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I have a cool little simple combination square that sees lots of use around the shop in terms of everything from basic metal fabrication to hanging pictures. I inherited mine, but you can buy one pretty much just like it from dozens of manufacturers. Hell, I saw an Irwin model that was identical except for its blue finish. Then I came across the one pictured above.

My first thought is that it’s the result of too many committee meetings or focus groups. Can you even identify all the tasks for which this thing’s designed?

The documentation I saw claims “10 uses” including 90-degree inside and outside squares, 135-degree and 45-degree inside squares, horizontal and vertical levels, a T-square marking gauge, and a depth gauge. Granted, most of that is standard T-square functionality, but I’m really not sure about all the doodads on the left side.

Seriously, though, is this something you appreciate? Or more generally, do you like tools which combine many functions into one tool, or would you rather have multiple simple tools for each job?


37 Responses to Reader Question: Combination Square Overkill?

  1. Matt says:

    Overkill. Most definitively.

    It’s like a Swiss army knife – it may do 10 things, but I doubt it’s the best tool for any of them. Unlike a Swiss army knife, this doesn’t even fit in your pocket.

  2. jesse says:

    You can find this tool in every machinist catalog. Been there for a long time.

  3. Matthew says:

    The left two heads are a centering head and a protractor head. I use both regularly when working with round stock and when laying out along angles. I do not find this to be overkill at all.

  4. Dave says:

    The key to this critter is that everything you’re not using comes off, and so parts you are not using do not hinder use of the parts you are.

    I don’t use my antique one for woodworking much, but use it almost everytime there’s some metalworking to do.

  5. John says:

    Not new at all. The two additional components serve two puposes: centre finder and protracter for when you need to measure or layout something other than 90 or 45 degrees.

    If you have never needed to do either, then they server no purpose.

    If you are doing any kind of machining or fabriction work, they are very usefull.

  6. Ben says:

    ya as stated, pretty common. i don’t use mine all the time but they are very helpful

  7. Dale Chayes says:

    I’d feel uncomfortable without (at least one) one in my tool box (at home and at work.) Starrett has a PDF (2 page) that does a good job of explaining the functions:
    http://www.starrett.com/docs/user-manuals/combination-square-insert—form-955.pdf It puts many Swiss Army knives to shame 😉

  8. Other Dave says:

    Maybe my memory serves me wrong, but I seem to recall you guys getting all warm and fuzzy over a gadgety new center finder or protractor or two, like for instance the Nova Workshop 10-In-1 Gauge or the C.H. Hanson Slide Square. These here have been selling for a hundred-some-odd years, so maybe they’re not so gimmicky after all. There was even a four-foot combination square with center finder head (but no protractor head) reviewed here a couple of years ago.

  9. Will says:

    My center finder and protractor heads live in the toolbox, but the center finder has come out a couple of times when I needed to drill into the center of a MDF round or piece of dowel. The protractor head might come out on my next project, but even if it doesn’t I’m glad to have all three.

  10. Martin says:

    This will look fairly normal to a machinist, but likely a little over done (confusing) to a carpenter. (Not an insult to carpenters, but just different professions that require different tools.)

  11. Steve says:

    I use the Starrett version of this tool. The quality is outstanding.

    • Jason says:

      Yep, I have the 12″ Starret version of the above, and it is fantastic. Don’t use all of the functions every day, but use most of them often enough to appreciate the quality.

      And it’s a very common, very useful tool – surprised that a site like “toolmonger” would be in the dark about it.

      • Jason says:

        Also, this is “multiple, simple tools” – it takes about three seconds to switch heads. I don’t use the center finder or protractor often enough to buy dedicated tools that are of the same quality.

  12. tom spisak says:

    in my pocket I look for multi-functionality: I have a SA Signature and a Gerber on my keychain and grab a mini-Leatherman on the way out the door
    in the shop, however, I want simplicity. When I picked up a Starret combination square at a yard sale, I found two more rulers.

  13. Phil Stephan says:

    I’ve used various versions of this tool in 35 years of machine shop work. Excellent tool. The first tool you learn to use in a high school machine shop class. Or do they even teach that anymore. The cheap ones are made of extruded aluminum and aren’t very accurate. If you find a starrette brand they are gold. I have found three in second hand stores. That way i can set them up for each function. They make a 24″ scale that works on them.

  14. johnnyp says:

    Got one. Starrett.

  15. fred says:

    My Starrett – also includes a small scriber that you pullout. The one pictured may have this feature too – but perhaps not the Starrett quality. Mine also has a spirit level in both the protractor and square heads. You can also purchase differnt length rules to go with the heads – and Starrett offers some different finishes to suit different machinists’ tastes

  16. Jeff says:

    Yeah, I’m relatively new to metal-working and this is the first tool I bought. all the pieces of it are very useful.

  17. Gary Z says:

    The problem here is that if you use these “all in one” type tools you will lack the tools needed to fill your pegboard. Remember “He who dies with the most tools wins.”

  18. Martin says:

    If it is a Starrett, it has a placed reserved in a green felt lined drawer of a USA made Gerstner tool chest. If it is not a Starrett, then a place on the pegboard would be more than appropriate and real asset to any “most tools” collection.

  19. John Aspinall says:

    Underkill, not overkill.
    What you really want is each separate tool on its own rule. But instead they cheaped out and gave you three “heads” to share one rule.

  20. fred says:

    @John Aspinall

    If you want more cabpability – then you might go for 3 or 4 different length rules. Starrett combination square rules come in lengths from 4 inch to 48 inch. I think they also sell differnt size heads

  21. Michael says:

    K I S S

  22. peter says:

    usually all three are only stored, not used on the ruler. centerfinder is a great thing for small stock

  23. Adam Neer says:

    Seriously? Is there that much of a lack of new tools to write about that your last 5 or 6 posts have been revelations about tools that have been around for (in this case) over 100 years? If it wasn’t bad enough that Toolmonger consistantly gives favorable reviews to poorly made products, you report your tool new like the Today Show reports their current events. (outdated and overly dramatic)

  24. Alan says:

    I have limited tool space so “multi” tools of good quality are often nice to have. Even if I have a set tool or tools for a specific task the multi-tool is often easier to take in a tool bag etc.

    I like all the options of a Starrett Combo Square just wish they were not so expensive.

  25. frankie says:

    Should Toolmonger ‘chuck’ Cage? This was a ridiculous item to post.

  26. Johnny says:

    So some marketing/advertising type who doesn’t know anything about a tool that would be a staple in a machinist’s box confounded someone else that doesn’t know
    anything about tools……

  27. Guy says:

    I am a wood worker and about 18 years ago I was lucky to pick up (steal?) a complete, Starrett set in immaculate condition from a flea market for $20. I keep the combination head mounted and have it close at hand for every project. I routinely build projects that involve non-90 degree angles, in which case the protractor head comes out. I don’t do much lathe work, but I occasionally need to find the center of a piece of round stock for other projects and in that case it’s nice to have a reliable center-finding head. I have a second blade that’s handy to have when I need the protractor or center finder. This tool is a long-standing mainstay of anyone who does precision work, and I was a shocked to see a tool blog post in which the author had no idea of the purpose, origin, or history of this tool (though I’m not as shocked by some of the commentators who are clueless about the tool–that’s just par for the course for quality of comments on the web). Committee meetings or focus groups? Hardly. A quick web search shows that the combination square was invented and patented by Laroy S. Starrett in 1878 and he also invented and patented the center-finding and protractor heads by 1883, and I don’t think any committee work was involved.

  28. Jason says:

    Audra – the editor must be quite busy, as he or she has corrections that are waiting to be made in the “Preview” article that was just posted. Perhaps they are engrossed with their on site, “computermonger”, and are too busy writing about the new wonders of command line instructions in DOS to get to the copy editing?

  29. dreamcatcher says:

    I’m a carpenter and I tend to use anywhere from 1 to five different combo squares at one time. Aside from the obvious ‘checking for square’ they are great gauges for hole and screw layout.

    I see a lot of T’mongers here advocating the Starrett brand… maybe true if you are just a machinist and only need one square but carpentry requires a bevy of squares and so I tend to collect many oldie no-branders from garage sales. As long as they are square they are fine – we aren’t talking about a complex tool here.

    If we’re tossing about tool brands maybe you should check out the Bridge City Tool Works’ combo square that puts a Starrett combo to shame. (http://www.bridgecitytools.com/default/tools/squares/cs-6-combination-square.html)

    Also, just this morn I stumbled across a very nice looking new combo square from Swanson (they just ‘unleashed’ their new “Savage” line of tools). Check it out here: (http://www.savageunleashed.com/products/squares/combination-square-svc133-12/)

    Finally, what’s the point of posting a pic of a ‘sexy’ red combo square for the article and not telling the make of it. Now I am thinking I want to repaint all my combos red.


  30. Squidwelder says:

    I want one of these things! I do a lot of work with sheet metal on the ship, and I can say I’ve used both ends of that tool to good effect many times, though not just on sheet. The center piece looks like it could have really come in handy with some of the projects I’ve had to eyeball angles on because our other tools are broken, thanks to people abusing them. This might just be my Christmas present to myself.

  31. Brad Justinen says:

    The one’s who say “overkill” obviously don’t build things and have no business commenting. This is one of my most used tools. I used it mostly for metalworking.

  32. Brad Justinen says:

    Oh, and BTW, The “doodad” on the left is for marking a centerline on the end on rods and dowels. Mark two lines and you have your center point. I’m not going to repeat what frankie said but this is a little embarrassing for Toolmonger. LOL!

  33. Gary says:

    I thought this site was for people that use tools to make things.

    I do woodworking mostly, but there is some metal work as well. I have the Starrett version with all 3 heads and use it every time I’m in the shop.

    If you say it’s overkill, you’ve never used one and don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Is there a prerequisite that editors on this site are actually makers, rather than just wannabe journalists?

    If not, there should be.

    I’ve stopped looking at this site because the articles have became irrelevant and tiresome last year. Time to delete this site out of my faves.

  34. Gohar says:

    This tool is a multipurpose.It is very useful for Mechanical engineering students.Combination set can alone do the work of several tools.

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