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Best Combination Squares (Review & Buying Guide) in 2022

Keep your angles in order the next time you tackle a project.

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BY/ LAST UPDATED ON December 7, 2021

When you see a beautifully finished DIY job that perfectly integrates different pieces of wood, chances are the builder used a combination square. Combination squares are an easy-to-use tool and keep your 45-degree and 90-degree angles accurate. But, if you change the head, they’re capable of so much more. Swap the square head out for a protractor, and you’ll accurately be able to find an angle between zero and 180 degrees or even find the center point of an object by using the center head.


Since combination squares look so similar on the surface, it can be hard to know what features to look out for. The buying guide below outlines what to look out for so you don’t end up paying for more than you need. You’ll also find the best combination squares on the market below, ranked under a variety of categories.

Best Overall

Irwin Tools Combination Square

Summary

This is a versatile model from one of the most trusted names in the industry. For hobbyists, it should tick all the right boxes.

Pros
  • 12 inches long
  • Cast-zinc body
  • Etched markings
  • Imperial and metric measurements
Cons
  • Not suitable for high-detail projects
  • Stainless steel blade has some flex
Best Value

Mr. Pen Combination Square

Summary

If you’re looking for an inexpensive, versatile tool to add to your garage, it’s hard to go wrong with this. But it’s not a model for anyone who does highly-detailed work.

Pros
  • 12 inches long
  • Great value for money
  • Imperial and metric measurements
Cons
  • Not suitable for high-detail projects
  • Measurements are painted on the blade
Honorable Mention

Starrett Combination Square C11H-12-4R

Summary

This combination square outperforms every other model in every way. Unfortunately, this kind of performance doesn’t come cheap.

Pros
  • Machine divided and extremely accurate
  • Heavy-duty cast iron body
  • Satin-finish blade
  • Photo engraved markings
  • 12-inches long
Cons
  • At the highest end of the price spectrum
Best Combination Squares (Review & Buying Guide) in 2022

Our Methodology

To choose the best combination squares on the market, I employed The Drive’s comprehensive research methodology and evaluated dozens of combination squares before choosing the top contenders. Although I haven’t personally tested these products, my selection is informed by consumer testimonials, expert reviews, discussions on relevant online forums, and my institutional knowledge of the automotive industry. 

I visited the Car Talk and Mechanic Advice subreddits to get a more informed opinion of what automotive enthusiasts and experts felt about the products on the market.

Some brands are already well-established in this niche, and priority was given to their products. However, other lesser-known brands were also evaluated. The main features taken into consideration were price, accuracy, blade material, body material, durability, accessories, and warranty. Combination squares were immediately disqualified from consideration if they were inaccurate or had parts that wore out too quickly.

Why Trust Us

Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.

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Best Combination Square Reviews & Recommendations

For most people, the Irwin Tools Combination Square will offer the best balance of value and performance. The cast-zinc body and stainless steel blade will both keep rust at bay, while the measurement markings are etched into the blade’s surface, making them precise and easily readable. One side of the blade features imperial measurements, with the other showing metric, so you can pick the one that best suits your needs.


The blade measures 12 inches, so it’s versatile and a good option for anyone who’s only going to have only one combination square. Adding to its versatility is a built-in spirit level and scribing tool. This isn’t the most accurate model on the market, as it’s not suitable for highly detailed work. And since it’s made from stainless steel, there’ll be some flex. But, when you consider this product's value, its limited shortcomings are acceptable.

Product Specs

  • Brand: Irwin
  • Model: 1794469
  • Length: 12 inches

Pros

  • 12 inches long
  • Cast-zinc body
  • Etched markings
  • Imperial and metric measurements 

Cons

  • Not suitable for high-detail projects
  • Stainless steel blade has some flex

If you’re on a tight budget but want to dabble in some woodworking, the Mr. Pen Combination Square could be the pick for you. This model has a 12-inch blade, which is rust-proof thanks to its stainless steel construction and is versatile for anyone who wants just one combination square. The blade is measured in inches on one side and centimeters on the other, and the markings are painted on rather than etched, meaning they can be harder to read and could wear away. Keeping the body in place is a spring-loaded brass bolt.


There’s a built-in spirit level and brass scriber, which is great to see on a tool sold that has such a low price point. This model won’t be suitable for very super technical work but fine for light woodwork.


Product Specs

  • Brand: Mr. Pen
  • Model: Combination Square 12”
  • Length: 12 inches

Pros

  • 12 inches long
  • Great value for money
  • Imperial and metric measurements 

Cons

  • Not suitable for high-detail projects
  • Measurements are painted on the blade

If money is no object, or you just want the best of the best, the Starrett Combination Square C11H-12-4R is for you. Once this model is in your hands, you know it’s a cut above. Its heavy-duty cast iron head has a black wrinkle finish, which looks great. The 12-inch blade is made from hardened steel and is photo-engraved and machine-divided with a satin finish. The combination of high-quality materials and machining methods results in very little flex from the blade, making it accurate enough for use with any material, and for projects that require high levels of detail.


There’s also a reversible lock bolt, which keeps the body firmly in place while in use, as well as a built-in scriber and spirit level. It has a type 4R graduation, making it well suited to jobs that require extremely precise readings. The only downside to this product is that it costs significantly more than the rest of the products on the list, but that's the price you pay for precision.


Product Specs

  • Brand: Starrett
  • Model: 00049659563665
  • Length: 12 inches

Pros

  • Machine divided and extremely accurate
  • Heavy-duty cast iron body
  • Satin-finish blade
  • Photo engraved markings
  • 12 inches long

Cons

  • At the highest end of the price spectrum
Best Compact Combination Square
Swanson Tool Co TC130 6-Inch
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If a 12-inch compact square is overkill for most of your projects, check out the Swanson Tool Co TC120 6-Inch. This model uses a 6-inch stainless steel blade that has precision-etched black graduations and features both metric and imperial measurements. So, even though it’s compact, its markings are still precise and easy to read. The body is made from die-cast zinc, which is extremely durable and rust-resistant.


This model won’t be suitable for large projects, but it’ll make a great addition to anyone’s toolbox who already has a 12-inch or 16-inch combination square. Although it’s compact, it’s still versatile thanks to its built-in depth gauge, scriber, and spirit level. Keeping the blade firmly in place is a spring-loaded brass bolt. Another thing this model has going for it is its price—it’s great value for money.


Product Specs

  • Brand: Swanson Tool
  • Model: TC130
  • Length: 6 inches

Pros

  • Compact design
  • Precision-etched black gradations
  • Metric and imperial measurements
  • Die-cast zinc

Cons

  • Not suitable for large projects

If you plan on taking your DIY projects a step further, check out the iGaging Combination Square Premium 4-Piece. This kit consists of a 12-inch blade, center head, 180-degree protractor head, and a square head, all of the heads of which are made from cast iron for durability. The blade is made from fully hardened and tempered steel and has a satin chrome finish, so it looks fantastic and is durable, too.


The ruler has etched, machine-divided 4R graduations but, unfortunately, it only shows imperial measurements, so it’s not suitable for anyone who uses metric. This combination square is very accurate and is only beaten by products from the most premium brands, like Starrett. Although it’s on the higher end of the price spectrum, when you consider its accuracy, quality, and versatility, this is one of the best value for money options on the list. Included in the sale is a padded plastic storage case.


Product Specs

  • Brand: iGaging
  • Model: ‎34-212-4
  • Length: 12 inches

Pros

  • Four-piece kit
  • Very accurate
  • Heads are made from cast iron
  • Blade is made from fully hardened and tempered steel
  • Satin chrome finish

Cons

  • On the higher end of the price spectrum
Best 16-Inch Combination Square
Swanson Tool TC134 16-Inch
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If a 12-inch ruler isn’t cutting it, the Swanson Tool TC134 16-Inch could be the combination square for you. This model features a 16-inch stainless steel blade, making it rust-resistant and it has etched black 4R graduations, which are precise and easy to read. And the body is made from die-cast zinc, so it’s quite durable and very resistant to rust. The blade shows imperial measurements on one side and metric on the other, and keeping everything in place is a spring-loaded bolt.


The manufacturer states that this model is accurate to within 0.001 inches, meaning it’d be one precise tool for any hobbyist’s garage. Reliability isn’t an issue either, and this model comes with a one-year warranty. The only thing to consider is that, if you work on small projects or in tight spaces, this model’s 16-inch blade could be a hindrance rather than a help.


Product Specs

  • Brand: Swanson Tool
  • Model: TC134
  • Length: 16 inches

Pros

  • 16-inch blade is great for large projects
  • One-year warranty
  • Die-cast zinc body
  • Etched measurements 

Cons

  • Could be too big for small projects

Our Verdict on Combination Squares

The Irwin Tools Combination Square takes the award for the best overall combination square. It’s not for professional tradesmen but suits DIY heroes thanks to its reliability and value. If you’re on a tighter budget, check out the Mr. Pen Combination Square.

What to Consider When Buying a Combination Square

In the combination square niche, small differences separate the wheat from the chaff, so I’ve made a buying guide to help you understand the different types, brands, and features to consider before purchasing. If you still have any unanswered questions, check out the FAQs section.

Types of Combination Squares

Square Head

A ‘square head’ is the most common type of head that you’ll find on a combination square. It’s designed with a 90-degree and 45-degree edge so you can use it as a try square and a miter square. You’ll also be able to use this body type as a height or depth gauge.

Center Head

You can use ‘center head’, or ‘centering head,’ to find the exact center of round or square stock, or use this head to mark angles perpendicular to a curved edge. This head has a v-shaped body, and you’ll find a locking thumb nut near the point of the “V.” The blade fits in the center of a center head and slides through it.

Protractor Head

Fit your blade with a ‘protractor head’, and you’ll be able to set any angle from zero to 180 degrees. Protractor heads work well with center heads to find the center of an object and then mark angles from the center point. You can also use a protractor head to directly transfer angles by sliding it along the blade.

Combination Square Key Features

Blade Size

Combination squares only come in one shape, but there are many sizes to choose from. If you have a combination square that’s too big for a project, it can become intrusive and even unusable in some situations. The most common combination square sizes are as follows: 4-inch, 6-inch, 12-inch, 16-inch, and 24-inch. Ideally, you’d have a few different-sized models, so you’d be covered in any situation. If you’re only going to own one combination square, a 12-inch model is arguably the most versatile.

Materials 

The materials a combination square is made from majorly determine its quality. A blade will usually be made from either hardened or stainless steel. Hardened steel is tough but not as resistant to rust as stainless steel. However, stainless steel isn’t as strong. If you opt for hardened steel, try to find a blade that’s chrome plated, as this will make it more rust-resistant.

A combination square’s body will usually be made of high-impact polystyrene, die-cast zinc, or cast iron. Plastic bodies help to keep the product’s cost down but can become distorted over time, especially if exposed to high temperatures. Most styles are made from die-cast zinc, which maintains a high level of accuracy and is rust-resistant. Premium models are made from cast iron, which is extremely durable but should be cleaned after each use to prevent rust.

Versatility

Combination squares are one of the most diverse tools in the game, as they have interchangeable heads. The standard head that comes with any combination square is known as a ‘square head,’ but you can also fit a ‘center head’ and a ‘protractor head.’ If you tackle projects that require these heads, your best option is to buy a combination square set. Most models will feature a spirit level and a scriber.

Markings 

Most combination squares have imperial measurements on one edge and metric on the other. Models will either have type 10R graduation or 4R. The most detailed blades have 4R graduation, which has markings in 1/8-inch, 1/16-inch, 1/32-inch, and 1/64-inch divisions. Blades with 10R graduation are marked in 1/10-inch divisions.

How the markings are made can have a major impact on the quality and longevity of a combination square. If they’re punched by the same machine that cuts the blade, the markings can be slightly unclear sometimes. Painted markings can also be somewhat unclear, but the main issue is that they fade over time as a result of general wear and tear. The best option is to get a blade that has machine-etched markings. These markings are clear, precise, and won’t fade away.

Combination Square Brands

Irwin

Headquartered in Huntersville, N.C., Irwin is well-known for supplying tradesmen of all fields with quality tools they can depend on. It started in 1885, and many of its most popular tools include cutting and measuring equipment. Therefore, it’s no surprise the Irwin Tools Combination Square, 12” takes our top pick.

Starrett

Since 1880, Starrett has focused its efforts on developing precision measurement equipment and cutting tools for any fabrication shop. Today, it is  headquartered in Athol, Mass., and with over 140 years of experience, it has acquired the title of the “World’s Greatest Tool Makers.”

Swanson

Swanson Tool Company, Inc is a well-known tool brand steeped in history. The company, as we know it, was started in 1945. But it only sold the Speed Square until 1971, which is when it extended its offerings. All of the brand’s tools are manufactured from its headquarters in Frankfort, Ill. The company produces good value-for-money combination squares and has 6-inch, 12-inch, and 16-inch offerings. This isn’t the brand for anyone who tackles projects that require high levels of accuracy, but a DIY enthusiast should have no problems.

Tips and Tricks

As with something you do for decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and combination squares. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.

  • Wipe down your combination square after each use with some rubbing alcohol, especially if it’s made from cast iron. This will help to prevent rust from building up and extend the product’s lifespan.
  • Many people use a pencil in favor of a scriber tool, but a scriber is great for pre-marking drill points on a piece of wood and creating a guide for the screw.

FAQs 

You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!

Q: How do you maintain a combination square?

A: You can extend your combination square’s lifespan by years if you wipe it down after each use. You can clean it with lubricant or rubbing alcohol and a non-abrasive scouring pad. Make sure to wipe the lubricant off completely before you finish.

Q: What are the parts of a combination square?

A: A combination square consists of a ruler-type blade and a moving head. A square head is a good example.

Q: What is the difference between a tri square and a combination square?

A: A tri square consists of a steel blade that’s riveted at 90-degrees to a wooden handle, unlike a combination square which has an adjustable body. A combination square is more versatile, but a tri square can be more accurate as the blade is fixed in place.

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