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Thread: Restoration and motorization of a 110yr old cane mill

  1. #1
    Join Date
    May 2003
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    Missouri City, TX
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    40

    Restoration and motorization of a 110yr old cane mill

    While this isn't exactly what most of you would consider "metalworking", it's probably as close as I'll get for awhile (plus it was a great excuse to buy a welder), and I had alot of fun in the process.

    I wanted to restore and motorize a circa 1905 Chattanooga #11 (Improved) sugar cane mill I got off a guy in NC. Originally these things were turned by mules/horses, I wanted to run it via electric motor, so you need to get the RPMs down pretty low (for this mill, down to about 8-9 RPM), while keeping the torque up high enough to still crush cane. This is what it looked like when I first got it, hadn't been used in decades are some of the bolts were frozen.
    01-original-shape.jpg

    A bunch of penetrating oil and tap-tap-tapping finally got it into pieces. I had to replace some of the original square headed bolts which were completely rusted thru.
    02-disassembled.jpg.

    A cheap siphon sandblaster worked wonders:
    03-cheap-sandblaster.jpg.

    One problem was the base plate collar around the king shaft well was missing a chunk of cast iron.
    04-broken-collar.jpg

    That was beyond my skill level, and I had to hunt around Houston quite a bit before finding someone I trusted to repair it without cracking the plate in half. He wanted $400, but we settled on $100 and a cooler full of cold beer (outdoor shop, Houston summer heat. He immediately said "yes" when I made the offer), and I thought he did a pretty nice job:
    05-fixed-collar.jpg

    A bit of International Harvester red paint helped alot:
    06-painted-red.jpg

    One issue was the original bronze shaft bushings - they were still in reasonable shape, but I wanted to replace them with UHMW, because then I could run it dry (without lubrication). No matter how well you cover the bottom shaft boxes, the cane juice will mix with the (food grade) oil, and it's a mess. You can avoid all that with UHMW bushings, and they wear quite well. I didn't know how to mold UHMW, but after a couple of weeks of experimenting I figured out a process that worked for me. At roughly 290 degF in the oven it will start turning totally clear (take a long time to heat up). At this point it has the consistency of a piece of truck tire - flexible but still tough. If you are quick you can press it into shape and then let it cool slowly. Worked great for what I needed, I redid all the bushing blocks:
    07-full-block-mold.jpg

    At this point the original mill was restored:
    08-restored-mill.jpg

    Next: motorizing it.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Missouri City, TX
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    40
    Part II - the fun part - motorizing it.

    I spent a week doing RPM/torque calculations, trying to figure out the least expensive way to drive RPM down and torque up. I settled on a 60:1 gear reducer, and an 11:40 gear ratio, driving by a 240v 1.5 HP 1725 RPM motor.
    11-motor-gears.jpg

    I had never welded in my life (but always wanted an excuse to learn, this seemed like the time). I got some 2" tubing from a guy off Craigslist (who insisted we meet behind a Taco Bell near the Houston ship channel, highly dubious transaction). It was pre-painted so I had to do alot of grinding to get bare metal to weld. For a first ever project I was pretty pleased:
    12-welding-frame.jpg

    I ended up putting 600 lb lockable casters on it so I could roll it around my driveway, and capped off all the open pipe ends:
    13-finished-frame.jpg

    The motor sled was a bit tricky, I used a 3/4" bolt to push the sled away from the mill, acting as a chain tensioner (worked great), but the height of the gear reducer 11-tooth gear had to match the height of the 40-tooth gear mounted to the mill shaft.
    14-motor-sled.jpg

    A bit of paint and it was ready for the mill and motor sled to be mounted:
    15-finished-frame.jpg

    My first ever "machine" ready for action. I must admit there was a bit of trepidation when I first turned it on. It's one of those situations where you are immensely gratified that "in practice" matched "on paper".
    16-final-assembly.jpg

    And hey, it even works!
    17-in-use.jpg:

    Now I'm thinking about an evaporation pan project for this year ;-)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Albuquerque, NM
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    Excellent post. I don't think I have ever seen a cane mill, yours turned out very nice!
    Please help support the Creek.
    If you want the rainbow, you got to put up with the rain. - Steven Wright

  4. #4
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Trinidad, West Indies
    Posts
    352
    Nice work. Looks great.

    MK

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
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    Tampa Bay area
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    73
    Nice project !

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Location
    Schenectady, NY
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    1,338
    That's awesome! Great restoration job and modernization. I've only see an ox driven cane mill before so this is very cool. Watcha gonna do with the cane juice? Rum?
    Happy and Safe Turning, Don


    Woodturners make the world go ROUND!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Charlotte NC
    Posts
    189
    Great post/ I saw those cane grinders with mules growing up in S Florida. We ate cane syrup on pancakes, bisquits etc. Thats what most of the cane went to down there. Now the best cane syrup comes from England of all places.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Missouri City, TX
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    40
    Actually rum was my first thought when I first started growing some cane several years ago. And you can get beautiful copper stills off Amazon (strictly for "water distillation only", of course). Then I was a bit surprised to find out that low-volume distillation is still illegal, those pesky federal laws you know... I kinda assumed since you can make your own beer and wine, why not liquor? The arguments I've heard revolve around safety (removing all methanol), but then again, a home canner can kill off their family with botulism too, so ...

    But I decided the path of less resistance (though I'm wondering about that now) was cane syrup, so that's what I make. Tasty with buttered biscuits, and SWMBO likes it alot!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
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    Falls Church, VA
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    I never cared for cane syrup but I remember watching an old cane mill in operation at a steam show in Kansas. Fascinating.
    At the same steam show, they had a teeter-totter competition where guys would drive these old steam tractors up on a giant (and I mean giant) teeter-totter. It was a timed competition and the idea was to balance the tractor. It took a lot of skill to do it at all. I don't know if that kind of skill exists at all anymore.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Deep South
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    3,006
    What a great job! I am familiar with these old machines and a few in my area are still in operation. A gear motor is a dramatic improvement but it just doesn't have the same visual appeal as a mule pulling a long pole in a circle around the mill. Do you make sorghum syrup? That is what is popular around here.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Location
    Missouri City, TX
    Posts
    40
    Art,
    Well actually I make cane syrup, not sorghum syrup (mistakenly called "sorghum molasses" by many), since I grow sugar cane. But further away from the coast, where cane won't grow as well, sorghum (totally different plant, but similarly processed) is popular. I haven't grown sorghum, but it looks like to me you would need *alot* more of it to match the juice you get from cane. I had some 2.25" cane last year that was yielding about a quart per stick..

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Deep South
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    3,006
    You seldom see sugar can grown around here in North Alabama. It is not unheard of though. I don't know why that is. You will often see locally produced syrup at curb markets and fruit stands. Personally, I like the idea of local rum.

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