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Simple Hacks to Maximize Your Sawhorses

How to get the most from folding metal horses—and other breeds

FH14DJA_SAWHRS_01-2Family Handyman
Sawhorses can do much more than just hold up a piece of plywood. Even experienced carpenters will learn new tricks with these time-tested pro tips.

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Sawhorse Channels Add Versatility

Use 2x4s for most cutting jobs

For normal use, keep a “sacrificial” 2×4 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 2×4 into the channel to support bigger projects. Change working heights by simply slipping a different-size board—a 2×4, 2×6, 2×8, 2×10 or 2×12—into the channel.

Instant work support

Create instant work support for your miter saw or an outfeed table for your table saw. To get the height right, just slip in a board of the correct width.

sawhorse clamps

Sawhorse clamps and saw guide

These sawhorse clamps hold round or small items while cutting. A 2×3 “pressure block” locks your work in place while the square end of the channel guides your saw and gives you a square cut.

You gotta screw lumber to the top of a folding metal sawhorse anyway, so why not build a simple sawhorse clamps 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 as I do, read on anyway—many of these tips can be adapted to any kind of horse.

A bigger top is better

Use 2×6 tops for clamping

For years I screwed 2x4s to the tops of my sawhorse. Then one day I realized—duh!—a 2×6 cut a few inches longer than the horse provided a surface for clamping. There’s a storage benefit too: You can drill a hole in one end of the 2×6 and hang the horse on a nail or screw.

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.

Gang-cutting the pieces

Clamp the 1x4s together and gang-cut the notches.

Figure A: Simple 1×4 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-horse roundup

Metal horses

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.

Metal bar

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.

Metal brackets

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 2×4 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:

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Hearing protection
  • Jigsaw
  • Miter saw
  • Safety glasses

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 2x10
  • 2x12
  • 2x4s
  • 2x6s
  • 2x8
  • 5 - 1x4x8 ft. (pine or oak)
  • Sawhorses
  • Screws