For many woodturners, the gateway into getting started turning often takes two paths – bowls or project kits. Kits like pens, bottle stoppers, etc., are a great way to get started as they require very little wood and only a small lathe and make for a beautiful finished product.
As your woodturning skills advance then, so do your turning ambitions. One project kit that requires a little more wood and upfront cost is a Crushgrind peppermill. The result of turning one of these pepper grinders is a beautiful and functional tool that will live (and actually get used!) in your kitchen for years.
I started turning pepper grinders for my woodworking business almost two years ago now, and over that time, I have produced hundreds of them. Now I can share a few tips I have learned with you so you can quickly start turning your pepper grinders.
How to Turn a Crushgrind Pepper Grinder
Turning a Crushgrinder Pepper Grinder is a fairly straightforward process but has several steps that need to be followed in order. I’ll lay them out along with some tips I have learned to help make this a smooth process.
You can also scroll down to the end of these instructions to download a handy PDF version you can print out and reference while in the shop.
First off are the tools and materials needed to turn a Crushgrind peppermill.
The crushgrind mechanisms are sold in various lengths, allowing you to make pepper grinders as short as 5 inches and as tall as 20 inches! The shafts can also be trimmed to size with a hacksaw so you can make any size in between.
I purchase the 7.6″ tall mechanisms for my 8″ grinders and the 4.8″ for my 6″ grinders that I sell. The 4.8″ mechanisms are a little tougher to find in retail stores (I purchase all of mine in bulk), but as I mentioned earlier, the longer mechanisms can be trimmed down to make a shorter grinder.
To turn a Crushgrind pepper mill, you’ll need to start with material that is at least 2.5″ square and about an inch longer than your planned final height. You’ll lose some length with the tenons on the ends and middle sections.
I turn all my grinders using 10/4 material from our local hardwood dealer. Most of my grinders end up with a finished diameter of ~ 2 1/4″, leaving enough wall thickness to make them stable enough to handle the jam chucks during the turning process.
I like to use Gorilla 5-minute epoxy. It is readily available online and at Lowe’s and Home Depot and has worked well for me.
Tools Required to Turn a Crushgrind Pepper Grinder
This one is pretty obvious.
You’ll need a 4-jaw chuck to hold the pepper grinder body and top sections and a jam chuck for finishing the grinder. We’ll be turning our own jam chuck later. You’ll also need a drill chuck to hold the forstner bits for drilling out the body and top sections.
There are plenty of different options for turning tools, but here is the set I use when turning pepper grinders.
- 1″ Spindle Roughing Gouge
- 3/8″ Bowl Gouge
- Thin Parting Tool
- Skew Chisel
I’m a big fan of traditional woodturning tools, but you can also easily use carbide tools for this project.
This is the part where turning a pepper grinder gets a bit expensive. You’ll need four different sizes of forstner bits to drill out the recesses for the different sections of the grinder.
Here is where I can add a little extra wisdom versus many of the other pepper mill turning guides out there.
Imperial Versus Metric Forstner Bits
When you look up instructions on how to turn a Crushgrind peppermill, you’ll find them either in metric or imperial measurements. Crushgrind is a European company, so the mechanisms are made with metric dimensions.
Any instructions using imperial measurements and imperial forstner bit sizing is approximating the closest available size to the corresponding metric dimensions.
For three of the four forstner bits that you’ll need for this project, this difference doesn’t matter all that much. But there is one bit, which is used to drill out the body of the grinder, where the imperial suggestion leaves way too loose of a fit between the top and body of the grinder and, in my opinion, a very sloppy end result unless you’re willing to turn an extra tenon.
So in my list of required bits below, you’ll notice that three are imperial, and one is metric. Luckily, forstner bits in metric sizing are readily available, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding the one you need.
Back to the Forstner Bit Sizes
Here are the four sizes of forstner bits I use to turn my Crushgrind peppermills.
These bits run $10 to $30 each if you go for the standard high-carbon steel options. There are also carbide options available, but these are very expensive, so I’d only recommend them if you have a lot of money to burn or will be turning pepper grinders in a production shop.
I have used the regular steel options for years, and they have worked fine.
Forstner Bit Extender
This is another tool where, when I was getting started with turning my first grinder, I just ordered a bunch of items listed in a popular guide for turning a crushgrind peppermill.
A forstner bit extender, for those that don’t know, is just a rod that accepts a forstner bit in one end and attaches to your drill chuck on the other. This allows you to drill deeper into the wood than your forstner bit would typically allow.
If you plan on turning pepper grinders that are longer than ~ 8 1/2″, then you do need a bit extender. If you are staying under this length, there is juuuuuust enough room to drill out the blanks without having to add an extra tool into your process.
Crushgrind Turning Tool
Last but not least is a Crushgrind turning tool.
The way this tool works is it is used to cut a recess into the body and top of the wood blanks. The Crushgrind mechanisms have tabs that will lock into this recess, holding them into place. Supposedly, if you use metric forstner bits and this tool, you don’t need to use any epoxy when assembling the peppermill.
I use the tool as I like that it adds some extra strength to the connection between the mechanism and the wood, but I also use epoxy.
I would consider this a very optional tool as you can epoxy in the mechanisms, and that works just fine.
Turning the Pepper Mill
Now we can get to turning the grinder!
Step 1 – Turn the blank to round
Mount your wood blank between centers on the lathe and turn it down until it is fully round. You don’t want the final diameter to drop below ~2 1/4″, so if you’re starting with 10/4 material, don’t be too aggressive at this stage. You’ll want as much to work with when turning the final shape.
Step 2 – Mark and cut the tenons
Cut the tenons using a parting tool or skew chisel. I like to do this step with a skew chisel as it gives them the exact shape to fit in a 4-jaw chuck. The middle tenon on the body between the body and the top can be a little tricky as there isn’t enough room to fit the skew. I’ll usually do this step with a parting tool and then clean up the shoulder with a narrow parting tool.
Step 3 – Part off the top
Using a narrow parting tool, I’ll part off the top 90% of the way through and cut through the rest with a Japanese pull saw.
Step 4 – Mount the top of the pepper grinder and turn the bottom face flat
Mount the tenon on the top portion of your grinder in your 4-jaw chuck.
Clean up the face of the bottom of this section of the grinder. I like using my bowl gouge for this step as it leaves a clean finish. Check that the face is perfectly flat to slightly concave, using a straight edge as you go. If the face is convex, then the grinder’s two portions will not sit correctly.
Finish the face with some sandpaper.
Step 5 – Drill out the top
Insert your drill chuck into the tailstock and insert the 15/16″ forstner bit. Measure and mark 1 1/4″ on the bit, as this will be the depth you’ll drill into the top.
Set your lathe at the appropriate speed for the forstner bit and drill out the hole.
Step 6 – Mount the bottom of the grinder
Mount the body of the grinder in your 4-jaw chuck from the tenon at the bottom of the grinder. Check to make sure the grinder is centered. I usually give it a couple of taps with a rubber mallet to get it perfectly centered.
Insert the 26mm (or 1 1/16″ if you’re using all imperial sizing) into the drill chuck and drill out the body of the grinder.
Note that you will NOT clean up the face or remove the exposed tenon during this step.
During this step, I will drill as deep as the forstner bit allows. If you’re making a pepper grinder with a height of 8″ or less, then there is no need to use a bit extender. Just drill the full depth of the bit. If your grinder is taller than 8″, then you most likely will need to use the bit extender either now or when drilling from the bottom.
Step 7 – Turn the grinder body around
Mount the bottom of the grinder from the other tenon.
The exposed face should now be the bottom of the grinder. Remove the exposed tenon and turn the face flat. During this step, I will usually remove some material from the inside of the grinder with my gouge. This helps reduce wear on the 1 3/4″ forstner bit. Just make sure the outer 1/2″ of the grinder bottom is flat and cleaned up with sandpaper.
Step 8 – Drill out the rest of the body
Mount the 1 3/4″ forstner bit in your drill chuck and drill to a depth of 5/8″. This depth typically corresponds with the thickness of the head of most standard steel forstner bits, so I use that as my depth guide. Note that if you don’t drill deep enough during this step, the bottom of the grinder mechanism will stick out, and the grinder will not sit flat once finished.
Next, insert the 1 9/16″ forstner bit into the drill chuck and drill to a total depth of 2 1/8″ from the bottom of the grinder. You’ll be drilling an additional 1 1/2″ beyond the hole made by the 1 3/4″ forstner bit for a total depth of 2 1/8″.
Another depth-measuring tip is that this depth usually corresponds with the body of the forstner bit.
Lastly, remount your 26mm forstner bit in the drill chuck and drill through the body until you run into your previously drilled hole from the other side.
Step 9 – Turn a jam chuck
A jam chuck is used to mount a piece of wood from the inside versus using jaws, for example, to grab it from the outside. To finish our pepper grinder, we will need a way to hold it from the inside so we can turn the full length of the outside to its final shape.
For my jam chucks, I use a 10/4 square offcut of maple. Mount the square in your 4-jaw chuck and turn the exposed section down to approximately 2″ in diameter. You’ll want to slowly turn a straight-sided tenon 1 3/4″ in diameter and approximately 5/8″ long. Check the size of the tenon frequently using the bottom of the grinder as a guide.
When done correctly, the body of your pepper grinder will fit very snugly onto this tenon. I like to add a very slight taper to the tenon, as this helps get the grinder’s body on and off a little easier.
I also like to flare back the corners of the block to give myself extra room to work when finishing the grinder body and protect my hands from getting hit by the spinning chuck.
Step 10 – Turn another chuck to attach the top and bottom of the grinder
A few of the popular guides out there for turning a Crushgrind peppermill have you turning the top and bottom pieces separately. This works fine for designs with an offset top, but for designs with a sleeker, more modern look, the two pieces need to be turned and sanded together.
To accomplish this, I have a small chuck with one end turned to 26mm to fit into the top of the body and the other end turned to 15/16″ to fit into the top of the grinder.
To turn this chuck, I started with a short piece of wood just larger than 1″ square and approximately 3 inches long. Using calipers turn half of the piece down to 26mm and the other half to 15/16″ diameter. Test fit the chuck on the top and bottom of the grinder to ensure it can fully press together.
The fit should be snug but not so tight that it is too difficult to remove.
Step 11 – Attached the grinder body to the jam chuck
Remount the jam chuck in your 4-jaw chuck and press the grinder body onto the chuck. Be careful not to apply too much pressure, as the chuck can split the bottom of the grinder if too much pressure is applied.
I use a rubber mallet to seat the grinder on the chuck. Insert a cone center into your tailstock and slide it forward, so it fits into the 26mm hole in the body. This will help to center the mill on the jam chuck.
Step 12 – Remove the last tenon
There is still one tenon left on the body of the mill that needs to be removed. You can do this while the piece is on the jam chuck by taking light passes with a bowl gouge or carbide tool. Because of the length of the body, it can easily be knocked off the chuck, so go very slowly during this step.
Alternatively, you can hold the entire body in the jaws of your chuck to remove this last tenon. This method will leave indents in the body of the mill, but as long as you have enough material to work with, these can be removed during the final turning.
Finish the top of the body as you did with the top of the grinder by ensuring it is flat to slightly concave by checking with a straight edge.
Step 13 – Attach the top of the grinder
Insert the small chuck you turned into the body and add the grinder top. Bring your tail stock up against the end of the grinder to keep everything stable.
Step 14 – Turn and finish the grinder
Using a roughing gouge, turn the entire grinder back round, then add whatever shape you like. Be careful, as the walls on the bottom of the grinder are thin.
Don’t worry about finishing the very top of the grinder during this step as well will take care of that next.
Sand the grinder up to 220 or 320 grit and apply finish if you’d like. I will add my finish later on, but it can also be done now.
Since I turn all of my grinders to a sleek, cylindrical shape, I’ll next remove to top and sand a slight chamfer on the body where it meets the tops. This helps to hide any wobble if the grinder is slightly off-center.
Step 15 – Turn another jam chuck for the top of the grinder
You can turn a new jam chuck or turn down a portion of your prior jam chuck to accept the top of the grinder. The diameter for this chuck will need to be 15/16″ and needs to be a tight fit.
Step 16 – Finish the top of the grinder
Attach the top of the grinder to the jam chuck and shape and finish the end of the top. Make sure not to turn or sand the base of the top, or it will no longer match the body exactly.
Step 17 – Dry fit the mechanism
Press the pepper grinder mechanism into the body and test fit the top. If these shaft needs to be trimmed down, this can be done with a hack so or oscillating tool with a metal cutoff blade.
If you trim down the shaft, I would recommend reshaping the top of the cut end of the shaft on a disc sander or sandpaper taped to your workbench.
Step 18 – Remove the locking tabs on the mechanism body
On the body of the mechanism, there are two tabs that need to be removed if you don’t choose to cut recesses into the grinder body using the Crushgrind turning tool. These can be sanded off on a disc sander or filed down.
Step 19 – Attach the mechanism with epoxy
Mix up your 5-minute epoxy and add a generous amount to the 1 9/16″ hole in the body of the grinder. Press fit the body mechanism into the grinder body.
Then do the same with the top of the grinder and press fit in the grinder mechanism top. Note that a portion of the mechanism is protruding from the top of the grinder. This serves as a tenon that fits into the body of the grinder and keeps the alignment stable.
If we had used the 1 1/16″ forstner bit as many sites recommend, then this tenon would not fit tightly, and there would be a lot of play between the top and bottom of the grinder.
Press the top of the grinder onto the shaft until the tenon is fully seated. You’ll need to press on the bottom of the grinder mechanism to ensure it doesn’t slide out during this step. Doing it this way will ensure everything aligns as the epoxy cures.
I like to leave the grinder on its side after this step and rotate it every few minutes until the epoxy sets up. This prevents the epoxy from dripping down into the grinding gears and gumming everything up.
Step 20 – Apply the finish
If you haven’t already applied finish, you can do so once the epoxy has hardened. I like to finish my grinders with a beeswax/mineral oil finish, but there are plenty of options out there to choose from.
And that is it! You now have a beautiful, functional pepper grinder to use in the kitchen, sell, or give away as a gift. While this may seem like a daunting process, once you get the steps down, it goes pretty quickly.
Crushgrind Pepper Mill Instructions PDF
Here is a handy PDF of the instructions to make a Crushgrind pepper mill that you can download, print, and keep on hand when turning your own grinder. I used to keep a set of similar instructions pinned up next to the lathe until I had my process down.
PDF to come shortly
Derek grew up woodworking in his father’s shop and has since gone on to start up a successful woodworking business on Etsy. In his spare time, you can find him mountain biking, skiing, or writing.