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Combination Squares

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MarkDennehy

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So I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks and I was thinking "what do I not have in the shed".

You probably know what happened next, so anyway, after discovering Bridge City Toolworks and seeing the price list, I rapidly started thinking instead "what do I not have in the shed that I actually use often enough to justify that level of pain" and the only thing that kept coming up was a combination square.

Now I have engineer's squares that I use for most things, a framing square and a speed square I tend to use in the timber yard when cutting stuff down to fit into the car and the like, and a sliding T-square by Moore and Wright (ooooo, fancy) that I got in a black friday sale and use for small work or checking inside mortices and dovetails for square and the like. But I don't have a real combination square. I did have one that looked like someone in China did a knockoff of a Draper tool and made a dogs' breakfast of it, and that kinda put me off the whole idea for ages, but if people like Custard swear by them, well, I really must have had a bad monday morning one.

So I've been saving my pennies and I'm now up to the point where if I claim Birthday Present status and remember how much I've spent on tools and wood up to now and think of this as something I'll use for the next thirty years, I might actually be able to get a Starrett or a Moore&Wright set.
But given that that'd be a whole lot of Walnut, I wanted to ask people who've actually got the things - what combination square set (with the centerfinder and the protractor as well as the usual 90/45 head) is going to be solid, accurate, and last for 30 years? Are Starrett better than Moore&Wright? Are there any other brands I've not heard of who are actually Good Enough that I couldn't blame my measuring kit for not being able to saw straight? And how long does it take after buying them before you can stop crying in the corner of the shed at the pain from your bank account?
 

Claud1

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Personally I like to have the best I can afford because I get satisfaction from having it but having said that it is not essential to have the best tools to do a good job, after all there are no pockets in shrouds.
 
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I think they are a must have tool. If I was going to spend that amount money though, I'd insist on getting one that is either all metric or all imperial. It drives me insane trying to use the ones I have that are both, as it's always the wrong way around in one scenario and so you're comprimising accuracy. I only have the BAHCO ones though. Cheap and cheerful! ... when I manage to stop knocking it off my bench then maybe I'll go for something nicer
 

AJB Temple

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Starrett are what I use. Excellent. M&W equally good. Both have good accuracy, good finish and, crucially, really clear and deep engraving. They are so much better than the cheap ones.
 

adidat

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Starrett all the way. I sent back a new Moore and Wright a few years ago as it was pineappled! Not as pineappled as I was after spending hours trying to figure out why the large kitchen island in production was so far out of square (it wasn't)


I sent a rather snotty email asking how a company with such strong heritage could send out an item like that not being square. I never got a reply.

Adidat
 

custard

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I was given a Bridge City combi square as a gift and to be honest I don't like it all that much. I know this sounds daft but it doesn't slide as nicely as a Starret (or M&W or Miutoyo). The stock seems to slip along the blade with too little resistance, making it harder to set a precise off-set.

That's being ridiculously picky I know, but there you are.

As Transatlantic said, you want all metric or all imperial, I actually thought the Bridge City was all metric, I'll check tomorrow in the workshop.

Regarding those sets. Personally I've never used the centre finder, for my very basic turning requirements a simpler arrangement is all I need. Likewise the protractor, if you're serious about setting angles to fractions of a degree look for a second hand Mitutoyo Bevel Protractor, and for a normal protractor Starret and others make alternate designs that seem to work better in woodworking environment. A protractor is an area where I think you can save a few quid with a second hand example...there's no metric/imperial conflict with protractors which means loads of good quality used ones are in circulation.

But back to your central point, a good combi square is a superb woodworking tool with endless uses and applications.
 

t8hants

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I have always liked old Lufkin, they turn up on ebay occasionally, which is where I look for marking/measuring tools to get 60's/70's quality.
Starett, M&W, all good from that era.
 

mbartlett99

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As everyone said - great super useful bit of kit that I use all the time, get the best you can. Protractor/centre finder still in the box never been used.
 

MattRoberts

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Starret here, and definitely worth it. There's something very comfortable knowing that the basis of your cuts and measurements is a rock solid precision engineered square. One of my best purchases...
 

AJB Temple

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Re centre finder: I do use mine, but only because I occasionally turn metal bar, where you need a dead accurate centre punch mark. Don't use it in woodwork.
 

AES

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Starrett here too, though I believe M&W just as good (surprised to hear about the pineapple M&W). Like AJB Temple, I only use the centre finder on my combi set for metal turning.

P.S. Bought my (genuine) Starrett combi set off a "street market stall" in Singapore the 80s. Can't remember how much, but "cheap"! Everyone has to be "just lucky" sometimes!
 

Sideways

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M&W CSSH square head and a 300mm imperial / metric rule to match.
Totally worth the money as I use it all the time.
I wouldn't use a centre finder but an adjustable bevel may one day go on the birthday present list
The little sliding T square too :)
 

Beau

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M&W here. Brilliant piece of kit and probably my most used marking out piece of equipment.
 

custard

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I checked on the Bridge City Combination Square and it is all metric, it's the square on the right in this photo,
Squares-BC-&-S.jpg


There are a couple of things about this Bridge City square that I don't like. It's entirely made from a very hard grade of stainless steel, so if you set the square down on the bench with a bit of a tap, then the setting may sometimes loosen. It should have been designed with a slightly softer washer or shim incorporated into the locking mechanism to provide some "spring" and improve the grip. The Starrett squares don't have this problem. I suspect the advantage of the BC design is it's easier to remove the blade completely and use the stock and the blade separately.

The BC square incorporates an accurate folding saddle square, that would be a useful item on it's own, but when it's part of a combination square it often requires the blade to be slid away before it can be used, and if you have set the blade to a particular length then you've lost that setting. There's also a dovetail lay out angle incorporated into the square, I find that a bit gimmicky, plus it's 1:8 where I almost always use 1:7, but of course your preferences may differ.

In the photo you can see the Bridge City 150mm square next to the Starrett version, the Starrett includes a 45 degree angle which the Bridge City doesn't, and personally I find a 45 degree option is a genuinely useful facility.

On the subject of blade lengths, maybe it's a personal preference but I hardly ever use a 150mm square. The two blade lengths I use most are the small 100mm square and the larger 300mm square. If I was only getting one combination square it would be the 300mm version.

The small 100mm square comes in useful for all sorts of jobs, not least is checking dovetails. Unfortunately it's not quite small enough, and the blade is a too thick to check needle point/London pattern dovetails. For that you need something like the tiddler in this photo,
Squares-Small.jpg


Up until recently you either had to hunt around for a used Starrett version of that tiny square, or dig deep and buy the Vesper Tools version. But recently I believe Veritas have released their own ultra small square at a slightly more reasonable price.

You also mentioned protractors. The style of protractor I find most useful for the woodworker is this type, and there are loads of good ones on the second hand market,
Protractors-01.jpg


The kind of protractor that comes in the combi square "sets" is, IMO, a bit too bulky and heavy for woodworking applications.

But if you need to measure angles to a higher degree of accuracy then hunt around for a used Mitutoyo Bevel Protractor like this,
Protractors-02.jpg


This type of protractor uses a magnified vernier scale that's accurate to slightly better than a tenth of a degree,
Protractors-03.jpg


Astonishing though it sounds, sometimes even that isn't quite good enough. You can still sometimes see a cigarette paper sized gap at one end of a really wide mitre. Ideally I'd like a tool setting device that measures to about half that, but I've never found anything remotely affordable. Incidentally, I know some cabinet makers who are now using digital protractors, the message I'm hearing is that the very best ones seem to deliver a similar level of accuracy to the Mitutoyo, but unfortunately there are quite a few where the promise is quite a bit bigger than the reality!

In summary I'd suggest avoiding the combi square "sets", and I personally wouldn't get the Bridge City 150mm combi square. What I would get is an all metric or all imperial 300mm combi square from Starrett, M&W, or Mitutoyo. And for a second purchase I'd get a 100mm combi square from one of those manufacturers.

Just my 2p's worth.
 

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MarkDennehy

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And now I'm developing a serious case of tool envy :D

Is there really no functional difference from a woodworking point of view between Starrett, M&W and Mitutoyo? And would it be safer to buy new rather than risk trying to spot a second-hand one that doesn't have any issues like wear in an awkward spot or the like?
 

tony_s

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Mitutoyo for me. I got it used on ebay after searching for a long time; I was fortunate in that it had led a very sheltered life previously and was still pretty much unmarked and in its original box
 

AES

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I'm definitely NOT qualified to speak from a proper woodworking viewpoint, but having used all of those tools (for metal work - mainly checking stuff, plus owning my own Starrett) I'd guess there's no difference at all in terms of accuracy.

And also as I guess, I'd say that all are so well made that unless a SH any one of those showed obvious signs of serious abuse, any would be a good buy SH.

Again, caveat please, I'm NOT a "custard-type" woodworker!
 

Inspector

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There are 2 kinds of Starrett, at least in the US there is. One version is of cast steel and the other, the one I have, is forged steel. Forged costs more and is a bit slimmer in cross section but both are just as accurate. I have 12" and 24" rules in both imperial decimal (fractions to 1/64 on one side and decimal to 0.010 on the other) and metric, so 4 rules. There are two kinds of protractor, one that is only on one side of the rule and can rotate uninterrupted 360. The second straddles the rule (the one I bought) and will not freely spin around unless the rule is pulled back past the bridge that joins both sides. Sometimes a PIA but it allows you to set an angle and flip the tool to go the other way. Sometimes I wish I had both. I have used a Mitutoyo at work, they are cast steel and good too. Never had a M&W or any other to compare to.

I have a Vernier bevel protractor made by SPI and it measures angles to 1 minute of a degree where the Mitutoyo mentioned earlier measures to 5 minutes of a degree. One upped you. ;) :) :) There are digital bevel protractors that are a lot easier to read and use but for the limited amount I need one I'm happy with what I have.

In the not to many have one category. I have a Starrett 430-24 Builders Combination Tool. Also comes in an 18" version. Degree protractor on one side and roof pitch on the other. Sometimes the perfect tool but the combination is used more.
http://www.starrett.com/metrology/product-detail/439-24

Once you get a high quality tool you will find it comes to hand far more often than a blister pack one from the hardware store. Good to have a cheap ones to lend to neighbours.
 

johnnyb

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In the bargain basement section empire profesional Combi squares are square and cheap. Available from home base.
I like 2 for fitting doors and setting tracks.
 

MusicMan

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If you buy a new certified tool from the big makers, it will be calibrated to a certain accuracy and will deliver to that. Check on the manufacturers' specs what that accuracy is and how the indicate it on the tool. Secondhand or a cheap maker, you are in the lap of the gods.

But you can always check, calibrate and adjust a square yourself. Crudely by drawing a line on a board which has a real straight edge, flipping the square and checking whether the lines agree. Very accurately (about 0.003 degrees) by building a square setting/checking jig. For example high-accuracy-square-setting-jig-t93871.html

And you can make your own straight edge by making three, and checking in pairs that they contact all the way along.

You rarely need the ultimate accuracy in woodwork of course, but as custard points out, you do sometimes. You are then really into metalwork-type jigs and fixtures. The standard way to set a high precision angle is by a sine bar (https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/manuf ... -sine-bar/). You could set one up extremely accurately to 45 degrees (or whatever) on a flat surface plate, and then check a mitre by comparison.

The digital protractors are very convenient, but generally only read to 0.1 degree (6 minutes of arc). And accuracy depends on the accuracy of the transducer inside, which you cannot check and may or may not be calibrated.
 
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