Cider Making — The Press

Homemade Grinder and Press

This is a continuation in my series on my cider making project.  The other posts on this subject are linked at the bottom of this post, if you are inclined to explore.

In my post on my grinder, I explained that I used the plans from Whizbang Cider to make that piece of equipment.  I also made his press.  If you want instructions on how to do that, it is included in his instructions for sale on his website.  However, I did have some issues with that, and ended up pretty much reworking the whole thing.

There are several ways to press apples.  Most people think of basket presses when they think of pressing fruit, particularly grapes.  Basket presses are nice for smaller batches, and are based on old, traditional machines depending on a screw to provide the pressing power.  However, they are not really used much by commercial operations.  They are harder to clean, and you also need to make sure that your basket does not expand with the pressure of your press.  In the Whizbang press, as outlined in the directions, you are using a car jack to provide the pressing force.  I liked the idea of the jack, but it was too strong, and the bands that held the slats of the basket in place would expand, to the point that the fruit would actually squirt up around the pressing plates.  So, I decided to go back to the drawing board.  To the Whizbang Cider makers credit, he did as well, and revamped his procedure from the original I got in his instructions.  He adapted a cheese method,  and it is outlined here.

Most commercial cider presses operate on a “cheese” method.  Basically, you put down a mold.  You then put some cloth inside the mold. You then fill the mold, and wrap the cloth over the top.  Remove the mold, and you have a “cheese”.  You can then stack “cheeses” on top of each other, going several high.  Every cheese can have a rack in between (I don’t, have not found it necessary, but I have never done more then 3 cheeses in the press at once), which is supposed to helps with the extraction rate.  You then apply pressure, and the force is distributed over the cheese.  The juice runs out, the pulp stays in, and you end up with a very nicely separated cider.  There is a nice video demonstrating this here.  I like the basic premise of their frame for the press in that video, and if I was to remake mine, I would go with something like that.  However, their frame for their press was not robust enough, and they ended up breaking it.  You really do need to build your frame very strong to withstand the pressure.  When in doubt, go thicker on the frame, and if you can, use steel to reinforce it.  Here is a post from a blog that looks like they have a nice set up.  One of the other key points I have learned is to go slow with the actual pressing.  I think most first time cider makers try to squeeze it too fast, and risk cracking their frames.

So I guess the key point I am trying to make is the press can be very simple, and if I had to do it again, I would build it such.  There is room for being creative, but as with most things mechanical, simpler is almost always better.

Ok, so after all that, here is what I actually do with my current system.

I built a collection tray out of 3/4 inch thick High Density Polyethelene, better know as HDPE.  This stuff is food grade, and very strong.  I got the pieces cut to size from The Cutting Board Factory  and then just screwed them together.  I then sealed it with food grade silicone caulk, and bored a hole in the bottom to drain the juice.  I have a base plate in the bottom of the tray, that I elevate with HDPE spacers.

Top of the base plate for the press

Bottom of the base plate fro the press

It is basically just a piece of 3/4 inch HDPE that I routed 1/2 inch groves through just over a 3/8 inch deep.  I then flipped it, turned it 90 degrees, and routed a few more groves.  This gives me channels for the juice to run through.  I put a mold down on top of the base plate, and put the cloth into the mold, fill it with pulp, fold the cloth over, and remove the mold.

Base plate sitting in collection tray, with mold

mold filled with pulp waiting for the cloth to be folded over

I used cotton sheets I bought on clearance from the local fabric store.  These were cut and hemmed to size.  All credit for this goes to my infinitely patient and wonderful wife who whipped these up in minutes.  I then put my pressing plate on top.  I use two pieces of 3/4 inch plywood I cut to size and screwed together to give this strength and weight.  I have covered this in several coats of a food grade polyurethane gel called EZ-DO that is used commercially to seal cutting boards.  This is to try to minimize contact with the plywood.  If I had to do it again, I would likely have used a piece of HDPE mounted to a piece of 3/4 inch plywood to add the weight/rigidity.  I have rails mounted to the frame that act as guides for the notched pressing plate.

Rail for Top Plate

Top Plate seated on the rails

This keeps it from racking or sliding as the force is applied.   Spacing blocks are added, and the jack is put into the frame and pressure is applied.

Pressing the cheese

I do this in 5 minute increments.  Apply some pressure, let the juice flow, wait, then apply a little more, etc.  It takes about 20 to 25 minutes for 1 pressing.  In the end, you are left with very dry pulp.

Fully pressed cheese

Dried pulp ready for the compost bin

The juice is then ready for fermentation.  Next up, I will go into how I ferment the cider.

The Grinder

Introduction to Cider


5 Responses

  1. I love this!! Nicely done. Thanks for sharing such clear pictures. There are so many ways to make something like that at home if you are handy, and even if you aren’t. You should link this up with Simple Lives Thursday, which I’ll have up on my site sometime this morning. I think a lot of people would be interested in it.

    • Thank you for your response. I saw the picture of the press you guys used, and it looked pretty much like what I would do if I was to build another press. Happy Fall Apple Season!

  2. I am actually pleased to read this weblog
    posts which carries tons of useful information, thanks
    for providing such information.

  3. I was wondering what the dimensions are for your drip tray and press plates… are they bigger than 12″ x 12″? Hard to tell. I would like to order mine from the HDPE site as well.

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