back to article Inventor of the Workmate dies

Ron Hickman, the inventor of the Black & Decker Workmate, has died in Jersey, where he had a design factory. Hickman died after a long illness that followed a serious fall five months ago. blackanddeckerworkmate Hickman, who lived in Jersey, was 78. His design for the wood-and-steel foldable workbench and vice was rejected …


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  1. Richard Jukes


    Great inventor.

  2. Mage Silver badge

    A real Designer

    Sorry to hear he had a bad fall, long illness etc.

    Something like that design deserves Copyright, Registered Design etc.

    Great and original idea, and actually made.

    Shows how stupid SW patents are. The most that software should have is Copyright.

  3. Michael Souris
    IT Angle

    Sawing through a chair

    If I could level one criticism of the workmate, it is that if you do saw through it (or between the wooden clamps) then your saw hits the metal framework and instantly becomes fit for sawing only butter - something that isn't true of a wooden saw horse.

    But a true inventor, and should be better represented in the Design Museum.

    1. Elmer Phud

      Unless . . .

      . . . . I'm using my circular saw with a multi-purpose blade that rips through thin metal as if it was butter.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        There's a couple of times that I've been cutting wood with my circular saw and wondered why it's gone all sparky, only to reveal a slot in the workbench. Still they're that cheap that it's not such a big deal to replace them.

    2. IR

      Not fatal

      I've got two big grooves through the metal on my Workmate after I forgot to check the saw depth before a cut. Workmate still fine to use, saw blade undamaged. Mine's a newer one though, and the metal is nowhere near as thick as it is on my dad's 30+ year old model. Mine is about 1/4 the weight though.

      1. Haku

        Today's 'workmate'

        We have a very old Workmate that cost quite a lot at the time, but it's proved to be one of the best DIY buys ever, still going strong today even with many accidental saw cuts in the wood. Got another one a couple of years back, can't remember if it was an official one or not, but the build quality of it was shite - the frame turned out to be quite weak and one of the pieces of wood snapped! Cost-cutting manufacturer had used chipboard instead of plywood... instant refund on that one!

  4. John Bailey


    One of the first tools I bought was a beat up second hand workmate. Lasted me years, and made much possible. Since then, I have never been without one.

    The guy should have a monument.

    1. BorkedAgain


      One that folds...

  5. Peter Simpson 1
    Thumb Up


    To be able design is good, to be have designed something that thousands of people find useful is great. To have succeeded in designing both a portable workbench and a Lotus Elan in one lifetime shows...well...extreme versatility, I guess.

    Well done, and RIP...

  6. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    That's what it's called?

    An in-law gave us one, which we've used for years. A great invention.

    1. jake Silver badge

      @disgruntled yank

      Your inlaw gave you a Lotus Elan?

      Poor bastard ... My late father-in-law left me a Morgan +4 ;-)

      RIP, Ron ... I have eight or ten of your B&D Workmates. Handy thingies. Recommended.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        a previous poster with metal cutting saw blades who apparently has 2 halves.

  7. The Fuzzy Wotnot


    In a world where a foetus like Justin Bieber is admired and has a biographical movie at the age of 17 ( FFS! ) , people like Ron Hickman go largely unnoticed. People like HIckman are the real heroes who make the world turn and give something to humanity. Alright it was only a portable workbench, but how many of us have used one to make just one job a little bit easier?


    1. Alan 6 Bronze badge


      To be fair, a movie about a pre-pubescent You Tube star is a bit easier to make interesting than a movie about the trials and tribulations of designing a workmate.

      On a similar point, I doff my hat to all the dads and grand-dads who are currently sitting through Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D with their daughters and grand-daughters, you are heroes for going through that kind of audio visual torment just to keep your offspring happy...

    2. Bill Fresher
      Thumb Down

      people that go largely unnoticed

      I agree.

      For example, most people couldn't even tell you who invented the hostess trolley.

      Shame on them.

  8. Dances With Sheep


    I haven't been this sad since Mr "Karate Kid" Miyagi croaked back in 2005.

  9. dak

    British engineering turns down another notch

    One of my engineering heroes although, like Dyson, he wasn't really an engineer.

    I have one of his Elans. It brings a smile to my face at any time of year and can still thrash most hot coupes round bendy bits.

  10. Madbury


    As an Elan Plus 2 owner this is sad news indeed. As a piece of automotive engineering it's a design that has stood the test of time and continues to live on in the Mazda MX5.

    Thank you Ron for designing me a car that puts an ear to ear grin on my face.

  11. Madbury

    R.I.P. Ron

    As an Elan +2 owner this is sad news indeed. To echo dak's comment above the +2 always puts an ear to ear grin on my face. It's a car that teaches you how to drive, something which is so rare these days. A masterpiece of engineering and a design ethos which lives on in the Mazda MX5.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    sad but interesting take on the UK tool industry

    Stanley (maker of many hand tools and knives) "know" it won't sell more than 100s.

    B&D (I've never seen a piece of B&D kit that didn't have a motor in it) take on the design and the rest is history.

    Very few people manage *one* iconic design in their lifetime. I'd say he managed 2.

    He had nearly 40 years to enjoy his success, which is more than a *lot* of inventors get.

    I think I will raise a glass tonight.

  13. handle


    The original ones were, of course, made out of die-cast aluminium.

  14. deadmonkey

    Didn't know you before Ron and very sorry to hear that you've passed.

    Very sad indeed. I loved my little Matchbox Europa as a child.

  15. Grumble

    Wood and Steel?

    Let me tell you, when these things first came out they were made of aluminium castings and had fifteen ply jaws. (I know, I've just been and counted them on the one I was given by my wife thirty five years ago).

    It's seen some action in that time too and the only thing that broke was one of the handles that wind the jaws in and out - easily remedied by adapting the handle of a Stanley hand drill. Easily the most useful bit of DIY kit I've ever owned.

    1. GrahamT
      Thumb Up

      Wood and steel

      OK, mine's not 35 years old, nearer 32, but it is definitely steel and quite rusty in parts. I guess they changed from aluminium quite early in the lifecycle. Still used regularly though.

  16. Mike Shepherd
    IT Angle

    It's the same in IT

    The prescience of Stanley et al., convinced that "we know our market", was matched in the 90s by cellphone service providers who believed inter-network SMS was more trouble than it was worth.

    Long live those like Hickman, with the confidence to recognise an "expert" in a rut.

  17. IsJustabloke
    Thumb Up

    I refuse to enoble a simple forum post!

    I've had an original workmate since I was 21 years old...its now about 26 years old I still have it and use it regularly!

    Not bad.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    condolences to his family

    RIP....i have two workmates and use them all the time. great little inventions they are and very handy to have around.

  19. John 62
    Thumb Up

    Lotus Europa

    weird looking, but was completely awesome in Sega GT2002.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    unsung heroes

    I've got one of these, that folds into a loading dolly with wheels. I've seen these on worksites where anyone who has to travel with tools for short-term work sets up. I use mine for everything from small home improvement, to a workbench for small gunsmithing projects. I live in an apartment where space is at a premium and there's no garage.

    Engineers design something brilliant that enables others to do things great and small. But they get much less recognition or compensation than the average unrepentant dirtball dog killer in the NFL or talentless plastic thespian wannabe on a "reality" TV spot.

    Something's really wrong here. We need to celebrate genius in practical things not just ephemerals like art and music.

  21. tony trolle

    old ones better

    old ones I saw were painted blue and made of steel lots better than the black steel dross.

    Think the Ali ones are collectible.

    New American ones I have seen are painted grey.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Yeah.... I liked the guy...

    More so when all these "shit for brains" corporate types call it a losing proposition and the creator goes on to sell millions of them...


    "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance"

    "The Hairy Potter Chick"

    "Martina Nat??? something over" the Tennis Champion...

    "Alan Turing - who rode his bicycle 60 miles rather than be obstructed by the general strike"


    If you care to look up some of the history of Ron Hickman, there is a considerable amount of material available.

    Very Interesting - as are so many other people and subjects.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Few of us will leave behind something so memorable, and he left two. Sadly, I have only the Workmate, not the Elan. But the 944 Turbo is good compensation.

  24. Colin Sutton

    Still going strong

    My wife gave me a workmate for Christmas in 1973 or 74, it's a bit rusty but otherwise is still in good nick.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      RE: Still going strong

      And is the workmate also still in good condition?

  25. @Alien
    Thumb Up

    I recall

    Bought by workmate in 1979.

    Still going strong and has no rust.

  26. Dave Cheetham

    Built to last

    I bought mine about 33 years ago and apart from two of the nylon leg retainer clips breaking over the last couple of years, it is still going strong. Things were made to last then.. not like the throw it away and replace it each year' society we have become.

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