Best Speed Squares – 2021 Round-up Review

Cody
| Last Updated: January 30, 2021

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You may scoff, but one of the very best and handiest tools to have in your workshop is none other than the humble speed square.

It’s true! These little guys can help you accomplish basically any project you would ever want to tackle, including complicated projects requiring precise angles, such as anything involving roofing. Read on to learn more about these fantastic tools and how they can make your life easier.

​Snapshot​! Best ​Speed Squares

​In a hurry? Here are our top picks​:

Best Overall
Runner-up
Best for the Money

Comparison Chart of the Best Speed Squares

Product

Our Rating

​Price

Swanson 7-inch Speed Square

Best Speed Square

CH Hanson 03060

Runner-up

Irwin 1794463

​Best for the Money

Empire Level 2990

Best Empire Square

Milwaukee MLSQM070

Best Milwaukee Speed Square

Empire Level E2994

Best Empire Speed Square

Vinca ARLS-12

Best Large Speed Square

Milwaukee MLSQ040

Best Small Speed Square

Swanson Tool S0107

Best 12 Inch Speed Square

What is a Speed Square?

Speed squares serve multiple purposes in the woodworking realm. They may not look like much – and also do not be thrown off by the fact that they are not, in fact, square, but triangular.

Their straight edges are essential for many carpentry tasks which require cutting at precise 45 and 90 degree angles. Beyond angles, they can also provide a straight edge at which to make clean cuts, and even as a fence for your table saw in a pinch.

What is a Speed Square Used For?

​Speed squares are useful tools that are meant for helping make perfect corners as well as line up projects properly. Often used in carpentry, they serve a handful of primary purposes.

Roof Work

Speed squares are exceptionally helpful if you are doing any sort of roof work, from building a new roof to maintaining an existing one. If you need to lay shingles, working with a speed square and a level is the quickest way to get your roofing project done.

Stairs

Have you ever walked down stairs that are sloped at different angles? You probably fell down them instead of walking down them, right? Making sure stairs have matching precise angles is essential for usability and safety. A speed square is a great way to get there.

Saw Guide

Speed squares are exceptionally versatile in this area in particular. If you need to make a cut of a certain length, these typically come with measurements down to a very minute level. And of course, they provide a guaranteed straight edge to cut against.

What to Look For When Buying a Speed Square

Unsure what you're looking for? Don't fret. These are the qualities most important in a good choice.

Durability

You will learn pretty quickly that you can use your speed square for basically everything you would ever needs to accomplish in a workshop. That means you need one that is going to last you through all of your different projects.  

Precision

The whole point of a speed square is that you are able to use it to determine exact angles and lengths when you are cutting wood. Make sure your square is actually precise and accurate.

Measurements

One aspect that can vary between different kinds of speed squares is the measurements they include, or what units the included measurements are calculated in. Pick a square that will fulfill your needs and tell you the measurements you need to know in units you can understand.

Quick Take: Best ​Speed Squares

Hoping to cut right to the chase? Below are the best ​speed squares:

  1. ​Best Overall: Swanson 7-inch Speed Square
  2. ​Runner-up: CH Hanson 03060
  3. Best for the Money: Irwin 1794463

Review of the Best Speed Squares

Now that you have a sense of what to look out for with different options, let’s check out some actual products.

​Best Swanson Speed Square:
Swanson 7-inch Speed Square

PROS

  • The real "Speed" Square
  • Simple layout
  • Has a handle pivot point
  • Awesome choice for beginners
  • Gradations are in black for high visibility

CONS

  • Paint can fade after rough handling 

Our Review

We have got to recommend this square if you are a beginner or entirely new to the world of working with speed squares. Swanson sets the standard for these products as it's the only true speed square on our list. Most others are considered framing squares. 

This is in part because it comes with the famous Swanson Blue Book, which is a comprehensive guide to using the square on multiple different kinds of projects, and includes both step by step instructions in text form, and also pictures, for the more visually inclined. 

This square also has multiple notches, which makes it particularly useful in situations where you are going to want to move it around to different angles.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Out of all of the models on this list, the Swanson is the most standout in terms of comprehensive measurements. This square includes all of the common scales as well as a slot for quarter inch locking pins to be adjusted.

Runner-up:
​CH Hanson 03060

PROS

  • Aluminum alloy body is durable
  • Comes with a pouch and marking pencil
  • Has three spirit levels that are UV-resistant
  • Good for marking multiple cut lines in degree or roof pitches

CONS

  • Locking mechanism is not super secure

Our Review

This pivot square from CH Hanson is able to accomplish everything an awesome speed square could, and more! It was specifically designed in order to expand upon the typical angle functions you would normally see with a speed square.

It is ideal for focusing on precise angle measurements, and its locking mechanism allows to you to set a specific angle and then hold in place. Many users say it is particularly great for miter and plumbing cuts.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

Multiple users report that one of the most helpful aspects of this product is the comprehensive instruction manual it comes with, which goes beyond just the simple operation of the tool to provide step by step guidance on roof framing.

​Best for the Money:
​Irwin 1794463

PROS

  • Scale is down to 1/16 of an inch
  • Rust proof and weather resistant
  • Comes with an included rafter layout guide
  • Includes rafter tables, brace and octagon scales, and an Essex board measure

CONS

  • Does not have a pivot point

Our Review

One of the top complaints about working with speed squares is completely eliminated with this model. Say goodbye forever to struggling to read your square’s measurements! Irwin has finally manufactured a product with a distinctive blue background paired with bright yellow paint to make this square super easy to read.

This design also makes it a great option if you are planning to be working in an area that has poor lighting. Also, multiple users report that, though it is actually made of aluminum, it is so solid that it feels like it is made of steel.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

For all of the awesome qualities detailed above, you would expect this square to be exceptionally expensive – but we are happy to report that you would be dead wrong on that count. This square is a steal of a deal!

Best Empire Speed Square:
​Empire Level 2990

PROS

  • Easy to use
  • On the compact side
  • Measurements are accurate
  • Empire provides good customer service

CONS

  • Does not have scribing notches

Our Review

Our users are reporting that this Empire is definitely one of the best options if you are looking for a simple square that can stand up to everyday use. This product is well made of high quality material and is built to go the distance, from its composition to its measurement markings.

It is thick enough to be able to be used to guide your saw in a manner that is safe and true, yet it is also lightweight enough to be easy to manipulate. Plus, the included Empire instruction manual is simple and easy to understand.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

We were stoked about the measurements on this square, which are etched into the aluminum itself. Unlike other squares, with painted on or applied measurement markers, an etching will never chip off or wear off over time. You will always be able to read this square.

​Best Milwaukee Speed Square:
Milwaukee MLSQM070

PROS

  • Highly visible
  • Great for working on stairs
  • Tough enough to also be used as a saw guide
  • 1” cutout allows for handy work on the job site

CONS

  • Some users report the edges were a little rough

Our Review

The distinctive red color may be the first thing you notice about this speed square, but we promise it will not be the only thing that ends up sticking in your mind about it. While the color makes it handy to see and snag out of a crowded toolbox, this square is so much more.

It has a wider range of scribe notches than many of the other squares available on the market today, from 1” all the way up to 6”. There are not a lot of projects out there that you will not be able to find yourself tackling with this square.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

This speed square is the only one we were able to find that had magnetized components. There are three magnets on the back of this square that will help to secure it to your work area (if your work area is metallic, of course) for an extra level of stability.  

​Best Empire Speed Square:
Empire Level E2994

PROS

  • Made in the United States
  • Comes in both a 7” and 12” version
  • Make of anodized aluminum, so resistant to rust
  • Users report markings stay visible even after heavy use

CONS

  • Does not have any notches for anchoring

Our Review

This Empire square is notable for a lot more than its bright blue color – although the importance of that should not be overlooked! How many times have you had to rummage around in a toolbox for something that was right in front of your eyes the whole time?

With this square’s distinctive hue and its white markings that stand out against the blue background, you will never be able to misplace it or misread it. And unlike many other squares on this list, its user manual is available digitally, so you will not need to find space in your work area to store it.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

This square has a heel width that is 15% wider than most of the other speed squares available on the market today. This wider base makes it much more stable overall. If you are looking for a straight and steady square option, this is the one for you.

​Best Large Speed Square:
Vinca ARLS-12

PROS

  • Great option for irregular rip cuts
  • Vinca provides good customer service
  • Includes 1/8”. 1/10”, 1/12”, and 1/16” scales
  • Endorsed for use by professional builders, craftsmen, and carpenters

CONS

  • Not super precise

Our Review

The longer length on this speed square make it an excellent option for working with larger projects, potentially even on the industrial scale. If you have a lengthy piece of lumber, this is the option you should go with. Its longer length also means it has a wider base, which makes it grip on materials more enhanced.

And multiple users have mentioned that it is so square and straight, they can use it to square off other supposedly straight tools, such as a chop saw. Finally, its included rafter conversion table means you will not have to do so much mental math.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

While it may not be as eye catching as some of the brighter colors on this list, there is something to be said for a speed square that is painted black. If you need to do outdoor work, you should go with this option since its color will prevent the sun from causing a glare.

​Best Small Speed Square:
Milwaukee MLSQ040

PROS

  • Easy to read
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty
  • Small enough to fit into your pocket
  • Machined edges ensure no unpleasant surprises

CONS

  • Errs on the side of being too thick

Our Review:

Do not let the size of this square fool you! It is just as tough as many of its larger counterparts we have included here on this list. And not only does its smaller surface area means it is less exposed to potential damage.

even if it is exposed, you will not have to worry about the markings fading away because they have been etched into the square’s surface using a high precision laser. Plus, this square has a dual measurement heel, both a ¼” option and a 3/8” option, so you can use it make a wide variety of cuts.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?:

We kind of gave this away in the title of this review, but this is really is a top notch smaller square. It comes in at 4.5”, so if you need something compact that you can easily carry around with you from work site to work site, this is definitely the best option you could go with.

​Best 12 Inch Speed Square:
Swanson Tool S0107

PROS

  • Die cast for increased accuracy
  • Excellent for working with circular saws
  • Good for working with common, hip, valley, and jack rafters
  • Has a slot along the scales with an adjustable locking pin for multiple cuts

CONS

  • Can be difficult to adjust

Our Review:

If you are looking for a top notch 12 inch square, look no further than this Swanson. There is a reason the Swanson brand pops up multiple times on our list: it is incredible reliable and trustworthy. This square is no different. It is made of heavy gauge aluminum alloy billet, so you know that it is built to last for sure.

And for those who may be from outside of the United States, it has metric measurements – no more obnoxious conversions. Plus, if English is not your first language, never fear: the instruction manual comes in both English and Spanish.

What Makes This Product Stand Out?

The size of this tool, plus Swanson’s incredible attention to detail and intentional design process, means this square can serve a wide variety of different tool purposes. Beyond being just a speed square, users report using it as a layout square, a protractor, and even a bevel.

Speed Square Tips and Tricks

New to the game? Catch up on these speed square pro tips!

Drawing a Circle

Wait, you can use something square to draw a circle? (When you remember a speed square is actually triangular, this gets even more confusing!) Yes, you absolutely can. If you attach your square to your workpiece with a loose screw in the 90 degree corner, you can draw a circle around the screw using one of the notches.

Using the Diamond Cutout

Most speed squares have a diamond cutout area, usually along the ruler side of the square. If you set your pencil in that cutout area, you can create a line that is square with the edge of your workpiece.

Carrying it Along With You

Once you start realizing all of the different tasks you can accomplish with a speed square, you are likely going to want to bring it with you wherever you go in your workshop. You can attach it to your belt via a hook, or by using the pouch it came in as a holster.

Product Compariso​n: How Does It Stack Up?

​Many tools often serve similar purposes. When comparing speed squares to other tools, how do you choose what to use? Don't worry, we have done the heavy lifting for you on this question.

Combination Square vs Speed Square

Combination squares preceded speed squares, and you can see why the speed square was invented to improve on the concept. If anything, the two tools are misnamed – speed squares are actually able to do a higher combination of different tasks than combination squares.

​If you want a tool that can also serve as a try square and a framing square, you are going to want to go with the speed square option.

Rafter Square vs Speed Square

This is a trick you may see some sellers trying to play on you – selling speed squares and rafter squares as if they are entirely different products, with entirely different purposes. In truth, a rafter square is just another name for a speed square.

And with how great speed squares are at helping you cut rafters and do other kinds of roofing projects, you can see where the nickname might have come from.

How to Use a Speed Square

​If you are using a speed square to make straight 90 degree or 45 degree cuts, first align the square with the edge of your workpiece. Speed squares have a little lip at their bottom edges so that they can be pressed up into a piece of wood.

  1. ​Run a pencil along the edge of your square to delineate your angle.

  2. ​Align your saw with the mark you just drew on the wood, and push your square up against your saw blade in order to make a straight cut.

  3. ​In order to mark or make a cut at an angle that is different from 45 or 90 degrees, press the bottom corner of your square against the wood, right at its pivot point. Swing your square to the desired angle, using the degree measurements.

  4. ​If you need to make cuts at precise lengths across a workpiece, you can use the measurement side of your speed square to mark the distance between cuts.

  5. ​If you need to make cuts at precise lengths down a workpiece, you can put a pencil in the notch slot that corresponds to how wide you want your finished pieces to be, and draw a cutting line all the way down your piece.

  6. ​To determine if an angle is square, slide your square up against the bottom and side edges.

For a visual sense of everything we just described, make sure you check out the video below.

Conclusion

Speed squares are essential for any sort of successful woodworking project. Make sure you are investing in a square that is durable enough to stand up to all of your needs for years to come, and that will provide you the measurements you need. Then forget trying to eyeball straight cuts and angles ever again!

People Also Ask

We get that using a speed square can seem a little complicated, so we have compiled the answers to some of the more common questions about these tools:

What Size of Speed Square Do I Need?

The answer to this question depends on the products you anticipate needing a speed square for. If you are not entirely sure what you plan on using it for, it is usually wiser to go bigger rather than smaller.

How to Read a Speed Square

Speed squares have multiple different measurements – length along one edge, angles along the opposite edge, etc. Consult the instruction manual that came with your speed square in order to fully understand how your square is designed.

How to Find an Angle with a Speed Square

Align the base of your speed square with the edge you want to calculate the angle against, and then slowly tilt your square until it is lined up with the angle you desire. Use a pencil to mark the angle.

How to Use a Speed Square to Cut Rafters

This process is a little more complicated than can be answered in a quick FAQ, but basically, use your speed square to determine your roof’s pitch (see question below) and mark the appropriate line using your speed square’s edge. Cut along that line to cut your rafter.

How to Measure Roof Pitch with a Speed Square

You will also need a level in order to do this task successfully. Place the pivot point of your square against the edge of the roof. Place the level on the base of your square, gradually adjusting the square until you have leveled out the level. The position of your square will tell you the roof’s pitch.

Cody

My name is Cody and I've been a writer for Tool Tango for quite some time now. I've always had a knack for building things with my hands and creative writing, so being able to combine the two has been great. I love being able to give back to the DIY-community, while also learning a thing or two along the way. When I'm not writing, I enjoy watching Netflix with my girlfriend, fishing, and working in the shop.