In Praise of Simple Machines In the Kitchen

By Liesl Clark

Back to basics with our morning joe. Photo © Liesl Clark

Back to basics with our morning joe. Photo © Liesl Clark

Simple machines in the kitchen and household are one of our secrets to living the pleasures of the simple life, decreasing our dependence upon electricity or fancy gadgets with many parts. The simple machine simply works. They’re the hand tools of old that we fall back on when modern conveniences break down, which they often do. Take the lever, for example. Pull a lever for mechanical advantage and you have the strength of Hercules.

When we arrived at Grammy’s Florida home with a 10-gallon bucket filled to overflowing with valencia oranges we had picked, I looked in her cupboard to find an electric citrus juicer.

Citrus Juicer. The plastic small appliance we can do without. Photo © Liesl Clark

Citrus Juicer. The plastic small appliance we can do without. Photo © Liesl Clark

“Great!” I thought, until I plugged the plastic thing in and found it didn’t work. Taking it apart to see if it needed a new fuse, etc. wasn’t something we had time for. So Grammy pulled out another juicer, the hand lever kind you pull down that squishes your halved oranges in seconds, and I knew she had found the better machine.

This beautiful, all stainless, citrus press is a thing of beauty. Photo © Liesl Clark

This beautiful, all metal and rubber, citrus press is a thing of beauty. Photo © Liesl Clark

In minutes, we had lovely glasses of hand-lever-squeezed orange juice, all from the effort of a 9-year-old who wouldn’t relinquish the lever. I’m ready to invest in one now that I’ve discovered the joys of fresh squeezed, self-picked liquid gold. We currently use a ceramic citrus juicer at home which works really well, but the simple machine could cut our hand-rotating out completely, which makes sense for 4 cups of o.j. in the a.m.

Fresh OJ in seconds, and a lesson in simple machines. Photo © Liesl Clark

Fresh OJ in seconds, and a valuable lesson in simple machines. Photo © Liesl Clark

We’ve been on a mission, lately, to seek out these ingenious machines that provide mechanical advantage, putting force on an object like an orange with little effort. One-by-one, they’re replacing our small appliances.

Take the electric coffee grinder, for example. Nothing wakes up our household more abruptly than the sound of someone whirring coffee beans in an electric grinder. And when the electricity goes out, which it often does in winter on our Northwest island, we can’t have fresh ground coffee. Could we find an adequate coffee grinder that wouldn’t tap resources like electricity or fuel? I searched for months throughout the web and in antique shops for old-fashioned grinders and found some beautiful ones. But none got great reviews that I could trust and most wouldn’t grind the beans to espresso grade. I bought a camp-style one for my husband to take on his mountaineering expeditions. But it wouldn’t grind enough for a house full of groggy adults.

We then purchased a beautiful Persian grinder that also took ages to grind beans. We imagined in the warmth of some semi-arid desert, this grinder would fit nicely on the back of a camel but you’d need an hour or so each morning to get enough ground stuff for a decent cup of joe. It was promptly retired to pepper grinding.

Finally, we found a grinder that was the most simple design and can take a mason jar as its reservoir. This simple machine utilizes larger gears than the 2 grinders we had previously bought and it produces a fresh ground coffee perfect for my hubby’s stove-top espresso maker.

The best we could find, a modern version of an antique coffee grinder. Photo © Liesl Clark

The best we could find, a modern version of an antique coffee grinder. Photo © Liesl Clark

Contrary to what Stumptown says on their website, my husband husband claims “it’s effortless” to grind the coffee. No workout, truly. And I can attest to the fact that it’s not too hard to grind your beans and it doesn’t take very long to produce the perfect grind for several cups of coffee and gives us peace-of-mind for power-free days at home. We use hand-grinder daily, in fact, power or no power.

Two minutes of grinding and you've got a fine espresso grind. Photo © Liesl Clark

Two minutes of grinding and you’ve got a fine espresso grind. Photo © Liesl Clark

So try your hand at using simple machines again. You’ll enjoy cutting back on your power dependence and feel like you truly earned that morning fix of java and o.j.

If you’re looking for a quick trash hack to make your own coffee grinder, visit our Trash Backwards app for further research where you can also learn how to green up your whole java experience.

Click Through to DIY a Coffee Grinder and Green Your Coffee Habits at Trash Backwards

Click Through to DIY a Coffee Grinder and Green Your Coffee Habits at Trash Backwards

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Categories: DIY, Plastic-Free Living, Reduce Your Use, Trash Pile - All Our Stuff


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6 Comments on “In Praise of Simple Machines In the Kitchen”

  1. Susan Klein
    February 25, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I’ve been looking for something like this, can you share the brand and where you found it?

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:31 am #

      Hi Susan — Are you looking for a coffee grinder or a citrus press? The coffee grinder can be found at Stumptown, which is here:

      And the citrus hand-lever juicer that our Grammy has is an old one. I found this one, that’s quite similar, on Amazon:

      She got it from an army-navy surplus store about 30 years ago that had surplus equipment from submarines. It had the initials S.F. on the bottom and it’s branded “Orange X USA.” I found the company OrangeX as seen above at Amazon and they make more modern ones, but they’re still made of cast-iron, stainless steel, and rubber! They can juice anything from a lime to a grapefruit and apparently do pomegranates too.
      — Liesl at Trash Backwards

  2. February 25, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I need to do this, I have my kitchen down to 5 appliances. A pot to heat water, my slow cooker, a juicer, blender, and the rice cooker. I eliminated the toaster when I considered whether or not I really needed to “burn” bread to eat it and decided when I ate bread it could definitely be un-toasted. I don’t use all these appliances every day. For example I don’t use the rice cooker and the slow cooker on the same day and the blender and juicer are used very infrequently. The pot for heating water is the only appliance I use regularly. As the warm weather arrives I will eat more foods raw which eliminates the need to plug anything in.

    • February 25, 2013 at 10:38 am #

      Thanks for these notes, Lois. I’m just putting together a post about how and why we reduced our kitchen appliances, especially the plastic and Teflon ones. I’m curious, is your water heating pot made of plastic? And is the rice cooker Teflon-free? I’ve had to offload our rice cooker and couldn’t replace it because there are none on the market without Teflon. But found that our Le Crueset cast iron (enamel coated) pot works just as well if not better — Just need to remember to turn the heat off when it’s close to done!

      • February 25, 2013 at 10:41 am #

        Unfortunately no my rice cooker is teflon. I am looking for one that isn’t but without a stove this is the best option for warming foods I have. But also no, in a good way, my pot to heat water is metal. It was found at a yard sale and is even made in USA to boot. The same with the blender, it belonged to my grandmother and is metal and glass and again made in the USA.

      • February 25, 2013 at 10:44 am #

        Woo hoo! I love that the old glass and metal appliances keep on working. I didn’t realize you don’t have a stove. You’re so resourceful!

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