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Pretty much every carpenter carries a “layout square,” which helps in marking and measuring angles.  But with so many new materials available, one doesn’t simply grab a square any more — there are choices to make.

From the classic steel square, we “progressed” to a lighter, cheaper alternative: plastic.  Now many manufacturers of aluminum squares claim the benefits of both — the strength and durability of steel and the lightness of plastic.

But do these claims deliver?  I’m not a professional carpenter, so my square sits around the shop most of the time until I need it.  How ’bout you Toolmongers who carry these around and abuse them.  Do aluminum square really hold up as well as steel?  Are they worth the cash?  Let us know in comments.


16 Responses to Hot or Not? Aluminum Layout Squares

  1. Rob says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a steel speed square. I’ve had my aluminum one for over 10 years and it’s seen a lot of use and abuse and it’s holding up fine. The strength of modern plastics is great but the aluminum ones aren’t that expensive or really that heavy if you factor in all the other tools you’re carrying in your tool belt.

  2. fjr says:


    They are not only useful in carpentry, but also the best tool for marking and cutting metal.

    When my uncle taught me how to weld and we built my worktable this was the primary marking tool to keep things square, or at 45deg.

    You can even cut a notch in the corner of the speedquare and use it to hold your stock while you lay a tack weld.

    Absolutely a must have tool for woodworking and welding.

  3. Michael W. says:

    I like the steel ones personally, I tend to stick it in my back pocket if I’m not wearing a belt. I’ve broken plastic ones, and bent aluminum ones by forgetting to take them out before sitting down.
    I would definitely choose aluminum over plastic though.

  4. John Laur says:

    Hot dang; How can you go wrong? The cast aluminum squares are accurate, reliable, durable, compact, and best of all SUPER CHEAP. You can get a 7″ swanson’s square for what, like $4?

    Who, seriously, in their right mind would tell anyone that a speed square is not a good tool? Sure, I have a more precise T square and a larger framing square that I use a great deal, but if I could only have one of the three you can probably guess which I’d go with.

  5. Steve Thompson says:

    Hot. never used a steel one, but the aluminum one I have is a necessity.

  6. Waylan says:

    Definitely hot. After using mine, I hated borrowing my dads heavy old one. I have had a few people express concerns about accuracy, but in the 10 or so years I’ve had mine I’ve never noticed any problems.

  7. Daren says:

    Very hot! In my top 10 list of most used tools.

  8. Daren says:

    …oh and Fine Homebuilding had a tip years ago that you can use the speed square and a clamp as a work support in many instnaces.

  9. Scraper says:

    Definitely HOT. A very useful tool. And for the part-time carpenter (like myself) aluminum is fine. I would recommend looking for one that looks like the picture in the article. (With the fence cast into the bottom edge of the triangle.) I was given a Stanley that had an adjustable fence that was in the middle of the triangle. 99% of the time it is in the way. Just my thoughts.

  10. Brad says:

    Not having much familiarity with speed squares and their use, I did a quick Google and stumbled here. http://zo-d.com/mt/mt32/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=8&search=swanson Couple nice little how-to articles on the use of the square.

  11. David says:

    I’m a big fan of the speed square. I could never wrap my head around a combo square and a framing square is usually just too big. Plus I like how its just the right size for the large pocket of my nail apron. Two thumbs up!

  12. TL says:

    Big fan of these. I actually own the same 12″ Swanson that you have a picture of.

  13. Leslie says:

    I have an old steel one that is a necessity. Definitely hot.

  14. Hot, certainly. I really can’t imagine working without it. Small enough to ride comfortably in my belt, where depending on the project, it generally rides all day long, but I use it in the shop as well.

    I haven’t seen anyone mention the #1 use I have for it… as a guide for my circular saw. For 95″ of the framing one does, you can eliminate trips to the miter saw. Can’t do that easily with a framing or combo square – the blade has to be about 1/8″ thick to give the saw shoe a good reference surface to slide along.

    I use aluminum, and after a couple years, its definitely time for a new one – more than a few dings and nicks in this baby.

    BUT – why aren’t there nicely made ones out there? By that, I mean etched and inked markings, rather than stamped like all the ones out there. If I’m not mistaken, Bridge City used to make one, but it seems to be discontinued.

    Finally, not all of these triangles are created equally. If you are in the market, look for one of the ones that has notches for your pencil to sit in during layout.

  15. Randy Graham says:

    I say use the rafter pro it is plastic but it will do every thing that the steel or aluminum one can do.Plus lay out rafters and stair stringers with out doing the math.
    Check it out at http://www.rafterpro.com

    The inventor

  16. IzInBloOm says:

    Swanson Brand for sure. A little more costly, but it won’t break like those plastic or cheap powdered metal ones. Indispensible for rafter cuts. Always in my belt.

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