look so nice. Aesthetics versus functionality was the issue here.
So, I began to experiment.
I tried a cut-up toilet roll to get an idea of the issues. Stepping up to an old circular yoghurt container worked a little better, but was still imperfect. Both these ideas failed because the material sat inside the hole, rather than inside the void. Inside the hole, like in the above image, meant it would never sit absolutely perfectly and would catch errant stuff.
The best option was to find something to go into the void, but held in place by the lip of the upper part of the assembly.
Enter an old container of Vitamin B pills. The lid was the perfect size to go into the void with the one obvious issue: it was a lid.
So for ten minutes I worked, carefully scoring the plastic with what I would honestly term a bloody sharp knife. A few more goes and I had a giant washer that fitted the assembly!
The mysterious grinder assembly
Something had been bugging me though. As I had the whole thing apart, I wondered how the bottom part of the grinder was attached to the box. Was it screwed in? Was it held in with glue? How about hope? Was it held in with hope?
Interestingly I realised the depth of the top of the box didn’t seem to match the depth of the grinder inside. There was something else going on, perhaps another piece of wood? The wood the metal was in didn’t match the rest of the wood on the box, so perhaps we had an interloper?
Enter again my trusty screwdriver:
This time I split the wood a little. Live and learn:
The split is nicely hidden by my thumb in this image to preserve what’s left of my credibility.
So here was an inner panel which was held in by effectively nothing. Once assembled, the whole thing would hold itself together. The base of the grinder assembly is conical and drawn up into the hole with bolts and screws. So it becomes a single piece. However, I thought this was sub-optimal, so added a couple of screws, which would be hidden by the brass assembly. This means it’s all a single piece.
A little repair work on the side with some wood-glue I’d had sitting around since I don’t know when, and we were back on-track.
I considered at this point adding four more screws for the top, which would work the same as the base, but then realised that I didn’t need them. The whole thing sat together just fine on its own, and this would facilitate easier cleaning than pulling the base off.
Okay, another bit of a clean and a high-pressure blow of corners and I could reassemble. Maybe one day I’ll get those nuts that have spikes on the sides so they’ll stay embedded in the wood. Or perhaps not. It all works pretty well. The removable lid makes the whole thing a hell of a lot easier too!
Okay, now for the adjustment. One nut to rule them all. I’m going to be using this for grinding Chai ingredients, so I want it a little loose, but still tight enough to pound them into submission.
This is the more tricky part of the system. Too loose and all your grindings will just fall through unsullied. Too tight and you’ll be drinking metal filings in your cuppa.
If you peer into the hole in the middle, you can just see the white of the Vitamin B lid.
So, testing phase. I’m going to use this predominately for Chai, so into the grinder went:
Some of these needed a bit of encouragement to go down the hole – the grinder wouldn’t actually catch them to drag down into its maw. I’m considering getting a metal spike like people use to test if cakes are done. I should add at this point, if you hadn’t already realised, that terminology is clearly not my strong-point. I know what I’m talking about though, so that’s all right.
But on the whole, it munched everything up dead easy and made short work of all the dry hard things, grinding them down to a satisfying powder.
Things only came unstuck when I added another ingredient: Roasted Dandelion root. Hey, if I’m going to be a hippy, I might as well go all the way.
Roasted Dandelion root is slightly woody, slightly spongey and not dry and hard like the other ingredients. This made the grinder seize up. It ground a little, but then just spun around not doing anything. The root was stuck to the grinder and wasn’t going anywhere.
Thankfully the previous two hours work meant that it was the work of only a few minutes to pull the grinder to pieces and reassemble.
So all-in-all, a good nights work.
The only thing left to do is get some felt for the bottom of the grinder to protect work surfaces as the screws, despite my efforts, still stick-out ever-so-slightly.