In Chris Schwarz Blog, Marking and Measuring

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I finished up building a set of try squares based on Andre Roubo’s 18th-century plans this weekend and need to put the finish on them. What’s holding me back? Well, I keep using the squares and getting pencil marks on the blades, which need to be removed before I can finish them.

I really like these try squares. Though the blade is more than 13-1/2″ long, the whole square weighs only 7 ounces. Its stock is narrower than that of a traditional rosewood and brass square, and I’m surprised by how comfortable the square is to hold, carry and use.

Plus, I really like the traditional look. The cavetto in the stock and the ogee shape on the blade add a little flair to a usually rectilinear (read: boring) tool. Plus, they were a blast to make. All of the elements of construction required great care, but because the tool is so simple, it never got tedious (like when you have to dovetail an entire chest of drawers).

Those people who have a Starrett addiction are probably shaking their heads right now and fondling their dial calipers to comfort themselves. Won’t these wooden squares be inaccurate? Even if you did square them to .001″ along their length, they certainly wouldn’t stay that way. They are, after all, made of wood.

I’m not in the least bit worried. I used well-seasoned, quartersawn stuff that I prepared with great care. The squares are quite square enough for woodworking. Besides, I have found that my accuracy isn’t contained in my measuring tools. It’s in my eyes, my fingers and the ultimate fit of the parts. Fussing over the minute accuracy of tools is like fussing over a smoothing plane to make it remove sub-thou shavings. It misses the point. The point is the finished product, not the tool’s setup.

I documented the entire process of building these squares, and we’re going to offer complete downloadable plans for the square at a nominal cost. It will include photos, text, the SketchUp drawing, full-size templates and instructions for building and truing the squares so they are as accurate as possible. We even shot a little video.

Look for it next week.

– Christopher Schwarz


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Showing 17 comments
  • Kevin Vig

    Have you gotten to put up the plans and video yet? I was searching but unable to find anything.

  • Good looking and functional. Looking forward to the plans. Always something different from Chris. Thanks.

  • Dean Jansa

    Dave,

    The profiles are there for the same reason there is a nib on a handsaw — to help start a cut of course. 🙂

    Or, it could be that they are just pretty….

    -Dean

  • Corey

    Good podcast on truing layout tools including 45 degree miter squares
    http://logancabinetshoppe.weebly.com/1/post/2009/06/episode-3-layout-tools.html

  • Another excuse to make a tool instead of something useful to anyone else!
    So – are the profiles at the ends of the handle and blade functional, or decorative? I’m sure that once in a blue moon one might need a specific profile, but…..
    They are very pretty though, and the light weight attractive also.
    I did make some much plainer ones at 2.5 and 6 degrees when making a set of chairs, since I didn’t have enough sliding bevels to leave them set where they were needed. Accuracy wasn’t the issue for them – it was repeatability.
    Keep up the good work!
    Dave

  • Andy

    To square up a 45 degree miter square, use a flat surface with a true 90 corner and sides at least as long as the miter square tongue.

    Place the square with the handle against one reference side with the tongue against the reference corner and draw a line along the tongue.

    Flip the square over and place the handle against the other reference side with the tongue against the corner and draw another line along the tongue.

    The difference between the lines is double the deviation from a true 45 degree slope.

  • Nate
    The 45º truing issue could be resolved by drawing a test line along the angled edge on a piece of scrap then flip it and draw an opposing line. You can then test the 90º angle formed by the two lines with a square and see whether it needs to be tweaked in or out like when figuring the square corners of any box shaped object. The good ole Pythagorean theorem works as well. C = Square root of A²+B² with C being the hypotenuse or long side

    Bob

  • Brian Murphy

    Great looking squares. Down in Williamsburg, VA this is what the craftsmen use and they swear by their accuracy. As Chris notes it’s all in the wood.

    Murph

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Nate,

    It’s not hard, but it’s not immediately obvious.

    You need to draw a construction using a compass and a try square on a board that creates the 90° and two 45°s. Then you compare the square against one (or both) and true it to match the true 45° you made.

    Basic geometry. Wish I had paid more attention in geometry.

    Chris

  • Nate

    Hi Chris –

    Would it be possible to describe how to make a 45 degree "square". I was thinking of trying to make one, but have yet to figure out how to true it up. With a regular 90 degree square you can do the flip trick to find out how much to true it up. But for 45 degree, I have yet to think of a method as easy as flipping.

    thanks….

  • Michael Rogen

    Chris,

    Given my handicap, one of the most frustrating things for me is holding and trying to use any kind of metal square. Remember Berea? So the weight or lack of in this instance should prove to be a huge bonus for me.

    Thanks again,

    Michael

  • Chris Vesper

    Hi Chris,
    Very nice squares. I love the shape and proportions. I held squares like this when I was in the US and for their purpose they are a good item. Very light weight is their most striking characteristic I thought.
    Cheers,
    Chris Vesper.

  • gchpaco.livejournal.com

    I regularly use an awl and a marking knife with my wooden square, and as long as you’re careful about it it doesn’t seem to be a problem. (careful, here, means "not tilting the knife into the square so that it will cut, but letting the flat back of it dictate the knife position" to me) I’m probably shaving minute fractions out but if it goes out of true I’ll just square it up again like I did the first time.

  • Christopher Lindsay

    Those look great — and thanks for a bit of sanity on the tool accuracy extremism front! I’ve found that the more I just sort of allow decent tools to do their thing (within reason) the better the result. It is when I start pulling out the feeler gauges and sweating the set-up that things go haywire.

  • David Brown

    These are wonderful. I’ve wanted to make some since there was an article about them by Adam Cherubini way back. My question is this: Are you able to strike a line with a marking knife? Or are these pencil only since a knife would damage the wood blade of the square? Thanks again for an interesting post.

    Dave Brown

  • David Gendron

    I made my self a set one mitre and the other Try(triangle). Love them… Yours sure look good, realy good work. you can send one to test if you want!!

  • Jameel Abraham

    Very cool. The lightweight nature of these is very attractive. Plus, they look great too. Nice work Chris.

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