Framing squares are one of the great encapsulations of good old fashioned Yankee know-how in your workshop. They are simple in design and construction, but because they can help you quickly and precisely get corners and edges right they can play an important role in your most complex DIY projects.
Given that they look like nothing more than a couple of standard rulers fused together, it’s probably a bit surprising that they are in fact precision instruments that can take the place of a calculator in the field. We took a look a few of them and wrote reviews on how we think they’d perform as part of your tool inventory.
The market is filled with different kinds of framing squares, and we wouldn’t want you to think that the five we looked at are all there is. We put a buyers guide at the bottom of our reviews to give you an idea of the different kinds available and what to look for when you go shopping. Given their price range, you just might want to buy yourself a few.
|Empire Level e1190 Framing & Carpenter Square|
|IRWIN Tools 16 by 24-Inch Framer Square||13 oz||4.6/5|
|VINCA SCLS-1208 Carpenter L Framing Square|
(Best for the Money)
|Stanley 45-300 Aluminum Carpenters Square||14 oz||4.3/5|
|Tarvol 12" Framing Square||4 oz||4.0/5|
There are a couple of criterion for how to determine the best square for carpentry. Is it easy to read and is it accurate? If the manufacturer has achieved those two things, they’ve made a successful framing square. Empire’s Level e1190 does that and comes in an electric blue with white lettering instead of standard black lettering on bare metal. That’s what really sets it apart from the competition. At its price, it’s also a pretty good value.
The one thing to watch is that it’s made out of aluminum instead of stainless steel. It’s lighter and doesn’t heat up if left in the sun as quickly as steel does, but it’s not as durable. Step on it, and you might find yourself buying a replacement.
IRWIN Tools’ 16×24 framing square is a tool meant for professionals. That’s meant in every imaginable way. Used properly, your angled cuts will be as precise as they are using any other framing square. It’s color scheme and lettering are easy to read and it comes with a professional’s set of tables on the square. It’s also made out of high-grade aluminum so that it’s lightweight and doesn’t get scorching hot if left in direct sun.
A lot of the tables that come standard on framing squares, however, might as well be written in Aramaic for how understood they are by DIYers. This has those tables, which might confuse hobbyists. But the thing that really sets this apart for professionals is the price. If you’re a hobbyist, you can get a really nice framing square that will serve all your needs for a much lower price.
Ranking the VINCA SCLS-1208 as best for the money is based on really basic reasoning. It’s affordable for most budgets, and it’s accurate. It’s also made out of steel, so it’ll last a long time. That means getting the most out of your investment.
In fact, we’d be tempted to rank it higher except that it’s a standard black lettering on bare metal marking scheme, and it’s not as easily read as our top two choices. Since being able to read a framing square is very critical to whether it’s a success as a tool, that is a significant shortcoming.
If you’re working at a site, keep in mind that it’s made of steel instead of aluminum. While it’s more durable, it’s also heavier and prone to getting hot if left out in the sun.
The best thing the Stanley 45-300 has going for it is that it’s very lightweight. It’s constructed out of soft aluminum, which of course means that it’s easily damaged, and it doesn’t come with a hole to hang it up. It’s also cheaper than competitors’ models so it’s a decent choice if you’re shopping on a budget.
One significant reason why we dropped it this far down our ranking is in the tables. The rafters table, and one job for framing squares is helping a carpenter measure and get right roofing rafters, is missing. The other tables are written in small black lettering, which on the metal body are hard to read.
It’s not a bad choice unless you want professional quality. If that’s the case, then prepare to pay a little more for an alternative model.
It’s a bit of a stretch to call the Tarvol 12” a framing square. It’s not very accurate and not big enough for use for most carpentry applications. It’s really affordable, however, and price is the real selling point for this. On an average day, it can be half the price of a proper framing square.
Most of the framing squares we’ve looked at are 16×24. This one is 12×5. It also doesn’t have carpentry tables to help you figure out dimensions quickly. It’s smaller and lighter than other models, but if you want to use it, be prepared to pull out your calculator.
While its price is the best thing about it, it’s also very readable. While the size and design don’t lend itself very well to being a framing square, it would work nicely as a basic straight edge that lets you measure where to make cuts.
A framing square isn’t the most technical tool you’re going to buy, but they come packed with guides to help you make accurate cuts without a calculator. That means knowing a little about them, and a little about what you need one for. We wrote this buyers’ guide to give you an idea of how to match what you need to the right tool.
Buying a framing square might seem like a simple transaction because it looks so crude. It might seem like you can just buy any model that looks like it is the right size, which is true if you don’t do any complicated work. If you do, knowing that something this simple still has pieces with dedicated purposes is important. So, we’ll give a quick run-down on the different parts of a framing square.
Imagine a framing square laid down on your workbench. It essentially has two major sections, and each has its own name. Here’s a run-down on each, and other terms used to describe a framing square.
Blade: The section that is longer and wider is called the blade.
Tongue: The section that is shorter and thinner is called the tongue.
Face: The front of the framing square is called the face. Rafters tables are on the face’s blade. The tongue of the face is where you’ll find the eight-square scale. You can easily find the face if you place a framing square on a table with the tongue pointing to the right.
Back: Place a framing square on a table with the tongue pointing to the left. That’s the square’s back. Brace measurements are on the tongue and Essex board measurements are on the blade.
Heel: The heel is where the tongue and blade meet. On the back of the heel is a guide that measures to the hundredths of inches.
As with every tool purchase, what you plan to do is going to be the first thing to dictate what you purchase. In this case, what we’re talking about is how big is the project. If you primarily build something smaller like a dollhouse, you’re going to want a small framing square. If you are doing primarily proper carpentry that includes working with large, flat panels, you’ll want a framing square that is bigger. In fact, the idea that you should always match the tool to the job is a great rule of thumb when making any purchase.
Framing squares are normally made out of either stainless steel or aluminum. Under normal use, it doesn’t make any difference which one you get and they aren’t priced according to materials of manufacture. Aluminum framing squares tend to be a little lighter and therefore more portable. Stainless steel is harder, and if your tools get dinged during use will hold their precision marks a little better. We’d suggest that if you need a bigger square that you consider stainless steel because it’s a little stronger over the whole tool and less prone to getting bent or broken. One thing to keep in mind if you work outside, however. Steel heats up quickly in the sun. Aluminum doesn’t.
All other things considered, price is always a great way to settle on what you want to purchase. Framing squares aren’t the most expensive tools in your shop, so we’re not talking about savings that would allow you to eat dinner in a nice restaurant. But if you can save a couple bucks here and there eventually it’ll add up.
A good framing square is a cheap and simple but invaluable tool for your inventory. While you could probably spend a lot of money on something electronic and a little more precise, sometimes the job just dictates that you go with tried and true, basic and cheap.
There is enough variety in design and size that you might find it well worth your while to get a few framing squares. In raw terms, however, we think that if you buy one that the Empire Level e1190 is your best bet. The IRWIN Tools 16×24 is a good runner-up choice. If you want the best value, we suggest the VINCA SCLS-1280. You can also do better than both the Stanley 45-300 and Tarvol 12” Framing Square.
Don’t take our reviews as an exhaustive assessment of what’s available. Framing squares come in a multitude of sizes, construction materials, and even shapes. We provided a buyers guide to help you figure out that while it’s a simple tool that there are enough differences between makes and models that it’s helpful to know what you’re looking for. We wish you the best of luck in finding the right framing square.