Ron's Fly-Press Page

Contact me by phone: (208) 462-4028
Note: Due to spam problems I no longer post my e-mail address.

Note: I have nothing for sale on this page or Web site.


I have updated this page since my retirement and our subsequent move out of Boise and up into the central Idaho mountains. I now have a small horse ranch in a heavenly beautiful location, and a much larger shop. The new shop has chain hoists, and other lifting equipment, and I have two new tractors, so the comments below about having a problem lifting the 700 pound fly-press are not an issue any longer. However, even though I now have a shop that is four times larger than my little shop in Boise, I still have a space problem. Between a number of new pieces of old equipment, and space needed for working on the ranch equipment, space is still at a premium. So having my equipment mobile is still important.

The Fly-Press

This page is dedicated to setting up and working an historic forging tool which greatly predates the hydraulic press, the "fly-press." This tool is rarely found in western US smithies, but is a very common tool in hot-shops in Europe. I am providing this page as a source of information for those of you who, like me, have obtained one for their shop, and discovered that there is very little information out there regarding setting up and using one of these wonderful machines. I have a #P-6 fly-press that weighs roughly 700 pounds, and a #P-0. Getting the P-6 shipped to my shop, moving it into the shop, building its mobile fly-press stand, and getting it lifted on to the stand, has been quite a task. I will attempt to highlight the most important aspects of this adventure in setting up my first fly-press.

First, you might wonder what a fly-press is. It is a manually operated screw press which has a massive screw and flywheel, or ball weighted handle, attached to the top of the screw to provide inertia to drive the screw down, which pushes the ram block/tool holder on to the work. It creates a tremendous force, and allows the operator to bend, forge, pierce, punch, or texture, metals precisely and easily once the necessary tooling has been made. Additionally, it provides tactile feedback to the operator, allowing very delicate work to be done that is pretty much beyond the range of hydraulic presses. Further, it only places the tool in contact with the work momentarily, preserving the heat in the work much more effectively than hydraulic presses. Besides, it is clean, uses no messy hydraulic oil, has no smell, requires no power supply, and it just works really well. 

The fly-presses sold by Dan Morris of "Old World Anvils" are produced by "Karachi Engineering & Foundry Works" in Jamnagar, India. I was at first hesitant about buying a press made in India or China, but I buried my concern and ordered a #6. When it arrived I was extremely pleased with the quality of the machine. The only down side was the hardwood crate. It had taken some heavy abuse between India and my shop. The flywheel and the press were scuffed in a few places, and the paint rubbed off, especially on the flywheel. These were strictly cosmetic problems that were easy enough to cure. All unpainted metal parts came coated with some kind of rust inhibiting material that I found could easily be removed with a rag and WD-40. Soon it was clean and operating smoothly, and showed no rust from its long trip half way around the world.

I will add the tooling to the bottom of this page as I make it, or as people send me information and pictures of their fly-press and tooling. If you have a fly-press, and have tooling and information that others could use, please share it with me so I can add it to this page. I will most certainly credit you with your work and images. Contact me if you have any questions, or wish to add some of your own fly-press tooling to this page. Thank you.  

The Journey Begins

The path to having my fly-press sitting here in my shop on its mobile drop down caster mounted stand has been a long one. I have been aware of fly-presses for many years, but living in the western US I have not had any opportunities to actually see one, let alone see one in action. I occasionally came across some comment about, or reference to, a fly-press, and they wet my desire for more information. The thing that bothered me most was having to buy used equipment of this type, due to there not being any new fly-presses commercially available in the US. Dan Morris changed all that when he started importing fly-presses from India several years ago. His company, Old World Anvils, came to my attention through a friend of mine, and I was soon studying the specs on the various models of fly-presses that Dan had to offer, the details of which are listed on his extensive web site. I understand that Old World Anvils has now been sold, but when I recently ordered a #P-0 press from the new owners I got almost instant service. The press arrived in under a week.

One thing that immediately impressed me when I was communicating with Dan, was how quickly his presses sold out. He receives periodic shipments from India, and almost all of them are sold before the ship arrives in port. I was fortunate and was able to lock in the purchase of his last #6 press. I also wanted to buy a #P-0 fly-press, for use in my Repousse' work, but I was too late. However, I recently was able to obtain one.

The single most difficult part of the whole adventure was the construction of my mobile press stand. Due to the inertia that the fly-press' flywheel creates, the stand has to be well grounded on the shop floor, so it can't be on casters when in use or the whole stand will rotate each time the press ram contacts the work. That means having to design a way to lower the casters, or raise the stand. That is a tall order when the stand and press together weigh roughly a thousand pounds. No light gage hardware store hinges will work for that kind of application, so I would have to come up with a design that would be really skookum (hell for stout), and be easily engaged when I needed to move the press out of the way for other work. I went through many different designs, but finally settled on a hinged design that allows me to easily drop the stand down on to its high friction foot pads. When the stand is on its casters I can easily move it with only the force of two fingers, but changing its direction takes a little more force. The posted images are shown with the stand on its casters. It may not look like it, but that is because the casters only raise the stand's foot pads 1/2" above the floor for safety in case a caster, or a caster bracket, should fail. I didn't want there to be any possibility the stand and fly-press could be overturned accidentally.

The next big problem to solve was how to lift the 700 pound press up on to its stand once the stand was completed. I thought through many different methods, but it soon all came together. I was able to very easily lift the press into place on the stand, without spending an additional penny on any rental equipment, other than on three 1/2" bolts to bolt my forged suspension hook bracket to my shop's patio roof carrier beam. I had a 3000 pound "come-along" in my shed, and it easily lifted the press high enough for me to roll the stand under the press and then lower it right on to its mounting bolt holes. It all went so smoothly that is was totally anti-climactic. This image was taken about 3 minutes after the press was seated on the stand. You can see the forged suspension hook bracket bolted to the carrier beam, the doubled 2x6 "stiff-backs" under the beam, and my come-along still hanging above the press. I also have the press wrapped in rags to prevent my retired climbing rope from marking its smoothly finished surface. The gentleman with the press is a dear friend, Zeph, who always generously offers his help when I most need it. In this image the press and its stand are now free, and easily moved by a very gentle pressure from a finger or two. Time for a beer.   

The Mobile Fly-press Stand

The biggest consideration when I designed and built the mobile stand was strength. Not only does it have to support the 700 pounds of the press, but it has to stand up to the very significant torque that is transferred to the stand each time the flywheel comes to an abrupt stop as the tool encounters the work. I elected to counter the torque by using diagonal braces of 1" by 3/16" equal leg angle iron in the diagonal direction of tension in each of the four bays. I also welded in a diagonal brace across the horizontal span between two of the legs.

The legs are fabricated from 1/4" x 3" equal leg angle iron, the foot pads from 1/4" plate, the table top from 1/2" plate, and the rail around the table top from 1-1/2" x 3/16" equal leg angle iron. All weld connections were beveled on both sides, and welded front and back with 70 ksi welding rod (7014). The foot pads have elastomeric high friction conveyor belting cut to fit, and bolted into place with 1/4" carriage bolts, heads down. The bolt heads pull up into the belt material deeply enough so they will not come in contact with the floor. This was left-over belting that I used under my power hammer.

I elected to splay the legs out diagonally. I wanted to spread the footprint of the stand to increase its stability once the heavy press was bolted in place. Having so many angles complicates the fabrication, but it is not overly difficult to work with. The only really difficult moment came when welding the legs to the 1/2" steel plate. Holding them in position for the welding was greatly simplified by having my apprentice, Kevin, wear my spare welding helmet while holding the legs carefully in exact alignment as I tacked them in place for further welding. After tack welding them I checked the diagonal measurements, pulled two string lines across the diagonals of all four legs at the same time to insure all four feet would be on the same plane, and just in general checked everything for trueness. Then I completed the welding of both sides of the angle iron legs. Once the legs were attached, the rest was just a matter of filling in the gaps, and was easily accomplished with screw clamps to hold the diagonal members in position for welding. Not being an expert welder, I like to do as much welding as possible in the flat position, so I had to constantly reposition the stand as I progressed. That became quite a chore when the weight increased to around 200 pounds. Nevertheless it was within my limits, and it got done in a timely fashion. The welds came out smooth and clean.

Part way through the construction, Dan mentioned in an e-mail that a hole in the table top under the press would be a good idea to allow the scale, and any punchings, to drop through into a bucket under the table surface. That seemed like a really good idea, so I torched out a 5" diameter hole in the correct location, and ground it smooth and true. I also welded two hooks I made from 1" equal leg angle iron on either side of the hole to hang a bucket on directly under the hole. One of the hooks is visible through the hole on the far side in the above linked image. I had predrilled the 1/2" press mounting holes in the plate prior to doing any welding. In the image you can see that a small section of the table rail has been removed in the far right corner. I cut away the rail to the level of the table top in order to have a small gap to sweep scale and other debris off the table easily. Otherwise the enclosed surface would be constantly full of debris that would be difficult to remove. That corner is the front right corner when the press is in position on the stand. Also, the rail around the table was welded together into a frame prior to placing the plate inside for welding. I ground the lower edge of the plate to match the radius in the interior corner of the angle iron so that the contact would be tight between the plate edge and the angle iron railing. In fact the frame was so tight that I had to drive it into place with a 4 pound hammer, using a 2x4 for a pad. The contact between the two is extremely tight, leaving no room for debris to collect.

I finally got a long enough break in the weather to get the stand painted. Here is an image showing the stand on the patio after the painting was complete. It is back up on its casters in the image. It was quite a job, because I had to roll it out on to a sheet of plastic, lower it on to its foot-pads, then remove the casters. I could then get the caster brackets painted underneath and on top, as well as all the other surfaces on the stand, both exposed and hidden. This image also shows the can that is suspended by the two hooks under the hole. It received a coat of paint also. I also repainted the flywheel and the two down-handles, as the paint on them had been scraped pretty badly during shipment. The press is now safely back in the shop, and is finally 100% ready for service.  :-)

The Retractable Caster Mounting

The retractable caster mounting is clearly, but not completely, shown in the image I have provided. It is shown in the "relaxed," or up position, with the foot pad on the floor. What is missing is the short diagonal brace, laying on the floor, that is inserted between the short block of 1/2" square stock, which is visible welded on the top of the hinge plate, and a similar block above it that is welded on the bottom of the support plate that the braces between the legs are anchored to. The short diagonal brace is made from 1/2" square stock, and is about 3-1/2" long. It is ground on each end to have a 90 degree chisel end to match the slot it braces into.

The picture shows the caster bracket in the "up" position, with the foot pad solidly on the floor. When the leg is lifted, by using a lifting tool that sockets into the little forged angle tab that is welded on the lower leg, the 1/2" diagonal brace can very easily be inserted, and then the stand is lowered down to rest with the foot pad 1/2" above the floor. The bolt with the wing nut is used to keep the hinged bracket solidly up against its diagonal brace when the stand is rolling across my somewhat uneven floor which lifts it off the floor periodically.

The hinge pin is 3/8" cold rolled that was welded full width across its contact with the 3/8" thick hinge plate. I beveled the plate on both sides so that I obtained full penetration in the weld, then ground the weld smooth and flush with the plate. I used 7014 rod. The female part of the hinge is welded into place flush against the side of the hinge plate to eliminate any bending moment in the 3/8" rod. I tested the assembly in its worst case position, when the caster is rotated 90 degrees to the side, by loading the corner of the press stand with over a thousand pounds of weight. The caster bracket was rock solid. Since the worst case load when in use is only about 500 pounds, I feel it is totally safe. Also, the 1/2" height that the foot pad is above the floor when being moved provides additional security should the bracket or caster ever fail.

When I was grinding the braces to hold the hinge in its locked down position I had the stand upside down and ground them so that the surfaces of the caster wheels were all on the same plane. That caused each diagonal brace to be slightly different in length from the others. To prevent mixing them up, I stamped a number into each one, and a corresponding number into each leg. They lay on the back of the stand table, behind the press, when not in use.

Although this system took a lot of time and care to fabricate, using it is a piece of cake. It is very easy for me to use the forged lifting tool with my left hand, which sockets into the forged angle-iron fitting welded to the leg, visible just above the foot pad, to raise each leg while I insert the diagonal brace into place with my right hand. It is much harder to describe than to do. I then tighten up the wing nut on the locking bolt, and after doing all four, the stand is ready to be rolled to wherever it needs to go. Lowering it back down to the floor is even easier.

Tools and Tooling

The first tool that should be made is an "integral tool-holder" for the ram face. This tool is a "false" tool holding socket that fits into the socket in the ram face. It prevents wear or damage to the ram face, or the tool holding bolt and socket, during use of the fly-press. The integral tool-holder in the image is 3" along the side of the body, 3" in diameter, has a 1" by 2" hole for the tool shanks to socket into, and a 1" x 2" shank (male part) to fit the hole in the ram face. The locking bolt is a 1/2" bolt. I also filed a small curved groove into the shank slightly above the point where the tool locking bolt on the ram strikes it. This causes the shank to be pulled tightly up into the hole in the ram face so that it can't be pulled out if a tool sticks in hot iron. I have to thank Rex Price of for machining this fine tool for me.

Here are some more tools for a #4 fly-press, and a pressed candle holder socket, courtesy of Larry Zoeller. Larry's press is smaller than my #6, but the tooling design will be identical, just a little smaller. Thanks for sharing these images with us Larry.

Integral Tool-holder and a Hot Cut made for Larry's #4 Press

Adjustable Work Support Platform

Candle Socket Pressed Out of a Section of Round Bar Stock

Removable Caster Brackets

I needed to make some removable caster brackets for the frame that will hold my work-station anvil. The frame will have three removable casters to allow me to move the work-station into a corner when not needed. When I made the brackets for the Kohlswa anvil, they took a lot of hammering, and many heats, to get the 1-1/2" x 1/4" stock formed into the needed shape. The brackets were anything but perfect, but did the job. I decided to try using the new fly-press to make this next set. I used scrap iron to make the dies. The top die was made by mounting a section of 1" round stock in the fly press tool holder and ramming it 3/8" into the 3/4" thick top die plate when it was at a yellow heat. I had ground an index bevel on one side of the edge of the round bar so that I would be able to reposition it back into the hole exactly for sweat brazing it together later.

The whole process went amazingly well. Once the dies were completed, I cut 10" of 1-1/2" x 1/4" stock, took a heat on one half of it, and placed it into the press. It took only two relatively gentle "bumps" with the press to bottom the die and create a perfect bracket..all in 10 seconds or less. I "bumped" it a couple times more to be certain the bends were complete, and then took a second heat to do the other end. Ten minutes later I had four perfect brackets that had no twist, bend, or warp, as indicated when I placed the 10" long bar, with the two bracket shapes pressed into it, on the anvil. It was absolutely true, and had no wobble or twist. What would have taken me several hours to hammer out manually, and quite a number of heats, was done in ten minutes, and in four heats, and the result many times better in quality.

This was my first time actually making something with the press. It was quite an eye opener. I was amazed at how easily the press could form the four bends in the 1/4" stock all at the same time so easily. The force that the press generates is amazing. The almost total lack of effort on my part to operate the press was also amazing to me. I wish this tool had come into my life many years ago. Frankly, for my shop and many others too this is a superior alternative to a hydraulic press.

Gene Chapman

The following series of images shows and describes some of Gene Chapman's tooling and work which he has done using a tow ball for his ram tool. This may provide some good ideas for other projects where similar forming may be needed. Tow balls are easy to obtain and come in a variety of sizes, as well as various shaft diameters, so there are a lot of possibilities available to the fly-press operator using these simple tools. Gene has been doing a lot of work with his press, and may be well worth your time to contact if you are tooling up your own fly-press. Please visit his web page at I will quote Gene's own words to describe these images.

"I ground a grooving tool out of one of the 1" Whitney type punches this morning. A simple 1/4 X 1" fence was bolted down on the press table. Parallel grooves were bumped into a cold piece of mild steel. Small punch marks were centered in the steel on 1/2" intervals, nothing spectacular but I'm learning. The fence was marked with a aluminum pencil in 1/2" increments. Hmmm, a magnetic ruler that could be stuck to the fence would be nice."

Image #1

"I'm making half a dozen small dished out holders. Material is 3/16" X 3 X 3 1/2 mild steel flat bar. All these steps are done hot. Dishing bottom with trailer hitch ball."

Image #2

"Next the rounded bottom is flattened with the tool holder, it's 1 1/2" in diameter. In the right background are two 1/2" rings welded together, these were used for dishing out."

Image #3

"The sides were flattened with a tool made from two pieces of three inch angle iron, and some scrap. It works fairly well  with the press."

Image #4

"The corners are squished with a commercial punch. This is done on the diamond. Each corner comes out a bit different, I'll just call it "ART."

Image #5

"I decorated the bottom of the dish three times with my touch-mark then hot wire brushed the piece."

Image #6

"Close up of the top of the dish. All the high heats left a slightly rough texture on the steel. This was a fun project, got to play and make some goodies."

Image #7

Here is an additional post that Gene made on the forum where he quotes Joe Walters, that has some very good information, and is quoted exactly as posted, except that I have removed spaces between some sentences.

Ray, this is a reprint of Joe Walters post on fly presses from the first Fly Press thread.

"I've got an old Adam's 3A fly-press, the press weighs in around 300 lbs. I use it ALL the time, mainly for texturing, straightening, flatting, and squishing welds closed. Also for bumping shoulders into blades. A hot cutter is a joy, very precise cuts. I also have 1inch square dies which are beveled and rounded to squish in flats for late night forging. It works very well and is very precise (just think of 1" skewed hammer heads with rounded edges). What I've learned is that you have to use the smallest tooling possible for forging, i.e., a 1" hammer head maximum on my press, yours looks a little more robust. And the steel has to be worked HOT. Like near welding heat on simple steels. Large bends or arcs as well as cutting can be done at a much lower heat, or cold.

I use squaring dies to take 1" bites into canned Damascus and it welds things up solid with one pass. I can usually get about 5 inches welded in one heat. I read on a website a suggestion to slow down and not wail away on the tool. Well, I go fast and wail like hell when drawing (after I developed the feel for it, anyways), and I get a lot more done in one heat, but maybe "fast" and "wail" are relative terms?

I break down round stock too, again, very hot steel, one inch bites. 1.25" W-1 breaks down like clay, but It's not a "gentle bump" or "squeeze," It's a windup and a big fast push. By the time the handle winds down the the stop collar, the speed has slowed down enough to not cause any damage or abnormal wear.

There are a lot of uses for them in knife work, besides setting pins, so don't give up! Just remember, Hot steel + small tool = easily squished metal."

Tooling Update - Feb 06

Image of P-0 press with some tooling.
#P-0 fly-press with clamp plate, fence, and offset bending tooling.

I have not had time to do much work on this web site for quite some time because of having retired, and moving to small horse ranch in the mountains of central Idaho. Also, I have developed some medical issues that have set me back significantly, but that is another story. Between plowing snow, snow, and more snow, and caring for our three horses and one miniature donkey, I have been working on my fly-press tooling. I bought a new press, a tiny "P-0" to go with the big P-6, and have been making matching tooling for both. The P-0 is shown with off-set bending tooling in the image, and the perfectly round copper ring was a test piece produced with that tooling. I obtained the P-0 primarily for veining leaves for my Repousse' work, and as a veiner it functions extremely well, providing much greater control and smoother veining lines than can easily be done by hammering.

I want to recommend you consider obtaining a copy of the DVD video "The Fly Press" from Teaching This excellent video has information in it that will be very useful to the beginner as well as the advanced smith using a fly-press. I have made some modifications in the way John Crouchet, in the video, has his press tooling set up, but that is to be expected. I am going to provide information and images here about some of my new tooling, and why I consider my way of making them to be at least as good as John's, and perhaps for me, and possibly you, even better and easier.

One of the most useful concepts that John shows you in his video is the "clamp table" modification to a fly-press. After some thinking about how best to go about it, I made clamp plates for both of my presses. The P-6 has a 1/2" thick plate, shown here with offset bending tooling in place, and the P-0 uses a 3/8"plate. The P-0 has my version of a tool holder bolster plate clamped in place on the clamp plate.  Notice the copper ring on the offset tooling plate in this close-up image of the P-0. The off-set tooling allows perfect steel, or non ferrous, rings or bends to be easily fabricated in almost any diameter or radius you need.  The image of the P-6 with the offset bending tooling also has two additional unmounted "bending loaves" shown. The two free bending loaves fit between the two loaves that are shown welded on the bolster plate. I can simply place one, or both, of the spare loaves between the attached loaves to reduce the radius, and allow bending of much smaller diameter circles. This eliminates the need for making several separate bolster plates. I used 1085 steel for the bending loaves. They were forged first to reduce the amount of grinding, then ground to final shape.

I have owned my P-6 for a number of years, but until I made the clamp plate for it, I have to say that I was operating in a very inefficient manor. The clamp plate greatly speeds up the changing of tooling, and provides a far superior surface on which to work. John uses his hold-down dog bolt holes to mount his clamp plate with, but I modified his design so that I could still make use of my previous tooling which needs the dogs, without having to modify it for clamp plate mounting. The two bolt heads visible under the throat of the press are also hold-down dog bolts, but are simply stored in those holes as they are rarely needed, and they are not in the way when using clamp-on tooling. I used the T-slots in the press to mount the plates on both presses. I drilled 5/8" diameter holes in the P-6 plate where each 1/2" hold-down dog bolt goes. That way I can still use the hold-down dogs easily if I wish to use my old tooling.  Most of the time those holes are left empty. I used four 1/2" countersunk T-slot bolts for the big plate, and two for the small P-0 plate.

I used countersunk 1/2" holes for the hold-down dog bolt locations in the small plate, and have it secured with flathead bolts in those holes, as well as using two 1/2" diameter T-slot bolts. The reason I did not use the same plan as I did for the larger plate is I had no previous tooling for the small press, so all P-0 tooling will use the clamp-plate. If I ever wish to use the hold-down dogs that came with the P-0 press, I can simply remove those anchor bolts and it will still be held securely by the two 1/2" diameter T-slot bolts.

As an aside, you may have noticed how clean and shiny the plates are in the above linked images. They are made from hot rolled mild steel, but I pickled them in vinegar to remove the mill scale. Clean scale-free steel allows everything to slide and work together easier. So you should remove the scale from all of the tooling you make. Simply submerge the steel in plain grocery store 5% white vinegar for 8-12 hours, scrub it clean with a coarse scrub pad in clean water, and after it dries, wire brush it and oil it with WD-40. It is worth the extra effort you will expend if you process all your flat plate tooling this way. Besides it looks a lot better too.

My method of making my tooling differs from John's in several ways. I like to use bolts for my tool shanks, instead of making them using machine collars and 1" shafting as John suggests. In the image you can see two finished tools on the clamp plate, and one in the upper tool-holder. There is also a bolt on the right with a big washer on it. That one is ready to be attached to a tool by brazing. I use those big washers with all top tooling to protect my tool holders. I find brazing to be much cleaner and generally stronger for most purposes. Brazing is the great forgotten method to join metals for most smiths. Compare the joins visible in the image made in the top tools, and welds done to attach the machine collar to the bolster plate. The welded collar, although plenty strong enough for the job, looks pretty poor in my opinion, not that looks in tooling is all that important, but I like clean neat tools. No doubt many smiths can make neater welds than I can however. I should add that on the underside of the bolster plate is another 1" diameter machine collar that is welded into place and fits down into a 2" diameter hole in the clamp plate. This provides additional lateral tool shank support, and I can tighten both set screws to lock tools in place if needed. Now in this image of the P-0 press, I have sweat brazed the machine collar on to the little bolster plate. The tool that is mounted in the plate is a veining bottom tool that I easily made from a bolt head which I then case hardened, and the copper leaf at the left was veined using this tool. On the right is the 3/8" upper tool holder, and a fence bolster plate is under the ram. I welded the fence on the bolster plate for the small press, but used flathead bolts from the underside to mount the tool steel fence in place for the big press. I prefer using tool steel for fences if I have it available. The hardness and smoothness of the ground tool steel, compared to the mild steel I will be working against it, allows the work to slide more smoothly and easily than it will if the work and the fence have the same hardness and surface texture. It is an unimportant point, and I would not go out and buy expensive tool steel to use when making fences. The tool steel fence in the P-6 image is a piece of a shear blade I found in the scrap yard.

In the P-0 image I have a fence in place under the ram, and a test piece of copper on the plate that I have edged along both edges with the fence and upper tool you see in the 1/2" upper tool-holder. I have upper tool-holders to hold 3/8" and 1/2" shank tooling, and I also use 3/4" diameter tooling directly in the ram block on occasion, but always with heavy washers, as can been seen in this image that shows the upper offset bending tool with its washer. The washer protects the ram block from damage. Since the P-0 tool is used for very light work, I do not worry about upsetting the shanks of tooling in the ram block, or damaging the ram block, but I do round them so their end radius comes close to matching the radius in the bottom of the ram block hole. I will not mount any tooling directly in the 1" hole in the P-6 press ram block because this tool is subject to much greater forces, and it works mostly on steel, while the P-0 works mostly on copper, silver, or 20 to 22 gage mild steel sheet. Here is a picture of the big P-6 with its tool steel fence bolster plate in place. I have a very heavy duty cutting tool in the ram that can be used for edging, or for cut-off work.

There is one comment that you may have read on the Old World Anvils site I disagree with. It states that you should never use hardened tool steel shanks in your ram block, such as the grade 8 bolts I use. If the shank never touches the bottom of the tool holder hole in the ram block, the force will be taken by the bolt head and washer. Or if you use a "false" tool holder, as is shown on the right of the front bolster plate in this image of my P-0 press, the kind of steel the shank of your tools are made of has no effect on the ram block. So I recommend you use any kind of bolt of the right diameter that you find in your scrap yard. I cut the threaded portion off using a 14" abrasive cut-off saw, grind the flat of the head smooth, and sweat braze my tool bits into place. If you make a little bridge, like a piece of channel with the flat side upward, put a hole in it to put the bolt shank into so that the bolt is kept head upward and steady, you can then put the bit on top, with your brazing brass and flux between them, and just slip it into your forge and fire it up to make the braze. I like to put it into a cold forge so that I can place it very carefully into place with my bare hands. That prevents vibration from moving the bit out of place. Once it is in the forge, just fire it up and sit back and watch until the bit settles on to the bolt head, turn off the forge and let it cool off. You can harden tooling edges using a torch, without heating the braze enough to soften it. Do not quench the hot tool after brazing as you remove it from the forge. Use the torch and harden the edge in a separate operation. Differentially hardened tools are far superior to tools that are fully hard throughout.

That is about all I have for this update. I do have a large collection of tooling now for my P-6 press, but for the most part it is little different from the tooling that John shows, or that most guys build. The main concepts I wanted to suggest to you in the above paragraphs are to use brazing instead of welding, use bolt shanks instead of making your own much weaker tool shanks with a collar and 1" shafting, and using machine collars for your bolster plate mounting hardware. I think for most purposes you will find this method easier to do, cleaner to look at, and stronger in use, than what you can do by welding around the edge. In use, either one is probably plenty strong enough to do the job. I just think brazing is cleaner and easier to do, and probably less expensive too if done in the forge. Also, with brazing you do not get any distortion or pulling of the metal as occurs with welding.

Punch Tooling - Mar 06

The fly-press, no matter what size, lends itself easily to punch work. I needed some round punches to punch both brass and mild steel sheet in thicknesses of up to 18 gage. I needed both 3/8" and 1/2" diameter punches, so I decided to make a set of dies for my little #P-0 press. The results were quite exciting to me for several reasons. To start I needed some ground tool steel rod of the right diameters. You may use O-1, or another tool steel of your choice that may be considerably more expensive. Or you can use "found" steel, as I did for the lower dies. Using "found," or scrap steel of course presents a problem as to how to heat treat it if you do not know exactly what kind of steel it is. I used 1/4" thick leaf spring steel for the lower dies, and not knowing exactly its composition, I started out with a heat treatment formula that I could easily adjust one way or the other if I found it didn't give me the results I was looking for.

I cut a 2-1/4" length of the 3/8" rod to use for the upper die, and heat treated it per manufacturer's recommendations. Instead of having a flat perpendicular face on the punching end of the rod, I angled it about 10 to have it contact the sheet metal on one side, and shear it progressively across. This reduces the shock force to the press and makes the punching smoother. Since I am using a 3/8" diameter tool holder on the press to hold the punch rod I did not braze on any kind of collar. I did round the end of the punch rod that enters the tool holder hole however so as not to damage the tool holder, which can be seen in this image.

3/8" punch image

The upper tool is easy to make, the lower one is a little more complicated. You first need to come up with a convenient way to hold your lower dies. I considered spot welding them to individual bolster plates, but drilling the large hole in the bolster plate is hard work, especially so for me because I use only 100 year old post drills, so I decided on using one bolster plate with interchangable die tooling. I drilled a 1" diameter hole through the 3/8" thick bolster plate, then drilled and tapped 3/16" holes on either side to allow use of very short flathead screws to hold the dies, as the above image shows. The screws do not protrude below the lower surface of the plate. Also, in the image you can see a piece of brass sheet with several 3/8" test punched holes in it. The holes are perfectly smooth and polished on their inside surfaces, with no drag or torn metal on the back side. In order to accomplish this you must allow a proper clearance between the outer surface of the top punch die and the inner surface of the lower die. The handbook says for metal under 1/4" thick to allow 5-1/2% of the punch diameter for your annular clearance, and this is total clearance, counting both sides. A 3/8" rod equals 0.3750", so in this case the hole in the lower die must not exceed 0.3956" in diameter (0.375" x 1.055). Since I am punching metal that is considerably thinner than 1/4", I used a 3% annular allowance, and am getting exceptionally clean neat punched holes in both mild steel and brass with the same punch dies.

I chose to use flathead screws to hold the lower dies so that they would be below the level of the die face and would not mark my brass or steel sheet, which will be used for Repousse' leaf blanks. To make the lower dies, I first took a piece of 1/4" thick by 2" wide leaf spring steel, however long you can work with, and annealed it in the forge after using a "flatter" to make the piece of steel completely flat. You can best anneal it by placing the red hot piece of steel immediately into lime where it will cool very slowly over many hours. If you don't have any lime, an alternative that works well is to simply slip a piece of 1" thick Kaowool into the forge after the steel is at a bright red heat, let the Kaowool come up to temperature, which will take less than a minute, then roll the Kaowool over on top of the steel and gently pack it down on top of, and around, the steel. Shut off the forge and allow it to cool, again over a period of hours. In either case you will end up with a piece of steel that can very easily be drilled, filed, or cut with a saw.

Cut your lower die blank out of the leaf spring steel, file your hold-down slots in the two edges, and carefully drill your hole, allowing for the annular clearance discussed above. Use a very sharp drill when you drill the hole so that the hole will be clean and smooth. Once you have finished shaping the lower die it is time to harden and draw it. First, you need to consider the problem of scale formation during your heat treatment processing. Scaling will quickly change the diameter of the hole and will also erode the sharp clean cutting edge of the hole. There are a variety of paint-on compounds you can get to protect the steel, or you can wrap it in a piece of paper towel and enclose it in stainless steel foil while you take a heat on it. Once it has come up to a full hardening heat (reached critical temperature) you have to very quickly cut the foil and drop the contents in to your warm quenching oil. However, both of these techniques have their drawbacks. The commercial anti-scaling compounds are expensive, and you may not know where to obtain them. The foil wrap process, works very well for large section pieces of steel that do not cool quickly, but 1/4" steel is very difficult to release from the foil into the quenching oil while still retaining its heat. There is a third technique that is extremely easy and costs nothing.

Go into your kitchen and beg, borrow, or steal, some plain old white flour from you wife. You don't need much, only a teaspoon full will do the job. Mix a little water with it, and with your fingers work it into a thick dough. Some people think that putting some salt in it improves it, but I don't worry about eating it after I use it in the forge so I don't use any salt. Once you have a good thick dough ball, squeeze it into the hole in the steel, and overlap it over each side so it protects the outer faces of the steel, out 1/8" to 1/4" from the edge of the hole on both sides of the metal. You are now ready to take a heat on it, and the flour will turn to carbon and intercept any oxygen, preventing any scaling of the hole or its edges.... a very simple way to protect your metal.

You need to give thought to what kind of metal you are going to harden, and if you are using leaf spring steel you may use this starting point for your hardening and drawing. If you bought your steel you should use the heat treating instructions you got from your vendor. For leaf spring steel, I used Brownell's quenching oil preheated to 200 F to quench it in. Immediately after it has been quenched, and allowed to achieve the temperature of the quenching oil, remove it, wipe it quickly with a paper towel or rag, and place it into your tempering oven that has been preheated to 350 F, in my case simply a toaster oven fitted with a highly accurate probe type dial-face thermometer. Leave the steel in the oven at 350 F for an hour and a half to two hours, then let it cool slowly in the oven... don't take it out and shock cool it. A second drawing cycle at the same temperature and duration is recommended, but is not critical.

Once the die has cooled, you can carefully wire brush any scale off its surfaces, being very careful around the hole so as not to round the edges with the wire wheel. I then very carefully hold the cutting face of the die flat on my sanding disk to clean it and provide a new sharp ground edge on the hole. Be careful, you can grind fingers doing this, and it gets hot quickly too. Using this hardening and drawing process on my leaf spring steel provided a hardnesss that will not scratch with a file, and so far it has not chipped in use. If I do get any chipping I will simply make another one and process it at 400 F for its drawing cycle.

Although I have not used my dies, heat teated as above, for an extended period, they have performed very well on the test holes I have punched, and show no wear or chipping to the sharp edges of the male or female punch tools. This image shows you my complete punching system ready for use. You may easily scale this up for larger presses and larger sized dies. One possible modification you may want to consider is how you face the punch rod. Using an angled face as I have done may cause asymetrical wear to the female die hole due to the punch being pushed to the side ever so slightly during each punching cycle. Even though these presses are extremely rigid, there is some bending of the press and upper tooling when it is driven through the steel or brass sheet. This can be eliminated by using a curved face on the male die, made with a round file, and round stone to fine the edge. That way the punch would contact the metal on opposite sides of the punch face at the same moment, causing a completely centered force on the upper die. The resulting punching would be a small curved disk.

I did not address "relief" in the lower die because I didn't put any in. Relief is the opening out of the hole so that the punchings can drop free of the hole easily. Since the die is only 1/4" thick, the male die easily pushes the punching on through so it drops free effortlessly. If you elect to use thicker lower die stock you will need to taper the hole slightly on the underside for perhaps 2/3rds the depth of the hole. This is a time consuming process, so I recommend using 1/4" thick metal for your lower die for these small diameter punches. When you exceed 1/2" punch diameters you will need to increase the thickness of the lower die and put in relief.

I should add a final comment about finish. Further up this page I talk about processing your bolster plates, and other tooling, in 5% vinegar to remove the scale. I do not recommend you do this with the die tooling. You may certainly do so with the bolster plate. Chemical treatment attacks sharp edges more aggressively than flat surfaces, so it may degrade the quality of your die tool cutting edges. I like my tools to to be clean and neat looking, but this is one time when the process may reduce the utility of the dies, so do not process them in vinegar or any other kind of chemical scale removal material. You want the working surfaces of your dies to be as sharp and smooth as possible.

23 Mar, 06: I have now completed the 1/2" diameter punch dies, and they work equally, if not better than the 3/8" dies. I used greater care in the heating of the die parts, coating both the male and female cutting edges with bread dough when taking the hardening heat to prevent oxidation, and using longer drawing times. Because of the use of the dough on the male die, the degradation of the cutting edge was so slight that after heat treatment I did not need to do a grind on the face. Due to the thin metal sheeting I am using these punches for, I used a tighter annular clearance than I did with the 3/8" dies, and it is punching very smooth clean holes, perhaps even better than the 3/8" dies.

I think I have demonstrated that it is indeed very easy to make punch tooling for your fly press. So if you have a fly-press, by all means do include punching dies in your tooling collection. You can buy them commercially, but you can easily make them for a small fraction of the price. I should add that you can obtain whatever drill diameters you might need for your female dies from McMaster Carr over the Internet. They are by far the finest industrial supplier you could deal with.

New Fly-Press

Through a bit of extremely good luck, I came across a Hopkins #2 fly-press that is in mint condition. It was in a back room at Old World Anvils, and after a few emails and phone calls I made an offer and it is now here in my shop in Idaho. 

This is a monster press, and one that I don't need to worry about over-stressing the frame on. It is an H-frame press, which is not as convenient as a C-frame, but it is immensely strong. Since this press will not be used very often, and only for really heavy work, the H-frame design should not be a problem.

Here is a picture of the #2 Hopkins press belonging to my friend Bob. It was taken the day he brought his Hopkins #2 press home a number of years ago. Yes, the pick-up was loaded to the max.

Hopkins #2 fly-press

Here is my "new" Hopkins #2 press just after I assembled it. It is next to my P-6 to show the size comparison between the P-6 and the Hopkins #2. I used to think the P-6 was a big press. I don't any more. Notice the difference in the pitch of the screws. The Hopkins has a much flatter pitch screw which increases the force the ram imparts to the work, but it also slows the vertical speed of the ram block. So the force is more of a push than a striking force. Also note the diameter of the Hopkins' fly-wheel. It is 40" in diameter!

Hopkins and P-6 for comparison in size.

This image shows the final, or at least for now,  arrangement of the presses in my shop. The Hopkins is facing the camera because this arrangement allows me to use the table behind it to support long stock that I may want to form in it. This may change later. Also, notice that the Hopkins is now sitting on 1" thick rubber pads. Although not shown in the image, the P-6 is now the same.

The final press arrangement in my shop.

These linked images show the sequence of putting the Hopkins back together again after it arrived in three pieces on two reinforced hardwood pallets. In this first image I have lifted the press body with the chain hoist, slid the press stand under it, and set it in place on its stand. The spud pins on the press table came in handy to center the bolt holes. Lifting the press body into place was the nail-biter phase of the work. Nothing like having roughly 1400 pounds of iron hanging 2’ above your concrete floor.

Placing the Hopkins Press on the Stand

Here I have just set the fly-wheel into place on the screw. It is not bolted down yet.

Placing the Fly-Wheel on the Press

And the final image shows the finished assembly. Notice in the image above, the wood block is not under the press ram. I will set this press up like Bob’s press, with a safety slide bar to engage the down handles to prevent the fly-wheel from rotating. It just might help me keep all my fingers.

The Finished Assembly

I was very fortunate because the Hopkins came with a tool shank reducer already in its 3" diameter ram block tool hole, yes I did type 3" diameter, that's not a typo. Due to the 5/16" square head lock bolt in the side of the tool holder reducer, I believe it was original with the press. It has a 1" diameter bore, so I can use all my P-6 tooling on the Hopkins from day one. It even came with a small flat faced die in place in the holder. You can see the holder sticking down from the press block in the image above, and in the linked images. Having that tool holder on the press was pure serendipity, and it makes the presss instantly useful to me.

It is the current fad to own as large an anvil as a guy can get, often over 400 pounds. Few smiths ever make effective use of that mass of iron. For most smiths an anvil of 150 to 200 pounds would be a much better choice. If you want to put your money into heavy iron, get a fly-press instead. You will find a fly-press can give you a much greater return for your dollar, and can easily perform tasks that would be a misery, or even impossible, on an anvil no matter what the weight of the anvil.

Archimedes Would be Proud

Click Image for Enlargement
This isn't about a fly-press, but it is about a most remarkable screw press, so I thought it would fit in this page better than my others. I found this press buried in deep briers here in Garden Valley almost two years ago when a blacksmith's shop was being sold off by the family of the elderly smith. It wasn't until now, when I was doing some restoration work on the press, that I discovered just what an amazing tool it is. The frame is distorted, and the various table support pin holes are badly elongated, as well as other deformations in the structure, but the mechanical design of this remarkable press has turned out to be amazing beyond my wildest estimates.

I found the press, manufactured by Manley Machine, hidden in the briers with the screw mechanism protected from the weather by a big steel disk harrow disk set on top of it. The press had to have been there for 20 years or longer, based on the 3 to 4 inch depth of burial of its feet. It turned out that the screw mechanism was in perfect condition, and still turned very easily due to the disk on top, and a heavy coat of old grease. In the linked image of the screw assembly you can see the collar I installed on the bottom of the screw, which will soon have a round 2" diameter by 1/2" thick pressure plate brazed to it to be the new press ram. While I was doing this work I got curious as to how powerful this press actually is, so I measured the handle travel and screw thread pitch, and worked out the math to discover an absolutely astounding fact.

I used the press once the winter before last to repair a drop-down step on our new fire engine which was badly bent when we slid off a steep icy mountain road while trying to get to a chimney fire. The press easily formed the 1-1/4" round stock step rail cold, but it didn't dawn on me at the time just what kind of force that required. That experience, and the distortions and stretched holes in the press frame now make sense. The press handle travels almost 4', while the press ram advances only 1/20 of the distance of one thread on the screw. The advance of the ram is almost imperceptible to the eye. When I worked out the math I discovered that one pound exerted on the press handle will be multiplied to create a force of about 2000 pounds on the ram face! It isn't hard to extend that to discover that any average person could easily apply a hundred pounds to the handle, and thus create a 100 ton ram force. A large man could quite easily apply 200 pounds to the handle, and thus apply 200 tons to the ram!

Suddenly the distorted and stretched press frame made sense. The screw mechanism is so efficient that it is actually able to apply a greater force than the press frame is designed to sustain, and it doesn't require an unusually big or strong man to achieve that kind of force. I was stunned by the results of my calculations, and gained a far greater respect for this old press than I had earlier. I also now have a high regard for the man who designed such a remarkable screw mechanism, with its 1:2000 mechanical advantage. I think Archimedes would be impressed too, and he would be proud of what a simple screw device can accomplish. This press can outperform most modern hydraulic H-presses!

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Page By: Ron Reil

Golden Age Forge

17 Sept 07