Traditional Sawbench

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Blog entry by paratrooper34 posted 12-29-2011 02:50 AM 13288 reads 19 times favorited 9 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hi all. This is a sawbench project that I documented to show how easy it is to make these things. I am posting it as a blog to allow for more pics and detail.

I already have one of these in my shop, but the almost total transformation to hand tools quickly showed me I need two of these. When working on another project which had 10 foot boards that I had to cut down, I realized the one sawbench just wasn’t getting it done. I made the first one about two years ago and got some pretty good use out of it. So I am sure the second one will get used enough to warrant me building it. I built the other one while I was still in Germany and the beech top I used is not available here. So I decided I was just going to use some straight up dimensional lumber I had hanging around. I used eight feet of pine 4”x4”s, four feet of 2”x4”s, a 40” piece of a 2”x10”, and a piece of ¾” x 12” x 30” (approx) piece of wide pine. Not sure what all that adds up to for pricing, but it seems like it cannot be that much. This sawbench is fashioned after one I saw in Chris Schwarz’s workbench book. It will have a small storage tray below (which I really like as I keep a big mallet and a holdfast on there all the time. It will be a little longer than my previous one and instead of having a triangular cutout at one end for detail cutting, the new one will have two squared off ends with a hole for a holdfast at each end. Holdfasts are a really nice addition for a sawbench. It provides extra holding capability which comes in handy when you want to hold something when sawing.

Below is my first sawbench. It is not clear in the picture, but it does have a beech top. It is a laminated type top that is common in Home Depot type stores in Germany (Toom, Bauhaus). The rest is pine and the legs are smaller. They are 2 1/2” as opposed to the 4”x4” that the new one will get. You can see where the legs connect with the top, there are plugs which are covering screws that attach the legs to the top. This will be done on the new bench also. The sawbench is 20 1/2” high.

I started by cutting the legs. I used my old Millers Falls/Goodell Pratt miter saw. I love this old saw; it is accurate and works great. The legs are cut at 10 degrees top and bottom. The miter saw has a positive stop at the degree, so it was easy to dial in and cut perfect angles. I use the Irwin clamp to hold the stock against the fence which keeps everything inline and allows me to use two hands to work the saw. Yep, these cuts on the 4”x4”s required some two handed effort! Good way to burn some calories. I cut the stretchers from the 2”x4”s after that. The third picture below shows how accurate the cut is on the miter saw. I split the pencil line and it is square on both faces. Not bad for a tool that is somewhere around 100 years old!

This picture is a shot of cutting the top using the first sawbench to cut on. I used a clamp to stabilize the board while cutting. I am a real big fan of clamping work to something while doing most any type of work. I even clamp pieces when using marking tools on them. See the pics below where I have the stretchers and legs held while marking tenon shoulders and mortices. Don’t know what I’d do without the tail vise!

The stretchers attach to the legs with through mortices that will get wedged at the through outlet for a stronger joint. That means these will be some deep mortices and wide as well. I do not have a mortice chisel in 5/8”, so I used a drill (yep, a power drill) to hog out most of the waste in the mortice. I finished them with my 1/2” mortice chisel and some other bevel type chisels. Because these are deep mortices, I made sure they were square all the way through.

The last thing to be done to the legs was cut the notch at the top where the sawbench top nests. I realized after I made the cuts I should have transferred the 10 degree angle to the vertical side of the leg which connects with the top, but missed it when I was cutting. But it worked just fine the way it was cut as the top rests on the cutout in the legs.

Next it was on to the stretchers to cut the tenons. I marked out every dimension with marking gauges. I used the marking gauge with the knife blade to mark the shoulders. The knife blade makes a nice cut which begins to define the shoulder. Yeah, this is not fine furniture, but it is good practice. In the first picture, you can see where the mark was made for the shoulder. After making the mark with the gauge, I made it deeper with a marking knife. I then took a chisel (sharp is key here) and scored the wood to the waste side of the shoulder. This leaves a very small “trough” for the saw to sit in when you cut the tenon. Using this technique also ensures you are left with a clean and well defined shoulder. The next picture is cutting away waste from the tenon.

I cut the tenons just a hair bigger than the mortices. I then fine tuned the tenons with my block rabbet plane to get them to fit snugly.

I next laid out the cut lines which would be where I cut the kerfs into the tenons where the wedges would be placed. I also drilled holes in the tenons at the terminus of the kerf to prevent potential splitting. I have seen this technique used in books I read although not sure if the big 2”x4” would split with such little wedges. But what the heck, I guess it is some cheap insurance.

Last thing to do on the stretchers was to plow a rabbett to allow placement of the shelf. I broke out the Stanley 45 with a 3/4” blade and had some fun making some shavings. It took me about 3 or 4 minutes to plow the rabbetts in both stretchers. Sharp blade is a must here. And a small depth of cut. Even though this is working in soft pine, some of it is working against the grain. Thus sharp blade and relatively shallow cut is a must.

After the stretchers were complete with cutting and such, it was time for some assembly. The legs and the stretchers got cleaned up with the smooth plane to remove all pencil layout markings and minor dents and dings from processing. I attached the stretchers to the legs first. Glue was applied to the inside of the mortices only. Once I got the tenons driven home, I placed the wedges into the ends of the tenons to lock up the joint. The wedges are some species of Elm, cannot remember exactly the type. I pounded them in with a steel hammer until they stopped going in. The tenons were made to be just proud of the outer leg surface. This allowed me to set the wedges and then trim the whole thing once the glue was cured. You can see that in the second picture. I used my cheapy Japanese saw (cheap, but works awesome) to flush trim the end of the tenon. The cutting process left some minute marks on the face of the leg, but since the whole thing was going to get worked over by the smooth plane, it was no big deal. In the last pic down, you can see how it all surfaced out. This long, through tenon with wedged ends makes a bullet-proof joint. Very strong. It is exactly what you want as the sawhorse is expected to handle some good loads and is exposed to wracking forces when doing some heavy sawing work on it.

I then prepared the board which was used for the shelf. It is a small piece of White Pine I had laying around from a post I made earlier on squaring up rough lumber with handplanes. It was just the right length and only needed about a 1/2” ripped off the side. You can see the board is cupped, that is because the board was not dry when I was playing with it and just had it sitting on a shelf. That allowed it to cup as it continued to dry. But no big deal, it is just a shelf in the sawbench. I marked the board with my new panel marking gauge (I built it and will do a write up in ”Projects” for it shortly). A panel marking gauge is really nice when you have some wide stock that needs to be marked. I used to use the old straightedge after marking off both ends, but a panel marking gauge makes it so much easier. Anyway, since I had such a small offcut on this piece, I decided to forgo the saw and use the scrub plane to remove the waste. I have an old Ulmia scrub plane and it made pretty short work of that. I finished it up with a jointer plane.

The top was pretty straightforward. Just a piece of 2”x10” that was cut to length at 38”. I then cut four notches in it to accept the legs. The first picture below shows the top as I was laying out measurements. I used the marking knife to make all marks on the top. I used my Veritas marking saddle to transfer marks to other faces of the board. These are nice little tools and take a lot of guesswork out of marking. After I made all those knife marks, I made the same cuts with a chisel on the waste side of the offcuts as described above. The second picture down gives a look at how the leg fits into the top.

Last bits to do were install the leg assemblies to the top and place the shelf where it belongs. I used a couple of offcut pieces to help me clamp the leg assemblies and hold them in place while I screwed them down. I recessed the screws in about a 1/4” thinking I would use some plugs to cover the holes. I may do that someday. but for now, I am leaving it as is. The screws are 2 1/2” inch long which should have no issues with strength. I also fit the shelf in while at this stage.

Here you see the finished product. I am leaving this top straight on both ends without putting the v-notch like the other. I put holdfast holes on both ends, but I think I am going to put a couple more in the middle of the top. I am also going to give it a coat of BLO to help protect it.

This is a simple project to make. Additionally, it is inexpensive. If you use handsaws as I do, you will find this workshop tool to be a very necessary item. I was using mine so much, I realized I needed another for those longer boards. These also can be used around the shop for other purposes. They can help with assembly, a nice place to sit, or even an makeshift step tool to reach up high. A great upgrade to the standard sawhorse, one which provides many more functions. If there is any detail not shown or mentioned, please leave a comment and I will get it to you.

-- Mike

9 comments so far

View JoeMcGlynn's profile


219 posts in 2323 days

#1 posted 12-29-2011 03:35 AM

I like it, nice job.

I got the Schwarz “build a sawbench” DVD for christmas and I’m planning on making a pair. The one in the DCD is all made out of one 2×6, but it doesn’t have the lower shelf. It has a stretcher instead.


-- Blog:

View BTKS's profile


1986 posts in 3434 days

#2 posted 12-29-2011 04:17 AM

This little shop helper looks handy and dependable. Nice writeup on the building process and layout. Thanks for the post.

-- "Man's ingenuity has outrun his intelligence" (Joseph Wood Krutch)

View MShort's profile


1789 posts in 3388 days

#3 posted 12-29-2011 04:43 AM

Thanks for the well documented process.

-- Mike, Missouri --- “A positive life can not happen with a negative mind.” ---

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3085 days

#4 posted 12-29-2011 11:48 PM

nice saw benches :-)
and thanks for a well done toturial as well :-)

take care

View Brit's profile


7370 posts in 2812 days

#5 posted 12-30-2011 07:26 PM

Nice job. They’ll last you years.

-- - Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15283 posts in 2588 days

#6 posted 11-30-2012 03:21 PM

Nice parade of tools, Para. The G-P is an awesome mitre, I agree totally. The precision in all G-P tools is amazing, wish they were still around.

How’s the bench holding up? I ask because you chose to not tie-in the tops of the legs with any kind of cross piece other than the top. Screws, mortice and glue should be enough, just wondering after a year if all is well.

Good post for anyone wanting to build a sawbench! (I’m at three so far. :-). )

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

View Mauricio's profile


7144 posts in 3121 days

#7 posted 11-30-2012 04:08 PM

The galoot is strong with you sir!

-- Mauricio - Woodstock, GA - "Confusion is the Womb of Learning, with utter conviction being it's Tomb" Prof. T.O. Nitsch

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2921 days

#8 posted 11-30-2012 07:29 PM

Smitty, the bench is doing great. No issues at all. It is used with just about all of the projects I work on and then some. It is pretty stout to be sure.

Mauricio, it is, indeed it is!

-- Mike

View Smitty_Cabinetshop's profile


15283 posts in 2588 days

#9 posted 11-30-2012 07:34 PM

Excellent, thanks for the update. You done good! :-)

-- Don't anthropomorphize your handplanes. They hate it when you do that. -- OldTools Archive --

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