Some sawhorses I’ve used were built bull-strong for house construction; others were so feebly put together that they quickly became kindling. The style I like most is based on a James Krenov type used for a mortise-and-tenon exercise 30 years ago at furniture-making school. Those horses were made of 4/4 hard maple with legs like an inverted-T and upper and lower crossbars that are through-tenoned, wedged, and glued. Variations on that style have become the mainstay in my shop.
I wanted knock-down sawhorses for travel and storage, so I designed a set with cross bars attached with dowels and carriage bolts. I made these of spruce 2x4s and with upper cross pieces I can remove and replace with carpet-strip slings screwed to the uprights. For displaying a pair of lapstrake canoes, I made two pairs of “show horses.” I worked out a simple, break-down design with loose-wedged tusk-tenons for the lower cross piece and a sling made of soft, polyester three-strand rope attached through holes in the uprights with fancy stopper knots. These stands readily break down to two parts and lie flat for transportation or storage.
On occasion, I have more than one boat needing attention, so I recently put together a new set of work horses that have both upper cross bars and canvas slings. These were made from four 8′ 2x4s of the SPF variety (my chosen boards were likely fir). With a chop saw I got out four bases 23-3/4″ long, two 23-3/4″ lower cross pieces, four 31-1/2″ uprights, and two 30″ upper cross bars. I picked the heaviest 2×4 for the bases and the lightest for the top cross bars, then thickness-planed the top cross bars to 1-1/4″ and left the other parts as is. After cutting mortises in the uprights for the lower cross piece through-tenon and cutting the notches for the top cross bar bridle joints, I mated the bases and uprights with a half lap, glued, and screwed together, with the joint off center. (A great resource for all woodworking joinery is a book titled Woodwork Joints by Charles H. Hayward. In it you will find the half-lap, dowel, tusk-tenon, through-tenon, and bridle joints used in these sawhorses.)
Having longer feet pointing toward each other makes the horses less likely to rock when a boat is slung on them. Offset bases also require a little less floor space when these horses are stored shoved together. A slight arch cut on the bottoms of the bases keeps them from getting high-centered and rocking. The lower cross piece is attached to the uprights with wedged through-tenons. Before the glue-up I dry-fit everything, including the notched top cross bar. I checked for square and avoided racking while clamping for this glue up. The slings are made of a triple layer of No. 10 canvas that I sewed to a width of 1¼”. They are 44” long and are glued and screwed to wooden blocks that fit the upright notches.
Whether glue-fastened tight or designed for easy disassembly, these show horses and work horses cost only a few dollars and a few hours’ work, and all earn their keep.
Tom DeVries studied fine woodworking with James Krenov in the early 1990s. He and wife Tina live in central Massachusetts surrounded by white-pine and red-oak trees. Tom drives north for his white cedar planking stock and wishes his lumberyard still carried spruce 2x6s.
When I first saw Tom’s Krenov-style sawhorses, I was a bit skeptical. All of the sawhorses I’d ever used a flat plank top and four splayed legs; I didn’t think an inverted T shape could be as solid. I built a sawhorse to Tom’s specifications, modeled on a bolt-fastened take-apart he’d made, and as soon as I had it assembled, I was sold on the design. I can take the one here apart in less than a minute and put it back together in about 75 seconds.
Years ago I’d bought some molded brackets that held 2×4 legs to a 2×6 top. They were annoying to assemble and constantly got loose and wobbly. I can get rid of them now and replace them with the Krenov-style.
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