My furniture shopping pet peeve is that the price tag rarely reflects quality- more often the price reflects the cost of shipping from a manufacturing plant 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. I quickly made up my mind to create my own- and am thrilled with the unique solid wood piece that now resides in my studio (and often features as a background in many of my tutorials.)
While a saw horse table in a similar size would cost upward of $300, I was able to construct and finish my table for a total cost of $25. Sawhorse Brackets cost about $4/pair at your local hardware store (or about $8 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:
- 2 sets of Sawhorse Brackets
- Spray paint for brackets (I used Rustoleum’s Oil Rubbed Bronze)
- 5 2×4 Studs (will vary according to how tall and how wide your crossbeam is.)
- Table Top (You can use anything sturdy and flat: a door, a salvaged tabletop, a concrete tabletop made with DIY countertop instructions, etc)
- A saw capable of cutting 2/4’s (preferably a miter saw that can cut 2×4’s on an angle, so the bottoms of the legs will sit square on the floor)
- Hammer & Nails
- Sandpaper or palm sander
Step 1. Paint Sawhorse Brackets
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. A coat of oil rubbed bronze spray paint elevated these basic shop-grade brackets into something more appropriate for interior use.
Step 2. Cut Sawhorse Legs and Cross Boards
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’m great at- but measuring, cutting, calculating the height of a board set at an angle, and calculating the 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:
Measuring and Cutting Your Boards:
To create a counter-top height tabletop, the 4 legs need to be 32 inches long 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 cross boards for the top of the sawhorse to a length that is equal to 80-85% of the depth measurement of your tabletop.
Step 3. Sand and Prep Legs and Crossbeam
After cutting the lumber but before construction, stain or paint the cut lumber. You will also need 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!) and dust removed, you can paint or stain the wood. I used a homemade stain made with vinegar, steel wool, and earl grey tea (Interestingly, someone figured out that Earl Grey darkens the shade of the stain, you can get the recipe on Instructables).
Linseed Oil painted on the lumber after the stain is dried and set (About 12-24 hours) 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.
Step 4. Assemble Sawhorses
Following the instructions on the package of the brackets, assemble your sawhorses. Hammer nails (Learn from my mistake: Nails, not screws! Drywall screws left heads extending not-quite-flush) into each of the pre-punched nail holes in the brackets.
If you cut the legs with an angled bottom, double-check that the 90% angle end is inserted into the bracket 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. If you have ANY doubt about stability or if you’ll have children in your home, definitely secure 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 to stack boards, so they can cut four legs with one cut.)
May 2016 Update: I am still in love with this table! I love having a very large countertop height table in my studio and often use it as a standing desk. The light is perfect and the heavy tabletop plus sturdy sawhorses result 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 entryway of my studio. This sawhorse table is visible from many rooms of the house, so I often use it to display bouquets of flowers (and increasingly, bouquets of weeds and herbs, like the sage blossom/fennel arrangement shown below.)
Making a table with sawhorse legs is an easy DIY that just about anybody can accomplish! It’s a great project for new homeowners to try out DIY home improvements, and even works for rental apartment owners who may not have access to tools or space for big project- getting the sawhorse legs precut makes this project easier than assembling basic IKEA furniture!
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!
Sawhorse Table FAQ’s
How long should my sawhorse legs be?
This depends on the height you want your sawhorses to stand at. My favorite work surfaces are countertop height – so I can work at them while standing or sitting on a tall stool. To make a sawhorse table that is counter top height, you need four legs that are each 32 inches long.
What do you use for the tabletop?
For my sawhorse table I used an old barn door that had been power washed and scrubbed clean. You can use anything that is stable and flat, such as a plywood sheet with a nice veneer, or even construction grade foam core board. Whatever you use, just be sure and secure it and double check your table top for stability- a tabletop crashing down from too much weight or being pulled off balance can be disastrous. Pick a tabletop that can be secured to the sawhorses, be sure your sawhorses are wide enough and placed properly to fully support the tabletop, and add support beams on the underside if you have any concern about the strength of the table top.
Does the uneven surface of a barn door table top cause a problem when using it as a work surface?
No. Well, 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. My 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 commercial 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!