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.
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
- 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
4. The GrinderNew 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 RacksThese 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 ClothsYou 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]
- THE PRESS
- 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
- 1.4 (1) Material to make "legs" for the end of the platform not resting
on the press. See text.
- THE GRINDER
- 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
- 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"
- THE CHEESES
- 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
- 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.
- MISCELLANEOUS HARDWARE
- 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"
- MISC OTHER
- 5.1 Fermentation stuff, sulfites, fermentation locks, anti-oxidants,
pectic enzymes, acid titration kits, tannin, fining agents yeast cultures,
- 5.2 Fasteners, nails, screws, angle braces, etc. as needed for your
- 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.