Tag Archives: press

SWAG Press Plates – Improve the Safety of Your Hydraulic Shop Press

I’ve used presses for many years and have watched them bend stuff and or even shoot stuff across a room.  One of the scariest sounds I used to hear was the “BANG” when an AK barrel pin would finally let go and come out.  My point is that with a press, you are working with tons of pressure — literally.  If you have a 20 ton press, that means you could apply somewhere around 40,000 tons of pressure.

Presses are pretty simple really – you have a frame made of steel with an adjustable shelf and a hydraulic bottle jack.  As you pump the jack, the ram assembly is pushed/pressed down and applies pressure on whatever you have underneath.  The shelf is open in the middle and arbor plates, or some metal plates are used in the middle to hold the work when pressure is applied.

The problem is that many of the press plates supplied with presses are not up to the task.  I bent the plates that came with with my press — they were basically two pieces of thick U channel mystery metal that couldn’t handle the load.  Now some guys have reported their cast iron press plates shattering under load and causing injury.

As part of purchasing my SWAG press brake, they told me the unit must be fully supported underneath or it would bend.  As my press plates were history and I just had 1/2″ bar stock that I would stack to work on stuff, I knew I needed to invest in better plates.  SWAG offers quality 50-A572 steel plate in a number of sizes both 1″ and 1.5″ thick.  Their pricing is surprisingly good too.  I ordered a 12x12x1.5 set knowing I would need to but down one side a bit to get it into my press.

A few days later a couple of heavy Priority Mail boxes arrived with one plate in each.

I looked at the plates and did some thinking – I planned the cut it such that my most likely used opening would be available.  I then used my PowerMax 45 plasma cutter to cut the plate.  The 1.5″ thick piece was way past the unit’s limit.  I went real slow from one side, turned it over and then did the other.  I then did some grinding to clean it up.


Here’s the SWAG brake sitting on the plates.

Nothing is permanently attached.  The press and the plates can be pulled out if I need to do any work that requires a different configuration.

The next post will be about installing the air over pneumatic bottle jack.

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Built and Installed a SWAG Off Road 20 TON Press Brake Heavy Duty DIY Builder Kit

I occasionally run into situations where I need to bend thick sheet metal or even bar stock to make brackets.  I needed to make a new battery box for my plow and decided it was time to get a press brake.  I did some digging around decided to get one from SWAG Off Road – their “20 TON Press Brake Heavy Duty” model that you can buy built or as a kit.  They made the tablesaw system that holds my Milwaukee Portaband and that is a really sweet set up.  At any rate, the maximum width it can bend is 19.25″ with a 110 degree radius bend.

Now, what really caught my eye were the dimensions of mild steel stock this press brake could bend:

  • 19″ wide if 3/16″ or thinner
  • 15″ in 1/4″
  • 13″ in 5/16″
  • 11″ in 3/8″
  • 6″ in 1/2″
  • 3″ in 5/8″

Most of the stock I bend is 3/8″ or less so this was right in line with what I wanted.

The brake is designed to work with two different 20 ton Harbor Freight press models – the 32879 and 606043.  My press is a 30 ton IIT H-frame so I had to make sure the total width of the brake was going to work – 22.125″ – and it did with room to spare.   Note that while my press frame is 30 ton, I run a 20 ton bottle jack on it so I matched the press brake to my the actual press capacity I I run.

So, armed with that, I bought the kit for $224.95 shipped off Amazon and it showed up about a week later coming in several heavy USPS Priority mail packages.

The kit was very well packed and the instructions were very straight forward.  I actually had a fun time assembling it.  All you need is a welder, grinder, and a square (in my case, I used a 1-2-3 block for most of the squaring).

Their instructions were very straight forward.  I am going to follow their steps in my write up and also add commentary.

I laid everything out and made sure I had all of the the parts before I started and I did.

Step 1 Weld in the Guide Rods and Ears

I hammered the rods part way into the bottom plate and made sure they were square.  The fit is tight on purpose so you need a good sized hammer and a solid surface.  You don’t hammer them in all the way as you are going to weld from the bottom.  Be sure to tack weld the rods first and double check they are square one more time before you do the final weld.  I used a 1-2-3 block to true my bars up.  You do want to make sure they are fairly square as the brake’s blade assembly needs to be able to rid up and down them.

Next, they talk about tacking the “ears” back on that you can use to secure the brake in your press.  These are the little tabs that go into the notches on the front of the lower assembly.  Now save yourself some time and make sure the dimensions will work for you.  I went through the whole building process and found out the tabs stopped my brake from going back far enough in the press to align with the ram and I had to cut them off.  Knowing SWAG, I bet the brake lines up like a charm on the two Harbor Freight press models they mention so this is because I am using a very different press (It is something like 20+ years old now too :-).  If the ears do work for you, you may need to file some excess metal off.  One of my ears had just a bit of waste metal left after cutting that filed right off in just a few seconds.  You can see the fit is great.  As with the other stuff, fit it in place, tack weld and then do the final weld when ready.  By the way, tack weld first to avoid the metal warping from the heat and moving out of the position you need – this is true for the whole kit.

In case you are wondering, I am using a Miller 211 MIG with gas.  It works great for me.  It has a far better weld and duty cycle than the Harbor Freight model I started with years go.

To protect my eyes, I use a very well regarded Antra AH6-260-0000 Solar Power Auto Darkening Welding Helmet that works great for me.

Step 2 – Weld the Vertical Guide Tubes

Next carefully position the guide tubes on the brake’s blade.  I used a Harbor Freight steel welding table and a number of magnetic clamps to get everything in position and secure before I then tack welded, tested the fit and then did the final welds.  Note, the blade edge of the die is facing up and the guides are aligned to what will be the top of the die.  I am a bit obsessive with welding.  I had the heat cranked up on the welder and did two heavy passes.  My welding will never get me any awards – even I admit I am a grinder 🙂  I forgot to get a picture of the welds at this step but you’ll see them later.


Step 3 – Welding the Bottom Die

The first step is to weld the two carriage bolts into place that will hold the guide later.  You *must* do them now as you will not have access to them once the angle iron is welded in place.  I simply turned the heat down on the Miller, put the wing nuts on the bolts to hold them in place and did a few quick welds.


Now the next part is to weld the angle iron in place.  In their instructions, SWAG said I might need to grind the bottom of the angle iron to get it to sit evenly in the channel.  That did not seem to be a problem with my parts.  To align the angle iron in the channel, I sprayed non-stick on the upper die and then installed it on the lower die and checked alignment.  This seemed to work really well – the weight and position of the blade lined the angle iron up perfectly (a month later an I am still happy with it).  I then tack welded the angle iron base in place on the lower die and then welded it in place doing a section at a time on opposing sides.  I welded a closing X – starting with the corners and then moving inward a few inches at a time to avoid warping.

Step 4 – Weld the Shaft Collar

For me, the collar helps be center on the ram of my press but I do not leave it connected.  I definitely wanted it though so I welded it on.  I measured and found the center, positioned the collar, tack welded it and then did the final weld.

Step 5.  Paint It

My shop is basically an unheated garage so I have to fight condensation.  Unpainted / unoiled surfaces tend to rust so cleaned all the parts when brake cleaner and applied three coats of Black Satin Krylon that combines a primer and the paint in one finish.  Definitely let it cure for a day before you reassemble — this is an important lesson I learned years ago – dry to the touch and cured ready to use are two different things.

At this point I had to get the press ready and that meant installing real press plates that could safely (emphasis on safely) handle 20 tons of pressure.  Candidly. the cheap cast iron plates that come with most presses are not up to the task so we’ll talk about this in the next blog post.

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20 TON Press Brake Heavy Duty DIY Builder Kit

Features: Made in the USA, Designed to fit the Harbor Freight 20 ton hydraulic press Item # 32879 & 60603, Press brake kit includes an adjustable back stop and side stop for accurate and repeatable bends., Built out of high strength 3/8″ steel 4.00″ wide bottom die., Tools required for assembly, welder, grinder, level, small square.

This SWAG Offroad Press Brake kit is a DIY Builder Kit, you do the welding and assembly. Designed to fit the Harbor Freight 20 ton hydraulic press Item # 32879 & 60603. Max Bending Radius (deg.) 110 Max. Bending Capacity 3/8″ plate Max Bending Width 19.25″ Total width of the brake is 22.125″ wide It Is capable of bending mild steel in the following length and thickness. 19″ = Full bending width of the bottom die on anything 1/8″ or thinner. 15″ in 3/16″ 12″ in 1/4″ 5″ in 3/8″
List Price: $229.95 USD
New From: $229.95 USD In Stock

Put an X-Y table on your drill press to improve accuracy

One of the problems with a drill table is that you have a platform to hold work but to position the work, you have to move the table.  Some guys are really good at doing this but I am not one of them.  I want to use something that I can precisely move to get a part right where I need it to drill.  Years ago I invested in what is often called an X-Y table as well as a cross-slide table.  It looks like a milling machine’s table and sits on top of the drill press’ table.  It makes a world of difference.  By rotating the hand wheels you can move it left to right as well as front to back.


My exact table is made by Interstate and is 6″ deep x 19″ wide.  The amount it can travel is about 7.5″ x 11″.  Now the one challenge to factor in with these tables is that they are tall.  Mine takes up 5″ and if you have a small drill press or are are height-constrained for whatever reason, that is something you need to think about.  I’d also point out that these things are heavy – the Interstate is all steel

Next, for those of you not familiar with milling machines or it’s been a long time since shop class, those slots in the table are called “T-Slots” and look like an upside down letter T.  The Interstate has 9/16″ T-Slots and I have a clamping set of that size that I use to hold whatever I put on the table – vises, right angles, or even the work itself.  In a couple of the above photos you can see the camping set in the red plastic organizer against the wall.


The X-Y table must be bolted to the drill press table.  To true the table to the press, use either a framing square or a machinist square to line up to a long bit.  On my table it can tilt left and right so I tap it with a mallet to adjust it.  However, my press, and many others, do not have a means to adjust the front-to-back angle so shims must be inserted under the front of the table to lift it up until it is true with the bit.  zMy press is a Harbor Freight industrial series and it has many admirable aspects, such as a switch that is still working after literally over 10,000 cycles (each grip requires at least three drill operations plus it gets used for many other things as well and I’ve had it for at least 10 years) and the motor is still holding up.  When I took the photos I noticed left-to-right was fine (I check that all the time) but that I needed to re-shim it to get the front-to-back angle back closer to being true.

Something has shifted on my press as you can see it is no longer true from front to back based on the square.

I took a few minutes and fabricated a front shim using a piece of 22 gauge sheet metal, my plasma cutter and belt grinder.  So, with just a bit of work, it’s all nice and true again.  By the way, the reflection on the bit makes it look like there is a gap but the square is nice and flush from top to bottom and it’s sitting square on the table.



As an aside, there is an alternative to tables known as  X-Y vises, sometimes called “cross-slide” vises, that can give you some adjustment but I don’t use them because you are limited to work that can fit in the jaws and you only have the jaws as a means to secure the work.  If that is enough for you, then great.  For me, I prefer the flexibility of a big table with T-Slots so I can do whatever I want to hold work.

So, what are the pros of using a drill press X-Y table:

  • You can dial in the work to right where you want it
  • Big work area with clamps
  • Can adjust the table to move easily or very tightly via the socket head screws you see in the photos


  • It does take up space – especially vertically – that might be at a premium
  • It’s fairly heavy and not something for a lightly made press – confirm the weight of your table before you buy it

By the way, one safety note.  This does not turn your drill press into a milling machine.  A mill is designed to handle the sideways stresses and you see this in the bearings, the way the mill is held, etc.  If you try to do milling with a drill press you risk at least ruining the bearings if not having the chuck fail and dangerous metal parts flying everywhere.  In short, it look like a mill but do not use it like a mill.  If you need a mill, buy a mill.

I bought my table years ago from Enco, that is now part of MSC.  They still sell it so click here to see it.

Like so many imported tools, it may be the case that it is made in a factory in China, or where ever, and then sold under other brands.  I notice that Grizzly has one that looks just like it:

You can also find a ton of them on eBay.  I’d do some digging because some of the no-name models do not have very good reviews.  Plamgren is very good and I like my Interstate but some on there may not be so red hot.

Vintage Mastercraft X Y Axis Rotary Cross Slide Table Machinist Vise Milling

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End Date: Sunday Apr-29-2018 16:15:54 PDT
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Low Profile Compound X/Y Cross Slide Positioning Table Stage Mill Drill Machine

End Date: Tuesday May-15-2018 14:59:42 PDT
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Cross Slide Table / Compound Table X Y

$40.00 (0 Bids)
End Date: Sunday Apr-29-2018 15:25:50 PDT
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Texas Instruments TI-30XS MultiView Scientific Calculator 16-Digit LCD TI30XSMV

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Palmgren? Rotary XY Cross Slide Table 8 Inch.

$250.00 (0 Bids)
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Palmgren CV60 6" Jaw Width Cross Slide Vise

End Date: Wednesday Apr-25-2018 12:55:08 PDT
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Vintage Palmgren Rotary XY Cross Slide Table

$299.99 (0 Bids)
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Palmgren CV30 3'' Jaw Width Cross Slide Vise

End Date: Friday Apr-27-2018 10:00:58 PDT
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X Y Table w. 2 Pittman motors 38.3:1 gear ratio 5-1/4" travel

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rocheleau 5c spin fixture x y table rotating indexing

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You will see wild differences in pricing for tables, clamp sets and what have you.  Check out MSC, eBay and Amazon plus where ever else you find via Google, or recommendations from guys on forums, Facebook, etc. for you before you buy.

By the way, here are two Wilton cross-slide vise that gets good reviews so you can see what I am talking about:

Also, if you search on Amazon for cross slide vise, you’ll also see not so well rated vises.  For me to feel good about something, I really want to see at least 30 reviews to have a good sample (this comes from stats for folks who remember that class) and I want the majority of scores to be fours and fives.  When you see five stars and one or two ratings, you have no idea who those people were – they could be employees of the vendor selling them or perhaps they don’t have much experience.  In short, the greater the number of reviews, the better off you are.


May 15th:  For all the folks who emailed and called me out on the work area being a mess – you are absolutely right.  I’ll get it cleaned up.  I have a ton of excuses but no valid reasons for it being a mess.

Also, two guys posted saying how happy they are with their Wilton cross-slide vises so that is good to know and share also.

If you find this post useful, please either buy something using one of the links to eBay and Amazon or click one of the AdNow advertisements. EBay and Amazon you need to buy something, AdNow pays for each link you visit – no purchase needed.   With Amazon, if you click on one of our links and then buy something else – even unrelated stuff like clothes, electronics and groceries – we get credit and it would be hugely appreciated.  Doing something like the above will help us fund continued development of the blog.