An all-oak cider press with an integrated apple grinder.
Step 1: How It Happened...
It was built in 2012, the same year I started writing this instructable (because I'm clearly a bit of a slacker). But I'm happy to report that as of this writing (2014), it's been working great! The oak has aged nicely and we're all stocked up on cider. No "hard" cider yet, but we'll get around to it one of these days. [UPDATE: **brrrp** yeah... so the hard cider seems to be going okay now, too.]
So here's how it all started:
I have always subscribed to a theory I once heard on NPR’s “Car Talk” (R.I.P., Tom Magliozzi!) in which two people are far less capable of abandoning a silly idea than one person: “One person will only go so far out on a limb in his construction of deeply hypothetical structures, and will often end with a shrug or a raising of hands to indicate the dismissability of his particular take on a subject. With two people, the intricacies, the gives and takes, the wherefores and why-nots, can become a veritable pas-de-deux of breathtaking speculation, interwoven in such a way that apologies or gestures of doubt are rendered unnecessary.” -http://www.cartalk.com/content/andy-scale-0
During the apple season of 2012 John was over and we all got to talking about how many apples were on the tree in our backyard and what we were going to do about them and how cool would it be to have an apple press and we could probably crank one out it a weekend if we applied ourselves. Dammit.
So off we went, researching and doodling, collecting bits on my wife Dawn's shared Pinterest board. Eventually we whittled it all down to a plan in which I concentrated on the easy parts, while John set about building the parts that require knowledge and skill and real tools.
Step 2: Research, Design
Humans have been in the apple-squeezing business for centuries, so there was no reason to reinvent the wheel. Besides just looking at a bunch of web images of cool old machines, here are a few of the resources we used:
We "cherry-picked" our favorite features from the various versions out there, and there are endless ways to remix the various components: A bottle jack can be substituted for the big screw, for instance.
Among other lessons, we learned that grinding maximizes the juice better than blending or chopping or otherwise smooshing, and that stainless steel screw heads can really chew up an apple in a hurry.
Step 3: Materials
There are approximately four gazillion ways to build one of these so I'll leave it up to you to figure yours out, and will spare you the exact measurements. See, I'm sparing you, it's not like I just made that up as a flimsy justification for not measuring anything very carefully. Here's what we used:
- White and red oak. All of my design doodles were done with "pine" dimensions in mind: 2"x4", 2"x2", 4"x4".... but all that goes out the window when you're dealing with oak, because they don't pre-cut oak and other hardwoods to specific sizes like they do with soft wood - they sell it by the board foot. So I had to do some quick math at the lumber yard, and pick through the stock to find all the pieces I needed for the frame and hopper and tray. In the end, my 4"x4"s became 3"x3"s, and my 2"x2"s became 1"x1".
- Stainless steel nails. Big square-drive ones for the grinder, 1"x1/2" small ones for the frame and hopper, shorter ones for the barrel and base.
- Big giant screw from a bench vice, that had been unused in John's garage for decades.
- Carriage bolts to mount the vice.
- Aluminum stripping, for the "barrel."
We ran all the wood through John's jointer, which is really fun if you've never done it with hardwood: a grungy-looking chunk of wood goes in on one end, and a beautiful piece of artwork comes out the other end, the grain suddenly visible on an almost perfectly smooth surface.
John set to work building the barrel and the slatted drain that goes underneath it. These are basically a bunch of sticks with a trapezoidal cross-section: the barrel is made by corralling the sticks with aluminum bands, and the drain is a row of sticks held together with three bigger, non-trapezoidal sticks. The grinder wheel is a cylinder whose axle spins perfectly in its oak bushing, with just a little mineral oil to keep things sliding along.
While John was spinning oak into gold, I fumbled through my first experience making something with oak. As for building with it: Oak is really hard, and stainless steel nails are really soft. I drilled good pilot holes, soaped each screw... and still stripped the hell out of quite a few of them. So when you look at the parts I made, please do not look very closely.
Step 4: The Grinder
John's grinder wheel was one of the first things we were able to really play with as the frame was coming together. The hopper is removable, both for cleaning and so it can all be packed up smaller when the season is over. A small clamp provides a little insurance so the act of grinding doesn't pull the hopper off of the frame.
There are many versions of this that look very similar, so either great minds think alike or everyone is equally moronic. In any case, here's a fantastic apple grinder from WoodGears.ca, from Matthias Wandel, an absolute rock star with "and engineer's approach to woodworking." He has good detail here on the build of his grinder wheel: http://woodgears.ca/cider/apple_grinder. Our grinder doesn't have a lever pushing down on the apples like Matthias' grinder does, but I can see how that might be nice, particularly if you're going with a motorized wheel. It looks like the pattern of his screws might push the apples toward the middle of the grinder, which makes good sense. Our diagonal pattern results in a mini-drama in which some apples succumb immediately, while others find a spark of hope, and, buoyed aloft by their fallen comrades, they try to escape by heading to the right. But in what must be a grave disappointment for fans of apple-centric adventure tales, these brave rebels are invariably pinned against the wall and ground into oblivion.
Here is a video of the grinder in action, using a drill instead of the hand crank that we use now:
Step 5: The Grind
The best way to show off all the pieces is to show them in action, so here's how we do it:
To sanitize, we spray all the surfaces with a diluted iodine solution and let that dry.
To maximize juice yield, we let the apples sit for a week or so.
A mix of sweet and tart apples usually tastes best, but I've never met a batch I didn't like.
The apples are cut in halves or quarters (otherwise they'd just roll around in the hopper!). We toss any brown gross bits in the compost, but minor blemishes on the fruit are no big deal.
A 5-gallon bucket sits under the hopper to catch the ground apples, held in place by a little wooden arm that swings out into position.
Then we fill up the hopper and start grinding!
A full pressing can be done when the bucket is about 3/4 full of pomace, which is close to 3.75 gallons. We've also found that letting the pomace sit for a few minutes before grinding provides slightly juicier results.
Step 6: Pomace
(Note: we learned to do this part from WhizBang Cider)
About 20 pounds of fruit later, we're left with a bucket about 3/4 full of ground apples, or "Pomace." The pomace is placed into a container (the bottom 4 inches or so of a plastic bucket) which is lined with netting material. A "cheese" is made by tying the apples into a bundle.
That bundle is placed into the barrel or "pressing tub," then a disc made of cutting board material is placed on top.
That is repeated until four bundles have been stacked.
Step 7: Press
The barrel, drain, and tray all slide under the screw, and a small sacrificial bit of oak (that has yet to be replaced as of the writing of this 'ible!) protects the pressing board from direct contact with the screw.
We place more netting on top of a bucket, secured with a giant rubber band, and slide that under the opening in the tray.
We spin the screw until it hits the board and slows down, then crank it a few more turns until the whole structure gives a little groan. Depending on how juicy the batch is, the cider starts pouring out immediately, and the first couple of gallons happens right away.
When the juice slows, we turn the handle another half turn, and continue that for at least 15 minutes. If there's not another round ready to squeeze we can extend this process for a couple of hours and still get another pint or so of additional cider, but if we're going through a big pile we'll call it done after the first squeezing.
Another option is to unscrew the press and give each cheese a shake to redistribute the pomace, then put it all back together and give it a second squeeze. Again, not a ton more comes out, but it can be worthwhile.
We get at least two gallons out of a pressing, sometimes more. And it's delicious. And who knows how many apples you're consuming when you knock back a glass of this stuff. Imagine how many doctors are being repelled!
Step 8: Cleanup
When the pomace has been fully squeezed, the cheese becomes a lightweight disk. What to do with that? Well, you can compost it, share it with your chickens and ducks, or do what Dawn does: make Apple Cider Vinegar. There are too many uses to list here, but she makes a ton of it each apple season. And this year she just ran out of last year's supply as this year's season started!
After a pressing (or a day of pressing), everything is hosed off (the ducks enjoy that), and left to dry.
Unfinished oak is naturally resistant to decay, and turns a charming gray color as it ages. A coat of mineral oil rubbed on all the surfaces helps keep it healthy for the winter.
This setup, including the buckets and the grinder, can all be nested inside its frame for storage.
It's all quite heavy, but if all the removable parts are removed, two people can move it easily. Or one person can stand inside it and hold the sides and waddle along looking silly, but still move it.
Step 9: Future Plans
Wheels would be nice. But to avoid a wobbly grinding and pressing experience, they'd have to either be removable or be able to swing out of the way to allow direct contact between the frame and the ground.
For storage I'd like to come up with a good cover, perhaps a modified barbecue cover or a tarp sewn into a giant envelope, that could close all the way around the press and keep the spiders out.
Grinder options: It would be fun to affix a bike gear to the axle of the grinder wheel, slap on a chain and figure out a way to pedal the grinder with a bike. John made the axle of the wheel removable, so the possibilities are endless... maybe we can hook it up to a stairmaster or a rowing machine or some other piece of exercise equipment?
Hard cider: so far we've managed to not make this work, mainly because we start a batch and get busy and forget to do the next step on the right day... but we'll get around to that. Meanwhile the "soft" stuff is fantastic! [UPDATE: **brrrp** yeah... so the hard cider seems to be going okay now, too.]
All in all this has been a great addition to the family, and I highly recommend building one of these to anyone with the inclination, and apples, and skill and real tools (or friends with skill and real tools).