Most everyone has seen some variant of the Workmate by Black and Decker. This is the fold-up, portable little work bench/vise that’s about as invaluable to the DIY’er as an oven is to a baker.
While there are probably several manufacturers that make something similar to the Workmate, the Black and Decker is the original one that’s been around now for decades.
In this article, we’ll be comparing the timeless Workmate to a relatively new kid on the block - the Jawhorse by Rockwell Tools.
Both instruments are designed to be multi-function workbenches/vises/clamping devices, which conveniently fold up to make for practical portability and convenient storage.
So, if you’ve been looking for your first portable workbench/workstation, and wondering if the Workmate is better than the Jawhorse, you’ve come to the right place.
We’ll take a close look at each one and consider price, weight, size/portability, ease of use, and multi-functionality - by the end, we’ll hopefully have determined which tool stands alone as the better overall multi-purpose workbench.
General overview: Jawhorse vs. Workmate
In general, portable workbenches/workstations like the Jawhorse and Workmate serve two purposes: hold things, and clamp things.
There are literally millions of different reasons why, as a DIY’er, you’re gonna need one or the other of these tools, and you can rest assured that each is far superior to those old, clumsy, bulky horses that take up about as much space in your garage as your car does.
We’ll consider a few different applications, and determine if there’s different scenarios where one tool is significantly better than the other.
We’ll go ahead and say right off the bat, that for pretty much any application where you’re using the workstation as a clamp/vice, the Jawhorse is going to be superior. The clamping mechanism is just much more sturdy, and feels more reliable than the Workmate.
The Workmate clamping mechanism is controlled by twisting the two knobs on either side of the station - it works well enough, but there always seems to be some degree of ‘I’m-not-so-sure-this-is-gonna-hold’-type feeling. Not so with the Jawhorse. The vice on that thing is like the Jaws of Death, and it’s super easy to use with one hand too, unlike the Workmate. You simply slide the vice down the track until it butts up against whatever it is you’re clamping, flick the lock switch, then press down on the foot pedal to really bind it into place. Here’s a video showcase of the Jawhorse in action.
Also, the vice on the Jawhorse is reversible - you can use it ‘foot end in’ for smaller items, or you can flip it around and use it ‘foot end out’ for really wide items (like sheets of plywood). In this manner, it’s far superior to the Workmate, which can only clamp things up to about 2’ wide. The Jawhorse can go up to 4’.
The only scenario where the Workmate is more efficient than the Jawhorse for clamping, is if you have to clamp something vertically.
Sorry for the silly sub-title (holding), but really that’s what workbenches do - you put stuff on them, and they hold it. Like a table. (Should they be called worktables instead of workbenches?)
As a workbench, the Workmate is a more efficient contraption.
This makes sense just looking at the two - the Jawhorse doesn’t really have anything to act as, well, a bench - it’s pretty much just a big clamp.
The Workmate, on the other hand, has got plenty of surface area to set cans of paint on, draw out blueprints, or just, whatever you need it to do as far as acting like a workbench.
Now, we will say that we’ve often accounted for this on the Jawhorse by simply clamping a wide piece of wood into place and, voila - you turn it into a workbench. You can only use something about 3’ wide before it starts to get a little tippy (well, depending on what you put on top of it), but that’s always been more than enough to act as a nice little flat workspace.
Other Considerations: Jawhorse vs. Workmate
Ok, so let’s talk price. We don’t want to throw an exact price out there for each, because you can always find sales/specials/promotions etc out there online. Or heck, maybe you even want to buy used. In general, however, the Jawhorse retails for a little bit more than the Workmate.
Like we said, though, you can usually find sales no problem. For all extensive purposes, let’s consider them the same price.
Another thing you’ll want to consider is weight, portability, and storage abilities.
The Workmate is lighter than the Jawhorse - about 20 lbs lighter, in fact. This is pretty significant. It also folds up more compactly - both fold up very nicely and don’t take up a ton of storage, but we really like how the Workmate folds somewhat flat and into a square; you can hang it, stack stuff on it, etc.
The Jawhorse, even though it folds up nice, is kind of an awkward shape and may be difficult to find a space for in your garage. So, the Workmate wins when it comes down to portability and storage ability.
What about overall multi-functionality?
How many different uses can you get out of each one?
Well, short of going into a massive laundry list, we’ve got to say that, in our experience, you can get creative and find a heck of a lot more uses for the Workmate than the Jawhorse. Like we said, the Jawhorse is essentially a clamp. It’s a darn good clamp, but it’s just a big clamp nonetheless. (Here’s an interesting video showing how creative you can get with the Workmate.
*Update: Black and Decker has recently come out with the Workmate ‘Deluxe’; they’ve found even more neat little features to stuff into a workbench than before. Check it out in action here.
So what’s the verdict?
If you’ve been looking for an awesome vice/clamping device, or aren’t too happy with the clamp ability on your Workmate, you definitely can’t go wrong with the Jawhorse - the thing is rock solid, and you won’t be disappointed.
Overall, though, for general purposes, we’ve got to say we recommend the Workmate if you’re looking for a one-station-does-all type thing. You’ll find more uses for it, and if it’s going to be your first portable workbench, we reckon it’s the one to get.
Both the Workmate and Jawhorse are conveniently available online - you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a good price, and having either one (or both) shipped right to your doorstep.