Speed squares are one of the most versatile hand tools for carpenters, woodworkers, and weekend DIY warriors. They can be used to check for square, to mark accurate 90 degree and 45 degree angles, and to scribe consistent lines. But what is the best speed square for your needs?
We did the legwork for you and tested in house a diverse selection of models to help you make the right choice the first time. Check out our in-depth guide that covers our top picks, along with essential education to help you decide which speed square is right for you.
What is a speed square?
A speed square is a hand tool used in woodworking and carpentry projects. Its triangle shape is well suited for marking accurate 90 degree and 45 degree lines. Speed squares are also referred to as carpenter or rafter squares. Regardless of the name, they’re all the same tool.
Additionally, speed squares include standard scribe slots every 1/4″ to easily lay out lines along the length of your work piece. Butt the base up to the edge of your workpiece, insert a pencil into a scribe slot, then slide the speed square and the pencil along the edge of the workpiece.
Speed squares can be used to measure the pitch of a roof and to layout angles from 0 degrees to 90 degrees.
Features of the best speed squares
The best speed squares have a few things in common.
First off, they are precision built with accurate frames. A speed square is only as good as its squareness, and its ability to mark 45 degree angles. All speed squares that made our shortlist were square out of the box.
Next, a good speed square will include high contrast, high visibility markings. You’re going to use a speed square in different lighting conditions, so it should be easy to read in differing scenarios.
Many of the best speed squares will also have slight recesses, which can make it easy to set your pencil into when scribing lines.
But recesses aren’t required for accurate measurements. Speed squares with precise edges, versus rounded edges that don’t lay 100% flat on a board, are a handy feature. It’s easy to mark precise and consistent lines when you can butt your pencil directly onto the edge of your speed square where it meets the work surface. Squares with rounded edges will lead to inconsistently-marked lines, depending on the angle you hold your pencil.
What is the best speed square size for your needs?
If you’re buying just one, your most versatile option is a 7-inch speed square. This is the perfect size for 2 x 4 and 2 x 6 lumber, and it’s still big enough to act as a saw guide for crosscuts. Many weekend DIY warriors will find that a single speed square is enough to tackle any of their projects. A 7-inch speed square also easily stows away in your tool-belt pouch to carry around the jobsite. A 12-inch speed square is too big to lug around in your workshop apron or toolbox.
When a 12-inch speed square comes in most handy is for cross cuts on wider workpieces, such as 2 x 8 lumber and larger, as well as certain sheet goods.
DIY Gear Reviews’ best speed squares:
- iGaging 7-inch bench square — Best speed square for woodworking
- DFM small carpenter square — Best mini speed square
- Milwaukee 7-inch magnetic speed square — Best 7-inch speed square
- Dewalt 12-inch premium rafter square — Best 12-inch speed square
- Dewalt 7-inch and 12-inch premium rafter square set — Best speed square set
- Swanson Tool Co T0118 Composite Speedlite Square — Best cheap speed square
- WORKPRO rafter square and combination square set — Best combination square and speed square set
iGaging 7-inch bench square
This iGaging 7-inch bench square is the best speed square for woodworking. Any speed square can be used in woodworking, but there are benefits with this model over other speed squares. First off, one edge includes marking holes every 1/8″ to easily scribe consistent lines for rip cuts. Secondly, the footing is built to be 1/2″ tall with a 1/4″ offset on one side and a 3/8″ offset on the other. Thee standard measurements make for fast machine and tool setups, and to layout common joinery lines. iGaging also offers a 4-inch and 7-inch combination square set if you’re looking for both sizes.
DFM small carpenter square
This model’s unique take on a speed square is three fold. Not only is this speed square pocket sized to still mark 2 x 4 lumber, but it also line scribing holes for marking lines every 1/16″. Plus, you can mark precise 22.5, 30, 45, 60, and 67.5 degree lines using the include 1/4″ set pin. This can help you for setups to cut polygons, hexagons, and octagons. Its small size also comes in handy for setting precise 90 and 45 degree table and circular saw angles.
Milwaukee 7-inch magnetic speed square
You inherently know great build quality when you hold something in your hand. The Milwaukee 7-inch magnetic speed square fits that bill. It has a robust frame, laser-etched markings, and scribe holes at 1/4″ graduations. But where it shines most is that it includes three rare earth magnets that are great for storing the tool and when working with metal projects.
Dewalt 12-inch premium rafter square
The Dewalt 12-inch premium rafter square is the best 12-inch speed square we came across. It’s durable with a hefty frame and is easy to use with the high contrast markings. Its scribing holes are also built for better accuracy than other general use speed squares. That’s because the deep scribe slots leave little room for error when marking lines to rip lumber.
Dewalt 7-inch and 12-inch premium rafter square set
Tackle enough projects and you’ll quickly find a need for both a 7-inch and 12-inch speed square. This set is the best choice if youre looking for both sizes from the same brand. The smaller speed square is perfect to carry in your tool belt whereas the 12-inch square is great for marking longer 90 and 45 degree lines. The large speed square also makes it a great speed square to use as a circular saw or jigsaw guide to cross cut 90 and 45 degree angles.
Swanson Tool Co T0118 Composite Speedlite Square
It’s hard to beat the price for this versatile 8-inch composite speed square with etched markings. Chances are, you’ll also never lose sight of it with tools strewn around your shop and its bright orange or yellow color. Importantly, it is accurate, which is a concern for any square at such a low price. Our tests demonstrated that this square is no less accurate than other picks on this list. We also found its scribe holes to be some of the most consistent among our picks. The teeth-like “v” slots accept different pencil sizes without wiggle room leading to inconsistently-measures lines.
WORKPRO rafter square and combination square set
WORKPRO makes the best speed square and combination square set. Purchase this set and you’re covered for nearly any DIY or woodworking project. The set includes a 7-inch rafter square with high contrast white markings for great visibility in different lighting conditions. The 12-inch combination square has added versatility with its rule that includes both imperial (up to 1/32″ graduations) and metric markings.
Who makes the best speed square?
Dewalt, iGaging, Milwaukee, and Swanson manufacture some of the best speed squares for the price. These four brands have models that span the price spectrum from bargain bin to gift-worthy. They also cover the spectrum of needs from weekend DIY’er to professional contractor.
While high-end brands, like Woodpeckers, do make great hand tools, the high costs generally aren’t worth it for most people. You can still get a speed square that is accurate and versatile for a fraction of the cost.
How we tested the picks
We first researched the brands of speed squares available on common online sites and at home improvement stores. We narrowed our initial list of over 20 speed squares down based on user ratings. Then we purchased the best potential models to test in house.
In house tests were first focused on measuring for 90 degree accuracy. If the square isn’t square, it’s no good at any price. All picks on this list passed squareness tests in line with what’s needed for common DIY and woodworking projects. While precision is important for any square, a speed square isn’t best used for consistency and accuracy required of fine woodworking. These jobs are best left to more precise woodworking squares and combination squares.
All picks were then used in a series of tasks to better understand each model’s pros and cons. We placed high importance on high contrast markings, the ease of use for scribing lines, and build quality.