Selecting a Hydraulic Press

Greetings all,

I am in the process of pulling the trigger on a hydraulic press. The worsening condition of my hands require I find a way to limit hammer blows and a press would take bending bracelets and other hammer heavy operations to a better place.

My questions are: Who uses presses and for what purpose?

What is the capacity of the hydraulic ram on your press?

Do you use the full capacity of your press?

What press are you using?

Bonny Doon seems to be the work horse of the industry. Kevin Potter is making elegant tools. Potter discusses using a $200.00 press from Harbor Freight successfully. I see a number of home built presses for sale.

Brother Rob has a Bonny Doon which I can see anytime but I was wondering about other opinions.

Don Meixner


This may not be helpful, as I don’t have one, but I have found using my rolling mill helpful for heavier gauge bangles - I put one end in the mill & easily bend by hand, then do from the other end. This way I can get most of the curve done without much pressure on my hands (and then I finish on a mandrel). For cuffs I have one of those cheap bracelet bending bar tools, which again takes care of a lot of it before going to a mandrel. A press is on my wish list though. Cheerio, Sue


Hello Don,
I’ve been working with hydraulic presses for about the last 12 years and they are amazing tools!
I could go on for hours about all the cools things you can do with one, but more importantly, what are looking to do right now? forming bracelets and rings? coining small highly detailed pieces? 3d formed pieces like conchos?
Electrics are nice for reducing fatigue while working and for small production runs, manual pumps take a bit more effort but are very precise to work with.
A 20 ton press covers a ton of ground with lots of different techniques.
One of the great things is that the press does all the grunt work for you, so using thick gauge metals, and tough metals like titanium and stainless steel becomes effortless. Forming in silver and gold in any gauge and alloy is very easy to do. Bonny Doon is the best built press i’ve used, rigid and tough, and the prices are the best out there.

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Don…Get a copy of Hydraulic Die Forming For Jewelers & Metalsmiths by Susan Kingsley or just borrow mine. Her book covers many of the ways that you can use a press and the other pieces of equipment that you might need to work with them. Regarding size, as you know, I have a 20 ton press. I don’t know how much of that power I actually use. I don’t go over 2000 psi forming bracelets, punching out pancake die shapes and cutting discs. I get up to 4000 - 5000 psi when using matrix dies or impressions. They are really cool to make and in line with your style of jewelry. You will have to learn about urethane and how to buy it. I can’t relate pressure as measured on the gauge with the size ram and press that you can get by with. Maybe someone else can. There appears to be a number of nice looking smaller presses on ETSY. I look forward to hearing what others have to say…Rob


Hello Don,

I started out with a Harbor Freight 20 ton shop press, @ 5 feet tall. It took up a lot of space. It worked. I did have to rig up a platen by putting a hole though 4 or 5 3/4" plywood rectangles and slid them up the plunger, level to its bottom. I drilled & threaded a hole in the plunger to accept some Bonny Doon tooling. Some B.D. tooling cannot be used with this kind of rig due to how the tools need to be attached.

If you have a compressor H.F. sells a decent pneumatic / hydraulic 20 ton jack for not too much money. VASTLY cheaper than the Bonny Doon electric! Pneumatic is worth it if you do more than a little work at a time. Pumping a lever can get old very fast, and not fun on the shoulder.

I gave the H.F. press to a friend, bought a Bonny Doon 20 ton deep draw. I installed the pneumatic jack in place of the B.D. I wanted to use their deep draw tooling, but the cost-to-likely-sales ratio killed that idea. Even with the large pedestal that comes with it, the deep draw press requires a lot of jacking, manually or by compressor. While I like the press, if I had it to do over, I’d get the regular instead.

I use their bracelet forming sets, a discontinued (or out of stock) B.D. set that has 18 approx. 1-2" variously profiled rounds to form hoop earrings @ etc. Bonny Doon presses (and likely Potter’s) will accept all B.D. tooling my rigged up H.F. could not, via holes in the top cross bar.

Since I switched jacks I don’t have access to the B.D. pressure gauge. I thought that would be a loss, but it doesn’t seem to be vital. I generally go by the results I see, and when using urethane, by how deeply the die presses into it, when doing multiple pieces.

I have large disc cutters (up to 2" circles) and use the press to cut large discs rather than use a mallet or my 2 ton arbor press. Much nicer, easier with the B.D.

I have pushed the original H.F. press to the limit of it’s hydraulic jack. After a certain point more pumping does no more - I’m sure there is some valve that bleeds off the extra pressure. I’m not pushing the pneumatic jack in the B.D. that much anymore. I assume it also has a pressure limiting function.

At a local community college they had a home-made press built by students in the welding class. Seemed fine, and is smaller than the Bonny Doons.

I hope some of this helps.

Neil A

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Regarding the pneumatic jack, I should have added that I use a 28 gallon compressor, not the typical low-noise pancake compressors used for jewelry work, and the jack draws a lot of air. I doubt a small compressor would work well, maybe not work at all.

Neil A


…perhaps look into the different attachments available, and decide which you will probably want to use, and ygen nake sure tge oress you select can accomodate them…

just my thoughts…


Thank you all. All the information is a great help. Send more as it comes to you. I make cuffs as most of you know so I will be looking at that accessory equipment. Is there a supplier of generic accessories that will work with Off Brand presses? Is Bonny Doon the state of the art or should I consider JewelryDie or ArtCraft?

My shop space is limited so smaller is better in that regard. I am doing a show near New Albany Indian in a few weeks so I will be planning on buying after that. The book Rob mentioned is on its way so I will have that to read while in Indiana.

Don Meixner

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Hi Don,
I suppose you know this, but if you don’t want to spring for the commercial presses, there are lots of plans on the Net for building presses. Many use four 1 inch long threaded shafts, a lot of nuts and three pieces of 1 inch steel plate. Add a jack, springs and a few other things and you are done. Prolly can save half the purchase price and design it as you want it. I have thought about this, but don’t make enough stuff or use all the tools I already have, so I can’t currently justify the time and cost yet. -royjohn

I use a 20 ton Potter Press
I use it for pancake dies, impression dies, and silhouette dies. I also bend cuff bracelets and rings on it as well. I’ve never had to go over 4000 on it.
It’s a manual press and it works for all of my needs.

I used an auction buy press that came with a pneumatic cylinder (~4T). I beefed it up, bought a new 30T Enerpac cylinder and manual pump and used it for everything up to a 4" by 1" deep draw die.

I eventually bought a used hydraulic press frame to replace the pneumatic because I didn’t want to be near a catastrophic weld failure.

Some observations.
A pump with a long handle is much less effort than a short one.
Some manual pumps are two stage: fast (high volume) operation below 500 - 600 psi; then slower once they meet resistance.
Typical shop presses are too wide and too flimsy to get full power out of them. A good percentage of your pumping effort goes into bending the frame to its elastic limit. What is left over goes into the work piece
The grade of urethane matters. If you use a hockey puck, expect to pump more.






After thinking hard about building A press I have decided to buy one. Rob likes his Bonny Doon. Had any one used both the Potter and the Bonny Doon? Is there a comparison to share?

Don Meixner

I’ve only had Bony Doon. I currently have a MKIII 20 ton and a 55T deep draw. The past BD presses all sold for nearly what I paid for them. I admit to bias because I knew the designer Lee Marshall and understood his extensive background in engineering and safety. The BD presses come with the necessary ram and pressure gauge. They are usually less expensive than the Potter presses when you consider all the parts. A press opens enormous design options - and a whole new way of looking at how to make hand made jewelry. You need many fewer other shaping tools - from rings to bracelets to beads… - Yes I love the press - And buying one is smart for just the safety aspects…

I’ve got a few Bonny Doon Presses and i’ve used a few Potter Presses at other shops. I really prefer the Bonny Doon for ergonomics and ease of use, attaching tooling is easier and the setups are more adjustable which can really make a big difference. Plus the Bonny Doon is really rigid and well designed, and is less expensive.

I currently have a cheap 20 tonne press similar to the Harbour Freight one (i’m in the uk so we don’t have harbour freight here!) and while it works I have always had the feeling that it would really like to kill me!
I have spent the last year paying off a Potter Press which is currently sitting in Paris as I can’t afford the 280 EURO shipping to get it to Scotland so for now I’m stuck with the the homicidal one :smiling_imp: :joy:

I purchased a used Bonny Doon with the electric hydraulic pump. If I were to buy new, I would buy a bonny doon press, not sure I would have splurge on the electric hydraulic pump if I had to pay full price, but I do love the ease of use. I think the press is a very solid piece of equipment. I have been buying dies and other parts from Potter and they are pretty much interchangeable. I just recently purchased the potter bracelet forming tool and it works fine with the bonny doon frame and was quite a bit less expensive.

Have fun with your new toy, I mean tool.

i like the potters presses the guy build some good ones

Hey Alexis,
Looking at airfares, I find a round trip from Edinburgh to Paris on Ryanair the second week of January for US$62. If I were you, I’d go pick up the press and see Paris. It would cost a little more on the way back for the checked bag (press), but still a lot below the shipping you quoted. -royjohn

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