At first glance, a speed square may look like a rather ordinary metal triangle, more suited to art projects than professional woodworking and roofing.
But this inexpensive tool – once you understand its capabilities – can become your most indispensable tool when it comes to woodworking projects.
As a carpenter, woodworker, or DIYer you have probably managed to collect an array of different measuring squares over time: a try square, a combination square, a framing square.
The humble speed square, with its huge number of features, can do the job of all these others.
And, if you work with wood, whether as a professional or an amateur, this is one of those multi-purpose tools that you really can’t afford to be without.
I have researched a variety of Speed Squares available on the market, noted their features and their strengths and weaknesses. I have come up with a shortlist of those that I feel deserve to be brought to your attention.
My top pick is the Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch Speed Square. This pocket-sized square has everything you could want in a speed square – a durable aluminum body, clear, readable markings, and a booklet with instructions, diagrams, and tables to help you make the best use of your tool.
Hopefully, this guide will help you choose the best speed square for your purposes.
|Best speed square||Images|
|Best overall speed square: Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch||
|Best speed square with pivot: CH Hanson 03060 Pivot Square||
|Best speed square for rafters: Johnson Level & Tool 1904-0700 7-Inch Johnny Square||
|Best heavy-duty smart speed square: VINCA ARLS-12 Aluminum Rafter Carpenter Triangle Square||
|Best speed square for small DIY projects: DEWALT DWHT46031 Aluminum 7-inch Premium Rafter Square||
|Best high contrast speed square: IRWIN Tools Rafter Square||
|Best value-for-money speed square: Swanson Tool Co T0118 Composite Speedlite Square||
|Speed square with best forged tip: Empire Level 2990|
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In this post we'll cover:
- Buyer’s guide: How to choose the best speed square?
- Best speed squares reviewed
- Best overall speed square: Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch
- Best speed square with pivot: CH Hanson 03060 Pivot Square
- Best speed square for rafters: Johnson Level & Tool 1904-0700 7-Inch Johnny Square
- Best heavy-duty smart speed square: VINCA ARLS-12 Aluminum Rafter Carpenter Triangle Square
- Best speed square for small DIY projects: DEWALT DWHT46031 Aluminum 7-inch Premium Rafter Square
- Best high contrast speed square: IRWIN Tools Rafter Square
- Best value-for-money speed square: Swanson Tool Co T0118 Composite Speedlite Square
- Speed square with best forged tip: Empire Level 2990
- What Is a Speed Square?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is a speed square?
- What is the difference between a speed square and a rafter square?
- What size of speed square should I get?
- How thick is a speed square?
- Are speed squares accurate?
- Are framing squares accurate?
- How do you know if a square is framing square?
- Can I measure both angle and distance?
- What does rafter mean?
- Is it possible to measure pitch and angle using a speed square?
- Is there any difference between rafter square and speed square?
- Can I use a speed square to draw straight lines like a ruler?
- Can I use a speed square to find the diameter of a circle?
- Which type of speed square should I use?
Buyer’s guide: How to choose the best speed square?
There are certain features that you should look at when buying a speed square.
As the most important part of the tool, the body should be durable and strong. Aluminum or stainless-steel square offer durability.
The markings are the most important part of the tool and they should be deeply etched and easily readable under any light conditions.
The speed square should have a number of different scales for measuring angles, distances, and circles.
Durability is the most important thing to consider while buying a speed square. Durability indicates whether a product will last longer or may receive damage after a little usage. While there are two mainstream variations of speed squares in the market, metallic squares are way better than the plastic squares in the race of better durability.
When it comes to the question of using a speed square as a saw guide, plastic speed squares are usually more rigid while offering less durability. On the contrary, aluminum made metal speed squares are strong enough to tolerate extreme applications like being dropped off and run over. So, metallic speed squares are the most durable as they last longer.
There is not much option for the manufacturers to differ by using a different material for the production of a speed square. Mostly, manufacturers tend to consider three types of medium for the production of speed squares.
Wood has been the most ancient construction material for speed squares. It has a lot of drawbacks making it unfit to be used for the production of speed squares. Wood easily gets damaged or even gets broken very often. So, over the past few decades manufacturers have gradually moved to different construction mediums of speed squares.
Plastic has been a very promising construction material for producing speed squares. Plastic made squares are cheaper usually. So, plastic made squares have been a very demanding product in the market. Plastic offers less durability. It doesn’t have the proper strength to tolerate extreme applications. Plastic made squares tend to get broken easily.
Metal has been proved as the most satisfactory construction material for speed squares. Metallic squares have extreme durability to be used in tough situations. It is almost impossible to get a metallic square broken into parts. Over the years, finally, manufacturers have made a sustainable production line for metallic speed squares.
Anybody using a speed square should have a decent scope to take the reading of various measurements easily. The primary concern for better readability should be a good color contrast of the markings that are stamped on the body of a speed square.
Some of the speed squares might have a poor color contrast for which it becomes very tough to take a reading of measurements, especially in low light. So, to overcome such a problem, it will be beneficial to look for a speed square that has a clear readable gradation stamped on it.
Best speed squares reviewed
We now know what to look for in a good speed square. Let me show you my favorite options next, so you can find the right tool for your projects.
Best overall speed square: Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch
|Dimensions||1 x 8 x 8|
They created the speed square and they have perfected it!
First developed nearly one hundred years ago by Albert Swanson, this tool has been refined and improved by the manufacturer and offers everything you could want in a speed square.
It incorporates all the features of the framing square, the tri square, the miter square, and the protractor square.
The Swanson Speed Square is made of heavy-gauge aluminum alloy and, if you don’t lose it, it will last forever. It is lightweight but robust and can withstand rough handling.
It has a matt finish, and the black measurements and degree markers stand out clearly, for easy reading.
The gradations include hip, valley, and jack rafters. It features pencil notches at 1/4-inch increments, allowing users to scribe accurately down the length of a board.
The unique “Diamond” cut-out on the measurement side of the square for easy rafter seat cuts.
Its size makes it very portable and easy to carry in a pocket and it comes with a handy booklet that provides instructions, reference diagrams, and tables for the construction of roofs and stairs.
- Incorporates all the features of the framing, tri, and miter squares
- Made of lightweight aluminum for strength and durability
- Black measurement and degree markers stand out clearly against the matt finish
- Booklet provides instructions, diagrams, and tables
- Compact and fits in a pocket
- Markings are Imperial, not Metric.
Best speed square with pivot: CH Hanson 03060 Pivot Square
|Dimensions||13 x 2.8 x 11.3|
The unique feature of the CH Hanson 03060 Pivot Square is the pivot mechanism that locks the square at a specific angle.
This is particularly useful for repetitive measuring and marking, which makes it the ideal Speed Square for roof construction and framing.
Another unique feature of this speed square is that it is equipped with 3 UV-resistant vials that can determine roof pitches and angles quickly and accurately. The liquid-filled vials indicate gradation while facilitating miter cuts and leveling.
It also has an innovative pivot point that makes precision layout and measurement of angles quick and easy.
It is made from the finest machined aluminum alloy which makes it extremely durable.
Pivot mechanism that locks the square at any specified angle
Pivot point that makes precision layout and measurement of angles quick and easy
Three UV resistant vials for measuring roof pitches and angles
Made from durable aluminum alloy
Best speed square for rafters: Johnson Level & Tool 1904-0700 7-Inch Johnny Square
|Dimensions||0.88 x 10.25 x 8|
With its unique EZ-Read finish, this is the perfect square for rafters and welders who require exceptional precision and accuracy.
The unique anti-glare protective coating that diffracts sunlight makes this tool easy to read in direct sun as well as in shade.
The finish also increases friction which makes it easier to secure the square against the wood when using it as a saw guide.
It has a thick edge which is useful as a saw guide. You can use it directly with the saw against the square for cross cuts or angled cuts by using the protractor scale.
It also has a magnetic edge which is useful for hands-free use.
Its solid aluminum body construction with CNC machined edges ensures an accurate reading every time.
It has scales for cutting hip, valley, and jack rafters.
- Unique EZ-Read finish
- Thick edge – useful as a saw guide
- Magnetic edge – useful for hands-free use
- Scales for cutting hip, valley and jack rafters
- Solid aluminum body with CNC machined edges
Best heavy-duty smart speed square: VINCA ARLS-12 Aluminum Rafter Carpenter Triangle Square
For the professional roofer or carpenter, the Vinca Arls-12 speed square is the ideal measuring tool.
It features multiple scales: 1/8-, 1/10-, 1/12-, and 1/16- inch which is a great help to those who prefer not to do calculations in their head.
This is a large square (12 inches) suited to industrial use and large projects.
The body is made of aluminum with thick edges which makes it strong, durable, and ideal for heavy use.
The broad base offers a stable grip and prevents the tool from slipping.
The Vinca features deeply engraved yellow markings on a dark background which are unlikely to fade and become unreadable.
A most useful addition to the purchase of this square is a rafter conversion table, for those who want accurate measurements at a glance.
- Features multiple scales
- Large 12-inch square suited to industrial use
- Engraved yellow markings on a dark background
- Includes a rafter conversion table
Best speed square for small DIY projects: DEWALT DWHT46031 Aluminum 7-inch Premium Rafter Square
|Dimensions||10 x 6 x 1|
|Size||Pack of 1|
If you are a keen DIYer and work with wood occasionally, then this is a good speed square to consider.
The Dewalt DWHT46031 is not a heavy-duty Speed Square but it is made by a reliable company and is perfect for small DIY projects and home modifications.
The edges are straight, the numbers are clearly marked with maximum contrast, and it is notched at the right intervals for scribing lines.
It is compact and lightweight, and the lip holds it tightly to the wood, all of which make it easy to use.
Imperial measurements only.
- Compact and lightweight
- Ideal for small DIY projects
- Lip holds tightly to the wood
- Notched at the right intervals for scribing lines
Best high contrast speed square: IRWIN Tools Rafter Square
|Dimensions||9.25 x 7.48 x 0.98|
If you regularly work in low-light conditions, reading the measurements on a speed square can be a challenge. With this in mind, Irwin Tools created a high visibility speed square.
The Irwin 7-inch rafter square is easy to read, even in low-light conditions.
The measurements and rafter table angles are painted in bright yellow on glossy blue background.
This color combination makes the notches and scales stand out and also makes the tool easy to locate on a tool bench, on the grass, or on the workshop floor.
The square has multiple scales: 1/8, 1/10, 1/12, and 1/16 inch and also features brace and octagon scales and Essex board measure.
Made from aluminum alloy, it is solid, weather-proof, and rust-resistant. This is a quality tool that will last.
- Very easy to read in low-light conditions – bright yellow on glossy blue background.
- Multiple scales: 1/8, 1/10, 1/12, and 1/16 inch as well as brace and octagon scales
- Made from aluminum alloy, it is weatherproof and rust-resistant
- Highly visible in a workshop or building site
Best value-for-money speed square: Swanson Tool Co T0118 Composite Speedlite Square
This lightweight version of Swanson’s metal Speed Square is ideal for general crew usage on a construction site.
It is much cheaper than the metal version, easy to use, and still extremely durable.
The high-visibility orange color of the plastic makes it easy to locate on a building site or in a workshop.
“Great price, high viz and tough”, was the opinion of one pro building contractor.
It is made of lightweight, high-impact polystyrene, a type of plastic that is much more durable and rugged than ordinary plastic, and it is ideal for working with siding and other delicate materials since it won’t mar soft finishes.
It has a centerline (C/L) for locating the center of round stock and beveled edges for ease of reading. It has 1/8-inch spaced notches for scribing lines.
The numbers are impressions and are not painted, so it can be hard to read at a distance.
- Made of lightweight, high-impact plastic
- Orange color for high visibility
- Ideal for working with siding and other delicate materials
- Excellent value for money, cheaper than the metal version
Speed square with best forged tip: Empire Level 2990
|Dimensions||7.25 x 7.25 x 0.87|
Empire level 2900 Heavy-Duty Magnum Rafter Square is a classic speed square. It is a modern product that comes up in the market with a lot of promising features. The first thing that will attract any customer is its built quality.
Empire 2900 7-inch long speed square is made from proprietary steel and it is heat-treated for a better hardness. Its forged tip is designed for a secure grip. Such a tip also ensures maximum contact by eliminating stripping. Basically, it is a heavy-duty speed square. A thick, bend or break-proof aluminum frame makes it way more perfect for using it as a saw guide.
Conversion tables permanently embedded on its body simplifies measurement tasks. It comes up in the market including the instruction manual and complete rafter table to help a user. So, its comparatively cheaper price, solid aluminum construction, and fine marked gradations make it a very good choice for beginners and professionals.
This product has two decent drawbacks. It doesn’t have any scribing notches for rip cutting. Another fact is that its gradations have very poor color contrast. No extra color was used for gradations. This makes it cheaper in the market but makes it hard to read.
What Is a Speed Square?
A speed square is a triangle-shaped marking out tool used by carpenters. Generally, it merges all the common functions of a combination square, tri square and framing square into one. So, it is called a speed square as it fastens the working process by combining three squares into one.
Basically, a speed square is a right triangle containing a ruler on one side and a fence on the other. So, carpenters use it to make basic measurements. It is also used as a saw guide depending on the product model manufactured by different companies. Some models in the market come up with a pivot point that allows the user to make easy angle measurements efficiently.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a speed square?
For those of you who are not familiar with this particular square, a speed square is a measuring tool that combines the functions of the combination square, the try square, and the framing square all in one.
It is one of the most basic and essential tools in woodworking. It is inexpensive, accurate, and has a wide variety of uses.
The main purpose of a speed square is to layout lines very quickly and accurately. You can also find and draw angles and circles, adjust or guide a saw, and even use it as a level.
This video shows you how to use a speed square like a boss:
Speed squares are made from a variety of materials such as aluminum, steel, and composites such as HDPE. They are also made in several sizes, including 7-inch, 8-inch, 25-cm and 12-inch sizes.
The embedded degree gradations on the tool eliminate the need for trigonometric calculations and allow for lines to be more easily made.
What is the difference between a speed square and a rafter square?
A speed square is also known as the rafter angle square, rafter square, and triangle square. This is a multi-purpose triangular carpenter tool that is used for marking.
Carpenters use it to make the basic measurement and mark lines on the dimensional lumber, and they see it as a guide for 45 to 90 degrees cut.
What size of speed square should I get?
“The first square you buy should be a 12-inch Speed Square,” says Tom Silva, This Old House general contractor.
“It’s versatile and unbreakable. It gives you 45- and 90-degree angles, it’s also a ruler, and it’s not hard to measure other angles with it, too.”
How thick is a speed square?
Speed squares are available in two sizes:
- The smaller size is seven inches on a side (the hypotenuse is just under ten inches)
- The larger version is twelve by twelve by seventeen inches (actually, for sticklers who know the Pythagorean Theorem, the precise measurement is 16.97 inches).
Are speed squares accurate?
It is accurately made and truly square, so you’ll get accurate measurements every time. The solid aluminum body is made with CNC machined edges for exceptional durability and precision.
What is the diamond in a speed square for?
The Swanson Speed Square has a diamond cut-out along the ruler that allows you to square lines and make sure they’re perfect.
That diamond cut-out can be used to make a notch, or a birdsmouth, for rafter work.
Are framing squares accurate?
Framing squares are very accurate, even though they might not specify the accuracy, you can be assured that they are more accurate than you will ever be able to use, unless you are a machinist, and have the means to verify accuracy.
How do you know if a square is framing square?
Draw a line along the edge of the long side of the square. Then flip the tool over, aligning the base of the mark with the same edge of the square; draw another line.
If the two marks don’t align, your square is not square. When buying a square, it’s a good idea to check its accuracy before leaving the store.
Can I measure both angle and distance?
Yes, the speed square has angle measurement and distance measurement features in one body that allows you to measure the angle as well as distance at the same time.
What does rafter mean?
A speed square is also called rafter square, the angle at the top is called the rafter angle or the rafter shape. That’s why they are also called rafter square.
Is it possible to measure pitch and angle using a speed square?
Yes. A speed square is manufactured for making precise measurements of angles and pitch.
Is there any difference between rafter square and speed square?
Technically, there are no dissimilarities between a rafter square and a speed square. The angle at the top of a speed square is called the rafter angle. So, a speed square is also called a rafter square.
Can I use a speed square to draw straight lines like a ruler?
Surely, you can. In fact, it will be an elementary use for a speed square.
Can I use a speed square to find the diameter of a circle?
Yes. Basically, the angle markings on a speed square are intended for taking circular measurements precisely.
Which type of speed square should I use?
Ans: Metallic speed squares are better than plastic speed squares. Also, metallic squares are comparatively cheaper than plastic squares, so, it is always preferred to go for a metallic speed square.
Now that you are aware of the different types of speed squares available and their various features and applications, you are better equipped to select the right one for your purposes.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.