Many times, the difficulty in choosing between alternatives far outweighs that of finding an option that will best serve a particular purpose, especially where the alternatives all seem good for that same task. Here, there is the question of which square to use for your projects, or rather, which square is the best for your project.
As a woodworker, You’ll find many types of squares on the shelf at the home center, but you don’t need them all. This article will help you in making the best choice between a speed square and a combination square.
By the way, while a right angle is a standard by which all carpenters build, the key to all corners meeting at 90 degrees, drawers fitting snugly, windows closing tight, and walls standing straight is a square. Most squares provide a fixed 90-degree angle in various forms, and some can help copy or draw other angles.
A Speed Square is a tool that combines common functions of the combination square, try square, and framing square into one. This triangular carpenters’ marking out tool, manufactured by Swanson Tool Co. Inc, makes measurements and mark lines on lumbers that have been carefully dimensioned, and is also used as a saw guide for short 45 and 90-degree cuts.
Combination squares are versatile tools that are used to carry out a lot of functions in woodworking, stonemasonry, and metalworking. It features a ruler and one or more interchangeable heads that may be affixed to it. The standard or square head is the most common head, used to layout or check right and 45° angles. Invented in 1879 by Laroy S. Starrett, the combination square continues to be a commonplace tool in home workshops, construction job sites, and metalworking.
Speed Square vs. Combination Square
Speed squares are much more useful for most woodwork projects.
Even though combination squares are used pretty much only by trim carpenters, cabinet makers, and other fine/precise woodworking type stuff, they are marked for one very useful feature, which is being able to slide the ruler to index and measure small clearances and transfer that measurement exactly back to your workpiece. What this means is that a combination square is adjustable along the ruler. A speed square is not.
As for which one is better, I will stick to my choice of a speed square. You know why?
A speed square is handy, fast, it fits easily in any one’s tool belt, has a nice flange that makes it easier to use as a proper fence for a cross-cut. You can easily clamp it down if you need to.
That said, we could still consider the combination square too. A combination square is adjustable along the ruler, it has a nice bubble level that occasionally comes in handy and it always “feels” more exact than the speed square.
The speed square is cast aluminum while the combination square is steel so it could possibly pick up some rust. It is also more likely to stay in the toolbox whereas the speed square is always in the belt or close to the work.
The combination square’s marks are small and any much older eyes might need to squint, while the speed squares are big, pressed-in numbers and marks are much easier to see even through goggles.
After considering most semi-professional carpentry done mostly on home projects, I would probably still go with a speed square. It is quite light, it is durable, it is less likely to bend (though it does happen), it doesn’t rust and it does everything you are probably going to need it to do.
In the consideration of “looks”, it is the preference of 90% of all pro framing and trims carpenters out there so you will look more professional using it – just in case that matters to you. It matters to me, I will admit, and maybe some others. And when speed is a concern, the ease of use and visibility of the markings makes the work go faster – though if it’s for DIY homeowner stuff, you’re going to stop all the time to admire how awesome what you did was, so speed may not be all that important to you in the real sense.
On a flip side consideration, the combination square might not entirely be a bad idea. It does offer some handy advantages for finished carpentry. Unlike the speed square, the 45 degree is flippable to a 135-degree angle.
Also, the adjustable nature is good for fitting consistent heights/depths on your measurements across a larger body of work.
All things being equal, I am going to stick with my option of going with the speed square.