Here’s that promised Pasta Maker to Grain Mill Conversion HowTo.
My motivation here is being very far from grain, so a grain mill is a nice-to-have, especially right after finally getting my hands on a 25kg bag of uncrushed malt.
How hard is it to crack grain with a rolling pin?
When I got the grain I was full of enthusiasm thinking I could easily crack it with a rolling pin. Sure, cracking 1 granule at a time is ridiculously easy, requiring just the weight of a wooden rolling pin.
But anything more than 1? It’s adjacent to impossible, which you truly realise when you measure the gravity after your first mash and only get 20% of the potential sugars.
Obviously too much of the grain remained uncracked, but the grain that turns to flour (bringing its own problems) makes you reluctant to roll it too much. Without practice it’s a lost cause and really, who has time (and grain) for that?
Malt Crushers are Few & Far Between. Pasta Machines Less So
Grain crushers are expensive to import, but where I live noodles are a big thing. The process of making noodles have a lot in common with pasta, which means pasta machines abound.
So what do pasta machines and grain crushers have in common? Big shiny rollers! Regardless of how much you spend on a pasta machine, it will still be oodles cheaper than a grain mill, but caveat emptor: modifications are required. Ps: those modifications might void your warranty.
1. Unpack and Admire
After getting your little grain-milling paws on a pasta machine, unpack it and admire its shiny qualities, for shortly you shall ruin them. You’ll immediately notice the 2 rollers and I bet you’ll itch to put some grain through it. Go on, do and find out why it doesn’t work.
The rollers are smooth, you see, so the grain just bops around on top of the rollers sans traction to pull it through. The major tweak this machine therefore needs is rough rollers.
If you have it at your disposal, the easy way to scuff up the rollers is by running a drill-bit, on reverse-setting, over them. This both turns the rollers and scars them in one go. As far as I’ve read the only downside is the resulting grooves easily clog with husks and grain dust, requiring frequent cleaning.
If, like me, you don’t have a drill, read on.
Roughing Up the Rollers – The Ineffective Way
I didn’t really want to disassemble the pasta machine, which is why my first attempt at roughing up the rollers involved using the 14mm drill-bit I had from my Mash Tun Project. Without removing anything I just scratched vertical and horizontal lines all over the rollers.
This method certainly succeeded in making the rollers rough to the touch, but the fine lines quickly became clogged and were useless after just a few grains.
Roughing Up the Rollers – The Effective Way
The rollers clearly require a proper beating and without isolating the rollers the exercise would be detrimental to either hands or pasta machine structure (or both). So, disassembling the machine is unavoidable.
Pasta machines come in various shapes and sizes, but apparently they’re all of a similar construct. My particular model’s rollers – smooth, spaghetti and tagliatelle – are in one body (as opposed to separate attachments I saw on other models).
On the one side of the machine 3 holes accommodate the hand-crank that turns the respective rollers, and on the other side there’s a big knob for adjusting the spacing between the two smooth rollers.
2. Disassemble the Pasta Machine
It’s easy to open the side with the 3 holes. One screw loosens the panel and exposes the innards. Boom.
The other side looks very similar, also only 1 visible screw, except there’s also the knob, which stands in the way of progress (like knobs often do). The knob doesn’t have any obvious releases (no screws or holes), so it leaves you wondering how to open the adjustment knob of a pasta machine?
Turns out the knob is a bowl-and-lid kind of assembly. Closer inspection reveals a gap between these two components. To pop the lid, as it were, wedge a screwdriver into the gap, tap it gently with a hammer until it slots in proper, leverage the screwdriver and voila! The lid should yield without bending.
A nut holding down a spring is be exposed. Unscrewing the nut releases the spring, which frees the bowl and the side panel it holds down.
Under the side panel you’ll find a simple gear setup that is screwed onto the ends of the rollers and also serves to secure them to the frame. Unscrew them.
On my model there’s another bolt in a tiny space that holds together the rest of the pasta machine frame. If you unscrew that, the whole frame comes apart.
I didn’t have a small enough wrench to fit the space, but gently prying open this end of the frame allowed the rollers to be freed.
The prying also released a few pieces of guide metal above and below the rollers. I saved the top part, a metal lip, because it will prevent grain from going the wrong way, but I removed the bottom guide to allow grain to drop straight down unhindered.
3. Peck the Crap out of Your Rollers
Pick up your newly freed rollers and peck at them. Yes, peck. Like a crazed woodpecker.
Because my horizontal and vertical lines / gashes failed in spite of thinking they were quite rough, I wanted to seriously scar the roller surface. If you’re going this route, find a hard, sharp pointed tool. Take hold of the the roller by the one end and leave plenty of room away from your hand, and peck the hell out of it with your tool.
My 3-pointed drill-bit makes tiny, but jagged holes on the surface of the roller. It took me 30 minutes or so to cover both the rollers with jagged pimples, plus a few accidental gashes for good measure.
Keep at it until the surface of your rollers a truly ruined, but try not to dent the roller’s overall structure. It’s one of those opportunities to practice your patience, because if you do it properly, you only have to do it once.
4. Reassemble and Adjust the Rollers
The gap between the rollers are adjustable for different thickness pasta dough – or in its new life – for varying degrees of crushing grain. My model is marked from narrow 1 to wide 7, but my tests showed that even the widest setting is still too tight and reduces some of the grain to flour.
The rollers are in fact capable of a wider gap, but the bowl of the knob doesn’t have a notch to lock it in. The metal bowl is relatively flimsy though, so it’s easy enough to add your own notch.
I did a bit of measurement and knocked a crude hole in the bowl with what is proving to be an increasingly versatile drill-bit. The new notch locks down the rollers at the desired width, and you should be able to get it to where it crushes your grain just so.
Once you’ve tweaked the parameters to your liking, reassembled the rollers within the frame of the pasta maker, reattach the gears and fix the bowl with it’s spring and nut in place. I didn’t replace the bowl lid or side panels, just in case further adjustments were required.
Next, test your set up. I ran half a cup of grain through mine and it worked much better than expected.
5. Improvise a Hopper
I’m brew micro batches, which requires about 1 – 3kg of grain. Unless you want to sit there and pour in half a cup of grain at a time, you’ll need a grain hopper.
I’m pretty much in a DIY store wasteland, so again I had to improvise. In a delicious twist of irony, I cut up a Tiger Beer box and made a make-shift hopper that will have to do until I can get some proper wood and tools.
The base of the pasta machine detaches (4 bolts on the bottom), so you could, in theory, mount the whole thing on a wooden board with a hole right below the rollers, perch the grain mill on top of a bucket and be worry free.
For now I use the intact base to fix the pasta machine to the table (with a clamp that came in the box), and a cardboard ramp to guide my crushed grain into a bucket. That works too.
6. Other Modifications
Some people cut off the tip of the crank that comes with the pasta machine and fixes it into a drill. It automates the grain milling process, which is tedious and, I can confirm, will blister your hand. However, it does make your claim that your home brew required blood, sweat and tears totally legit.
The pasta machine to grain mill conversion is just another one thing in the ever growing arsenal of this home brewer’s beer-aphernalia. What’s next, maybe a wort chiller?