I have never had to do a piece of crafty engineering quite like the cottage’s windmill. My younger self had left me a tiny space to work in, and everything had to be fairly precise. My goal was to have the whole thing turn like a real windmill, and I succeeded!
My husband got literal brownie points (well, chocolate cake points) for being my cameraman.
The mill’s design is a simplified mix of things I’d seen in pictures or on YouTube. Small square windows were a recurring theme, as was all-wood construction. I have to thank Brenda Krekeler at Cape Cod Windmills for posting great windmill anatomy photos for me to mimic, particularly this one from the Brewster Windmill, built in 1795.
I found some of the pieces through Etsy, including a great wood bobbin to serve as the pinion gear on the drive shaft. The bull wheel that goes on the windshaft (the part connected to the windmill’s sails) was proving to be tricky, until I started looking for model wagon wheels. I found amazing ones from pepperbay on ebay, and the seller generously included extras to be sure I had the right one. He really went above and beyond! Some sawing and drilling, along with a few little additions, and both gears were ready to be BFF’s.
The mill stones are wooden washers that I painted with the stucco mixture for the house then sanded and painted over. I also reamed out some of the top hole, as a place for the grain to enter, and cut mock grooves for the flour to exit. The flour would then fall into the round trough and be swept into bags through the opening. In the real world, millstones do not actually touch and the grain fills the narrow gap to be ground against the two stone surfaces.
In my initial design, there was no way to disengage the turbines. Real windmills have to be able to be “turned off” for maintenance or strong winds. My solution was to make a wood linchpin that passed through the top millstone (the little side hole) and threaded it onto the drive shaft. If removed in “real life,” the stone would no longer turn.
Here are the pieces before staining and assembly. Though hard to see, I am quietly proud of my carving on the windshaft to make a square peg from a round dowel for the sails and keep all of my fingers in the process.
The pieces went into the dollhouse in a flurry one morning, because I had to get everything lined up and working before the glue dried. I learned I had about a 2mm margin of error, and if the gears were too close or too far apart, the windmill wouldn’t turn.
The sails were the last part to go on, and the frames are covered with cotton and held in place with tiny brass headpins. A little pastel dust made things look old like the rest of the exterior.
I learned some interesting windmill folklore along the way, and that milling was an art. Flour could come out too moist, too gritty, or get too hot between the stones and ignite. (Aerosolized flour is supposedly more flammable than gunpowder, meaning my little bakers could only bake when the windmill wasn’t turning…oops). It was believed that if a mill stone ever injured anyone, it would become cursed, with a taste for human blood. The stone would then be removed from the mill and spend the rest of its days as part of a bridge or as a doorstep, for visitors to walk across and take the bad luck with them. Something to think about the next time you see a retired millstone growing moss at a historic site :-).
I also learned the meaning of “show your mettle.” It refers to workmen who would travel from mill to mill and charge a fee to dress, or reshape, the grinding surfaces of the mill stones, which wear down with use. This process involved carving deeper grooves into the rock with iron or steel points, and sometimes the tools would chip, embedding flecks of metal in the dresser’s skin. Along with the scarring, the metal splinters created a blue discoloration. A mill owner could ask a prospective dresser to “show their mettle,” and display the damage they had accumulated plying their trade. We use the phrase today to mean proving one’s abilities.