Hydraulics for the Do-It-Yourselfer

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Hydraulics for Everybody

We live in an age where hydraulic tools and equipment have never been so inexpensive. Any homeowner can now own and use hydraulic tools that previously were only available to mechanics and industrial repair shops.

Even though hydraulic equipment has never been so easy to acquire, hydraulic equipment bring dangers and risks that first time users should be aware of so they can use the equipment safely.


Hydraulic Tools - You get what you pay for

One very important thing to remember is that you get what you pay for. While hydraulic tools and equipment made offshore are cheap they are made with mass production and low prices in mind. You may find hydraulic cylinders that do not work, cylinders that leak through the seals or have poor quality construction. A good retailer will refund your purchase or at least allow you to exchange for a good part. Also consider your own safety. If you buy a $30.00 hydraulic floor jack you should not be trusting your life to it by working under your car while it is the only thing holding the car up. The jack may work fine, but have jackstands or other kinds of support as a backup.


Another concern with offshore hydraulic equipment is repairs. A lot of these inexpensive hydraulic tools have no spare parts available and so when it breaks, your only option may be to throw it out rather than fix it. If its critical that your hydraulic tool be always ready for use, consider getting more than one. Or consider buying a more costly domestic unit that offers a network of easy to find spare parts.

Blackhawk Automotive Porto-Power Hydraulic Collision Repair Kit - 4 Ton


The picture above is a good example of a complete kit of hydraulic tools. This particular kit is specifically for automotive collision work. The kit includes hand pump, cylinders and accessories. and provides the do-it-yourselfer with the same equipment normally found in a garage or body shop.

Logsplitter Valves

AHLG2800 Logsplitter Valve One of the most popular do-it-yourself projects involves building a logsplitter. There are two key components you need. The first is a directional valve that allows you to change the direction of the cylinder. What follows are pictures and information about the type of valve you need to build your logsplitter.

How the logsplitter valve works

Logsplitter valve schematic The picture beside this description is a hydraulic shematic symbol which represents the logsplitter valve. The square box in the center represents the valve with the actuator handle untouched. In that position all the ports to the cylinder and hoses are blocked off so no movement of the cylinder can take place.

Push the lever forward and the spool inside the valve moves so that the condition of the valve becomes as it is shown in the box to the left. Hydraulic fluid moves into the cylinder and forces the ram forward splitting the log. Pull the lever all the way back and the spool moves until the valve is in the condition shown by the box on the right of the schematic. In this condition the valve swaps the fluid from one port to the other reversing the flow so that the ram pulls backward so the split logs can be removed.

Hydraulic Cylinders

Hydraulic Cylinders come in tie rod styles and welded styles. Tie rod hydraulic cylinders have the advantage that they can be taken apart should you ever wish to replace the piston seals. Because of this they are usually more expensive

Welded Hydraulic cylinders are – well – welded together. These kind of cylinders are intended to be used and discarded when they wear out and start to leak.

Single acting cylinders have only one inlet or port and use weight of the object they are pushing against or a spring to push the piston back down. Single acting hydraulic cylinders are often called rams.

Double acting hydraulic cylinders have two ports at either end of the cylinder. These hydraulic cylinders require hydraulic valves to reverse the fluid flow to move the piston back and forth. A hydraulic log splitter, for example, uses a double acting cylinder.

When you buy a hydraulic cylinder you need to specify the bore, which is the diameter of the piston in the cylinder barrel. You also need to specify the stroke which is the maximum distance the piston or rod can extend.

A log splitter, for example, often uses a 3.5″ Bore, 24″ Stroke Double Acting cylinder.

You can also specify what kind of connections you have on the cylinder rod and at the back of the cylinder. Many offshore cylinders are sold with clevis attachments on the rod and the back of the cylinder.

Hydraulic Cylinders for sale on Ebay

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Hydraulic Hand Pumps

A hydraulic hand pump can generate a surprising amount of power for only a few pumps of the handle. These units are generally made to work with one small cylinder or ram. They do not have the capacity to operate large cylinders such as those used on hydraulic log splitters.

Ebay can be a good place to look for hydraulic hand pumps. But be aware that it is impossible to judge what condition a used hand pump is in by its picture. Buy a hand pump with the understanding that you might have to get it repaired and factor that into what you are willing to bid. Ebay often features high quality units such as those made by Enerpac and Parker.

Hand pumps come in a number of different sizes. They usually vary according to oil capacity. To make sure you are getting the correct capacity, you have to know how much oil is needed to operate your hydraulic cylinder.

For example, if you have a 1″ Bore, 10″ Stroke hydraulic ram you can make a quick and dirty estimation of the oil volume it needs by assuming that your cylinder is actually a rectangle measuring 1″ x 1″ x 10″ = 10 cubic inches.

For any cylinder, multiple the bore times itself times the stroke. That should give you enough oil capacity to fill the cylinder and the hose that connects it to the pump.

Hand pumps are available from 20 to 150 cubic inch capacity. There is a limit to how big a cylinder you can hook up. By calculating how much oil capacity your cylinder needs, you can avoid buying a pump that is too small.

Great Stuff on eBay

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Use Hydraulics Links

Hydraulics Supermarket Tutorials
This link gives you a whole list of hydraulics problems you can look over to gain a better understanding of what to look for when your hydraulics system goes wrong.
Glossary of terms used for hydraulic hoses and connectors
A very good glossary of terms used to describe hydraulic fittings and hose connections
Complete free training course in hydraulics
This link is a complete free training course in hydraulics. As good as any course you would normally pay for in university or technical college
AAA Drafting Services
This is my own business website.
All-About-Screen-Doors
This is another website I run. Feel free to use the contact forms on this website to contact me if you need to.

Hydraulic Hose - Putting it all together

When it comes to connecting up your hydraulic equipment its good to know someone who can make up Hydraulic Hose and connections. Hydraulic hose has to be made up by someone with the proper crimping tools and experience with them. You dont want to take chances with hydraulic hose because of the high pressures that are being carried. If a high pressure hydraulic hose breaks there can be serious injuries. When it comes to working with hydraulic hose, you need to know some of the more common connectors and quick disconnects sizes to help you get everything connected together.

Most hydraulic cylinders you will encounter will have National Pipe Thread (NPT) female ports. 1/4″ NPT, 3/8″ NPT and 1/2″ NPT are quite common. Naturally you want to make sure your hose has the corresponding NPT male connection. NPT connections are not perfectly liquid tight and do require teflon tape to seal properly. You simply wrap the threads with a few turns of teflon or PTFE tape and you will not have any leaks. When you buy hydraulic hoses you may see fittings with FJIC or JIC mentioned. This refers to a small tapered area on the front of the fitting. This is unimportant if you are using the fitting to connect to an NPT female cylinder port. It is very important if you are connecting two hoses together because the tapered FJIC or JIC flare is what makes the liquid tight seal.

OTC 9767 6 Ft. Hydraulic Hose

Hydraulic Troubleshooting

Very likely if you are going to be building your own log splitters and hooking up hydraulic cylinders you will need to read up on hydraulic troubleshooting.


Hydraulic Troubleshooter

Hydraulics Expert Advice

Do you know that up to 25 percent of cylinder rod-seal failures are caused by bent rods? Hydraulics expert Peter Rohner shows you how to figure out what the underlying causes of seal failure are whether its bent rods or improper maintenance.

Rohner’s hydraulics books are possibly THE most popular hydraulics texts on the planet. His books are full of practical information every hydraulic equipment owner ought to know so but often dont

Make Peter Rohner your hydraulics consultant
and get a copy of his hydraulics books today.
It could save you a lot of money if you depend on your hydraulic tools.

Reader Feedback

I would like to make this lens as useful as possible. If there is anything you would like added, please let me know. I try to be as impartial as possible. I know I promote Ebay sales and other products on this lens but I also like to give cautions and warnings where necessary. Hopefully from my experience, others can make educated decisions.
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  • May 01, 2012 @ 11:56 am
    I actually thought about doing my own hydraulic pump repair work until I realized, like you pointed out, just how much the tools can cost. Not to mention I think I would have a hard time figuring it out myself. Exactly how much power can those hand pumps generate? Thanks for such great hydraulic tips.
  • russelladams Sep 07, 2011 @ 6:11 am
    Everybody who has a hearth or a wooden range has heard the age-previous saying, Firewood warms you twice, once when you reduce it and once while you burn it This was true for decades, as men and women used sledgehammers, mallets and wedges when splitting firewood. However in the previous few years hydraulic, gasoline and electrical log splitter have changed much of the handbook labor. The result is that people spend extra time enjoyable by the hearth than before.
  • freddypicket410 Jul 18, 2011 @ 4:33 am
    The large, gas powered log splitters are ideal for the professional. These log splitters are designed for a heavy workload and constant use. If you are in the business of splitting all types of logs then you will want a gas powder model. They can be used for splitting both small logs as well as extremely large logs.
  • krislou80 Aug 11, 2010 @ 9:14 pm
    Vehicle damage can happen without warning. Whether you're driving to pick up the kids from school or you're on your way to your favorite off-road destination, your vehicle can encounter problems anytime, anywhere. During these instances, you may need to lift your ride off the ground to check it for impairment. Your old and trusty floor jack can actually do the job, but you can't rely on it forever. If you want something that won't fail you when the going gets tough
  • TommyM Jul 19, 2007 @ 9:29 pm
    Very informative, now I know a little more thanks to your lens!

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