Introduction: The Simple Saw Horse (Sawhorse?)

Here is a simple set of instructions for building a set of sawhorses. It is a fairly simple design that most people who have some woodworking experience can build with a fairly basic tools. Its a low cost  woodworking project, that will net you a useful tool, and make the projects that come after it just a little bit easier. I am going to try to show a few different ways of cutting the joints with different tools. This instructable is a bit long winded for the more advanced woodworkers out there. But I really wanted to break this down into as many simple steps as I could for the first timers, and show how simple some of basic ideas in woodworking really are. I wanted to show that if you can cut wood, you can build something useful.

But before we get into the actual construction, first we should try to tackle the why.

A good workspace, is an often overlooked issue. If you are starting out with very few resources (time, money, or experience) to build a workspace. The logical choice would be to make the biggest change with the smallest expenditure of resources. A good set of sawhorses is an example of such an expenditure. They are well designed companion for tradespeople around the world. If built correctly you should be able to set them down in a blank empty work area and have a workbench, table, chair, step stool, extra person, scaffold, desk, coat rack, or most importantly a place to set your coffee

There are old timer carpenters who will tell you the story of being asked to build a sawhorse as an interview for the first carpenter job that they got. Today in the days of large box home improvement stores, and injection molded plastic, a set of sawhorses are more likely to be purchased then built.

So why build your own? Many simple reasons.
1) You get a design the fits you when you are working with them. Are you very short or Very tall? What are you going to be putting on them? How tall is it?  Are you working in a basement with limited height? Do you work more with dimensional lumber or sheet goods?

2) You get  a design that fits you when you are not working with them. Can they be designed to store away in a unused corner? Next to the washing machine? Tuck under your workbench? Slide behind the couch?

3) Cost. A solid set of sawhorses that you build yourself can be made from scrap and cost far less then something you buy pre-built. And that savings translates into more freedom to finance the next project.

4) its a good first project. Practice makes perfect. If you have made it this far you are interested in woodworking. Why not crank out a simple project that is low cost, satisfying to build and will help you with every project down the road?

5) Because its your own. Anyone can go buy something, but if you have a quick look around this website you can tell that we all would rather create something.

6) Because you get to build something the way your grandfather(or mother) would have done it.

7) You just find the smell of sawdust appealing. Don't worry, I understand, relax you are among friends.

Step 1: The Design.

I have spent a while poking around the net, and poking around jobsites, for ideas. There are a few sets of plans out on the internet for sawhorses. And most fall into two distinct catagories. Too Heavy, or Too Complex. I-beams made out of 2x4s, router cut interlocking plywood gussets, expensive hardware, single use designs, ones that only stack one way, exotic materials, bizarre joinery methods, etc.

None of that here.

What I  wanted was a simple design that can be adapted to whatever materials are available, built by anyone who can cut wood and drive screws. It should be strong, and hard to knock over. You should be able to clamp workpieces to it easily. It needs to stack. It needs to be low cost. It needs a wide enough top that you can just use one if you need to. It should be easy to replicate when you decide you need to build another set, or speaking from experience when it gets left in the driveway, and you back over it. It should be adaptable to different heights.

The pictures show what I came up with. I borrowed many ideas for this project from other peoples designs I have seen over the years. Its a simple 2x8" top roughly 2 feet long. with 2 foot legs. The low height is perfect for working on large box 'cabinet' type projects. It works well for ripping down plywood and working with a circular saw.  It works in low ceilinged basements. The 15 degree spread of the legs gives a wide stable stance. (If you want to make a taller set I would decrease the angle a bit.) And the lack of bracing allows the legs to flex and sit on uneven concrete floors with out rocking. And allows them to stack even if they all do not get built exactly the same.

The tools needed are simple, you need some way to cut wood, some way to drive screws, and a carpenters square,  that's it. The first set these that I built was just after we had moved into our house, where the only power tools I had access to were a jigsaw, and a cordless drill.

Use what you have, build what you can, and don't be afraid to ask for help from friends with more experience, or access to better tools. Don't be afraid to modify the design as you see fit. This is a choose your own adventure project, and the result should be what you want it to be.

Step 2: Materials.

The materials I chose for these, are simple and easy to find:
The top is a single 2x8" (Dimensional lumber), 2 feet long.
For the legs you will need 4 1x6" pieces of lumber 2 feet long.
and for the braces you will need some short 2x4" scraps.

Polyurethane Glue, or Polyurethane Construction adhesive. Either of which allow for very high strength, even with poorly cut joinery. (Just don't get on anything you ever want to get it off of, including yourself)

26  2.5" or 3" deck screws.

That is for one sawhorse, double it for two.

These are the materials that I used, you can substitute with what you have, provided its strong enough, and not too heavy. I have made these out of disassembled wooden pallets, scrap plywood. etc.

Another tip: Keep your eye out at home improvement centers and lumber yards. Some places have a bin full of short scraps that they will sell you for pennies on the dollar. The Orange Depot calls this 'Cull Lumber'  And since all of the pieces we need for this project are 2 feet or less, there is a good chance you can find what you need there.

Step 3: The Simple Jig That Will Save You a Lot of Time.

The picture below shows the jig that will make this whole project easier. It is a small scrap of 2x4" with one end cut to 15 degrees.  We are going to need lay out a 15 degree cut at least 8 times in this project, so rather the measure every single time. It is much faster to cut something at that angle and use it to mark all the other angles we need. Its also makes sure that they are all the same. So if you and up with 14 or 17 degrees instead of 15, it will not matter too much because all the angles will be off by the same amount.

Step 4: Laying Out the Cuts for the Top Rail.

Now that we have a design and the materials, its time to start laying out the cuts. There are a many  different ways of cutting the top, which one you choose is entirely up to you. I will show you three different ways of laying out the cuts and joinery on the top rail. Which you choose is entirely up to you, and which tools you have access to.

What we are after is a way to angle the legs so they splay outward and make the sawhorse more stable. So we need to cut an angle off of the sides of the top rail, but only the first 6 inches or so. Now we could cut an angle along the entire edge of the top rail, but it would make clamping things to the edge of the top rail impossible in the future. So for the first two methods we are just going to angle the 6 inches of top rail at each end.

Step one measure 6 inches in from the end of the top rail and make a mark all the way across the top rail.

Step two take you angled block (jig) and mark the end of the top rail with the 15 degree angle starting from the bottom outside corner of the top rail (viewed from the end) and draw a line from the top of the top rail to the bottom.

Step three, connect the line on the end of the top rail to the mark you made in step one.

Step four A, if you are going to cut the angles for the legs with a handsaw draw an additional line from the top of the top rail to the bottom at the 6 inch mark.

Step four B . If you are using a jig saw or a band saw extend the line that you just drew past the 6 inch mark and curve it out to the edge of the top rail. You can do this either freehand or by tracing something circular.

Now repeat this process for the other 3 corners of the top rail.

Step 5: Cutting Top Rail

Cutting the top rail is entirely based on which tools you have and want to use, or what you have access to. Most of the info you need is in the tags in the pictures.

Step 6: Drilling the Counterbores in the Top Rail.

We want to recess the screws that hold the braces below the top rail. Why? Because there are fewer things that can ruin your relaxing day of woodworking then destroying a blade on your saw by hitting a screw with it.

So we are going to counterbore the holes for the screws on the top rail. If this sounds complicated, its really not. The first picture shows a cut-away version of the top rail. All we are doing is drilling some holes about halfway through the top rail that are larger then the screw heads, which allows them to sit far below the top, and away from things like saw blades. If it looks a little diffrent then the top rail used in the other pictures, its because I built it out of scraps and all I had was 2x6 instead of 2x8.

Step 7: Cutting the Legs

The legs are much simpler to cut out. In this case we are starting with 4- 24 inch long pieces of 1x6" lumber. One end needs a bevel to be cut on it, to match the 15 degrees like the side cuts on the top rail. You can also bevel the bottom of the leg, but I find it is not necessary. I have access to a compound miter saw that I used to cut the bevel onto the tops of the legs. If you have jigsaw, or a circular saw that can be adjusted to a 15 degree angle you can use that.

A little tip for those of you only using a handsaw. Cut the legs about an inch longer then you want them to be. And allow that extra inch to extend past the top of the top rail when you assemble them. Then when you are finished, use the saw to cut the legs flush with the top rail. See? You can build this project with just a handsaw and a drill. Don't think about the tools or skills that you don't have. Think about what you can do with the tools and skills you do have.

The taper: Tapering the legs is not absolutely necessary. But it does save some weight and adds a certain look to the project. Cutting the taper is very easy. First measure out the length of the non tapered top section and mark it. Then find the center of the bottom of the leg, and make a mark. Then simply connect the two marks with something that is straight. And cut along the line. You can do this with a circular saw, a band saw, a jigsaw, a handsaw, or if you have access to a shop with table saw and a tapering jig, you can use that. 

When you go to lay out the tapers on the legs, remember that the top is angled. And if you taper it the wrong way,  you will end up with 4 right or left legs, instead of 2 lefts and two rights. If you keep them stacked up in sets you reduce your chances of a problem.

Step 8: Cutting the Braces.

I recommend cutting each brace to length one at a time, lumber is not always the same from piece to piece.  Cut the 15 degree angle on one end. Line it up with the top rail, mark the other end of the brace for length, and mark the angle with your 15 degree jig. Since this is a project is being built with rather loose tolerances, I recommend numbering the braces as you go. Especially if you are building more then one at a time as it will avoid confusion.

Step 9: Assemble the Top Rail and Braces.

If you do not have workplace to start with where do you start working?

Assembling these can be a bit of a challenge if you do not have a place to work but it can be done on the floor if nessessary. The goal of this project was to get us off the floor, or kitchen table, or tailgate of a pickup truck, or basement stairs. Actually thinking about it you probably have more places to work then you think....

Attach the top rail to the braces with 3 screws per brace and  the glue of your choosing. I cannot stress enough that the glue is important.

Step 10: Adding the Legs (the Tricky Part?)

Now comes the slightly tricky part. Adding the legs. Holding everything in place while you screw the legs on is a bit of a trick. You can steal a few of the ideas from the pictures. Just make sure that  you use 3 screws into the top rail and 2 into each brace(per leg) and don't forget the glue. The glue is where the real strength is.  Pre-drilling the holes helps to make the attaching the legs much much easier.  I usually put one screw in loosely in the top center of the leg, and then use a square to check that the leg is at a right angle to the top rail, and then add the remaining screws. Another thing that i have noticed, once you build one of these, you can use it at a jig to build the second one.

Step 11: Congradulations!

You are done. Well... .. if you want to be. If you built one, I really  would recommend having two. And if you check the second picture, you will find out that 2 is never enough, if you get into a serious project.

If they are to live outside a coat of paint will make them last longer.  I recommend marking them in some way so you know that they are yours. Wait, you built them, you will never forget that they are yours.

Step 12: Usage,

I just wanted to show you a few ideas of how these can be used.

Step 13: Thank You,

I hope that this instructable has encouraged you to go out an build something. Something simple, something useful, something which at this point is somewhat old fashioned. But that was the point. Build something.