If you want to know just how useful a square can be in woodworking, look at any build made from multiple pieces of wood. It takes decent measuring equipment to align different pieces of wood to each other at various angles.
Combination squares are tools that allow you to measure angles accurately. Try squares are most commonly used for 45 and 90-degree angles. However, a combination square, especially with different heads, can do a lot more than that.
It can measure angles between 0 and 180 degrees and find the center of a circular or square workpiece. Precision comes at a cost, nevertheless, so some combination squares can be quite expensive. If you want to pick the best combination square for woodworking, you must first consider why you need it.
What do you look for in a combination square?
Combination squares are available in different sizes, but the ones you’ll find easily are 4-inch, 6-inch, 12-inch, 16-inch, and 24-inch models. You will get accurate readings on any of these squares, but you need to fit the tool to the job. If you specialize in small projects, consider the 4 – 6-inch range as they will be easier to use.
The same applies to big projects and the longer blades. If you’re buying your first square, 12-inches is considered the standard since it sits right in the middle. Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with getting a couple more in different sizes to ensure you’re covered in different situations.
The cheapest blade material is plastic, a type of high-impact polystyrene that, unfortunately, becomes distorted over time, especially if exposed to heat. High-end combination squares are made from cast iron, a rigid, durable metal that you must store away from moisture to prevent rust.
Blades can also be made of hardened steel, stainless steel, and die-cast zinc. Hardened steel is very tough, but it’s not immune to rust like stainless steel, which is not as strong. If you prefer hardened steel, look for a square with chrome plating as it will resist rust way better.
Die-cast zinc is a cost-effective material that retains high levels of accuracy and is rust-resistant.
Most of the models in today’s market are made from this material.
There are two things you should note about the markings of a combination square:
Its measuring units (are they imperial or metric?)
Its gradation (how are the markings divided?)
Measuring units can be in the metric (cm/mm) or imperial (in) system. Most squares have both measurements, one on each side, and you’re better off with such models.
Gradation refers to the level of detail the square has. Standard squares have a 10R gradation, which means their measurements are in 1/10-inch divisions. The most detailed squares will have a 4R graduation that puts their measurements in 1/8-inch, 1/16-inch, 1/32-inch, and 1/64-inch divisions.
Markings have a significant impact on the quality of the square. Ideally, they should be engraved into the blade material to ensure longevity. Colored markings are okay, except they fade and render the square unusable in time. Go for machine-etched markings as they remain clear and precise for the longest time.
Look for a combination square with interchangeable heads, and you won’t regret it. Most of them only have the ‘square head,’ which has 90 and 45-degree edges and can serve as a try or miter square. Square heads are also good enough to gauge depth or height.
Installing a ‘protractor head’ allows you to set any angle between 0 and 180 degrees. Protractor heads expand the scale of your projects and assist in measuring other aspects of your project. For instance, they can team up with a ‘centering head,’ a v-shaped attachment, to find the center on any square or circle. You can also use a centering head to mark angles perpendicular to a curved edge.
A combination square with all three heads is the best deal you can hope for, especially if it’s built with clear markings, detailed gradations, and quality materials.
What are the best combination square brands?
Starret has been making precision measuring equipment since 1880. Over 140 years later, the Massachusetts-based company is regarded as the world’s greatest tool maker and is a leading provider of measuring and cutting tools.
Swanson combination squares are available in 6 inches, 12 inches, and 16 inches and are among the most affordable brands in the world. The Swanson Tool Company started in 1945 and sold its first square in 1971. It’s an American company based in Illinois and manufactures all its tools at its Frankfort headquarters.
The North Carolina-based Irwin Tools has been providing tools since 1885, including cutting and measuring equipment. The company currently has one of the best combination squares in the market, the Irwin Tools 12-inch Combination Square.
Combination squares to buy this year
Irwin Tool (1794469) 12-inch Combination Square
This offers the best value for money. It is a die-cast zinc square with black precision-etched measurements and a rust-proof blade made of stainless steel (only the body is die-cast zinc). It’s
ideal for 45 and 90-degree marking and can also transfer measurements.
It’s a good price to pay for this level of durability and precision, especially coming from a brand that’s been making squares for over a century.
Starrett 12-inch Combination Square
This 12-inch Starrett is ideal for measuring and finding centers as it comes with both heads. You can mark right angles 45-degree angles and find centers on your workpieces with good precision since it features 4R gradations. The head material is cast iron, and the body is hardened steel, so it’s a quality build.
What’s more, the combination square has a reversible lock bolt, a spirit level, and a scriber. Measurements are photo engraved, and the hardened blade has a satin chrome finish for extra durability. It is a high-end combination square worth every penny.