New Sawhorses

The background…

Keeping the big project in mind, I realized I’d need to do some assembly work on sawhorses—yes, my bench, big as it is, isn’t big enough. The plastic Stanley horses my wife got me a few years back are just done. The little braces that keep the legs open have way to many delicate hooks and have all snapped off. I used them as long as possible, but they just suck—I think my wife was more upset when we discovered this than I was!

I’ve been meaning to build my own sawhorses for a while (ever since I opened the present containing the plastic ones, really) so I figured now was the perfect opportunity. I based my design off of two sources (loosely, you’ll see, as I can’t hope to come close to the skills either of these men have):

  1. James Krenov—the master.
  2. The Samurai Carpenter—this guy is a hoot, you have to see his videos!

I love the function and simplicity of Krenov’s work, but didn’t think it would translate well into using pine (let’s be real here, I don’t have the budget to go buy maple, walnut, or beech or whatever to make sawhorses). Then I stumbled on this site and realized it could be done.

But I wanted something a little different. Enter the Samurai Carpenter. Once I stopped smiling at this guy’s presentation style and ogling his tools, I discovered he made a few beautiful horses.

I decided to try my hand at it myself. I had a couple tubafores laying around and figured, why not?

Let’s get started…

I wanted to do this all by hand (or as much as possible) so I made my measurements and cut the parts for the first 30” horse (my bench is around 34” high, so by the time I put some plywood on the horse and then the project, it’ll be pretty close to the height of the bench).

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I plan on using mortise and tenon joinery to connect the legs with the feet (a la Krenov) and use tusk tenons for the stretcher (a la Samurai). The top will simply drop into slots on the legs and be pinned with through-pegs. I’ll use glue on the legs/feet, then pegs to hold the stretcher and top together.

First up, I cut the mortises in the feet for the leg tenons. I have to say, I surprised myself at how well I did this—probably my best mortise ever! Used my drill to remove most of the waste (I don’t have either a mortising chisel or a bit and brace) and Krokskaft and my Stanley Bailey chisels to clean it up and make everything nice and crisp.

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After the feet were chopped, I created the through mortise in both legs for the stretchers (drill, chisel, repeat).

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A few quick cuts with the pull saw and produced the stretcher tenons.

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I then cut them to a rough curve. I finished the curves with chisels and sandpaper. Time for a test fit!

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Next up, I simply cut a large enough notch in the top so the legs (using the pull saw and a coping saw to clear the waste) to fit the top of the horse in place. To decorate it a little, I rounded the ends the legs and clipped the corners of the top piece. Here’s a dry fit of everything:

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You may notice the extra lines on the top of the legs—yeah, I cut the large notch out the wrong way, then had to fix pieces to glue back in and cut it the right way. Ooops. Lesson learned for the 2nd horse.

My next task was to drill holes in the feet and through the leg tenons to put some oak dowel pegs in place. I glued up the joint and hammered home the pegs, then cut flush with the pull saw. Don’t mind the rough looking edge there—that’s totally from the tubafore and not my handiwork. Just a shoddy piece of lumber but it’s what I had and I didn’t feel like going out for more.

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While those dried, I drilled holes in the stretcher tenons and cut more pegs to secure those to the legs. These I did not glue, for no other reason than I wanted to be able to knock these things apart should the need arise.

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And the trickiest part was drilling through the legs and the top piece (what is the name for that part?). My bit wasn’t long enough, so I had to eyeball it and come at it from both sides, but it all worked out in the end. Drove a peg through and boom—one horse ready for duty.

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I then spent the time to layout all the mortises and tenons for the next horse and decided to try the opposite approach. I cut everything possible with the band saw—once I was set up and fixed a broken blade, I made all the cuts and joints (except the mortises) in about 15 minutes as opposed to an hour.

Made my best mortise yet, though!

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This one went together in half the time of the first one (horse #2 is on the right) and looks pretty good. Also no mistakes like on the first one.

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Definitely had a lot of fun with this practical project. I plan to make more of these in the future, though maybe as I need them, since shop space is limited. Think I’ll try planing the tubafores next time to get a nicer look (I like the convenience of leaving them au natural, clean, crisp corners look pretty boss). At any rate, I now have two strong, serviceable sawhorses custom made to the specifications I need, ready for action.

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About Marcus Richardson

Marcus attended the University of Delaware and later graduated from law school at the age of 26. Since then, he has at times been employed (or not) as: a stock boy, a cashier, a department manager at a home furnishing store, an assistant manager at and arts and crafts store, an unemployed handyman, husband, cook, groundskeeper, spider killer extraordinaire, stay at home dad, and a writer.
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