Sawhorses: from site-built to sophisticated
Will Sampson with sawhorses

Sawhorses come in all shapes and sizes, from shop- or site-built to commercial light weight to heavy-duty.

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.

timberframing ponies
Will Sampson built these small timber-framing “ponies” for handling work on posts and beams.

Commercial options
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.

harbor freight plastic sawhorses
These lightweight plastic sawhorses from Harbor Freight still work even with broken leg braces.

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 all-terrain sawhorse
This All-Terrain Sawhorse from Bora Portamate has a rotating leg system to adjust to uneven terrain.

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.

ToughBuilt C650 sawhorse
The ToughBuilt C650 sawhorse will hold up to 1,300 pounds and has adjustable legs. Notches on the ends make it easy to use two horses to make an instant worktable that supports 2,600 pounds.

ToughBuilt C650
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.

toughbuilt sawhorse detail
A detail shows the 2x4 notch, non-slip top surface, adjustable legs, and fold-down material supports on the ToughBuilt C650.

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.

Sawhorse musts
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 (JawHorse), (All-Terrain Sawhorse PM-4520), (ToughBuilt C650), and (foldable plastic sawhorse).

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.