More than one old-timer I know tells how new carpenters used to be judged on the job by their ability to build a sawhorse. If they could deal successfully with the required angles and joints of a sawhorse, creating something solid and useful for the rest of the crew to use and scrutinize, then they could probably frame a roof or put together a wall. Back then sawhorses were four-legged wooden resumes.
But as building sites have become more plug-and-play propositions, site-built sawhorses have pretty much taken a back seat to ready-made alternatives. Sawhorses are still useful, though far less essential than they used to be. That’s too bad in one way, though it’s hard to argue with the performance of some of the new alternatives Here’s a look at two portable workstations that have earned a regular place in my life.
Triton Super Jaws
The 45 lbs. Super Jaws has no trouble supporting this old-time wooden sawhorse solidly, as you can see. Despite unbalanced loads like this one, the three-legged design remains stable on uneven surfaces. That makes it useful for planing doors, supporting stationary machines bolted to interchangeable wooden bases, and for cutting materials with hand-held saws. I use my Super Jaws most often for metal fabrication and welding. With practice you can fold the unit up in about half a minute when you’re done work. The yellow and brown epoxy-powder coating is tougher than paint, and the corrosion-resistant nuts and bolts really are rust-proof.
Clamping action happens via a foot-operated pedal that works through a mechanism generating anything from light pressure to more than 2000 lbs. of clamping force at the urethane-padded jaw faces. Operation is faster than thread-driven mechanisms, with jaws locking automatically as foot-pressure is released.
I did have some mechanical trouble with the locking system on my Super Jaws when I first started using it in the late 1990s, but repaired it easily on-site with a centre-punch and hammer. Besides the fact that the jaws open as wide as 35 inches, operation of the tool is quick and easy because the design makes use of both your upper and lower body, something no other workstation I’ve seen does as well. You’ll find Super Jaws at Home Depot and Amazon.
Workmate Router Table
Do you have a router? This shop-built idea helps any router reach full potential. It supports the router for operations like milling molding, rounding the edges of small parts, and cutting dado and rabbet grooves. But full-size router tables can be heavy, awkward to transport and expensive. That’s where my home made router table top comes in. That’s me to the left using it in the late 1990s.
A double-layer of 3/4-inch birch plywood makes a great router table top, especially when it’s edged with hardwood. It’s hefty enough to be solid, and I made it to be clamped solid in my portable Workmate. The plywood top is thick enough to secure the 3/4-inch diameter anchor dowels set in to the bottom face. These dowels extend downwards and interlock with holes in the Workmate top, securing the router table surface by tightening or loosening the jaws. A plastic base plate sits in rabbet grooves in the router table top, with the router suspended from it. Since gravity holds the machine in place, just lift the router out whenever you want to use it free-hand. I hardly ever remove the over-sized router table base plate since it’s a least as handy as the stock plate.
The right workstation makes a huge difference in the speed, success and quality of what you make or fix or build. Get the workstation right and everything else falls more easily into place.