[Dateline: 4 November 2008]
I have been working over at least four cider seasons to develop a simple, efficient, homestead-size system for making apple cider. Now, finally, I have a complete system that I’m very happy with. In this essay, I’m going to tell and show you my cider press.
But first, I want to point out that the heart of any good cidermaking system is the apple grinder. I have yet to see a hand-crank apple grinder that grinds apples to a fine pulp, easily and quickly. If you rig a motor to a hand-crank grinder, you’ll get your pulp quick and easy but not really fine. The finer the pulp, the greater the juice you’ll get for your time and effort.
However, as I explain and show in a previous essay, I solved the apple grinder problem by modifying a kitchen garbage disposal to do the job. The disposal by itself is not well suited to continual grinding. But I found I could “tweak” the unit to create an incredible apple pulping machine. It turns apples into virtual applesauce as fast as you can feed the fruit in, and it can do this for long periods of time without jamming or overheating. So that problem was solved with the development of my Whizbang Apple Grinder [Upadte 2010: you can now see the Whizbang apple grinder (and press) AT THIS WEB LINK). Next I needed to come up with a Whizbang press.
Year before last, I was convinced that, for a homestead cider press, a commercial-style rack-and-cloth pressing system would be better than a slatted tub held together with hoops, and I pursued that option in 2007. I discovered that if the “cheese” (as the built-up layers of wood racks and cloth-wrapped apple pulp are called) is not built just so, and pressure is not applied just so, the cheese will tip out of balance as it is pressed. The whole thing can become a real hassle to work with.
It turns out that in days of old, it was a special craft to build a good cheese for pressing. I find that admirable and fascinating but the method is not as simple and user friendly as I was thinking it might be So, back to the slatted tub I went. But this time with a modification: What if I were to place “pressing discs” in the tub as I put the pulp in? These discs would act much like the racks in the rack and cloth system. Instead of putting pressure to a large mass of pulp, the pressure would be distributed more evenly and squeeze the pulp more thoroughly with the discs. And since it would all be contained within the confines of the tub, noting would get out of balance.
Then there was the matter of what to use to do the pressing. All the cider presses I had used in the past employed an acme screw that was screwed down on a pressing plate, on top of the pulp. I actually made a press with such a screw pictures are at the end of this essay). But I also made a press that employed a scissors jack from a car (or a hydraulic bottle jack)..
After comparing the two pressure sources, I had to conclude that I liked the car jack better. It was faster and just as easy to use, perhaps even easier. I paid somewhere around $140 for an acme screw, acme nut, and the welding to put the screw mechanism together. But the car jack was free. As much as I like the traditional appearance of the screw press, the jack press was more of a Whizbang method.
All of which brings me to this year’s cider press design. I have now developed a design for a press that is “conspicuous for speed, excellence, or startling effect,” which is the definition of Whizbang. The pictures that follow are an introduction to my non-traditional-looking but very simple, and very effective, homestead cider press....
The above picture shows the basic Whizbang cider press frame. It is made of 2x4 and 2x6 lumber and is modeled after the old Garden Way press I owned 30 years ago. The frame is light in weight (easily tipped on its side and carried with one hand) yet strong.
A pressing pan fits into the base of the frame. The pan catches the cider as it is squeezed and a drain hole channels the juice into your container. My pressing pan is made of HDPE plastic, which is strong, easy to clean, and food grade. A pan could just as easily be made of wood sealed with polyurethane. Stainless steel would be nice too. In any event, the pan slides in and out of place easily. It is convenient enough in size that you can take it right into your kitchen and wash it at the sink with hot water if you want. The lattice grid you see in the picture is the pressing platform. Here’s another view, showing the pressing platform up close....
The slatted tub rests on top of the pressing platform and it allows cider to flow from underneath the tub, out the drain hole.
My pressing platform is also made of HDPE plastic. It was originally a solid piece of 3/4” thick plastic. I made the grid with multiple passes over a dado blade in my table saw. It is a deluxe platform. A very adequate platform can also be made of pine. When I get the Whizbang Cider Press plan book together, there will be plans in it for a very simple wooded pressing platform.
The above photo shows the pressing tub in place on the pressing pan. The wood staves (maple) are my nod to traditional style and nostalgia. I do like the look of the natural wood staves. The tub hoops are 1/8” thick HDPE plastic and they are held on with stainless steel panhead screws. I would liked to have used stainless steel hoops but they would have been expensive, and stainless steel is very hard to drill so many holes in. The HDPE is inexpensive, and seems to do the job just fine.
The above picture shows a nice feature of the press. The whole press pan with the tub can be slid ahead for easier filling, then pushed back under the pressing shaft when it’s ready to squeeze.
Pressure is applied down on the apple pulp by means of a 2x6 pressing shaft. At the end of the shaft is a pressing plate. Again, I have made my pressing plate using HDPE plastic and it is sized to fit snugly inside the diameter of the hoop tub.
As the photo above shows, the end of the pressing shaft fits snugly into a square-box that is part of the pressing plug.
Above is another view of the pressing tub and pan, pulled ahead for filling.
Before putting apple mash into the tub, a nylon liner is fitted inside, as shown above.
The above-pictured pail of apple pulp was ground in my Whizbang Apple Grinder. A bushel of apples weighs 42 pounds. There is exactly 42 pounds of mash in that bucket. To be more specific, the bucket contains 20 pounds of Ida Red apples (Qty:35) and 22 pounds of Cortland apples (Qty: 64). I weighed and counted very carefully for this featured pressing. I also carefully measured the juice output from this one-bushel pressing.
By the way, using my Whizbang Apple Crusher, I was able to grind that bushel of apples by myself in less than 5 minutes. My arms did not ache from cranking a handle round and round. I just fed the apples down into the disposal opening as fast as I could.
The picture above shows ladled pulp in the pressing tub. Notice the juice is already dripping into the pot under the drain.
After scooping in three inches or so of pulp, I place a pressing disc down onto the apple slurry. Again, these discs are HDPE plastic. I layer on more of the apple mash and put another disc on top. The macerated apple pulp is so fluid that it self-levels as the discs are placed on top.
With the rest of the mash in the tub, I fold the nylon mesh down on top. Please note that one bushel of apple pulp fills the Whizbang tub only about half way. The tub will take at least another 3/4 bushel of apples. So this press has a 1-3/4 to 2 bushel capacity. That is a good homestead size!
The pressing pan with its tub of mash is positioned under the pressing plate. Then the dowels that hold the 2x6 pressing shaft up are removed and the press plate drops down onto the pulp. It is time to apply pressure.
The car jack I’m using is from the trunk of my reliable old Nissan Sentra. The jack rests on a small 2x6 platform screwed to the top end of the pressing shaft. Small blocks of scrap 2x6 are stacked on top of each other as needed to boost the jack up to the top cross bar. Since the tub is only half full, several more blocks are needed than would be the case if the tub were full.
The car jack is operated by turning the end. A pair of Vice Grip pliers gives me a nice handle. The top of the jack rests against a solid bearing surface made using three steel electrical box covers.
Crank the jack handle and the sweet cider pours out the drain hole. When it slows to a trickle, crank the jack some more. It’s a beautiful thing to see fresh-squeezed cider flowing into your collecting pan.
In time the juice flow will slow way down, even with a lot of jack pressure on it. You could leave the press to set another hour or so while yet more cider trickles out (and tighten the jack a bit more every ten or fifteen minutes) if you want to get as much juice as possible from the pulp. I stopped pressing in this series of photos because the sun was setting and I wanted to get everything cleaned up.
The above picture shows the pressing shaft on the pressing plate. Notice the little bit of cider around the end of the shaft/ That should not be. It is there because I drilled a small center home when making the pressing plate. I will have to plug the hole next time I make cider. And if I make another press, I will not drill that hole.
The easiest way to clean up (or get ready for another pressing) is to retract the pressing shaft and remove the tub from the bag of pomace (squeezed-out pulp is called pomace).
The above picture shows the layers of pomace and pressing discs. The pomace is dry, but I think I could have squeezed another pint of cider out of it if I took the time.
And there’s the beautiful finished product—sweet, full-bodied, pure, wholesome cider. That bushel of apples rendered three gallons and two cups of the liquid goodness. A full basket in the press would have produced at least six gallons.
So that, my friends, is my Whizbang cider press. As you can see, it is a very simple design, but very effective. It is also very inexpensive to make. Granted, the HDPE plastic parts can run up the cost, but basic plywood and pine with an ample coating of polyurethane would substitute just fine and keep the cost to a minimum.
Best of all, this simple press will reliably press cider for many, many years to come.
There are a lot of people who will find my Whizbang Cider Press as I’ve introduced it to you here to be sufficient inspiration and information to build their own press. There is nothing wrong with that. But most people will find the project a whole lot easier with some specific specifications and directions. With that in mind, I am in the process of putting together a set of drawings and construction notes for the Whizbang Apple Grinder and the Whizbang Car Jack Cider Press. If all goes well, these plans will be available early in 2009.
UPDATED INFORMATION....March 2009
My book, Anyone Can Build A Whizbang Apple Grinder And Cider Press is now in print. You can get full details about the book and learn a lot more about cidermaking in general at this link: www.Whizbang Cider.com
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