The 2012 Sawbench in 60 Minutes or Less (or More)

People gripe about my plans for sawbenches. They require too many tools, skills or shop time to complete. These are not baseless complaints: The first sawbench I built incorporated drawbored and wedged through-tenons. It’s an awesome beast that will never die, but it is a tad difficult to build if you don’t own a shop or a workbench.

So during the last five years I’ve simplified their construction, shortened the must-have tool list and made them quick to build. And I’ve done this without sacrificing their functional characteristics.

This weekend at Woodworking in America in Pasadena, Calif., I’ll be building a couple of these sawbenches and giving them away. The parlor trick is that I’ll be building them in 60 minutes or less. I hope.

During the last week I’ve built four of these sawbenches to refine their construction details. These sawbenches have legs with a compound splay, but all the layout is done with a steel square. If you can identify the numbers 5 and 21, then you can do the geometry.

The hardest part of building these sawbenches was making my tools work with the construction-grade lumber. My handsaw is tuned for dry hardwoods. How do you then cut wet softwoods without jamming your saw? (I found the trick. It’s cutting geometry, of course). Plus, I had to figure out how to do everything with one saw, one plane and no real workbench. This sawbench can be built on a kitchen countertop with the help of two 5-gallon buckets. (Thanks to Mike Siemsen for a tip on that.)

I’ll share more details of this project after I survive Woodworking in America. I still have to get all my presentations for the conference complete before I get on a plane Thursday.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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41 Responses to The 2012 Sawbench in 60 Minutes or Less (or More)

  1. Peter Ganev says:

    “This sawbench can be built on a kitchen countertop…” Ha-ha-ha, Chris, if I do this, I would have to move out and live in the garage.

  2. ACK! MORE! NOW!
    I know, I know, patience is a virtue (or is it fir chew?)

  3. Stu says:

    WWIA… it sounds like a magical place. You’re going to post something about how to do this once you’re back.. Right? riiiiiiiiiight? pleeeease?

  4. joemcglynn says:

    I’ll be in the audience.

    60 minutes? It takes longer than that to drive to the home center and dig through the soggy wood looking for something that isn’t shaped like a banana!

    But the top looks pretty narrow…

    • Jared S says:

      I agree about the narrow looking top. It doesn’t look nearly as comfortable for lunch seating as the earlier models.

      • Rob says:

        More of a saw batten than a saw bench, I think. And built in 60 minutes? What’s this then, the saw..err.. thing equivalent of the 3 minute dovetail?

      • lostartpress says:

        The top functions like a sawbench (unless you have an enormous hinder). The working surface is 5-1/8″ x 24″.

        One of the prototypes used a 2×8 — it looked wrong. This thing is like a battleship.

      • Rob says:

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but when you say the ‘working surface’ is 5 1/8 inch wide you must be including the thickness of the tops of the legs given that the piece is 24 inch length. The angle of the photo makes calculation tricky but I reckon the width of the main beam tapers to only about 2 1/4 inch. Not many butts in woodworking that would rest easy on that dimension.

  5. Alviti says:

    I’ve always thought my saw horses are one of my most essential bits of kit. I’ve had one with me everyday for the best part of 10 years now, on more building sites than I can count, and it only just needs replacing (although it’s got a bit of time left in it yet). I use it for cutting, as a hop-up to reach ceilings when boarding, I use a pair of them for an on site make shift workbench and quite often to sit and have my lunch on.

  6. Chris says:

    “But the top looks pretty narrow…”

    LOL. I almost just spit out my drink imaging someone trying to do something on the top of the one saw horse.

    • Chris says:

      Sorry. My feeble brain replaced all occurrences of “saw bench” with “work bench.” I figured the picture showed half of it…

  7. sablebadger says:

    Wish I could make it. I wanted to, but the finances just wouldn’t allow.

    Fortunately I’ll be able to catch your tool chest class in Port Townsend next year.

    • Chuck N says:

      The tool chest class is well worth what ever sacrifice is required.
      I took it in August and was amazed what I learned just in the first day.

  8. pauls49 says:

    Good luck getting your weapons of wood destruction past airport security.

    • Russ says:

      Chris, are you planning to take the entire tool chest? Or just carefully pack a few tools in normal luggage. I recently did just tried to do the latter, but quickly ran into the 50lb bag limit.

      • Graham Burbank says:

        don’t try smuggling your morticing chisels in your carry-on. security really,really frowns on that…

  9. Seamus says:

    I thought that was
    a seasonal decoration peeking through
    the window there till I got a closer look

  10. g2-9089778745739835be78e4559ab2bb8c says:

    My favorite sawhorses are made from a plan in Stanley’s “How to work with tools and wood”. I built a pair of them (and a pair for Dad) in about 1972. They are just as sturdy now as when I built them, and just as ugly. About 5 years ago I replaced the top boards. Their design is not nearly as well-thought-out as that of the sawbench Chris makes.

  11. coralhound says:

    I loved making the saw benches that you made the Pop woodworking video with. It was a complete project that developed many hand tool skills on a shop appliance before making furniture. You can never make everyone happy but I like projects EXACTLY like this that build many useful skills and provide a great and beautiful shop appliance to boot!

  12. Looking forward to seeing this in person this weekend!!!

  13. You catch grief for the weirdest things.

  14. Kim A Howarter says:

    I still have my sawhorse that my grandfather built for me. However it is a little short for me now at just under 15″ tall. Look forward to hearing if you “Beat the Clock!”

  15. Chopnhack says:

    Idiot in suspense right here!!! Can’t wait to see more of this go down 😉 Looks like a 4×4 for the beam? That I would like to see ripped by hand, hehe – that has to be 10 minutes right there, 5 min sawing and 5 min. recuperating. Best of luck and wear gloves!

  16. Jonas Jensen says:

    The black and white picture look cool. I definitely prefer it to the Kodachrome versions.
    I would also say that the top looks a little narrow. But it’ll be interesting to see how it works out in 60 minutes.

  17. Brian O. says:

    5 over 21 (rise over run) gives 13.4 deg. which seems a bit wide for my taste.

    For a 10 deg angle, the closest numbers are 4 3/16 over 23 3/4 but if you want simple and close enough, 4 over 23 is 9.86 deg.

    My first horses where made so that at their widest part, they fit between 16″ O.C. studs so you could move them through stud walls easily. One of them has a ripping slot down the middle so you can rip on the horse.

    These look really cool and I hope there is a magazine article about them as well!


  18. srt19170 says:

    Rather than angle the entire beam, why not just do an angled dado for each leg? I’d think that cutting the dados with a (say) #4 plane would be faster than two long rips. And then your top would be wider as well.

    • tsstahl says:

      Think ‘table(or band) saw’ for those rips.

      • Scott says:

        Chris says he’s doing it with “one saw, one plane and no real workbench”. I’m not sure a table saw or band saw would fit in the tool chest, anyway.

      • srt19170 says:

        Chris says he’s doing it with “one saw, one plane and no real workbench”. It’s not much of a trick to make a saw bench in 60 minutes with power tools. Plus, I’m not sure a table saw or band saw would fit in the tool chest, anyway.

  19. GetOffMyLawn says:

    Too wide, too narrow, uncomfortable to sit on, why don’t you do it some other way, the angle should be 9.86 degrees instead of 13.4, there’s a weird thing in the background if you use a magnifying glass …what home for the terminally peevish are your blog readers confined in?

  20. Brian O. says:

    When our “spiritual leader” teases us and drops hints (like 5 and 21), we take up the challenge and analyze. Everything. Every single word, pixel, and nuance. Everything. To death.

    It’s not cult–really it’s not! It just looks that way. Sometimes. Well, OK, often.

    –Brian (who knew from memory that 4 parts out of 23 was the best integer approximation to 10 deg.)

    • tsstahl says:

      It doesn’t grate as much on your psyche If you assume they are unconsciously starting the post with “I like that idea and have adapted something similar in my work” instead of “that’s nice, but”.

      That’s nice, but Ron Herman really is the authority on saw benches. Your 2/3’s done hobby horses aren’t fit for cutting ham sandwiches on.
      I like the idea of a quick shop appliance that keeps me in the shop and not continually building the shop. The version I use has less of a splayed leg base and a wider top surface. Not exactly a traditional setup, but I’m not a traditional person. Thanks for stoking the idea fire.

      Some folks like the mule kick of the first example, I guess.

      Personally, I’m going to build a couple Shwarz style saw benches for the garage, and a Herman style one for the basement shop. Some day…

  21. Dean says:

    Maybe invert the top (cross) beam? I think the way it’s currently built, it appears that the top of the legs adds additional width for board support. I can’t imagine Chris using this design though if it didn’t work well as a sawbench. It sounds like some of the commenter’s want a hybrid sawbench. More of a small short workbench they can sit or kneel on (hold fasts and all).

  22. GregM says:

    I recently completed a saw bench made from reclaimed pallet wood that is sort of a hybrid of the Schwarz Mk I and Mk II versions and also features drawbored pegs and wedged through-tenons (not all in the same joint). I agree its totally over-engineered but I’d also like to add that I felt much more comfortable trying this somewhat challenging joinery on a sawbench for the shop than on a more refined project with much pricier lumber. I appreciated the practise and the lessons learned.

  23. Andrew Volk says:

    I sat through one of his demonstrations of the saw bench and he did make it in 60 Minutes with no sweat. (Well, maybe not literally.) The one above is different in that he didn’t end up shaving the edges of the top beam. But there are two differences that do interest me. One, the legs are held by only 3 nails here and he used 5 in the show. Also, the gussets are on the inside of the legs on the one above and he put them on the outside at the show. I can understand the nails, but why the gusset difference?

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