Saw Horses Are So Easy

A couple of sawhorses being employed in a previous life.

by John Robinson

My friend Broaddus had built a workshop out of a shed and I was helping him finish it out. There were shelves and a workbench to build, lighting to install, and tools to organize. A fun kind of a project for sure, even if it’s not my shop.

The main objective for the afternoon was to build a substantial workbench, and maybe get a good start on some shelves too, but we decided that first we’d whip out a pair of saw horses. We figured that we’d need some, not just for the making of shelves and the workbench for the shop, but also for future projects.

Saw horses, as you probably know, are simple affairs, usually quickly made from surplus 2×4’s. Typically made in pairs, they are used to support lumber or works-in-progress for cutting, trimming, and sanding. The height is such that the work is situated ergonomically, although saw horses are far too plain and simple to be comfortably associated with such a fancy word.

While Broaddus located the circular saw in the pile of tools, I searched the scrap wood pile, which was pretty much everywhere, for some suitable pieces of lumber from which to assemble the horses. We cleared the debris out of an area of floor we deemed large enough to work. “Man, it’s going to be good to get this place organized,” I thought as I started in earnest. I had gathered suitable wood, and besides the saw, Broaddus had collected other odds and ends such as tape measure, square, pencil, screws, and nails.

Now, I had used saw horses extensively in earlier projects, notably a farmhouse redo in 1987, but I had never built a pair, never really appreciated them for the elegant utilitarian structures that they are.

Clipping right along, in no time we had the first saw horse built, or so we thought. Setting it up on the plywood floor, we quickly noted that it didn’t sit evenly on its four legs. Maybe if we kind of push it down a little. “Oh, it will be fine once a little weight is applied to it,” I offered, as I gently rocked the sawhorse back and forth with my index finger. Broaddus nodded hopefully.  Hmmmm.  But no, it’s back to the drawing board. Not even we could tolerate such a rocking horse.

The next hour or two was spent in hilarious frustration as our efforts to construct a proper pair of saw horses continued. Lots of cursing -excuse me, discussion- and many more tools, were employed in the effort. The result of the original attempt was partially dismantled and evaluated. Different angles were introduced to the positioning of the legs, screws were placed in different ways and in different sequence. A warped leg was shaved here and there where it rested on the floor, and this produced an undesirable effect upon the other legs. Each change introduced into the configuration of the horse created a new source of unevenness, a different character of the rocking, the elimination of which remained elusive; we were outsmarted at every step.

The comedy of our efforts was not lost on Broaddus and me. Between us there were quite a few years of formal education -and I’m talking about even beyond the fourth grade- and we actually have a fair bit of experience at basic carpentry, the previously mentioned farmhouse reconstruction, for instance.

Yeah right, I hear you say. Anyway, we well knew that both of our dads would be shaking their heads and roaring with laughter if they could have seen us there. After all, they represent a legacy of creative genius, and here we were bumbling hilariously along in our elementary carpentry shenanigans.

We finally got an acceptable design –through several incarnations- and the construction details figured out, and the second saw horse progressed fairly smoothly, a few minor issues notwithstanding. Such was the day’s progress: two passable saw horses. But more than that: a renewed appreciation for the simple and for that which is taken for granted.  And gosh whenever I see those crazy saw horses I will certainly have to laugh.

Next time we’ll build that workbench.

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