18th-Century Style Sawhorse
Based on examples in the historic cabinet shop at Colonial Williamsburg, this sturdy shop staple features fine joinery and a stout design
During a visit to the historic cabinet shop at Colonial Williamsburg several years ago, I saw a pair of sawhorses that displayed all of the characteristics I love in these workshop staples: they were sturdy, durable, and attractive.
At first glance, the sawhorses blended right in with the rest of the tools and benches in the 18th-century living museum. However, it turned out they were designed and built around 1970 by George Wilson, a woodworker, luthier, and reproduction tool maker who makes the tools used in the historic trade shops at Colonial Williamsburg.
The cabinet makers working in the shop that day allowed me to take some measurements of the sawhorses, and I brought the sketches back to my shop to build some of my own.
Anatomy of an 18th-century style sawhorse
There are only three unique components in this sawhorse–the legs, the saddle, and the stretchers. However, the splayed design and advanced joinery make it a challenging project for all skill levels. The legs, which feature an attractive scroll cutout, attach to the saddle with angled through-tenons. And the stretchers connect to the legs with a single dovetail at each end.
In the 18th century, sawhorses traditionally were built from a heavy hardwood such as red or white oak. This gave them superior stability for the various tasks that were accomplished on them. For the legs and stretchers, I used 5/4 lumber finished to 1 in. thick. For the saddle, I used 8/4 lumber finished to 1-7/8 in. thick. All of the rough milling should be done before you begin shaping the parts.
Start with the legs I was able to find white oak more than 12 in. wide at my local lumberyard, so I didn’t have to glue up boards to make the wide legs. If you can’t find wide lumber, gluing up the legs…