Driving around Massachusetts in September you realize that there are a lot of apple trees in New England in the old bygone fields or forests that once were actual fields. Along stone walls and dead-smack in the middle of a grown-in field there is a treasure trove of fruit that is literally ripe for the picking. The only problem is that many of the apples just aren't that pretty and even if they do taste good, they are often somewhat gnarly in appearance. So, what is one to do with truckloads of apples that taste good but look like an alien's spawn? I think the answer is simple enough, crush them up and drink em'!!
With this instructable I am going to show you how we took some materials we had lying around the house and built one heck of a apple grinding and crushing machine yielding gallons of sweet, sweet nectar that can be drank as is or fermented into a heavenly brew.
Like all good things, our idea started here and then meandered _--> -__--~~~>>> = <----->>>> way over here. What started with a bike, ended with a different bike, but turned out into an efficient apple grinding beast! What's more is that the entire get-up-and-go hardly broke the bank. With a few stainless steel screws, a used exercise bike, and some threaded rod we were ready to rock and roll.
Step 1: A Bit De-pressing - Build the Apple Press
A neighbor down the road was having the floor to her old barn disassembled and offered up the old oak timbers for free if I wanted them. There was some nail pulling, some nail breaking, some cursing, and then finally some resolution as I was able to extract nice 8' long 4"x6" posts and some beautiful 12' long 2-1/2"x8-1/2" planks. These both sat in our barn for quite a while until this fateful day...
We had come to the previously mentioned conclusion (you know, "apples turned into alcohol sounds like a good idea") and I had a Eureka moment and said "I think I have the materials to do part of the job". We needed something that was rigid, stout, and able to withstand 12 tons of force, and the oak I had reclaimed fit the bill perfectly.
I cut the uprights / posts at 40" long, cut the bottom 2-1/2"x4" cross bracing at 28" and the upper 4"x6" support at 34" long. The uprights were dadoed about 5" down. The dado was 1" deep and the exact width of the upper support.
Holes were marked for the 3/4" threaded rod and then drilled one layer at a time with a 3/4" auger bit and heavy duty hammer drill. The threaded rod passes through the four joints of the press and is secured using large square washers and square nuts. We found all of the hardware in the basement of an old house, so at this point we are still working with completely free materials.
You will need to have the press on a sturdy, moveable surface. We used an old wooden workbench someone was tossing out along with a couple of the oak planks I scored from the barn reconstruction. No need to screw or clamp anything down, the mass of the oak press is enough to keep everything in place while you are working.
Finally, we installed a thick scrap of steel directly where the piston of the bottle jack would contact the upper support brace. This takes the majority of the impact and prevents too much damage directly to the wood with 24,000 pounds of force applied to it.
Let's move on to the grinding box and I will show you how all of it works at the very end of the instructable with a couple of videos and some more pics.
Step 2: Who Said Grinding Was Only at Dance Clubs? - Building the Grinding Box / Scratter
In order to make cider you are going to need to grind up the apples pretty good. A decent grinder or "scratter" can set you back nearly $200, but with some simple materials and about $30 you can build one yourself. The grinding box was made out of a dense hardwood, in this case red birch and white oak. Basically it is a box that is screwed together with a bottom slanting plate that helps work the apples to the grinding drum. We made the grinding drum out of a chunk of oak that I turned on the lathe to a 5" diameter and cut to a width that would fit in the box with only 1/8" of space on either side to accommodate wood swelling. You will need to have a hole drilled through the entire grinder head, or alternatively you can glue up two pieces of wood after you have dadoed out a groove in the both sides of the wood that will accommodate the shaft. You can then take the dadoed and glued wood and turn it down to size. No lathe? No problem, you can get away with using a really nice round, dry log made of hard maple or a similar wood. Make sure the bark is removed and you have sanded it down neatly. Use what you have around the house or find in the woods, that's half the fun!
My, what big teeth you have: You will need to put some teeth in the drum before you insert the whole thing into the box. You will have to draw spirals on the drum about 3/4" apart with parallel lines about 1" apart. The intersections of those lines is where you will put you stainless steel screws inserted at about 30 degrees (see the picture for help). The heads of the screws will act as the grinding component for the scratter. How you orient the screws, how deep you screw them into the wood, how many you put in the wood, and the angle you put them will determine how well they grind the apples. We had 70 screws in the drum set at 30 degrees. At first the drum didn't turn smoothly so we slowly adjusted the depth of the screws until they just barley nicked the box as they spun.
Shaft... shut your mouth: The cider gods were smiling down upon us and we happened to have a long 3/4" stainless steel rod that once belonged in some science lab. A parent of one of my students gave it to me and literally said "do you think you could use this for something?" At the time some wicked ideas came into my mind... but I am happy that I stuck with the narrow path, and lo and behold, an apple scratter shaft was born! Ready for the bonus? The shaft was threaded on one end with the nut in tack and the whole get up fit beautifully on an old crankset from a road bike, nut, threads and all. I ended up drilling a hole in the shaft with a cobalt bit that allowed a bolt to slid through, passing through the grinding shaft and holding it in place tightly in the box. The shaft passes through holes drilled in the box and the hardwood is dense enough to act as a decent bushing with a bit of mineral oil added occasionally to keep things spinning nicely. I also used some nifty clamps I made from hardwood to hold onto the shaft and keep it place, see the pics for some explanations. As for the threads on the grinder shaft connecting to the bike crank, make sure that the threads face the right direction so that as you grind the apples you are not loosing the entire crank. Also, you want to make sure your screws are facing the right way so that they properly bite into your apples. We then clamped the box right to the table with the apple press and prepared for amazingness!
What a grind: So we used my grinding handle to start with the grinding and after an hour of jerky, exhausting, arm-wrenching we decided that something had to be done to make things work better than the current rig. Enter the bike...s.
Step 3: I Can't Stand It - Making a Bike Stand and Bringing in Some Mechanical Advantage
We are all avid bikers in our family, and therefore we have lot's of bikes for all sorts of occasions... including crushing apples into a pulp. My wife's old iron horse was gathering dust in the shed and was resurrected to come out and play the role of apple munching machine. I build a really quick bike stand for the bike using some old planks, 6x6's and a couple of cut offs of pipe to hold the quick release skewer in place... at least somewhat. I then took the old' haws (horse) and placed er' in the hitch'n rail. I took some old chains and linked them together, placed one end of the loop over the rear gear cluster on the bike, and then the other loop over the remaining chainring on the cranking arm. Then I pulled everything tight and put a couple of stakes behind the bike stand to hold it in place... jumped on board and pedaled! Take a look at the video. It worked pretty good overall but there were a number of times that things didn't line up right and the chain would jump off and bring everything to a halt... also scare the crud out you. Also, the length of the chain really made it so we could not put too many apples in the box without things getting jammed up. This worked, and still would be fine today... in fact we used it for two years producing around 200 gallons of cider, but we needed something a bit more robust to keep the good liquid flowing. Enter bike #2 - the exercider!
Step 4: Eat Your Heart Out Jane Fonda! - the Exercider 2000
The ole iron horse was great but between the jumping chains, stakes in the ground to hold the rig in place, and the overall set up I decided it was time for something a bit more robust. Why not a stationary exercise bike? What a great idea! We found one on Craigslist for $20 (there were no free ones at this point, and we wanted a solid steel wheel).
Here are the steps:
- Build the base to fit your exercise machine of choice. You will have to figure this out on your own, but basically you want to make sure that the thing sits firmly on the base through the use of troughs, holes, screws, posts, etc...
- Build the uprights to hold your grinding box and use angled braces to keep the thing in place when you start doing your grinding.
- Add your gear, chainring, or what have you to your exercise machine and make sure that the chain will match up with the gear on your grinding box and your bike.
- Put on your chain and use shims behind the box to bring it to the tightness you are looking for.
- Hop on and let er' rip!
We also added a new sheet of steel flashing to make the apple transition from whole to pulverized better... for us at least, definitely not better for the apple.
Here's how the whole process works with grinding and pressing...
Step 5: Grind and Press, Grind and Press, Grind and Press
If you look back a couple of steps you both saw and heard the steps explained in one of the videos. But to summarize, you need to have some type of press rack and cheese cloth to put the apple mash into. You will use a square box with no top or bottom to fill up the cheese cloth with apple pulp, then fold the cheese cloth and put a rack on top of it. Then layer with another cheese cloth filled with apple pulp, and a third if you can after putting a rack between them. Finally you will put your pressing block, basically a big chunk of wood that can distribute the force of the jack to the cheeses and racks. You will also need additional blocks to slide under the bottle jack as you press down the cheeses and the apples compress. Under all of this you need a large flat tray with a hole at the end to collect the goods. I think the videos gives the low down nicely.
Get to it! - Once you have pressed the cider you are going to want to either drink it, freeze it, or ferment it. If you are fermenting it you are probably going to want to use some campden tablets or potassium metabisulphite to sterilize the current yeasts and bacteria in the cider so that you can pitch your own yeast into it. You are also going to want to use a decent wine or ale yeast and some yeast nutrient with your hard cider since apples have a tendency to cause yeasts to putter out and produce nasty sulphuric compounds that can ruin your cider. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you don't leave the cider out for too long. Overnight is totally fine (although it will start fermenting overnight) but definitely get to it the next day or you will get some funk going on.
And that's about it... always a work in progress and always adding new and nifty ways to solve a problem or make things even better. Isn't that what makes it fun?