If you’re still using a plastic speed square, you’re just cheating yourself. The least-expensive metal speed squares match the more expensive plastic models, but last far longer, and are safe to use around your saw and other power tools. While you probably don’t need more encouragement to upgrade than that, they’re also more durable, and often more accurate as well.
However, it’s not always clear which models are winners and which will end up collecting dust or rotting away in a trashcan when you shop online. Misleading product descriptions written by ad executives can make it hard to figure out which models really are worth your money.
Our reviews are designed to take the stress out of the buying process. We cover the good and the bad so that you know what you’re buying before you commit. We’ve also included a buyer’s guide, so you can learn everything you need to know about these great tools, even if you’ve never owned one before.
|Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch Speed Square Layout Tool|
|IRWIN Tools 7-Inch Rafter Square||1 lb||4.6/5|
|DEWALT DWHT46031 7-inch Rafter Square||1 lb||4.5/5|
|VINCA ARLS-12||1 lb||4.45/5|
|Johnson Level & Tool 7-Inch Aluminum Rafter Square||1 lb||4.3/5|
|Empire Level 2990 Magnum Rafter Square||1 lb||4.1/5|
You may end up paying more, but it will be hard to find a better speed square than the Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch Speed Square Layout Tool. This model comes with every measurement you could expect to find on a speed square and more. It’s cast from aluminum, so it’s both very sturdy and lightweight. It comes with multiple notches, which are useful for keeping track of measurements and making accurate marks, even if you have to move the speed square around. It also comes with a handle pivot point, which makes marking out angles as easy as you could want.
This model also comes with the famous Swanson Blue Book, which features text and picture descriptions that can be used to help you plan roofs and staircases. That makes this tool a great choice for beginners. We only have one problem with this model, and that’s that it sometimes comes rough-cast or with sloppy paint. For the price, it’s not a bad deal, but you may spend some time cleaning it up. Still, if you’re looking for a speed square that can do it all, and which comes with a great book, you’ll be very happy with this model.
If you blink, you may think that you’ve gone from black-and-white to color when looking at this model. The IRWIN Tools 7-Inch Rafter Square is nearly identical to the previous model; however, it’s painted in bright blues and yellows which make it easier to read, especially if you’re in subpar lighting. It’s also made from aluminum, so it’s both strong and lightweight. Design-wise, it’s all you could reasonably expect from a speed square, and in some ways, it’s superior to the previous model. It comes with a 1/16-inch scale which is missing from the previous model.
This model also lacks a pivot point. Some people will find that makes it easier to make uninterrupted straight lines, while others will wish that they had the point for more reliable rotations. What ultimately keeps this model out of first place is that it’s more than twice as expensive as our top model, and also doesn’t include an instructional book. For some people, the better visibility will be more than worth the price, but for others, it’s an increase in price without a big increase in value. Still, this is a tool which most people will be happy with for years to come.
The DEWALT DWHT46031 7-inch Rafter Square is another great speed square. Like the previous model, this one comes with a high-contrast between body color and lettering color. While the white letters on a black background aren’t as visible as the yellow-on-blue found elsewhere, it’s still better contrast than you’ll find on other models. This model also comes with a larger-than-average base, which makes it good for holding onto larger pieces of lumber and adds to this model’s overall durability. Also included are great scribe-line notches, which make marking lumber for rip cuts surprisingly easy.
While most metal speed squares claim that they’re durable enough to use as a saw guide, this is one that’s definitely going to live up to those claims. With qualities like these, you may be wondering why this model isn’t ranked higher on our list. Unfortunately, this model suffers from inconsistent quality. Most units are fine, but some come with substandard painting or, with less-than-desirable machining along the edges. These are serious problems which can greatly reduce the speed square’s value. However, most units are just fine. If you didn’t have to take the gamble, it would be easy to rank this model higher.
VINCA is a brand which you may not have heard of, but we like their speed squares enough to rank them on our list. Specifically, the VINCA ARLS-12 caught our eye. It’s a 12-inch speed square which gives you the ability to work with larger lumber than you can with a 7-inch speed square. This model comes with a greatly expanded set of scribe-line notches. If you’re going to be doing a lot of exotic rips, this is a model you’ll want to have. It’s also very durable and has a nice, solid feel, which suggests it will last for a long time, even if abused. A rafter conversion table is also included, so you won’t have to do as much mental math while you’re on the job.
However, we don’t love this model’s precision. It’s good enough for most carpentry. If you’re going to be doing a ton of precision work with very tight margins, then this might not be the right tool for you. Still, it will be precise enough for most people. It also occasionally arrives with sloppy painting, which can be cosmetic or functionally-frustrating. If those problems were sorted out, we’d rank this model higher.
Some tools do everything right, and others focus too hard on a single area and miss out on being at least competent in every category. The Johnson Level & Tool 7-Inch Aluminum Rafter Square falls squarely into the second category, and while it does some things right, it’s probably not going to be the right tool for most people. In its favor, it comes with good contrast in its lettering, despite the fact that its white letters on a black background. Part of this is due to the good anti-glare coat which is put on this tool.
This model also comes with exceptional scribing notches, so if you’re going to do a lot of ripping, this might be the model for you. However, the paint on this model is easily damaged, and the claims of “laser-etched” markings may be unfounded. It’s also made from relatively-soft aluminum which can be damaged in short drops. Overall, the quality isn’t high enough for this model to survive more than a few months of regular use before warping or having critical markings rub off. For the price, most people are going to be looking for a model which will last them much longer.
The Empire Level 2990 Magnum Rafter Square is an inexpensive model. On other lists, it may rank higher based on that factor alone, but it’s surrounded by a lot of high-quality models on this list, which makes it less valuable by comparison. It’s also a strong speed square, which is sometimes a concern with cheaper aluminum products. However, this model is hobbled by a lack of scribing notches. Every other model on this list has at least some scribing notches, and many excel in this area. That makes this model very disappointing.
It also has the hardest-to-read markings of any model. They’re etched, so at least they’ll never wear out, but there’s no paint or other distinguishing feature used by the manufacturer to offset the text, which makes it very hard to read. This model frequently arrives machined very roughly, so most users would be wise to file down the edges before trying to use it for the first time. That’s something you shouldn’t have to do with any tool and a sign that the manufacturer generally isn’t careful. Overall, this model’s price isn’t terrible, but it’s not low enough to make better models on this list less attractive.
When it comes to buying a speed square, the most important thing to focus on is getting a model which is easy to read. While it may not seem like that’s the most important feature at first, it’s important to remember that this is a tool you’re going to be constantly consulting while you work with it. A loss of even a second across the entire process could cost you minutes every day, and hours every month.
The most-readable models focus on delivering a high contrast between the markings and the backgrounds. Anti-glare coatings can also greatly increase how visible the markings are.
Durability is the next most important area, and a good reason to upgrade from a plastic to a metal speed square. Plastic models are prone to breaking and won’t be safe to use around power tools. Metal speed squares will survive being dropped and run over, and some are even strong enough to use as a guide when you’re running wood through your saw.
However, most speed squares are made from aluminum, and not all aluminum formulations are made the same. Make sure there are no user complaints about bending or warping before you buy, and you greatly increase your odds of getting a model which lasts a long time.
Scribing notches are another area where models can separate themselves from the pack. Most models come with at least some scribing notches, though not all do. If you do a lot of rip cuts, you may want to avoid models without scribing notches, as you’ll lose a lot of value without them.
Of course, there’s some variation from model to model. Some come with around seven notches, while others have dozens which run nearly the full length of a side. Again, this isn’t a feature which will be useful for everyone, but if you do a lot of rip cuts, then you owe it to yourself to get a model which has excellent scribing notches.
The Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch Speed Square Layout Tool is our favorite model due to its aluminum frame, great pivot point, and inclusion of the excellent Swanson Blue Book. The IRWIN Tools 7-Inch Rafter Square has a great design and very visible markings, but its high price keeps it out of first place. The DEWALT DWHT46031 7-inch Rafter Square is another model with excellent color contrast, a large base, and great scribe-line notches, but its inconsistent quality drops it a few spaces on our list. While you may not have heard of the VINCA ARLS-12, it has the best scribe-line notches. If its markings were more precise and its occasional painting problems were sorted out, we’d have no problem ranking it higher. The Johnson Level & Tool 7-Inch Aluminum Rafter Square has good marking visibility and great scribing notches, though its easily-damaged paint and soft body mean it can rise no higher than fifth place. In last place is the Empire Level 2990 Magnum Rafter Square which lacks scribing notches and suffers from rough machining and hard-to-read markings.
We hope that our reviews and buyer’s guide have helped you find the speed square which is right for you.
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