Woodworking squares are essential tools that every woodworker needs in their toolkit. From marking precise angles to checking for square, having a high quality square can make all the difference in accuracy and precision. There are several types of squares to choose from, each with their own strengths and purposes.
The most versatile option is a combination square, which allows you to check 90 and 45 degree angles, use as a ruler for measurements, and often comes with added features like a level and removable parts. These are great for beginners looking for an all-in-one option. Try squares are simple yet robust tools strictly made for checking 90 degree angles. Speed squares have a triangular shape perfect for marking quick angles as well as using as a circular saw guide. For those doing fine woodworking, double squares and precision marking squares allow for accuracy down to 1/64″.
When choosing the right woodworking square, consider which features will be most useful for your needs. Precise woodworkers may want to invest in a high end double square, while hobbyists will find good value in an inexpensive combination square. Durability of markings and materials is also important for longevity. Taking the time to choose the right square will ensure you have a reliable tool that can stand up to frequent use and provide the functionality needed for all types of woodworking projects. Read on for an in-depth look at the best woodworking square options currently available.
An Introduction to Woodworking Squares
Before diving into the types of squares, it’s helpful to understand what woodworking squares are and why they’re so important for woodworking.
A woodworking square is used to check for and mark perfect 90 degree and 45 degree angles. Squares allow you to ensure your project pieces are square before joining them together. They are also used to accurately lay out lines for making cuts and chiseling out recesses.
Having a square that is true and precise is crucial for fine woodworking. Even slight errors when marking with a square can throw off the accuracy of joints and entire projects. Higher end squares tend to have tighter tolerances and better build quality to prevent these issues.
In addition to accuracy, woodworking squares need to be durable and comfortable to use frequently. Features like measurement markings, sturdy materials, and a comfortable grip all contribute to making a square easier to use and control.
While squares are simple tools in theory, there are a surprising number of different types, each with their own nuances. Let’s take a deeper look at the most common woodworking squares available.
Types of Woodworking Squares
There are five main types of squares used for woodworking:
- Combination Squares
- Try Squares
- Speed Squares
- Double Squares
- Marking/Precision Squares
While they all serve the core functions of measuring and marking angles, each type has unique features suited for certain uses.
Combination squares are a highly versatile option that can function as a try square, a miter square, and a depth gauge.
This flexibility makes combination squares a popular choice for many woodworkers. They provide the ability to measure 90 and 45 degree angles, depths, and distances with one compact tool.
- Key Features of Combination Squares:
- Measure 90 and 45 degree angles
- Built-in bubble level
- Removable parts like the head, ruler, and scriber
- Rulers typically 6, 12, or 24 inches
- Fine adjustments and tightening knob to secure parts
- Pros of Combination Squares:
- Versatile for measuring angles, depths, and distances
- Precise measurements when properly calibrated
- Durable build quality to withstand frequent use
- Variety of sizes for different uses
- Replaceable parts available
- Cons of Combination Squares:
- Among the more expensive square options
- Can be tricky to learn and use for some beginners
- Not as portable as smaller squares
Some recommended combination square products include:
- Swanson 12-inch Combo Square – A premium option made in the USA.
- Empire 6-inch Combination Square – Compact and accurate. Good for smaller projects.
- Johnson 12-inch Combination Square – Budget friendly option with decent quality.
Try squares are composed of a simple metal blade attached to a wooden, plastic, or steel handle. They are strictly used to check 90 degree angles.
Try squares are primarily used in woodworking to confirm the squareness of boards before joining them together. Their simplicity makes them straightforward to use.
- Key Features of Try Squares:
- Typically have blade lengths between 4-12 inches
- Handles made of wood, plastic, steel, or aluminum
- Locking mechanism on metal handled models
- Pros of Try Squares:
- Very affordable option
- Easy to use even for beginners
- Durable and accurate when made with quality materials
- Easier to store than larger squares
- Cons of Try Squares:
- Only check 90 degree angles
- Wood handles can warp, twist, and break over time
- Not great for measuring distances or marking lines
Some recommended try square products include:
- Swanson 12-inch Try Square – An industry standard made of stainless steel and wood.
- WoodRiver 6-inch Try Square – Compact size with a rosewood handle.
- Empire 12-inch Heavy-Duty Try Square – Durable aluminum handle option.
Speed squares have a compact triangular shape perfect for quickly marking lines and angles. Most models have a hypotenuse edge of 7 or 12 inches.
The lightweight, portable design makes speed squares very convenient for projects requiring frequent angle checking and marking. They strike a good balance of affordability and utility.
- Key Features of Speed Squares:
- Typically made of lightweight, semi-flexible aluminum
- Some models have rare earth magnets for easy storage
- Laser etched measurement markings
- Pivoting fence for marking angles
- Pros of Speed Squares:
- Highly portable and easy to use
- Very affordable option
- Can mark 45 and 90 degree angles quickly
- Durable aluminum construction
- Great for repetitive angle marking tasks
- Cons of Speed Squares:
- Not as durable as heavier metal squares
- Primarily suited for rough carpentry
- Limited uses beyond basic angle marking
Some recommended speed square products include:
- Swanson 7-inch Speed Square – The standard go-to option for most.
- Johnson 12-inch Aluminum Rafter Square – Good for bigger projects.
- Milwaukee Speed Square – Features handy magnets for storage.
As the name suggests, double squares have two connected rulers to check for square along edges and measure precisely. Many woodworkers keep one in their tool belt for frequent access when dimensioning lumber.
The dual rulers provide versatility to use the square along both edges and the width of a board simultaneously. This helps streamline the process of preparing lumber.
- Key Features of Double Squares:
- Two stainless steel or aluminum rulers connected at 90 degrees
- Locking mechanism to secure rulers at a precise width
- Very fine ruler graduations
- Pros of Double Squares:
- Allows for extremely precise measurements
- Dual rulers improve efficiency
- Sturdy and durable construction
- Variety of sizes like 4, 6, 8, and 12 inches
- Cons of Double Squares:
- Bulkier shape than other squares
- Takes practice to use both rulers effectively
- Among the more expensive square options
Some recommended double square products include:
- Woodpeckers 6-inch Double Square – Premium accuracy and quality.
- Starrett 4-inch Double Square – The gold standard for precision.
- WoodRiver 4-inch Double Square – A budget version with decent durability.
Marking squares allow for extra precision when scribing lines, thanks to extremely fine measurements. Most models have graduations down to 1/64th of an inch.
The defining feature of these squares is rows of holes for cleanly marking lines with a knife or pencil point. This creates thin, consistent lines without wavering.
Marking squares are primarily used in fine woodworking where every measurement matters. They help ensure perfect accuracy when laying out joinery lines, for example.
- Key Features of Marking Squares:
- Very fine measurements down to 1/64″
- Holes or notches for scribing cut lines
- Stainless steel or aluminum construction
- Mostly available in 6 inch size
- Pros of Marking Squares:
- Accuracy down to the nearest 1/64th inch
- Clean and straight line marking ability
- Premium durability for longevity
- Portability for easy access
- Cons of Marking Squares:
- Among the most expensive squares
- Not often needed for basic woodworking
- Only mark 90 degree angles
Some recommended marking square products include:
- Woodpeckers 6-inch Precision Square – The gold standard for accuracy.
- Incra 6-inch Marking Rule – Sturdy and compact.
- Veritas Dual Marking Gauge – Uniquely mark two lines at once.
Now that we’ve covered the main types of woodworking squares, let’s look at the key factors that go into build quality and durability.
Comparison of the Main Types of Woodworking Squares
|Square Type||Description||Key Features||Best Uses||Pros||Cons|
|Combination Square||2-in-1 square for measuring angles and distances||Adjustable blade, bubble level, removable parts, 6-24 inch rules||Measuring 90 & 45 degrees, distances, depths||Versatile, durable, accurate, variety of sizes||Expensive, tricky for beginners|
|Try Square||Basic square for checking 90 degree angles||4-12” blade, wood/metal handle||Checking squareness of boards||Affordable, easy to use, portable||Only checks 90 degrees, wood can warp|
|Speed Square||Triangular square for fast angle marking||7 or 12” hypotenuse, aluminum||Marking 90 & 45 degrees quickly||Lightweight, super portable, multi-use||Not as durable, limited uses|
|Double Square||Dual-blade square for extra precision||Two connected rulers at 90 degrees||Precision measurements along both edges||Extremely accurate, efficient, durable||Bulkier, expensive, more complex|
|Marking/Precision Square||Square with scribing holes for extra accuracy||Holes/notches for knives/pencils, 1/64” markings||Precise cut line marking and layout||Accuracy down to 1/64”, clean line marking||Very expensive, not needed for basic projects|
Build Quality and Durability
The materials used to construct a square play a big role in its potential accuracy and longevity. Higher quality materials lend themselves to precision and durability.
Here are some material considerations for woodworking squares:
- Wood Handles – Most economical option but can warp and break over time.
- Stainless Steel – Provides the most durability and resistance to wear.
- Aluminum – Decent durability with lightweight portability.
- Plastic/Acrylic – Very affordable but prone to breaking.
Beyond the raw materials, here are some other build quality factors:
- Graduations – Etched markings last longer than printed or stamped. Fine graduations improve precision.
- Blade Flatness – A perfectly flat blade ensures accuracy along the whole edge.
- Tolerances – Higher end squares have tighter manufacturing tolerances for squareness.
- Locking Mechanism – A smooth, reliable lock makes readings more consistent.
- Fit and Finish – Tight assembly with no wiggle between parts improves durability.
- Replaceable Parts – Components that can be replaced easily extend usefulness.
By evaluating both materials and design, you can determine the potential accuracy and lifespan of a square. Paying for quality is often worth it due to the importance of precision in woodworking.
Price Ranges for Woodworking Squares
Woodworking squares can range in price from less than $10 for basic options to over $100 for precision marking squares used in fine woodworking. Let’s break it down into budget levels:
Budget ($10 – $25)
Squares in this range include:
- Basic combination squares
- Shorter 4-6 inch blade lengths
- Simple try squares and speed squares
- Acrylic or low-grade aluminum construction
- Very inexpensive
- Good enough for beginners
- Allow you to learn how to use squares
- Won’t last with heavy use
- Less precise than pricier options
- Often made with lower tolerances
Mid-Range ($25 – $60)
Squares in this range include:
- Quality combination squares and try squares
- Typically longer 6-12 inch blade lengths
- Sturdy aluminum or hardwood construction
- Ideal balance of price and performance
- Accurate enough for most hobbyists
- Built to last many years
- Lack premium features of costlier squares
- Not for perfectionists
Squares in this range include:
- Precision marking squares
- Heavy duty double squares
- Aircraft grade aluminum or stainless steel
- Outstanding accuracy and durability
- Can last several decades if cared for
- Ideal for fine woodworking
- Overkill for some builders
- Pricey initial investment
For most hobbyist woodworkers, a quality mid-range combination square coupled with an affordable speed square should handle the majority of measurement tasks. Investing in ultra premium squares is best saved for dedicated woodworking professionals.
Finding the right woodworking square requires balancing your budget with performance needs. First, decide which square types best fit your common uses – marking combinations, quick angles, or dialed-in precision.
From there, invest in the best build quality you can afford while keeping your experience level in mind. Remember that you don’t necessarily have to buy the most expensive option to get professional results. With the right technique, an accurate mid-range square can yield impressive precision.
Take your time evaluating the materials, design, and key features of each square. Determine which aspects will contribute most to improving your woodworking process. Doing the research upfront pays off with squares that enhance your skills and last a lifetime.