How to: DIY Tortilla Press

“Mexican food without corn tortillas is like Chinese food without rice…The centrality of corn tortillas in Mexico may come as a surprise…, since many of us north of the border don’t choose corn tortillas with our Mexican food. The reason: We may have never eaten a good fresh one- a just-made one. Corn tortillas…are at their peak for only a few hours after they’re made.” (From Bayless, Rick. Mexico: One Plate at a Time [New York: Scriber Press, 2000], 104)

How to: DIY Tortilla Press

After checking every Latin-American food market in my neighborhood, I finally located a tortilla press, a tortilladora, at stop number five. The product? Roughly sawn, low-grade pine secured with black drywall screws that stuck out dangerously from the press. And it cost $24 USD. (Although it did come with a cool HECHO EN MEXICO sticker).

    As much as I like to support my local Latino markets, I reckoned I could do a bit better for less money. Here’s my effort. Total cost = $10.50 USD. Total effort: 1 hour + glue drying time. 

Even if you’re not ambitious enough to make your own press, I and all of Mexico recommend you purchase one and make your own fresh corn tortillas. It’s a basic pleasure that will never allow you to settle for pre-package, yellow, u-boat taco shells again.

Materials and Tools
1” x 10” x 3’ Select Grade Pine Board
1” wood dowel
1/4” Carriage Bolt, 1 3/4” length
1/4” Wingnut
1 1/2” Pin Hinge (x2) and accompanying screws
Saw (Miter Saw, Circular Saw, Large Miter Box, Hacksaw, or traditional cross-cut saw)
Electric Drill and 1/4” drill bit
Wood Clamps
Mineral Oil

Cut your 1”x10” pine board (which will actually be approximately 9 1/4” in width) to the following lengths: (your nicer lumber yards and hardware stores will do this for you)

11 1/4 ‘ (A)
9 5/8” (B)
1 1/2” (C)
3/4”  (D)
2 1/4” x 1” (x2) (E)

Cut your 1” dowel down to a 9” piece.

Glue and clamp C to A, lining up the edges. This will serve for the base of the press.
Glue and clamp D to B, lining up the edges. This piece will serve as the top, with the thin piece D interacting with the arm to create squeezing pressure. (See photo.)

Place the small pieces E on either side on the dowel. It may be helpful to clamp this unit together. Drill a 1/4” hole approximately 3/4” from the top of the E pieces, running the bit through a few times to make the hole slightly large. Insert the bolt and secure with the nut.

Sand each piece with 100, 150, and then 220 grit sandpaper, being careful, as pine is very soft. Rub each piece with a thin coat of mineral oil. Mineral oil is food safe, unlike Danish or Teak oil, and will never go rancid, like olive or vegetable oil. Mineral oil is available at the drug store, and most likely not the hardware store. (It took me 4 trips to figure this out.)

Attach the top and base with the hinges, at the short side (opposite of glued block B and D). Place a piece of thick card, or a thin washer, in between the layers to leave a little bit of space, so your tortillas don’t become too thin.

Glue the arm to the tall side of the base (pieces A and C) so that the dowel hangs over the attached top.


Chris’ Tortilla Recipe:

(If you live in a large city with an extensive Chicano population, you may be able to purchase fresh masa dough, from a well-stocked Latin market or a tortilla factory. By all means, take advantage of your good fortune.)

Mix two cups of Masa Harina (such as the widely available Maseca brand) with 1 1/4 cups hot water and a hefty pinch of salt. Using your hands, mix until soft, like Play-dough, but not sticky like a cookie batter. If necessary, add a little more water or masa flour. Let the dough rest while you preheat a griddle or two skillets, one side/skillet to medium(400Ëš F) and the other to medium low (300Ëš).

Divide the dough into golf-sized balls; there should be 15-17, and cover with a damp cloth.

Cut a large zip-top bag along the sides, and remove the thick zipper, to make a long sheet of thick plastic. Lay the plastic on the bottom of the press, and place one dough ball slightly off-center, towards the hinge. Lay the other half of the plastic on top, and close the lid. Press the handle, forcefully, and form a tortilla 5-6” in diameter.

Open the press, and peel off the top sheet of plastic. Flip the tortilla onto your palm, so the dough is touching your skin, and carefully remove the rest of the plastic. (This will take practice).

At the griddle, drag the tortilla off your hand and let it catch on the cooler surface, and cook for 30 seconds, or until the tortilla comes off easily. The edges may look a little dry, but no worries. Flip it to the hotter surface and cook for 40-60 seconds. You see some steam and the bottom will get brown spots from the larger pieces of corn. Flip and cook for another 40-60 seconds, during which the tortilla will begin to puff.

Once off the heat, stack and store in a towel-lined bowl or basket. This traps the steam, keeping the tortillas most and warm.

Wrap around your filling of choice (hopefully, not ground beef with “taco” seasoning), and enjoy!

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Anonymous on Jul 06, 2014:

Hi, the 1 1/2" carriage bolt seems too short, so we used a 3" one.

Keith E. Cooper on Sep 09, 2013:

Here is my attempt to convert these measurements for Swenne (metric measurements in parentheses at the end of each sentence:)

1” x 10” x 3’ Select Grade Pine Board  (25.4 mm X 25.4 cm X 91.44 cm)

1” wood dowel (25.4 mm)

1/4” Carriage Bolt, 1 3/4” length (6.35 mm, 4.445 cm)

1/4” Wingnut (6.35 mm)

1 1/2” Pin Hinge (x2) and accompanying screws (3.81 cm)

Electric Drill and 1/4” drill bit (6.35 mm)

Cut your 1”x10” (25.4 mm X 25.4 cm) pine board

11 1/4 ‘ (A)           (28.575 cm)

9 5/8” (B)              (24.4475 cm)

1 1/2” (C)              (3.81 cm)

3/4”  (D)                (19.05 mm)

2 1/4” x 1” (x2) (E)              (5.715 cm X 2.54 cm)

Cut your 1” dowel down to a 9” piece. (2.54 cm, 22.86 cm)

Anonymous on Sep 01, 2013:

Where is the photo???

Swenne on Jan 25, 2013:

Hi Chris, I am just a simple european housewife, could you PLEASE give me the messurements in the metric numbers? Thank you so much! Best regards, Swenne

chase on Jan 20, 2012:

o ya one more thing i made mine with a 1 x 12 pine in stead of the 10"  also just a suggestion i recommened that u use a hard wood such as oak   its a good idea if you r going to use it alot      if you want to make bigger tortillas then use wider material  like i used a 12" piece which is actually 11 1/4"  so make sure you add the difference to ur length as well so i adde 2" 

chase on Jan 20, 2012:

i made thisbone for my aunt    every year for new years we have a dinner and she does a different country for the dinner   this year was the "best of all worlds" and so she knew how much of a pain it is to have to roll them out from the last time  so she asked me to make tbis for her since im a carpenter   and i did  it worked amazing  but out of trial and error ive found you need to di some stuff a little different   like where the dowel is attached to the board  you need to put a ciuple finishing nails or small screws due to using it often the handle broke off so just strenghen it up    also the hinges you can use the same size mentiined on this site  but get screws with a thicker thread and when you tighten them in  you need to add glue or white silicone  due to the screws that came with the hinges fell out from us    but make thise few changes  and you will have an improved press 

Nancy McClenahen on Nov 20, 2011:

It works great when squishing naan dough, as opposed to rolling it out. I have a plastic sheet that I lay on top of torilla dough when I want to make those instead, since it makes them thinner and I can use the plastic to transport them to the pan. (I also engraved the top with flowers and other girly junk to make it pretty.)

Guam671 on Aug 04, 2011:

Great tutorial! Living in Guam, where a tortilla press is not readily available, I will definately ask hubby to make this. Thanks for sharing!

RichardP37 on May 15, 2011:

I love fresh tortillas!  My college roommate knew how to make them and they were amazing!  There is also a Greenwood dining restaurant that serves them too.  I've been looking for a method to make homemade tortillas and I'm glad that I found this!  Thanks so much!

Keith E. Cooper on Aug 13, 2010:

I made a tortilla press following these instructions and it came out great!  I built mine in late January of 2010.  One thing to note is if you don't have the lumber yard/home-improvement store cut the wood for you, you will need access to a saw that can cut the 1 X 10.  I have a 6-in radial saw that made these cuts difficult.  Also, if you sand by hand like I did, it will take a while, but it's worth it!

Joe Lotz on Jun 07, 2010:

SO now that you've been using this press for a couple years, do you have any comments in "hindsight"? Has the pine warped at all, do you recommend different sizes, any changes to design?


Finnegan on Nov 15, 2009:

Thanks for the instructions!  I'm heading to the hardware store next week to gather materials!

The Hillbilly Housewife on Aug 28, 2009:

What a great idea. I ususally make mine by hand which can be a pain. This would make the process so much easier. Going to put it on hubby's "Honey Do" list to build one of these.

Jason on Jul 06, 2009:

We use one of these in our portable wood fired pizza business. It works great.  Check us out at www.theromastone.com.

RandyF on May 28, 2009:

(continued from below comment)

So give a light coating of cooking spray or oil on the surfaces of the plastic sheet where you place the dough ball before pressing out each ball of dough.  Try rotating the plastic sheet and dough shell 90 or 180 degrees and repressing to make the thickness uniform.  Experiment and see what works best.


Peel the top sheet of plastic off and flip the finished shell upside down onto sheet of Saran plastic wrap.  Then with a little practice peel the other sheet from the shell.  Let the completed shells dry until you can move them.


I hope these suggestions will help. - Randy

RandyF on May 28, 2009:

I modified my construction by lengthening the base piece by 3” and gluing a 1” x 3” strip of wood on top of the hinge end.  The hinges can be mounted horizontally on top instead of vertically on the side.  The shell thickness can be increased by adding washers under the side of the hinges that screw to the base of the press


My first tortilla shell was thicker than what I wanted, plus it took a lot of pressure.  My wife suggested spraying Pam on the plastic sheet before pressing out the next ball of dough.  That did the trick!  I was able to press the dough to a 1 mm thick shell with a large diameter.  The oil made it easier to flatten out the dough.

Anonymous on May 28, 2009:

Does the comment section work?

nztortillas on Dec 19, 2007:

I'm looking into presses now; although, I do have some 3" think blocks that I plan to use as in my next attempt at a press.  But, I'm starting to understand that the super thin thickness may be the hardest to achieve - seems to take a crazy amount of pressure to get it to 2-3 mm.

Incidentally, I'm having trouble getting the tortillas (that I roll out by hand, still) cooked in the middle without burning on the outside.  I use the exact same ingredients as you, so i was wondering if you could comment.

Unfortunately, here in New Zealand, finding good homemade tortilla is impossible.  I will have to figure out how to make them, or give up wantign them.

Chris Gardner on Dec 18, 2007:

The press is only 11 long, so you wouldn't be able to roll it out that big. But I don't think it could handle that much dough anyhow. I think to get that much pressure manually you have to put it on the floor and stand on it. You'd have to use a harder wood; all that pressure would break the pine/glue joint, I bet.

I've made Sonoran style tortillas four times now, but I don't have a cooking surface to make them terribly large. I use two cups of bread floor, three tablespoons veg. shortning/lard, 3/4 water, and salt. I use a rolling pin/wax paper to press them.

We have a local restaurant owned by a Sonoran family that does them on Fridays and Saturdays, so usually I just buy fresh ones when they're available.

You may be able to find a used pizza dough press for 40 or 50 bucks if you're committed. They're big though, but you could also do pizza, elephant ears, cookies, etc.


nztortillas on Dec 18, 2007:

Hello, I'm a big fan of large flour Sonoran style tortillas.  Using this press, can you press

them 16-18"?  It seems to take a lot of force to press the dough to that size (and thinness.)

Wondering if you can generate that much force.  Also, regardless of diameter, how thin can

you get the dough? 


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