The Essential Toolbox series is ManMade's picks for tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. Today: the best sawhorses.
The sawhorse is a familiar sight in on construction sites, or in the bed of a contractor's pickup. There, the use for those banged up concrete and paint encrusted beams is obvious: they're portable work stands, designed to be moved around from task to task and job to job. But at home, they're often forgotten for dedicated surfaces such as benches or worktables. And for good reason: traditional sawhorses, those that were big and sturdy enough to take on real work, take a lot of room to store; valuable space that could be filled work much more exciting things like table saws and drill presses and raw materials to make awesome stuff.
But, we think they're still a a home workshop essential, and the best sawhorses can be folded or broken down quickly for easy storage, and pop back up when you need them.
What to avoid when buying sawhorses
Go to any home center, and you'll find pairs of molded plastic sawhorses that fold and store flat. You might have a pair already, and understandably so: they're lightweight, store easily, and sometimes the only options for sale at your local home improvement center. They look like this, and cost around $25 a piece.
While these can work for some around-the-house tasks like painting and perhaps some light yard work, they're not really what you want for serious builds or woodworking tasks. They're essentially a pair of foldable legs that you can put some plywood on top of to make a quick table, and for that, they might work. But at that price, and for the strength and durability provided, you could spend fifty bucks on a plastic folding table, which would have a lot more uses.
This style of sawhorses can make a great addition to a sturdy pair for extra support, but we don't recommend them for heavy duty use with power tools, etc. The problem lies with the hinges, which like the rest of these things, are plastic, all warp and wear out and will break with long-term use. And for $50 for a pair, you can do a lot better.
What to look for in the best sawhorses
There are two time-tested ways to go here: the classic, shop-built wooden saw horses, or a sturdy pair of steel or aluminum saw horses. Both types incorporate flexibility and strength, and have a key feature: the ability to replace the 2x4 or 2x6 cross beam at top. With an inexpensive ($2.oo ish) piece of dimensional lumber at top, you can have no qualms about drilling or cutting into the top of your saw horses, lessening tearout, and making for safer and stronger operation. Furthermore, the flat surface across the top can allow you to clamp items for security and strength, or even attach additional 2x stock with screws for a rigid, temporary bench.
Try doing that with those all-plastic folding jobs.
1) If you want to make your own, you can build stackable sawhorses out of wood and hardware. They work great, but can take up a lot of room. There are all kinds of plans online for free...this one is a good place to start.
2) There are any number of brackets that allow you to assemble saw horses from several lengths of 2x4s. While they can take a bit of time to assemble and break down, they store very easily. Just write "sawhorse leg" on the side with a marker so you don't cut the parts thinking they're scrap.
3) You can also get folding steel or aluminum sawhorses that allow you to attach a 2x4 or 2x6 to the top with screws. Once it's been chewed up, it's easy to replace. This is the kind we use in the ManMade shop (you've no doubt noticed them in the photos). For my purposes, they're the best combo of weight, storage size, strength, and durability, and I never hesitate to get them out to use them for a project. They're actually worth the set up effort 100% of the time, which, as someone use moves and uses a lot of tools and materials everyday in a small space, means a lot to me. I use them from everything from rough cutting to painting to assembly tasks to photo shoots of cocktails. I have blocks to make them the right height to use an outfeed table for my table saw, and some scrap 2x6s and plywood makes a sturdy tool stand or scaffolding I have no concerns about standing on.
The Best Sawhorses To Buy for Your Shop
- Task Tools T88355 Sawhorse Brackets - $10.00
- Fulton #8909 Sawhorse Bracket (nut and bolt-style) - $15.69
- EBCO Folding Sawhorse - $23.05
- Stanley 011031S FatMax Sawhorse with Adjustable Legs - $39.97 each
Portamate PM-3300T Saw Horse, Pair of 2 - $99.99 for a pair
These are the most expensive of the bunch, but they'll last for a very long time, and the are incredibly sturdy for such a small storage size. We use this pair in our shop. Highly, highly recommended.
Folding Sawhorse Plans To Use if You Want to Build Your Own Sawhorses
Saw horses are some of the oldest work holding and support systems, and they still do a great job, centuries later. But now that they compete for precious shop space with stationary power tools and lumber storage and modern workbenches, it can be hard to find floor space to keep a pair on hand.
Answer: don't store them on the floor.
Lumberjocks member Rex B. took some inspiration from fellow member Canexican’s popular Shopdog design, and crafter some simple, yet sturdy, folding sawhorses from 2x4s and some 3/4" stock for the braces. He added a taut line hitch knot on the braces, which will pull closed, clamping the top (removable) 2x, avoiding racking or unnecessary movement under weight. The French cleat system allows them to be hung on the wall for storage until they're needed.
Rex doesn't provided an actual step-by-step tutorial, but his pictures detail the process, and these can easily be built in an afternoon. If you'd like a measured drawing, you can purchase plans from Canexican at Woodshopdude.com.
See the full project here [Lumberjocks.com]