Introduction: Making a Cider Press

Making a cider press and apple grinder

The first cider press I built was back in the mid 70’s and was a classic barrel stave style and the first grinder was a 3 inch diameter wood dowel with small nails sticking out a quarter inch. This set up produced almost no cider. The apples came out in chunks and the acme threaded screw couldn’t generate enough force to squeeze the juice out.

For the next iteration press I went with a modified version of a design I saw at a cider mill in an orchard that I worked at during college. There the apple mash was dropped onto burlap sheet that had been placed over a frame so that the mash was contained within the boundary of a slatted tray. When the frame was full the corners of the burlap were folded over the mash, the frame removed and a second slatted tray placed on the first bag of mash. This was repeated until there were 6 or 8 layers of bags and trays. The whole thing was slid under a hydraulic press and when that came down the cider flowed like a river.

I never got to see what the grinder looked like but I realized from my first failure that the more the mash looked like apple sauce the more cider I would get. The second try at a grinder was one made again of a wood dowel but this time with screws set into it, very minimal improvement. At this point in time we moved away from apple growing country and I didn’t get to try again until we moved back to western New York a few years later.

When we did it happened to be a great apple year and near our home was an abandoned orchard with literally thousands of bushels of wonderful apples and the cows pastured there were the only ones enjoying them. We contacted the owner and he said, “Take whatever you want.” We’d drive my full size pickup over and shake down a tree and start loading up with Macintosh, Sheep Nose, Russets and a few more I never identified. The cows loved this. They would run right over and start gobbling apples almost as fast as we could shake the tree. So, we would shake a couple of trees for them then drive over 8 or 10 rows and shake some for us. It didn’t take long to fill the bed of the truck half way up.

With all this bounty we needed an apple press again. I went with the slatted tray and burlap design but still needed a better grinder. I finally realized that what it needed was very small teeth with very little clearance between the dowel and the frame of the grinder. I used a 4 inch diameter dowel and cut shallow slots along the length using a band saw. The depth of the slots was the width of the band saw blade minus the teeth. I then cut sections of used blade and stuck them into the slots with the teeth sticking out. The dowel was set into the hopper of the grinder so that the teeth almost touched the side.

Driven by an old 1/3 hp appliance motor it worked great. The little 1½ ton hydraulic jack could squeeze out seven gallons of juice from that five tray press. Each tray held mash made from enough apples to fill a 5 gallon bucket. That was 1983 and through the years we have made minor modifications to the press but it is still going and just this year we gave the press to our son so he and his wife (who live in a different state) could make cider from their trees.

Without a press in the neighborhood now a friend asked me to help him make one. So here is what we did.

Step 1: Turning the Grinder Cylinder

My neighbor has a saw mill so we used his wood and glued up six pieces of 12 inch long white oak to make the dowel. After drilling a 1 inch hole through the center for the drive shaft I mounted it on pillow block bearings, added a pulley and bolted that to my work bench, which has a top made of 2x2 slats. Adding a piece of wood for a tool rest and driving the rig with an old motor I trued up the dowel.

Step 2: Cutting Slots.

Then using my band saw I cut the slots for the band saw

blade sections.

Step 3: Glueing the Grinder Cylinder.

Cutting eight pieces of old band saw blade I glued them in

using epoxy holding them with rubber bands until the epoxy cured.

Step 4: The Grinder Hopper.

This was mounted in the hopper with minimal clearance between the teeth and the sides.

In our old press we used the hopper mounted to the press but to speed things up this time we gave it a separate stand so some people could be grinding while others pressed the mash.

Step 5: Grinding the Apples.

My neighbor is Amish so they use small gas motors instead of electric and in this case it is a Honda 100 which really makes mash in a hurry. Grinding the apples used to be the limiting factor now it only takes 20 seconds to grind a five gallon bucket of fruit into submission.

Here is the grinder setup ready for business grinding the apples into a 5 gallon bucket and the mash dumped into the burlap.

Step 6: Making the Stack.

The slatted trays were made of white oak (much less porous than red oak) cut into 3/8x2x22 inch pieces. Two layers were stapled together at right angles. Here they are being cleaned before we start.

The trays are stacked alternately with bags full of mash.

Step 7: Setting the Jack.

Setting the jack.

The press frame was made of oak 4x4’s with a solid oak 4x6 beam for the top and 2x6 planks to support the tray. The tray was made of oak and ash.

The top platen was made of two layers of hardwood with three inch thick pieces on top to distribute the force.

Step 8: Pressing

Then we are ready to start pressing.

Step 9: