There's a Hole In The Bucket! Getting Started in Woodworking With Hand Tools

Getting started in woodworking can be a bit like the the old song „There's a Hole In the Bucket“, at every turn there is an excuse or stumbling block to success until you come back to the beginning and start over with the same litany of excuses. We are here to break that cycle and help beginning woodworkers get started. We will build up our tool kit and skills as we build a pair of sawhorses. In later posts we will build a Nicholson style workbench and a tool box as we add to our skills and tools. With that old song playing in the background we will help you get past the excuses and into woodworking.

I don't have any tools, Dear Liza… Well get some! Dear Henry

No way around it, whether you choose to buy new tools, vintage tools refurbished by someone else, or vintage tools you fix up yourself, you will have to get some tools. This project has been designed to get you started with a minimum of tools. You will need to get a 4.5 to 5.5 ppi ripsaw and a 7 to 9 ppi crosscut saw, a drill and a 3/16” bit, a screwdriver to match the screws you will buy (I like square drive screws), a framing square, a piece of stiff paper or card stock (or a bevel), a tape measure and a pencil.

The tools and finished project

I ain't got no lumber, Dear Liza… Go get some! Dear Henry

You will need materials so head to the lumber yard and get some! Lumber isn't free by any means but there is no reason to break the bank on tropical hardwoods when what you really need are skills at this point. Pick up a 10 foot 1×10 #2 pine board and an 8 foot 2×6 plank and 48 – 2 inch screws(a small box). This will cost you around $16.00. You might pick up some extra material to practice on as well.

I don't have no skills, Dear Liza… Then practice, practice, practice! Dear Henry

This is the trickiest part of this project. Read, watch videos, but more importantly, DO!! You will never gain skills by reading or watching someone else do it, you must do it yourself. That is why we start with inexpensive materials, if you make mistakes get more material and try again. Practice on scrap.

I don't have a sawhorse or workbench, Dear Liza… Remember that bucket? Dear Henry

That's why you get three 5 gallon buckets, a roll of duct tape and a 2×12 plank. I picked these buckets up at the Home Center for $2.60 each, I had the duct tape and a chunk of 2×12 lying around but they could be picked up at the home center as well. With these simple materials you will build your first saw horse. Ideally it would be taller but at 16 inches it will suffice.

Bucket saw horses

I have read in several places that a sawhorse should be about the height of your bent knee. This is not true!! A saw horse's height is determined by the length of saw you will be using. A rip saw is used at about a 60 degree angle to the surface of the wood. We will be using a 26 inch saw so our saw horse should be at least 21 inches tall. You can see in the photo how two saws of different lengths require different amounts of clearance above the floor.

Saw horse height

I ain't got a drawing, Dear Liza… Grab a pencil! Dear Henry

We will draw out the end of the sawhorse on our 1×10 using the square and pencil. Typically a proper sawhorse is 14 inches or less at the base so it can fit between 16 inch stud centers on a job site. We are making ours at 14 inches. Draw a center line at 7 inches from one edge and just draw ½ of an end view. Use the framing square to find the height and distance out from the centerline. Make the length of the leg the same as the length of the inside leg of the square(22 ½ inches) and measure over to the centerline using the inside of the short leg at 2 ¾ inches( the 2×6 is 5 ½ inches wide, this is ½ of that. Don't worry that it is at an angle).

Drawing of end view

Draw in the end of the 2×6 (1 ½ inches x 5 ½ inches) and draw the leg ¾ of an inch thick The cross braces are ½ of the width of your 1×10 so they are 4 5/8 inches wide. Once you have this drawn you can see that the brace is 6 inches long at the top. You can also ascertain what the angles are from the drawing.

But how do I lay out, Dear Liza?… You been layin' about for years! Dear Henry

Begin the layout on the 1×10 with your framing square. The length of the sawhorse leg is the same as the length of the inside leg of the square. Square off 4 lengths, each length makes 2 legs. Measure in from the edge 3 ½ inches and make a mark on your layout line, at your next square line measure in 3 ½ inches from the opposite edge. Using you square as a straight edge you connect those two points, you should now have a diagonal line. Repeat his process for each leg so you end up with a zig- zag line down the center of the board. You are doing this so you will end up with opposing pairs of legs.

Card stock bevel

Go back to your drawing, take the piece of card stock and lay it along the line of the leg and fold it along the line of the floor at the bottom of the leg, or set your bevel to this angle. Use this angle to mark the edge of the board at each line you squared across, they should all angle the same way.

Bevel angle at edge

There should still be some material at the end of the board that is unmarked. Find and mark a center line, it should be about 4 5/8 inches from the edge. Using your card stock or bevel mark an angle from the edge to the center at the end of the board. Measure over 6 inches and mark an angle going the other way. You can fold the card stock back on itself to do this. Repeat this 4 times on both sides of the centerline. The six inch length should be the narrow part of a trapezoid.

Bevel angle on face

The finished layout

How do I cut it? Dear Liza?… With a handsaw, Dear Henry

Using a handsaw isn't that difficult. It is important that the saw be sharp and have the proper set in the teeth for the material at hand. You don't need to force a sharp saw in to the wood, it will pull itself in. Take a light grip, point your index finger along the handle and move the saw back and forth. Take it easy in the beginning until you get the hang of it. Practice cuts in scrap are a good idea.

Sawing the angle

Take the crosscut saw and saw the leg pieces off, don't forget you are cutting at an angle to the face of the board. Do the best you can, you will get better with practice. Now use your rip saw to cut the leg pieces in half along the diagonal line. Also cut the brace piece in half on the centerline. Then take your crosscut saw and finish cutting the brace pieces out.

All the parts

That's so many pieces! Dear Liza!… More than your fingers and your toes! Dear Henry

Yes, and we still need to make two more! Grab your 8 foot 2×6 and square off two 32 inch pieces, take your crosscut saw and cut them off. You will have an extra 32 inch piece. Just set it aside, you may need it for the workbench later.. Place the best side of your 2×6 up on the bucket saw horse and using one of the trapezoidal brace pieces as a gauge draw a 6 inch x ¾ inch rectangle at each corner of the top pieces(the top edge of the brace is 6 inches x ¾ inch).

Layout notches in top

Use that same piece to draw an angle on the end of the top at each of the lines.

Layout notches on end of top

Use one of the legs to draw an angle on the edge of the top at each of the short lines. Use your saws to cut out these sections. Remember to watch the angles!

Layout notches on edge of top

My arm is so sore, Dear Liza… You're gainin' some skills! Dear Henry

Now you need to lay out and notch the legs. Lay out the leg notches by lining up the leg in the notch in the top and drawing a line. Remember that the legs are sawn at an angle and are in pairs of rights and lefts, keep the angles in the proper orientation. Layout all 8 legs. Using one of the brace pieces as a gauge lay out the length of the notch and the angle on the edges of the leg. Remember there is an inside and outside brace. Mark a line parallel to the edge of the leg about ½ to ¾ inch in from the edge to layout the depth of the notch. Saw out these notches using your rip and crosscut saws.

Marking the leg from top

Marking the leg on edge from brace

Sawing the leg notches

You're almost there! Dear Henry… There's holes in these boards, Dear Liza

Just a few holes to drill and you are ready for assembly! Drill two 3/16 inch holes in each end of the brace pieces 3/8 of an inch in from the end and about 1 inch in from the edge. Drill 2 holes in the wide end of the leg piece about 1 inch in from the end and 1 inch in fro the edge of the notch, these holes go in at an angle to match the angle of the top of the leg. To hold the braces while drilling them I used a butt clamp. I laid a leg on two of them, one at each end of the leg, and sat on the leg.

Drilling the legs at an angle

Using leg for butt clamp

Put her together! Dear Henry… There's so many screws! Dear Liza

You will need some 2 inch long screws and a screwdriver. Place the brace in the leg notch keeping the angles of the leg and brace going the right way and attach the brace to the leg through the bottom screw hole.

Screwing the lower screws in the leg braces

Do this with the other leg of the pair, turn this over and attach the other brace through the bottom holes as well, you will now have a floppy leg assembly. Do this with the other three leg pairs.

The legs ready for top

Take the top and slide one of the sloppy leg assemblies on to the end. Being careful to keep the braces snug up against the bottom of the top piece drive 4 screws through the legs in to the top.

Sliding the top in to the legs

Do this with all of the leg pairs. Now, as best you can, rack the legs to align the brace pieces with the edge of the legs and drive in the remaining two screws through the brace in to the leg.

You did it! Dear Henry… It don't sit quite level, Dear Liza… Well saw off that long leg, Dear Henry… I think I can do that! Dear Liza

You should now have 2 sawhorses. Set the saw horses on a flat surface and see if all 4 legs touch at the same time. It is very seldom that they do.

Saw horse on bench

To get all of the legs to touch at once you have two options. The first option, if your legs are just slightly off, is to cut off one of the long legs. Using a pair of wedges (door shims work well) slide a wedge under the short leg until the horse stops rocking. Slide the other wedge under the same leg until it is snug and draw a line on it.

Marking the wedge

The marked wedge

Take that wedge over to the long leg you are going to cut off and placing your pencil on the line you drew scribe a line all the way around the long leg.

Marking/scribing the long leg

Using your cross cut saw cut the leg off at the line and your saw horse should sit flat. If your saw horse legs are way off you will need option two. The technique is the same only you wedge both of the short legs an equal distance from the flat surface and scribe and cut off both long legs. You should now have two very serviceable saw horses and some newly developing skills. Don't fret if everything isn't perfect on your saw horses, they will be strong and serviceable.

Where do I learn more? Dear Liza… Just Google! Google's your friend! Dear Henry

Pete Taran's Articles on refurbishing old saws…frameset.cgi?…

I'm confused and befuddled, dear Liza… Then e-mail Mike, Dear Henry

A special thank you to Liza, Henry and especially Dean Jansa for taking the photos and helping out.

Sorry, but I have the comments turned off because I get so much junk that way. Use the e-mail above to comment to me.