Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Sawhorses are useful things.  There should be at least one pair in every handyman's pickup.  Pull them out, and they become your temporary work surface in a client's driveway or back yard.  If you need a workbench, then throw a board over them and you're ready to go.  Make some waist-high ones and clamp your miter saw to them.  Better yet, make three (one a few inches taller than the others) and use the third as a support for long pieces.

Make a couple of short ones, put a piece of 2x12 across them, and you have the perfect little bench to stand on when you are hanging or finishing ceiling drywall.

Did you get stuck helping with your church's (school's/lodge's) pancake breakfast?  A couple of tall sawhorses and piece of plywood make a great table, and you can still use the plywood afterwards.  Trestle tables have been in use since at least the dark ages, because they are so handy to break down.

Ever drive on a freeway and see a granite counter-top or window guy's pickup? He probably has a big wooden trestle in the back that he clamps his counter tops or windows to so they won't get damaged in transit.  It would be handy to know how to build one of these, if you ever need to transport a counter slab or a window.  Luckily, it is constructed exactly like a sawhorse, except for a couple of extra boards nailed on for clamping surface.

Now, if you just need a couple of sawhorses, I guess you could got to your local home center and buy a couple of the plastic jobbies.  I guess I should come clean; I've bought them before myself.  Plastic sawhorses get the job done, but they have their drawbacks.  First of all, they aren't cheap.  You'll pay at least twice as much as you would for the lumber and nails to build your own.  Second, they only come in one size.  Third, they don't weigh much, so as soon as the wind picks up, they are going to go flying.  Fourth, they just aren't sturdy enough to trust your weight to.  If I am going to dedicate space in my truck to sawhorses, then I want to be able to use them with a plank for scaffolding when I am painting, finishing drywall, or any other task that has me working just a couple feet too high for comfort. 

The first time you make a sawhorse, it will take you at least half an hour.  By the third time, you'll have that down to 15 minutes.  When I make large batch of them, I can turn one out every 10 minutes without too much trouble.  Building sawhorses is a valuable skill and, once you master it, you will never run out of uses for the things.

In the video I made a sawhorse the same height as my tables saw to use as an out-feed support when I cut long pieces.   I have included a few critical dimensions in the sketch below.  These may not be too useful to you, unless you have the same model of saw I do.  Incidentally, I've been pretty happy with the Rigid saw, so you might want to consider it if you're in the market.

Most of the time, you will want to use some sort of 2x stock for the top piece and some sort of 1x stock for the legs.  In practice, most of them get built out of whatever wood was left over from the last job.

I went over the general process in the video, but here it is again.  I think I am slightly indebted to Fine Homebuilding Magazine for this technique, because I believe that is where the guy who taught me learned it, back the '80s.

  1. Cut a piece of 2x4 or 2x6 to length for the top piece.  Sawhorses are usually between 2 and 3 feet long.
  2. Cut the legs out of 1x4 or 1x6.  Run them about 6" long at this point, so you will have plenty of room to angle the ends.  
  3. Mark and cut the gains in the top piece.   Remember that the legs splay outward in two dimensions.  This step will be much easier of you set your bevel to the approximate angle, mark it, and then use your combination square to mark the gains.  Frankly, the exact angle isn't critical, as long as you have the same angle for all the legs in a set of sawhorses.
  4. Nail the legs into the gains, letting them run long at the top.  Use 6d or 8d nails, and add a dab of wood glue it it's handy.
  5. Use a hand saw to cut the tops of the legs level with the top of the sawhorse.
  6. Nail gussets (made of 1x, OSB, or plywood) to the legs to keep them at the proper angle.  It usually helps to gut out one gusset, then use it to mark the other side.  
  7. Cut the compound angle on the ends of the legs.  If you are trying to make the sawhorses a certain height, the you want to turn the sawhorse upside down and use a straight edge to transfer the dimension.  Otherwise, you can measure to an arbitrary length and use your bevel to mark.  
That's all there is to it.  With a little practice, you will be able to crank out as many sawhorses as you need in no time flat.  At some point, you will probably even be able to do it with the camera rolling while trying to explain yourself.


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