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A Primative (but Free!) Corn Sheller

This homesteader had plenty of dried corn and chickens to feed it to, but no money to buy a corn sheller. The solution was to make one.

| January/February 1983

  • corn sheller - sheller hole w/ four protruding nails
    Drive in four nails at the 3, 6, 9, and 12 o'clock positions. It's simple but it will do the job.
    Ronald B. Brown
  • corn sheller - brace & bit or chisel methods
    A brace and bit is useful, but it you don't have one already a wood chisel will work. The hole doesn't need to be perfect.
    Photo by Ronald B. Brown
  • corn sheller - little girl using free corn sheller
    Anyone can use the corn sheller, even a child.
    Photo by Ronald B. Brown

  • corn sheller - sheller hole w/ four protruding nails
  • corn sheller - brace & bit or chisel methods
  • corn sheller - little girl using free corn sheller

Many years ago, when I first kept chickens, I found myself running low on poultry feed and short on cash. Luckily for me, a farmer down the road had a cornfield that was so mucky he couldn't get into it with his tractor. Rather than let the crop go to waste he offered to let me handpick what I wanted for $1.00 per bag — regardless of the size of the sacks used!

So, knowing a real bargain when I see one, I promptly "volunteered" all available family members for corn-harvesting duty. We picked the dried-on-the-stalk ears in the sun and in the rain ... we picked when it was so cold that ice covered the puddles in the tractor-tire ruts ... we even picked with snow on the ground and after the earth turned to mush the following spring.

Obviously, we got more than enough chicken feed, and — even more obviously — most of our spare time that winter was spent husking and shelling corn. (Fortunately, corn keeps best on the cob, so we were able to shell it as we needed it.)

There Are Easier Ways

I must say, a corn sheller sure would have been nice to have had that year. At the time, both Montgomery Ward and Sears sold models that could be clamped onto the side of a barrel and — according to catalog descriptions — would process 14 bushels an hour. (I personally have grave doubts about achieving any such production rate. The machine can probably stand up to the task if you can turn the handle fast enough, but should you actually push yourself that hard the first hour, you'll likely be too tired to shell any corn the following hour!) In those lean times, though, I simply didn't have the $25 required to make such a purchase; today the same shelters cost $60 to $65!

So we processed our chicken-feed bonanza all by hand. To do this, you simply grasp a dry ear of corn horizontally in front of you (as if it were the handle of a lawn mower) and, while holding it over a container of some kind, twist your hands back and forth. The kernels will be rubbed from the cob and fall into the bucket — right along with tiny flecks of skin scraped painfully from your palms and fingers. (If your hands are in shape, they won't get sore until you're into the third bushel. If not, I hope you have a good remedy for blisters.)

Over the years, my wife and children and I have shelled literally hundreds of bushels of corn by this method. But (and here's the good news) I've finally come up with a better way — a no-cost, 30-minutes-to-build, it-really-works, no-moving-parts corn sheller! Now my invention can't compete with a factory-made model, but the device does make the job much easier than it was with the two-fisted method! And as is true of many successful tools, the key to its efficiency is simplicity.

Leta Bez-Wogen
11/20/2019 10:32:20 AM

We were searching for info on cleaning dry corn in order to burn it in a furnace for warmth when I came across your article. We found your description of things charming and informative. We bought a corn furnace last winter and spent evenings hand cleaning the cob and fines from bagged corn by pouring amounts into old bicycle baskets and shaking them back and forth. The baskets worked well because the holes were finer screen and the corn went through the wider screen at the bottom of the basket into a bucket - leaving the cob in the basket. When the bucket was full we'd haul it over to a self made fine screen (consisting of wood left over from a bike display rack we'd dismantled ) of two troughs, placed opening to opening with fine screen in between. It was set at an angle and the corn ran down the chute landing in one bucket and the fines in another. We could then pour the corn into the hopper at that point. The gentle shh of the furnace and the warmth it created (after all we didn't get it until December and it was dang cold in MN by then!) was comforting as we sat side by side cleaning corn. However the work was hard and my mate is trained as a mechanical engineer so this year we have worked out a way to have the corn cleaned through a new contraption he built from outside into our basement, using the gravity of our basement stairs and ending up in a red, mysterious, fiberglass container we found in the basement when we moved in. It will hold 3/4 of a ton. This means we can have the corn delivered by a truck with a chute to pour corn into the top of our cleaner, affording great savings for us - the bags were expensive. I don't know why I tell you all this except I got an impression you would understand - we never get opportunity to explain things and we are so happy with our plans.

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