My furniture shopping pet peeve is that a lion’s share of the price of new furniture isn’t based on quality of materials but instead is based on the cost of shipping overseas and warehouse storage. When I began shopping for a sawhorse table last year, it was obvious that the prices weren’t relative to quality, so I quickly made up my mind to create my own- and am thrilled with the solid wood, unique piece that now resides in my studio (and often features as a background in many of my tutorials.)
While a saw horse table similar to the size I made would cost upward of $300, I was able to construct and finish my table for a total cost of $25. Sawhorse Brackets cost about $3.50/pair at your local hardware store (or about $6 from Amazon, if you are willing to pay for convenience) and lumber for this counter-top height table came in under $15. This project was the perfect opportunity to use the large barn door that had been left in one of Hawk Hill’s barns when I bought the property, but if you don’t have a door handy, check your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore (this thrift-store style lumberyard/hardware store always has a large selection of doors on hand, ranging from cheap hollow core doors to solid antique doors)
Instructions for Building a Sawhorse Table:
A saw capable of cutting 2/4’s (preferably a miter saw that can cut legs angled so the bottoms will sit flush on the floor)
Hammer + Nails
Optional: Sandpaper or Orbital Palm Sander
Project-Specific Supplies Needed:
2 sets of Sawhorse Brackets
Spray paint for brackets (I used Rustoleum’s Oil Rubbed Bronze)
5 – 2×4 Studs (roughly, will vary according to how tall and how wide spread your crossbeam is.) 32 inch long legs will produce a countertop height table
Table Top (a door, a salvaged tabletop, a concrete tabletop made with DIY countertop instructions, etc)
To create a polished finish on the final product, pause here and paint the sawhorse brackets. The black coating isn’t terrible, but for indoor use I think a premium finish adds a look of quality. I thought a coat of oil rubbed bronze spray paint elevated these basic shop-grade brackets into something more appropriate for interior use.
Cut 2×4’s legs and crossbeams. Honestly, the math for cutting the legs was the hardest part of this project! Measuring and cutting I can do- but measuring, cutting, calculating height of a board set at an angle, and calculating angle of the bottom surface was more than a little challenging for this art-oriented brain! Rendering in Sketchup helped, but here are my measurements for a shortcut:
Measuring and Cutting Your Boards:
To create a counter-top height table top, I calculated that I needed to cut the legs to 32 inches each.
For Stability: If you have access to a miter saw, cut one end of each leg at a 55° angle, this creates a bit more stability and finished look.
For a secure surface, cut the boards for the top of the sawhorse to a length that is equal to 80-85% of the depth measurement of your tabletop.
Before construction, stain or paint the cut lumber. You may also want to sand any rough edges and sand off any lumber-yard stamps or dings from sawmill machinery. Once sanded clean (5 minutes, with a palm sander– one of my best tool purchases ever!) I used a homemade stain made with vinegar, steel wool, and earl grey tea (Added Earl Grey darkens the shade of the stain) to finish.
Linseed Oil painted on the lumber after the stain is dried and set can add a richness to the grain, but since I did this project in the dead of winter and was desperately ready to move the wood out of my freezing workshop and into the house, I skipped the oil, and hit it later with some beeswax furniture polish.
Following the instructions on the package of the brackets, assemble your sawhorses. Hammer nails (not screws, like I did! Drywall screws left heads extending not-quite-flush) into each of the prepunched nailholes in the brackets. If you cut the legs with an angled bottom, double check before adding the nails. I’m not proud to admit it, but I had to unscrew screws and flip boards so that the angles were flush with the floor!
Once your sawhorses are assembled, you can place your tabletop across the top. If your tabletop is heavy and your sawhorses are sufficiently wide to keep the top stable, you should not need to permanently attach the tabletop to the sawhorses.
This is a fun project that anyone can do! Even if you don’t have access to a saw, you can just have the lumberyard staff cut the 4 or 5 2×4’s into the 10 boards needed for this project. (Tip: some of the big box stores are charging per-cut for board cutting now. Save money by asking the clerk helping you to stack boards, so they can cut four legs to length with one cut!)
May 2015 Update: I am still in love with this table! I love having a very large countertop height table in my studio. The light is perfect and the heavy tabletop plus sturdy sawhorses results in a table that can easily be moved in a pinch, but never moves or shifts as I’m working. The photo below is the view from the entry to my studio. This sawhorse table is visible from many rooms of the house, so I often use this table to display bouquets of flowers (and increasingly, bouquets of weeds and herbs, like the sage blossom/fennel arrangement shown below.)
Using a Barn Door as a Table Top – FAQ
Winter 2016 Update: This table sold as part of my recent downsizing to fit into a downtown Seattle apartment, and it was truly one of the toughest furniture-related goodbyes! I’ve had a few questions about using a barn door as a table top. Primarily: “Does the uneven surface of a barn door table top cause a problem when using as a work surface?”
Answer: No. Well, kind of yes, but mostly no. I mostly used this table for photography, organizing, and creating art. For the first two, the uneven surface was never a problem, but for painting or modeling I did need to get creative. Solution: a lightweight, very rigid board that would not scratch my vintage barn door table top. After some brainstorming, I ended up purchasing a giant polyethylene cutting board like you’d find in a kitchen. It’s rigidity made up for the uneven surface, as long as I placed it over one of the crossbeam supports, and the large size meant it had enough contact with the raised portions of the barn door to stay stable. As a bonus, the cutting board was impervious to my Exacto knife so I could cut right on my work surface, then slip the cutting board behind the larger desk when not in use.