DIY Bucket Thresher for Backyard Wheat Growers

Last year was our first experience growing wheat. We learned a lot and especially remember the labor and time it took to harvest. Wheat is harvested in three steps: reaping, threshing, and winnowing. Reaping is cutting the wheat, threshing involves removing the grain from the head, and winnowing is separating the grain from the chaff. Threshing was by far the most labor-intensive and tedious step.

Last year, we threshed everything by hand by pounding the wheat heads free with a rubber mallet. On an industrial scale, most wheat is harvested with a combine, which reaps, threshes, and winnows the grain all at once as it’s harvested. For small scale productions like ours, there are not many machines available to assist with threshing. We found a few for sale, but most people just built something on their own. We harvested our second crop of Sonora wheat last month and did not want to repeat the fun of threshing by hand so we built a simple machine. We are happy to report that it works very well. It’s also inexpensive, easy to make, easy to store, and saved us a TON of time!

Here’s what you need:

  • One variable speed drill (3/8″ or larger)
  • One 5 gallon bucket with lid
  • Two lengths of chain slightly smaller than the bucket diameter (approx. 9″)
  • Threaded rod, 5/16″ diameter, 24″ long
  • Four washers, 5/16″
  • Four hex nuts, 5/16″

First, cut a hole in the lid about 2 inches in diameter. We used a simple rotary tool, but if you have a large bit, use it instead. Protect the hole from wear and tear by lining it with duct tape or some other sacrificial material. Doing this helps prevent plastic debris from falling into the bucket as the drill spins the threaded rod. Next, affix the chains to the threaded rod with nuts and washers. Make adjustments as necessary and use thread locker to help hold the chains in place. For each chain segment, be sure to use an odd number of links so you can attach the chain to the rod through the centermost link. You want an equal number of links spinning on each end of the rod so the thresher is well balanced. Finally, firmly attach the rod to the drill, load the bucket with wheat heads (break the heads from the stalks), cover the bucket with the lid, put in the rod, and fire up your new bucket thresher!

Winnowing is the easy part. All you need is a small fan or light breeze. Here’s how to do it.

  • Kirk Waln

    Great! I’ve had fairly good luck with this method processing wheat, hulless barley and hulless oats. Doing this in a “batch” fashion is time consuming so with the idea of speeding things up a trifle, this year I tried a slightly modified version – I cut out most of the bottom of the bucket, leaving about a 3/4 inch edge to which I attached 1/4inch mesh hardware cloth. I then “nested” the modified bucket onto another bucket. . . It takes some experimentation with the right amount of seed heads in the bucket and timing with the drill but with some practice I got so I could separate the seed from the heads before I flailed everything to small bits. Then with a bit of shaking, I could get a first-cut separation of coarse stems and chaff (in the top bucket) and seed (in the bottom bucket)!

  • Hi Kirk, thanks for posting. That is a fantastic idea! We were separating the stems by hand and kept thinking to ourselves “next time, we’ll have to find some mesh to speed this up…” We originally planned to build a square strainer to pour the grain through, but the bucket in a bucket idea sounds like a clever solution!

  • LeAnn McKenzie Lewis

    Thanks for the pics! I saw this on You tube, but couldnt figure out how the guy got the chains to stay put. Exactly what I was looking for, literally for the last 2 hours. I shared it on FB too.

  • You’re welcome, glad this DIY guide helped you out. Thanks for sharing on FB, we appreciate it!

  • Freeholder1776

    Okay, this is brilliant.

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  • Ira Lee White

    Wonderful idea! I just harvested my first crop of volunteer wheat from my yard (it grows all over the place here in North Eastern Oregon) and was looking for a way to thresh it.