If working wood with hand tools instead of power tools is what interests you, then you have to have a saw bench.
No matter what you want to build, you’ll need a way to break larger stock down into smaller pieces. The saw bench is the very first “tool” I use with every project I build. Doesn’t matter if I’m working on an 8 foot workbench or a small box. Everything starts with the saw bench.
A saw bench isn’t anything more than a low stool or sitting bench. It’s about knee cap height and should be sized for you and your body and not built based on dimensions found in a plan.
The benches that I use are completely cheating. They have a two piece plastic bracket that holds the whole thing together with a long bolt and a wing nut.
If these are so nontraditional and even something I would consider cheating why do I use them? Simple. They work and require very little in tools and materials to get you up and running. For me, getting started is always the hard part!
The sawhorse brackets can be purchased online from Lee Valley quite inexpensively. Since saw benches are almost always used in pairs, do yourself a favor and buy two from the start.
In addition to the brackets, you’ll need one eight foot 2×6 and two eight foot 2×4’s to build two benches. (You could also make the top from a 2×8 or even a 2×12, but a 2×6 fits nicely in the brackets and is all you really need for the top.
As far as tools go, you need a saw. Chris Schwarz has talked about the Stanley Sharp Tooth Saws and I couldn’t agree more! My saw is slightly different and a little more than the $10 Chris paid, but I like the wooden handle a little more, though it is still a little large for me.
In addition, you need a way to drill some holes. The only assumption I’m going to make in your tool kit is that you will have a way to drill holes. A cheap corded or cordless drill is all you need along with a small set of bits. A larger bit like a forstner or spade bit would also be nice for this project, too. (If you find that you really like hand tools, you can switch to an egg beater drill and a brace and bit later. For now, stick with this one power tool.)
I’m sure some of you will want to know how to go about cutting the lumber to make a saw bench if you don’t have a saw bench. No problem! Use two 5 gal. buckets from the home center. You can buy these for a few bucks and they’ll get put to other uses in your shop as time goes on.
To make the saw benches, it couldn’t be easier, measure from the floor to your knee cap. Now, check the directions included with the bracket. It’ll tell you exactly how long to cut the 2×4’s. You’ll need to cut one end of each leg at an angle, but the directions give you a paper template to lay out the correct angle. Don’t worry if you don’t cut the angle perfectly, the brackets have some play in them so the legs will find a spot where they won’t wobble on their own.
To make the top, cut the 2×6 to somewhere between 2 and 3 feet. It doesn’t really matter how long the top is. Figure out where you are going to store these when they are not in use, and make sure the top is short enough to fit that space. Now, cut a notch in one end of the 2×6.
I would recommend against making the notch as long as I did. This bench is about 2 ft long and the notch is about 6″. This makes the legs sit a little too far in from the end so this bench is a little tippy. The notch is only for ripping, and you could get by without it so either make a smaller notch (maybe 4″), or leave it out entirely.
The only other thing to do is drill the holes for the bolt. First, dill a hole large enough and deep enough for the head of the bolt to sit below the surface of the 2×6, then drill a through hole larger than the threads of the bolt.
To assemble the benches, slide the bolt through the holes in the top, into the bracket, and into the bottom part of the bracket, then slip the legs in. Tighten the wing nut just enough to hold everything together. Flip the bench over and set it on the floor. Push down on it a little and wiggle it back and forth just a bit so the legs find the place where they want to rest without making the bench wobble. Tighten the wing nut all the way up and you’re done!
The nice things about building this from 2×4’s and a 2×6 is that almost all the edges are already rounded. If you want, you can take some sandpaper and round over the edges that you cut, but you really don’t need to at this point. Remember, someday when you have a larger tool kit you’ll make a nicer set of saw benches. These just need to work!
Since you have some 2×6 left over, use it for sawing practice. Chris Schwarz give some great tips on how to use a saw bench on his Popular Woodworking blog. Make some practice rips and crosscuts so you are more familiar with how your body should be positioned and more importantly how you should position the saw benches so you don’t accidentally cut into them. (You can see, I cut into the ripping notch on mine the first time I used it. Do as I say, not as I do!)
If you’d rather watch someone explain sawing mechanics, check out Bob Rozaieski at the Logan Cabinet Shoppe. He has a great video on everything you could want to know about sawing.
Episode #4: The Mechanics of Sawing
Now, use up that scrap and get comfortable with the saw. You’re going to need it!