The Best Speed Squares for DIYers

Get a square deal on these multi-purpose, flexible marking tools from some of the most respected manufacturers.

By Tom Scalisi | Updated Aug 24, 2020 4:16 PM

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The Best Speed Square Options


Speed squares aren’t just for professional contractors and carpenters. Every DIYer can benefit from owning one of these basic triangular gauges for scribing, marking, and cutting. If your project involves cutting lumber, laying out a consistent angle on rafters, or making accurate cut marks down the length of a board, the best speed squares are tool box staples and their uses are endless.

Whether you’re on the job site or in your workshop, you’re bound to reach for one of these multi-use tools. While they may be simple in design, it can take a while to master the many uses of a speed square. To choose the best speed square, look for one that’s lightweight, durable, and clearly marked for fast and easy use. Material (often plastic or metal), color, and price point can be a factor as well. In fact, once you consider your style and workflow, you may realize you could even benefit from owning more than one-speed square.

Our Top Picks

Weigh the factors of budget, material, durability, ease of use, and of course your projects to choose the best speed square for your needs.

The Best Speed Square Option: Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch Speed Square


BEST OVERALL: Swanson Tool S0101 7-inch Speed Square

It makes sense that the company that created the speed square almost 100 years ago would still be number one with their renowned 7-inch speed square, relied upon for on-the-job durability. Swanson also holds a patent for the “Diamond” cutout on the measurement side of the square that lets you line the tool up to a scribed line and make a near-perfect 90-degree mark. Measurements and degree markers are easy to read, even against the old-school aluminum finish. It features pencil notches at 1/4-inch increments, allowing users to scribe accurately down the length of a board. Occasionally, these squares come with a rough finish, but you can smooth that out with a sanding block in no time.

The Best Speed Square Option: Mr. Pen Metal 7-Inch Rafter Square (Pack of 2)


RUNNER-UP: Mr. Pen Metal 7-Inch Rafter Square (Pack of 2)

Considering the speed square’s many uses, it’s wise to have more than one. Keep one in your shop, next to your miter saw for a quick layout, and another in your nail bag or tool belt so you’ll always have it on the job site. Mr. Pen’s two-pack boasts a pair of lightweight yet durable aluminum alloy speed squares at a price that is perfect for DIYers who are seeking an inexpensive option for projects around the house. Most folks rely on a speed square for simple tasks like striking square-cut lines on lumber, and these will work just fine for that, but users doing complex work or bigger projects, such as laying out hip rafters or bird’s-mouths, may find these speed squares hard to read or a bit inadequate.

The Best Speed Square Option: Swanson Tool S0107 12-Inch Speed Square


UPGRADE PICK: Swanson Tool S0107 12-Inch Speed Square

Swanson Tool had production framing in mind while designing this 12-inch speed square. It’s great for marking cutlines across wide boards, and also comes with a layout bar for stringers and rafters. Users attach the layout bar to the square and adjust it to the correct rise and run. Once adjusted, they’ll have a locked-in gauge—helpful for making repetitive marks on several boards or rafters. The square boasts all the other features one can expect from Swanson, including the “Diamond” cut out and scribe notches at 1/4- and 1/2-inch increments. Bolting the layout bar onto the square can be a little tricky at first, as it requires a few small pieces that could easily get lost on a job site. Pro Tip: Give these nuts and bolts a blast of brightly colored spray paint for easy visibility.

The Best Speed Square Option: Swanson Tool T0118 Speedlite Square Layout Tool


EASIEST TO FIND: Swanson Tool T0118 Speedlite Square Layout Tool

Talk about a bright idea! The Swanson Tool Speedlite Square comes in vivid orange that’s easy to spot on the job site, especially if dropped or left behind on a lumber stack. Made of sturdy, lightweight plastic, it may not outlast an aluminum or magnesium model, but it won’t weigh down your tool belt either. Only trouble is, the measurements and rafter tables aren’t painted, making them hard to read. Pro Tip: Use permanent markers to color in the common measurements.

The Best Speed Square Option: IRWIN Tools Rafter Square, 7-Inch


EASIEST TO READ: IRWIN Tools Rafter Square, 7-Inch

Not all carpenters, homeowners, and DIYers see well in low-light conditions, or with low-contrast tools, so IRWIN TOOLS created this high-visibility speed square. Its measurements and rafter table angles are easy to read, painted in bright yellow against a glossy blue background. This color combination is helpful to make the square stand out on a tool bench or if it gets dropped on the ground since it stands out really well on grass. It’s made from aluminum alloy, making it weather- and rust-resistant as well. Unfortunately, the square’s low-quality can chip off easily if it’s nicked or bumped up against other metal tools.

The Best Speed Square Option: Johnson Level & Tool Magnetic Square


BEST FOR THE WORKSHOP: Johnson Level & Tool Magnetic Square

If you do a lot of cutting at a miter saw station, you’ll appreciate the Johnson Level and Tool 7-inch magnetic square. For one thing, it’s easy to find for quick marking, thanks to its dark color, which contrasts easily against other tools on a workbench or against a cement floor. Plus, the measurements and rafter table are also contrasting, so it’s easy to read and use in darker shops. When you’re done marking your cut line, snap the magnet to your saw stand, a shelf bracket, or another metal object near your saw—you’ll always have it on hand. The only drawback? Measurements aren’t engraved in place but are painted on instead, making them more likely to wear off over time.

The Best Speed Square Option: Swanson Tool T0111 Speedlite Level Square Layout Tool


BEST FOR BEGINNERS: Swanson Tool T0111 Speedlite Level Square Layout Tool

If you’re a new homeowner putting together your first toolset, the Swanson Speedlite Level Square is a worthy addition. It boasts a built-in bubble level and it’s made of durable, lightweight hard plastic. It features all the hallmarks that make Swanson speed squares so great, including the “Diamond” cut out and pencil notches for scribing boards. Plus, the added heft of the level provides a little extra to hang onto when using the square as a saw-guide. The square is a bit difficult to read, so use a permanent marker to increase legibility if you find this problematic.

The Best Speed Square Option: IRWIN Tools Rafter Square, 12-Inch


BEST FOR HEAVY DUTY: IRWIN Tools Rafter Square, 12-Inch

Some jobs require robust tools, and IRWIN TOOLs’ 12-inch square is a time-tested, old school square that’s been at home on job sites for years. It’s made from heavy-duty, weather- and rust-resistant aluminum and features deeply stamped markings for easier legibility—helpful against its dull-gray finish. It also has a scribe bar for your pencil tip, set in 1/4- and 1/2-inch increments. One caveat: This heavy-duty tool is also just plain heavy at just over one pound, but you’ll forgive this heft when you consider its durability and capacity to strike cutlines across wide boards.