Badass Corn Husker

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Reading this week:

  • The Barefoot Architect by Johan van Lengen
  • Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

So this is one of the coolest pieces of appropriate technology I’ve seen in a while: a home-made diesel-powered high-speed corn husking machine. The guy who built it is rapidly becoming one of my favorite farmers. He lives up the valley from me and until recently I didn’t know how awesome his setup was. He came to my attention because he built some beehives and wanted me to take a look at them. He had heard I had been to the beekeeping workshop, but since I wasn’t around for a while he had gotten all the advice he needed from my counterpart. Development complete, let me tell ya. While we were there looking at the beehives, it turns out he had also just dug a fish pond. We went to go stock the fish pond today, and then he decided to show us his super awesome corn husker.

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He took that beehive to the District Agricultural Show and won 80 kwatcha!

This dude is a pretty nifty engineer. He has a hand-cranked Chinese diesel engine that he can move around and hook up to a few different belt-driven machines on his property. The diesel is normally used for his hammer mill where he grinds up maize, but he also has a grinder for metal fabrication and who knows what else really. He also dug a pit that he can drive his car over to work on it (“costs 35 kwatcha in town,” he tells me) and the first time I met him he was working on a rifle.

The corn husker is not an exercise in subtlety. It is housed in an oil drum and has a feeder funnel welded onto the top of it. Going through the oil drum he has placed a very heavy-duty metal rod suspended on bearings that appear to be rescued from a car. The metal rod has spokes coming off of it, and below the spoked metal rod is a grating. As the corn cobs are fed in the top, they are simply beat mercilessly by the belt-driven spoked metal rod. The cobs flail around inside the husker, losing their kernels. The kernels drop through the metal grating while the corn husks get pushed towards the end by the additional corn cobs being dropped in the top. One person tends the corn husk discharge chute, keeping an appropriate back-pressure of corn husks and feeding not fully-husked, um, husks back in the top for another run-through.

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The last thing the corn cob sees before being violently husked.

The whole thing was fantastic to watch and fantastically loud (hearing protection, alas, is not really a thing in this country, and least in the rural areas). The thing is certainly fast; most people do this by hand and the only other appropriate tech I’ve seen for this problem is a little metal die thing to make it easier to husk by hand. It is a four-person operation: one guy is tending the engine, another is feeding in corn cobs, the third is tending the corn husk discharge chute to keep the system operating well, and the fourth is shoveling corn kernels away from the kernel discharge chute. Cobs go in, cobs fly out the top, cobs spill out the end, kernels fall out in heaps. It’s pretty awesome.

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I was really amazed to see what people can do when they have a problem they want to solve. The farmer there built it himself, and also appears to have come up with the idea himself. I asked if he had seen other people with something similar and he didn’t say he had. He’s not the first guy to invent a corn husker but he might be the first to build one out of car parts, an oil drum, and a Chinese diesel.