In Praise of the Sawhorse


I made my ‘indoor sawhorses’ to double as a table base

In all my years working with wood I’ve never felt the need to own or build a proper workbench. For a long time, I simply lacked the dedicated space and opted instead for working mostly outside, preferring to stage my work on sawhorses and collapsible building jigs tailored to a particular use. The scraps from one project would have an afterlife as the rudimentary furnishings to make the next. During the rainy season, projects would occasionally migrate indoors, so I made sawhorses as though they were furniture (pictured above). The prolonged lack of a dedicated bench opened up my thinking to the kinds of projects I would consider taking on, and I learned how limitations can be liberating.

To me, there’s also something inherently a little sad about a workbench. Like a well-intended New Year’s resolution, a workbench tends to be over-built and under-used, its function shifting too easily from utility to burden. Sawhorses, on the other hand, take up very little space, and both their construction and use are perpetually open to interpretation. Now that I have more space than I ever imagined, I still opt for sawhorses over workbench, a strategy more in keeping with the ever-fluctuating scope and scale of my projects.

Here are some ideal characteristics of good sawhorses:

  • Lightweight
  • Strong enough to stand on
  • Stacking
  • Flexible enough to conform to uneven surfaces
  • Able to live outdoors for extended periods
  • Constructed of recycled or scrap lumber

However you plan to use it, the most important feature of a good sawhorse is that it be owner-built; designing and making a sawhorse is the perfect, first furniture project.

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