Essential Hydraulic Press Setup

A friend of mine (Hi Elenor) told me that she was finally ready to purchase her hydraulic press. (YAY!) And she asked what I thought were the essential tools for her to start off with. I actually get this question a lot. There are certainly several things that you really must have if you are going to be successful with this tool. So I will share those with you along with what my first purchase consisted of.

First – Obviously you need the press itself and a jack.


In my photo above I have two presses. They are both 20-ton presses and will do similar jobs. There are some notable differences though. When I was first researching presses, I looked at everything on the market and decided to go with the press offered by Potter USA. I liked the larger opening and larger bottom platen. And of course, their price was about 1/2 of the other press I was looking at.

The jack I chose to purchase is the red one in the photo. It is a 20-ton bottle jack with gauge port by Norco. It is a great jack, but a bit more expensive. I chose to spend the money as I knew I would be using in my studio for students as well as myself. It is also one of the only ones available with a gauge port.

The smaller press has a short profile (shorty) jack that I purchased at Harbor Freight. You must have a short profile jack for the smaller press. The smaller frame has a 4″ wide by 6″ long opening. While I am still able to use all my Potter USA accessories, it is limiting when it comes to purchasing ready made products such as Urethane from other vendors as it is typically sold in 6″ square pieces.

While a gauge is nice, they can be spendy and difficult to find. I would check with Kevin Potter of Potter USA before purchasing your jack. Sometimes he is able to find some and will sell them to his customers. If you are not able to get a gauge, a great alternative is the Torque handle made by Potter USA. Check out my video on how to use it.

The other thing I liked about the Potter USA press is that the press will accept the tools they make, as well as those made for other presses on the market.

Second – Spacers

You should never raise the ram on your jack all the way for risk of damaging your jack. And if you do extend it all the way, you won’t be utilizing the pressure from the jack efficiently. Spacers are necessary to help in this area. Spacers also make it so you don’t have to raise all the way which will save muscle fatigue.


There are a number of items that can be used as spacers. In the image above, I have 2 6″ pieces of 1″ thick acrylic pieces. I also have a contained urethane that I will turn upside down and sometimes use that as a larger spacer. I have also been known to use my steel bench blocks. Anything that is stable, flat and can withstand the pressure of the press can be used. You just want to decrease the space between the top and bottom platen for the most efficient use of your press.

Third – Pancake dies

Pancake dies are used to punch out shapes from a flat sheet of metal. There are lots of designs readily available. These from Potter USA work best for metal that is 20 – 16 gauge thick. Although, I do use 22 gauge regularly, however, there is a bit more clean up on those from the bur that is left due to the larger cutting edge.

When I made my initial purchase, I picked out 6 – 8 designs that I thought I would use the most and started with that knowing I would add to it later as I became more proficient and had the money to add to it. The nice thing about these dies is that they are EXTREMELY affordable and you can expect to get about 100 pressings out of them before you would need to purchase it again or retire it.



Fourth – Silhouette dies, contained urethane and pusher

Silhouette dies are what you use to “puff” or form your shape. In order for you do to this you will need, at minimum, urethane. But the container and pusher are going to concentrate the force of the urethane so that you get the most efficient use of the force of that urethane. These can be purchased in 2″ and 3″ varieties.

Again, I looked through the available options and picked out about 6 or so that I felt would work best in my work.


Optional But Fun

Bracelet former Kit – Anticlastic and Synclastic

I ADORE anticlastic bracelets. I have for a very long time. I have made them before on a stage or forming block and they take a LOT of time. They look fantastic, but you can be pretty sure you will lose any kind of embossed or etched design easily. So when I saw this kit, I was pretty excited about it. You can purchase the entire kit (all 5 pieces) or the pieces individually.

In order to make a bracelet with the former you will need, at minimum, the frame, one or two of the dies and a piece of urethane.


Bracelet blanking dies and Extended platen

These actually came out a while after I had my press. Before, I would just cut my bracelet blanks with a jewelers saw or shear. But these dies make quick work of punching out a bracelet blank. The extended platens aren’t necessary with the larger press, but will be needed for the smaller bolt-together press. But I use them anytime I am making a blank, regardless of the machine I use. I like that they apply even pressure to the entire blank.


Embossing Dies

These little dies are fantastic. It is a great way to put in deep texture without having a mill or having to do it by hand with a hammer… which isn’t really possible with these designs. They have been milled from steel and are nice and sturdy. There are several designs to chose from. You will want a container, urethane and pusher for these as well. I find that I get the best results with thinner metals, but I have done some up to 16 gauge. You will apply a LOT of pressure to get a good impression, but that is why you have a press. I typically go up to about 6,000 psi on these.


So there you have it. The first four items are what I would deem necessary. The last items are great fun and make my job easier, but they are NOT needed to be successful with your hydraulic press.

All content and images on this blog are the property of Melissa Muir and use of them in any context is strictly prohibited unless written permission is first obtained. Please feel free to repin any of the pictures of pieces done by Melissa Muir only.

9 thoughts on “Essential Hydraulic Press Setup

  1. Jennifer with Burlap Budda

    Thank you for the post! I went to Harbor Freight and searched results for 20 ton hydraulic press and I didn’t see the one pictured here. Can you send me a link to the item please?
    I have been thinking about getting one..or making one.If Harbor Freight sells one maybe I can have one.
    Thanks again!

  2. Melissa Muir

    Jen, you won’t be able to get the press from harbor freight. I would be scared to get one from them if they did. You can get the jack from harbor freight, but you would need to get the press from someone else.

  3. Autumn

    Melisssa, now that a few years have passed and Kevin, is offering impression dies, does your about list change? If so, in what why? Thx in advance.

    1. Melissa Muir Post author

      Hi Autumn, Thanks so much for checking. I have not gotten into the impression dies as much as other people have done. So for me, the list would remain the same. I have a few impression dies that I have been playing with and will do some updating. I think that the impression dies are wonderful for adding an extra flare for your pieces, but I would not consider it a BASIC as you will have that impression and it is not easily changed, so unless you are looking to make many pieces with one die, I would still say that the impression dies are a wonderful addition, but I wouldn’t include it as one of my “essentials”. Don’t get me wrong on that, the impression dies open many doors and people are doing some wonderful things with them, but I think they are
      “the next step” and you would use them after you have already refined your skills with the other tools first. And I am sure there will be many people that would argue the point, and perhaps as I work with them more, they may become an essential tool.


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