FREE PROJECT: Turning a Pepper Mill & Matching Salt Shaker

FREE PROJECT: Turning a Pepper Mill & Matching Salt Shaker

Over the last forty years, I have turned a good many pepper mills using a variety of grinding mechanisms. This project absolutely requires the purchase of a grinding mechanism, and it also demands that the mechanism fit superbly in the wooden body and cap to work well. For this article I picked the Rockler CrushGrind Mechanism, which grinds superbly. It comes in two variations.

You will need to start with a wood billet that is 2-1/4″ to 2-1/2″ square. Any wood can be used but a dense close-grained wood such as maple or cherry work best. I used cherry for this article. Tropical woods also work well but may pose toxicity problems for some people. (The closer to the equator a tree grows, the more likely its wood will be toxic so it can ward off insect attack.)

CrushGrind Mill Mechanism and Pepper Mill Boring Kit
Rockler’s two CrushGrind Mill Mechanisms have ceramic grinding cones that stay sharp and grind well. The shafted model at the top (item 32708) makes a traditional pepper mill from 5″ to 9-1/2″ tall with a rotating cap. The bottom style (item 35401) makes a mill in which the top part revolves around a relatively short section on the bottom. Fisch’s Pepper Mill Boring Kit for lathes (inset) provides drill bits, extensions and a Morse taper.

A mistake that most turners make is to turn the outside first. A much better arrangement is to do all the internal work first, then grab the bore in cones and turn the outside. This allows gripping in a four-jaw scroll chuck for drilling and ensures that the inside and outside of the spindle are concentric with each other.

Chucking a cherry blank for a pepper mill on a lathe
In order to ensure that the center of the billet is in axis with the centerline of the lathe, the author grips one end of the 2-1/4″ cherry blank in a Stronghold four jaw chuck while catching the other end of the billet with a 60° live center in the tailstock.

Being the guy who often says, “You can get along fine without a four-jaw scroll chuck,” I have to state that this is a turning project that is greatly aided by a fourjaw chuck. I used a Oneway Stronghold with the supplied jaws that grip externally from 1-3/4″ to 3-1/4″ for drilling and scraping the grooves.

Boring hole in blank with Fisch Forstner bit
Step 1: Make the first bore for the CrushGrind Mechanism. The author is using a 1-5/8″-dia. Fisch Wave Cutter Forstner-type bit and drilling to a depth of 1-3/4″.

I also used their spigot jaws to internally grab the bored blank for turning the outside. I stabilized and centered the entire bore by also catching it with a Robust Live Center with a large cone threaded onto it. However, I could have put a piece of scrap in the standard jaws and turned it to a taper that fit the bore, then stabilized and centered it with the same live center. If you lack a four-jaw chuck you can do all the boring in a drill press, but scraping grooves to accept the paws of the grinding mechanism will be problematic.

Drilling hole to half the length of peppermill blank
Step 2: Now bore a 1-1/2″-dia. recess to a depth of at least one-half the length of the blank. Swap the piece end-for-end after Step 5 to complete this bore.

That being said, this project can be done without scraping any grooves at all, as I’ll explain shortly. Taking this option means you drill the internal bores on the drill press then turn the outside between centers with a cone mounted on a faceplate, turned to fit the bore and stabilized with a cone live center in the tailstock. A turned cone that fits over the end of your live center can be rigged if you lack a commercial live center that accepts larger cones.

Showing scraper made from an old mortise chisel
Step 3: In preparation for scraping the retaining groove, the author ground his scraper from an old mortise chisel. Notice he has drawn a line 1-3/4” from the scraper’s end to place the groove at the correct spot.

You will need some large Forstner bits to bore your pepper mill, and they differ between the two mechanisms. Pepper mill mechanisms are made to metric standards, while most of us have Imperial Forstner bits only. The larger a given diameter, the more likely you are to find discrepancies between the two systems.

Scraping groove in interior of pepper mill center
Step 4: Applying gentle lateral pressure, with the scraper’s layout mark aligned with the end of the billet, forms the necessary 1/8”-deep groove.

In this project, the bore will be large for the grinding parts. Additionally, the mill’s plastic housing is slippery. You are likely to find out, as I did, that if rotating the cap grinds no pepper the grinder in the bottom and the insert in the cap (that grips the central shaft) are slipping.

Widening the mouth of the body opening in peppermill blank
Step 5: The mouth of the body must be opened about 1/32” larger than 1-5/8″ by scraping to accept the bottom flange of the CrushGrind Mechanism.

This is to say that you will have to epoxy these parts in place once you have tested that everything fits properly. Being originally trained as a metal machinist, I scraped grooves in both the base and the cap, but with epoxy you do not have to.

Peppermill Grinder trapped with Robust Live Center
Step 6: Here, the top of the mill is grabbed from the inside with the spigot jaws. The other end is caught with a Robust Cone Center. This makes the drilled and scraped bore run true with the axis of the lathe. The outside of the pepper mill body can now be turned to shape.

I do feel that a groove makes for a better glue joint between the plastic and the wood housing. I ground my scraper for these grooves from an old mortise chisel, but Sorby actually offers a special scraper for the purpose, the 895CGH Crush Grinder Scraper.

Drilling salt shaker base with a Forstner bit
With the salt shaker billet held in a four-jaw chuck, drill into its base to a depth of 1/4″ with a 1-3/8″-dia. Forstner bit to form a chucking recess.

The drawing gives all the sizes (using Imperial bits) and the location of the grooves. The photo essay above should give you the necessary information to make a pepper mill. I strongly urge you to make your first pepper mill 6″ or less in height. Chucking will be much easier.

Scraping counterbore into salt shaker base
Drill a blind 13⁄16″-dia. hole most of the way to the counterbore in the base. Now shape the top and scrape a 1/4″-deep counterbore that is a press fit with the shaker’s cap.

A matching salt shaker can be made using a salt shaker cap. It will appear that it is a press fit with a 1-1/4″ drilled hole. However, the cap measures 1.241″ across its retaining fingers, making it a loose fit with a 1-1/4″ hole.

Installing salt shaker cap into blank
Check the fit. It must be tight if you only want to lightly salt your food.

It was probably designed for a 31.5 mm hole, which would yield a quarter of a millimeter (.010″) press fit. If you do not want way too much salt on your food, the solution is to bore the hole to 1-1/16″ or 1-1/8″ (depending on your bit inventory) and scrape a 1/4″-deep counterbore that is a press fit with the cap.

Turning the exterior of the salt shaker base
Stabilize the top end of the shaker with a cone center while grabbing the inside of the bottom with the spigot jaws. Turn the outside to shape.

In the end, the cook in your household will appreciate your efforts with this project. And so will you — freshly ground pepper is so much superior to pre-ground pepper! It’s worth the effort.

Click Here to Download the Drawing.

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