The Corn Sheller

What Is A Corn Sheller?

A corn sheller is a simple machine or device made of wood, metal or a combination of materials which is designed to separate the kernels from a dried cob of corn. These machines were developed to reduce the amount of manual labor needed to strip corn cobs to use the kernels for livestock feed, heating fuel and to prepare the corn for milling into flour and cornmeal. Corn shellers are available in handheld, portable, motorized and large commercial sized units.

History of the Corn Sheller

The invention of the modern crank-operated corn sheller is widely attributed to Mr. Lester E. Denison from Middlesex County, Connecticut. Denison was issued a patent on August 12 1839, for a freestanding, hand-operated machine that removed individual kernels of corn by pulling the cob through a series of metal-toothed cylinders which stripped the kernels off the cob.

During that same century, dozens of American patents were filed for corn shellers made of wood, iron or a combination of the two, including one in 1845 by Joseph Briggs of Saratoga County, New York. His sheller produced similar results to that of the Denison sheller but was a compact unit, designed to be supported on a bench or chair.

In the early 1900's, a number of engine-powered corn shellers were developed which provided the foundation for modern commercial and agricultural shellers. These large stream-powered machines have now been mostly replaced with the use of the modern combine harvester that strips the kernels from the corn cob while the corn is being harvested in the field.

Since the introduction of the modern corn sheller in the 1800's, the basic design and function of this machine has remained the same with most modern-day corn shellers bearing a strong resemblance to the original models designed by inventors like Denison and Briggs.

Types of Corn Shellers

Corn shellers are available in simple handheld or hand-crank models as well as large commercial and agricultural units, with prices for new shellers ranging from $15 to over $10,000. While every corn sheller will produce similar results, the speed, materials and source of power varies widely between the different types and styles of corn shellers.

Handheld Shellers

The simplest type of corn sheller is a circular handheld model made of cast iron or cast aluminum, with new models retailing for under $15. To use this type of sheller, the operator holds and rotates the sheller in one hand while pushing the cob of corn through the teeth of the machine. This type of sheller is best suited for occasional use by corn growers requiring seed corn or kernel samples for moisture and disease testing. These simple shellers can also be used by home gardeners who want to shell a few dried corn cobs for use as bird feed. Since using a handheld sheller is slow and labor intensive, this model is not suitable for processing multiple cobs of corn at once.

Hand Operated Corn Shellers

The most common type of mechanical corn sheller is a crank model which can shell up to six cobs of corn per minute. A new hand operated, cast-iron sheller can be purchased for less than $100 at farm and garden supply stores. Antique corn shellers are often available at tag sales and farm auctions.

Most mechanical corn shellers that are produced and sold today are constructed of cast iron with a hand crank. These machines are usually designed to be either mounted on a workbench or suspended between two supports over a bucket where the kernels are collected. There are many videos available on user-content websites such as Youtube which show the operation of the many different types of corn shellers.

Also available online and in do-it-yourself books are plans for low-cost homemade corn shellers, including this wooden model from Mother Earth News.

Powered Corn Shellers

Farmers, grain mills and others who require large quantities of shelled corn often chose corn shellers that are powered directly by an onboard engine or indirectly through a tractor-driven power take-off shaft (PTO). When purchased new, these shellers can cost upwards of $10,000 each and are designed for heavy-duty continuous use in a commercial or agricultural environment such as a livestock feedlot, grain mill or biofuel distribution company.

The Future of Corn Shellers

With the recent surge in the cost of home heating fuel combined with the renewed interest in home gardening and eco-friendly living, growing numbers of homeowners are exploring the use of corn stoves to heat their homes and workshops. This has led to a renewed interest in corn shellers from home gardeners who want to produce their own heating fuel by growing, drying and shelling corn for use in corn stoves and furnaces.

Corn shellers are also popular with backyard chicken keepers who grow, dry and shell their own corn as a cost-effective alternative or supplement to commercial chicken feed. Some gardeners plant corn for use as wild bird seed or feed for other small livestock.