Build A Classic Sawhorse
Splayed legs and strong joinery provide a sturdy base for your workshop
It seems I never have enough sawhorses. I use them continually around my home and inside the wood shop, and they are indispensable for supporting workpieces while assembling and finishing projects.
I built this saw horse for the first time in 1987 based on an article in Fine Woodworking #24 by Sam Allen. I like it so much I have reproduced several more over the years. Even after considerable use they have proven to be reliable, comfortable, and effective. Also, the design is attractive and I am proud to own and display them in my shop.
CAD plans save time
When this sawhorse was first featured in Fine Woodworking, the article offered vague plans and general dimensions so that readers could modify the design to suit their needs. However, after building several sawhorses for my shop, I’ve come up with a few useful construction tips, and created my own set of plans and templates to simplify cutting the joinery.
Complete list of parts
For my plans I settled on a 75 degree angle for the splay of the legs in two directions, which makes these sawhorses stable and functional. After working out all of the complex angled joinery to meet this degree of splay, I was able to organize the project into a series of basic steps: produce the saddle, legs, and braces, and then assemble them.
Prepare the saddle first
Start by milling up your lumber. My top choice of wood for this project is redwood, which is readily available here in California. I like the light weight of redwood and its resistance to weather relieves any worries about leaving them outside. Also, since redwood is so soft there is less of a chance it will mark up furniture parts. If you can’t find redwood, any soft or hardwood will do.
Prepare the lumber by cutting each part to rough size on the tablesaw or bandsaw. Then joint each face, plane them to final thicknesses, joint one edge, and rip and crosscut them to their final dimensions.
I make the saddle first. This workpiece measures 42 in. long by 5-1/2 in. wide by 1-1/2 in. thick. Once cut to size, use the two supplied joinery templates to mark out and cut the leg joinery on the saddle.
Cut joinery with templates
Download and print the supplied full-size, top and bottom templates and paste them to poster board to make them more rigid. With an Xacto knife, cut out the templates. (Note: this template is design only for a 1-1/2-in. thick saddle.)
Remove the templates and use a knife and straight edge to deepen the marks. These knife-cuts will be helpful for positioning your chisel when it comes time to clean up the joints.
Using a hand saw, cut the shoulders of each joint. Then make several spaced crosscuts across the width of the joint, and use a chisel to clean up the waste in the notch. To prevent tearout, chop from the top and bottom faces toward the middle.
Each leg measures 28 in. long by 5-1/2 in. wide by 3/4 in. thick. To cut the leg taper, measure 8 in. down from the inside top corner of each leg and make a mark. Then measure 3-1/2 in. from the outside bottom corner of each leg and connect the two points with a line.
Finally, cut to the line with a bandsaw or jigsaw, and clean up the edge with a hand plane to smooth out any roughness from the bandsaw.
Fastening legs to saddle
The legs are attached to the saddle with glue and nails. To aid with assembly, I clamped the saddle to the corner of my workbench.
Before you apply glue, prepare four cauls from 1-1/2-in. thick off-cuts mitering one edge to 75 degrees. The cauls provide a flat surface for the clamps to register against and help pull the legs into the joint during assembly.
Apply glue to both workpieces where the saddle and legs join and then clamp the parts. Finally, nail the legs to the saddle with two 2-1/2-in. long nails. (I used Tremont Rosehead reproduction cut nails.) Use a wet rag to clean up any glue squeeze out.
Fasten the braces to the legs
The last step is to prepare and attach the four braces to the underside of the sawhorse. I cut the parts entirely with a bandsaw. The top edge is beveled at 75 degree angle and is produced by tilting the bandsaw table.
The cauls are fastened to the sawhorse with four nails each. I did not use any glue on these connections but held the parts in place with my cauls and clamps while I drove the nails.
Trimming the legs
After the glue has dried, use a hand saw to cut the top of the legs flush with the top of the saddle. Clean up your saw marks with a hand plane.
Finally, trim the bottom of the legs so that the sawhorse sits flat on the floor. Place the sawhorse on a flat surface. Then, using a 1-in thick block of wood as a reference, mark a line around the the bottom of the legs and cut off the waste with a handsaw.
Tim Killenis a professional furniture maker in Orinda, California.
Photos and Drawings: Tim Killen