How to Build Windmill Fans
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Secure the blade support wood in the jig (photo 4) and measure the radius of the old fan to get the center point for the saw guide. Measure blade spacing as well, marking each on a board beyond your saw, so as to move the saw guide from mark to mark when making cuts for blades. Fans are cut on a radial pattern: Some use smaller radiuses than others even though blades may be the same length (photo 5).
Built to last
If you want the unit to last, use galvanized nails. Pre-drilling before nailing will prevent cracked blades. When the fan sections are finished, install hardware and paint or treat the wood with a wood preservative, and the mill should last 20 or 30 years.
As to assembly: Baker used steel spars between sections, which made measuring easy. On the Pipe Raymond, all we had left was a semi-rotted, twisted oak spar. I guessed a little long, so I took up the slight extra diameter by using a shim (3/8-inch plastic washer) on each blade at the pivot (photo 6). If the fan sections aren’t tight, they’ll bang as they slide back and forth on the pivot rods when turning.
Surviving the storm
Our largest wood fan rebuild was a 12-foot Elgin at the Western Minnesota Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag. Shortly after we installed the finished piece, an 85 mph wind rolled through the grounds, taking roofs and doing damage. We had permanently furled the mill, however, and it came through unscathed.
Just as happens today, some old-line companies sold on quality and some on price. Baker made good quality wood fan mills and, later, good steel self-oiling windmills. The Pipe Raymond, on the other hand, is a rather competitively priced unit, simply and cheaply constructed. But, like other less-than-perfect relics, it is a piece of history that needs to be preserved. So it goes. FC
Jim and Joan Lacey operate Little Village Farm, a museum of farm collectibles housed in 10 buildings at their home near Dell Rapids, S.D. Contact them at (605) 428-5979.
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