Cheap, Improved Sawhorses





Introduction: Cheap, Improved Sawhorses

About: I started using tools a loooooong time ago and never stopped. all the guards and safety warnings on today's tools and equipment are mostly a pain to me. Hot things burn, sharp things cut. Be careful or pay s...

Almost everyone knows what sawhorses are and what they're for. They raise your work off the ground to make it easier to work on and keep your expensive tools out of the dirt. They should be easily portable for on-site work. They're also handy for supporting sheet goods while you're cutting them. There are plenty of sawhorse brackets for sale, made of sheet metal or plastic and some of them are quite good. The complete sawhorses I have seen for sale are either very flimsy or solid but rather expensive. The complete ones are often made of steel which requires extra care in use or a lot of replacement saw blades when they hit the sawhorse. The ones I've seen do not have replacement parts. Once it's damaged, the manufacturer intends them to be thrown away and replaced.

I can't claim to have originated this design for sawhorses - I've seen similar ones in workshops and on construction sites for many years, but I believe I've made some improvements in their construction and an modification/addition that makes them more useful. These sawhorses are made of inexpensive 2x4 construction grade lumber except for some scrap plywood, and some screws. They set up and knock down quickly and easily to take up a minimum of space, and provide almost as much support for sheet goods as a large work table. The entire system can easily be built with a table saw in under an hour for about $30 once the cutting jig is made out of some scrap wood. I based all the dimensions here on sawhorses that are 30" tall and 48" wide, which are both taller and wider than most commercial sawhorses. Since the top edges of the cross pieces are often cut into during use, I've found that it's better to make them easily replaceable.With these, the top surfaces of both sawhorses can be replaced in minutes for generally about $5-6.

Step 1: Materials & Tools:

To make a pair of sawhorses with the additional cross pieces to support plywood, particle board, etc. you will need the following:

6 - 8' x 2" x 4" (if you want taller sawhorses, replace two of these with 10' lengths)

1 pc. 3/4" plywood 3-3/4" x 48"

40 - 2" flat head wood screws or drywall screws

4 - 1/4" x 4-1/2" Hex Head bolts with nuts and washers (optional)

If you don't know what these things look like, you shouldn't even be looking at this Instructable.

You will need a table saw capable of at least a 3-1/2" cut (most 10" saws will do this). You'll also need a measuring tape, electric drill and bits, various screwdrivers to fit the screws you'll be using, and a plane (or a belt or disc sander). As with many Instructables, there are other ways and tools that will accomplish the same things; this is just the way I did it.

Step 2: Making the Jig to Cut the Sawhorse Legs

Because the design calls for a 20° bevel on the top ends of the sawhorse legs, it is considerably beyond the normal adjustment for table saws (or even miter saws), which only cut to about 45° or 50°. By making a fairly simple jig, these cuts can be made easily and safely, working with the 2x4 standing on edge. The jig is pretty simple, but it's probably the hardest part of the whole project to construct. Without the jig, these sharp miters are difficult and potentially dangerous to cut. With the jig, it's quick, easy and as safe as any cut on a table saw.

The jig consists of a 12-15" piece of 2x4 (part A), another piece 8" long (part B), joined by a piece of 3/4" plywood 4-1/2" x 8" (part C), and a 20° wedge about 8" long (part D), cut from another piece of 2x4. You'll also need a piece of 2x4 as a spacer to construct the jig.

Clamp the three 2x4 pieces together with part A on the left, part B on the right and a piece of 2x4 spacer between them so that one end of all three is even. Put the plywood across the top as shown. Align the back edges and drill pilot holes through the plywood into the outside pieces. It helps to draw a line from the front-right corner of the 8" piece to the back corner of the middle spacer piece, like the dashed red line in the illustration. Screw the plywood (part C) to parts A and B, keeping the screws into part B behind that line (since the section of part B in front of that line will be cut off). The spacer piece of 2x4 can be removed.

The wedge can be marked with a protractor or a Handi-Square. If you don't have any other way to mark a 20° angle, you can cut a piece of heavy paper or cardboard that's 3" wide and 8-1/4" long. Draw a line across opposite corners. and cut along that line. That will give you a pattern that's extremely close to 20°. The easiest way I found to cut this diagonal out of 2x4 is to clamp it to a crosscut sled on your table saw. There are other ways such as on a band saw or even with a hand saw. As you can easily see from the pictures, I used some pretty rough scrap wood for my jig. Both of the screw holes in the wedge need to be countersunk, one just a little, but the other one (about half way to the wider end) will have to be fairly deep to let the screw reach into the other block (see picture #4 above)

Make sure that you keep all screws going into part B back far enough that you won't hit them with your saw blade in the next step. The area marked in red on the drawing will be cut off, so any screws from the top or through the wedge cannot go into that area. (I learned the hard way... and wondered why it was so hard to cut - and made sparks.)

Adjust your saw so that you can cut through a 2x4 standing on its edge (3-1/2" blade height). Place the jig assembly with the wedge against your rip fence and the fence adjusted so that the distance from the fence to the blade is just less than to the inside back edge of part A (see picture) and cut off the front part of part B (shown above on the drawing in red). Once this is done, screw a small (1-1/2" x 2" or smaller) piece of wood or rigid plastic to the back edge of part B as shown. This is a stop block to hold the back end of the 2x4 you will be beveling with the jig. It helps keep all of the legs consistent and your cuts flat.

Step 3: Using the Jig

Once you have the jig constructed, you've done the hard part. You need to cut eight pieces 32" long for 30" tall sawhorses. (If you want a different height, multiply your desired finished height by 1.064 to calculate the length of the legs you need.) If you want taller ones, you'll probably also have to get two 10 foot 2x4's to replace two of the 8 foot long ones. If you are using 32" legs, you can cut three of the eight foot (96") pieces into thirds. This will give you nine legs, so you'll have a spare. One of the other 8 foot ones will be cut in half for the two cross pieces, and the last two will be left at full length.

Now you have to use the jig you just made to cut the bevels on one end of each of the legs. Raise the blade so that you can cut through a 2x4 standing on its edge (3-1/2"). Adjust your rip fence so that the distance from the blade to the fence is the same as it was to cut the wedge off the inside (the red piece in the drawing). Place one end of a leg between the 2x4's of the jig and against the stop block you made in the back (closest) end. put a C-clamp towards the front of the jig on the long arm that sticks out (which is the whole reason it sticks out). Holding the right side of the jig (the one with the wedge attached) against the rip fence, push the whole assembly (jig and sawhorse leg) through the saw. When you're finished with that leg take off the clamp, remove that leg and do the same thing to the seven others. The jig makes it easy, safe, and accurate. If you want your sawhorses to stand flat on the bottom, now is the time to cut that 70° bevel. Just remember which way the bevel needs to go - it's embarrassing if you cut it the wrong way and have a sharp point resting on the ground. (I almost did that, but caught myself.)

While your miter fence is set to 70°, it is also time to cut the plywood braces for your sawhorses. Cut one miter on one end of your plywood strip then flip it over so that you will cut trapezoid shapes instead of parallelograms (see drawing). You'll need 8 of these. It's a good idea to pre-drill these 3/4" from the angled edges - that will get you in the middle of the 2x4 legs.

Mark a line across the narrow sides of each leg square to the 20° angled cut, then taper the sides slightly (the part shown in green) with a plane, a rasp, or a sander (take maybe 1/8" off each side) Doing this allows the leg sets to be stacked for storage. The leg pieces are now ready for assembly.

Step 4: Assembling the Legs

When I first made mine, I fumbled around for quite a while, trying to get the legs lined up properly to screw the brackets on. I'd get everything lined up and then it would move just as I tried to screw things together. So I made another fixture to make it easier to get everything lined up for assembly. It was nothing more than an upside-down T made out of some more 2x4's. The crossbar needs to be at least 27" wide (longer than the "spread" of the legs) and the vertical should be at least as tall as the sawhorses will be. I put a screw into each side of the crosspiece 11" from the vertical piece in the center to keep them in the right place (see drawing). Set the bottom of each leg against those stops and the top ends against the vertical piece. Adjust everything so it's even and square. Put one of the plywood braces so that the top of the brace is 3-1/4" from the top of the legs and screw the brace to both legs. Flip the whole thing over and do the same on the other side. Now take that leg assembly off the T-fixture and do it again with your other pairs of legs and braces. You should have two pairs of leg assemblies that each have a pocket in the top that will fit a 2x4 crosspiece. I have found that 4 foot wide sawhorses are the most useful, especially when working with sheet goods like plywood and particle board. If you cut two 4 foot pieces from one of your 2x4's, you will have crosspieces for your two sawhorses. Stand the leg assembly up and put one end of the crosspiece in the space at the top. Put a screw (or drill a hole all the way through and use a bolt, washer and nut) through the set of legs and the crosspiece. That holds them together quite well and still makes them quick and easy to take apart for storage. Without the crosspieces, the legs sets themselves will stack as shown and the crosspieces can be stood up alongside them.

Step 5: Making the Sawhorses Even More Useful

Trying to cut sheet goods such as plywood, paneling, hardboard, or particle board while it's on sawhorses is quite difficult without help. Unless you have a helper to hold up the cut off piece, the weight of the material makes the sheet sag and break before you complete your cut. This generally leaves a jagged edge and may even ruin the material. You can make extra sawhorses and support your plywood in multiple places, but if ground is uneven, that doesn't always work too well and, of course, you need more sawhorses to do that.

By adding a couple 8 foot 2 x 4's you can make your sawhorses work better. To keep the platform relatively flat, notch out half-way through both sawhorse crosspieces and these supports as you can see in the pictures. It's a simple addition that can be done to many wooden sawhorses. You may need help getting a full sheet onto the sawhorses, but from that point, you can work without assistance.

The notches can be cut with a chisel, but I simply marked out the thickness of the 2x4 (which was 1-1/2") 8-12" from the ends on both the sawhorse crossbars and the additional supports (which are nothing but 8 foot long 2x4's), set my table saw blade height to 1-3/4" and cut out the section between them by making multiple passes and moving the stock slightly until a scrap piece of 2x4 fit. For me, it was easiest to notch out the tops of the sawhorse crosspieces and the bottoms of the "table" supports with a handsaw then using a chisel to remove the inside portion. Making the sawhorses this way, you can either use the sawhorses by themselves or with the additional supports for a sheet stock table. They make working on plywood sheets at a construction site much easier, even if the construction site is your back yard. If you are laying out large objects for painting - such as doors - the 8 foot table supports can replace the regular 4 foot sawhorse crossbars to give you two unconnected 8 foot wide sawhorses for painting and drying.

Whether or not you actually make the sawhorses as I've shown or not, I hope this Instructable has given you some ideas to make your life easier. Enjoy making stuff -- and stuff to make stuff.



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Pretty good sawhorse design. Really nice break down. Wondering why you didn't leave a blunt 1/8" +/- flat top edge instead of the delicate arrow point, feather edge on the upper ends of the legs? In my experience those sharp edges are looking for an accident to happen. Seems you could easily modify your cutting jig to leave the blunt end. I'm of a different cut though. I would eyeball the cuts and hand hold the legs through the table saw cut using no jig and cut slightly less than halfway through, then flip the leg and cut the other side (my little Craftsman portable table saw has a fence that works on both sides of the blade). Finish with a chisel and belt sander; if needed.

Instead of the T assembly jig I would draw a chalk line drawing on the garage floor and assemble there, using a scrap 2x4 as a spacer while I fastened the trapezoid brackets. With nail guns and crown staplers being so cheap I would assemble with one of those then add the screws. I would advise 6 screws per bracket panel instead of 4, but there again as you said; personal design preference. I love hunting lumber throw-aways; they are perfect for these kinds of projects. I'll be making your horses soon I hope.

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I think blunt is better too. Using the jig, it's just a matter of where you set the rip fence. I'll make them blunt the next time. Sharp points or edges in wood get broken too easily and are a hazard, as you mention.

Thanks so much. This is very timely for me as I am about to build more saw horses. Presently my existing pair are fastened into a table like affair designed to allow handling 4X8 sheets of plywood and I need another set. Your design will be perfect and is much simpler than the design that I had in mind. I use these things so that I do not have to get down on the ground to work on stuff. My next project is another boat which is going to be bigger than the last one. I think that you should encourage the helpless to try projects of this kind rather than suggest that they should avoid your instructable. It is always possible for the inept to get help with tools and techniques at places like Home Depot and local "adult education" courses. I learned from the best, my grandfather, a master carpenter with magic hands. The only problem is that I didn't learn more. I still use some of his tools just for the memories.

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I certainly did not mean to discourage anyone from trying to build anything - even if  it looked like a disaster waiting to happen  The only teacher better than a skilled workman is experience.
My point was simply that I couldn't see any reason to show pictures of 2x4's, screws, or scrap plywood. Even showing illustrations of tape measures, electric drills, miter saws or Handi-squares is sort of a waste of time and space unless you're showing a new or different way to use them. Most of the articles on this web site are new ways to use or make things - how to build a better mousetrap (or make a catapult or nutcracker out of a mousetrap)

Brilliant design! I've long needed some sawhorses, to enable me to cut wood on my narrowboat. I don't have access to power tools but your "fold-down" design looks easy enough to adapt and will fit snugly into my boat. Thanks.

btw I especially liked your comment: "If you don't know what these things look like, you shouldn't even be looking at this Instructable."

I'm not aware of a miter saw that will safely cut acute angles. As stated, they rarely go past 50 degrees, while (reading it that way) the cut at the top of the legs needs to be about 70 degrees. I'm trying to think of a way to safely cut those kind of angles on a miter saw, but I'm coming up empty so far.
There are lots of ways to gain stability, but all of them I can think of add either complexity or weight (or both). Bolts, braces, draw-bars, and metal fittings would all make them more stable but would add to set-up and take-down time and make them heavier and more expensive. Everything's a trade-off. This is a "quick-and-dirty" design that has "evolved" over several years.

I'd do those 20 degree bevels on a tablesaw by setting the fence about 1 3/8" from the blade, putting the work at 20 degrees, and maintaining that angle with a finger in the mitre gauge slot. I might have to grip another chunk of scrap to reach it, and if so, it could have a nail following the slot, or even a washer of slot width.

If the cut was not deep enough, I'd finish it with a hand saw.

Great design, and I love the simple assembly jig!

If you made the top/crosspiece of each sawhorse out of 2x6 or 2x8, you could make the notch deep enough to accept UNCUT 2x4s. With only adding a little weight, you wouldn't need to prep or store anything to cut sheetgoods with the ubiquitous 2x4s at hand, and the size of the "table" you made could vary. You could also add as many additional sawhorses in the middle to support heavy items without any setup. And, by staggering the 2x4s in the sawhorses, you could produce a sturdy table/worksurface of any length, out to infinity!

It is very easy to make the notches by a making a pair of cuts at depth on the outside measurements at the table saw, then breaking out the material in the middle with a single strike of a hammer alone. Dress the bottom of the notch with a good, sharp chisel and you are good to go.

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Believe it or not, I never thought of using 2x6's for the crosspieces. Great improvement, but I'm not sure I would completely eliminate the notches because they add to the rigidity of the whole assembly. When you're moving whole sheets of plywood or particle board on something like this, you want all the stability and rigidity you can get.

@JGD - Great sawhorse design improvement! I see what you're saying about notches for rigidity, taking that a step further, wondering if a 2x6 notched on top for 2x4 AND on bottom to drop "into" the plywood brackets would work w/o screws/bolts.

Alternatively (or in addition to notching), maybe a long lag bolt could screw into the crosses from the underside of the brackets through a washer and a 1x3 (wide enough to catch the brackets, but removable for stacking). Would only go ~1" into a 2x6 crossbar to prevent errant saw cuts from hitting the lag bolt...and making sparks. ;-)

Nice design....thanks for sharing

With screws in the tops as you've noted, these looks like they'd be great. I like the jig you made for cutting those bevels. Good stuff, thanks for sharing the design :)

I love how much these breakdown. Excellent space saver! How sturdy are these sawhorses?

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They are quite stable once you put the screws or bolts through the tops of the legs and the crossbar. Without them they tend to tip to the side fairly easily. They aren't "scaffold strong" - that is to say that I wouldn't climb on one, but I don't mind sitting on mine and do it often.
Stability can be increased by inclining the leg sets towards each other, but that complicates the explanation, requiring compound angles at the bottom of each leg and mounting the plywood brackets at slightly different heights. It also makes the leg sets "handed", because unless the legs are leaning towards each other, stability is worse, not better.