Island Grains

How do I thresh grain on a small scale?

Easy-to-Thresh Grains vs. Not So Easy

An important first step for the small-scale grower is choosing grain varieties that can be threshed without modern machinery, since some grains grow surrounded by a tough, hard-to-remove outer "husk" or "hull." Some recommendations for easily-threshed grains are:

  • hull-less oats (these oats do have a "hull" or "husk," but it's easier to remove than that of the usual oat varieties)
  • hull-less or "faust" barley
  • Marquis wheat
  • Red Fife wheat
  • rye
  • triticale (cross between rye and wheat)

Some varieties that are notoriously difficult to thresh are:

  • emmer
  • spelt
  • buckwheat

How to Thresh Grains

Small-scale threshing can be done by hand as needed (e.g. if you want a few cups of grain to make a loaf of bread or meal).

Low-tech options include:

  • placing the seed heads in a pillowcase and beating them with a shoe (see the video below), or
  • placing the seed heads on a tarp and beating them with a rubber hose, plastic bat, or other "flail."


Dan Jason's Threshing Box

You can also use a threshing box based on Dan Jason's model, shown in the video below:

Lawrence's Threshing Machine

Many thanks to Lawrence for sending us information on his invention, and the photos! To see all of the photos Lawrence sent us, please click here.

I built a round drum like a pac man. This was built with scrap pieces of 1" plywood for the sides. Scrap pieces of 1/4" plywood for the outer curve. Two light hinges I had in a jar from something or other. The inside is lined with diamond pattern round baler belting.

I then made an axel and attached two pieces of the same baler belt with lots of length to rub on the inside. The axel is scrap closet rod.

Like any homemade project I was so anxious to finish just to see if it would work that some of the fine work was sacrificed. Next time I would soak the 1/4" outer plywood for longer than three minutes. May crack less when attaching to the round sides.
Pre-drill everything before screwing so the plywood doesn't split.

I would hope that nobody ever follows this example exactly. There should be at least half a million people who would add bearings on the axel. Another half million would put a pulley and add a motor. Some might figure a way to automatically screen the grain from it and on and on.

The heavy duty chest closers cost $14 and the baler belt was $50 for about 8'.

I used this to thresh Ethiopian Blue Tinge. Using garden shears I cut only heads into the drum, so no straw.
I'm still looking for a fanning mill, but in the meantime southern Alberta wind is performing some of this task.

Other Threshers/Winnowers

Here's another great idea for a homemade thresher/winnower:

How to Thresh Quinoa

Put on a glove to protect your hand (a rubber kitchen glove will do) and run the seed head through your fingers, scraping off the seeds into a bucket.

How to Winnow Grains

The next step is to separate the grain seeds from the rest of the plant matter (the "chaff"). Traditionally this is done by placing the mix in a bowl and tossing it into the air, where a breeze can blow away the lighter chaff.

Helen Reid uses a blow drier (be sure to wear eye protection and use the "cool" setting so you don't heat the seed too much). Dan Jason uses an air compressor.

Comments (27) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Flailing and beating are inefficient methods. Good for anger therapy, bad for getting the grain threshed.
    The scale of your harvest is what you must consider. If your plot produces more than one or two big arm fulls (sheaves) then you will want to thresh through a machine like a chipper. (works excellent)
    For batches smaller than two sheaves, I have invented a hand powered rubbing machine. easy and cheap to build. Email me for pictures and more details.

    • I am working on post carbon agricultural models. This issue of the thresher is pivotal. I would very much appreciate plans. Thank you.

    • Hi Lawrence,

      How can I see pictures of your invention ?

      • So sorry for the delay — posting Lawrence’s photos and info are definitely a top priority for the coming months … we’ll have them up before 2012 harvest season, and hopefully well in advance so you have time for a building project!
        Sheepishly, your Island Grains webmasters

    • Please send pictures and details of your threshing machine

    • hi lawrence,
      you didn’t specify whether the thresher you designed works for quinoa or not. if it does, i’d be interested in details you are willing to offer.
      this is our 3rd yr growing. we harvested 1 1/2 g last yr. this yr should be more.
      we first sieved thru a 1mm screen, then a 1/2 mm screen. 3X.
      for winnowing we stacked two, 2′ square window fans on top of ea other and poured–from a cookie sheet–the grain from the top fan down onto a bed sheet below. 3 X seemed to get everything very well cleaned.
      thanks for your time and consideration, randy

    • please send me the info on the hand powered rubbing machine. And any other hand powered stuff you have invented. Thank you

    • Could I also have your plans, please?

    • Hello Lawrence,
      I am very interested in your threshing machine. Would you be kind enough to send me information on how I can purchase the pictures and details to build?

      Thank you.

      David Palmer

    • slow your chipper WAY down – i thresh blue tinged on my tractor chipper (mighty mac brand) and run the tractor on very low. Could attach the PTO to a pedal set-up if you were good at welding and/or bolting…
      Put a big tarp under it, and even at slow speed, some seed shoots out the top – so wear safety glasses and close your mouth, lol.

    • can you send me the plans for the hand powered rubbing machine please?

      • i have a tractor mounted chipper/shredder. i drop the idle as low as possible (even 1,000 rpm breaks a bit of seed) and then carefully feed the chipper end with a large plastic sheet under it. It WILL spit some seeds out the top, but all in all, is okay. Going to work on a hand powered thresher this summer from an old electric motor that threshes under a hood into a bin…

        • Oh – and there is a bicycle powered thresher on Youtube somewhere. Looked cool. Like it as much as that Amish vid of the treadle powered thresher. Of course that one cleans the wheat a little bit too, straw out the back, bucket catches the grains from the screening…

          For me, that rocks – BUT – will it do both my blue tinged ethiopian emmer, AND my Sonora White wheat????

  2. may I have plans too? We only planted about 2 square feet, but would like to use the produce.


  3. Lawrence kindly sent us details on his invention, and we apologize for not posting them yet! The farm bumps other priorities. We will post in the fall/winter, once the busy farm season is over, or Lawrence is welcome to post as much as he can himself through our comments function. Sorry about the delay, folks.

  4. Island Grains,
    I would really appreciate the plans too. I am building a small scale wooden hay baler and the two of them would make a great attraction at the local school fetes in our village.



  5. John Jeavon’s Grow Biointensive Youtube series shows what looks like a simple way to thresh grain rubbing heads of grain across mesh screen using foot power. I hope to try it this year.

  6. interesting. I may use this to get the seed from my coriander plants, and/or the fennel and dill, etc, thanks

  7. what about using a clothes dryer with rubber balls, or ball bearings, or wooden blocks (round-square? give me feed back on this idea. No heat obviously

    • if you used a clothes dyer, you’d prob loose all the actual seed through the holes in the dryer.

      I haven’t quite perfected my small scale wheat and oats production. The chickens are thrilled- they get the grain in their winter coop.

  8. We have tried a bunch of systems for threshing. At present, our favorite is using a battery-powered weed whacker in a metal wash tub. We cut off the heads and just put them in the tub, then add the weed whacker. A loose sheet over the tub keeps the chaff from flying out. It’s simple, but effective. We have a lot of wheat this year, though, and may try the chipper mentioned above.

  9. Do you still have the plans for the smaller hand powered machine? If so, could you send me a link to them? I liked the drill & chain method with that bucket. I might do something like that for a stretch of oats someday. Keep up the fine work & thanks for all the great ideas!

  10. Von, I hope that you were able to get an idea from the pictures that were shown above and along with the link. I didn’t draw up any plans. The width might vary depending on the size of belting you can find, then build to fit. I have used this for wheat barley and oats. I was greatly surprised that it would even thresh emmer out of it’s fortress.

  11. My sister and I need to thresh just couple handfuls from the grassy kind of oats. You know, the kind that CAN pretend to be grass. Tips?

  12. i would like to buy a thresher like this

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