Off-Grid Wheat Grinder Reviews

by Erich

Whether it’s due to a natural or man-made disaster, an extended grid-down situation is a very real scenario and one that I am always trying to prepare for. For this reason, I like to buy tools and gear that can still function without the need of electricity.

Since I have quite a bit of wheat grain stored away, and given the fact that I don’t want to use the two-stone technique that my hunter/gatherer ancestors had used, I knew I would be needing a way of turning all that wheat into flour without an electric appliance.

Which brings us to today’s post. I thought I’d take a moment to share with you guys my review of two popular hand-powered wheat grinders that I purchased: the Back to Basics (also known as the Victorio) Grain Mill and the Wondermill Junior Grain Mill.

Back to Basics Grain Mill Review

Overall Construction and Setup

The quality of the Back to Basics grain mill is very good. The plastic hopper fits snugly into the metal housing, and the auger, handle, milling cone and shaft make for a solid working unit. Overall it is sturdy and well put together. Also, given it’s small size, it can easily fit into a kitchen drawer or be stored away without much trouble.

Setting up the mill is a simple process. It easily mounts to a counter top or table with the included clamp screw and I had no issues with it shifting or moving around as I turned the handle to grind up my wheat.

Function and Use

Although the quality is good and it has had no problems doing its job, after using it for some time the main beef I have with it is how long it takes to grind wheat. It’s small size — while good for storage — leads to slow (and low) milling output. For example, to grind a cup of wheat (which makes about 1 1/4 cups of flour) takes around 5 minutes (it took me 4:51 without rest and at a good pace)!

This is fine for an occasional loaf or two, but when you start making bread regularly it quickly becomes a hassle. Remember, an average loaf of bread is around 4-5 cups of flour. Multiply that by 5 minutes and you have more than 20 minutes of wheat grinding (probably longer since at some point you’ll need to take a break) — by hand, per loaf! Not something you want if your going to be living off of your long-term food storage.

Price

Since the Back to Basics Grain Mill was the first hand-powered grain mill that I purchased (around 2 years ago), the first thing that attracted me to it was the price; At around $60 it was cheaper than most other hand-powered grain mills out there and the reviews seemed fairly positive so I took a chance and bought it.

Wondermill Jr. Grain Mill Review

Overall Construction and Setup

If the Back to Basics mill is built strong then the Wondermill Jr. is built like a tank. The housing, hopper and body is a solid metal uni-body construction that has a thick powder coat finish that resists scratching and chipping.

The Wondermill Jr. also has a large hopper that holds slightly more than a quart. While that’s great and all, from my perspective hopper size is not that important in a hand-powered mill since you’re right there operating the thing and refilling as you’re going along is not an issue. This would be more important in an electric version where you’d leave it to let it do its thing.

The handle is around 10″ long giving you the leverage to easily and quickly grind most grains without too much exertion. It also comes with two stone heads for grinding hard dry seeds. If you purchase the Deluxe version it also comes with stainless-steel burr grinders which allow you to grind up oily nuts and seeds to make things like nut butter. Pretty cool I guess but not that practical for my purposes.

For the setup side of things, the Wondermill Jr. is more of a hassle than the Back to Basics mill. Since I didn’t buy the Wondermill Jr. Deluxe that comes with an adjustable mounting clamp (which would make it just as easy to set up as the Back to Basics mill) I will have to mount the base to a table with wood screws, making it a permanent fixture. As a temporary solution, you can see in my picture that I jury rigged it by using vice clamps. If you want more mobility, another option would be to mount it to a board which you could vice clamp to a number of platforms.

Function and Use

The Wondermill Jr. is a pleasure to use. It’s long handle and large stones make wheat grinding a cinch and it’s fast! Just to compare, I was able to make around 1 1/4 cup of flour in about a minute — 5 times faster than the Back to Basics mill.

Price

The cost of the Wondermill Jr. is around $165 dollars. The Deluxe version, which includes the adjustable clamp and stainless-steel heads, will cost you around $220. And by the way, you can always purchase the additional heads as well as the clamp at a future time if desired.

Back to Basics / Wondermill Jr. Summary and Comparison

Back to Basics Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Stainless steel cone-shaped burrs for grinding
  • Small size as well as parts fit nicely together for ease of storage
  • Good quality build
  • Affordable Price
  • Can be used when the power is out

Cons:

  • On “Fine” setting, ground flour is still coarse.
  • It’s slow as all get out…unless you’re looking for a good workout (1 1/4 cups of flour in 5 minutes)
  • Although it appears to be built well, my gut feeling is that it is not designed to be a high-output grain mill and over time it will break down with much use (this is obviously not confirmed by testing, it’s just a general feeling)

Wondermill Jr. Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Built like a tank and built to last a life-time
  • Mills flour extremely fine which makes for great bread as well as pastries
  • With stainless steel heads, it can make nut butters if desired
  • Powder coated for protection and easy clean up
  • Mills flour pretty fast for a manual mill (about 1 1/4 cups in a minute)
  • Can be used when the power is out

Cons

  • Flour spews out the sides of the grinding stones requiring a fairly large receptacle (note: the latest models come with a flour guide that fixes this issue that can also be purchased for about $10 if your model is older).
  • Cost is more expensive than the Back to Basics mill but worth it given the efficiency and quality.
  • Non-deluxe model requires you to bolt the mill to a table since it doesn’t come with a clamp (this also can be purchased at a later time if desired)

Comparing the Two

Overall the Back to Basics mill will do the job, and if you’re only interested in a back up and price is an issue, then it’s a pretty good mill.

On the other hand, the Wondermill Jr. is leaps and bounds over the Back to Basics mill. But realize that the cost is substantially more (about $100+ more), so you’re paying for the upgrade. However, if I could go back in time, I would have not purchased the Back to Basics mill, although it’s nice to have the extra mill for redundancy or future trading reasons.

For me, one of the biggest reasons — besides the speed of output — is the quality and “fineness” of the flour. The Back to Basics mill makes a pretty coarse flour (even on its finest setting) whereas the Wonder Mill Jr. makes a very fine flour. The finer the flour, the better the bread (in my opinion) and you have the option of making things that require fine flour like pastries and pie crusts.

Here’s a photo showing the difference in consistency of the flour between the Wondermill Jr. (left) and the Back to Basics (right).

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8 Comments»

Comment by Jon
2011-04-06 00:30:52

Did you have any problem with grit from the stones in the flour? I have been considering buying a mill but put it off still due to cost and long term usability. Just not sure if it would last long in a grid down situation longer than 6 months of constant use. Grain, especially wheat, are survival foods in every country when things get bad. Bread products are used to keep the body alive even though it doesn’t supply all the needed vitamins and minerals.

Comment by Tactical Intelligence
2011-04-06 07:28:29

Hey Jon,

Good question. The manufacturer of the Wondermill Jr. recommends that you discard the first batch of flour since it will contain grit from the stones (it’s part of the normal break-in process which removes the high spots on the stones). After this first batch (about a pound of flour) you won’t get any more grit in the flour.

Funny thing is, I failed to read this the first time around and my initial loaf of bread did indeed have grit in it. After that I’ve had no issues and the flour has been excellent.

As far as the stones go, I wouldn’t worry about them lasting for only 6 months. Even with regular use they should last at least a year (at least that’s how long the warranty on the stones last) and I would gather they will last longer than that. Keep in mind that the stones only lightly touch each other when grinding. There still has to be a little space for the wheat grain to be milled to flour.

I make flour once a week (good sized batches) and have noticed no obvious degeneration these last 2 months (the length of time I’ve had this grinder).

 
 
Comment by Jimmy
2011-06-18 23:38:47

Hey! Great review. I have the WonderMill Jr. and I bought it from http://www.year-supply.com They had free shipping at the time (still do I think) and just love the quality of the flour. I have also used the Family Grain Mill for sometime and have been happy with the flour as well- not fine enough for cakes and pasteries, but it will make a fine loaf of bread. I have read that (in regard to the last post) that stones will litterally last forever and only get better with time. So, I don’t think the wearing down will be an issue at all.

Keep up the good reviews!

Jimmy

 
Comment by Mountaineer
2011-11-25 11:47:04

I will definitely be looking into buying the WonderMill Jr. I think the quality flour it puts out is worth the higher price. As for the fact that it has to be installed permanently, I would either go with the idea of attaching it to a board and using clamps to secure the board wherever the mill is wanted, or I would permanently install it in either the tool shed or garage.

 
Comment by Dave
2012-12-12 11:31:44

NIce review. I have the Wondermill Jr Deluxe and really like the versatility. In addition to making flour from wheat , rice, etc I also make nut butters out of peanuts, walnuts, and other ingredients. Before I purchased mine, I went to http://www.onlygrainmills.com/ and watched their review videos. You really should do this BEFORE you decide on a mill. They have a video just on comparing the manual grain mills and it shows you the alternatives tot he Wonder Jr (some cheaper, some more expensive like the Country Living Grain Mill).

 
Comment by Jay Morgan
2013-09-17 15:06:58

I have been using a Wonder Jr for just over a year. Grinding grain is a lot more work than I ever thought. I grind in the morning before work and in the evening and once a week I have enough flour to make bread. In a long term situation I would highly suggest that you learn the other ways to use grain, boiled like oat meal, etc.
It has been a lot of fun but it also has been an education. In all the historical frontier houses I have been through in all the state parks I have never seen a hand operated grain mill. I am beginning to think it was always easier to tote it down the path to the mill powered by a water wheel or some other non-back related power.
Also, making bread from 100% whole wheat flour is not an easy effort but can include quite a learning curve. I suggest that you play with it now when you don’t have to live on all your mistakes.

Have FUN, I have.

Jay

 
Comment by Bart
2014-10-10 04:20:05

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