Here's some background on my question, before I actually ask it (my question is in bold below):

I'm wanting to have a very sustainable method of turning grains, legumes and pseudocereals into flours (which methods do not require electricity or reliance on corporations in the long run). In the short-term, I don't mind purchasing some materials. A variety of methods have come to mind:

  1. Grinding with rocks. This is essentially like using a mortar and pestle. It works (I tried it with some club-like rocks I found in Kentucky), but most mortars and pestles that you can actually buy are very small, and unlike the sorts they might use in the East for grinding larger amounts of flour (wherein the pestle is like a meter long or such)—I haven't seen these available in the USA (that's where I am). Using rocks doesn't seem to work very well for larger, harder things like chickpeas, but it's very effective for millet, and works okay for rice and wheat. It's easy to squash the wheat, but requires further grinding if you want more than squashed wheat.

  2. Using a hammer or mallet. I tried this on chickpeas and it works fine. I assume it works for other legumes, grains, and pseudocereals, too (although it may or may not be the most practical solution for tiny seeds like millet). Lacking a mallet, I could always use rocks to smash (rather than squish and grind them as with a mortar and pestle) them. I have a blacksmith hammer on order to try for this purpose, since its broadness should smash more seeds at a time.

  3. Using a manual grain grinder. This is all well and good, but they may be a lot more difficult to make yourself (and might lead one to be reliant on others to get the grinder). Plus, really good ones are very expensive.

  4. Making a huge animal-powered stone mill like they used to use. This would probably be rather effective and ideal, but I'm looking for a simple solution that doesn't require animals or things so large (and one I can tote around with me if I travel).

Anyway, my question pertains to item number 2 (using a hammer/mallet/rock to smash them). I basically want to get a very broad mallet, and a sack that won't break if I hammer it (I want to put the grains/legumes/pseudocereals inside the sack and hammer them until they're flour; the sack is to keep them in place while I hammer them). So, my question is, what kind of materials would be suitable for this sack? I don't want it to break apart when I hammer it (like the experimental paper I used with the chickpeas did).

I thought about leather. That sounds like it could work, but would it be treated with stuff that would make the flour toxic? Would leather be strong enough? Would something else be more ideal?

I'm also thinking about just using some old jeans or something to make a grain-smashing pouch. Maybe that would work.

Edit: I recently had the idea that if I'm just looking for something that I can do right now, with purchased materials, I can always just buy a packet of socks, and when one wears out, use another one, heh, heh. Socks are pretty inexpensive, but they would make me reliant on sock companies, probably.

  • 1
    Leather is probably a bad idea. Even if it wasn't toxic (which you couldn't guarantee, tanning chemicals aren't nice) it would give a bad taste. It would also soften the impact as it's padded.
    – Chris H
    May 24, 2016 at 6:59
  • Why don't you use the tried and tested windmill (as a variation on 4)?
    – user2451
    May 24, 2016 at 12:00
  • 1
    Lot of villages in India and probably similar nations still use many of the ways you have listed. Google and you'll find. If you'd like I can post a specific detailed answer as well.
    – Alex S
    Jun 2, 2016 at 4:21
  • I live in the city limits. So, I'm not allowed to have animals, except cats and dogs, and a rabbit, maybe. I guess a giant sled dog might be able to work a mill, but I don't know. I don't own land; so, building a windmill might have consequences. :) @AlexS I like the idea of the Indian methods, but I don't know of anywhere to get the tools in the USA, short of hiring a custom stone cutter. I discovered a better way to grind with my rock (using the blunt edge kind of like a rolling pin works a lot faster than using the flat part). Feel free to chat with me on chat here or on my forums. :) Jun 2, 2016 at 10:46
  • 1
    The methods are not high tech so should be easy to replicate if one of them fits your constraints
    – Alex S
    Jun 3, 2016 at 7:38

2 Answers 2



I think you're going down the wrong track with the sack idea. I doubt any kind of fabric or material that could be used to make a sack would stand up to much hammering, and even if it did I would also expect that if your end goal is flour then using a mallet would not give a quality result. If you wanted rolled oats for porridge, you might just be ok though. My understanding is that successful crushing of grains/seeds requires two hard (and generally heavy) objects, not just one. Improvising, while travelling, to find the second of those objects might be a bit dicey unless perhaps you're happy to hose down a section of concrete and use that. Even then, the owner of it may be upset if it was stained or damaged.


Ultimately, unless you want to meditate on the inefficiency of crushing/grinding grains manually, I think you would be best to invest some money in an electric mill and use the time you save pursuing other admirable sustainable goals. To make it more sustainable, you could purchase second hand, choose a model that has replacement parts available, ensure it's a good quality effective device, share it with your local community, and sell it on when you no longer use it.

Electricity/Corporations (TL;DR?)

You mention electricity and corporations as something to be avoided. Many people with that belief would have a sudden change of heart when faced with difficult decisions such as whether to receive urgent healthcare using a vehicle to get to a hospital or relying on a pigeon to request the local herbalist ride his horse to your place at a gallop.

I admit that I can see it being a very big challenge for our society to continue to embrace technology and yet become truly sustainable for the long term, but I doubt that shunning technology such as electricity will do us any better. Shunning corporations, where possible, seems like a pretty good idea though as they are substantially responsible for nurturing a greed-focused, polluting, unequal culture.

  • I should note that I'm already happy with the results of the hammering. It makes a satisfactorily fine flour in a satisfactory amount of time (at the very least, for the larger seeds). I don't mean for electricity to be something to be avoided, but it's not something I want to rely on (especially if I'm out in the wilderness, the power goes out, or something). Plus, I already have access to a WonderMill, but I'm not satisfied with how the flour makes me feel, notwithstanding it can grind 100lbs in an hour. Manually ground stuff feels more nutritious, and digests and tastes better, to me. May 24, 2016 at 22:08
  • You do make some good points, though. I don't mean to contradict you there. The other flat surface I was using was cement. I could always get an anvil (or make something portable out of cement), but that would be pretty tough to tote around. Finding big, flat, rocks in these parts wouldn't be the hardest thing in the world, though. I imagine some areas are very lacking in them, however. May 24, 2016 at 22:13
  • After experimentation, I found that cloth disrupts the action of the hammer too much to be effective, whether or not the cloth will wear out quickly and get in your food. Using a hammer directly on the seeds, however, is very effective at turning them into flour, but the seeds scatter and jump (higher than I first thought). So, a containment method would need to be invented to make this practical (but if invented, it could be very practical, especially for excruciatingly hard seeds like garbanzo beans, which a mortar and pestle will not grind at all. May 31, 2016 at 13:09
  • Grain grinders, and other non-hammer methods of grinding are outside the scope of the question, however. This question isn't about the most effective way to grind (nor is using a hammer implied to be the only way I want to make flour). But, the question is about making flour with a hammer nevertheless. Anyway, I accepted your answer because the idea of using cloth doesn't work very well, and you pretty much said that. I think a clamp-based crusher might be more effective and easier to use than a hammer-based one, though (but the idea is similar, except it replaces the pounding with pressure). May 31, 2016 at 13:11
  • I mean, a very large clamp, based crusher (not a tiny one that would take a lot of muscle power to use). May 31, 2016 at 13:20

Milling by hand is very hard work, that's why most traditional mills are animal, wind or water powered. I have used a commercially made hand-powered grain mill, and it was very hard work. A cup of flour took a minute or more of fairly strenuous work (I cycle and use a power meter, so I'm guessing more than 150 Watts which is a lot of arm power - it's the effort most adults and apply to a bicycle using their legs, for example)

The little ones are basically jokes as far as I can tell. You could make one loaf of bread occasionally, sure, but they're not designed to accept much power in, so they're going to be very slow.

hand flour mill (from Amazon)

Something like this is what I used, and you can get both hands onto the handle plus use your core muscles for power. It also bolts to the table or stand rather than using a flimsy clamp. It's faster, but still not something you're going to feed a 20 kilogramme sack of wheat through. Not in one day, at least. However, you can convert one of these to use leg power (basically hook it up to an exercise bike) and that makes it less impractical. But those cost more, use more space, and if you're not certain you will use it, likely to be hard to resell.

hand powered grain mill (via Modern Survival Blog)

Doing the same thing with rocks, or by beating cloth covering rocks, doesn't strike me as very practical. If you were milling small amounts of seeds (what most people use a mortar and pestle for), it might work. I just can't imagine a cloth rugged enough not to wear out very quickly. And since you're going to be grinding the cloth as well as the seeds, you'll be eating the cloth. So whatever cloth you use, be willing to eat it.

  • The cloth will be beaten (not ground with rubbing). The problem is that when the seeds, such as chickpeas, break apart, they may break the cloth in the process due to their sharpness as they split into pieces. I guess maybe this calls for experimentation, since it's not necessarily obvious by thinking about it. I'm not looking for whether or not it will wear down the cloth so much as I'm looking for the longest lasting material for the purpose. It doesn't have to last forever per se. Some kind of containment bin might be better than a cloth. The seeds don't fly high, usually. May 25, 2016 at 6:51
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    Beating the cloth will wear it away. Like Ⴖuі says, you should consider that you will be eating the fragments of cloth that wear away, so you want the longest lasting non-toxic cloth. Non toxic is important.
    – Móż
    May 26, 2016 at 22:58

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