With most people, just mention the word sawbucks and they jump to the conclusion that the conversation is about ten dollar bills. This slang word actually originated from the lumberman’s sawbuck, a wooden trestle with cross bracing. Early ten dollar bills had two roman numeral tens on the back side, which looked like double Xs. From there, it was an easy step to making the connection with the Xs of a sawbuck.
Those intrigued with word origins may be interested to learn that the word, sawbuck, derives from the Dutch zaagbok, which quite literally means a “saw goat”. Saw bucks typically have 3 sets of crossed legs which, with a stretch of the imagination resembles the haunches and horns of a billy goat.
The word zaagbok is still in use in Holland today, and is defined in Dutch-American dictionaries as a “trestle.” While the word sawbuck didn’t make it’s first appearance in the New English Dictionary until 1860, lumbermen and farmers alike have been using this type of trestle sawing device much longer than that. A sawbuck raises the lumber to a comfortable height and makes the task of hand sawing so much easier. And, unlike a standard saw horse, the sawbuck has the advantage of a third cradle which holds the lumber even after it’s been cut.
Sawbucks are old fashioned devices that aren’t much in use anymore. Since most do-it-yourself projects begin with milled wood, there really isn’t a need for a cradle to keep the lumber from rolling around while being cut. However, if you cut your own fire wood, make your own range posts, cut up yard branches, or are building a log cabin, a sawbuck is an indispensable piece of equipment.
How to make a basic sawbuck
Sawbucks don’t follow a particular pattern because they are often custom made to the height of the user. Depending on your height, you may choose to build the cradle of your sawbuck a littler higher or a little lower than Grampa’s old sawbuck, which is shown in the photograph.
The basic idea behind the sawbuck, is that you create a cradle from 3 sets of 2 x 4 planks that have been nailed into the shape of an X. These pieces of 2 x 4 should be of equal length ~ 40 inches is typical ~ with mitered legs so the sawbuck rests firmly on the ground. These Xs are then joined by horizontal cross pieces made of 40 inch lengths of 1 x 6. These cross pieces help form the cradle and stabilize the structure. A typical pattern has one horizontal cross piece at the legs, and second horizontal cross piece just below the cradle, and a third piece that is nailed on a diagonal.
Most farmer’s sawbucks are cobbled together with scrap wood, and allowed to sit outside by the woodpile, year round. When my sawbuck isn’t being used for cutting up wood, it does double duty as a place to tie up branches, for storing coiled garden hoses, and for drying inverted garbage cans. My teenaged boys even used the sawbuck to cradle bales of straw for archery practice.
For a cleverly designed collapsible sawbuck that can be stored in your garage or wood shop, visit the Mother Earth News link in the resource section for plans and detailed instructions. Once you build and start using an old-fashioned sawbuck, you’ll wonder how you managed to cut firewood without one for so long.