Introduction: Homemade Cheese and Cider Press

Here is how I built my own combination cider and cheese press. After a great apple harvest this year, I was inspired to obtain my own cider press. However, after pricing one and seeing that they cost exactly one arm and one leg to purchase I started thinking about building one myself. While no advanced rocket engineering degree is needed to understand the basics concept of apple cider making (apples+ pressure=cider), it took some thought as to how it all fits together. At the same time, I was interested in learning cheese making so I put a homemade cheese press on it as well. So, I looked at some other press variations online and in magazines and this is what I came up with.

I used white oak, because treated wood wasn't an option in a food application and soft woods such as pine can impart an aftertaste to the cider. The press part is just a scissors jack from the auto parts store mounted to one of the top timbers. At 3000 pounds, it should have enough ooomph to adequately press the apples. At the other end is a grinder, made up of two rollers I turned out of a piece of oak. I put stainless screws into it to use as teeth for mashing the apples. The ground apples fall into the slatted bucket, which is lined with a mesh bag and gets moved to the other end where the press is. The juice flows out the slats, and into the wooden trough, where it then heads out into the bucket.

The cheese press is just a wooden arm that's mounted across the two top timbers, with a second arm mounted to it that goes down into the cheese mold. A weight ( a jug with water in it) is hung from the end. The pressure is varied by adding or subtracting water from the jug.
And here's how I did it...

Step 1: The Future Cider Press

I started with some hearty oak timbers one fall day, purchased from a local sawmill...

Step 2: Getting Started

I started by cutting out notches for the top timbers to set into. To keep the press steady, I used these top timbers to act as braces. I calculated how high I'd want the scissors jack to be placed and how much room I would need to fit the apple-mash box underneath it.

To make the notches, I just cut lines with the circular saw and used the chisel to knock them out. I soon learned just how hard oak is.

Step 3: Gluing Together Wood for the Rollers

I glued two 1 x 6 pieces to two 4 x 6 pieces with Titebond 3 wood glue (it's food safe), and then put some heavy wood pieces on it overnight. These were to be turned on a wood lathe to create the rollers.

Step 4: The Rollers

When you make cider, if you mash the apples first, you'll get more juice when you get to the actually pressing stage. To mash them, I made two heavy duty wood rollers that turn and grind up the apples.

I took the rollers into the campus wood shop and turned them on the lathe, making two 7" long rollers that were 5" across. A friend and I then drilled a 3/4" hole through them on the drill press. The drilled hole accommodates a 3/4" zinc-plated threaded rod that I used to mount it in the mash-box.

In retrospect, it might have been easier to drill first in the block, and then turn them on the lathe. Once the drill bit got part way into the roller they sure wanted to spin with it! I think it would have been easier to clamp a block than a round roller.

Step 5: Giving the Rollers Some Teeth

The rollers themselves weren't going to mash the apples, so I had to give them some biting power. I screwed stainless screws all over the rollers, leaving the heads protruding an 1/8 to a 1/4" or so. I read an account online from a guy who had made a similar roller setup, and his experience was that the less he let the heads protrude the finer it ground the apples.

Step 6: Gluing Together Some Boards for the Trough

To catch the finished cider, I built a trough that runs the length of the press. A bucket is placed at one end to catch the finished cider.

After running some of the oak boards through the planer to clean them up, I clamped and glued them together to get them ready for the trough. After they sufficiently dried overnight, I cut them up with a chop saw. The trough is 13" wide with 5" sides. The trough runs the length of the press (about five feet or so) and sticks out some on each end.

Step 7: Putting the Press Together

Now that I had all the components ready, it was time to fit them all together.

As you can hopefully see in the picture, there are two main upright timbers on each end. Then there are timbers going across the top and bottom, tying them together and basically making two big rectangles. These horizontal timbers act as braces to keep the whole press sturdy.

I also have side timbers tying the rectangles together and making the press. The trough sits in between, resting on the bottom timbers.

I used regular, zinc-plated bolts to fasten everything together.

Step 8: Building the Basket

For the basket, I used a table saw to rip some of the pieces I had glued together into 2" wide strips. I bought a piece of galvanized pre-drilled angle iron at the local home improvement store and cut them into 14" lengths using a hacksaw. I then bolted the pieces together into a box shape using some small bolts.

You have to leave some space between the slats to let the cider run out as it's pressed. Because I left an inch in between the slats, the apple mash will leak through, too. To keep the apple mash from mixing with the finished cider, I bought a mesh bag to the line the box. It will let the juice flow out, but keep the mash contained. The mesh bag is just a 5 gallon paint filter I bought at the hardware store for a couple bucks.

I also made a top lid that fits just inside the crate, that will press down on the apples.

Step 9: Building the Grinder Box

For this step, I cut some of the boards that I had glued together in Step 6, and screwed them together to create a mash box for housing the rollers. I mounted the three interior sides first.

I put a 3/4" threaded rod through the rollers, and drilled a couple of holes in the side of the box for them to sit in. On the inside I used a couple of press-in bearings that I happened to have on hand. The press-in bearings allow the shaft to turn without tearing up the wood.

Step 10: Mounting the Grinder Assembly

After mounting three interior sides of the box, I put in the rollers. With the help of a couple friends, I put the rollers in and screwed the outside panel on.

I had to create a crank mechanism to work the rollers, so I used a couple of bike sprockets welded to some large nuts by a friend. I then put those on the shaft that was threaded through the rollers and tightened the nuts fast.

Step 11: The Cheese Press

I then started working on the cheese press part. I plan on making some hard cheese like cheddar, so I need to be able to press the whey from the curds. Different cheeses require different amounts of pressure, so I created a system that will allow me to vary the weight.

First I needed to create a lever. I attached a couple of small blocks of oak wood to a longer piece to make a big enough end surface to put a hinge on. I attached that whole lever to one of the side braces of the larger cider press. It's screwed to one of the side pieces and spans beyond the other side. It's on that far side where I hang a 5 gallon jug and put varying amounts of water in it for weight.

Step 12: Highly Sophisticated Cheese Press Calibration Process

For this step I found an old bathroom scale and used it gauge how much water to add to the jug for different pressures. I kept adding water to the jug, marking it at various intervals. That "whey", when I'm ready to make cheese, I just have to fill it up to a pre-determined line.

Step 13: Mounting the Scissors Jack

The scissors jack is what creates the pressure to separate the actual cider from the apple mash.

I mounted the scissors jack upside down on the side opposite the mash-box. I drilled four holes in the bottom plate of the jack and mounted it to a 1 x 4 board that was about a foot long. I then mounted that board to the cross brace with lag bolts.

Step 14: Making a Crank to Run the Rollers

To run the rollers that mash the apples up, I created a crank out of bike sprockets (see Step 10).

I fashioned a handle for this crank using a piece of scrap wood that was laying around. On one end for the handle part I put a big 5/8" x 8" bolt through it (with some treadlocker to keep the nut on). I drilled a hole in the other end of the crank-board and put it onto one of the shafts that was sticking out farther than the other . I intentionally left one shaft longer than the other to keep one sprocket from hitting the other one when it was rotated. I attached the crank-board to the shaft with two nuts that I used to pinch the board tight.

I connected all of the bike sprockets with a bike chain that was sized to fit. The chain runs through the sprockets and around a tensioner (which is a bike sprocket on a spring) that was taken off the back of the 10-speed donor bike that contributed all the parts. The tensioner was just bolted to the side of the mash-box. With all these parts in place, my crank mechanism was ready for apple season.

Step 15: Giving It the Ol' College Try

A friend gave me some large Wolf River apples, and I tossed them into the box. While I still need to build a hopper (a large scale funnel that will feed a bushel of apples into the masher) and fine-tune the sprockets, I was itching to give it a go.

When I fed the apples into the mash-box, they wanted to bounce on the rollers at first, but then started to grind up. I think that if I had a hopper, the weight of the other apples would help to push them through. Also, I need to get the rollers reoriented, but it was encouraging to see it chew the apples up some.

I'm happy with the way everything turned out, but eventually, I plan to hook up the mashing assembly to a stationary mounted bike and make it pedal powered! To be continued...
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