One of my favorite tools is the “English Layout Square” I built for the December 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Heck, I like it so much I put it on the cover of my book “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” built one on “The Woodwright’s Shop” and even had its shape engraved on the sidewall of my jack plane.
But is the English layout square a useful tool?
As Mike Dunbar at the Windsor Institute answers nearly every question: It depends….
If you build full-size casework, then yes. Put your metal framing square away and use this wooden one instead. This is the tool that lays out all your rough cuts on your stock when you are breaking down the wood to length.
It is the tool that squares off the final length of all your pieces before you cut them to finished length. It is the the tool that lays out the dados for the drawer blades. And when the case is knocked together, the English Square is the tool that helps you determine if your carcase is indeed square.
And at the risk of sounding like a Ronco commercial, that’s not all….
When paired with a string and a rock (or a washer or plumb bob), you create an effective and ancient level, called a “libella.” Never heard of a libella? Then maybe you weren’t reading the magazine in 2006 when we published plans for one by Sam Peterson.
According to Peterson, the libella helped build the pyramids in Egypt and appears over and again in the historical record. In fact, here’s an image of a weaver’s shop that Peter Follansbee sent me last week. Look up at the top right – libella.
And if you are still not convinced, check out this blog entry about a woodworking school in Rwanda that uses this square (from my plans, by the way) for a wide variety of tasks. It is, according to the teacher, “The most used tool in the school.”
Or travel to Australia, where Derek Cohen has added a fence to his English Square to make it easier to register against edges of boards (this is, by the way, a modification that is shown in A.J. Roubo’s 18th-century masterwork as well).
Plus, this square is much nicer to look at than a metal framing square – at least the modern framing squares.
So if you have three sticks of wood, this is a great one-day project that you will use for the rest of your life. And if you don’t have three sticks of wood, come visit the burn pile behind my house. I see about 200 English Squares in the rough piled up back there.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. One more link. Lots of people wonder how to square up this tool once they have made it. It’s easy. Here’s a video.