Back some years ago, we used to "test to salt" of a carpenter based on whether or not he could whip up a sturdy set of sawhorses. It was common practice to have the new guy on the job make a set of wood sawhorses on his first day as a kind of test of his skills. We watched how long it took and also paid attention to the quality of strength and longevity. Passing the test was a way of earning respect and your place on the crew.
Nowadays a tradesman can purchase all types of foldable sawhorses from plastic, to metal, to aluminum, and, of course, there are a myriad of stands for tools or saws that slide, fold, articulate, roll—you name it! It seems that there is a portable stand or sawhorse made by any one of a hundred different manufacturers, each touting their quality and use for specific applications and tools.
With all the workstations and sawhorses available ready-made today, do you think you could pass this age-old test? This post is about wood sawhorses specifically and why they are still a good all-around fit for today's jobsites.
A Timeless and Durable Classic
Wood sawhorses come in handy on jobsites whenever you need temporary workstations and material storage. During my career I've made many different wood sawhorses for different applications, and I still use them today on my jobsites because they are so versatile. The beauty of a wood sawhorse is that it can be easily modified for a specific jobsite's circumstances. They can be cut down, added to, made large or small, and used indoor or outdoor. I don't worry much about leaving my workstation set up outdoor—I don't care if the sawhorses get wet, muddy, cut into, or forgotten when the project is done, because I can always make a new set from scraps in the shop.
Admittedly, a set of wood sawhorses aren't the easiest things to transport from job to job because they are big and bulky. I purchased a set of sawhorses that are made of pipe with a wood 2x4 on top that fold flat like a pancake so I can hang them on the wall of my truck, out of the way. But when I need to set up for more than one workstation, I use a few different wood sawhorses and wood box beam setups to get exactly what I want for whatever circumstances I'm working in.
Strength, Economy, and Versatility
At my company here in Seattle, Westbrook Restorations, we are not only a remodel contractor but also a carpentry firm specializing in historic and vintage homes. No two projects are alike for us, and we work in a variety of circumstances that include limited working space, varying weather conditions, dust containment, hard access areas, and the like. By using wood sawhorses, wood box beams, and wood tables, we can cover an unlimited number of jobsite setup logistics quickly and easily. That's why wood sawhorses are essential for today's jobsites! You simply will not find that level of versatility in any of the ready-made tables, sawhorses, or saw stands on the market today.
How To Build A Set of Sawhorses
Sawhorses are essentially comprised of three components: the top (or box), the legs, and the leg brace. All components are made with 15-degree angles, and the legs will fan out at a compound 15-degree angle. That's it! From there they can be as simple or complicated as you want.
The first thing you need to do is decide how high you want your sawhorses. (Keep in mind, there is no standard height.) You might want them lower for working on cabinets, or higher for making cuts with a compound miter saw. There is no wrong answer here, but height is certainly something you want to think about with the end project in mind.
The next thing to consider is how long to you want them. I've made sawhorses as short as two feet, and as long as four feet. The length really just depends on the application. If you start using the sawhorses and it turns out they're too long for the space within which you're working, they can always be shortened by removing the legs, cutting the box down, and then reattaching the legs.
The width is totally up to you! I've used 2' x 4', 2' x 6', 2' x 8'—and all the way up to a 2' x 12' in one case!
Top or Box?
Rip the spine out of a 2' x 4' at 15-degrees, then cut the top 5/4 x 6 to the same length.
Simply figure the length of the legs to what you want, and cut the top and bottom at 15-degrees with your saw set at a 15-degree angle. You can easily use a skill saw set at 15-degrees and just mark the top and bottom of the leg at 15-degrees. The tricky part is to remember you need four legs angling one way and four legs angling the opposite way. I say this because I've gone totally wild before, cutting all the legs only to find they all went in the same direction. I had to recut four more.
The Leg Span Brace
Finally, cut the leg span brace at 15 degrees on either side. You could cut the sides and top at a compound 15-degree angle to be fancy, but it's not necessary. If you refer to the photo below, you can see I inserted the brace inside the legs. But you can attach it directly to the outside of the legs. The main thing here is to remember that this brace also should be in contact with the bottom of the box to add further strength—so it must be sized right for that purpose.
Assembly is pretty easy using good course-thread outdoor screws. The first thing I do is attach the top to the spine through the spine so that there are no screws from the top. This just saves saw blades cutting through any screw heads. Then turn the box over so the bottom of the spine is facing up. Attach the legs, lining them up in the crotch between the spine at the top, making sure they are far enough from the end to reduce tripping on the bottom of the legs when it is set up.
I put in two screws to start with. Attach all four legs in this way. When you're done, the sawhorse will be sitting on your bench top upside down. Next install the end braces using screws, lining up the legs to the sides of the brace. Make sure the brace is against the spine so everything is tight. Then simply add a screw or two to the top of the legs and really that's all it takes to build a simple set of wood sawhorses!
There are as many ways to build a set of sawhorses as there are carpenters—and that's a lot. Just remember: 15 degrees!
I'd be interested in seeing any pictures of sawhorses you've built—post them below with your story!