Channels add versatility
Use 2x4s for most cutting jobs
For normal use, keep a “sacrificial” 2x4 in the slot. When it gets too “kerfed up,” flip it over and use the opposite edge until it’s time to replace the whole thing. Drop a longer 2x4 into the channel to support bigger projects. Change working heights by simply slipping a different-size board—a 2x4, 2x6, 2x8, 2x10 or 2x12—into the channel.
You gotta screw lumber to the top of a folding metal sawhorse anyway, so why not build a simple channel and turn your horse into a multi-trick pony?
Meet the Pro
I’ve been making sawdust for almost 40 years. During those four decades, I’ve used homemade sawhorses, store-bought horses and a few pulled from the trash. I’ve grown particularly fond of the folding metal sawhorses shown here. I own four pairs. They’re inexpensive, sturdy, easy to store and easy to set up, and they last darn near forever. So here are a few of my favorite tips for getting the most out of these old friends. And even if you don’t love folding metal horses like I do, read on anyway—many of these tips can be adapted to any kind of horse.
A bigger top is better
Build a cutting grid
Cut flimsy pieces on a cutting grid
You can lay a few 2x4s across a pair of horses, but that’s not as good as a grid, especially if you’re cutting flimsy or small stuff.
For this version, you’ll need five knot-free oak or pine 1x4s, 8 ft. long. The secret to building it: Clamp the crosspieces together and “gang-cut” the notches. Do the same for the stretchers. Don’t fasten the grid parts with glue or screws. Slip them together so they can be disassembled for easy storage.
Figure A: Simple 1x4 Cutting Grid
Notched 1x4s create a solid “knockdown” cutting grid.
Add a platform
Use cross braces for storage
Tired of stooping, searching, plugging and unplugging when using power tools with your sawhorse? Build this simple platform and slide it over the cross braces. It provides a more “back friendly” place to stash your tools. And a power strip allows you to keep several tools plugged in at the same time. The platform also provides a place to throw a sandbag for ballast if you’re using the horse for some task that might push it around or tip it over.
Building the platform
To build a platform, all you need is a scrap of 3/4-in. plywood (16 x 36-in. fit my horses well). Cut notches on one end and a long tongue on the other, then slide the platform onto the crosspieces from below, “tongue” first. A cleat screwed to the underside will lock the platform in place.
Create a paint station
Convenient drying rack
A pair of sawhorses make the perfect platform for painting or staining long stuff. But where do you lay 25 pieces of wet trim while they’re drying? How about right in front of your nose. Make simple racks from scrap 3/4-in. plywood—custom-cut the slots based on your needs. Screw them to the sides of your horse and then go to work.
Folding metal horses are solid, easy to stow and often cost less than $20. My only gripe is that the super-flimsy ones—the ones that often look like they’re made of aluminum roof flashing—aren’t stable. There are also a few impostors out there that use a strand of cable, instead of metal hinges, as cross braces: If you see them, run. If you use your horses inside and want to protect a finished floor, you can buy protective plastic feet for a few bucks (ebcoproducts.com) and install them in minutes. And watch those fingers when you fold up metal horses; the sharp edges can inflict a painful pinch.
These are often made of square metal tubing. These draft horses of the sawhorse world are rock-solid and have the weight (and price tag—$40 or more) to prove it. Like the plastic ones, some aren’t designed to accommodate a wood top slat—and you definitely don’t want to saw into one of these.
Plastic collapsible horses
Most of these have legs that swing out to create an A-frame shape. They’re light, easy to set up and easy to store. Prices range from about $20 to $60 each. Some have height-adjustable legs, which are handy outdoors. Heavy-duty versions are tough enough for any job, some are only for light duty: I’ve had legs actually buckle when slamming a sheet of 3/4-in. plywood onto them. Another drawback to many: No way to attach a wood top. If you cut too deep, you cut into the horse itself.
These are simple brackets that use 2x4s—usually ones you supply—for the legs and crosspiece. Some have teeth that bite into the 2x4s; others use fasteners. They’re height- and length-adjustable depending on the length of 2x4 used. They’re inexpensive, but they can also fall apart or “rack” while in use or when you move them.
There are dozens of styles at home centers and online. Most carpenters I know prefer the folding metal type, but some prefer other breeds. So here’s a roundup: