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Jeff Donaghue's Cider Press

This press was designed and constructed by Jeff Donaghue of the Brewery Creek Brewing Company, 23 Commerce Street, PO Box 163, Mineral Point, WI 53565, USA.

[picture of press]

So, you want to make your own cider press? The setup which I described in "Pomona" is easy to make, relatively cheap and efficient. First I'll go over a few general points, then discuss each component and the operation of the system. I don't claim to have made the best system on the planet, just one that works, so feel free to experiment, improve, innovate. I prefer to make the most use of what I have on hand around me, then go out and buy materials. Sometimes I end up with junk and have to do it all over but sometimes it works just fine. The "art" factor in cider making is up to you. Whether you ferment or not, which varieties of fruit you choose to blend, your sanitation, etc. all have more to do with the quality of the final cider than what kind of machinery you use to squeeze the juice out of the fruit.

The Plans

Did I say plans? More of a concept really. Listen carefully, here's the plan...!

1. General Points

1.1 Bigger is usually better. This means that if you have a choice between a16 inch or 20 inch wide press get the 20 incher. A 20 ton jack will be better than a 12 ton jack. A 1/2 hp grinder will work longer and harder than a 1/3 hp grinder. Any size components can be combined. Your budget will dictate what you get.

1.2 Think "food grade". Your grinder and press will have "incidental contact" with food that you and your loved ones will consume. It will take a little more money and effort to find food grade products but will probably be worth it. Therefore:

1.2.1 Stainless steel is best, but not absolutely necessary, for grinder components, nails and screws you will be using to put stuff together, juice collection tanks, spoons, etc. etc. After stainless, brass is good. Cement coated nails are probably worst.

1.2.2 Plastic. Non-food grade plastics may have heavy metal plasticisers and toxic fungicides incorporated into them. This includes plastic trash bags, garbage cans, 5 gallon paint buckets, etc. It will be safe to store and wash fruit in non-food grade plastic, but don't put your cider in it. Read the labels. "NSF" is like a "UL" listing for food handling products. If it doesn't say "food grade" or "NSF" it isn't. Don't you think you've been exposed to enough poison already?

1.2.3 Lubricants, paints and caulk. There are "food grade" products available from bar and restaurant suppliers and retailers who deal with dairy farmers, dairies and food processors. Ask and read the labels. Epoxy paints suitable for food contact should be considered if you plan to paint a surface that will have extended contact with your cider. Most silicone adhesive / caulks have fungicides in them. Some don't and are approved for food contact. Read the fine print. If you can't find any at your local builders' supply, tropical fish stores should have it. Ask and read labels.

1.2.4 Acidity: Remember that apple juice is pretty acidic with a pH between 3 and 5 so you want to avoid contact with iron, steel, galvanized steel and aluminum. While the connection between using aluminum cook ware and Alzheimer's disease has been pretty well disproven, prolonged contact could give a metallic taste to your cider. You don't want that, do you?

1.2.5 Garbage In Garbage Out. When making the cider remember that no matter how great your processing equipment, if you use apples that are rotten, or have deer manure on them quality will suffer. While you can't sterilize your raw materials and equipment you can sanitize some things and clean the rest. Think cleanliness.

1.3 Safety. A hydraulic press develops a lot of pressure and parts can break. Electric grinders will grind fingers as easily as apples. They also have electricity running through them and you will probably be outside, on the ground with wash water and apple juice all around so be careful. When trimming or cutting fruit for the grinder knives get slippery, and slippery knives slip. Five gallons of cider in a container will weigh 50 to 60 pounds, ten gallons double that etc. Watch how you lift, carry and pour. Its not much of a bargain if you spend two weeks in traction. Enough said.

2. The Press

I got a used 12 ton shop press at a farm auction for $60. See the picture. Available new for about $125. It consists of two "I" beams on feet with a fixed cross piece at the top and a moveable cross member below. On the top is a hydraulic bottle jack. They are used to press out bearings, straighten steel rods etc.etc. Whether new or used the press may have grease and oil on it. The paint finish may be chipping. Clean and degrease well. The jack that supplies the power is filled with hydraulic oil. Check to make sure it isn't leaking around the seals. It can probably be replaced cheaper than it can be rebuilt. Get a good one from the start. If you're handy and enjoy woodworking you could even build a simple frame like this and add a jack for the power source. Use hardwood as the press will experience a lot of pressure. The finish should be smooth and hard for cleaning.

3. The Collection Platform

The first year I used a big plastic tray on the ground to collect the juice as it flowed out of the press. Crude but effective. The garage was well baptized after two days. So, last year I cobbled together a collection platform. I used a piece of Formica counter top. You know the piece that's left over when they cut out the hole for the kitchen sink? What's important is that it is a strong, non-porous, cleanable surface. Several layers of plywood painted with a suitable epoxy paint would also work. Strips of hardwood flooring on top of plywood would work. A sheet of stainless steel over wood... You will have to be inventive here. One end of the platform rests on the bottom cross member of the press, extending out 2 or 3 feet. The "cheeses" holding the ground up apples sit on the platform. The extended part then rests on something, like a table or ladder. You could make some 2x4 legs like I did. The far end should be a little lower than the press end so that when pressed out the juice "flows" that way. You then drill a drain hole at the low end under which you put your juice collection bucket. I put in a small section of vinyl tubing as a "tail piece" to better direct the juice flow. Get as fancy as you want. Finally, the collection platform has to have some kind of lip around it to channel the juice toward the hole. I bought an 8 ft.. section of anodized aluminum roof flashing, screwed it all around the edge, then caulked with food grade silicone caulk. Much better than the "waterfall" of cider method I first used.

4. The Grinder

New 1/2 h.p. or larger garbage disposal with stainless steel grinder plate, $40 to $60. If I did it over I think I'd get a bigger motor. Once or twice I forced too many apples through mine (1/2 hp) and the breaker popped. No big deal, but you have to wait for the motor to cool off before it can be reset. You could use an old disposal, but I couldn't get past the idea of all those bits of garbage lurking inside. Yuck. To mount the grinder, I had a square piece of counter top, again left over from a sink job, in which I cut a hole. The result is like a small table top with a disposal in the middle. I wired a heavy duty power cord to the unit. No on-off switch, just plug in - un plug. The first year I mounted this work surface on a horizontal ladder I had propped up to the right height with a collection bucket underneath. It worked OK. The second year I mounted the grinder surface on a big old stereo speaker cabinet that had no front or back. More stable and portable. You could mount yours on an old wood table, or even make a four legged stand. How about in an old sink mounted somehow? What's important is to have it a good work height for your height, 32" to 36". It should be easy to clean and easy to move your pomace collection bucket in and out. I have a 10 gallon stainless stock pot that I also use in home brewing. and it gets heavy.

5. The Racks

These are the foundation of your "cheeses" and may take the most ingenuity. I made four 16"x16" racks, ($3 to $5 each) out of some fancy stainless steel which I got at the scrap yard but a lot of other things would have worked too and maybe better. You could make a hardwood lattice with nails or screws. I saw some 3/4 inch scraps of Plexiglas which I thought about. I could have routed channels or fastened thin strips on top to form grooves. 1/2" plywood with some kind of channels added? 1x or 2x lumber with channels routed into the surface? What's important is that the rack is strong, and that it have holes or channels to allow the juice to flow out during the pressing. A textured surface will also help to keep the cheese full of pomace from slipping but it must be cleanable. Each rack is cut to a size that will conveniently fit under the press on your collection platform.

6. The Cheese Forms and Cloths

You will need only one cheese form. It is like a dresser drawer without a bottom. Get a 1"x5"x6' board. Make a bottomless "drawer" that will easily fit between the press uprights and fit over the rack. The outside dimension should match the edge of your rack. Nail or screw together and if desired caulk the seams The cheese cloths are used to form the bundle of pomace that will fit between the racks and from which the juice will be pressed out. The cloths must be both strong and porous. Commercial press cloths are very good and very expensive. I made mine from 45" wide nylon mosquito netting that I got at a local fabric store (see enclosed sample). A little finer mesh may be better, but mine have worked well for two years and never broken.

Having assembled you press it goes something like this:

7. Grinding

You've collected your apples. From what I have read and three years experience, it is a good idea let the apples "sweat" in a heap before grinding, as long as for a week or two. Just remove the really bad ones, heap the rest up out of the weather and let them relax before the pressing. This gives you a chance to harvest your fruit when you can or as it ripens instead of all at once. The apples soften, making grinding easier and giving more yield. The flavor is supposed to improve with some oxidation as well. It isn't necessary, but the point is you don't have to press your apples as soon as they've been picked. When ready to grind give your fruit a good wash to remove spray residue, dirt, deer manure, etc. If using larger apples you'll have to cut them into pieces to feed the grinder. Heavy rubber or nitrile gloves are a good idea. Make some kind of a wooden pestle to "force" the apples through the grinder. Your grinder is spinning away, you chop up some apples, push them into the grinder, and nothing happens. It just seems to fill up with pomace. Pour a little water in there and voila, apple sauce will start to come out! Whenever the pomace flow seems to bog down you can add a little water, or later you can add cider or some already ground pomace to help what's in the grinder flow out. Hard apples like Northwest Greenings take more pushing and coaxing than soft varieties. The pomace will be much finer that what you'll get from other grinders in the market, seeds, stems, skins and all will be pulverized, along with the end of your push stick which eventually hits the blades. Don't worry. Commercial cider makers mix rice hulls with the pomace to loosen it up and make the juice flow better. I haven't tried this. You will gain new respect for the humble garbage disposal. While making pomace for you it is doing what it was designed to do, grind up food. I have run mine for hours without a hiccup.

8. Pressing

Having assembled your press and ground some pomace it goes something like this. Put a rack form on the press platform. Put the cheese form on the rack. Put a rack cloth in the form. Fill with pomace to make a heap three to five inches high. Fold the press cloth around the pomace to make a nice tight bundle. Remove the cheese form, put a new rack on top of the first and start over to make the second cheese. When learning make only a couple of cheeses. When you have assembled the cheeses put a rack on top and maybe some blocks of wood to help distribute the pressure. Then gently apply pressure with the hydraulic jack. Out comes the juice. After a bit, when the juice stops, apply a bit more pressure. More juice. Eureka! Pause a moment, get a cup or glass and fill it with your own home made cider. Drink. Liquid apples. Excellent. When the jack reaches the limit of its travel, you'll have to back it off, put a wood block or something in there and start pressing again. You'll know when to stop. While the juice flows you go back to washing, chopping or grinding. After pressing I have "rearranged" the pomace and pressed again getting a little more juice, but generally the extra I got wasn't worth the effort, especially with bushels and bushels of apples heaped all around screaming to be pressed. Have a place ready to dispose of the spent pomace. You should have some plan for dealing with the many gallons of cider you will be making. You can use clean glass or food grade plastic gallon jugs. I use 5 gallon stainless "soda kegs" which I also use for kegging the beer I brew. What to do with all the cider? I have my ideas, but I'd better stop now.

Parts List (sort of...)

    • 1.1 (1) Shop press, new or used, with 12 to 20 ton hydraulic jack.
    • 1.2 (1) Press platform. As wide as the inside width of the press. Length 4 feet or so, depending on what you have and what works.
    • 1.3 (1) Material to make an edge / lip / around the platform. Wood, flashing, etc. Length equal to the "circumference" to the platform. See text.
    • 1.4 (1) Material to make "legs" for the end of the platform not resting on the press. See text.
    • 2.1 (1) Garbage disposal, new or (yuck) old; 1/3 hp to 1 hp. See text.
    • 2.2 (1) Surface on which to mount the grinder. See text.
    • 2.3 (1) A structure to hold the grinder with top. See text.
    • 2.4 (1) Electric cable / heavy duty extension cord to run power to the grinder.
    • 2.5 (1) Pestle or "club". To push apples through the grinder. A piece of 2x2, large dowel, handrail, closet pole, small tree branch, 12" to 18" long
    • 3.1 (3-5) Racks: flat squares made from some heavy solid material with ridges, groves or holes for juice to flow around or through. Should be a proper width to fit under the press, on the platform. E.G. The i.d. of the press is 20", lip takes 1/2" on each side, you want 1/2" to 1" space on each side for the "cheese" to bulge out as pressed, so rack width is 17" to 18". Wider won't fit, narrower would work too. See text.
    • 3.2 (1) Cheese top. A solid rack, lumber etc. which will be on top of the last cheese to distribute pressure. Same dimensions as the racks.
    • 3.3 (1) Cheese form. Topless, bottomless box made from 1"x 4", or 1"x 5", or 1"x 6". O.D. matches the o.d. of the racks. Can be a little smaller too.
    • 3.4 (3-5) Cheese Cloths. Heavy duty nylon, cut large enough to "bundle" the pomace completely. Depending on width of the material, e.g. 18" rack, 36" wide fabric cut about 48" long. Try one first , then cut the rest. Make an extra or two. Should wash the sizing out before using.
    • 4.1 (1) Large container to collect pomace under the grinder.
    • 4.2 (?) Several large or many small containers, jugs etc. to collect and store the cider.
    • 4.3 (?) Funnels.
    • 4.4 (?) Strainers lined with cheese cloth to get the "big pieces" out.
    • 5.1 Fermentation stuff, sulfites, fermentation locks, anti-oxidants, pectic enzymes, acid titration kits, tannin, fining agents yeast cultures, etc.etc.
    • 5.2 Fasteners, nails, screws, angle braces, etc. as needed for your setup.
    • 5.3 Epoxy paint, silicone caulk, paint for the press. etc. As needed.
    • 5.4 Books? Wouldn't hurt to read up on the subject of cider making.


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