Archive for October, 2009

Year 5: Monday – cleaning up and shipping out

October 31, 2009

Monday was another nice day, perhaps not as warm as Sunday but still very pleasant. Kauf, Kelsey, and Andy helped out with cleanup in the AM, then headed back to Boston after lunch. In the morning we cleaned up the pole barn, stowed the press in a corner, and moved the various other things we had removed back to where they belonged, checked the cabins, neatened up the boathouse, and stashed the grinder and press grates above the grandparents’ garage. Then we toured the orchard and sugarbush, and I pumped Andy for knowledge on improving the soil.

The rest of the day was given over to details, no one of which was of much significance but taken together spent the day. My grandfather, mother, and I pitched the yeast on the carboys down in the root cellar:

We sorted the various equipment that had been gathered in the pole barn and put it back where it belonged, coiled the hoses and power cords, folded the tarps, and did some laundry:

press cloth on clothesline

As the daylight was fading, we strapped the tandem on the roof of our car (with the help of some pool noodles procured at the Georgetown Mall) and hit the road for Cambridge.  It was a lovely weekend, thanks to the hard work and fine spirits of everyone involved.  Special thanks to my family for putting up with increasing levels of cider madness every year, and to the folks who helped make sure the cider equipment was ready to go.   Next year will surely be at least as crazy…


Year 5: Sunday – the last of the cider

October 31, 2009

Sunday dawned clear, still, and warm.  Breakfast consisted of French toast, made with some of the multitude of baguette that Andy brought from the farm where he works.  There was plenty of time before a quorum arrived to make cider, so Joshua, Kelsey, and I took advantage to replumb the hydraulic system with the check valve and manual bypass appropriately positioned.  Meanwhile Keith stuffed one of the 4500psi recycled SCBA tanks with closed-cell polyethylene foam, and we backfilled it with hydraulic oil.  Joshua hung the resulting high-efficiency accumulator from the rafters to get it out of the way (and away from face level).  We then launched into cidering once again, and hit an impressive 75% yield on a carefully measured batch (the tally for the cidering as a whole was not maintained accurately, since there was a significant amount of filling of drinking cups directly from the press as it poured into the catch pail).  The repositioned check valve made all the difference, allowing a quick effort to pump the system up, whereupon it would hold over 2000 psi for a long time as the last of the juice gradually dripped out.  The addition of the accumulator made a smaller, though noticeable difference – the pressure would not fall off so quickly as the stack dripped out the last of the juice.  The improved pressure-holding capabilities of the re-plumbed press wreaked havoc with our last-minute press plate welding hack, which was pretty much pooched by the end of the morning:


Soon the last of the apples were pressed.  As a memorable grand finale, we used the press to crush a single Redfield apple, resulting in the following sequence:






Cidering being done but for the cleanup, we took advantage of the assembled peoplepower to move the heavy wooden dory that Joshua and I built years ago to the boathouse down by the water, which made for an interesting sight:


Some folks including the Summer Street gang had to get on the road; the rest headed over to #5 for a corn-and-bean casserole provided by the gang from Your Mom’s House.  There followed a generalized departure, leaving only Joshua, Kelsey, and Andy of the company.  It being a beautiful, warm afternoon, we put the dory in the water and paddled to Beal Island, which we hiked around, then rowed home with only minor mishaps, arriving around sundown to stow the dory in the boathouse in time for dinner.  I also kicked off a half-gallon starter of Pasteur champagne yeast, to be pitched Monday.  We played some tunes after dinner and chocolate cake, but found ourselves too tired to really make it happen, so we retired to the red barn for another round of Settlers, then turned in – another very full day.

Year 5: Saturday – cider on!

October 31, 2009

Saturday morning Emily and I screwed together the base grate while people drifted in for breakfast.  Just when the pikes were about to come out, Brandon and company showed up and produced some very tasty pancakes, which hit the spot with North End maple syrup.  As promised, it was raining steadily.  Joshua finalized the attachment of the grinder to the grinder support frame, and improvised a derailleur mount out of extrusion and bolts, which proved to be a critical addition.  I went to splice the chain and discovered to my dismay that my chain tool was missing its drive pin, without which no chain would be spliced.  I went over to the old homestead shop to find an old drill bit to grind into a spare pin, but in parallel checked to see if anyone in the crowd happened to have a chain tool on them.  As it happened the Dorsons came prepared for any eventuality, and the chain was rapidly spliced.  With similar facility, the upper press pan was freehand thermoformed with a propane torch to fit inside the lower press pan (I had cold-formed the upper pan out of 1/8″ polyethylene on a finger brake, but it had relaxed to its former planar configuration in the intervening days).  The same propane torch was used to light a roaring fire in the redneck reflector oven, which soon threw an appreciable amount of heat into the barn.  And as has been the case pretty much without exception, the tamper used to actually force the apples into the grinder was left to the last minute; I hacked one out of a piece of firewood and Alexi and company found a stick to use as a handle.  It was perhaps between 10 and 11am by the time we were ready to go.

Alexi and Leeann feed the grinder

Then we launched into the first pail of apples.  We quickly discovered that there was an alarming degree of flex in the tandem mount arrangement, probably due to the forks being rotated significantly from the neutral position, and from the identical phasing of the two pedalers.  This led to a significant cyclic extension in the chain, one which was taken up by the brand new derailleur assembly.  Even so, after only a half a bucket or so of apples, the secondary drive chain came loose, and the assembly came to a halt with a worrisome series of loud chunking noises.  It seemed that a larger-than-ideal chunk had gotten into the post crusher, causing the post crusher drums to get out of phase, putting a substantial load on the secondary drive system and causing the bearings to slip.  We loosened things up, put them back where they belonged, and started up again, this time more timidly.


Year 5: Friday – setting up

October 29, 2009

I got up around 6AM on Friday and spent the day setting up and preparing for cidering.  Joshua and Kelsey went up to Portland looking for real estate, and Alexis went along to shop for groceries and other supplies.  Meanwhile the folks and I got to work on the cidering setup.  The biggest issue was the forecast, which called for 1-2 inches of rain all day Saturday and into the night.  The forecast for Sunday was for beautiful weather, but I didn’t trust the new equipment to push all the apples through in a single short day, and besides that what would 25 people have done all day in cabins in the rain?  So we cleared out four bays of the open-fronted pole barn just west of the grassy spot where we typically make cider, moving out four small boats in the process.  The building is only perhaps 16′ deep, so we also set up two large tarps off the south side to cover additional area.  We moved in and set up the hydraulic press and the pedal grinder, and mounted the grinder in its frame.  In hooking up the tandem to the frame we weren’t particularly surprised to find that the forks of the tandem were wider than those of the Miyata touring bike I used before, such that the chain interfered with the right side fork on its way forward to the grinder assembly.  To solve this problem we replaced the existing fork mount with an angled fork mount sculpted from a piece of 4×6 with a chain saw, such that the effective width of the fork was decreased sufficiently for chain passage.

The pole barn has no utilities, and so we ran a hose and #10 extension cords from the big house, hooking up two 300W halogen worklights for overhead illumination and a sprayer for washing apples.  We were also worried about hypothermia, since only a small fraction of the assembled crew could pedal at one time.  An inspired bit of redneck engineering solved this problem with a minimum of fuss – a used 250 gallon fuel oil tank my dad had on hand had one of the large sides cut off, and we propped it up at a 45 degree angle outside the barn facing in, and it served admirably as a reflector oven, throwing a significant amount of heat into the work area.

All that took pretty much all of the daylight, and the day ended with three significant matters left undone.  First, we needed a press grate to go under the stack of cheeses on the press (since the standard grates don’t allow juice to flow out the ends).  Second, we needed something to go on the end of the ram to distribute the load.  Third, we needed to splice the drive chain from the tandem to the grinder.  Joshua and I dug around in the scrap metal pile after dinner and found a couple pieces of channel that looked marginal but perhaps workable.  We cut and drilled the pieces, then welded them together with rough but serviceable beads, and fitted some 2×12 scrap to spread the load from the 4×19 channel piece to a 20×20 pad.  I scrounged up some short leftover pieces of maple and beech flooring to make press grates and cut them to width and length, but didn’t get a chance to screw them together before bedtime.  It had started to drizzle by the time folks started showing up; we hung around in the folks’ house till everyone arrived, then showed them to the cabins.  By the time everything was shipshape it was about 1AM – a long day.


Year 5 Photos by Sarah and Johanna

October 29, 2009

baby Riggs among the applesbig stack ready to press

Year 5: Prologue – getting there

October 28, 2009

Getting the cider equipment to its home in Maine was a bit more of a project than I had hoped.  When we left Lebanon and moved back to the city, we gave our trusty 98 4x Tacoma to my parents, figuring that we only needed one car and they can always use another 4-season vehicle around.  With it we handed over our (seemingly equally reliable) home depot 5×8′ flat bed trailer, as we had no place to keep it in Cambridge.  We had heard that there was a recall on those trucks for frame rust-through, but since the truck spent most of its life in Missouri and Arizona we figured it would be fine, and we never got around to taking it in to have Toyota look at it.  When my dad went to put it on the road, he did take it for inspection, and lo and behold Toyota confiscated the truck, gave him a spiffy white Matrix as a loaner, and settled for a relatively princely sum.  But we were one truck down in the critical pre-cider period.  This was not difficult to solve; my folks have two pickups and simply lent us one of theirs, along with our trailer.  So far so good.

trailer out of commissionwheel bearing rebuild


Holly’s videos from the weekend

October 27, 2009

HG took some short videos of the hardware in action – see

Fifth Annual Cider Weekend – Overview

October 27, 2009

KM SG BR ES operate tandem pedal grinder

The fifth annual cider weekend took place October 23-25 in Five Islands, Maine.  Thanks to all the participants for generous contributions of time, expertise, equipment, apples, and comestibles, despite adventures, trials and tribulations, the event was a smashing success – literally.  It’ll take a few posts to tell the whole story, but here are some highlights:

  • About 40 people participated over three days
  • The oldest person was 90; the youngest was less than a week old
  • About 140 gallons of cider were produced in one moderate day Saturday and an hour or two Sunday
  • A test batch delivered 75% yield; estimated yield for the weekend as a whole was over 70%
  • The cidering equipment was completely overhauled for 2009
    • The grinder was all new, fabricated from plastic and stainless steel, with high speed drive from a Trek tandem bicycle
    • The press was entirely new, 20″ square working area with a 20″ stroke, 4″ diameter 3000psi hydraulic ram powered by a Bontrager hardtail MTB through an 11GPM two-stage hydraulic pump.
      • On Sunday the press was upgraded with a soft-seat check valve with manual bypass, and a high-pressure accumulator, resulting in much greater ease of use.
  • At least five serious mechanical issues which could have derailed the whole project were averted by the intrepid engineering efforts of the assembled talent pool
  • Delicious food was provided pot-luck by the participants
  • The weather was as agreeable Sunday as it was disagreeable Saturday.  In contrast to the open-air festivities of past years, cidering was held in an open-ended pole barn, with auxiliary tarpage.

Holly Ellen Leeann Matt work the grinder

Kauf and Alexi work the press

illana fills the jugs

Um and Pops test the cider

alex drives the chewdigger

Johanna and a fine mist of apples

Last minute press and grinder hacking

October 15, 2009

Fragmentary notes on recent hectic progress:

  • Turned steel adapter to thread on end of hydraulic ram
  • Jointed, planed, cut to length, slotted basswood and maple for 6 large press grates
  • Saturated press grate stock with hot paraffin
  • Formed plastic shields for grinder
  • Modified McMaster HDPE juice pan
  • Ordered closed-cell PE foam spaghetti for charging accumulator
  • Machined36T sprocket to receive larger chainrings
  • Machined adapter to port to SCBA tank accumulator
  • Machined adapter shaft for Tunturi exercycle flywheel
  • Modified pump mounting setup to accommodate flywheel

Lots more to be done (and thanks to Holly, Brandon, and Keith for all your help) but we’re within striking distance.

New pedal-powered apple grinder built

October 9, 2009

Last night I put a couple finishing touches on the completely reworked apple grinder. Everything inside is polypropylene or stainless, except the anvil plate which is copper to preserve the sharpness of the cutters.  The cutters are new, beefy 3/16″ stainless steel with machined serrations; I sprung for 440c knife stainless, which while in the annealed state (which seems to work fine) could be hardened to a high Rockwell C value if I knew somebody who could do heat treating.

I can’t wait to try it out!

plastic pedal grinder sideplastic pedal grinder top