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Roper Whitney #20 portable punch


I have been thinking about getting a RP #20. The newer ones have cast-in mounting ears to bolt them down to a bench. The old style used a separate base. Most often the old style used ones are sold without the base. At first I thought the bases were just lost or got separated from the punch bodies. However, I looked at an old (1981) RW catalog and it seems the bases were always sold as an option so I guess many of these punches were actually purchased originally without a base. Without a base how were these used? They are called "portable" but I don't see how could be used without being bolted down to something. Does anyone have photos of a shop made mounting base for an old style RW #20?RW new.jpgRP old.jpegRW Mounted.jpegRW Base.jpeg

L Vanice

Active member
I suppose you could clamp the punch frame in a vise rather than use a bench mounting base.

As for portable use, the punches have a point on the center of the face to engage a center punch mark in the work piece. That point will keep the punch from skidding across the work while the inside of the C-frame hits the edge of the work and keeps the frame from moving while the punch is driven through the work.

Probably that basic punch design pre-dates portable electric drills, mag base drills and such, which were first made long ago but were expensive and rare for the first few decades. Likewise, the electricity to run them was not all that widespread until less than 100 years ago. For some jobs, the punch is probably quicker/easier than using a spade drill and hand brace with a screw feed chain clamp, which was a common tool in the 19th Century.



Active member
These are a very narrow throat punch, and in "portable" mode were used to punch holes in the web of angle or I or H beam, and, when locating the punch, you would rotate the punch body until it was up against the beam.Then it would not move when you swing the handle. This assumes the beam is either heavy enough, or attached to something (like the earth) that keeps it from moving.

I have to say, I bought one of these in about 1978, still have it, right there on the whitney punch shelf, and from the beginning found it to be extremely limited in use, and havent even dusted it off for 3 moves now.
To be practical, you must mount it firmly on a large post bolted directly to the center of the earth, and then have room all around it to swing a 4' cheater bar. Then, you will be able to punch a 1/4" hole in 1/4" flat bar, up to an inch or so in.
A drill press is faster, easier, and more flexible.
A real ironworker will quickly pay for itself in the lack of coins in the swearing jar, versus one of these.

Its one of those things that looks great, but is almost never the right tool for the job.


From this video of the new style bolted to a bench it looks like they can quickly punch a clean hole in thick metal. It looks to be much faster than drilling and deburing. For portable use I had not thought of an I-beam. That would be something long and heavy enough so that the body of the punch could press against the work without moving it while you used a four foot bar.

Roper Whitney No. 20 CTL Portable Punch - YouTube

An Iron worker would be nice but is 10 orders of magnitude more in cost and won't fit in a drawer.


Way back before cordless drills when generators were expensive and you were given drill bits one at a time these punches were common in the building trades. I apprenticed as an electrician and remember using one for punching holes to hang light fixtures in a high bay warehouse. Bob


Active member
I once built a set of window grilles and security doors on site using one of these- and I would say our definition of "thick metal" must be different. It takes a fair amount of human power to punch a 1/4" hole with a punch like this. It may be technically a 20 ton press, and, technically, you may be able to punch a 1/2" hole in 1/2" plate, but you wouldnt wanna do it more than a time or two.
And it does leave a burr on the back of the plate- you would still need to debur.

If you have a decent drill press, that goes down to 100 or 150 rpm, there is no way this is faster than drilling, in anything over 1/4".
Its pretty fussy to locate holes- you need to layout your holes, then center punch em first, then take the handle off, delicately locate the center punch on the pointy part of the punch, then hold it in place while reattaching the handle. Then you usually need to detach the handle again to get it out.

I suppose if you built this into a very stout metal workbench, which was bolted to a concrete floor, and had fixed infeed and outfeed tables, you could get pretty quick at production punching of, say 1/4" flat bar.

Or, if you need a couple of holes, once a month.

But this is a tool designed for 100 years ago, when labor was a nickel an hour.

Of course, it depends on your budget, your expectations, and the job.
But its no miracle cure.
I have 3 or 4 hand punches like these, 25 bucks or so each at garage sales, and they are cool.
But any serious hole making will go much faster on a drill press, much less an ironworker.
I would put the ironworker price ratio much higher, actually- I can usually find a #20 for fifty bucks or so, but a decent used ironworker is more like ten grand. And worth every penny.
I am used to projects, though, where I need to punch a hundred holes in 1/2" 304 SS, and want it done in an hour.

If I was you, I would be looking for a used mechanical ironworker, a mubea or geka or peddinghaus, often you can find a 40 or 50 ton for 3 to 5 grand. Dont pass Osha inspections, but they put a big smile on your face when you use them, versus the sore back you will get after ten minutes of a #20.