How To: Build a Sawhorse

Follow these instructions to make this indispensable work-site furniture.

By Bob Vila | Updated Nov 10, 2013 7:39 PM

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Photo: Flickr

The sawhorse is an indispensable piece of work-site furniture. It’s part workbench, part scaffold, and now and again functions nicely as a place to rest your weary frame. I know one carpenter who swears he is a better problem-solver when he puts his butt down on a sawhorse and scratches his head.

The sawhorse laid out here also doubles as a tool carrier, with a built-in tool tray. It’s simple but sturdy, and can be made in about an hour with scrap materials. Reproducing this design will also enable you to put your carpenter’s square and miter square to good use.

The Legs. Position your carpenter’s square on a length of one-by-four stock. The heel of the square should hang off one edge by four inches. Mark the miter cuts across the face of the twenty-four-inch legs.

Don’t get your saw out quite yet: The legs must be cut at a compound angle in order to sit flush to the sawhorse top and flat to the floor. Turn the leg stock onto its side, and reposition the carpenter’s square, this time with a five- and-a-quarter-inch overhang.

Now you have your saw lines. You can make your cuts with a handsaw or a portable circular saw. If you use the latter, set the angle of the cut by fixing your miter gauge at the angle marked across the thickness of the stock. Set the saw using the miter gauge (after having unplugged the tool first, of course).

The Top. The top is made from a piece of two-by-six lum¬ber. Two-by-four stock will do, too, though the wider lumber will result in a sawhorse that’s easier to use because of its greater surface area.

For reasons of strength, the legs in our sawhorse are set into notches or “gains” in the side of the top. These are laid out using a square, four inches in from each end of the 44-inch-long top piece.

The layout gets a bit complicated here because the legs come in at two angles, splayed out to the sides and ends. Use your miter gauge to transfer the bevel from the end cuts on the legs to the side notches.

That will give you one angle of splay. For the other, mark the top of each notch to be cut at a three-quarter-inch depth and the bottom of each to three-eighths. The gains are best cut in a series of cuts with a handsaw, taking care that each kerf extends only to the depth lines marked. A chisel and mallet can be employed to clear away the waste.

The Gussets and the Shelf. The tool tray and end pieces can be made from three- quarter-inch plywood or one- by-ten stock. Bevel cuts aren’t necessary: Simply square-cut the stock to the dimensions indicated on the drawing.

Assembly. The sawhorse can be put together with sheetrock screws or nails, though I favor ringed siding nails for extra strength. First, attach the legs to the top. Next, position the leg and top assembly upside down on a bench, and locate the gussets and tray. Tack them in place with finishing nails first, to be sure the sawhorse sits square; stand the horse upright and inspect it before you bury the nails.

Braces of one-by-two furring should be cut to fit along the sides of the tray and beneath it, on the inside of each pair of legs.