All Replies on In need of a new combination square, help please...

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View gr8outdrsmn's profile

In need of a new combination square, help please...

by gr8outdrsmn
posted 12-14-2008 04:20 AM

26 replies so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4215 days

#1 posted 12-14-2008 06:01 AM

I got a set in a wood box from Harbor Freight for about $20. I wouldn’t tell you it’s as nice as a Starret, but it’s pretty tight and accurate.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View John Gray's profile

John Gray

2370 posts in 3882 days

#2 posted 12-14-2008 07:15 AM

I can’t remember where I got it, maybe Woodcraft, but I have a 6” Swanson combination square I really like. Got the son one for Christmas because he said he liked mine so much.
Here’s where I got it:

-- Only the Shadow knows....................

View gizmodyne's profile


1779 posts in 4087 days

#3 posted 12-14-2008 08:20 AM

Second the 6” Starret. Best tool ever.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

View Woodchuck1957's profile


944 posts in 3761 days

#4 posted 12-14-2008 08:28 AM

Craftsman still makes or sells some pretty good hand tools, the combination square I bought just a couple years ago seems pretty nice. Also EmpireLevel makes a TrueBlue Pro lineup of combination squares that appear to be a good value, they offer guaranteed accuracy, and a lifetime warranty. Amazon sells the model e250 12” Heavy-Duty Professional Combination Square for $14, they also make a 6” and 16” version.

View GuyK's profile


356 posts in 4076 days

#5 posted 12-14-2008 01:00 PM

I have to agree with 3fingerpat and Giz, there is no other combination square like Starret brand. These are the ones that all other are compared to. If I had to list the top 5 tools in my shop, these would be right up there. The investment is well worth it.

-- Guy Kroll

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4122 days

#6 posted 12-14-2008 04:44 PM

I spent $50 on one that wasn’t a Starrett, but the difference between that and the two cheaper ones I’ve had makes the extra bucks well worth it. And if you think about this as a tool that you’re gonna have for a few decades, is it worth a penny a day?

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4215 days

#7 posted 12-14-2008 04:45 PM

While I agree with everyone’s recommendation of Starret, keep in mind Brian said he did not want to spend $60+ on a combination square.

Also, woodworking is not the same as machining metal. While a couple of thousandths can make all the difference to a machinist, wood just can’t be worked that precisely.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View snowdog's profile


1164 posts in 3979 days

#8 posted 12-14-2008 05:23 PM

WOW just did a search and $60+ for a Starret 6”? Maybe I am not as square and I thought I was <laugh> and that might be ok with me.

-- "so much to learn and so little time"..

View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 3836 days

#9 posted 12-14-2008 05:37 PM

I’ve bought a few squares and combos and I can tell you that the low end ones are crap, the marks on them themselves are 1/32th due to the stamped steel! The mid range ones from woodcraft are ok, but the marks are filled with paint that likes to chip away, leaving you with nice marks, but the same color as the rule, not so hot.

While I’m not rich, I believe that spending money on fundamental tools like calipers and Starret rules/combos is something you will never regret.

People say that woodworking is not worth going to 1/64th or whatever, and that may be somewhat true, however I believe that what you start with is critical as any mistakes or slight inaccuracies build up over the project. If you start with precise dimensions, you’ll life will be easier later in the project, so maybe instead of that drawer being 1/8th out of square, its only 1/32 or 1/16, and thats a big difference in quality my friends. And it sure is nice when you pull that tape out to measure square and stuff is right on the money.

$60 or $100 is a small price to pay over the life of all of your future projects.

-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View marcb's profile


768 posts in 3670 days

#10 posted 12-14-2008 05:49 PM

The Empire squares that are mentioned above are very nice for the money. I also believe they are Made in the USA. Or at least that’s what I remember on the packaging when I just looked at them at Menards.

Either way they are great for the money.

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3758 days

#11 posted 12-14-2008 05:54 PM

While I love my 12” Starret, I can certainly appreciate one’s interest in the “budget”. That being said, I have discarded most of my cheaper combination squares as none of them were square. This past summer I discovered that the “Pro” model combination squares made by Empire are exceedingly accurate and with modest cost. Their 6” combination square only cost $7.78 at Menards. (a Northern “big box”) This square has a permanent place in my shop apron. Empire also has a 16” Pro model combination square that costs around $12. These squares are accurate enough for general woodworking and even for machine set-ups. They are made in Milwaukee USA which ain’t too bad either.

Check out their web site;

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Doug S.'s profile

Doug S.

295 posts in 3705 days

#12 posted 12-14-2008 05:56 PM

I got a good deal on a lightly used 12” Starrett a month or so ago and should have done it sooner even at new prices. I’ve also got both a Starrett and Bridge City 6” combo square and both are excellent. This is one of those tools that you’ll only notice how good it is if you deal with the hassles of a poorly made one first. Keep an eye out on eBay. There are often listings that can be had for decent prices. Starrett, Brown & Sharp, Mitutoyo, Bridge City, etc. are all worth a few bucks more.

-- Use the fence Luke

View tenontim's profile


2131 posts in 3741 days

#13 posted 12-14-2008 05:59 PM

I have an older, cheaper square, and I remember it required a little “tuning” to get it square. Mine had a burr or casting slag on one side of the slot where the ruler goes. I filed that down flush and it’s square now. I had also looked into a new square and couldn’t believe the prices. Doesn’t really matter to me what the name is on it, as long as it’s square.

View ChicoWoodnut's profile


904 posts in 3812 days

#14 posted 12-14-2008 06:29 PM

Things you want in any combo square.

  1. Must be square <g>
  2. 45 degrees must be 45 degrees.
  3. Blade must lock tightly to maintain repeatable measurement.
  4. Edges ground smooth (ends too)
  5. Graduations etched (not stamped)
  6. Scale must start at zero (I have seen scales whose ends are ground too short in the middle of the first graduation)
  7. Matte finish blade so it’s easy to read in any light.

Find a combo like that and you will be happy regardless of manufacturer.

For me, accuracy is most important for tool setup. Blade hight when cutting dados or making tenons etc. is very important even to the 1/64th inch.

Repeatability is the most important though.

For instance, when making a panel all the stiles and rails must be EXACTLY the same size or the panel will not be square. Now take that one more step to an assembly. If you are making two side panels do all the layout/milling at the same time so both panels come out exactly the same.

Constructing projects in such a way that all the like parts are milled at the same time with the same setup makes perfect measurement less important.

Also, whenever possible use a part to make tool setup. For instance, when I want to cut a tenon I will cut the mortise first then lay one of the parts on the saw to get the blade hight.

Just my .02

P.S. I have a 12” Starrett Combo square for the shop and a cheap one for making fences and general construction work.

-- Scott - Chico California

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4096 days

#15 posted 12-14-2008 06:52 PM

I am a remodeling contractor and I use both Starret and Swanson. Here is my experience…

Starret offers me a guaranteed high level of accuracy on projects when the measurements are critical. They usually do not leave the shop and I trust them implicitly.

I keep cheaper ones like Swanson in the work truck. I protect them and treat them well but they all seem to break within a couple of years. When I tighten the nut to lock the blade in place, the nut breaks in half or the cast body breaks.

The overall accuracy of my newest set (just purchased) seems to be good because I checked them against my Starret (the standard for accuracy) but I still view them as disposable tools. Only time will tell if they hold up.

My experience with Starret is a far different one. When I used my first one I realized the absolute value that it was and so I bought another. That gave me an inventory of two 12” combo squares. I liked them so well I bought a 6”, a 4”, and a 12” protractor combo square.

I use all of them all of the time. And they were worth every penny.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View SST's profile


790 posts in 4192 days

#16 posted 12-14-2008 07:30 PM

This is really an interesting discussion, and while I can appreciate all the comments about the Starret level of tool, I have spent all my woodworking life (a pretty long time) using a couple of combination squares that I inherited from my dad and found at a garage sale. Maybe they’re accurate because they’re old, or maybe they’re not, (I’ve never really checked them against any known accurate piece) but I use them to true up my two 55 year old Shopsmiths and to measure and cut my projects, and everything seems to fit. The joints are sound and the legs all end up the same length.

I don’t want to take anything away from those woodworkers who want (need) all that accuracy, but I do agree with a comment made above that we’re not machining metal, here, we’re working with wood.
I’m thinking that the craftsman who made some of the most beautiful and durable furniture from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century worked more by touch and feel than by spot-on accuracy.

My suggestion is to go to a store that carries both budget and high end tools, compare the two, and if you’re on a tight budget, get an inexpensive one that is as close as possible to the high end one. Use it for a while and see if you’re happy with the results. In the mean time, save your money in case you’re not. -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

View gr8outdrsmn's profile


60 posts in 3450 days

#17 posted 12-15-2008 02:01 AM

Wow guys thanks for the great responses. I decided to go with the swanson 12’’ model from lowes. It was of suprisingly good quality and was marked down to $9 I think, haha. It will get me by for now, as I have had a lot of expense lately. Also I run a small electrical business, and we all know how well the building industry is going with this booming economy ( heavy sarcasm here). Not a lot of work for me right now, so I had to keep the $$$ down. Thanks again for the great info. I will be getting a Starret, just not right now.


-- Don't take life too seriously, you'll never get out alive.

View dennis mitchell's profile

dennis mitchell

3994 posts in 4311 days

#18 posted 12-15-2008 02:04 AM


View Rob 's profile


216 posts in 3664 days

#19 posted 12-15-2008 02:10 AM

I feel your pain. My square isn’t very square either; just a cheapie from the big box store. A Starrett is on my list of many many things to get for the shop. Until then however there is a trick to getting by. I remember someone posted it awhile back but I couldn’t find the link, sorry. All you do is a bit of filing down in the track that holds the rule and you can straighten out the square. For example say your rule angles toward the left of 90 degrees, then file on the right side of the rule. When you tighten your square it will settle now farther to the right. It takes a bit of trial and error to hone it in but it works. I check for square by drawing a line, then flipping the square and drawing another. When the two are parrellel then you are square.

View Jim Crockett (USN Retired)'s profile

Jim Crockett (USN Retired)

852 posts in 3730 days

#20 posted 12-16-2008 05:05 AM

The book “Router Joinery Workshop” by Carol Reed has a section titled “The Router Toolbox” in which she comprehensively describes how to check and true a combination square. I remember that she recommends using an auger file (because I had never heard of one), to lightly file the groove in the head to true the square. Very interesting book – you might want to see if your library has a copy and take a look at the entire book.

Also, you can do a quick and quite accurate check of your squares using a draftsman’s triangle (which also has many other uses in the shop, including being used to set your router bit height to 3/32”, at least with my triangle).


-- A veteran is someone who, at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to "The United States of America," for an amount of "up to and including his/her life".

View 8iowa's profile


1580 posts in 3758 days

#21 posted 12-16-2008 09:06 PM

I looked at the Swanson squares at Lowes. Their appearance is almost the same as the Empire squares, perhaps a copy. However, the Empire Pro is guaranteed to an accuracy of .001 per inch. There is no such guarantee with the Swanson. Also, for those who are interested, the Swanson is made in China.

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View pinkiewerewolf's profile


42 posts in 3722 days

#22 posted 12-16-2008 11:45 PM

I have a couple of the Empire squares and I’m very impressed with them. I haven’t had any problems with alignment on my Mark V or any other shop tool that I use them for setup on.
I’m sure you can get great stuff from Pinnacle (and I’d like to) but the empire stuff wasn’t cheap, yet they didn’t break the bank either.

-- John, Nor-Cal,

View TimN's profile


12 posts in 3459 days

#23 posted 12-18-2008 04:29 AM

I have to agree. The Starrett is the way to go in the long run. The Empire ones from the Borg are pretty good. It just depends on how accurate you want to be.

There were some reviews in the WW mags a while back comparing cheap, mid price and top of the line squares.

Some of the mid priced ones were pretty accurate. You might Google for square reviews, as I don’t remember which mag, I get too many….LOL


View Don Newton's profile

Don Newton

716 posts in 3615 days

#24 posted 12-18-2008 05:19 AM

Let’s face it, I’ve been woodworking a long time and have built everything from cutting boards to 18th Century reproductions, and I can’t make a cut as accurate as a Starrett can measure! I currently use a square from Sears and find it very serviceable. Heck, I can’t even see 1/64” any more!

-- Don, Pittsburgh

View Loren's profile (online now)


10384 posts in 3645 days

#25 posted 12-18-2008 06:33 AM

I have a lot of pricey tools but my 12” combo square is a cheapie.

It wasn’t accurate when I got it but I fixed that with a narrow file.
Now it’s fine for woodworking and I don’t worry about carrying
it in a toolbag.

For setting up machines a more accurate 4” square comes in handy.
My little 4” double square from Lee Valley is one of my most-used tools
for general layout and depth-gauging – I reach for it much more
often than a combo square.

View Tom Adamski's profile

Tom Adamski

306 posts in 3768 days

#26 posted 12-23-2008 06:35 AM

If you buy the cheap ones, don’t buy the Starrett! That way you’ll never be tempted to check it for square against the Starrett any you’ll be happy; not accurate, but happy. Kind of an ignorance is bliss thing…

You are only as accurate, precise, sharp, durable, etc, as the tools you own.

Buy the best tool and cry only once…

-- Anybody can become a woodworker, but only a Craftsman can hide his mistakes.

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