Saw horses are a clat to get out and I’ll only use them if I have to (perhaps I’m lazy).
But of course they are extremely useful, and it’s nice to know there’s a couple stashed away ready to grab if needed.
Whether you need something cheap and nasty, or a sturdy work of art will depend on how they fit in with your workflow.
These days for me, saw horses are more of a thing where if I’m doing some donkey work outside they’re be set up. Offloading a timber delivery, working through a load of rough boards, that sort of thing.
Once I’m in the workshop, I very rarely leave the face of my bench. I’ll do all of my sawing off the workbench itself, it gives a continuous workflow, which is something I’ve never found you can get right using saw horses.
In this post I’m going to take a look at the types of jobs that I feel sawhorses are handy for, and give some thoughts on what I find to be the best design.
Saw Horses In The Workshop –
The Portable Workbench
When I was building workbenches, saw horses were used a huge amount in my work.
They were my workbench.
Everyone can benefit from them now and then, but when you’re building a workbench they become much more than a support for sawing.
In fact if you don’t have a proper workbench, then a couple of sturdy trestles make for a pretty good impromptu set up for any job.
With our bench building business a few sets of sawhorses allowed the best use of a rather small space.
I’d have several builds on the go at once, build the top off the saw horses, then build the base off the top (which was still on the saw horses).
Once the builds were complete, they were all stacked out the way, giving an empty space for the rough prepping to start over.
If you’re in the process of building yourself a decent workbench then you don’t need anything fancy for your saw horses, some plastic trestles will do.
You’ll work off them for the build, but once that’s complete you’ll barely need them at all.
There are a few exceptions though when having some good saw horses can be a real help.
The Stackable Assembly Table
Something I do still appreciate a decent pair of saw horses for is when I’m building extra large projects.
If I’ve got a great big dining table to build, then I may do a glue up on them. And I don’t need to be precious about getting glue dripped all over (which happens a lot).
Once again, they’re like an impromptu workbench that comes out when needed, but takes up little room when they aren’t.
So they definitely come in if you build lots of large projects.
Another time is if I want to keep my bench in action whilst I have something waiting in the clamps.
For the vast majority of projects though they’re not essential. There’s certainly ways to deal with all of our cross cuts without them.
Working Without Saw Horses
When it comes to cross cutting your timber, the key to working without saw horses is in how well your workbench is set up. It comes back to that one vice thing.
If you don’t have a tail vice, then you can saw off the end of the workbench. I prefer this as it streamlines the whole motion of working.
For dead long lengths this might not be practical, particularly in a small workshop. But if space is at a premium and you don’t want to be storing extra stuff, then there are easy ways around it.
These days my workbench is positioned poorly for cross cutting. There’s not much overhang off that right end as the bench has been sat where it’s best for the cameras.
Sometimes I’ll rummage for the sawhorses, but I avoided this when we chopped the rough boards for the top of our Hall Table. They were great long lengths of cherry and I just cross cut them using a bench hook on top of the bench. This isn’t ideal and I had to saw a little closer to flat, but it’s quick for the odd couple of boards.
The Multi-Purpose Stump
You won’t have seen this in the current workshop, but something I used to do an awful lot was use my stump as a saw horse.
The stump is generally there for axe work but it’s unbelievably functional. Basically it’s a dead weight, so gives you the rigidity of the floor brought up to a practical height (knee height), and you never misplace it.
The Best Saw Horse Design?
If you’re looking at how to build your own then go get yourself some 3” square material and knock up a couple like my timber framing ones.
These are the best design in my opinion, all round practical and pretty straight forward to make.
They’re very grounded and are solid enough to mortice off which is nice.
I built mine for building workbenches off so they’re more chunky than you’d generally need. 3” (75mm) square material is plenty thick enough for furniture making.
Personally I don’t like the splayed leg designs.
They’re ok if you’re looking for a couple of folding plastic trestles for cheapness, but if you’re building your own wooden set I’d avoid this design.
I find that the legs are constantly in the way; you’re always sawing in to one or clamouring over them.
And the splayed style of trestle rocks. You can correct it, but anytime you come back to them if there’s been a slight movement in the timber they rock again.
A part of filming that I hate is the tripods and they remind me of splayed leg saw horses. Like spiders – legs everywhere.
I rectified my tripod problem with monopods in concrete. That’s what a timber framing saw horse gives you.
Stackable or folding?
If you’ve got the space then saw horses are one of those things that you just want to leave out.
But that would cause a problem for me, because if they were left out I’d just start to store wood on them. And then tools on top of that wood.
The best thing about them is their ability to be shunted away when not required.
For real space saving the folding plastic ones are king, but for long term woodworking use they get wobbly fast.
I’d say everyone can benefit from having a pair of those plastic ones stashed away though. They fit in your car boot well for that occasional car park cutting action (although I normally just use a trolley).
If you go for timber framing trestles for something rigid to work off, then they will take up a little more space. It’s something to keep in mind, but they can slot together quite snuggly and take up a fairly small footprint.
What is a practical height?
Like most things, the best height depends on the use.
For sawing stuff to length – around knee height.
For working off – go a tad higher. (My timber framers are about 28″ tall.)
I’ve had a bit of a design floating around in my head for a while. I’ll call it the ‘Ultimate Knock-down Workbench, Workmate Type, Saw Horse System Thing’, that I really need to start playing around with.
We’ll talk about that one soon.