If you are making cider from free apples you need a press. Here is a really easy way to make one from scratch without spending loads of money buying something, that you may not use that much afterwards. In fact, you may not need to spend anything at all, if you have this stuff lying around.
NB - this guide is a companion to my "How to make cider" Instructable
Stuff you need
This uses things you can find in the house/garden/shed.
- Fruit vat
- a strong plastic open storage crate. It must be watertight but one you don't mind drilling a hole in!
- porous cloth such as muslin, old net curtain, nylon mesh
- 6x strong wooden baulks - cross-section minimum 4"x2", length about 3' each
- 1x board of minimum thickness 1/2" (about 2'x3')
- 8x 6" bolts of thickness 1/4" with matching nuts (ideally a bit thicker)
- Some screws. Minimum of 6 to attach the board to the frame.1 1/2" is fine. You could use nails.
- a car jack
- a board of minimum thickness 3/4" to spread weight (may need to be thicker depending on area of the jack's pressing point)
- Juice vat
- any container to catch the juice
- a saw to cut wood
- spanners to tighten bolt
- screwdriver or hammer to attach base board to the frame with screws or nails
All dead simple stuff. Read on...
Step 1: Making the Frame
The frame is the most important part of the press. It is simple to make and doesn't need much finesse. However, pressing juice out of crushed apples needs a pretty hefty force and the frame needs to be able to bear the force of a car jack (which, after all is strong enough to lift a car). It needs to be strong enough to do this without the wood breaking.
There are two things it needs to do:
- contain the forces of the jack to give it something to push against
- provide a stable platform for the vat that the fruit is contained in
Make a basic frame
The basic frame is a simple square. Start by measuring the width (not length) of the vat. The wood needs to be cut to the size that, when bolted together, the vat fits inside with the length at right angles to the pressing frame (looking down). This is just so the end of the vat sticks out so you can get an overhang to put your collecting container under.
You should not use nails or screws for the frame joints of the press. Nails/screws are both like wedges in the wood grain. This is not good for wood you are going to put under heavy stress. You are making a bracing frame for huge forces. It needs bolts with cleanly drilled holes. Screws/nails are likely to cause a serious split when under force. This may mean the press breaks and may also be dangerous.
Use two bolts at each joint to spread the force. Note that they are set diagonally. This means you don't get two holes in one line of grain on either piece of wood at each joint. Tighten them up very tight when bolting up. The friction of the wood being compressed together means it is not just the bolts taking the force.
Add a base
The vat needs to be on a base, so the forces are spread out evenly across it. When you use the jack it applies a pretty huge force. Without the base, the vat may tip or crack under the uneven pressure.
The base is just a strong board that fits the base of the container you use for a pulp vat. The container needs to be strong. I used a common storage crate. You will find that crates may have strengthening lugs on the base. My crate had these in the corners, so I had to cut out corner pieces so the board fitted.
The main point is that the board needs to be in contact with as much as the base of the vat as possible to spread the load.
However don't make the base plate quite as long as the vat.
This is because the vat you put on this base board will need to have a drain hole cut in it at one end to allow the juice to escape. For this reason, it is very important that the end of the vat where you drill your hole can overhang the base board. If you don't the juice would just seep out under the vat onto the base board - not good!
Put it all together
Once you have a board, attach it to the square press frame. To do this, centre the board inside the upright frame across its width and secure with screws. The board is now resting on a single plank, so add two more planks under the board, evenly spaced out. You end up with the board resting on three planks so that it is nice and stable, with the centre plank being the upright frame.
That's all it is.
Step 2: Crushing Apples With the Least Effort Possible
Now you have a press, get juicing! Here are some things I learned the hard way...
Crushing apples is hard work
For every gallon of juice you make, you will typically need to have collected about 5-6 time the volume of apples to start with. However, you can't just press whole apples. You need to crush them as much as possible to release the juice.
I quite enjoy the hard physical work, but it involves a a lot of repetitive physical pounding. This is pretty tiring. Here are some handy things I have discovered that make this easier.
Firstly, it is worth wearing gloves when doing this to avoid blisters due to the repetitive rubbing of the wood on your skin. Leather ones are best. It's hard work and your hands can get pretty sweaty inside gloves that don't breathe (like PVC or rubber gloves).
It sounds obvious, but also make sure your container is watertight or your juice will leak out. Occasionally the pounding action may break the base of a container. It is worth checking the state of the base as you go along. Keep the base on flat even ground when crushing apples to avoid this.
Chopping apples with a spade
This technique was a revelation!
Before crushing apples it is best to cut the apples up first. I used to chop them up with a cleaver on a chopping board. However, they tend to fly about everywhere and this can get quite annoying. I discovered that using a spade is a much more efficient way to do this.
A spade is essentially a big heavy blade on a stick. A guillotine if you like. If you fill your crushing container about 1/3 full of apples, you can hack them up in the container with the spade pretty quickly, without them flying about all over the place, as happens on a chopping board.
NB- Only do this if you have a stainless steel spade - a normal steel spade may taint your juice with metallic flavours. They are quite cheap though, if you need to buy one.
Smashing the chopped apples to a pulp with a wooden baulk
Once the apples are chopped up to about 1" pieces, it's time to mash them to a pulp! This is quite good fun, but after a while it can get a bit tiresome, as it does take a lot of pounding. The easiest way is to use a length of timber (lumber).
I have tried different sizes and found 2"x3" is best. Anything less thick is not heavy enough. I have experimented with larger section wood, but lifting the heavier wood repetitively is much more tiring. As you crush the apples, the pulp also starts to create suction round the wood. Lifting a large piece of wood up out of the pulp becomes quite hard because of this suction. It is worse the larger the cross-section of the wood. This upwards lifting action is also quite likely to pull a muscle in your back if you overdo it, so big pieces are not recommended.
The apples need to be smashed to as fine a pulp as you can to get the most juice out. As you work on them, they will start to get wet as the juice emerges.
Step 3: Pressing Out the Juice
The press is now ready to crush the apple pulp and squeeze the juice out
You can't just apply the press to the raw pulp or the pulp will just squidge out the sides when you apply the force. It needs to be contained in a cloth, so it doesn't do this. Containing it also stops apple pulp clogging up the juice escape hole.
The cloth you use does not need to be specialist. Here you can see an old green bed sheet, which worked fine. I normally use a slightly coarser nylon mesh. If you haven't got any old cloth, the best thing is to buy is net curtain fabric off the roll. You can buy as much as you need from a haberdashers (fabric shop). It is really cheap to buy by the yard.
NB - before you start filling the press, put the container that you are catching the juice in underneath. Some juice comes out as soon as you put the pulp in, even before pressing. Don't waste it.
Put the fruit vat into the press and line with the cloth, then fill with crushed pulp. Wrap the cloth round to make sure it can't escape. On top of your cloth/pulp bundle you also need the other board to spread the force of the jack out. If you don't do this, the jack will just squash a hole in the middle of the pulp but not squeeze any juice out of the rest.
Once you secured bundle is under the board, put your car jack between the top of the board and below the top of the frame - and get jacking!
You will get a lot coming out at the start, then it will slow right down. You can release the jack and re-position the cloth bundle in a different position (e.g. upside down) to get some more out.
After each the juice is squuezed out of bundle of pulp, you just repeat the steps until you've got all the juice out. Note the pulp is great for composting if you grow veg.
Note - if you are doing a lot, this will take a few hours, so be prepare to have lights if it is going to get dark as you go. Here I have the trusty head torch on.
Juice is great, but what about cider making?
Although you can just drink the juice, this press was made for cider making. If you want to know how to do that, check out my "How to make cider" Instructable: https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-make-cider/
It is really easy to do and requires hardly any more equipment at all.