For limited use, buy a press that uses a big hydraulic jack as opposed to one that has a cylinder built in,” says Henry Shakal. “You eliminate maintenance problems. If anything goes wrong, you could simply replace the jack, and you can use that jack for other things.”
Retired in the late-1990s, Shakal still operates a farm equipment repair shop at Boyd, in north-central Wisconsin.
At Butler, Missouri, baby boomer Raymond Wiskur operates a mobile farm machinery repair service, has his own shop at home, and says much the same thing.
“If you need a shop press, all kinds of companies make them. Mine is real cheap and partly manufactured. I made crossbars so it could extend as wide as I need, and I put it on wheels,” Wiskur says.
Both men agree that a 20-ton hydraulic press will meet the needs on most farms for jobs like replacing bearings and pressing gears. You can buy these for less than $500 – complete with a bottle jack and cranking handle – from tool suppliers. That could be all your shop needs for many years.
The standard shop press on a farm gets very little use, but it is important when it is needed. It may be 50 years old, dirty, greasy, and working fine.
It probably has steel uprights on fixed spacing. These are joined at the top by a horizontal rail and below by a second rail that is movable. Mounted to the top rail is a jack, piston, or hydraulic ram. It applies force straight down against whatever is on a press plate on the lower rail.
Working space between the lower rail and the ram is called the daylight or throat. In this classic H-frame configuration, the throat size is a limit factor. It can be adjusted up and down, usually held in place by pins that go through holes in the frame.
Wiskur's modified press extends the rails past the uprights on one side to give his press an open-throat design. This is much less limited, as the piston can be moved outside the H to apply off-center pressing at full capacity.
A typical floor space requirement is about 30×40 inches.
Whether H-frame or open throat, the hand-operated one-size-fits-all approach is characteristic of the small shop press market, says Carl Jean, service manager for Greenerd Press & Machine Company Inc., Nashua, New Hampshire. His century-old company builds specialized presses for industrial markets.
“If you have to repair a lot of your own stuff and need something with the ability to press out bearings and shafts, you want something with a lot of versatility for doing something small or sticking a tire in the press,” Jean says.
The typical farm shop press is manual (hand-operated). A bottle jack or piston is fixed to a center point. Some allow the jack to travel or glide on the upper rail. You pump a handle in the jack to force the ram downward. It may take 20 strokes to move the ram 1 inch, and you can sense the pressure being applied.
The ram has to be returned to its starting point. For this, most manual shop presses use paired heavy springs that slowly push the ram back up. Some press makers fortify the structure and support the jack on a fixed lower rail.