Thursday 12 December 2013

Winter Maintenance Jobs

The closed season has arrived, and we have been planning our jobs for the  winter months, as well as getting started on some of them.  For the past couple of weeks we have been involved in meetings, first with a Trust buildings surveyor, then among ourselves to prioritise tasks and look forward to the year ahead.

The main job is to be the refurbishment of the waterwheel, whose wooden boards have become rotten; this results in lack of power, as the water leaks out of the buckets.  The bolts that hold the boards in have mainly had to be cut away, as they are too corroded to undo.

Richard removes a bucket bottom board
We wondered how heavy the wood in the wheel was (perhaps useful for the second wheel).  After some interesting cross-calibration of the weight of hammers, bottles of water and chocolate biscuits, we established that the total weight of the liner, bucket front and bucket bottom boards is about 480kg, or nearly half a ton!
The larch to replace the liner boards is already in stock, and the oak for the others has been ordered.  We have also decided to spend some of our Marsh Heritage Award prize money on a saw table to help with the task of preparing boards to fit.

Preparing the ground
for new cobbles
The other main job is likely to be cobbling the outside areas.  We estimate we may need 15,000 cobbles to cover all the areas, but for the time being we have started on the area between the wheelhouse and the river.  Once the contractors have finished refurbishing the barn, it is proposed to cobble the whole mill yard area.

The work we would like to do in the kiln needs to be a "project", and so will not be able to start until the next Trust year.

Among other jobs, we have

  • measured and drawn up the old harrow that was hanging in the barn so that it can be restored
  • lifted the runner stone of the French Burr pair and greased the centre bearing
  • dismantled and varnished the flour chute to improve flour flow
We have also agreed to improve our risk assessment documentation and the management of flour production and sales.  The old flour label has been agreed on, with minor alterations to incorporate information that was missed from the old one.
The old harrow

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Apple Day and Miscellaneous Maintenence


Sunday13th October was Apple Day at Acorn Bank.  As we drove in in the morning, we were struck by the very impressive Helm Cloud that had formed over the North Pennines and Helm Bar over the Eden Valley - we don't often see such distinct formations.

A sack being hoisted
The Apple Day was very well attended, and we managed to get 417 visitors down to the mill.  Nick and Ana Jones from Little Salkeld were among the visitors, along with some of their millers.  Richard and I milled flour all afternoon (until we ran out of grain), and I bagged some - we sold 32 bags in all.

In between times, we tried out the newly restored sack hoist  -great success!  It does require concentration, as there is no auto-stop  - the sack would wind up into the pulley if we let it.  There was also a minor issue with the pulley over-running when the cable is dropped back through the trapdoor, and unravelling the cable.

The brake band

 Therefore on Tuesday we added a brake band to introduce a bit of resistance to its spin.  We used an old lifting strap as the friction band.

Among the other jobs we tackled today, George and Peter began to lay out some of the stone which will form the walls of the kiln.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Oops, catching up again

Sorry, readers (if there are any), I have been out of action with spasms in my back for a few weeks, so there are a few things to report.

As we had to remove them from the barn and the timber store, we have been looking at the pile of stones that used to be part of the kiln.  We have one stone that is identifiable on the old photos of the kiln, but the others are a complete mystery.  The long stones in the foreground are the beams for the kiln.

In an attempt to preserve them from damage by the builders restoring the barn, we got the estate staff to help remove the two millstones that were embedded in the ground in the yard. The visiting public certainly likes being able to see them. However, we were told we should not have moved them, as they are "part of the archaeology".  The estate staff therefore have put them back.  In the process, a very nice mason's mark was found on one of them.

Richard works on the shelling stone nut.
 Much of the work that has gone on has been the restoration of the shelling stones.  The steel sandwich has been completed, and the taper refitted to the shaft using new wooden wedges.  While I was away, the shaft was refitted, the top bearing built up, and the runner stone replaced so the stone could turn again.

The position of the wedge was carefully adjusted to ensure the gear teeth engage accurately.  There was then a lot of work to do to make the fork that is supposed to disengage the stone nut work again, as the position of everything has changed.  There were also some brackets made to clamp to the shaft.  The lower ones are to stop the taper dropping down the shaft as the wedges shrink, and the upper ones are to stop the taper lifting when the stone nut is lifted - the stiction between the two is often enough to do this.

The only other thing of note was that a "Trust marketing compatible" flour label has been designed.  A straw poll of everyone we could find gave a 19:1 vote in favour of retaining the old one, though we will learn from a couple of items we haven't put on the old one.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Catching up!

 Sorry not to have posted anything for a few weeks, but life has been rather busy both at home and in the mill.
We have been milling (and selling) a lot of flour - failing to get far enough ahead of ourselves to deliver any to the shop.

The ash spring on the shoe broke, so we have reinforced it with a metal coil spring.  The photo also shows the "sock" we have added to the shoe (!) to prevent grains bouncing off the damsel and over the stones, ending up whole in the flour.
On May 18th the river rose so fast that Richard had to stop the mill turning to prevent damage.  A lot of the pond liner in the wheel buckets stripped out, so Bob and (mostly) Ray replaced them the following Tuesday.

Meanwhile, work has continued on the drive for the shelling stones.  The steel plates have been finished and bolted to the stone nut - here Ray and Richard are drilling the top plate for the insertion of spring pins to help take the rotational force.
The cob oven is no more
  Work is supposed to be starting soon to restore the mill barn, so we have been busy removing everything important from its inside and immediate outside.  This includes several thousand roof slates, a huge amount of stone, the stone lintel beams for the kiln and, unfortunately, the cob oven.  Peter Dickens says he will build a new and better one when the barn is finished.

Saturday 4 May 2013

The Independent on Sunday Happy List

Another accolade for the mill volunteers.  Last Sunday the Independent on Sunday published its "Happy List" of 100 people "whose volunteering, caring, fundraising, mentoring, charity founding or selflessness makes Britain a more contented, supportive, better-adjusted and happier place."   And the Acorn Bank Watermill volunteers were first (alphabetically) in the list!

Our entry reads: 
"Acorn Bank Watermill Volunteers
Heritage lovers
Richard Harland, Ray Gill and Bob Price form the trio who painstakingly restored and now maintain an ancient mill at Temple Sowerby, Cumbria. For five years they have helped to rebuild the wooden structure, and the mill is now able to grind flour for the first time in over 70 years."

The full article can be seen at

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Tidying up and getting ready to mill

A full house today, Richard, Ray, Bob, George, Mike and Peter. Between us we tackled some finishing-off jobs.

The information board explaining the Lower Mill Machinery had fallen off the fence and needed to be re-displayed.  We had been thinking for some time that it was in the wrong place, as visitors saw it on entering the mill and thought it referred to the main machinery.  Ray and Bob decided to make a stand for it so it would be more relevant.

They then went on to repair part of the fence on the viewing platform.
 George and Mike carried on pointing and replacing the cobbles where we had inserted the new fence above the spillway pit.  In the previous couple of weeks when I wasn't there, the volunteers built a new trough to catch the water spilling from the dump valve.  Peter can be seen here extending and lining it.

Richard meanwhile got the machinery set up and ready to start milling. At the end of the afternoon the year's first delivery of wheat arrived and had to be manhandled across the yard and upstairs.  Not good for the back - we must get the sack hoist working.
We also put the cob oven back into some kind of usable state.  We had rather neglected it, because it would have had to be rebuilt when the barn was restored, but that project has been held up by the possibility of bats.  We cleaned it up, fitted a new tarpaulin and George skinned the outer surface with fresh lime mortar.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Tidying up the launder area

The launder has gone together slightly different that the previous version, so we have had to make one or two adaptations, including to the gate valve.

We have now finished the work on the launder, apart from the pointing (which we still can't do as the weather remains stubbornly below the required 5 degrees) and stopping up one or two leaks (also difficult at present temperatures).  It has been the coldest March for 66 years, apparently.

We therefore began tidying up by removing a lot of the rubble, sacks and bags we had been using or had left about. We also began to replace and repair the fencing.  As you can see, the section of fence alongside the steps is now back in place, as is the guard rail for the gate valve adjusting platform and part of the temporary fence has been removed.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Easter coming up, and still snowing

We were joined today by a new mill volunteer - welcome, Lesley! She rapidly got stuck in to cleaning and tidying part of the workshop. Ray was still snowed in in Weardale.

Meanwhile we managed to do some finishing off outside.  We replaced the little bit of fence from the launder to the wall next to the kiln door (back left corner of this picture) and finished off the new fence between the launder and the spillway pit.

George re-bedded the new spillway stone, which had come adrift in the frosts.  We generally tidied things up, hoping to be able to turn the machine over Easter weekend.  We will not be milling for a few more weeks.

We also completed the flour desiccation test - we bagged 1532g of flour in June 2012 and I have kept it at home to see how much weight it loses by drying out over its 6 month shelf life.  We meant to weigh it again in December, but weather and other stuff was against us, so we did it today and interpolated the weight at 6 months.  It was OK, so we know we need to continue bagging 1530g of flour in our 1.5kg bags.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Mud and fencing

 Today the estate staff (Robert, Sam the lone ranger, and Jim the volunteer) cleared muck from the major part of the headrace.  Here you can see the resulting mucky bank.

There was no Ray (snowed in again), but the rest of us got on with fitting the metal post sockets for the new fence alongside the spillway pit.


Tuesday 12 March 2013

Mud, glorious mud

 The Friday team had finished the launder boarding last week, but there is still a lot of pointing to do.  As the pictures show, it wasn't the weather for it - snow, bitterly cold, and more of the same forecast.

So we started work on clearing the silt and leaves from the headrace.  Breaking the ice and scooping out 6 to 10 inches of slimy, smelly mud, and disposing of it down the bank, proved to be back-breaking work.
 At the end of  the day (or at least as much of it as we could cope with), we had done at least something towards clearing about 30 metres.  Just another 400 to go.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Reboarding the launder

 The launder is coming on nicely now, after Richard and others put in an extra day last Friday.  You can see in the picture how far they had got, and more progress was made today.  You can also see George in the background replacing the rail on the fence over the pit near the wheelhouse.

Peter and I continued preparing the larch boards for the launder, and brushing and painting the control lever for the gate valve.

The way the launder is being constructed can be seen here.  The side beams are 50mm thick oak, with the joining pieces made of the same and bolted on.  The bottom boards are 40mm thick larch, 40 inches long by about 10 inches wide (sorry about the mixed units, but those are the measurements that work!),  rebated 20mm x 20mm along each long edge to give a stepped joint.  The joints between boards and under the side beams are sealed with Roofer's Mate, which dries to a nice, inert, rubbery gasket.  The boards are screwed from underneath using Screwfix M8 x 70mm Turbo Coach Screws.  As you can also see in the picture, we have protected the core of the stone piers from any leakage water by reusing squares of the old plastic pond liner.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Solid progress with the launder

 I missed a week last week because of an achilles tendon injury, but back this week even if not fully mobile.  We had  a new starter, Peter, who spent the day helping me to prepare the bottom boards for the launder - putting the step in the edge of each one, cutting to length and drilling the 4 holes for the fixing screws.  This means there are now 44 of them, most of them ready for fitting in the launder, some with a few holes to drill.

Mike did a lot of (overdue) tidying in the wood store.

Richard and Ray did an extra day last week, as a result of which the launder side beams were fully in place complete with joining pieces.
This week they set about restoring the sluice end of the launder.  The uprights were dowelled to the ends of the side beams...

 ... before the second upright was rebated and screwed into place.  These two make the slot in which the vertical blade shutter runs.
Finally the blade and the hinged "gate valve" were re-installed.  The mechanical parts of the launder are therefore almost complete.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Progress at last

The side supports tested in place, and
 hessian sacks cover the new mortar
At last the weather has been kind enough to allow us to move forward with the launder.

George repointed some of the launder piers' stonework  and began to rebuild the spillway. The mortar will need to be protected by hessian sacks from some of the frosts we are expecting over the next day or so.

Richard cut the new spillway stone to size; in that way bits of stone have, it also broke into two pieces, which will need to be thought about when we cement it/them in.  He carried on preparing the spillway end for building the launder.

Ray and Bob cut the steps into the edges of 20 of the larch boards for the bottom of the launder and trimmed them to length.

Finally we arranged two of the side supports for the sluice end of the launder, checked with a string line that they were lined up with the other end, and fixed one of the bottom boards.

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Progress slow in the snow

The view from the mill in the heaviest snow
 Pretty, isn't it?  But a darned nuisance - apart from the difficulty of working in snow, we need to point the piers before we can begin building the launder, and we can't use the lime mortar below 5 degrees C.

Nonetheless, we did get some cleaning up done ready for the weekend opening of Acorn Bank this weekend, putting tools away and helping Sara to sweep the mill room.  We also managed to do some work on the piers, and repair the two tarpaulin covers we put up last week, just before it got very windy!
The launder having been removed, there was no fence between the public path and the space under and beyond the launder.  The visiting public needed to be protected from the hazards of these areas, especially alongside the steps.  Richard and I dismantled the rough crate that the lime mortar was delivered in, and reassembled the bits to make a crude but effective fence.

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Working outside in bad weather

The hydraulic lime we ordered last week had actually arrived; we had to store it up at the house to protect it from frost.  The scaffolders had been to amend the end fence so we can now get to the spillway stonework, so work on the launder can begin.  However, the weather is alternately frosty and wet, neither of which suits the lime mortar, so we put up a couple of plastic sheets to keep the rain off.  It has been very windy since...
 A group of conservation people from Sizergh were working at the house, and they wanted to be shown round the mill; naturally we obliged.  We also did some minor chores - including continuing to sort our huge collection of mixed screws by size!!!!

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Winter weather

Some of the parts of the second waterwheel

 It has been a bit nippy these past 2 Tuesdays, so progress on the launder has been rather slow.  However, last week the scaffold had been erected, though not exactly as we wanted it.  It is much safer working between the launder and the spillway pit, but they have put a fence at the spillway end which prevents us getting to the stonework.
We were therefore at least able to do a  few preparatory jobs.  There is also a project to restore the mill barn, so we had to remove a few mill artifacts from it - such as the shroud plates from the second waterwheel.  These may not look much, but need 3 men to move them safely.
George and Richard clean up
the spillway

Today there was no Ray, as he was digging his car out of the snow.
We all helped to remove the large old, delaminating stone from the edge of the spillway, remove the loose stones below it, and tidy up the mortar. George carried on tidying up the stones and mortar in the general launder area.  We seem to have acquired a suitable replacement for the top stone from the former greenhouse floor.  Ian, the Trust buildings man, has approved the lime mortar we plan to use to rebuild the spillway, so this can now go ahead.

Bob and Richard mounted the two new pulley brackets for the revised sack hoist.  Richard had fabricated them to the measurements Bob took a few weeks ago, and they were painted last week.  Everything went together without too much of a problem.

Richard fixes the pulley bracket; note the
rare glimmer of sunshine!

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Preparing to rebuild the launder

A useful session meeting Ian, a surveyor who works in the NT buildings department.  He is going to be our contact for building type jobs.  He said that what we were proposing to do with the launder was fine.

For the rest of the day, Ray and Richard did some work on the spillway end of the launder, and on the end of the part we rebuilt a couple of years ago.

Bob helped George to clean up old mortar and re-bed the top stones of the two intermediate piers.  We left them covered with plastic sheet (the old pond liner rides again!) so that, with any luck, the piers will dry out so they can be repointed next week.

The scaffold is expected to be installed this week, so we will be protected from the drop into the spillway pit - especially when it is wet or icy underfoot.