Millstones, Their Care and Keeping

At the heart of many a mill is the pair of millstones.

The upper, often called the "runner stone' rotates over the fixed "bedstone". Although they varied greatly in size, most stones were about four feet in diameter. They weighed well over a ton.

The bedstone is set in the floor of the mill surrounded by wooden skirting. The hole through which the flour falls is cut into this surround. At Backus Mill, a leather flap is attached to the runner stone which assists the accumulated flour to fall through this hole.

The upper or runner stone (red) can be lifted clear of the bedstone (black) using a crane. Graphic courtesy of Ted Hazen.

The most valued stones are a composite stone, called French burr. Shaped and matched carefully, the stones are backed with cement and banded with iron hoops.

Stone dressing was carried out as regular maintenance by millers themselves. Highly skilled stone dressers were called in to get the stones in perfect shape after a long season of milling.

Among his tools were a raddle, a bucket of red oxide, a proof staff, mill bills, thrifts, wedges and a trammel.