In Shop Blog, Techniques

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From the “I need three hands” file: Sometimes when you scribe a line on a board with the guidance of a try square you need one hand to hold the knife, one hand to press the blade down against the work and a third hand to hold the square’s handle up and against the edge of the board.

When we cleaned up the shop last week, I stumbled on some somewhat crappy parts left over from building a batch of Andre Roubo’s try squares. The parts had a few pin knots, some tear-out and some spelching , but they were otherwise stable and true.

So I used those discarded components to build a square yesterday with a feature I’ve always wanted to try: A small dowel that moves in and out of the handle. This 1/4″ dowel matches the thickness of the square’s 1/4″-thick blade and moves back and forth through the handle with thumb pressure.

When the dowel protrudes out the inside edge of the handle, it rests on your work and supports the handle. This makes the square easier to manage as you work. When you need to use the square to take a reading that requires that inside edge, the dowel easily pushes to the outside edge of the handle.

I got the idea from an Incra square I owned years ago. That square had a rabbeted handle, which created a shelf that rested on your work. That was nice, but I found that the rabbet would cover my layout line. So I gave the square away to a fellow woodworker (Sorry John).

The little dowel works great, and now it looks like this square has one of those turkey buttons that pops up when the bird is done (a feature I wish Lucy had had when she was pregnant). And it’s cheaper than getting a third arm grafted on my chest.

– Christopher Schwarz

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Showing 13 comments
  • Robert Greenwood

    Need to try this one.

  • I think that his idea falls under the category of "Build a better mouse trap…"

  • Daniel

    Chris Vesper has a square due for release with a metal swivel switch. Saw it at the Sydney Wood Show and have put my order in.

  • Brian K. Ogilvie

    Here’s a link to the old Bridge City square

    There is a little brass blade that slides out of the wood body to support the square. The knob for that on the face of the wooden handle is a screw that tightens to lock the little tab in or out.


  • Ross Manning

    Hi Chris,

    Chris Vesper has designed a new range of squares that do the same thing. Stainless blade with brass & beautiful Australian exotic timber infill, built with his usual craftsmanship & attection to detail. See http://

    Cheers, Ross.

  • Ace Karner

    What a terrific idea, I’m heading out to the shop to start making one right now.

    Thanks Chris


  • Bjenk


  • Christopher Schwarz

    No. I’m still working on them. Sorry for the delay.


  • John Cashman

    Chris, did you ever post the plans for the squares? I’ve looked and can’t locate them.

  • Joe Barry

    Speaking of third arms check out Larry Niven’s stories about Gil the ARM

  • Mike Siemsen

    I have seen the same feature (though the pin was fixed) in early 19th century squares. From the title I was afraid you had glued your square to your project.

  • Christopher Schwarz

    Thanks. I’ve never seen the Bridge City version.


  • Brian Ogilvie

    Bridge City did a large square with a little slide out brass part that does the same job. I like it a lot because you can leave the square on the edge and shift positions easily. Looks like I have to try making one now!

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