Sturdy designs in two sizes excel on the floor and on the benchtop
I can’t remember where I first saw a Japanese planing beam on trestle horses, but I do remember my first thought: “I gotta make a pair of those!” Having grown up around wobbly A-frame sawhorses made from 2x4s and festooned with paint spatters, bent nails, and errant sawkerfs, I thought those trestle horses seemed so sturdy, so clean, so intentional. I make them with drawbored mortise-and-tenons, which add another step to the build but provide extra solidity in joints that will see a lot of stress over the years. Because these heavy-duty horses have myriad uses, referring to them as sawhorses sells them short. I prefer to be more accurate: They are workhorses.
The design of the low horses stems from the fact that most Japanese woodwork is done while sitting. I rarely work on the floor, but I use low horses all the time on the benchtop. They elevate whatever I am working on above the fray of tools and shavings that accumulate on my bench. In the years since I made my first pair, I’ve been recommending them to all of my woodworker friends. I’ll tell them that these are essential, ‘what-did-I-do-before-I-had-these?’ tools; but it isn’t until I make them a pair that they really see what I mean—and often go on to make more themselves.
When I made my first pair of workhorses, I built them with what I had lying around—Douglas fir construction lumber—figuring they would be the test run for a more serious pair made of oak or walnut. But I never looked back. Douglas fir’s strength, weight, and sturdiness (not to mention low cost) made it ideal, and I’ve used it for every pair of full-size horses I’ve made since. But whatever wood you choose, they’ll deliver a…