I'm refurbishing my 70s vintage Black & Decker Workmate. It’s seen a lot of abuse, but the only thing that ever broke, besides working corners of the plywood vise jaws (which I'm replacing) were the screws that held the plywood to the 1/16" metal bracket underneath (2 screws on each jaw, per side). So I'm looking for ideas on a better, stronger method than the manufacturer used. I'm thinking of Ikea furniture I've seen, where they've used a machine screw that screws into the side of a larger tapped shaft, that you insert into a hole that's drilled perpendicular to the machine screw/hole — in my case, a long hole drilled into the vise ends (see photos). Seems to me it might suffer abuse a lot better than a dinky little, 3/4” long, wood screw? Any other suggestions out there? 1/16” metal plate into 1” Baltic birch plywood. I'm excited to hear what other ideas y'all have! Thanks in advance.

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  • Here they are. They're called barrel nuts. But I was hoping someone might have a better method. amazon.com/Hilitchi-Plated-Socket-Furniture-Assortment/dp/… – Regarp Apr 11 at 3:15
  • You mention that the screws go into plywood (maybe I'm reading it wrong), but the lumber shown in the pictures appears to be solid. What are the dimensions of the wood that the screws go into? – user441767 Apr 11 at 8:42
  • 1” thick x 29” x 5”. Actually, these are 7/8” thick, but I got 1” to replace them. The lumber shown is definitely plywood; look at the edges. Baltic birch, I read somewhere, marine grade. See that bright metal screw in the second picture, that has worked it's way loose? I need a better, stronger attachment for those screws, 2 on each of the 4 metal mounts. The bottom one is missing its screw. I've replaced them too many times, usually in the middle of a job so I just get it barely working. I got the plywood, but I'd like to use a better method than B&D did for mounting. Ideas? – Regarp Apr 11 at 9:06
  • Oh, the bottom one isn't missing. That's the original screws. – Regarp Apr 11 at 9:19

Honestly I think you're overthinking this, after all how long does the original screw arrangement last in this model of Workmate generally? It's only once they begin to fail that there's a problem and I presume this takes years and years even with constant use. But I'm all for over-engineering something if it's quick and doesn't cost much! And that's certainly possible with this.

There are multiple ways you could go here, including my first thought which is using through-bolts (the heads recessed in the top) but I think the ideal solution is simply to add more screws. All this requires is drilling a few extra holes in the steel supports. Flip over and drill from above to do this. Keep the old jaws in place to support the brackets and simply drill through.

Just one extra screw in each bracket should be enough TBH but if you want to go the extra mile drill two per, for a total of six screws per jaw if you want to also use the original holes but I can't imagine four each wouldn't be perfectly sufficient.

Just an extra point, you mention in the Comments that you've already bought the plywood but while standard Baltic birch is plenty strong it's not ideal for this type of thing. One great alternative is phenolic ply, which in addition to the phenolic glue used throughout also has films of phenolic resin on both faces, making it incredibly tough and long-lasting and highly water-resistant which might prove useful. I think this is the type of plywood that Paul Sellers uses to line his vice jaws.

  • Thanks Graphus. The problem with wood screws is that when they fail, they destroy the wood you need to make a decent repair. I wish I'd have known about the phenolic ply. Maybe next time, if the Baltic ply doesn't work out. – Regarp Apr 11 at 17:19
  • One thing I didn't mention is that I have 1/2" ply that I'm laminating together to make 1" ply. Maybe before I laminate, I could countersink hex machine-screw nuts into one piece, to make a solid machine thread attachment. that'd be even better than barrel nuts, as I didn't want the holes for inserting them leaving voids in the wood. – Regarp Apr 11 at 17:31
  • Countersunk bolts (with a flat head) are probably your best bet. Go as thick as you want as long as you still have enough metal on the bracket. – Eli Iser Apr 11 at 20:22
  • But with this many screws they won't fail. The solidity provided by four screws spaced widely apart is immensely larger than with just one each side. And you can use longer and thicker screws than B&D did originally for added security. Do that and I basically guarantee they won't fail in use. – Graphus Apr 12 at 12:21
  • Regardless, if you want to use through-bolts you want to use bolts, but you don't need to worry about threaded inserts or captured nuts, that's just an unnecessary complication. Standard bolts (in clearance holes) or lag screws are used all over the world to hold workbench vices in place on benchtops of all materials including MDF and plywood and they see tremendous forces exerted on them all the time with maybe a tighten needed every few years. If they work in that application they'll work here. – Graphus Apr 12 at 12:23

If you really want a more solid attachment, drill a few more holes in the metal brackets and just add more screws. It looks like there's space for at least two more screws on each side of each bracket, so you could have up to six screws per bracket instead of the current two. Routing recesses into the bottom of the top boards to accept the brackets could add some more strength as well, since some of the lateral force during clamping would be taken by the edge of the bracket meeting the side of the recess.

In my experience, you generally don't get a huge amount of clamping force from the jaws of a Workmate. It's enough to hold work steady, like clamping a board while you're cutting it to length, but I wouldn't choose a Workmate for clamping a panel made from gluing several boards together. So while it might make sense to add a few extra screws to increase longevity, you probably don't need to do more than that.

Option 1: Buy a new Workmate, if this one lasted 40 years I'm sure the new one will last longer.

Option 2: Mimic what the newer models are doing, which is a sunken through-bolt to hold the work-top in place. See piece #27 here:

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  • 1
    Re. your option 1, FYI modern Workmates are nothing like the quality of the 70s ones, which is why renovating one this old is a worthwhile endeavour (there are even earlier models which were made from aluminium castings. not all bent sheet steel, and they're even better). And despite the nosedive in quality the price has climbed sharply in recent years. – Graphus Sep 10 at 17:06

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