It seems there is no tool too simple to make more complex. Take sawhorses, for example.
Once upon a time, you just banged a few boards together to make sawhorses. It might not have been the most sturdy contraption, but it worked well enough to hold up boards for cutting or made a temporary work table.
In no time at all people were sharing plans for “best sawhorses” of all types sizes and styles. I still have four little “ponies” I built when I was doing timber framing that are like small, low sawhorses for cutting joinery at a comfortable height.
Then commercial manufacturers saw an opportunity and to build ready-made sawhorses to sell.
I’ve also seen sawhorse kits that have metal joints. Just add 2x4s, and you’re done. I’ve bought and borrowed a number of lightweight, fold-up contraptions that called themselves sawhorses, but they were often none to sturdy.
On the ultra-inexpensive side, I confess I have a pair of all-plastic sawhorses I picked up years ago from Harbor Freight to hold doors while I was finishing them and milling for hinges and lock plates. Even though those sawhorses both have broken leg braces, they still actually work in a pinch as long as you don’t need it too sturdy.
Heavy duty alternatives
What really prompted this discussion was seeing some of the latest really heavy-duty manufacturered options in sawhorses. Over the years, I’ve tried a few of these. Quite some time ago, I reviewed something called the Jawhorse from Rockwell, which incorporated a sliding bracket that could work one way as a little bench vise and another way to clamp a full 48-inch wide sheet of plywood. It was heavy with small wheels to roll it, which didn’t work very well over uneven ground, but it was handy for some things.
More recently, I’ve been trying a couple of options from Bora Portamate and ToughBuilt that are industrial level sawhorses built to hold hundreds of pounds and easily transform into a heavy-duty worktable frame. They also fold up quickly for easy storage or transport. Let’s talk about those.
Bora Portamate PM-4520
Billed as an “All-Terrain Horse,” the Bora Portamate PM-4520 is a folding, all-steel sawhorse that is designed to support up to 750 pounds. It’s most unusual feature is a rotating leg system designed to help you position the legs on uneven ground by rotating one set of legs until the horse is stable and then locking the legs in position.
Another nice feature is the notches cut into the ends of the cross-beams so you can lay 2x4 lumber across two sawhorses and make an ad hoc work table. The notches are not cut for the full lumber depth, most stud lumber will be a little proud of the crossbeams, which is somewhat awkward.
The whole thing folds up neatly inside of the cross-beam when not in use or for transport. Finger grooves are molded into the center of the cross-beam for carrying, which works okay for the weight of these horses, but is not as secure as a real handle.
At the maximum end of heavy-duty sawhorses is the ToughBuilt C650. It is rated to hold 1,300 pounds with one horse or 2,600 pounds with a pair.
Each of the four steel legs on this horse has sliding snap-lock positions so you can adjust the height of the horse or deal with extremely unlevel or sloped ground. Moving rubber-covered feet automatically adjust to unlevel terrain. There are 2x4 notches to make two horses into a jobsite table, and in this case, the notches are cut so the 2x4 lumber is level with the top of the cross-beams. Those cross-beams are also covered with a friction surface to keep stock from slipping.
When used as a table, the ToughBuilt horses can adjust from a low height for assembly work to a full worktable height. There’s also some fold-down material supports on the legs so you could hold sheet stock in a semi-vertical position for work or to make it easier to lever up onto the top of the horse. When done, it all folds up inside the cross-beam, and there is a sturdy carry handle, which is important as these horses are not lightweights.
With so many choices, your selection of a sawhorse gets down to personal priorities. Here are mine:
- Solid work support without too much weight
- Easy setup, takedown, and transport
- Pluses: Adjustable legs, carry handle, table conversion
Or you could just build it yourself the way you want, cheap and fast, or engineered exactly for your needs.
If you’d like to learn more about the commercial sawhorses mentioned here, visit rockwelltools.com (JawHorse), boratool.com (All-Terrain Sawhorse PM-4520), toughbuilt.com (ToughBuilt C650), and harborfreight.com (foldable plastic sawhorse).
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.