October 2014

Dennis isn’t keen on Workmates. But our Historian has had to admit recently that Black and Decker’s versatile workbench has its uses.

If you’re restoring a motorcycle, resist the urge to fettle your pride and joy on a Black and Decker Workmate. I’ve seen far too many treasured projects balanced precariously on this fold out workshop accessory.

My pal Rick Parkington is the latest Workmate offender. Look at this picture: a glorious vintage Martinsyde resting apparently on very little. Front fork and wheel, rear chainstays hanging in mid-air – placed just right so you bang into them. No space at all on the tiny working surface to put anything useful, such as the next parts to be fitted, tools, or let alone the essential mug of tea. Rick dismisses my observations as tosh, of course. “I use the Workmate for the start of the assembly and then once the wheels go on it generally moves on up to the proper bench.” Yes Rick; rather like buying an electric toaster after years of using a gas ring.

No, if your latest project is going to receive the love and attention it requires, a proper raised table is essential. I have written before that my workbench comprises a row of Sir Basil Spence designed armchairs, topped with a decent thick sheet of ply. Ah … workshop furniture with provenance. Top that.

Actually, one of those hydraulic adjustable benches is really top of the shop – and convenient too because it folds away when not needed. In the 1990s when Tony East’s ARE company pioneered these red finished benches, I was tempted to invest. But the pull of those architect designed chairs stopped me from shelling out my cash.

So having rubbished the best Black and Decker can offer, how come there’s now a Workmate in my workshop? My uncle Len was a wiz with wood. When he died, my aunt insisted that I took what I wanted from his workshop. I tried to avoid the shabby old Workmate in the corner, its broken tops – they’re called jaws – confirming my prejudice that these things are just not substantial enough. “Take it,” insisted my aunt, “you’ll find a use for that old thing.” I have.

Looking good after a clean and a new set of jaws, the Workmate is useful after all

After a jolly good clean and a new set of jaws in 24mm thick plywood spotted on E-Bay, I’m proclaiming the Workmate’s virtues. Holding odd shaped pieces of wood – such as the floorboards from the little boat T/T Mochras that I wrote about in last month’s Historian’s Notes – is a Workmate feature. And Rick has piled in with helpful detail: “It is difficult to upset. Its legspan being more than adequate for its height,” he says. Thanks, Rick.

When I read that the Workmate’s inventor had damaged an expensive chair – used as a rest while he sawed through a piece of wood – I realised that these mobile benches have lots of virtues. Except when restoring motorcycles.

Dennis Frost

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