This Year’s Model: The 2008 Sawbench

I end up giving away all of the sawbenches I build to woodworkers who give me those wet, doe-eye looks that say, “I don’t think I can build one.” That’s ridiculous, of course, because these things are as easy to make as a box of brownies. But I’m soft, I suppose, like the resulting brownies (always undercooked, natch).

The downside to my sawbench charity is that sometimes I end up without any sawbenches in my shops, which makes me nuttier than squirrel poo. The upside, is that I get to make more sawbenches, and each generation gets a little better.

This weekend I built the sawbench that me and my students will be building during my handsawing classes in 2008. This example can be built from one 2 x 8 x 10’, and it took me about four hours to do – I machined all the stock flat and cut all the joints by hand.

This sawbench is a little different than the others because it’s designed to be a hand-sawing exercise. All the joints are entirely saw-cut. No boring. No mortising. No chopping.

Now if you’ve gotten to this point in the blog entry and are wondering “What in Moxon’s name is a sawbench?” then check out this old entry on my blog at Woodworking Magazine. Sawbenches are magical devices that make full-size handsaws really work (handsaws stink at bench-height, except for overhand ripping). Plus, I assemble carcases on them, use them as stepstools, plane table bases against the sawbench’s bird’s mouth, and eat my lunch while sitting on one.

I don’t have construction drawings drafted for this bench yet, but you don’t really need them. Here are the basics: Make the bench about knee-high. This one is 19-3/4” high. The legs are angled 10° off 90°. The legs are notched at the top at 10° to fit into mating notches in the top. All the stretchers are attached to the legs with half-lap joints. Glue and screws keep everything together.

Here’s my materials list:

1 Top 1-1/4” x 6-3/4” x 32”
4 Legs 1-1/4” x 2-1/2” x 21”
2 Long Stretchers 1-1/4” x 2-1/2” x 26”
2 Short stretchers 1-1/4” x 2-1/2” x 12”

The only slightly tricky thing is cutting the feet so the sawbench sits flat on the floor. This is great fun to do once you know the trick. First put the sawbench on a flat and level surface. Then take small wooden shims and shim under all the feet until the sawbench is level on both its length and width.

Then take a small block of wood and cut an 11° bevel on one edge. Place this on your known flat surface and use the block to mark all around the legs of the sawbench (the beveled end allows you to make the outside angle of the legs).

Then clamp the sucker to your bench and saw the feet to your lines. This might seem hard. It’s not.

As always, I plan on keeping this sawbench until I retire. But that’s not likely to happen. Plus, I need to build another version that uses lapped-dovetails for one of the advanced classes I’m teaching in July.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and DVDs specializing in hand tool techniques.
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13 Responses to This Year’s Model: The 2008 Sawbench

  1. Jason says:

    So, is there any notable differences between this bench and the former model, other than the joinery?

  2. Jason,

    No functional difference. Same basic dimensions. It’s just simpler to build and lighter in weight.

    Chris

  3. Eric says:

    Thanks for the updated entry (someone just a few days ago pointed me to your first). I plan on doing this very soon, along with the little sawing trestles for my just-ordered ryoba.

    Does the angle of the splay cause the legs to get in the way when ripping? I suppose you could keep adjusting the board so you’re sawing in between the legs, but just wondering.

  4. Eric,

    No, it doesn’t interfere with ripping much. I try to use two trestles when ripping long stuff. And short rips are in the ripping notch. The only time it becomes an issue (for me) is when doing a short rip on narrow stock.

    Then I get a drawknife.

    Good luck with yours!

    Chris

  5. Tom Anderson-Brown says:

    Hi Chris,

    I built the old version of your sawbench about 6 months ago, right after I built the Roubo bench. I love them both!

    You mention that all of the joints on this latest version are cut without chopping. How do you cut the notches in the top without any chopping? Do you use a coping saw?

    Thanks,
    Tom

  6. So THAT’S how you level all four legs! No wonder my technique——trim a little here, trim a little there, repeat…until your bench is now a footstool——doesn’t work.

  7. Chuck Nickerson says:

    Since I’m terminally wait-listed for your hand sawing class at Kelly Mehler’s, thanks for posting this plan. As soon as my Wenzloff saws arrive I’ll put them to work on this project. Now that should make for a fun day.

  8. Wayne Precht says:

    Chris,

    I am interested in the leg leveling technique. I am not sure I get the reason for the bevel on the block used though. I have always put the item on a flat surface, shimed it level and scribed a line parallel to the surface higher than the worst leg’s gap. This rarely makes it worse and sometimes even level :)

    Wayne

  9. Dan Sayler says:

    Ya know, that "assembly table" has other uses which, properly employed, would probably shorten your four hour build time considerably ;-)

  10. Louis Bois says:

    Chris,

    The absence of a shelf on this revised model sure would lend itself well to adding another "shorter", stackable bench for resawing long stock, because as you know, you can never have TOO many sawbenches! ;)

  11. Chris F. says:

    I think this could be made stackable if you moved the short braces to the outside of the legs and trimmed the non-notch end of the top flush with the outside of the legs.

  12. John says:

    Wayne,

    By beveling one edge of the block you can now push that end of the block flush with the angled leg. If the bevel wasn’t there the bottom surface of the block would touch the leg and there would be a gap between the top surface of the block and the leg.

    Hope that makes sense. It could be done that way but you have to compensate for the gap when drawing the line.

    John

  13. Adriaan in Sydney says:

    After building the first version of the sawbench, I’m a convert to this method of sawing. I never could saw consistently straight in a vice, but I can say that nothing helped my handwork better last year than building and learning to use that sawbench.

    It’s now starting to look a bit used and scarred and that’s good (the process of ‘patina-ing’ the bench was also helped along by our enthusiastic 2-year-old with his crayons). Thanks, Chris and Louis for that design. You really ‘made my year’ in the shop, and my appreciation for those sweet Disston saws has grown no end.

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