Grindermate – Innovative Brick Jig From Idea To Shelves
Metex have recently launched Grindermate, a lightweight cutting jig for bricks and block paving. As angle grinders and rotating saws are some of the most dangerous tools in construction, having a simple jig to avoid having to hold a brick in place with a foot and running a rotating blade right next to it seems like a no-brainer. Grindermate’s creators Mark Thompson and Jim Wigan got the idea because of safety concerns on a big paving job – we had a chat with them for a closer look into Grindermate’s background.
Both have 20 years of industry experience, Mark as a quantity surveyor and director, and Jim from running his own building company. Jim describes how the idea for a simple brick cutting jig popped up while doing a job in 2016:
“We were doing a very big driveway job with a labourer who wasn’t very skilled at what he did, so it was more to do with keeping him safe – he had an accident and nearly severed his toes! So I wanted to keep my anxiety levels down as a boss. We were doing thousands of cuts, so I made a prototype wooden jig for him to use, just something so I could go to work and not worry about the labourers in the background. Grindermate sort of created itself from there on!”
Jim kept using the jig with his staff for another 3 years, until he sat down with Mark to take it further. As a commercial director of a construction company, Mark was drawn to the health & safety aspect: “For every company I’ve worked for, health & safety has been everything. I saw Grindermate and thought ‘Why are people not using this, it’s so easy and effective?’ It baffles me how people would put their foot on a brick and cut it with an angle grinder, it’s pretty dangerous and scary – I’ve tried it! It just seemed so simple, so we decided to team up.”
The initial Grindermate was a simple wooden platform which Jim built himself for his labourers to use, with a single straight slot in the middle, but he soon needed to upgrade the jig: “We ran into a problem doing angled cuts as the brick wouldn’t stop moving around, so I developed it a bit more so we could cut angles on it.”
To make Grindermate into a viable product which could be manufactured cost-effectively as one piece, Mark & Jim decided to see if the concept would work in plastic instead of wood. “We started working with a plastic manufacturing company to get an understanding of whether it could actually be done. They gave us feedback on the strength of materials to use, and every step of the way the design changed a little bit more. We added the measuring pieces and the corner block, and got it to more the way it looks now,” Mark explains.
Mark and Jim had a plastic prototype made which they started rolling out on building sites for Jim’s staff to try out – and tweaked the design according to their feedback. “The concept hasn’t really changed that much from when we started, just little finishing touches. We made the platform wider to make it more stable, and embossed the measuring pieces on the plastic rather than having them inserted separately, as the workers found they could see them better on the plastic that way,” Mark describes.
An issue they encountered during field testing was Grindermate moving around on the ground during cutting. As the goal was to make cutting bricks and blocks safer, workers stepping on the jig to hold it still would have defeated the purpose, so Mark & Jim added the “teeth” to Grindermate’s underside: “We initially started with just a load of spikes under it, but that didn’t really work with stacking the jigs in production. Overall, initial feedback was great, and we just tweaked it along the way”, Jim adds.
Taking To The Market
Mark’s connections in the building industry turned out to be helpful in getting Grindermate out in front of big names, but they needed to find a middleman to sell to the large companies – which led them to Metex, as Mark describes: “We got Metex’s name from my accountant – we gave them a call and it was one of those random conversations that actually led into something tangible! We met them (Metex directors Daniel Bamford & Daniel Hopkins), presented the product to them, and they were really keen. The business was small enough for the product to be important to them, but at the same time big enough to make it happen, so that’s why we chose them to come along on this journey with us!”
Jim and Metex then combined their skillsets to finalise Grindermate’s design. Metex director Daniel Bamford, with a background in product design and engineering, found Jim’s on-site experience important in the process: “In the final development of Grindermate, we benefited from Jim’s extensive site experience. He has led the final detail design of the product, which has been fine-tuned as a result of feedback from site. The reaction from contractors and builders merchants has been very positive and we are pleased to be promoting a product that has genuine site safety benefits.”
The two introduced add-ons such as a trough at the back of the platform to collect brick dust generated during cutting. Meanwhile, Mark pursued patents for the design and registered relevant trademarks.
Seasoned tradespeople are sometimes set in their ways and getting them to adopt new tools can be a challenge, but Jim isn’t daunted: “One thing they can’t avoid is the fact that it’s safer. I’m having work done at my house now and my labourers have been using Grindermate daily – you couldn’t take it off them now! Once you get it into their hands and they try it out, I think they can be won over.”
Mark adds: “Old school builders can be a tough nut to crack and not interested if they’ve always done things a certain way, but we think people will buy into it. With Metex we’re targeting the younger generation within colleges – if we can reach the youngsters when they’re learning to cut bricks and blocks and they use Grindermate from day one, it’ll become a part of their daily life.”
The safety aspect is the most important reason they believe Grindermate will take off on construction sites, as Jim can tell from his own experience: “As a boss, you’ve got an obligation to provide PPE to your staff, like steel toecap boots for example. The legal responsibility comes back to the owner if a staff member has an accident, so a lot of bosses on construction sites will hopefully encourage their staff to use Grindermate.”
Mark adds: “It’s all well and good if people say they don’t want to use it, but as a boss you’ve got a responsibility for people, to make sure that you’ve done everything you can for that person to be safe. And there’s no two ways about the fact that using Grindermate is a safer method of working.”
Jim also thinks busy builders are likely to appreciate Grindermate as a quick, ready-made solution: “As a builder you just want to get in and get out – I’ve been putting my feet on blocks while cutting them for 15 years and not even thought about doing it in any other way until my labourer nearly had an accident. It’s much easier and faster to just grab Grindermate, rather than waste time which could be spent building and making money. Builders want to build quickly and they like new tools – when a new tool comes out, all my boys talk about it!”
Compared to heavy brick jigs like Stihl’s, Grindermate is aimed at builders on the move – being smaller, more portable and more affordable, as Mark explains: “Stihl jigs are £200-300 a piece and they’re heavy and lumpy, take up a lot of space and need a lot of setting up. We’re in a completely different market to them and try to make things simple and cost-effective instead. Stihl jigs would be more appropriate on huge jobs like building new housing estates, where you’d need to cut thousands of bricks and have the jigs on site for cutting full time for a set amount of time.”
The two aren’t planning on stopping with Grindermate, as there are plenty more ideas Jim would like to work on: “I’ve been jotting down ideas for many years, but never really had the capacity to take them anywhere as it’s a bit out of my comfort zone. Now that me & Mark have partnered up, I’m putting some more ideas on the table!”
“Jim’s an extremely creative bloke and he’s always finding ideas on how to make his life better. He puts them in front of me and I run the numbers and look at the market conditions and see if they’re viable. Hopefully Grindermate is the first of many!”, Mark adds.
Jim would also like to see Grindermate adapted with new features, some of which are already in the works: “We’ve come up with concepts for additional features: An example is dust suppression, as on site the dust often becomes an issue.”
Evolving Grindermate into a whole line of products also interests Jim: “Grindermate is for blocks and bricks, so we’d like to have a version for example for using up on a roof to cut tiles – I’m looking forward to adapting it and going through the design process again!”
Grindermate launched in autumn 2022 with a sneak preview at Screwfix Live, before launching online at Screwfix and B&Q. It has since expanded to other sellers including Cromwell, FFX & Mad4Tools, naming just a few.
Daniel Hopkins, Metex Sales & Marketing Director concludes: “The product provides significant health and safety benefits with so many on site injuries per year and whilst it’s got to be commercially viable for Metex, if we can improve site safety, we’re really happy to help make sites safer.”
“The product is priced to be highly competitive but equally very robust and provide the user a tool that will assist with hundreds of on-site brick and block cuts if treated correctly. It’s set to become a staple tool in many builder’s vans and available from most well-known merchants and online construction material retailers.”
If you’re interested in becoming a stockist, please contact Metex on 0800 130 3646 or firstname.lastname@example.org!