How accurate is a used Starrett combination square?

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Forum topic by Brett posted 10-24-2011 09:16 PM 22760 views 0 times favorited 41 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Brett's profile


660 posts in 2682 days

10-24-2011 09:16 PM

I bought a Johnson combination square from Home Depot earlier this year for a few bucks. When I took it home and tested it (by drawing a line perpendicular to the edge of a board, flipping the square around, and drawing another line), I discovered that it was horribly out of “square”; the ends of the two 12” lines that I drew across the board were almost 1/4” apart! I returned the square to HD and discovered that the other squares of the same model were similarly out of whack (sadly, a few days later I observed that the square I had returned had been put right back on the display, even though I explained how awful it was).

Later I bought a Craftsman square at Sears. This one tested out very well; the lines I drew perpendicular to the edge of the board were exactly parallel, at least as far as my eye could tell.

Since then, I’ve read a lot of comments by LJ forum members and by various web bloggers extolling the virtues of Starrett combination squares. My question is this: if the square I already own makes perpendicular lines with the same apparent evel of accuracy as a square that costs five times as much, do I really need a pricier square? Sure, it would be nice to have one, but what advantage does a Starrett square provide that a Craftsman does not?

Also, if I decide to drink the Kool-Aid and buy a Starrett, how good are the used squares on eBay? Does a Starrett square tend to stay true over decades of use, or do they ever get out of alignment, either with use or perhaps being dropped onto a concrete floor?

-- More tools, fewer machines.

41 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10396 posts in 3647 days

#1 posted 10-24-2011 09:28 PM

You don’t need a Starrett.

A cheap square can be made accurate enough for woodworking by
filing the alignment tabs in the casting until it makes parallel lines
when flipped.

Eventually, if you keep your eyes open, you’ll find your Starrett at
a garage sale for a couple of dollars. I’ve found a few.

View Bertha's profile


13528 posts in 2692 days

#2 posted 10-24-2011 09:42 PM

I bought an expensive Starrett and compared it to my cheap ones. The cheap ones were just as accurate but the Starrett just feels really nice in your hand. Of course, vintage try squares feel even better but mine were WAY off.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3662 days

#3 posted 10-24-2011 09:43 PM

Starrett is top quality stuff, and if your budget permits, by all means go for it.

But Loren is right … I use Empire Level ( ) combination squares that I bought several years ago at Menards. The ones in my shop (I have 5) are dead-on, and cost a fraction of what my neighbor paid for his Starrett.

If I owned a Starrett and knocked it off the bench, I think I’d go apoplectic over the idea of damaging such a fine tool. With the Empire squares … not so much.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View PurpLev's profile


8535 posts in 3647 days

#4 posted 10-24-2011 09:47 PM

I reviewed a starrett square as compared to an Empire (pro) square from HD. both were just as square!

the benefit of the starrett is that the machining is much better, and the operation is much smoother and easier to set at the correct values without fumbling around with it too much, but it is not any more square for sure.

that said, I replaced both my Empire squares with starrett equivalent because they were smother and easier to use but only did so when I found them at reasonable prices (estate sales). For my use and budget I would not buy them new at the store although if your work depends on it you may consider that a good investment.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2960 days

#5 posted 10-24-2011 09:55 PM

Accuracy depends on how many times it was dropped.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4930 posts in 3959 days

#6 posted 10-24-2011 10:40 PM

My thoughts?
Stay away from Sears.
I boiught a Starret at an old shop for nuthin’ (I think $10.00). It was a 4”, and I use it all the time for needed layout.


View Tedstor's profile


1643 posts in 2632 days

#7 posted 10-25-2011 12:27 AM

I had a similar experience with a Johnson square. And I also found Empire to be a superior product in comparison. When I recently compared Craftsman and Empire, I found they looked pretty much identical. I suspect they were manufactured on the same line.

I do like the satin finish that Mitutoyo, Brown/Sharp, and Starrett offer on their rules. I recently bought a lightly used Starrett combination square head, but did not get a rule along with it. Paid $10 and can get a rule for $20-30. I figure its a good way to get into a Starrett at a realistic price.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3073 days

#8 posted 10-25-2011 02:21 AM

I purchased a Starrett combination square on e-bay for a relatively modest price (don’t really remember but I know it was a low price). I’m delighted with it.

I can’t justify the price of a new Starrett, but if you find one on e-bay at a good price, give it a try.

Don’t be afraid of doing some clean-up. The best bargains on e-bay just need a little cleaning.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View PeteMoss's profile


207 posts in 3469 days

#9 posted 10-25-2011 03:10 AM

If the tool you have does the job you need it to then it really comes down to what you want, not what you need. I do have to admit though that if you asked me what was my “favorite” tool in the shop, it would be my 12” Starrett Combination Square. It just makes me happy.

-- "Never measure......cut as many times as necessary." - PeteMoss

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1117 posts in 3059 days

#10 posted 10-25-2011 03:28 AM

Maybe the board you used is not square.

But you can send the starret square back to the factory to be re- aligned again for free.

View willie's profile


533 posts in 2453 days

#11 posted 10-25-2011 06:04 AM

I have bought many used Starrett squares, scribes, and other machinist’s tools that can be used for woodworking, from a guy at a local flea market. He sells new machinist tools and buys up used tools from guys that retire and resells them at the flea market. If you look for deals, they are out there. I’d rather buy quality used Starrett or Lufkin tools that I know will outlast me if I take care of them. It saves a lot of money.

-- Every day above ground is a good day!!!

View Drengineer's profile


2 posts in 1836 days

#12 posted 05-16-2013 07:30 AM

I have a Starrett #4 combination square set that I have had for over 30 years. It is still accurate and the easiest to use of the many combi squares I presently use. I bought one from Sears a few years ago and couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. It was horrible. I also use a Sowa and a Mitutoyo but the one I always reach for first is my old Starrett.
Another I got talked into buying is a Japanese one called Asimeto. Engineered in europe and manufactured in Japan but very nice as well.
I love tools and make my living with them and find you cant go wrong with Starrett, Brown. And Sharpe or any of the top line names. They may cost more but last a lifetime and you can hand them down and the name still makes them appreciated.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2675 days

#13 posted 05-16-2013 01:46 PM

I am very disappointed with the 12 and 6” combo squares out there today, mainly Johnson and Empire.

the tightening screw shaft eventually looses it’s ability to hold the ruler and can be pulled out of square. I bought one recently and the notch that holds the ruler actually broke off… no, I didn’t over tighten it.

I’ve been surfing E bay for months and see good deals on Starrett tools, including the box. I know they’re more expensive but – look at what you’re comparing it to. Something that is designed based on a perceived price point.

I also have some vintage Craftsman HQ squares that are really nice. They did make a few good industrial grade tools back in the day. Good prices on E bay too, considering everyone wants the Starrett.

My absolute favorite square is a little 6” rectangular shaped Starrett square I bought new from Woodcraft.

There is something about a Starrett when you hold it in your hand that makes you smile and say,

” My grand kids will own this some day.”

View fatman51's profile


335 posts in 1836 days

#14 posted 05-16-2013 06:57 PM

A used Starrett might be perfectly accurate, if it has been taken care of. The nicest square in my shop is probably my Starrett die makers square. I have a drawer full of squares, however, all sorts of brands and types, old and new. As a matter of fact I bought some of the oldest ones new, but that’s another story. I have never found any problem with the Empire and, as someone already mentioned, the present Craftsman squares are the same as the Empire. The square I use the most in my workshop is a six inch,Swanson type, rafter square made by empire. it is quite accurate and I appreciate the simplicity of a triangle square. The tri-square I use the most is a Stanley, the combination square I use the most is an old Lufkin. I have a sixteen inch Swanson combination square that I have been quite happy with. The square I have owned the longest is a six inch Great Neck combination square that I got new in 1979. It has been a great tool. If one can have one square, the combination square is probably the best choice. All that matters is that your square is square.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

View ShaneA's profile


6929 posts in 2597 days

#15 posted 05-16-2013 07:16 PM

If they are square that is a great start. I have a new Starrett square and a vintage one as well, along with some other newer makers. While the new ones are somewhat expensive, they do work well and should last a very long time. Plus the vintage Starrett stuff is just cool to me, in the same way as vintage Stanley Bedrocks. I just happen to like them. I look through the ebay listings regularly to pick off any good values on the old Starrett stuff.

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