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Harbor Freight shop press

Rich Z

Staff member
Yeah, OK, so I'm a tool-a-holic. What of it? :D

Been looking at one of these shop presses from Harbor Freight for a while now, so I figured it might come in handy while working on the exhaust system on the vette. I believed the flanges on the exhaust pipe that attaches to the catback pipes were distorted from the number of times they have been disconnected and then retightened, so this could help me try to straighten them out.

So the unit went on sale at Harbor Freight and I was able to use a 20% off coupon, so why the heck not? All I needed was a good reason to buy one.

Pretty easy to put together, with Connie's help, and I decided to put wheels on it so I could move it around as needed. Getting pretty tough to allocate a dedicated space for anything in the garage these days.


While looking for reviews of the press online, I noticed that some people had done some mods that seemed like it would make the press easier to work with. So before actually using the thing, I thought I would implement a few of them that seemed the most practical.

First off I heard people complain that those support plates sometimes had a tendency to slip off the rails they ride on. They are pretty solid and heavy, so one hitting your foot would probably mean a bad day for your toes. So someone was putting in pins on the underside to keep the plates from slipping off the rails. I looked at this and figured out that instead of four pins, just 2 would do the job just fine. Quarter inch press fit roll pins worked just fine for this. Used the drill press to drill and chamfer the holes, then actually used the press itself to press them into place. I just used the opposite plate to control the depth of the fitting of the pins.


Next, I didn't want to have to use that long handle for the pneumatic press itself, as it would just wear you out if you had to use it much. So I had some 1.5 inch aluminum rod stock that I turned down on my mini lathe and made a shorter handle to work with.



I made the turned down insert end tapered so that the handle fits in there pretty snugly, and I can pretty much just keep the handle in place as I am working with the press. Also covered the grip with a cloth tape I had laying around that seems to work well. I considered knurling the handle, but I thought that would wear on the skin of my hands after a while. That cloth wrap is a whole lot more comfortable feeling. I don't imagine I would need the long handle for more leverage for most things I am likely to use the press for.

Next I wanted to put a permanent handle on the valve that is used to release the pressure on your work. Since I wasn't using that long handle, and didn't want to cut slots into that short handle I made, I decided to use some more 1.5 inch aluminum rod to create a handle that would be easy to grip and work well while I am playing around with trying to position the pressure ram where I wanted it to be.


Everything seems to work as it should with the mods, and I actually did work on those exhaust flanges a few days ago. Seems to have straightened them right up, and I don't have that slight bow in the center that I used to have. Unfortunately I was feeling way too lazy to pull off those catback pipes from the turbos, so I'm hoping just flattening out the one side of each flange will be good enough. We'll see when I do a leak test, I suppose. The exhaust is all put together right now, but when I went to do the leak test yesterday I discovered that the battery in the car was dead from sitting for too long. The car does like to be paid attention to rather often, it seems.

Incidentally, this press actually came in pretty handy just as a sort of shop vice to hold items when I needed to work on them. For instance, using a wire brush in a drill to clean off the flanges and the slip joints on the pipes was a lot easier with them being held in place by the arms of this press. And I needed to expand some of the slip over joints, and the press really helped with holding the pipes still while I was doing that chore.


So all in all, I think this was a pretty good investment. I'm pretty sure taking those pipes to a machine shop to have those flanges trued would have cost me at least what this press cost.