Farm Collector

Hands On:

Restoring a windmill? Any windmill scheduled for restoration must have all the iron present, and at least one wheel section to use as a pattern for duplicates. Sources like the Panhandle Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas, or the American Wind Power Center in Lubbock can help with parts lists and, in some cases, locate illustrations from original advertising to indicate the proper color.

A sectional wheel windmill is assembled on the tower. Most of these were erected on wooden towers, though it is entirely proper to use a good angle iron tower.

The tower we built for our Yale windmill was assembled out of timber cut from used telephone poles. A 10-foot diameter mill needs 5′ x 5′ leg timbers. Cross members should be at least 1′ x 5′. The leg spread varies with the owner’s preference: 3:1, 3.5:1 and even 4:1 ratios are common. A 3:1, 21-foot tower has a bottom leg spread of 7 feet.

You will be standing on top of the tower you build, so make it strong and sturdy. Bolts are better than nails. If you paint the tower, paint all components before assembly.

Anchor post holes for a 10-foot mill on a 21-foot, four-leg tower, either wood or steel, should be at least 4 feet deep. Steel towers use angle iron anchors. Wooden towers should use cedar for the anchor posts. Pick pieces that are larger in diameter than the tower legs. Drill the anchor holes, put in the cedar posts (with no backfill), stand the tower up, and then bolt the cedar to the tower legs. Leave 4 to 6 inches between the bottom of the tower leg and the ground. The Wind Power Center uses a combination of concrete and tamped earth to pack in anchor posts after the tower has been leveled and plumbed.

Lift up the windmill’s main casting and insert it into the tower. Attach the other iron components. Most sectional mills have a counterbalance weight. If it is hollow, fill the cavity with rock, steel balls, or sand to a weight that will counterbalance the wheel. If you don’t, the windmill will not orient properly and it will wear out the tower cap bearing.

Before assembling the wheel, bolt on the pull-out crank lever. Fasten the cable or chain and have it ready to attach to the folding lever on top of the mill. If you don’t do this first, when the wheel is assembled and untied, it will take off in the wind and probably take you with it.

Once you are safely belted and standing on your sturdy platform, bolt the wheel arms in place. Lift up one wheel section at a time and bolt it between two arms. Control rods will need to be fitted. Make sure these rods have double nuts on the threaded ends. Rotate the wheel 180 degrees and tie it off to insert the next section. Rotate the wheel 90 degrees, tie and insert.

Work your way around the wheel until you’re ready for the last section. As with any windmill, the last section is difficult. It may take a spreader bar to spread the wheel arms enough so that this section can be inserted. Attach the pull-out chain and make doubly sure it works. Carefully check every bolt and nut for tightness. Rotate the wheel by hand to see that it operates correctly. Climb down and turn on your mill. A properly assembled and maintained sectional wheel windmill controls itself easily in the wind.

For more information: Coy Harris is the executive director of the American Wind Power Center in Lubbock, Texas. The AWPC can be contacted at 1501 Canyon Lake Drive, Lubbock, TX 79403, (806) 747-8734. For those with questions on windmills, contact Coy Harris at

  • Published on Mar 1, 2001
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