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How to build a sawhorse that is a good alternative to a workbench

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Blog entry by BenhamDesign posted 09-26-2019 06:16 PM 1224 reads 2 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch

I got tired of those flimsy plastic sawhorses bouncing around when trying to work on them and no really good way to clamp anything down to them. So I built this pair of Sawhorses. They are a good alternative to work on when you don’t have a proper bench to work on.
If you are interested in seeing how they are built watch the video

Video Recap
How to build a Sawhorse
Today’s project is building a pair of sawhorses. The joinery and overall styling of these sawhorses was primarily taken from a lot of Japanese Style joinery.

I decided to make them out of hard maple so they could take a beating out on the job site. I later regretted that decision when I decided to hand cut some of the joinery. Hard Maple is a workout to chisel through.
I did my layout primarily in chalk, so if I needed to move a board to maximize the use of material it was easy to rub off the markings.

Once I got everything laid out I rough cut all the parts to their approximate size and started squaring up the lumber at the Jointer and planer.
By the way if you are interested in building a pair I will have a set of plans available on my website. If you build a pair tag me on Instagram, I’d love to see them.
Once my material was squared up I started with making the template for the base, I ripped a piece of plywood to the height of my base piece to creating the template to rout from.
These paper templates will be in the plans that you can print out.
I traced it out with a sharpie and cut it out on the band saw. I made sure I left the line so any leftover band saw marks could be sanded out. The spindle sander works really well for this.
To save material, I nested them on my board and just loosely cut them out on the band saw.

I left them a little large so I could cut a notch for my push stick so I would have a square, safe place, to push against while to ripping them to width. I ripped them to their exact width to be sure they all would be the same height increasing the chance all my joinery would fit tightly together.
Then I went back to the band saw and cut out the shape being sure I left the line.
To clean them up and rout them to their final shape I attached my plywood template to the blank by pushing both pieces against my fence to be sure the back edges stayed flush with each other.
To flush them to the template I used a Pattern bit that has a bearing on both top and bottom. This way I can always rout with the grain minimizing any tear out.
Once I routed one side of the base, I flipped it over and adjusted the bit height so the barring would contact the top of the plywood template and routed out the other side.
Instead of trying to get both pieces perfectly aligned, I glued the finished piece to the rough blank; once it was dry I headed back to the router table to flush everything up, using the same process as before.
I set the base pieces aside and started cutting the rest of the pieces to length.
The upper and lower rail lengths I just measured, marked, and cut to length. But for the legs I set a stop block up on my miter gauge to work from. This insured each leg would be exactly the same height, so my sawhorses would be the exact same height.
And while I was at the saw, I cut the tops to length.
Moving onto the joinery I established the shoulder of the tenons by doing a kerf cut at the table saw using the fence as a guide.
Then I set the band saw up at the same depth as the kerf cut to cut away the cheeks of the tenon.
Now to build a quick little jig for my router to cut the mortise in the legs for the lower rail tenon to go through.
I started out ripping some scrap plywood to about 3” wide, this should give me a solid base to rout on.
I then used the leg to mark its width on the tenon.
I cleaned up the band saw marks with my block plane being careful not to go past my line. Cleaning the end up not only looks better but will help in the assembly as you won’t have to drive that whole tenon through the mortise. It will only get tight where it counts.
Then I put it vertically in my vise and lined up the edge of my plywood strip to my line that I had drawn earlier.
I made sure it was square, and then I built my jig around the tenon pressing the part tight against the tenon wall while gluing them in place with CA glue.
I flipped the jig over and filled in any gaps that could cause me problems if I stop paying attention to where my bearing is tracking.

I added some layout lines, and clamped my template down to them.
On the back side, I added some stop blocks so each time I put the template to a leg , it would land in the exact spot every time.
Now with a pattern bit I started routing out for the mortise following the template.
The bit I had on hand was not deep enough to go all the way through, so once I established the outline of the mortise, I removed the template and used the wall of the mortise to ride the bearing against going even deeper. That still was just not quite deep enough so I drilled a hole the rest of the way through and switched to a bit that has the Bering on the tip, and finished the hole.
So I have the mortise cut out but the corners are the same radius as the router bit so I squared them up with a mallet and chisel.
Now every time I show me squaring up a mortise, there is always someone in the comment section that says why you didn’t just make the Tenon round. Well the tenon is already square so it would be more difficult to make it match the radius of mortise unless you have a fancy panta router or something of that nature.
And more importantly, and this is just my personal preference, Round tenons look dumb, they just do they look dumb.

Did a little test fit to be sure I was on track; I think that looks pretty tight for a square tenon?

Moving on to joining the leg to the base, I did the exact same procedure for creating this jig as I did for the previous tenon, this one is just a bit longer and wider.
And I did the same routing operation in the base. I routed out as much as I could from one side then drilled a hole through and finished routing out from the other side.
I used much longer bits for this operation so a work of caution. The larger and longer the bit the bigger the chance it will catch, so take your time with these mortises and go slow.
And of course I squared it up with a chisel.
I am going to secure these with wedges from the underside, so I cut some slots for the wedges to go at the band saw.
To widen them up a little I just bumped the fence over a bit and made 2 passes per slot.
To help prevent the wedges from splitting the legs I drilled an oversize hole at the base of each slot
I set the legs aside and build another jig using the same process as before. This jig is to rout a mortise in the lower rail for the horizontal wedges to pass through.
I routed the hole about a 1/16” past my layout line so when I drive the wedges in, they won’t bottom out against it
Then I squared up the corners of the mortise because I don’t want to make wedges with rounded edges.
I set the lower rails aside and moved on to the upper rails. The upper rails are going to have a decorative element to the end so I cut out my template and transferred the shape to my work piece.
Then I Cut it out at the band saw, and removed the saw marks at the spindle sander.
I’m down to the last little bit of joinery.
I found the center on both the lower rail and upper rail and lined them up as a match pair. This is important so your legs don’t end up crooked.
Then I used the shoulder of the Tenon from the lower rail to mark the location for the half lap joint on the upper rail.
I used the leg to scribe the exact width onto the rail so I would get a nice tight fit.
Then I used the knife to mark the outline round all sides where the joint will be cut.
I set my chisel about the width of a saw blade away from my line and give it a whack to create a trough for my sawblade to track in.
I used my pull saw to cut down to my layout lines.
And yes if you want your joint to come out perfect you have to make a super serious maximum concertation face like that while you cut. If you don’t it’s not going to turn out good.
Then I chiseled out the waste working towards my line, but before I went all the way, I flipped the piece over and worked from both sides. This prevents a big chunk blowing out past your line.
I did the same layout on the legs for the matting piece. This time I was even more careful to work from both sides when chiseling out the waste. Since the joint is going with the grain, it would be easy to split off a large chunk past your layout line if not careful.
Once last thing to do to the leg before assembly, I wanted to add a decorative cloud life to the leg. I sketch out a shape I liked on some plywood,
Then traced it onto the leg, and cut off the bulk of the waste on the band saw.
Then attached my template to the workpiece and routed out the final shape, using the same process as before, adjusting the bit switching back and forth from top and lower bearing insuring I am always cutting with the grain to prevent tear out.
Now I am finally ready to assemble the legs. I added some glue and, drove the leg into the base, flipped it over and secured it with some wedges. Anything sticking out I’ll just sand flush after the glue dries.
To make the wedges I ripped some scrap wood to the width of the mortise and then ripped of 1/8” wide strips. I cut them to length and sanded a taper on one end.
With the combo of glue and the wedges I don’t think this is ever going to come apart or loosen up.
I then made some larger wedges for the lower rail. Since these wedges are decorative as well as functional they needed to be more precise so I cut the taper on the band saw using a jig.
The jig is basically a larger piece that was safer to cut on a diagonal, and then I glued a stop block to the face of it so I could make repeatable cuts.
I added some glue, tapped the pieces together and wedge it in place.
You don’t necessarily have to add glue to this joint if it ever loosens up you can just tap the wedge in a little more, But I don’t want to ever have to worry about it while I’m on a jobsite so I glued everything together.
While the bases are drying I moved onto the top. I laid out my dog holes for my hold fast and other bench accessories and drill them out at the drill press.
I have a combination of hold fasts and planning stops, the holdfast that I like best have a 7/8” diameter while the planning stops have a ¾” diameter so I did a combination of 7/8 and ¾” holes, in a layout patter that I thought would work for me and my work flow so I can use both types.
Once I had the holes drilled I glued the upper rail down the center of the top. After it dried I transferred the holes from the top all the way through the upper rail so the holdfasts could pass through it.
I added some glue to the half lap joints and glued the top down.
The final finishing touches, I added some feet to prevent the sawhorses from rocking on uneven ground, and rounded over the top edge to make it more comfortable to work at.
Thank you for watching,
Plans are available on my website and if you want to see what I am working on for future video’s give me a follow on Instagram, and of course, if you are not subscribed already, do so, and hit the bell to be notified when the next video comes out.
And most importantly, rounded though tenons look dumb

Thanks for your time
Brian Benham

-- What I do in and out of the shop at http://www.BrianBenham.com



3 comments so far

View EarlS's profile

EarlS

3100 posts in 2861 days


#1 posted 09-27-2019 11:46 AM

Brian – thanks for providing such an in-depth explanation of the build.

-- Earl "I'm a pessamist - generally that increases the chance that things will turn out better than expected"

View Gary's profile

Gary

1417 posts in 4837 days


#2 posted 09-28-2019 06:54 PM

Nice looking horses Brian.
I did some similar but less fancy using James Krenov’s design.
I’ve also got one of my own for which I never posted here.
It uses a design which allows it to fold up, a worktop can be inserted between both sides, and the final height is modifiable.
I’ll look into making it a project.

-- Gary, Florida

View BenhamDesign's profile

BenhamDesign

204 posts in 1933 days


#3 posted 09-29-2019 11:42 PM



Nice looking horses Brian.
I did some similar but less fancy using James Krenov s design.
I ve also got one of my own for which I never posted here.
It uses a design which allows it to fold up, a worktop can be inserted between both sides, and the final height is modifiable.
I ll look into making it a project.

- Gary


Thanks Gary,
If you make it a project let me know I’d would be interested in seeing

-- What I do in and out of the shop at http://www.BrianBenham.com

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