The Miller's Tale

The story of the Plimoth Grist Mill and our quest to mill great history and delicious organic cornmeal!

A Spindle for the Plimoth Mill: a Milling Fairy Tale

March 28th, 2013 by kim

Hey friends of the Plimoth Mill.

Our spindle is back!

Thanks to the talented and hardworking Benjamin Hassett, of B.E. Hassett Millworks, our refurbished spindle is back and the millstone is once again turning. We ground some gorgeous cornmeal on Saturday, and we’re taking her for a spin again today. (More on our inaugural grind in the next post).

So what’s a spindle and why’s it important?

Mills and spindles are all over the place in fairy tales. Remember Rumplestiltskin? He used a spindle to spin straw into gold for the impoverished miller’s daughter. And of course there’s Sleeping Beauty who pricked her finger on a spinning wheel’s spindle. A spindle, in the fairy tale and textile sense, is a “rod or pin, tapered at one end and usually weighted at the other, on which fibers are spun by hand into thread and then wound, or a rod or pin used for spinning on a spinning wheel.”

In the mill, a spindle is similar, but much, much larger. It is “any of various parts in the form of a rod, especially a rotating rod that acts as an axle, mandrel, or arbor.” That’s just what our spindle is. It’s the metal shaft upon which the runner stone (the upper millstone weighing a ton or more) balances and rotates.

The Problem

Over the years our spindle had gotten banged up and misshapen. As a result, the runner stone’s rotations were bumpy rather than smooth, and we had to grind with the stones relatively far apart to keep the bed stone and the runner stone from touching. 

Here’s the damaged spindle tip. Yikes!

Spindle tip showing damage


The Solution

About a month ago, Ben came up to pick up the spindle to take it to his shop in Lynchburg, VA where he had the tip and bottom re-machined, and had about an inch added to its length to make up length that had worn off.

Here’s Dave Tanner, Plimoth Plantation’s Associate Director of Buildings and Grounds and All Around Good Guy (not his real title, but it could be!), helping get the spindle and lantern gear ready to travel.

Mill spindle removed for repair


After about a month in Virginia, Ben and spindle were ready for the trek back to Plymouth. Unfortunately, only 25 miles from Plymouth, Ben was waylaid with a terrible flu. Plucky millwright this he is, after a few days rest he and spindle arrived at the mill.

Here’s the spindle with its shiny new tip.

Refurbished spindle ready for installation


Ben (conscientiously masked to contain contagion) and Dave’s son Andrew work on the re-installation.

Spindle re-installation


The beautiful new bronze bottom bearing. The little channel on the picture on the left is for oil to flow beneath and lubricate the bearing.



Here’s Ben boring out the rhynd so that it’s profile matches that of the spindle tip.

Matching rhynd profile to spindle tip


Checking the runner stone for balance. It should balance perfectly on the spindle.

Balancing runner stone


It didn’t…. So Ben went into the plaster dome to take out some weights that were previously added. See the metal plate and nuts? He also took out a couple of weight plates from a weight lifting set! You can see how another layer had been added over the original plaster.

Weights in runner stone


Repairing the plaster. First coat.

Repairing runner stone plaster


The spindle tip, before and after.



And we all milled happily ever after….

Trying out the new spindle. After milling for about 4 hours, we removed the tun (the wooden hoop that contains and corrals the cornmeal). Check out the beautiful meal!

Cornmeal and stones


So, if you haven’t been out for a visit yet, stop on by! If you can’t make it, here’s a video about the corn milling process that was generously produced by Frank Mand of Wicked Local Plymouth. Thanks Frank!




Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to “A Spindle for the Plimoth Mill: a Milling Fairy Tale”

  1. Sally says:

    Great post, Kim! Can’t wait to see this baby grinding away!

Leave a Reply



© 2003-2011 Plimoth Plantation. All rights reserved.

Plimoth Plantation is a not-for-profit 501 (c)3 organization, supported by admissions, grants, members, volunteers, and generous contributors.