Trouble at’ mill…

…When this job came along.

Can you build a miniature mill?

Yup, lets have a meeting.

Can you make that ten miniature mills?


As it is for a good cause, Forever Manchester fund raising for local community projects, we decided to give it a go and donate our time.

The plan was for simple models of mills, with open windows and internal lights to illuminate them, to be used as table centre pieces at a big dinner and fund raising event.

The inspiration was Houldsworth Mill, the corner towers made it look less like a brick box. For simplicity many details were omitted or adjusted.

By Mr Stephen – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5,

The material of choice was 3mm HDF (High Density Fibreboard) to make mills of no more then 300mm cubed. Laser cutting would have been a great option but a failed attempt at designing the mill in a CAD programme consumed too much time and effort. I decided to use a mortiser to cut the windows in stacks of ten wall panels.

Each wall was to be made from three panels, to give the effect of depth where the corner towers are, using smaller panels ensured that the mortiser had sufficient reach. With ten mills that was forty walls and eighty corners. The mortising was carried out in stacks of ten with two cuts per window, all 1440 of them!

The mortised wall panels were then glued together, again in stacks of ten, with off cuts of 3mm board to support the corner panels.

The gluing up process involved making twenty of the walls at 300mm wide, and twenty walls at 294mm wide so that the corners could be butted up within the 300mm size constraint.

The narrower walls then had a wooden batten glued to the edge to for the corner joints. The batten increased the gluing area and added stability and strength and a standard height stop end for the roof to rest on.

A stack of mill walls with the corner battens glued on, and weighted.

Before any further assembly the walls were painted and laid out flat to dry. This is where Sue Archer‘s skills came in to produce a simple but effective colour scheme to imitate the effect of brickwork. We decided on painting a brick colour as a print out of 1:160 ‘N’ scale brick paper was so small that the bricks were barely visible.

The colour scheme was a scrubby mix of ‘red/orange brick’ as a base coat, followed by numerous layers of dry brushed variations in tone, and some darker shadows. A stone parapet colour was added to the roof line and the insides painted satin black.

Following painting the mills were assembled.

To ensure an even pressure along the corners without using lots of long reach cramps I made up a set of wooden cauls. Cauls are lengths of convex timber batten. Cramping at each end applies pressure to the centre of the joint where cramps wouldn’t easily reach. As the mills are very light I didn’t want to use heavy cramps, even for the caul ends. The solution was to bend some metal wire clips from old bicycle spokes (old spokes are well worth keeping in stock for strong springy wire).

A straight batten was used on the outside of the glued mill corner, and the convex caul on the inside. A spring clip was attached to the bottom end while the top end was squeezed tight until the second slip fitted on.

With all the mills assembled, and the paint touched up along the edges, the roof was installed. A dab of glue on the top of each corner post, and a brad nail, held the roof panel while a bead of black adhesive secured the perimeter.

A battery powered LED light was then stuck inside with double sided tape.

This is what the stack of mills look like lit up in the dark.

I also did a quick video fly through.

The Mills have been collected and Forever Manchester are very pleased with them.

They will feature at their Birthday fund raising event in February.