How to Build a Cider Press

Follow these step-by-step instructions to make this easy-to-build cider press, and start enjoying homemade apple cider and apple jack.

| September/October 1976

cider press 1

Figure 1. A supporting frame made of 2 x 4's and 4 x 4's, nailed and bolted together.

Illustrations by Jim Nowadnick

Click on the corresponding thumbnails in the Image Gallery (accessible on Page 1 of this article) for referenced figures and diagrams.  

Before the advent of the pop bottle and urban sprawl, just about every farm had a cider press. These machines were lovingly built by highly skilled craftsmen called coopers, who also constructed the casks and barrels in which families stored flour, sugar, corn, water, beer, pickles, nails and many other commodities.

Nowadays, it's well nigh impossible to come by an old-fashioned barrel press. The very few that still exist are either quietly handed down from one generation to another within families or sold at outrageous prices in antique shops. Which means that if there's an apple orchard in your back pasture and you'd rather high-grade all that fallen fruit into cider than let the cows eat it, you'll have to break out the carpentry tools.

Now, I'm not a cooper (heaven forbid!) and wouldn't know where to begin when it comes to bending barrel staves into compound curves, but I have built a cider press that—while not the world's prettiest or most sophisticated—gets the job done, and cost me only about $30 (1976 prices) to assemble. Besides that, the unit is so stout that I'll betcha someday a father will point his finger at the machine and proudly tell his son, "My grandpappy built that press."

You Can Build a Cider Press

My little cidermaker's not at all difficult to build. Take a look at the accompanying diagrams and photographs (Click on the corresponding thumbnail in the Image Gallery, above) to get a general idea of how the press is put together. There are essentially just four components: [Fig. 1] A supporting frame made of 2 x 4's and 4 x 4's, nailed and bolted together, [Fig. 2] an open-ended "basket"—in which the apples are crushed (made of vertical wooden slats held in place by two horizontal metal hoops), [Fig. 3] a screw to deliver the squeezing force, and [Fig. 4] a trough to collect the drippings. Since the basket is probably the most demanding of the four sub-assemblies to construct, I'll start the instructions with that item.

Use Hardwood for the Press

You'll notice that in the "List of Materials" (Page 6) I've specified hardwood for the basket's slats. This is because softwoods—pine or fir, for example—are likely to impart undesirable flavors to the cider. Thus, make a maximum effort to fabricate this part of your press from hardwood, preferably maple or oak, that has NEVER been soaked in a preservative. Scrounge a little. I cut my basket's slats from a pair of old breadboards that had been collecting dust in my garage.

10/30/2013 9:02:13 AM

Where is the converted washing machine that the heading of the page I clicked on referenced? Bait and switch?

9/20/2013 2:56:57 PM

Am I taking crazy pills? I see the pictures. I also have put together almost everything for this and has only cost me 75.00 so far.

8/21/2013 9:44:49 AM

as with most of these articles, i'm always intrigued by the subject but when i get to the article, the instructions are long and complicated. do ya'll offer any easy projects for the less experienced? thanks.

8/21/2013 8:39:57 AM

Anyone have pics???

john & virginia ledoux
11/15/2012 1:17:04 PM

Waste of our time, no pictures.

mike cupertino
9/14/2012 12:05:14 PM

I know this is an old page, but I wanted to warn anyone against trying to make authentic "Applejack". The traditional method of freeze distillation is dangerous because not only does it concentrate the ethanol (alcohol), it also concentrates methanol, which is a byproduct of fermentation also. Methanol is what makes bad moon-shiners go blind. Normally with heat distillation in a whiskey still, the methanol is thrown out with the first bit of alcohol coming out of the still, but freeze distillation leaves it all in. There's a reason why our colonial forefathers didn't live very long. If you REALLY want real Applejack, take a trip to the country and find someone with a whiskey or moonshine still and have them distill your hard cider into applejack. It will be a little safer that way. If you want to learn more, go to the Wikipedia page for applejack and methanol.

beatrice gren
11/12/2011 5:29:16 PM

We have been wanting to build an apple mill for a while. It has to be better than our friends. Like to see what yours looks like finished.

mike grahek
9/5/2011 10:23:03 AM

Thanks! I've been waiting and wanting to build one of these for some time!

11/12/2010 12:05:05 AM

The recipe is for hard cider, not applejack. Aaannd, for hard cider, you want to bring it to around 100 F, not boiling. 10 pounds is waaay too much sugar and you do want yeast. Champagne yeast works well. "Until you can't wait any longer" should be more like at least two weeks and anywhere up to a few months. When you first start off you'll have tons of bubbles coming out of your airlock, and then all of the sudden it will drop off- when it drops off is when the good stuff is happening(you know, alcohol). Having oxygen is more of a problem in that it'll take longer to get harder cider. Now, once you have hard cider, if you want applejack, you go through a process called freeze distillation. The colonials took a barrel of cider and buried it for the winter. When they dug it up in the spring, most of the water in the mixture had froze, and the(now much more concentrated) cider was pushed to the middle. If you don't want to wait all winter, just put pitchers of this in a cold area and skim off the ice when it forms, until no more ice will form.

10/6/2010 9:38:28 AM

I was curious about the images also, because when I clicked on the image gallery (under article tools), all I saw was the basket full of apples. BUT, if you click on "next," then the diagrams will be on that second page. Click on the diagram and it will show enlarged as well. A picture does paint a thousand words! :)

8/26/2009 10:07:19 PM

The diagram is in the Image Gallery. Look to the upper right of the photo on the first page, and you will see a link to the Image Gallery. There is also a link the Article Tools box.

steve cole
8/26/2009 4:07:07 PM

Where is the diagram refered to in the Article?

mt mi mi
8/26/2009 2:45:02 PM

A picture of the finished product would have been nice. I'm not even sure what a cider press is supposed to look like.

mother earth news fair


Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!