Beautiful hydraulic tie-bar press by Lockehaven Farm

Some folks up in our old neighborhood have taken up the homebrew cider equipment torch, and produced a very attractive hydraulic tie-bar press made of hickory:

They then proceeded to make two bins(!) worth of cider using a hand-crank grinder – that is serious work! These folks obviously have the skills to build stuff, so I would imagine they’re thinking about new grinding equipment for next year.

They were powering the hydraulic press From a small tractor, and from their blog entry it sounds like they had some trouble with the fabric, and with the racks they used. I’m just speculating, but I suspect that these could be related. They started out using canvas, which sounds like it blew out, so then they switched to jersey (which is much weaker I think) – maybe they can clarify in the comments. Based on our experience, canvas should work OK if you’re careful. We use the heaviest muslin we could buy at the fabric store in West Lebanon, just north of I89 – it sounds like that same fabric store was flooded out by Irene. I think the material is sometimes called ‘drill’, but it feels just like a fine canvas. It occurs to me that Home Despot used to sell natural canvas drop cloths that might do in a pinch, though I doubt the material is very good quality, and I’d wash it a couple times in hot water, since it’s surely not food grade.

Anyway, even with the heaviest cotton fabric we could find, we have had blowouts when we applied pressure too quickly. The trick is to bring the ram down VERY slowly once the pressure starts to build. The hydraulic presses are capable of delivering between 50 and 100 PSI to the stack itself, and if the pomace is still liquid-y when you get up to pressure, or if the radius of curvature of the fabric isn’t good and tight, it will burst right through. This makes perfect sense from a mechanical engineering perspective in terms of hoop stress in pressure vessels, but it makes intuitive sense once you’ve seen the pomace streaming out through a bulging hernia in the fabric. You need to gradually ramp up the pressure so the partially-exhausted pomace helps form bridges between the gaps in the grates; then you can really hit it with pressure – we go up to ~2500psi on the 4″ cylinder, but not until the stack is nicely consolidated. Even then, our fabric has been in use several years and we’ve had a few ruptures, so now we use 2 layers just to be safe – the yield is not noticeably affected.

It sounds like the Lockehaven folks are going to try making grates with 1/4″ plastic next year; I would caution that the fabric is pretty good at poofing out and filling shallow gaps. Our grates are made of 3/4″ by 1.375″ slats with gaps about 5/8″ wide between them, and I wouldn’t want much less than the 3/4″ for cider to flow through. Some of our grates are made of basswood (much softer than hard maple) and others are red maple (also somewhat softer) and we’ve used them a few years now, so I suspect the issues they were having might have been related to too much speed.

Anyway, I’m glad to see other folks home-building serious cider equipment – nice work, guys!

PS. it looked like they might have been aiming to ferment some of the mac/cortland cider. I suspect that a lot of folks get into the situation where they want to make hard cider but can’t get decent tart or bittersweet apples. We had the issue last year where we bought a bin of Dabinet from Poverty Lane, but we couldn’t get any tart apples (due to the widespread frost), so we ended up with several tanks of seriously unbalanced cider. Steve Wood would probably swoon if he heard we were adulterating our brew, but Holly discovered that 3g of malic acid from the brew store took our cider from way-overbitter to pleasantly tart. 1.5g per liter was more to my taste, so that’s how we bottled some of our 2010 stuff. Better Living Through Chemistry, as Jillian Cooke would say – not everybody has the luxury of 100 acres of fruit to pick from in blending their cider. This year, Steve couldn’t sell us any bittersweets – the brew store also sells tannin; we haven’t tried that though.

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5 Responses to “Beautiful hydraulic tie-bar press by Lockehaven Farm”

  1. Ruben Anderson Says:

    Do you think grates are really necessary? This year was only our first pressing so I am a total know-nothing, but we just cut discs of plywood. The pomace comes out pretty dry–it is hard to imagine getting more than a cup more juice if I had slats or grooves.

    That being said, our yield was only about 50%. Since the pomace was so dry, I chalk that up more to immature woody little apples we picked off overgrown trees in our neighbourhood.

  2. Luke Shipman Says:

    We had some successes and we had some failures. Nate’s press was more than capable of handling the pressure during a sustained press. I don’t think we ever heard a creak or groan from the press itself. We counted that as a major victory. The racks and cheeses were the biggest hurdle we encountered. This is sort of how it went:

    We tried three canvas cheeses first. Our cheeses were five gallows of pommace smoothed and leveled into a cheese. When we started to press, cider did floweth over… but we lost the majority of it outside our collection tray as our cheeses had squeezed outside the racks and over the edge of the tray.

    We tried smaller, deeper, canvas cheeses next, but this resulted in cracked racks.

    We made a bigger collection tray and went back to the five gallon pommace cheeses only to find we were blowing out the canvas. Our pommace was not dry (we had gotten drier pommace last year w/ the Jaffrey and Waste King). We thought perhaps the lack of porousness of the canvas was causing acting too much like a bubble and not enough like a sieve, so we tried jersey cloth. It was much more porous, but the jersey cloth stretched more easily than the pommace cidered, so we decided that didn’t work.

    Then we tried increasing the contact area between the press and the rack w/ a pivoting plate on the end of the cylinder. Nate and Jer also whipped up some high density plastic racks with grooving to replace the maple racks.

    The pivoting action of the plate combined w/ the now very slippery plastic racks seemed to exacerbate our unequal distribution of pressure problem. The cheeses were so slippery on the plastic that they were more happy to squeeze out from under the press than they were to give up their ciders. We cracked the plastic racks and still were not seeing good yields.

    Finally, after feeling a bit discouraged, Nate tried small, thin cheeses, probably about 2-2.5 gallons of pommace per cheese. He used incredibly slow pressure w/ long gaps of waiting. The result was fewer broken racks, a relatively drier pommace, and finally, some consistent cider flow. However, we had a very, very, very slow trickle of cider. We wouldn’t have been close to the 183 gallons in 6 hr mark.

    We have a lot to work on for next year. Thanks a lot for mentioning us. We’ll try to keep you posted with whatever solutions we come up with.

    All the best,
    Luke

  3. fiveislandsorchard Says:

    Hi Luke:

    Thanks for the detailed description – other cider hardware hackers will benefit from the writeup.

    It does sound like maybe the canvas was too tight a weave or something. With the drill/muslin we use, cider is coming out at a pretty good clip just under the weight of the stack (4-5 cheeses high, maybe 10-15 gallons of cider per go), and the majority of the cider is in the pot before the hydraulic gets above 500 psi (which is where the log splitter pump changes gears).

    Back when we used the smaller, acme screw press, we did have trouble keeping the grates parallel; that’s one of the reasons why we decided to scale up to the bigger press. I don’t have the hardware here to measure, but I think the cheese frame is about 16″ square and 3.5″ high. We’ve learned not to pack the cheese frame super full; 80 percent full seems to be a lot less squirrely, and we tug the cloth good and tight when we fold it over. It’s important also to stack the cheeses squarely on top of one another, or the whole tower gets wonky. These problems seem to get less and less problematic as you scale up and the aspect ratio gets more favorable; the press at Povlane seems to use grates about 30″ square, they use a thinner cheese frame than we do if anything, and the stack presses down evenly with no attention at all.

    To Reuben’s comment, I wouldn’t swear that solid racks wouldn’t work, but I have to think that above 8-10″ diameter the yield would start to slack off. Our experience is that with a reasonably fine grind, hydraulic pressure, and a bit of patience (as comes when you have enough grates to build stack N+1 while stack N is pressing) 70-75% yield is readily achieved. Though I do think it depends also on the type of apples – dry ones probably don’t have 75% juice to give, and some really soft ones we’ve pressed have made really slimy pulp that seemed to clog up the cloth rather than matting against it – to where the pomace didn’t peel off in sheets like it usually does, but rather had to be gently scraped in places. I don’t think cider will flow through too many inches of that kind of pomace, no matter how much pressure is applied. I’ve also heard that professionals sometimes add rice hulls or other roughage to the pulp to improve the flowability.

    BP

  4. Ruben Anderson Says:

    Hm. Interesting. So the Five Orchards cheese is about 3 gallons of pomace. And clearly the width of base affects stability of the cheese tower.

    Now if the folks at Povlane use a cheese half as thick as yours, they are still getting twice the volume in each cheese.

    So maybe a short and fat press would be a design worth thinking about. You would need to invest in good strong materials to spread the forces, and a jack with high pressure, but you could probably press faster, and the jack return cycle would be less annoying. However, storage would be more annoying.

    On fabric–we found some nylon drapery sheers, as recommended by Whizbang Cider dude. Have you tried the nylon? If so, did you find the plain muslin to be stronger?

    If I can ask one more question–I posted in the last thread, asking for more details about your apple mill, but maybe I was too late after the post. If you are not planning on commercializing it, could you share some details on construction? Maybe your Solidworks model? Where you bought the router bit to mill the star rollers?

    Thanks so much to you all.

  5. fiveislandsorchard Says:

    Ruben:

    Email me at firstinitiallastname at gmail; I can send 2D or 3D CAD, under creative commons license.

    BP

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