Build an Easy DIY Cider Press

Yes, it’s only early August and for many this still means full-on summer heat, but autumn is just around the corner (it is!), and with it comes the heady bounty of the season’s harvest. Essentially right now, if you planted something, it’s ready to be picked (unless we’re talking about basil, in which case it has been ready). For some of us this means ruby tomatoes, golden corn, avalanches of zucchini, and jungles of peas. But beyond those garden delights, for most of us this time of year marks the coming of apple season.

Say it with me: APPLE SEASON! Little choirs just sang out to celebrate it!

Fresh apples, apple pie, baked apples, apple casserole, applesauce, apple pancakes, apple juice, dried apples…you know the rest. But oh, one of the best parts of apple season: fresh apple cider. That delectable treat, the entire sensory experience of picking apples bottled up in all its glory.

Don’t let apple season pass you by without a way to savor fresh apple cider! Authors Chris Peterson and Philip Schmidt are here to help us capture every ounce of deliciousness with an easy DIY apple cider press in their book Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency.

Apple season just got even better.

[Guess what: a press such as this can process many gallons of delicious cider over a season. It can also be used to crush grapes and extract the juice for homemade wine.]

Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

This press is the perfect way to make use of the abundant bounty from apple trees on your property. But even if you don’t happen to have your own mini orchard, you can make good use of the wide selection of inexpensive apples available at the local co-op or farmer’s market (or any place they sell organic apples).

There are few drinks so satisfying as a well-made, home-brewed apple cider and the process is a simple one. You simply grind the apples into a pulp that you then press to extract the sweet, flavorful juice. If you’re only making a small batch, you can chop the apples and process them into pulp in a blender. For larger or multiple loads—if, for instance, you have several trees on your property—you’ll want to invest in a full-scale grinder that will make short work of even a large number of apples.

The best ciders incorporate a blend of apples to create an interesting and refreshing flavor profile. Usually, proficient cider makers will include a good amount of very modestly flavored apples (such as Macintosh) as a foundation for the cider, adding tart apples (such as Granny Smiths) to brighten and liven the flavor, and a more flavorful apple to add richness (such as the Orin or Golden Russet). The best way to blend is to crush and press batches of each different apple separately and then blend the ciders so that you can better control the flavor.

When you press and crush the pulp, the cider slowly oozes out of the pulp into the tray below the pressing bucket (a pail in this case). The bucket has to withstand a lot of pressure, and traditionally, press buckets were made from scrap hardwood, with hard staves and hoops and spaces left between the staves for the juice. Because a pressing bucket can be a formidable project in its own right, we’ve opted for the more convenient 5-gallon plastic pail. These pails are widely available at home centers and hardware stores.

The mash—or crushed apples—is contained within a coarse nylon bag or cheesecloth, which prevents large pieces of apple in the mash from finding their way into the cider. A word of caution about collecting the pressed cider—apple juice can be very acidic, and the acid can react to certain metals, so it’s best to catch the juice in a plastic pail and then store it in glass.

What You’ll Need

Cider Press Assembly

Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

Building a DIY Cider Press

Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

1. Lay out the top cross brace, the center base board and two frame supports. Make sure the frame is square, then attach frame supports with two 3″ screws at each corner. Leave room in the center for bolts. Attach the other two frame supports the same way. Drill holes for the carriage bolts that connect the cross brace and frame supports, then bolt the frame together.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

2. Align the outside base boards with the center cross brace. Predrill two ¼” holes at each end of the outside base boards, then fasten the 4 × 4s with two 8″ self-tapping lag screws. (If you have an impact driver you can drive the screws in without predrilling.)

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

3. Position the press frame on the 4 × 4 legs. With the legs properly aligned, drill two pilot holes at each corner of the outside base 4 × 4s, down into the tops of the legs. Screw the base to the legs using 5″ self-tapping lag screws.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

4. Trace the bottom of the bucket on the press plates, then trace an inner line with a compass about ⅛” inside of
the line. Cut the line with a jigsaw. Offset the grain direction of the two press plates for more strength, then fasten the two plates together with glue and predrilled, countersunk 1¼” screws. Attach a 5 ½” long 2 × 6 to the center of the plates to distribute the force of the jack.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

5. Sand all the edges of the press plate and check the fit. Also cut several short pieces of 4 × 4 to extend the reach of the jack as it pushes down into the bucket.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

6. Mark three ½” drain holes along the front end of the metal tray, spaced 1 inch apart. Use a nail set to mark the center so the drill bit stays put. Clamp the tray to a piece of scrap wood and drill from the inside out. File away any sharp edges and clean thoroughly.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

7. Drill rows of ¼” holes all the way around the 5-gallon bucket, starting 1″ above the bottom and continuing to about halfway up. Scrape and sand the holes smooth and wash the bucket.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

8. Chop, grind, and mash the fruit as fine as you can. Pour it into a mesh bag or cheesecloth in the bucket. The finer the apples are ground up, the more cider you’ll produce.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

9. Place the pan on the base with the holes over the collection bucket. Place the jack in the center of the press plate. Place a metal plate or large, thick washer on top of the jack to keep the head from pushing into the wood. Slowly compress the fruit with the jack, adding additional 4 × 4 blocks when the jack is too low in the bucket.

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Tracy Walsh / Practical Projects for Self-Sufficiency

Making the Cider

Once your press is constructed, you’re ready to make your first batch of cider. Grind the apples up into mash and place the mash in a nylon mesh press bag (or line the bucket with cheesecloth). Put the bag in the pressing pail and position it so that the press plate is aligned perfectly with the mouth of the pail. You may want to slightly shim the back edges of the back legs, so that the press is tilted forward. This will help the pressed juice run toward the drain holes.

Set your collection pail under the drain holes, and pump the jack until juice begins flowing. Continue slowly pumping until no more juice comes out. Now enjoy your first glass of fresh-pressed cider!

  • Allan Watson

    That’s not cider until it’s fermented, it’s just apple juice.

    • Leanne Selix

      The difference between cider and juice is the pulp has been filtered out of juice. Cider that is allowed to ferment now is an alcoholic beverage.

      • Thomas Guarneri

        Allan is correct. Universally cider is a term reserved for the alcoholic beverage. Your explanation is only limited to the United States. Unfiltered apple juice being called cider is a very outdated term. Most home brewers don’t like calling it “hard” cider and will just say “cider” when referring to their brews.

        • PCnoMore

          In Vermont cider is far from being an outdated term for unfiltered apple juice. We have our fair share of orchards as well as cider mills and hard cider producers.

        • Sara McCoy

          As a home brewer I refer to the ground& crushed & pressed fresh apple as cider, a filtered cider as apple juice, and the fermented product as hard cider or apple wine based upon alcohol content (and other ingredients).
          From a commercial point of view in the US, the TTB has a well-defined definition as well as an entire FAQ section for hard cider. Per the TTB, cider aka hard cider is derived wholly from these ingredients: apples, optional sugar, water, added alcohol.

    • Andrew Beiler

      What do you mean, fermented? What does fermented mean? How do you ferment the juice?

      • joeblow

        google it

  • Pieter van Leeuwen

    Does the bucket not burst due to the expanding bag with the pulp which is being compressed?

  • Andrew Beiler

    what do you use to press the apples? I want to build a homemade, non-hydraulic, very cheap cider press

    • Martin Rooney

      Use your carjack