Combination Squares - quality brands?

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Forum topic by Elizabeth posted 10-10-2014 10:32 PM 2984 views 2 times favorited 43 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Elizabeth's profile


823 posts in 4434 days

10-10-2014 10:32 PM

So I have known for a while that I need a decent combination square. Right now all I have is a 4” try square (from Rockler I think) and a couple of 90 degree angles that I got from estate sales.

I was watching a boxmaking DVD and the person was using a Starett brand combination square to check a 45 degree miter. I looked them up online. WOAH they are expensive. But I know, quality tools bear a high price for the accuracy involved.

My questions – are there any quality brands other than Starett that I should be looking at? I see that Starett also makes a center head; do you have one and do you find it useful?

What length of rule do you find most useful for a combination square? I am mostly going to be making smallish projects that can be manipulated by one person, not huge items of furniture.

43 replies so far

View pintodeluxe's profile


6498 posts in 4104 days

#1 posted 10-10-2014 10:38 PM

I don’t know that brand is so important, but there are some key features I like.
-Etched ruler, rather than a coarsely stamped one.
-Markings in a gradation you can read, usually 16ths or 32nds
-Locking knob that operates smoothly and stays put

I have 4”, 6”, and 12” combination squares. The 12” version is useful for marking mortises on 4 legs at once, but the 6” is a better all around tool because it fits in a shop apron.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Elizabeth's profile


823 posts in 4434 days

#2 posted 10-10-2014 10:44 PM

I’m not hung up on brand names specifically but I don’t know any other way to weed out the inaccurate squares.

View BubbaIBA's profile


545 posts in 3667 days

#3 posted 10-10-2014 10:55 PM

The question you have to ask….Am I going to keep woodworking or is it just a passing fad. If you plan to keep on keeping on the Starrett is a bargain. You will buy it once, unless abused it will be accurate and last your life and likely your grandchildren’s life. I would start with the 12” because it will do everything the smaller one does plus. Then later add the 6” or even the 4”, with both you will use the 6” more but it is limited where the 12’ isn’t.

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 2715 days

#4 posted 10-10-2014 11:00 PM

Woodpeckers and Incra both make great measurement and layout tools. Some specific to wood work.

See the review section for specific details on their products.

6 inch Carpenter's Square

-- Brad, Texas,

View Elizabeth's profile


823 posts in 4434 days

#5 posted 10-10-2014 11:10 PM

Bubba – great question. I’ve wanted to do woodworking since middle school shop. Got my first tools about twelve years ago (mini lathe and scroll saw) but had to sell them when I went overseas. I’m back now and have spent the last five years kitting out a woodshop and I plan to stay in this house until I’m too old to safely use the machines anymore. So I am pretty sure I’m in it for the long haul.

View Rob's profile


704 posts in 4362 days

#6 posted 10-10-2014 11:20 PM

I got some very helpful feedback when I asked about the cheaper Starrett squares a while back.

-- Ask an expert or be the expert -

View Elizabeth's profile


823 posts in 4434 days

#7 posted 10-10-2014 11:25 PM

Thanks Rob, I’ll check out that thread.

Brad, Hmm, they’re running the one piece T-squares again right now…

View Loren's profile


11324 posts in 4939 days

#8 posted 10-10-2014 11:38 PM

I wouldn’t make a big deal of it. I have one I got
at harbor freight. There are little tabs you can file
to adjust a combination square. I did this once
on the cheap square and it’s accurate enough
for woodworking.

What you get with a Starrett or other pro machinest
brand square is a real nice ruler part. Keep your
eye on estate sales and things and you’ll find
all the machinest layout tools you want eventually,
often for a buck or two a piece.

Also you can look on ebay for Starrett and other
old brands. Even under years of tarnish on the
ruler part you’ll be able to recognize finely engraved
markings and that’s often the sign of quality. Anything
with a Japanese or German sounding maker name
on it is likely to be high quality. Brown & Sharpe
is another good maker.

Lee Valley tools is a good source for accurate layout
tools. They don’t have the low prices they used to
have but the quality is always good from them and
they will never jerk you around if a product doesn’t
meet your needs.

View rick1955's profile


264 posts in 2722 days

#9 posted 10-10-2014 11:43 PM

I have a Starrett and Mitutoyo at home. I bought the grizzly combination square four piece set for work five years ago and actually like it better than the Starrett. It was only $40 at the time. Plus it’s a four piece set with the circle center finder and angle gauge.

-- Working smarter with less tools is a true crafts person...

View AandCstyle's profile


3306 posts in 3548 days

#10 posted 10-10-2014 11:43 PM

Elizabeth, if all you want is to check for 45*, you might consider drafting triangles. They are extremely accurate and won’t break the bank. HTH

-- Art

View hoosier0311's profile


706 posts in 3316 days

#11 posted 10-10-2014 11:47 PM

I agree with Rick, I have the same Grizzly set and they are as accurate as any cut I make. : )

-- atta boy Clarence!

View waho6o9's profile


9110 posts in 3868 days

#12 posted 10-11-2014 12:11 AM
20.00 + shipping and handling.

Tough to beat.

View DocSavage45's profile


9071 posts in 4133 days

#13 posted 10-11-2014 01:02 AM


I feel the same way. WTF! found what I think is comparable and it won’t rust if you have high humidity?

I own the 12 inch and the next larger size.

-- Cau Haus Designs, Thomas J. Tieffenbacher

View knockknock's profile


473 posts in 3464 days

#14 posted 10-11-2014 02:22 AM

My 2 cents:

A combination square is the Swiss army knife of marking and measuring tools. It’s a ruler, straight edge, T-square, try-square, miter square, depth gauge, parallel gauge, square/miter fence/block and optionally a level. Everyone should have one.

How much you spend on one is up to you. If you like high quality tools or worry about accuracy, get an expensive one like Starrett or Browne and Sharpe. or get a mid quality/priced one like PEC.

Personally, although I like quality tools, a combination square is one of my most used and abused tools. So I went for the cheaper but good and accurate enough for me, Empire combination squares. I have the 6”, 12” and 16” sizes, of which I use the 12” the most. The scales on the ones I have (not from Home Depot) are 16ths, 32nds and millimeters. The blades (ruler) are etched stainless steel, the anvils (head) are zinc (or zinc alloy) in case one gets wet (I really do abuse them). They come with levels and the rarely used scribe. Also they are cheap enough, that it won’t break the bank should one get ruined.

-- 👀 --

View GeneralDisorder's profile


45 posts in 2631 days

#15 posted 10-11-2014 02:39 AM

I have an Empire, Starret, and a Brown and Sharp. The Empire is in my truck and now used the most. The Starret is going into my new shop tool cabinet along with the center head (which I never use). The Brown and Sharp is heavy built but slightly out of square and stays by my wood lathe.

The empire seems fine but I don’t think it will last as long as the Starret. The little nub on the locking bolt wore out and Starret sent me another. It fit perfectly and I am the second owner so it’s pretty old.

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