Different Types of Woodworking Squares

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The world of woodworking is filled with squares, and we don’t mean the woodworker, although some may be a bit square.  Squares are indispensable tools in the home woodworking shop and all carpentry work, as well as at construction job sites, and for such outdoor projects as erecting a fence around your garden or yard.

We have written about one such square, the sliding t-bevel, even though it is also sometimes called a false square.  It actually serves a different purpose than the squares we will discuss today – transferring angles from one project component to another.  Nonetheless, it also does measure square angles, too. 

But for this piece, we want to look at the other true squares for your woodworking shop.

What Is A Square In Woodworking?


It’s a tool used for marking and determining the accuracy of a 90-degree angle.  They are a common hand tool in woodworking, metalworking, construction work, and in technical drawing.  Some squares will also have a measuring device or ruler as part of the tool, broken down in inches and fractional inches, as well as centimeters and millimeters,  and others might have a bubble vial for measuring levels.

Its primary function, as we said, is to determine 90-degree angles to ensure that project components are perpendicular to each other.  By making that determination, your new dining room table, for instance, will be level, and your tableware will lay flat on it rather than roll.

What Are Some Of The Most Commonly Used Squares?

In no particular order of presentation, some of the most commonly used squares in a woodworking shop will include:

Try Square.  This is one of the squares you are likely to find in the hands of cabinetmakers.  It’s a fixed square, meaning there is no adjustment that is used for checking corners and edges, and for those purposes, it serves them well.

Here’s a quick video about the try square, short and to the point.

You can find a very decent try square for under $8 or could spend more depending on the material of the stock (like walnut), upwards of $20.

Speed Square.  Shaped like a right triangle, this square has a flange on its base that will butt up against the edge of your workpiece to hold it in place while you use the various measurements along many of its edges to mark cut lines at 90 degrees and 45 degrees.

Its versatility doesn’t stop there, though.  It’s a square that can help you mark a rip cut line for lumber, and its diagonal edge (remember – it’s shaped like a right triangle) includes markings used in laying out rafters and stair angles.

It’s called a speed square because of the wide range of angle and cut line markings it can make while held in place – it’s speedy in those tasks.

Here’s a good video showing a speed square in action.

As for price, again, it depends on the material, but speed squares can be found for under $10 and over $20.

Framing Square.  This square has a long blade and a shorter, narrower tongue, in the shape of an “L,” often made of aluminum.  It’s especially useful in marking out wider boards and sheets of drywall, as well as determining squareness.  The measurement marks on the square are laid out on both sides of the blade – inside and outside edges – broken down into 1/8, 1/10, 1/12, and 1/16 for very accurate marking.  You are most likely to find them on construction job sites.

Leave it to “This Old House” to demonstrate a framing square for you.

Expect to pay $10 on the lower end and $30 on the higher end.

Combination Square.  This is almost the Swiss Army Knife of squares, a multi-purpose square used in woodworking and metalworking.  It’s a ruler, referred to as the “blade,” often made of stainless steel, on which a “head” will slide along the length of it to the desired measuring point.  That head is secured at the measuring point by turning an adjustable knob. 

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The head has what is referred to as the “anvil” that sits at 90 degrees to the ruler and a “shoulder” that sits at 45 degrees to the ruler.  The head will also hold a bubble vial.  With all of these features, you are able to:

  • measure, mark, and verify the accuracy of a 90-degree angle;
  • measure, mark, and verify the accuracy of a 45-degree angle;
  • measure the center of a circular project component;
  • measure depth and distance along the blade.

Heads are interchangeable simply by loosening the adjustable knob, and the square is easy to use no matter which head sits on the blade.

Along with combination square and combo square, it is also called an adjustable square and a sliding square.

Combo squares are the top shelf of squares and can start at around $13 and be as much as $150 and higher, depending on materials and brands.

Which Type of Square Is Mainly Used For Woodworking?

From furniture making to new home construction to general woodworking, the four most commonly used squares would be the four we have particularly mentioned and discussed above.

But if we had to choose just one for our woodworking shop tool inventory, we’d choose the combination square.  Most woodworkers engaged in general woodworking and furniture making will have it handy.

As we said above, it’s a Swiss Army Knife kind of square, fitting many uses in the shop.  It’s good for marking lines at 90 degrees, 45 degrees, and even 135 degrees, and because of its adjustable sliding ruler, it’s good for marking lines along a workpiece for scribing and ripping lumber on your table saw.

What Is The Most Accurate Square?

Marking with a Square

As we have written on so many occasions, the right tool for the right job is the rule we follow in our shop.  This applies to squares as much as to any other tool in our arsenal.

For instance, a try square, an excellent tool with a simple skill – measuring, marking, and checking 90-degree angles, is the right tool when working with small pieces of wood.  It is made for that simple skill and does it well and easily without any moving parts.

The speed square is designed for far more uses, as we have said, and not a single, simple skill.  It’s more versatile than the try square and is truly speedy to use.  Watch the video we suggested to get an idea of how quickly you can put it to use.

Each of these is accurate in performing the tasks mentioned and easy to use.

But if we had to pick one square that incorporates all of the benefits of each and more, providing great accuracy in the tasks it can do for us, we would choose the combination square.  In addition to measuring and marking 90-degree and 45-degree angles and measuring depth and distance along the blade,  the combo square will also enable you to determine level using the bubble vial housed in the head.

It’s easily adjustable, moving the head along the blade; the stainless steel blades are sturdy, durable, long-lasting, and interchangeable heads.  It measures well in all ways and is easy to use. 

For a more wide-ranging discussion and demonstration of a variety of squares not mentioned in this article, we might suggest you check out this video of all squares used in woodworking.

Last update on 2024-04-13 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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