What's the most obscure feature of the Workmate 79-001? A leading contender would be the "scratch guards" that can be found only on the Type 2.
The scratch guards (my name for them) are found on the lower edge of the upper frame pieces on each side that hold the vise screw assemblies. They are about 3/8" wide, made of a soft gray plastic. They slip over the edge of the frame, held only by the springiness of the plastic. On the Workmates that have these, I have seen as many as four installed (two on each side), down to as few as one. The one closer to the front is about 1-1/2" long and the one toward the rear is often longer. They come off pretty easily, so I think that four was probably standard and that lots of them have since fallen off and been lost. I would estimate that up to one in four Type 2's still has one or more scratch guards. If a guard stayed on the frame for a long time before being lost, a ghost image remains, where the finish of the frame is visibly lighter.
There is no official explanation of what the guards are for. Black & Decker never mentioned them in the owners manual, and they never appeared on the part diagrams. That leaves them wide open for an unofficial explanation.
The 79-001 Type 2 was the first North American Workmate to have some painted parts in the frame. When folded for storage, the upper and lower frames contact each other slightly, right where these guards are located. My theory is that Black & Decker was worried about scratches to the paint from this contact, so they added the scratch guards for protection. After using them on the Type 2, they decided they weren't worth the trouble and eliminated them.
It could be that they were only intended for protection during shipping, so the customer's new Workmate didn't arrive with chipped paint. That would explain why they used something that gets knocked off so easily in normal use, rather than a more permanent solution. I've never seen them mentioned one way or another in the instruction manual, or depicted as "for shipping only" or some such thing, so I'm not so sure about that.
Does your Workmate have scratch guards? Do you have them on something other than a Type 2? Please leave a comment to let me know!
We're all aware of the many warning labels to be found on consumer products in the U.S. today. This phenomenon is attributed to strong consumer-protection laws, the litigiousness of American society, and the need for manufacturers to protect themselves. Looking at vintage Workmates provides an interesting and amusing illustration of this.
If you've read about the Workmate 79-001 Type E, you know that it is the same model that was produced and sold in the U.K. as the WM325. You may also have noticed that the instruction manuals for both of these two models are available here on the Documents page. Since the two Workmates are the same, obviously Black & Decker would have used the same instruction manual in the U.S. and the U.K., right? Well, no.
Take a look at the three photos below for the U.S. model 79-001 Type E. The first two are warnings from page 2 of the U.S. instruction manual, and the third is the caution label applied to the step of the Type E.
These warnings for U.S. owners are a stark contrast to the approach taken by Black & Decker in the U.K., where none of these rules or cautions had been deemed necessary for the WM325.
Instead, the U.K. instruction manual illustrates a reckless British Workmate user throwing caution to the wind by using the WM325 in the following ways:
The photo on the left shows the user perched on a Workmate on hands and knees, with his full weight on top of a board that he is cutting with a hand saw. His lower legs extend off the end of the Workmate, slightly bending the board he is cutting. The middle drawing shows the user sitting on the jaws with his legs straddling the Workmate front to back while shaping a board with a rasp. And finally, the right-hand drawing shows the same user standing atop the jaws while doing some painting, with the caption assuring us that it's "no problem".
It would be interesting to know if these differences still exist in the owners' manuals for current models. If you happen to have any current users' manuals from the U.K. please leave a comment to let us know!
On a related topic, you have probably noticed that most Workmate owners refer to the low horizontal panel at the front of the Workmate as a "step". This was a term that Black & Decker assiduously avoided, even in the U.K.
The U.K. manual for the WM325 consistently uses the term "footboard", which at least acknowledges that you're going to place a foot on it occasionally.
In the U.S. manual for the 79-001 Type E they tried to emphasize that you should not stand on it, by changing those references to "base board" and "lower platform". However, if you look carefully, you can find one spot they missed, where the U.S. manual still says "foot board".
A unique characteristic of what we know as the Workmate 79-001 Type 1 is that it was never marked in any way as a "Type 1". In particular, the label on the jaws said only "#79-001 'WORKMATE'", and there was no ink stamp with the Type number underneath the jaw. This was unlike the preceding version, which was marked on both the label and the jaws as the "#79-001 Type E". It was also unlike the following version, which had "79-001 Type 2" designations on both the label and jaws. (See the photos on the Markings page.)
So what happened to make the Type 1 different? I think this anomaly in the marking indicates that Black & Decker didn't originally intend to produce the Workmate under a series of different Type numbers.
In 1974, they imported the English-made WM325 Workmate with the mostly aluminum skeleton frame to North America as a test of consumer demand. They dubbed it the 79-001, a new model designation exclusive to the U.S. market. If the test was successful, they intended to retool their factory in Canada to manufacture a redesigned version of the Workmate for North America. In this sense, the first 79-001 was a temporary product, so they labeled it the Type E (for England) to differentiate it from the new-design, mostly steel 79-001 that they had planned to follow.
The market test was a huge success, production of the new mostly steel "real" 79-001 began, and Black & Decker dropped the "Type' nomenclature since it was no longer necessary. What we now know as the Type 1 was on the market as simply the Workmate 79-001, the planned model number from the beginning.
However, in less than a year they made a set of further changes to the 79-001. The most significant changes were a switch to metric sizing for the jaw holes and a new type of mount for the jaws, and the new parts were not interchangeable with those of the outgoing version.
To keep the versions distinct, they decided to return to the Type numbering system they had used for the Type E. Since the newest one was the second version made in Canada, it became the Type 2, and the one that it was replacing became, retroactively, the Type 1, even though it was never marked or referred to as such while it was in production.
I mention this a couple of times in this site already, but it's well worth a blog entry as well.
Ten years ago when I went looking for information about my first two vintage Black & Decker Workmates, I found Kirk Eppler's pages on the photo-sharing service SmugMug. He documented a 2008 meeting of old-tool enthusiasts, the Bay Area Galoots, where they brought their Workmates of various vintages together and compared them side-by-side.
Kirk created a spreadsheet cataloging those fifteen or so Workmates by their features, along with the Type numbers for those that could be identified, and he also posted numerous photos. This was enormously helpful to me as I began studying the variety of vintage Workmates that were manufactured. Since Black & Decker had hardly any information available about these models (which were then 30 or more years old) and no one else had done anything similar, this was the only starting point I found.
The next major resource I found was a lengthy message thread about the Workmate on the Garage Journal forum. When I found it in 2016 or so, it was 25 or 30 pages long; as of today, it is 69 pages. It was amazing to find all these Workmate owner/fans who were asking questions, posting photos, and helping each other with detailed information about their own Workmates.
So, I want to acknowledge how important these two sites were to the creation of this web site; I wouldn't have been able to do it without them!
What? You're going to start the blog with feet? Sure, the bottom seems like a good place to start.
The manual for the Workmate 79-001 Type 1 refers to the feet for the lower height as "Sawhorse" feet. The sawhorse feet for the Type 1 through Type 5 screw into the lower corners of the frame, providing adjustable height at all four corners. (The feet themselves are identical to the main feet used on the folding legs for these Types, but right now I'm only talking about the sawhorse feet.)
Unlike the main feet on the folding legs, which were installed at the factory, the sawhorse feet were packaged separately, with instructions in the manual about how to install them. Some owners didn't have much use for the lower height of the Workmate. It wasn't unusual for some to just start using the Workmate without the sawhorse feet, and not find any reason to ever install them. The bag of feet would get put somewhere, separated from the Workmate, and perhaps even tossed out. So, unfortunately, some of the Type 1 through 5 are found with only the four feet on the main legs.
A second reason the feet may be missing is that it was a bit fiddly to install them. The stamped steel folding legs of these four Types have holes about 1-1/2" in diameter near their top ends that allow the sawhorse feet to pass through the leg when the leg is unfolded for full-height use. The instruction manual has specific directions about how to install the feet, with an accompanying diagram showing that they must be screwed in so that they extend from the frame by 1-5/16" to 1-7/16".
If the feet are not installed as directed, the hole in the leg will not clear the rubber pad as the leg is being folded or unfolded. The leg may just graze the pad, it may rub on it more heavily, or it may catch on the pad pretty badly, depending on how the foot was adjusted. Some owners may have installed the feet without reading the manual, found that the legs were hitting them, decided that they just wouldn't work right, taken them off and left them off. This could be another cause of lost feet.
The other result of the design is potential damage to the rubber pads on the sawhorse feet. It's common to find improperly installed feet that have been chewed up to varying degrees from repeatedly catching on the legs as the legs were folded and unfolded.
This leads to two bits of advice if you're considering purchase of a 79-001 Type 1 through 5: