In Praise of the Sawhorse

sawhorses

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.


9 replies on “In Praise of the Sawhorse”

  1. An ideal characteristic of a good workbench is easily used clamping spaces; the ideal sawhorse shares this to some degree.

  2. The Sawhorse Right Of Passage

    One of my first bosses on a construction sight took my newly built sawhorses to a first floor balcony and threw them off. They survived and I didn’t have to buy beer on friday. Beautiful sawhorses Scott.

  3. That’s a great story, Andy. I always find myself checking out sawhorses on a work site. It’d be fun to document these sometime..

  4. Chris-
    You’re right. Workbenches are great for clamping. A traditional bench has doglegs for this purpose. And a vise can be helpful. Plus, the weight of a workbench helps to stabilize the work at hand.
    It takes some experience to use sawhorses to their full capability, and I like the inherent challenge/tradeoff when these limitations are a given. For me, the limitations become a primary design tool.

  5. These are gorgeous! I have been looking for a desk for my husband, we already have a big piece of glass from an old table that died. Do you have instructions on how to make these or have some for sale?

  6. Thanks for the kind words, Celeste. I do not have instructions, nor do I have these in production, though I’ve considered making them in multiples as a lot of people have wanted them over the years. Out of curiosity, what do you think they should cost at retail?

    Scott

  7. Hi Carol-

    Thanks for your comment! I have yet to sell a set of these, although there has been so much interest I am considering making a production version available. I’ll keep you posted..

    Cheers-
    Scott

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