Sturdy Sawhorses

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The completed sawhorses can be loaded with about 750 pounds.
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Materials List

2 2-by-4 12 feet long
1 2-by-6 8 feet long
1 2-by-2 4 feet long
1 20-by-48-inch piece of ¾-inch plywood
124 deck screws 2 inches long
8 deck screws 3 ½ inches long
8 deck screws 4 ½ inches long

All lumber should be construction grade or better, dry and untwisted. Pieces of 2-by-4 left over from the legs or 2-by-6 left over from the beams can be ripped into 1 ½-inch wide strips (2-by-2s are actually 1½ inches square in cross section) and used instead of 2-by-2 if you are able to do the necessary sawing.

You don’t have to be a woodworker or framing carpenter to appreciate the pleasing utility of a great pair of sawhorses. These workmates offer a stable base for projects as diverse as painting the shed’s soffits, creating a temporary buffet table, or just cutting a few boards with a hand-held circular saw. Easy as it is to build a stout pair of horses, there are plenty of poor and even downright dangerous examples out there. The main reason for this is that building solid sawhorses requires cutting wood at precise angles, which isn’t difficult but can be confusing.

I designed these sawhorses using what I think are the best features of two other sets I have been using for years around my place. This set is used most often for stacking many hundreds of pounds of hardwood lumber, as I sort through boards looking for just the right piece for a particular project. Supporting the weight of dozens of boards requires very sturdy sawhorses, so I chose to build these horses with deck screws, ¾-inch plywood and 2-by-4 and 2-by-6 construction lumber.

The length of the beams (horizontal working surface), the distance between two legs in a pair (stance) and the height of the horses can be tailored to suit the purpose and size of the user. Instructions for a pair of horses 30 inches high, with 40-inch beams and a 21½-inch stance are presented here. The completed sawhorses weigh about 20 pounds each.

Construction notes

All parts of all screws should be at least 1½ inches below the top edge of the sawhorse’s beam to safely use them as a saw platform.
A comfortable sawhorse working height for many uses (handsaw and circular saw cuts, etc.) can be established by measuring the distance from the floor to the knuckles of your closed fist.

Stance determines how easily the sawhorses will tip and how much the sawhorse legs will be in the way of the user’s feet. If you decide to change the height of your horses, I suggest that you modify the stance to about two-thirds the height.

Height, length, stance and the dimensions of the legs and beams can be changed without changing the procedure for layout or the way the sawhorses are fastened together. Just be sure that the beam is long enough, so there is room to fasten the braces to it.

Pilot holes are good insurance against splitting the wood, and screws driven into pilot holes hold better than screws driven directly into wood. If the screws are threaded for their entire length, use a pilot hole the width of the screw’s flutes in the piece of wood that the screw will pass through, and the width of the screw’s grooves in the piece to which you are fastening the first one. This arrangement assures that the screw will pull the two pieces of wood tightly together.

I used a marker for the layout only because the heavy lines show up clearly in photos. You should use a marking instrument (such as a scribe) with a finer point.

My layout is on a piece of paper taped to a piece of plywood. Any square corner will do – even one you draw yourself on any available flat surface.

Step 1. Make a mark 10 inches from the corner on one leg of a right angle. On the other leg, make one mark 24½ inches and another 30 inches from the corner. At the 30-inch mark, draw a line perpendicular to the leg.

Step 2. Position a 2-by-4 with one corner on the 10-inch mark and the opposite edge aligned with the 24½-inch mark. Draw a line on the 2-by-4 as shown here.

Step 3. Draw lines along a carpenter’s square positioned with one side directly above the vertical edge of the right angle at the 30-inch mark and the other side directly above the line drawn perpendicular to that side of the right angle.

Step 4. The 2-by-4 is now marked for sawing. Use the saw you have to make the cuts. (Using the dimensions in these instructions, the angle at the bottom and top of the leg is 75 degrees, but this angle will vary with other dimensions.) Repeat steps 2 through 4 to create the remaining seven legs.

Step 5. Position the leg at the end of the 2-by-6 beam (40 inches long) and drive a 4½-inch screw through the leg and into the beam 1½ inches from the beam’s top surface.

Step 6. Turn the assembly over and drive a 3½-inch screw through the beam and into the leg ¾ of an inch up from the bottom of the beam.

Step 7. Turn the assembly over, remove the first screw, and pivot the leg on the remaining screw until the leg is parallel to the beam. Position a second leg (opposite the first) and drive two 3½-inch screws through the beam and into the second leg. Locate one screw next to the horizontally oriented leg and the other about 2 inches below the top edge of the beam.

Step 8. Rotate the first leg back into position, replace the screw you removed and tighten both. Repeat steps 5 through 8 for each of the three remaining sets of legs.

Step 9. Position a 9-inch-wide piece of ¾-inch plywood so that its top edge rests against the beam’s bottom edge and is perpendicular to its side. Drive 2-inch screws through the plywood and into each leg.

Step 10. Mark the plywood along both outside edges of the legs. Remove the screws, and saw to these lines. Using this piece as a pattern, saw three more pieces the same.

Step 11. Fasten the plywood to the legs with 12 2-inch screws. Draw vertical lines from each of the lower corners of the beam to the bottom edge of the plywood. To make the braces, cut 8 isosceles right triangles with 10½-inch legs from the ¾-inch plywood stock. Cut four 2-by-2s 9½ inches long with one end square and the other end a 45-degree angle.

Step 12. Using two 2-inch screws, fasten one of the cut 2-by-2s between the lines drawn under the beam.

Step 13. From the other side, drive three 2-inch screws through the plywood brace and into the 2-by-2.

Step 14. Using 2-inch screws, fasten the triangle to the beam and the 2-by-2.

Step 15. Fasten a second triangle to the other side. Repeat steps 11 through 15 with the remaining legs, beams, 2-by-2s and plywood braces.

Tom Larson, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a retired school counselor who began woodworking as a boy. Lathe-turned bowls and vases are now his specialty, and he also creates fine furniture and garden/landscape items of his own design.