Best Combination Squares

Best Combination Squares Featured

It’s fair to say that even the most casual weekend woodworker has a few combination squares around their workshop. That’s because this functional square is a workhorse that does the job of several specialty tools. But what’s the best combination square for your needs? Our detailed buying guide covers the essentials, including our top picks and helpful insights, so you buy the right tool the first time. Read on for more information.

Best combination squares

The picks at a glance

ProductScaleGraduationsMarkings
iGaging 6-Inch 4rImperialUp to 1/64″Etched
iGaging 12-Inch 4rImperialUp to 1/64″Etched
Irwin 6-Inch and 12-Inch SetImperial & metricUp to 1/32″Etched
Johnson 400 EM-S 12-InchImperial & metricUp to 1/32″Stamped
Swanson TC130 6-InchImperial & metricUp to 1/32″Etched
Workpro setImperial & metricUp to 1/32″Etched
6-inch pick
iGaging 6-Inch 4r
Pros:
  • Up to 1/64” scale
  • Includes a great carrying case
Cons:
  • Imperial-only rule
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iGaging is a relatively unheard-of brand, but it should be on your radar if you seek a high-end tool without breaking the bank. The iGaging 6-inch 4r’s build quality matches what would otherwise cost double with a different high-end brand. Importantly, the square is built with high tolerances for squareness with an accuracy of 0.005″ per 12 inches. The satin chrome precision steel blade packs in an array of etched graduations up to 1/64″. We also appreciate that the product comes packaged in a fitted plastic case and has one of the most useful scratch awls among our picks.

12-inch pick
iGaging 12-Inch 4r
Pros:
  • Up to 1/64” scale
  • Includes a great carrying case
Cons:
  • Imperial-only rule
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iGaging offers a standalone 12-inch square with the same features as the 6-inch 4r model on this list. This precision tool is handy for checking square and striking 45 and 90-degree angles on bigger workpieces.

Best set
Irwin 6-Inch and 12-Inch Set
Pros:
  • Great build quality and price
  • Imperial and metric rule
  • Up to 1/32" scale
Cons:
  • Blade sliding mechanism isn't extra smooth
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This set is an excellent pick for beginner woodworkers wanting to build out their tool collection on the cheap. It’s hard to beat this set’s build quality, price, and precision. The array of etched markings means this set can strike precise imperial or metric measurements with the durability to last years. Each square also includes a single bubble level and an adjustable knob to lock in the blade. What stands out most is this model’s scratch awl. The awl is pressure-fitted and slides out fast, whereas all other picks on this list are threaded and must be twisted out. Upgrade pick: iGaging 6-Inch and 12-Inch Set. The set includes the same 6-inch and 12-inch models picked on this list. This is the pick to go with if you’re looking for a set with rulers with graduations up to 1/64″.

Alternate set
WorkPro Rafter Square and Combination Square Set
Pros:
  • Imperial and metric
  • Up to 1/32" scale
  • Etched blade markings
Cons:
  • Lightweight build quality doesn't feel premium
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The WorkPro Rafter and Combination Square Set is the perfect choice for woodworkers wanting both a combination square and a speed square. The 12-inch combination square has an etched ruler with imperial graduations up to 1/32″ and a metric scale. The 7-inch rafter (or speed) square also comes in handy for added versatility in the woodshop and around the home for other DIY projects.

Budget 12-inch pick
Johnson Level & Tool 400 EM-S 12-Inch
Pros:
  • Imperial and metric rule
  • Smooth sliding rule
  • Up to 1/32” scale
Cons:
  • Dual measurement scales take some getting used to when marking lines
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If you want the best bang for your buck, consider the Johnson Level & Tool 400 EM-S 12-Inch combination square. The one thing that concerns us with products at this price range is whether they’re accurate. There’s no concern with this model — the 45-degree and 90-degree angles and the ruler are accurate. This square also has a ruler with imperial (up to 1/32″ graduations) and metric scales. The major downside is that the ruler has stamped markings on the ruler. Etched graduations are fabulous for durability. That said, you’ll get many years of rugged use out of this tool. This model scored highest in our testing for the smoothest ruler slide and adjustable knob quality.

Budget 6-inch pick
Swanson TC130 6-Inch
Pros:
  • Imperial and metric
  • Up to 1/32" scale
  • Etched blade markings
  • Accuracy
Cons:
  • Scratch awl can be finicky to remove
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Swanson is synonymous with squares. It’s easy to understand why with the Swanson TC130 6-inch combination square. We think it’s one of the best budget combination squares available. The etched black graduations are precise and run up to 1/32″. Swanson also offers a lineup of combination squares, including a 12-inch version (comes in either a metal body style or its Speedlite plastic body style) and a 16-inch version. The adjustable ruler is among the best on our list, with a smooth glide that the Johnson Level & Tool model can only match.

Why do you need a combination square?

A combination square can be purchased on the cheap and is one of the most versatile tools in your shop. Some of the most common jobs they can help you accomplish are checking for square, striking 90-degree and 45-degree lines, scribing lines for rip cuts and joinery, measuring material thickness, adjusting tool heights, and setting saw blades at 90-degree angles.

Features of the best combination squares

Combination squares share a few common elements, including a base that can strike 90-degree- and 45-degree lines, a removable scratch awl, and an adjustable knob to lock in the included ruler’s length. Some combination squares will also have a bubble level. But the best option is the one that does the tool’s most important job: measuring for square. Beyond squareness, build quality is the next most important factor. We suggest staying with metal tools versus cheaper plastic options available in the market. Many great metal options are already available for any budget, so the tradeoff of picking plastic to save a buck or two doesn’t make sense. You’ll also want to pick a combination square with etched ruler graduations if you put your tools through the wringer and want them to last a long time. The alternative is a ruler with stamped graduations. Stamped isn’t bad, but it won’t last through decades of rugged use. Lastly, the best models should offer excellent build quality for a reasonable price. There’s not much sense in spending money on the most expensive options when you can get the same quality for half the price. You can get a quality combination square for $10 to $20 and heirloom quality for $30 to $50. The highest price squares run upwards of $100. No doubt you’ll appreciate the quality if one is gifted to you. But paying such a steep brand tax doesn’t get you much more than the premium picks we’ve included on this list.

How to pick a combination square

Choosing the correct combination squares comes down to three things. First, ask yourself what size projects you’ll be working on. Striking lines and measuring for square on big work pieces like cabinetry and furniture are best suited for a 12-inch square. Doing the same on smaller workpieces like small boxes and drawers is better suited for a 6-inch square. The reality is many woodworkers will find their projects vary in size. So, a good starting point would be to buy a 6-inch and 12-inch combination square from the same hand tool brand. Next, determine if you’ll need an imperial or metric scale ruler. Some combination squares include both. But remember that the rulers on these squares tend to have an imperial scale on the bottom of the ruler and metric on the top, not one side with imperial and the other with metric measurements. This just means you may need to fiddle with the tool’s orientation a few times on your workpiece to use the intended size. Lastly, pick your price range. You can get a quality tool for under $20 or spend $30 to $50 to get heirloom quality.

FAQ

  • Who makes the best combination square?

    Our testing found that iGaging makes the best combination squares for the money. Importantly, iGaging’s combination squares are built with higher tolerances than you’d need for the finest woodworking. Brands like Woodpeckers and Starret are common picks when searching the market for the best options. But is a pricey Starrett combination square worth it? There’s no doubt that high-end brands like Starret make great tools. But the brand tax you pay with these products isn’t worth the additional cost for most woodworkers. iGaging brand squares can be found for half the price of a Starret model, and both have similar tolerances needed for fine woodworking.

Methodology

We first researched the market to find the most popular woodworking squares. We found 17 models worth digging deeper into. We then reviewed online ratings and chat forums for opinions on these tools. That research resulted in our shortlist of six products we purchased to test in-house. Our testing consisted of checking for 90-degree, 45-degree, and ruler accuracy and inspecting each tool’s build quality. Build quality inspections consisted of reviewing the quality of the adjustable knob, the glide smoothness for the ruler, and the scratch awls ease of removal and insertion.

Picture of Nathan Hamilton
Nathan Hamilton
Nathan Hamilton is the founder of DIY Gear Reviews and a recognized expert in the home and DIY space. He has over 200 bylines covering topics such as power tools, hand tools, and woodworking. Nathan is the strategic director for DIY Gear Reviews, deciding everything from the content covered to designing the testing methodologies for lab-tested reviews. He can be emailed at nhamilton@diygearreviews.com.

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1 thought on “Best Combination Squares”

  1. I simply love my iGaging Combination Square 4 piece set. I also have the 6 inch iGaging Combination Square and the 4 inch iGaging Double Square. They are all perfectly square. They did come a little “rough around the edges” when they were brand new. I mean they didn’t slide very smoothly. I simply took some 0000 steel wool with a few drops of oil and smoothed up the edges. I also took some paste wax to the metal surfaces. The iGaging squares operated as smooth as butter after rubbing the wax off. My only complaint is it is a little difficult replacing the ruler once it has been removed from the square. I can live with that problem.

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