Sunday 9 January 2022

Hand Built History is back.

After an interregnum of about a month HBH is back with a new camera and the first photos of our second phase, whereby I photograph the wargames models I have built in recent years. Here's the first of these previously unseen efforts, a windmill from Belgium, (the Spanish or Austrian Netherlands at the time) as it would have stood in the 15th to 18th centuries. Such structures were different only in detail across France, Germany, Holland and Britain over this period. In order to make a realistic model I researched the technology of how windmills worked, which I found fascinating. So I'll try to explain it a bit, picture by picture.

The miller's job was hard work. When his mill was operating he constantly had to turn the entire body and sails to face into the wind, and he had to "set" the amount of canvas stretched across the underlying wooden framework of the four sails. If the wind was high he had to take in sail, or else risk the whole structure shaking or even collapsing. On stormy days he couldn't safely work the mill. When there was little wind he set "full sail" to catch it. The principle was just the same as on a contemporary sailing ship. 

My model is set on less than half sail, as if for for a windy day. The canvas sheets were attached by rings like curtain runners at the inner end, then by hook and eye along their length. A strong rope was stitched in along the trailing edge, and the unused sail was twisted around this, then around the leading edge of the frame and tied firmly at the outer end.

The miller lived in a nearby cottage, not the mill itself, which was full of running machinery. The sails turned a shaft and this power was transferred by cogs and gears to two massive circular millstones inside the structure. The miller poured grain so that it was ground down between these stones, emerging as flour. Full sacks were hoisted and let down by the rope and pulley you see suspended from the top rear.

The model was built out of balsa mainly, with styrene sheet for the metal parts and anything delicate. Each sail was based on two plastic ladders glued together. The sails were made from an old handkerchief, stiffened with thin PVA before being painted.

The whole body of the mill had to be turned into the wind as it shifted, using used the "tiller" you see projecting out through access stairs at the back of the mill. The mill revolved on the central support post, which projected a long way into the enclosed structure.

Surprisingly, the central post didn't touch the ground. Instead the weight of the mill is carried by the diagonal braces which transfer it to the horizontal cross, resting on stone supports at each end. Note the old mill-wheel on the ground. They wore out after years of cereal grinding, and it was customary to leave them by the mill as token of how long it had been in operation.

Around the end of the eighteenth century, new technology made these mills redundant. Windmills now mostly consisted of a stone or brick tower, with only the top revolving. A little sail like the tail rotor of a helicopter automatically aligned this into the wind. And canvas sails were replaced by wooden slats which let strong winds through, thus removing the need to reset the sails as the wind force changed. But less than a century later steam power made the windmill redundant. Restorations and residential conversions of these imposing structures are still to be seen here and there across Europe. 


  1. Gorgeous windmill with such wonderful detail. Could be a museum piece.

  2. Glad to see you back John! This is another wonderfully detailed model and the background history is very interesting too!

  3. Nice model combined with a history lesson.

    Reality check on our little battlefields.

    everyone's gotta eat.

  4. Lovely model and very interesting to read of the actual workings of these contraptions.

  5. Thanks very much, guys, your comments are greatly appreciated as always. I'm glad you too found it interesting how these things worked. The history and research side of our hobby has always been one of the big drivers for me, and that extends somewhat beyond the strictly military side of things, into the technology, the social and political life of past centuries.
    Anyway, there is a good deal more to come, starting with other Belgian buildings. I will be photographing them later today. We won't be quite back to daily posts, but hopefully will have something for your entertainment every few days.

  6. That is a beautiful model once again John and you've really captured the colours of weathered timber perfectly. Great bit of background too as to how the windmill worked. Looking forward to the next post:)

  7. John - how I long for a windmill from you for my medievals!!
    Really enjoying this blog - hope its working well for you.
    All the best, simon.