Sep 26

Printing a Pepper Mill

With a firm twist, it shattered. The plastic body had finally had enough and, as it slipped onto the bench in pieces, I realised that the reliable old pepper-mill had ground it’s last peppercorn








“Well, that’s that then”, I thought. But as I examined the pieces and saw that only the case had broken, I started to wonder whether it would be possible to fix it. Perhaps I could I glue it back together. Was there another possibility, would it be worth the effort or would it simply be easier to buy a replacement. The recycler and maker within, recoiled in loathing and insisted that I examine the problem in more detail.

I laid out all the pieces out to see if anything could be done.


As I examined the anatomy of the pepper-mill it was clear that the body was probably beyond repair but the rest of the mill appeared to be in good working condition. It might be possible to fashion a replacement body and repair the mill. However, there was another piece missing. A small retainer clip was lost that holds the spring mechanism together. This allows the tension to be adjusted to change the fineness of the ground pepper. If I was going to repair the mill properly, I would need to replace the clip or fashion and alternative means of holding the spring mechanism in place.

So, how to fashion a new body. Numerous possibilities floated through my head.

  • I could turn it down from wood or metal; I have access to a metal lathe but not a wood lathe.
  • I could make a mould from the original and cast a replacment; it would require the purchase of some moulding and casting materials and some modifications to the mould itself.
  • I could fall back to the original idea of gluing it back together; that could work but the original was quite badly damaged
  • I could 3D print a replacement; I have access to a suitable 3D printer and there is free design software available on-line.

In the end, I decided to try the 3D printer as it was the easiest option for me to make and, if it didn’t work out, I could try option two and try and turn down a replacement on the lathe. I also decided to try to keep as much of the original design intact with the multiple curves and bulges.

Armed with a ruler and a a vernier, I started taking internal and external measurements of the body and making some modifications to the internal structure to incorporate a means of retaining the internal spring mechanism.

I used a free on-line design program called Tinkercad that provides a quick and easy to use interface to assemble shapes into complex 3D objects. I probably spent far too long playing with the design and tweaking things but it was fun getting the body just the way I wanted it.


pepperMill04 pepperMill05










Once the design was done it was simply a matter of printing on the 3D printer. This was quite a large print and I was concerned that there may be some distortion of the base and other areas but the print worked really well.



pepperMill08There was some roughness on the bottom surfaces from the scaffolding used to hold the melted plastic in place and stop it sagging. However, a quick clean with a file and sandpaper after breaking off the scaffolding solved that issue.

The lip near the base of the mill is the redesigned retaining device for the spring mechanism. There are also two pilot holes printed in place to increase the amount of solid plastic wall available for the self tapping screws to ensure a solid attachment.

The print took about three and a half hours but it was largely unsupervised and the printer just plodded along in the background.




All the parts were collected and checked to make sure everything fitted together properly. A few touches here and there with a file and some sandpaper made sure of a snug fit.






It was then just a matter of assembling the pepper-mill with a screwdriver, filling with pepper and trying it out.





The pepper-mill works even better than before, no doubt due to the new retaining mechanism, and the the movement is smooth and consistent.

The grinding adjustment works really well and does not drift.

The plastic is ABS (same as Lego) and considered food safe. The amount of plastic likely to break away and mix with the pepper is too small to worry about so I am happy that there is no problem with using this material in this way.

I wasn’t sure about the bright yellow colour at first. I picked it partly because it was already loaded into the machine and partly because I couldn’t decide if I liked any of the other colours better. However, it was a hit with everybody else in the house and it has grown on me as well.

It used less than $4 of plastic, based on what we pay for a roll of the plastic thread. It took many hours of my time but I enjoyed the challenge of creating the new part and modifying the design.



It took a lot longer to complete the project than I anticipated but the end result was fabulous! All in all, I am very happy with the result and that I was able to repair, rather than throw away and replace. If it turns out that the plastic does not last long term then I always have the option to try another on the lathe, based on the same design.

What about you. What have you been able to repair rather than replace?

There are a number of “maker-spaces” cropping up all over the world where people can access tools and expertise to help them make or repair things. Would you consider joining to one of these places to getaccess to tools including 3D printers to help repair or create items for around the house?


PS: If you are interested in looking in more detail about how I did the 3D design have a look at the link below. It will allow you to look around the model, using the mouse to move and rotate it. Try using all the mouse buttons to see how it can be moved.

You can also go into the design program and edit a copy of the design yourself. If you do, let me know how you went and send me a link to your version.


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Sep 25

First Peppino of the Season

Hooray, we have our first Peppino of the Season YUM! :)



What’s a Peppino, I hear you ask? Well, it’s a great little fruit, twice the size of a chicken egg, that does well in both warm and cold climates provided it has protection from the worst of the frosts.


The peppino (pepino dulce) fruit resembles a melon (Cucumis melo) in color, and its flavor is similar to a mixture of honeydew or rockmelon and cucumber. It is sometimes called pepino melon or melon pear. Its botanical name is Solanum muricatum.

It doesn’t matter how you describe it, it tastes great and it is easy to grow. It has a partially upright, sprawling habit and can be treated similarly to a Tomato. Although the seeds are tough and viable it is mostly propagated by cuttings.

It is well worth trying if you like the flavour of melons.


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Aug 04

The August 2015 Edition of The Good Earth

The August 2015 edition of The Good Earth podcast is available on the WWMN website


Click on the link, turn up the sound and re-live the madness

Remember you can find all the previous Podcasts at


I’ve also copied all the links from the podcast here for easy reference.







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Mar 21

Staple Crops and Climate

One of the interesting things I noted on our recent trip to India was the change in staple crops as we travelled from the tropical South to the arid North West

In the South, there were seemingly endless field fields of rice, sweetcorn, banana and coconut.

lunch-at-the-beach-loresRicefield through a dirty window

As we moved Northward into drier territory the rice gradually gave way to wheat crops and the banana and sweetcorn gave way to patches of beans and lentils.

Eventually the the fields became predominately wheat and mustard until finally, as we entered the deserts, even the wheat disappeared (unless there was irrigation) and mustard became almost the sole crop. Where the weather was mild in the Northwest the major crop was potatoes and we saw hundreds of large trucks, camel and ox carts and all manner of vehicles transporting thousands of bags of potatoes to the many warehouses for distribution.

With modern transport, much of this produce can be sent around the country and indeed, around the world, and the diets throughout the country have merged substantially although there are still significant regional differences in cuisine.

With irrigation the ability to grow other staple crops such as rice in a wheat growing area or wheat where only mustard will grow normally makes a huge difference to the range and quantity of food available to the community.

The difference in food production with the availability of water was bought into sharp focus in Rajasthan where deserts are turned into fields of vivid green wheat, as this picture shows.

water changes everything
What happens though if the irrigation fails or the climate changes or the transport infrastructure fails.? What happens to those large swathes of crops and the communities that depend on them?


This is real concern to many communities around the world as we lose our regional ability to feed ourselves and increasingly rely on external factors such as effective and cheap transport, access to clean water for irrigation and dependence on a stable climate.

Many groups around the world are tackling these issues in a number of ways and there are many solutions being investigated and trialled and developed. Much of the more interesting and seemingly credible ideas center around local resilience through the use of permaculture and organic growing principles. These include

  • careful local resource management such local water catchment, storage and use
  • getting the most from each resource, the classic permaculture idea of multiple uses (eg chickens that supply meat and eggs and also manure, devour harmful insects and dig and condition the soil for vegetable growing)
  • increasing biodiversity and hence resilience to change, particularly sudden and dramatic changes
  • selecting crops, plant and animals most suited to local conditions
  • Constantly evaluating the effectiveness of the planned environment and making changes accordingly

Hopefully, as more and more communities become aware of the risks involved in outsourcing their core needs such as food and water, local resilience in resources will become more widespread.

We can all increase our local resilience and reliance on external inputs. How resilient are you?



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