Pedal Powered Apple Grinder Complete

[Note October 2009: the pedal mill has been substantially updated since 2007, including tandem bike power.  See posts from Sept-Oct 2009 for details on the upgrades, eg. ]

pedal mill complete with pulp

The pedal grinder is finally complete, and it works great! This weekend I added a lot more structure to the support frame, and built a plywood hopper to increase the capacity to nearly a bushel. I also hacked together a flimsy skirt out of clear vinyl to contain the pulp as it is flung from the grinder wheel.

I scored several bushels of drops (Cortland I think) from the neighbors who rent the house across the street – there are trees in the yard that haven’t been pruned for a few years, and this one tree was so heavily laden that two large branches had broken and lay against the ground. In return I chainsawed up the limbs and dragged them into my brush pile. The tree still has plenty of fruit on it – I plan to harvest it when I get a chance.

So, I discarded a bunch of rotten fruit, washed the good ones several times with the hose, and cut each one for good measure, discarding anything with too much worm activity (naturally the trees haven’t been sprayed, so the fruit is “organic” in every sense of the word). I then loaded the hopper, got on, and started to pedal. I quickly learned that it would not self-feed, at least with cut apples in the hopper, so I grabbed a scrap of plywood and probed the hopper, whereupon the pulp started flying with satisfying speed. It was a bit of a trick to pedal and poke the apples at the same time, but the pedaling effort required to grind them was not at all strenuous. I estimate that I could do a bushel in under 10 minutes, including the time taken dismounting and pouring more in once or twice. With a helper to load and poke, progress would be even faster. The aesthetic contrast between the pedal grinder as compared to the garbage disposal makes the time spent in fabrication well worth the trouble. There is just the with the hum of the sprockets and the crunch of apples, as compared to the whine of the disposal motor and the ear-splitting racket of the compressor.

The resulting pulp is noticeably coarser than the disposal output, but it is reasonably fine and definitely better than that of the antique press. I ground about 170lb of fruit, and ended up with 104 pounds of cider, or about 61% yield, as compared to about 71% with the Insinkerator. I suspect we will close that gap significantly by next weekend by screwing some stainless shim stock on the drum between the cutters to reduce the bite. The gravity of this cider was 1.041 (or about 5% potential alcohol) which is a bit surprising given that these apples had been sitting on the ground for a while. Perhaps the fruit wasn’t very sweet because the tree hadn’t been pruned.

dripping cider

The press was largely unchanged, though I tapped the aluminum wheel and added a spinner (or “necking wheel” as Holly’s hick friends in rural CA used to say). Performance remains good; the main limitation at this point is that the screw feels a little sticky; I think the canola oil we put on last year may have gotten a bit gummy. Perhaps we can scrub the screw off and apply some axle grease before the big pressing in Maine. The custom stainless press pan is makes a significant difference, as do the wider grates. The cider was not spectacular; neither very sweet nor particularly tart, but certainly drinkable. I got a bunch of 80 cent gallons of water at Price Chopper and filled the jugs 90% full of cider – got 13 jugs all together. They went in the chest freezer, to be consumed this winter instead of orange juice.


8 Responses to “Pedal Powered Apple Grinder Complete”

  1. Avery Larned Says:

    You have done just EXACTLY what we’ve being trying to figure out how to do ourselves out on one of the isalnds in Northern Penobscot Bay, Maine.

    We are stumped on the best sort of grinder. What did you use for a drum? Can you possibly send me a picture or post it?? We’ve looked into the home garbage dispos-all but wonder if there’s something better. It seems like its all in the pulp — the better ground the apples get, the higher juice output.

    Any tips?

  2. elizabeth mcguigan Says:

    I borrowed an antique press from a friend. Not knowing anything about pressing I thought it was in usable condition — very wrong. In the last two days I have gotten a lesson. I have rebuilt the press and looks and acts brand new. The grinder is in just as bad a shape. Long story short I am looking to build a better mouse trap. I know myself and I will probably build my own press eventually. Just looking for any helpful hints at the moment for building a grinder quickly, before all my apples spoil. I love your idea of pedal power. A motor shop I deal with told me today build the grinder first then they would come up with a motor or I should just put a hand crank or a hand drill on it . They were not very supportive, even though they know I am capable of building this thing.

  3. fiveislandsorchard Says:

    Hi Elizabeth:

    It’s great to hear about other folks hacking on cider equipment. You can see some pics of the repair we made on my friend Holly’s website at including kludge repairs to broken iron castings.

    But, last year we made a quantum leap in pressing efficiency, and we needed a similar leap in grinding, and we needed it FAST. So, poking around on the internet we found that garbage disposals work really well. Check out his account at and mine at . The key aspects are compressed air for cooling, and using a push stick to prevent fruit from whirling in the plenum of the disposal, which quickly overloads the motor.

    I highly recommend this approach for expedience, especially if your fruit is already sweating – you can get everything you need at Home Despot or the like. It will be a bit expensive (a hundred bucks for a 3/4hp garbage disposal, another hundred bucks or more for a compressor, plus maybe $50 for fittings, air hose, and stuff), but it will give you incredible yields and makes a good story.

    If you really catch the apple bug, there’s nothing like grinding by pedal power, and if you’re mechanically inclined it’s not too hard to accomplish, especially if you have access to a machine shop for a few operations. -BP

  4. Edward Vielmetti Says:

    Hey this is awesome.

    My friend Homeless Dave built a pedal powered washing machine, see

    and he hasn’t hooked up a garbage disposal (yet!)

  5. Alex Says:

    I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

  6. göğüs estetiği Says:

    i like this site. i added on my bookmark i thanks

  7. Joe Sorbello Says:

    we just pressed 70 gallons in my backyard in Cumberland. this is our 4th year and the grinding is the slow process. i would like to know what you used for a cutting drum on the bike grinder.
    we have been using sausage grinders, they work well but slow.
    i worry that garbage disposals will burn out being run all day.
    we have had a great time.

  8. Natalie Says:


    I am working on a project at school where we are making a system that will create fuel briquettes for people down in Guetemala. Right now we are trying to come up with a device that will make grinding organic material easy and efficient. Do you know if your apple grinder will grind up things like corn stalks, corn husks, palm fronds, cocunut husks, and banana leaves/flowers, maybe a corncob? I was thinking that if something could grind up an apple, it could probably grind up those things, but we never know till we try. Before we make one however, I thought maybe you might have some input.

    We really appreciate your feedback as your system looks like interesting!


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