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Updated November 2021
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Starrett 12-Inch Combination Square with Cast Iron Head
Starrett
12-Inch Combination Square with Cast Iron Head
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Bottom Line

The Starrett combination square has a reputation for being the best on the market and delivering highly accurate results – this model lives up to that impressive reputation.

Pros

With a hardened steel blade, cast iron head, and precision lock bolt, this model tops the rest in durability and accuracy. Owners rave about its accuracy and build that is likely to last a lifetime.

Cons

It's expensive, but it's also an investment for your tool collection that will pay for itself with years of reliable measuring.

Best Bang for the Buck
Swanson Tool 12-Inch Combo Square
Swanson Tool
12-Inch Combo Square
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Bottom Line

In spite of a few consumer concerns, many more buyers love all that this square has to offer considering its budget-friendly price.

Pros

A popular choice thanks to its low price and user-friendly features, including the durable acrylic level vial and die cast zinc head. A practical option that fits most users' needs.

Cons

Some consumers received tools that were several degrees off from square. The blade is a bit flimsy, and the slide lock has been known to stick.

Johnson Level and Tool 12-Inch Metal Combination Square
Johnson Level and Tool
12-Inch Metal Combination Square
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Bottom Line

Despite a few reports of inaccuracies, this is a decent combination square that comes at a price that's suitable for budget-minded do-it-yourselfers.

Pros

Durable and affordable. Blade is made of solid stainless steel that's crafted to last. Measurement etchings are deep and fade-resistant, which makes them easy to read.

Cons

A few tools were off slightly from a 90 degree angle. Level bubble could be better, as it doesn't appear to be totally accurate.

iGaging 12-Inch, 4-Piece 4R Combination Square
iGaging
12-Inch, 4-Piece 4R Combination Square
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Bottom Line

Choose it if you like the idea of a combination square with extra functions; but keep in mind it may take you a while to master it.

Pros

In addition to the square head, it comes with a protractor head for added versatility. Offers a high degree of accurate measurements with easy-to-read increments.

Cons

Has a learning curve, and the instructions aren't very clear. Less than attentive customer service. Not quite as durable as higher-priced squares.

IRWIN 12-Inch Metal Combination Square
IRWIN
12-Inch Metal Combination Square
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Bottom Line

Well made for the most part, with the exception of an occasional faulty locking mechanism. Still, many fans of IRWIN tools brag about its quality and affordability.

Pros

A basic combination square with a heavy build, thanks to the zinc cast and stainless steel construction. Increments are easy to read.

Cons

Blade lock mechanism tends to stick or malfunction. A few reports of a couple degrees off square; but many more rave reviews of its accuracy.

HOW WE TESTED

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

33
Models
Considered
60
Consumers
Consulted
28
Hours
Researched
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Buying guide for best combination squares

A good combination square is an invaluable addition to any toolbox – but which one should you purchase? There are hundreds to choose from, and the prices run the gamut.

Each of our top five combination squares offers a great choice of features and excellent value. We're happy to recommend them in the table above. If you'd like to know more about how we came to our decisions, please read on.

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A combination square is a great tool for setting guides on router tables and saws. Adjustability means you can check for square, distance, and/or parallel quickly and easily.

Why buy a combination square?

An accurate woodworker's or engineer's square is a valuable part of any toolbox. It allows you to check quickly if something is square – but that's really all it does. Some have graduations for measurement, but they are of limited use.

A combination square is much more versatile. It can be used to check 90-degree or 45-degree angles. Some come with protractor heads that measure other angles. Different lengths can be set, making it useful for marking. The blade, which can be used separately as a rule, is usually much longer – 12 or 16 inches – whereas an ordinary square is six inches or less.

"The blade of a combination square is much more rigid than a tape, so on smaller jobs, it's easier to be precise when marking."
STAFF
BestReviews

Construction and features

At first glance, the combination square appears to be a simple tool. However, the materials used and the way it's put together make a big difference in how accurate it is and how long it lasts.

The majority of combination squares are composed of the following.

  • Blade (or rule)

  • Square/miter head (also called an anvil)

  • Bubble vial

  • Scriber
     

Let's look at each in more detail.

Blade

The blade, in combination with the head, are the two major components of a combination square. Quality of construction in both cases goes a long way toward defining the accuracy of the finished tool.

All blades are steel, but better ones are hardened and tempered, extending their life. Similarly, markings that are etched into the surface don't get worn away. The graduations offered can vary down to 1/64th of an inch in some cases. Metric versions are also available. Rigidity is important to long-term accuracy, so the thicker the blade, the better.

Head

The head is extremely important. Not only does it have the main bearing surfaces for gauging 45 and 90 degrees, it also has the slot through which the blade passes. If that doesn't run true and at a precise right angle, the tool will never be accurate. A machine screw is used to lock the blade in place.

Quality here is everything. On cheap combination squares, the head is often made of die-cast alloy (frequently just called "metal"). That’s not a problem in itself if it has been finished properly. Unfortunately, this is often not the case with low-cost tools.

Better-quality heads are made from cast iron, which is extremely tough and resistant to oils and chemicals. The very best heads are made of forged and hardened steel, precision ground. It's an engineering tool rather than a woodworking one, and considerably more expensive.

Bubble vial

A small bubble vial allows you to use a combination square as a spirit level. It's often nice to be able to check that something is level as well as square. Given the length of the head that it's built into, however, there are limits to its accuracy. If you need to check level over any distance, it's advisable to use a laser level or a traditional model.

Scriber

The scriber is usually inserted into the back of the combination square. It's a short, steel point that can be used to mark lines on all kinds of surfaces. Its main advantage is that it marks a finer, more accurate line than a pencil, and the mark doesn't get blurred or erased by handling.

The downside is that the mark is made by scratching into the material, so it's not easy to remove later if necessary. It's also quite small, so those with large fingers might find it difficult to use.

Feature variations

There are a couple of possible variations on features to consider. Some combination squares also come with a protractor head, a center finder, or both.

Protractor heads can be used to set and mark angles. While generally limited to 180 degrees, some are marked on both sides and can gauge a full 360 degrees by being flipped over. Not all tools have this feature, so check before ordering if it’s important to you.

A center finder is a fixed V shape with a 90-degree angle inside the V. This is attached to the blade. When the open end of the V is placed against the edge of a round object, the blade indicates the center.

Although these are reasonably robust tools, a bent blade or damaged head is likely to cause inaccuracies. For that reason, a protective case is always a nice extra.

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A combination square can make a useful depth gauge. Rest the head on the top surface, and use the blade to measure downward.

FAQ

Q. Is there an easy way to tell if my combination square is actually square?
A.
Yes, there is. Rest the head against a block of wood, and extend the blade as far as possible to form a standard, L-shaped square. Use the scriber or a pencil to mark a line along the blade. The longer the line, the greater the accuracy. Now, flip the tool over so the other side of the head rests against the block. Push the blade up to the line you marked. It should meet. If it forms a V shape, then it's not properly square.

Q. Why are some combination squares a lot more expensive than others?
A.
It comes down to the quality of the components, which define the precision of the instrument. Each of the elements mentioned above impacts accuracy and durability.

If a combination square is something you'll only use occasionally, a budget model would probably suit you fine, though accuracy might be a little off. If you use a combination square regularly, however, it's worth making the extra investment.

Q. Thumb screws are often brass. Is there a reason for this?
A.
Brass has a quality feel and doesn't rust. However, because it's relatively soft, it's usually just a decorative top. Underneath, there's a hardened steel machine screw.

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