Everything About Sawhorses
Our first gainful adult experience with construction was as ditch diggers and construction laborers. It is the proverbial “bottom of the totem pole” in the residential carpentry/construction trade. It was good experience and made us appreciate what is a demanding, yet integral piece of the construction puzzle.
After our internship as construction laborers, we advanced to apprentice carpenters wherein we learned the many facets of the carpentry trade. At times, this seemed to be a slow and painful process – especially when framing a building in 100 degree plus weather – carrying four by eight sheets of one and one eighth thick plywood subfloor that seemed to weigh a ton.
One of the first projects that we had as apprentices was the construction of a combination step stool/tool carrier. Some called it a finish bench because it was used primarily for finish work such as installing doors, baseboard and trim. Like everything else we built, it was constructed out of wood, with the exception of the carpeted top. This stool made getting to high places a cinch and was quite convenient when storing or accessing tools. Oh, by the way, the carpeted top was a mighty comfortable place to set a spell during one of those all-too-few breaks.
Having mastered bench building, our next project was to construct a pair of sawhorses. Having come from a family of carpenters and contractors, we were intimately acquainted with sawhorses, yet we had never made one with our very own hands. We would soon learn that, for a carpenter, a pair of good sawhorses is worth its weight in gold. Saw horses provide a stable base on which to cut or assemble material. They greatly improve safety and the quality of the work being performed.
When paired with an old door or a thick piece of plywood, sawhorses can make a great workbench or sewing table. Ironically, saw horses can even be used as furniture. It isn’t unusual to see a desk or worktable constructed from a pair of sawhorses and an old door, a piece of veneer plywood or a sheet of glass.
When it comes to making a sawhorse, you don’t need to be a carpenter. In fact, all you need is a few sticks of lumber, some nails or construction screws, a hammer, some wood glue and a hand or circular saw. If you’d rather leave the sawhorse construction to someone else, they can be purchased ready-made. Or you can have the best of both worlds – make your own sawhorses using bracket kits available at hardware stores or home centers.
In either case, start by cutting two by fours to various lengths for the components – one saddle and four legs per sawhorse. Although you can customize your sawhorses to any size or height, the saddle should be about 38 inches long and it should run past the legs at either end by about six inches. The bottom of the legs should be even with the end of the saddle that will produce an angle that will offer maximum stability.
An angle cut will need to be made at the location where the legs attach to the saddle. In addition, angle cuts should be made at the top and bottom of each of the legs – at the stop for a flat surface and the bottom so that the legs sit flat on the floor.
The final piece of the sawhorse puzzle is the cleat or gusset that holds the opposing legs together and offers additional support for the saddle to rest on. More often than not, the cleat consists of a piece of scrap plywood and is attached using wood glue and construction screws or nails. In fact, using wood glue and construction screws at all connections will make for the sturdiest of sawhorses.
Once built, you can equip your sawhorse with “bells and whistles” to make you the envy of the neighborhood. For example, you can protect workpieces by making a cap for each sawhorse using two 1 by 3s for the sides and a 1-by-4 for the top. Cover the top piece with carpeting and tack the carpeting to the sides. You can slip them on to the sawhorses whenever you need them.
A tool tray is a handy accessory that you can add between the legs of a regular nonfolding sawhorse. Make a shallow box that consists of a 1-by-4 frame with a plywood bottom. Attach it to cross braces running between each pair of legs. Mount a tray on just one sawhorse so a pair will stack.
To make measurements a snap, mount an old metal ruler or tape measure blade to the side of the saddle. Although you can use a yardstick, the measurements are typically not accurate enough for the type of work performed on a sawhorse. Moreover, a yardstick doesn’t hold up as well as metal.
A good pair of sawhorses can be one of your best, most reliable home improvement helpers. Take good care of them and they’ll do the same for you. Now saddle up and ride off into the sunset with yet another home improvement project made easy with your new sawhorses. Happy trails!