Chris Schwarz's Blog

My Favorite Try Square

There must be something in the water. During the last week I’ve gotten five messages from people asking me where I got the try square that is sometimes shown in step photos for Woodworking Magazine.

And so here’s the story: Planemaker Wayne Anderson sent it to me several years ago after I spied it and lusted after it openly. How much does it cost? I don’t know. It was part of a complex trade.

The square is a one-pound package of laminated brass and rosewood that has been riveted together. The tongue is 5-1/2″ long. The total length of the stock is 5-1/4″. While I really like the heft of this square, it’s the ogee pattern on the ends of the tongue and the stock that make me grab this tool over and over.

Several people have asked me if these patterns on the ends serve a purpose. Adam Cherubini wrote in his column that he suspected that different craftsmen might have used different patterns to differentiate their squares from one another in a busy shop.

I’ll buy that. No one has yet dared to borrow this tool from me in our shop.  

– Christopher Schwarz

12 thoughts on “My Favorite Try Square

  1. Peter Follansbee

    Chris
    I tried a comment on this one last week, but it must have got lost…
    Both Joseph Moxon and Andres Felebien, writing in the last quarter of the seventeenth century, illustrate squares with similar decorative ends. One difference is that both Moxon’s and Felebien’s have the shapes cut in opposing angles. Your square can sit up on its two ends,or almost can. Theirs can’t. Not that it means anything, of course…
    PF

  2. Rob Porcaro

    I suspect the guy who first used these patterns on the ends of a square is sitting at his bench in woodworking heaven right now, laughing loudly at our discussion, recalling that he put the ogees there solely for the heck of it. Just like we do with some things in our shop.

    (Hey, I wonder if edges ever get dull in woodworking heaven.)

  3. John Cashman

    I think the ogee ends are pretty. That’s good enough for me.

    Now, the nib on handsaws . . .

  4. Larry Gray

    Samson: I do realize it’s a modern reproduction; but the reference to Adam Cherubini’s column suggested to me that it’s a faithful reproduction. Granted, it would still be a faithful reproduction of but one square.

    Conclusions? Eh? I merely said which of the various theories that have been floated I was inclined to agree with, and why.

    A function-related explanation of another kind: the shaped ends might’ve made the square a little more easy, a little more comfortable, to slip in and out of a pocket. I’m forever poking myself as I fumble to extract my 6" double square.

  5. Samson

    Larry, FWIW, you understand the particular square pictured is a modern (and not necessarily literal) reproduction, right? Drawing conclusions about actual old tool uses from this single modern copy of a style is a stretch. In other words, the actual old ones in various shops may have been differnt sizes or profiles. Anyone done a square census?

    David, I like the coping idea. I don’t necessarily agree with the dismissal of the idea that many country joiners (as opposed to sophisticated and large city operations) might well have had more basic sets of tools.

  6. David

    Here’s another take on the template idea: You don’t really need a template for an ogee molding. Even in the 18th century, ogee molding planes were relatively common, and it’s pretty unlikely that a craftsman would own a set of hollows and rounds and not an ogee plane.

    However, you do have to have a template to correctly cope a miter joint that’s molded, whether on sash (windows) or on furniture. It’s possible that the ogee ends on squares served this purpose (but could also have just been decoration).

  7. Larry Gray

    I’m with Chris on this one (and since it’s 9:15am, no beers are involved). To me the ogees look exactly the same on both ends, which reinforces the idea they’re either for identification or decoration. I’m thinking a craftsman savvy enough to include a template on one of his tools would be savvy enough to include two different ones.

  8. Samson

    Well, depending upon your square, the ogees might be two differnt sizes or even two different profiles. You don’t need a template for a bead or a chamfer or a round over or even a lipped edge (while you do need router bits for these things. A joiner in the 1800s or before might well have only needed a couple of standard ogees on hand that were his favorites and got used on various chests and desks etc. over and over.

    Or … they were used in a similar manner to saw nibs. You know what I mean. 😉

  9. Christopher Schwarz

    I *want* to believe it’s a pattern. Really. But to me, it seems that’s like having one router bit – the Roman ogee!

    Just my 2 cents after two beers.

    Chris

  10. Jonas

    I agree on the template suggestion.
    Standard carpenters squares (big ones like 20" x 30") in Denmark use to have similar templates. And since they all look alike, nobody can tell which one is different. try to look at http://www.hultafors.co.uk , even a brand new unit has these end. The pattern on the new ones has changed a little compared to older squares, but not much.
    brgds Jonas

  11. Samson

    The ogees might have been templates. As in, if you were cutting an edge or molding with multiple planes (rabbet then round etc.) you might want to mark the ends to work to. Just a thought. [new and improved – 100% vulgarity free! ;-)]

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