Cheaper hydraulic presses

Are the cheaper presses like the Harbor Freight Press or the Potter
Press inferior or more limited than the much pricier Bonny Doon? If
so in what ways are they inferior? I want a press; money is an issue.

However, I don’t want to buy something that is not going to work
well, or is very limiting, like not many accessories for it.

I am a beginner and not sure how much I will use this equipment,
although I like to use it in the workshop classes. I would say it
will get pretty light use, if endurance is the problem with the
cheaper presses. I would appreciate any feedback.

1 Like

i would not consider the Potter press to be inferior.


Harbor Freight IS cheap in every sense of the word.

Potter presses are wonderful - and are inexpensive, as opposed to
cheap :wink: Check out Melissa Muir’s videos - she has a number showing
ways to use the Potter press and various accessories.

I have been nothing but pleased with mine and with the fabulous
support from Kevin Potter!

Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio

Harbor fright presses are also backwards to the tooling generally
available; you’d have to make much of it, I’d think.

My Potter press has been great, and he continues to come up with new
and innovative products. Not to mention he’s helped me out with the
benefit of his past experience when I’ve faced problems he knows
about and has overcome in the past.


I have been working with Bonny Doon for more than a decade and love

Kevin Potter makes fantastic tools and his tools are in no way
inferior to BD.

Sam Patania

Meryl, I had the same thoughts as you do a couple years ago when I
was looking for a press. I ended up getting a Potter 20 ton. Kevin
and his wife are great to deal with and depending on which press you
get (he has re-designed and added more presses since I bought mine)
they will accommodate all Bonny Doon tooling and Kevin has a full
line of his own tooling. You can’t go wrongwith either one and
(although price was a small factor) I just think the Potter press
looks cooler. No association, just a happy customer. Have fun
creating things.


I can’t speak to the brand or the price, but my caution would be to
be sure the platens are really flat. I was given an amateur made 4
ton press with round platens that are dished top and bottom and so
don’t give even pressure when closed. Extra padding doesn’t help. The
pressed design is hardly visible in the center while the outer edges
are usable. I would also rather have square platens and a 20 ton


I have a Bonny Doon Mark III electric 20-ton press and I love and
trust it for my forming needs; Plenty of pressure for my work,
hidden springs, side mounted pump to keep me out of harms way. Bonny
Boon comes with a forged Japanese ram. The other thing about Bonny
Doon is that it’s the same price as it was 15 years ago even with
the new improvements.

I have not used the Potter press but know that it is well made with
plentyof tooling.

The bigest consideration when choosing a press is how you plan to
use it, what are the pressure requirements for your type of work?
And yes budget :wink:

Sessin Durgham
Technical Support
Rio Grande

Hi Meryl,

This topic has come up several times and there is a lot you can read
in the Archives. The majority opinion is that you’d be better off
with something purpose built for jewelry like the Potter or Bonny
Doon. As you state, money is an issue and these presses are not

The minority opinion, which you would have to dig to find, is that a
HF press or one you build yourself can work very well. Considering
that there is 6 to 20 tons of pressure used in most cases, you do
need to know what you are doing if you are using an HF press, which
is not set up ideally, or building your own, lest something fly off
and do some damage.

If you can find a decent machine shop in your area, you might try
taking a picture of the HF press and the Bonny Doon or Potter to
them. A good, creative machinist could modify the HF to work about as
the other two do and it shouldn’t cost a whole lot of money ($100 to
$200 tops??) to do it.

Either you or the machinist needs to know exactly what is to be
accomplished, but my experience with these guys is that they think
spatially and will have it figured out from a couple of pictures
before you can tell them what you want. You just need to find someone
who works for a reasonable rate. Get quotes if you are unsure.

The HF press is big and bulky, but cheap and you can probably get it
outfitted to do what you want and still have only $250 or so in it
(the 20 ton is on sale now for $150). Be sure you need it, because a
vise can cut out some small dies in thin sheet without the expense of
a press.

If you are really adventurous, you can look for press plans on line.
If you can buy screw threaded rods and some one inch steel plate
cheap, and find someone to drill the plates for you, this might be a
way to go, but if you have to buy it at retail, you might find
yourself spending a whole lot more than $300. One plan I saw uses
square tubing filled with cement instead of plates. You do need to be
sure the rods are sized right for the pressure you are going to use,
but if you get up to 3/4" or 1 inch rods, four of them should handle
any pressure you can pump with a 20 ton jack. Again, get some good
advice from a machinist.

If you plan on making a lot of jewelry with a press, you might
decide that time is money and that you should spring for a
professional press and get cranking out that jewelry. Don’t expect a
lot of people who already shelled out for a Potter or a Bonny Doon to
approve if you go the DIY route. They sure don’t want to think they
may have spent too much. Very few of us are really objective,
including me.

There are some other considerations - I’m on my third press - the
first was a Harbour Freight - it was a disaster, purchased before i
took a class about the press. Spouse now uses it for what it was
intended - to press bearing and sleeves on and off of parts for
automobile, lathe, tractor and other stuff.

My second press was the first of the Bonny Doon presses, and I LOVED

And then I learned about deep drawing and bought the MKIII because
it had a deeper throat for the cool stuff you can deep draw.

Here is the learning lesson - first one was so tweaked it was nearly
trash, and only due to a resourceful spouse returned to service -
his. so that could have been money lost. The original Bonny Doon
press was resold at very nearly what I paid for it 6 or 7 years
before - they hold their value very well - and all of the fixtures
can usually be resold for nearly original cost.

You will not lose money on a Bonny Doon. Potter presses look to be
good as well, I just don’t have experience with them. The presses are
strong and durable - if you don’t like it, you can unload it without
losing much, if any, of your investment.

And I worry about people making their own press - the pressure used
can blast parts and pieces to kingdom come - give yourself the
respect of safety and purchase one intended for your use. Most of us
aren’t licensed welders, and they have to be put together correctly.
I’m sure Potter has used bolts that are safety rated on his that
aren’t welded.

FWIW - Judy Hoch

One plan I saw uses square tubing filled with cement instead of

I have one that’s welded I-beams. Small ones. Works great. Picked it
up in grad school, they’d had a welded make a batch for the



I started out many years ago with a DIY welded unit then went to a
import auto bearing press like the HF ones. I have used Susan
Kingsley style made with threaded rod and currently own an Enerpac
30 ton high quality H frame bearing press and 4 Bony Doon presses
from 20 to 150 ton. I don’t own a Potter press but they look well
built and I have not heard anyone complain about them. But from my
own experience and listening to others over the years invariably the
cheap presses and the low cost bottle jacks underperform the higher
quality H frame or Bonny Doon style presses. The biggest problem
with cheap presses is they flex a lot which reduces your applied
tonnage and makes getting an even impression harder. So while you
can use the cheaper units they are not going to preform like the
better built press systems. I would be very leery of just finding
some random machinist to knock off either the Potter or Bonny Doon
press. The makers of both units have done a lot of research and
testing and made design decisions that may not be readily apparent
to someone who is knocking it off, a badly designed or assembled
press is a dangerous item I have seen then break under load.

James Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts

I bought a potter press used and it came with a whole bunch of
goodies and extras. Actually it was someone here on Orchid that
offered it up for sale.

I am extremely happy with it and use it at least twice a week. Kevin
has also machined some special parts for me for some of the work I do
at very reasonable rates!! He is also having a layaway and sale going
on till Christmas I believe. It is well worth it!! I have a 20ton,
have had it for almost a year now and I am still in lust of it!!


Hi Meryl, Judy and All,

I took a look at the photos of the HF press and it appears to me
that all you would need to do is to weld a pad of one inch steel
plate to the vertical rod that provides the pressure to make the
press do what the purpose-built jewelry presses do. Of course you
would need to balance your loads, but the purpose-built presses
require that, too, or things can fly off. I personally would probably
build a sleeve to fit over the vertical bar and weld the plate to
that, so that the tube and plate could be removed and the press
returned to its original function. From what I see on the 'Net, a 4X6
inch plate would cost about $35 and the welding shouldn’t be much
more than $25. So you are looking at $260 for the press and mods
(the HF press is $199 today, may go on sale for less later).

Judy, I certainly share your concerns for safety, but you cannot
protect idiots from themselves. It is easy enough to come up with
tensile strength ratings for threaded rod and it looks like certain
rods would be fine at 9/16" for four on a 20 ton press, but that is
pushing to the limit and I would get something much bigger myself and
have a safety factor. If you wanted to take the trouble to assemble
the rods, plate and nuts, I think you could probably end up with
something smaller than the HF press for about the same or less money,
but you would have to be a DIY person.

I would love to have a press, but I am busy refining my design and
fabricating skills at present and really don’t need one. Maybe down
the road a ways.

Hi Meryl,

you will have seen all the replies so far, which have im shure has
given you lots to think about.

What press you finish up with will depend on firstly, what you want
to do with it.

you havnt said, which makes it somewhat difficult to advise you

Once you know this and post it here, the right answer will be found.

Mechanisation of our trade, here in the UK, started around 1870,when
the big screw presses used in coin production was made smaller for
bench use, along with the development of the drop hammer.

These 2 basic machine designs became the mainstay of all jewellery
production, as well as in the cutlery trades for all sorts of flat
and hollowware.

The key to using these tools are of course the dies without which
you cant do anything with them.

Hydraulic presses based on car bottle jacks have recently grown in
use, but are very limiting in what can be called production work.

IE how many items can you stamp out or emboss or coin in an hour.

So your press needs will depend on what you want to make, and the
market you are aiming at, in addition you will need the tooling to
put into your press.

Then there is the competition, which will always be better funded,
equipped, and marketed. You have to decide how you plan to compete
with that.

Sit down with paper and pencil, and make lists of the items
mentioned above then start looking for practical solutions to your

Jewellery making is a lovely thing to do especially as a hobby, but
to take it to the next level, ie keeping a roof over your head, thats
a big step forward.

Wish you well in your endevor.


I make the Potter press, I designed them to be more versatile and
stronger than other presses and to keep the price affordable. The
reason my presses are hundreds of dollars cheaper has nothing to do
with quality. I am selling them directly to the customer, there is
no retailer markup. I make them, pack them, ship them stock them
design them and sell them. Most manufacturers sell through a
retailer and they double the price. I want people to be able to
purchase a high quality product for a fair price. I suppose I could
raise the price so that people would think it was better because it
costs more.

The presses are cut from a single piece of steel there are no welds
in a stress situation they are all in compression. I have sold over
a 1,000 presses all over the world, they are in colleges, labs and
manufacturing plants. I make presses up to 100 tons and small 20 ton
versions that bolt together and ship in flat rate boxes all over the
world. They are in Hong Kong, India, Iceland, Australia, Poland and
just about every other country on earth.

I don’t include a jack in the press because you can get that locally
even one with a gauge can be purchased locally. I will of course
order one for you and have it drop shipped to you so that the
warranty is in your name if you want to go that route. The only jack
available in the US with a gauge port is the KYB Norco. You can buy
them from your local hydraulic dealers or through Jack X change, be
sureand get the model with the letter G at the end of serial number
that designates gauge port. Don’t buy the KYB Norco gauge, it is
just a re-badged gauge. A 30 dollar gauge will work fine, they are
the same. I carry them on my website with an extension hose to put
the gauge in the front of the press. It will fit the Bonny Doon,
they use KYB Norco jacksas well. All the accessories from just about
any manufacturer of press tools will fit my press and my accessories
will fit other presses let me know if you need an adapter, I can
usually make something. I hope this helps.

Kevin Potter

I think maybe you folks are referring to the jacks but as for steel
frames…Buy the Potter please or other high quality. I was using
a harbor freight machete to clear some of my banana trees 2 weeks
ago and when one of my overkill swings passed through a banana stalk
and unintentionally into a solid avocado branch… The blade
literally snapped in half and went flying!I’m talking about 7 inches
of a sharp machete blade flying in the air. Inormally never buy
things that require tolerances or such at that place, but picked it
up while buying abrasives. Upon inspection, the snapped steel
resembled pot metal. As Mr. Binnion is saying, I would not subject
20 tonsonto harbor freight chosen alloys.

You only get two hands. I think i mentioned before the stories I
heard while apprenticing in a machine shop. You can never be too

Rick Powell

Roy - your mods to the HF press could get you to a very large
footprint press. The HF press sits on the floor and takes up 4 to 6
times the square footprint. You then have the problem of tooling.
Other than blanking dies and silhouette shapes, there is a fair bit
of work to make attachments for specific applications - deep draw,
bracelet forming, doming…

Ted has taken another approach with his screw press which is perfect
for coining. Screw presses seem to be appropriate for high production

I’ve had a kick press which is useful for small work and mostly used
for anticlastic work today. It is a terrific application but requires
many, many purpose made tools. I’ve counted special purpose tools in
the hundreds for the kind of production work done by Nancy Linkin,
Michael Good, Jerry Scavezze. I haven’t seen any new kick presses
being made. Mine was made 50 or more years ago. The time to design
and cost to make tools for the kick press eliminated it as a useful
tool for my work.

As to the argument that you can’t do production with a hydraulic
press, an electric pump for the hydraulic ram greatly speeds up
repetitions. Trade money for time.

Kevin is correct that you can sell cheaper when eliminating the
retailer. I guess if we all want to sell directly from our bench
without a store or art show, that is a viable business model. It is
where many of us started, but most of us have learned from Geller
that aiming for the bottom in cost isn’t the best way to grow a
business. I think that applies to suppliers as well. I find it
extremely useful to be able to go to one or two suppliers that carry
pretty much everything I need for making jewelry. While I can make
all my tools from scratch, I’m a better jeweler than tool maker.
'Nuff said.

Judy Hoch

Hi Judy,

Re Your second para.

Ted has taken another approach with his screw press which is
perfect for coining. Screw presses seem to be appropriate for high
production work. 

As presses seem to be used more in the USA jewellery business,
Everyone should Google for flypress images as well as looking at
Bonny Doone and Potter products, because this type as I said in my
last post were and still are the main stay in the Birmingham jewelley
quarter workshops. They are really fast, for example, blanking with
open tooling , ie no die sets 1in dia rounds in 2 mm silver, one
operator can do 250 to 300 an hour from hand fed strip…

Theres a warehouse full of these there as well and all sorts of
other production presses.

The small ones in the pictures are the bench models. The No relates
to the tonnage given.

These come in sizes from 1 to 10 tons.

The coining ones as used by Boulton and Watt in the 1790’s and the
French mints were massive.

Ie the top arms were up to 8 to 10 ft wide with at last 250 lbs of
cast iron on each end.

For coining you need at least 200 tons so they are not bench models.

today modern coining presses are toggle action for production mint
use running at hundreds a minite.

Or hydraulic for one shot art medal making.

My hydraulic press runs at 250 tons normal working load.

Die hobbing presses run at 600 tons plus. Only full blown mint
factories have these.

Hope this helps.

Hi Ted,

Flypresses were never as common over here, beyond a few very
specialized centers on the east coast. (Providence mostly) So most
people don’t know how to use them, and there aren’t all that many to
be had anyway. In 25 years, I think I’ve seen half a dozen
flypresses and maybe 3 drop hammers outside of museums over here.
One of the drops was in pieces, ready to go for scrap, and another
was home made.

Just for the record, one of the flypresses was mine, and we use one
at Knew Concepts every day, so I harbor no prejudice against them.
Quite fond of them in fact, there just aren’t many to be had. (And
our workplace safety folks have kittens at the mere mention of
either of them.) What few there are get gobbled up by the
blacksmiths, who are much more fond of them than the jewelers are.
(The striking speed makes much more of a difference with hot steel.)

The ‘standard’ art jewelry press over here (as much as there is one)
is the Bonny Doon style “Hydraulic jack in a frame” press. With
electric pumps on the jack, they’re actually reasonably speedy. Not
near as fast as a fly press, but fast enough for independent jeweler
production. Most of our ‘artist metalsmith’ types are making runs of
under 50 at any given time, not thousands. At the quantities I
understand you to do, yeah, you need the speed of a much more
production oriented press. With a pressure gauge on the jack,
(standard with the BD presses) they let you dial in your pressure
with much more accuracy than you get with a fly press. Quite a handy

I don’t remember where you are, Dorset I think? Next time you get up
to Birmingham, there are two or three manually pumped Bonny Doon
presses in the basement at the school. As you go down the stairs,
they’re to the right going through the door. See if you can’t get a
chance to play with them. It may give you a better sense of what
we’re going on about.