There are some great hydraulic presses made especially for use with jewelry and small metals. My budget isn't up for that right now so I went to Harbor Freight and bought one for $199. Then I hired a local craftsman to make two 8x12" removable platens-- and it works like a charm.
(Update 1/31/2015: If you're researching this topic, read the comments people are leaving below. Lots of advice and important viewpoints to consider.)
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.
A Few Notes
I'll update this as I work with the press.
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:
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.
Installed and Ready
When we released the pressure, each platen was securely in place and ready to go.
Pretty darn cool if you ask me :-)
OK, your turn-- leave me a comment!! Tell me what you think. Sue :-)
1/29/2015 10:18:04 am
Super cool, Sue!! What a great, low-cost alternative! Can't wait to see what you make with it!!
1/29/2015 10:24:08 am
HF gets a bad rap too often. If one knows what they need and has a basic inkling as to serviceability, they have somes gems in the rough. It would be nice to be able to support Kevin Potter, or purchase a Bonny Dune...but it looks like you have a very serviceable tool atva reasonable price. Keep us posted as to the results.
1/29/2015 10:29:59 am
1/29/2015 11:04:39 am
Hi Sue, My friend and I did a very similar thing here in Australia. Works like a charm and very cost effective!!!!!
1/29/2015 11:06:03 am
Sue, what a great idea - thanks for showing the modifications so clearly. Have fun pressing.
1/29/2015 11:13:01 am
Thank you for sharing your research and creativity.
1/29/2015 11:14:30 am
Great idea! Can't wait to see what you do with it!
1/29/2015 11:58:27 am
Love it! I, too, have had mixed experiences with Harbor Freight. Sometimes they are awesome; other times not so much. Please keep us update about how well this holds up.
1/29/2015 12:22:36 pm
Great idea for a limited budget. Thanks for sharing.
1/29/2015 12:23:17 pm
Fantastic, thanks for sharing this!
Lee Anne Messerschmidt
1/29/2015 12:38:50 pm
Thanks for sharing this.. I am going to check into this my self.. I would love to have a press. And I have always had great customer service at Harbor Freight. If something did not work as I expected they always took it back or replaced it.
Michael D Horgan
1/29/2015 01:08:09 pm
Sounds like a good deal for you, Sue. I use Harbor freight as a place to buy kits from which I build tools. Nice. Now get to work!
1/29/2015 03:14:55 pm
The press looks great. Getting the huge one and scaling it down was quite ingenious!
1/29/2015 04:30:43 pm
Thanks for sharing! I'm looking forward to seeing what you do with it. I have a hydraulic press on my want list.
1/29/2015 04:32:18 pm
Thanks Sue. I have been thinking about buying a press. Now I think I will follow your lead, and make one.
1/29/2015 10:33:46 pm
Great addition to the press I have the exact same one I bought the air operated Jack on sale with a 20% coupon for $69 it makes it much easier to use. Still need to add a gauge but it's very easy to get good results without it. You've inspired me to upgrade mine.
It is SO great to read all your comments-- thanks for all the positive vibe. As I use the press and learn things I'll come back and add updates to the notes section.
1/30/2015 05:16:41 am
Cynthia, wow-- thank you for the fantastic commentary in use and safety. I updated my post under "A Few Notes" to suggest that readers scroll down and look for your note about use and safety.
1/30/2015 05:53:29 am
Thanks Sue. I have that press and was trying to figure a way to add the plates. This should work very well and it's easy to remove them for other aplications. The height of tge press works well for compressing tubing.
1/30/2015 08:59:29 am
Sue, Thank you so much for posting this! I have wanted a press for quite a while; this makes it possible! Since I live near the Center for Metal Arts, do you think someone there would make the platens for me?
2/1/2015 02:46:45 am
Talk to Patrick Quinn. He might be able to help. If not, then Dutchess Metal Supply on Overlook might be a thought. Chats where I got the steel for my spacers
1/30/2015 11:03:51 pm
I've been doing it this way since I started metal smithing. I have this press and use it all the time.
1/31/2015 01:40:19 am
I live in the UK, so buying a Bonny Doon press just isn't an option for me! I have a press that a friend made for me, which is wonderful, but I recently used a Bonny Doon one, and it was so much better. I have an ordinary car jack in mine, with no pressure gauge. After using the BD press, I'm going to try to get one with a pressure gauge.
1/31/2015 09:00:06 am
Hi Jill, I used to teach every summer at the School of Jewellery in Birmingham, UK. Unfortunately, with the change of economy, as well as new head of school, and new head of short course/workshop program, I have not been to the UK in a few years. If you have a favorite school, please do suggest me to them. I am thinking about putting together a few schools---in England and Ireland---so that I could make another trip. Also, if you email me at email@example.com, I'll add you to my mailing list for the future.
10/2/2015 09:27:07 am
1/31/2015 02:21:23 am
Hi Sue! I applaud your ingenuity! One thing that really gets my ears up (I come from a architecture/physics background) is the top platen design. The fact that it is being supported on the top post by a set screw worries me. When pressing, there could be some uneven forces and will that set screw be enough to avoid a failure/accident? I would have followed your instincts and removed the post and then welded a top platen onto the bar above. Even with your current configuration of not removing that post, welding the top platen to the post rather than depending on the set screw seems better. Relying on that post as a single point load of compression is not better than removing the post and installing a welded plate, which would distribute the loads more evenly. As it is set up now, regular inspection of that set screw is critical. Pressing can weaken the threading. It's worth a re-looking at the top configuration for long-term use. Another $100 for a re-do would be well worth it IMHO. Good luck and have fun!
1/31/2015 01:56:59 pm
I too purchased a Hydraulic Press from Harbor Freight. I purchased the 6 ton. Very inexpensive. on sales right now, $74.99, use a 20% discount coupon and take another $15.00 off. $60. + 6.99 shipping.
1/31/2015 10:08:07 pm
Suggestion or areas I think you could give more consideration to. 1. get rid of the post. 2. Make it so the top platen screws in place to the floating press base piece. 3' This new top platen should have a centered hole drilled and tapped in it to accept common press accessories easily. 4. I'd like to see some sort of wrap on the springs. 5 make sure the eye bolts are double nutted. 6 the floating press base piece on these is generally sloppy it can move both front to back as well as side to side. tighten up the tolerances with some shim stock. 7 I always wanted to have a way of knowing the distance traveled, better yet the distance remaining to be traveled. A metal ruler under one side of the frame could provide that bit of knowledge. 8. It might be kind of handy to have some lines scribed into the bottom platen and the edges of both platens to help locate center. 9. Get yourself some pads and contained forms and go for it. 10. Bravo to you.
Yesterday I talked with Stephen Fitz-Gerald, a talented metal artist in Santa Rosa, CA. See his work here: http://sfitzgeraldfineart.com. He uses this same Harbor Freight press (among others) and generally uses no upper platen. He makes his own dies and uses the existing arbor (the vertical rod) as it is. **For small work like jewelry, this size for the top platen is not necessary.** So please note-- I chose this size because I want to work on some large sheets. Others should choose the top platen size and design that's appropriate to their own projects.
2/1/2015 02:51:43 am
I recommend replacing the stock eyebolts with case hardened eyebolts. We metalworkers put a lot more strain on those than your average auto shop.
1/1/2017 04:52:54 pm
This comment make absolutely no sense. The springs are under the same tension regardless of who is using the press .
7/13/2015 08:06:09 pm
10/2/2015 11:02:25 am
10/4/2015 11:02:37 am
Thanks Cynthia. I am in Southern NJ. I will.
11/22/2015 07:47:05 pm
I started with the HF 6 ton "a" frame press but initially changed all the bolts to grade 5 (or better). The next change was to improve feet from the shabby ones HF supplied to real angle iron with a larger cross section. The final change was to increase the height. Again using angle with a larger cross section I added about 12" to the height with additional holes to set the work table in more and convient positions. In all of this, I was careful to keep at least the minimum cross section of the original angles. now maybe a pressure gauge...post here if you want pictures..
3/14/2016 11:42:50 pm
I have been looking at the HF presses and would love to see pictures of your modifications. I've been trying to decide if I should get the "A" frame or the floor model.
2/26/2018 10:09:31 pm
I can do that, but how can I post them here?
1/14/2016 06:37:18 pm
Great page Sue! I just shot a link over to a curious, future press owner. Thank you!
1/26/2016 01:58:20 pm
Thank you! Just discovered your site while searching for (an affordable) hydraulic press (fat chance). I lost my husband recently, and need MORE income. I am going to TRY to duplicate your efforts regarding the press! If you would care to share any advise or glitches encountered during your "adventure," I would be grateful. Thanks for being there when I needed you! Hope you get to read this, I realize I am a year late...
1/26/2016 02:25:19 pm
Were you saying someone in particular or general question to the group. I would be happy to post pictures should you wish.
3/28/2017 12:22:12 am
Has anyone used this setup with pattern plates? I would like to use a press to put a pattern on metal that I use in my jewelry pieces.
6/4/2017 12:19:52 pm
How did you locate a craftsman in your area? I would like to the same, just larger plates.
9/1/2017 08:35:12 pm
Hi Sue! Very happy with my 20 ton Harbor Freight modified to print and to press paper. I make paper by hand, and while for quite a while I got quite decent results with my 16x24 platens made out of wood, my latest contract was for 22x30 paper, thus requiring larger and MUCH heavier platens, thick so they would not bend. Eventually I had to reinforce with steel beams, etc., making things even heavier. I'm fixin' to change things so the jack is under the lower platen and pushes up, between one thing and another the springs seem to have worn out from the weight. Yes, some kind of pressure gauge would be good, for now I just go as much as I can on the lever (very good exercise, BTW) and call it "20 tons", though I really have no idea :-) For papermaking this really has worked well for me. I have also used this to emboss between laser-engraved acrylic plates.
8/25/2020 10:15:02 pm
2020 update: Still the same press, I have worn out one jack, purchased a second press from which I used the metal to reinforce the first, replaced some of the very worn out wood with that metal. The platens are still wood, but only for the large flat section, and that's several layers, 8 inches thick, touching the press metal parts are metal reinforcement pieces. I have also replaced the springs, ran a cable inside each, so that if one of those happened to break and jump, it "should" stay tied to the press and no go take someone's eye off. Hmm, I think that's about it. Oh yes, the newer 20-ton Harbor Freight presses look flimsier that those i purchased years ago, I'm not really sure, not that I need another... this one will probably last me for my entire life, and be reliable, perhaps replacing a jack now and then. I've never felt really the need to get a gauge or anything like, I press as hard as the jack will let me until too hard to keep going, but NEVER use an extension with a pipe or what irresponsible people do, which could force the jack beyond what it can actually handle safely. Maybe "too" careful, but I prefer it this way.
2/26/2018 02:05:15 pm
I want to contact you to suggest a press machine for me
9/10/2018 03:53:11 am
The comment section is a gold mine!
8/25/2020 09:19:51 pm
My question is about the platens, is 1/2" steel ok as you used 3/4" on top and bottom . Thanks
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Sue Lacy Wired
This began as a hobbyist's blog.
Over time it became a quest to support & connect metalsmiths around the globe who use foldforming techniques in their work.
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