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10 Amazing Uses for a Combination Square


When Laroy Starrett invented the combination square in 1883, he intended for it to be a multi-functional tool. But most woodworkers only use it for one or two tasks. There's so much more you can do with it, and once you figure that out, you'll wonder how you ever worked without it.


I own three sizes, a short 4-inch for slipping in an apron pocket, a 6-inch for day to day use, and a 12-inch with all the attachments for bigger jobs. I own several different brands, including vintage squares from Stanley, Lufkin and Brown and Sharp, as well as new squares from Starrett and iGaging. (If you're looking for a high quality, reasonably priced square, the iGaging brand is worth checking out.) Now let's get started with the ten ways I use my combination squares.

Watch the video...

...or read about it.

Everybody knows you can use a combination square to check a 90-degree angle. A 6-inch square will work well for most tasks, especially checking the angle of your saw blade, or your jointer fence, but a shorter 4-inch square is better suited for a band saw if you don't have a lot of re-saw height.


For larger jobs I prefer the longer 12-inch rule, because the longer the rule is, the easier it will be to see if something is out of square.

Of course, any try square may be used to check a 90-degree angle. But a combination is also capable of checking the second most common angle in woodworking, 45-degrees. In fact, I often remove the body from my 6-inch or 12-inch square and use it to set the bevel angle on my table saw, band saw, jointer, or even to set my miter fence to exactly 45-degrees.

A combination square makes an excellent depth gauge. For example, I recently used it to measure the depth of a mortise, then transfer that measurement to the mating tenon stock.

A while back I also used a combination square to measure the depth of the slot for a tapered sliding dovetail joint, which I then transferred to my router table, which brings us to another use...

Combination squares can be used to set up your bits and blades. We already talked about checking your fences and blades for square. But a square may also be used to accurately set the height of a router bit. I sometimes use the scale itself, raising my bit to the proper mark. But more often than not, I just set the head of the square to the mark on the scale I want, then I stand the rule on end and raise the bit until it touches the body (making sure the end of the rule is resting flat on the machine’s top, of course).

This method really pays off at the table saw, where it can be difficult to find the exact apex of the blade. The wide body of the square makes it easy to see when that apex makes contact.

Besides setting up your cuts, a combination square may also be used to fine tune a machine. By placing the edge of the body in a miter slot, and extending the rule until touches a tooth on your table saw blade, you can see if the blade is parallel to the miter slot, a critical setting on any saw.


You can use a similar method to ensure the fence is also parallel to the slot.


This can also come in handy at the router table for times when that fence must be parallel to the miter slot.

The rule may be used to ensure your jointer's outfeed table is even with the cutters, then you can check the depth of the cut by measuring the difference between the two tables.

A good square has rule that's ground precisely straight. Use it to check a workpiece for flatness, or even the sole of a plane.

And the clear, precise graduation marks on the scale are far more accurate for layout than a measuring tape.

One of my favorite combination square tricks is drawing lines parallel to an edge. I just set the body to the proper mark on the scale and drag the body against the edge of the workpiece, while keeping the point of a pencil on the end of the rule.

This same process makes it possible to draw a line perpendicular to an edge that's much longer than the length of the rule.

Squares aren't just for checking the alignment of projects after they are assembled. I use mine throughout the assembly, utilizing both the edge and the end of the rule.

In this way project parts may be squared to an edge as they are glued in place, set a precise distance from and edge, or even made parallel to an edge.

Wood turners aren't the only ones who occasionally need to find the center of a round object. Deluxe combination square sets come with a center finding attachment.

The attachment slides onto the rule, replacing the standard head. Fit your workpiece in the “V” and use the rule to strike a line across the end of the workpiece. Then rotate the workpiece ninety-degrees and strike another line. “X” marks the spot.

Another deluxe attachment that works with a combination square is a protractor head, which also replaces the standard head on the rule.

Its operation is self-explanatory. With it your square is capable of laying out any angle, not just 90 and 45-degrees.

Most squares also come equipped with a level. It may be a little short for framing a house, but it's ideal for small jobs like hanging picture frames, or even cabinets.

I'm sure, with a little thought you could come up with even more ways to use these versatile tools. If you have a good one, take care of it. If you don't, check out the links below. And be sure to check out the latest issue of Stumpy Nubs Woodworking Journal. It's always full of great tips, tricks and tutorials designed to make you a better woodworker. You can read and subscribe for free at Happy squaring!



iGaging combination squares (high quality, moderate price)

Starrett combination squares (highest quality, high price)


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