So yeah, Harbor Freight is always good for starting a heated discussion about cost vs. quality and you get what you pay for. No denying that. I'm super happy with some products and not so much with others. Should you decide to embark on a similar adventure, my disclaimer is that your results may vary. Be safe, be careful, do your own research-- at your own risk. This is just my story to share.
Before assembling the press, I took the two middle crossbars to Fortin Ironworks, a local metal fabrication shop here in Columbus, OH. They viewed an image of the assembled press on Harbor Freight's website, measured the crossbars, and proposed a design. Two days later the parts were ready.
The job cost $107 for labor and all that steel. So this 20 ton hydraulic press ended up costing me about $300.
This is the new bottom platen. The craftsman suggested a removable solution to retain flexibility in how the press can be used. He welded a section of large square pipe to the plate and it drops right between the crossbars of the press to keep it securely in place.
The new platens are SUPER heavy. I can't lift them. All the installation was done by someone larger.
Here is a shot of the original center section of the press. The two black X-shaped steel pieces came with the press. We decided to use them as spacers under the bottom platen but they can be set aside to make more vertical space.
The top crossbar in this image hangs from springs. The bottom crossbar height is adjustable and can be moved lower on the frame to accommodate larger work.
My plan was to cut off the round vertical rod and weld a new platen to the top crossbar. Instead, the craftsman proposed welding a pipe onto the new platen to fit over the vertical rod. I decided to go with the adapter simply to preserve the original functionality of the press. (Update 1/31/2015: is this the best design? See section A Few Notes, below.)
To install it, we placed the top platen on top of the bottom platen and then pumped the jack to lower it. Once the rod was completely in the cylinder with platens pressed tightly together, the pressure screw was tightened.
I'll update this as I work with the press.
- The jack didn't work well until we pulled it out and added fluid-- works great now. Regardless, the manual jack requires a fair amount of pumping. Electric ones do exist but I'm ok with this.
- This setup has no pump gauge so pressure is guesswork. I may wind up buying this torque handle from Potter USA but still need to contact them and ask questions. Update 1/30/2015: Kevin Potter tells me yes, this would work fine. This video explains the tool.
- Dimensions are going to vary based on the press so I won't share measurements for these square and cylindrical adapters. The steel platens are 8x12" and 3/4" thick but this size was not determined by any scientific means.
Reader Comments (Updates after 1/31/2015)
Holy moly, Batman. It turns out the best part of this project is YOU. The comments below are a must-read for anyone researching a project like this. There are some differing viewpoints but sort through them to determine what fits best for your needs. These are just a few highlights:
- Cynthia Eid, instructor and co-author of Creative Metal Forming, left some great tips on use and safety.
- Dana Evans outlined her concerns about the top platen's design. She argues for welding it to the frame for structural integrity.
- After an offline conversation with metal artist Stephen Fitz-Gerald in Santa Rosa, CA, I summarized his comments in a post under my own name below. He generally works with dies and no top platen, with the arbor intact as-is.
- Metal artist Brad Severtson left detailed suggestions below based on his own setup with this press.
- Lots more... must read!
I didn't say a word about how this press is used for jewelry and small metals. Most of you are still reading this because you already know, right? Maybe I'll show some pieces in a future post but in the meantime see this google search for hydraulic press jewelry.
When we released the pressure, each platen was securely in place and ready to go.
Pretty darn cool if you ask me :-)