Uses a high quality of paint to resist rust. It's also easy to clean grease and oil from the surface of the paint. H-frame design with flat legs ensures stability. Quality of the piston and cylinder ram construction resists skiving.
Offers a good value, but it's not really made for consistent, heavy-duty work.
Excellent build quality that will give you plenty of value over time. Steel frame remains sturdy while you're working. High-quality paint job resists rusting and is easy to clean. Uses an H-frame and sturdy legs to prevent wobble.
Costs more than others with similar power levels. Not made for those who need constant, heavy-duty performance.
Takes up less space and is straightforward to use; mounts on a table or bench. Has a reasonably sturdy build for a 6-ton press. It's also easy to assemble.
Not ideal for major tasks; provides less leverage and durability than full-size presses.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
A hydraulic press is a relatively simple yet remarkably versatile machine. Depending on the accessories used, it can be an invaluable tool for auto mechanics and different types of engineers, as well as metalsmiths and jewelers. Entry-level models are not expensive, putting one within the reach of enthusiastic amateurs and professionals alike.
If you're looking to buy your first hydraulic press, there are a number of things you need to consider. The team at BestReviews has been carrying out its usual thorough research and testing to find you some answers. We've compiled the following hydraulic press buying guide to look at the subject in more detail. And we've chosen a few of our favorites that should prove ideal for the home and small-business user.
Manual: All hydraulic devices use liquid (usually oil) as way to transfer force. Most of hydraulic presses we looked at have a cylinder (bottle jack) that looks a lot like what you might use to lift a vehicle. It's basically the same device, positioned the other way up in a frame. Other presses have a remote pump attached to a piston mounted in the top of a frame via high-pressure hose.
These manual hydraulic presses are operated by a lever. The longer the lever, the less effort required. There's no real variation in pressure, you pump the lever until the job is done. Springs return the pump to its original position when the pressure is released.
Powered: There are other presses that fall under the “hydraulic” banner. Some have a remote oil tank and an electric pump, while others use compressed air. Technically, the latter is a pneumatic press rather than hydraulic, but the term “air hydraulic” is frequently used. Many of these models offer a choice of pressure settings or completely variable pressure. For most engineering or automotive tasks, a single pressure is sufficient, but there are always exceptions.
These types of hydraulic pump eliminate the need for operator effort and are worth considering if you have a lot of repetitive tasks to perform. They are, however, considerably more expensive.
Smaller presses are generally cheaper, so if you only occasionally do large work, it might be more economical to contract those jobs out.
Hydraulic presses are rated by their maximum amount of force, expressed in tons. Common sizes include 6-ton, 12-ton, 20-ton, and 40-ton.
You’ll find benchtop and floor-standing 6-ton presses. The rest are all floor-standing models and usually weigh around 100 pounds, so you'll want to think about where you site one because it can damage some types of flooring.
The exceptions to this rule are jeweler's or metalsmith's hydraulic presses, which can be very compact yet still apply huge amounts of pressure. These are very useful tools for specific tasks, but the size of the workpiece they can accommodate is restricted.
Shape: There are two types of frame, named for their shape: A and H. A-frames are only used for lower-powered benchtop models and usually lack the adjustability of H-frames.
The strength of these frames is absolutely vital to good performance. The last thing you want is for the frame to distort under the enormous pressure exerted by the press. Look for a substantial crossbeam to prevent this. If in doubt, look elsewhere. There are plenty of hydraulic presses to choose from.
Coating: The frame should have a durable coating.
Springs: Check that the mounting points of the springs are substantial, too.
Bolster: The crossbeam that the work rests on is called the bolster. This can be adjusted up and down to accommodate workpieces of different sizes. Floor-standing models have plenty of capacity; benchtop models have less, and you might need to take that into account.
Piston: The piston in the hydraulic pump has a maximum amount of travel, usually six or seven inches. This is more than enough for most press work involving bearings, stamping, or bending, for example. However, a hydraulic press is such a versatile tool that you might foresee a task where this dimension is important, so it's another area to check.
Safety: The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) sets minimum standards for safety of this type of equipment. It's not a legal requirement, but it is nevertheless something worth looking for.
Gauge: A gauge may be fitted, which is useful on machines that have adjustable pressure.
Extras: Accessory plates may be provided to help hold your workpiece, though often they're quite basic. You might need to invest in a vise and/or clamps that better suit the work you'll be doing.
Some assembly might be required. It's not overly complicated, but components can be heavy, so it's best to get a friend to lend a hand.
We would caution against buying a hydraulic press that seems very cheap. The pump unit could be low quality, and if the frame and bolster aren't of adequate strength, working pressures can soon distort them.
Inexpensive: Good-quality benchtop hydraulic presses with a 6-ton rating are usually the cheapest machines available at around $100 to $150. For the same price, you'll also find entry-level, floor-standing 12-ton models.
Mid-range: Spend a little more – around $200 to $250 – and you'll get a robust, flexible tool that will be perfectly adequate for most home shop users.
Expensive: If you need greater pressures and the benefit of electronic or air assistance, you'll pay considerably more. A 20-ton press will likely cost you around $1,000 (though we've also seen 40-ton models for the same price). Machines with variable pressure, foot controls, and guards are really the realm of the professional shop, where an investment of $3,000 or more can be justified.
Hydraulic presses for metalsmiths and jewelry makers are a different category. While often physically smaller, these typically offer much greater control than basic engineering models. As a result, the prices are higher. The cheapest we've seen is around $800. The most expensive costs over $11,000. Although it's only two feet tall by one and one-half feet wide, it generates a force of 100 tons!
A compact benchtop hydraulic press is ideal for some people, but it will have a limited working area and/or adjustability. Make sure the kind of work you do can be accommodated before ordering.
Never be tempted to hold items in place while using the press. We can't state this strongly enough: if your hand is crushed in a hydraulic press, you will lose it. Whatever you're working on must be self-supporting. If it's not, use clamps, a vise, or build a homemade jig to do the job.
Always wear protective glasses or goggles.
Keep the floor area near the press clear. This reduces the chances of slipping or tripping. Don't allow debris or off-cuts to build up. For the same reason, you should clean up oil or chemical spills immediately.
Keep children and pets away from the press. This is not just because of the harm they could come to; it's also the problems that could occur if they distract you.
Consider a powered press. The basic lever action of a manual hydraulic press makes it easy to apply pressure, but if you've got to do it 50 times a day, you might want to consider buying a powered model.
While not strictly a hydraulic model, the Baileigh HSP-20A 20-Ton Pneumatic Press is the kind of machine you look for when 12 tons of pressure just isn't enough. Few manufacturers have a better name for powerful, durable engineering equipment than Baileigh. It’s an expensive choice, but for some, it’ll be just right.
Q. Does a hydraulic press need much maintenance?
A. As we've discussed, mechanical hydraulics work on the same principle as many vehicle jacks, so all the pump needs is occasional oiling. Looking after the rest of the rig just means giving it a good clean after each use and periodically running a wrench over it to check that any nuts and bolts are tight.
Electrical and pneumatic models have moderate additional requirements, though still nothing particularly onerous – things like checking connections and making sure hoses aren’t damaged. Manufacturers can provide instructions.
Q. Do I need guards for a hydraulic press?
A. In commercial environments, you need to protect employees. The danger is that with the pressures generated, items could be spit out at high velocity. Relatively cheap wire mesh screens are the most common guard used. If the press has a foot switch, it needs to be shielded so it can't be stepped on accidentally, thus operating the press.
If you're working in a home shop or garage, the risks are your own, but it's not difficult to rig up a simple screen, and it could save you from serious injury.
Q. What does the ton rating of a hydraulic press actually mean?
A. It's a measure of the force applied to a workpiece. It's an overall maximum, not a rating per square inch. It's more accurately calculated in Newtons, but the industry has always used tonnage. Put simply, if you have a 12-ton press, the hydraulic cylinder is capable of applying a force to a workpiece equal to having a 12-ton weight pushing down on it.
BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.