Back in 1925, Albert J. Swanson was framing in some rafters when he suddenly had an idea. Using a couple pieces of scrap aluminum, some duct tape, wire coat hanger and a soldering iron, he invented the world’s first layout square, the Swanson Speed Square. OK, that last part was completely made up, however, he did invent the first Speed Square and to this day all others are essentially based on his design. Many years ago I was using a standard combination square to measure and cut a piece of lumber when a contractor friend of mine sauntered over and handed me his Speed Square. Like Swanson, I’ve never looked back. The Swanson aluminum Speed Squares are a refreshing new take on the original steel models, offering the same accuracy with a lightweight design.
The Speed Square is one of our top 10 go-to tools in the framing and construction business. It is simply one of the tools you will invariably keep in your belt pouch and you’ll find yourself using it for everything from cutting simple lumber, to making complex angle calculations and measurements on roofing trusses. We decided to take a look at two of Swanson’s Speed Squares, the 7″ original Speed Square (S0101) and the Big 12 Speed Square (S0107) which includes a layout bar, perfect for use in measuring out of square corners.
Swanson Aluminum Speed Squares Build Quality
Both the Speed Square (S0101) and Big 12 Speed Square (S0107) are made from a heavy gauge aluminum alloy. Indeed, each product is exceptionally well-built and feel as if they could withstand several drops from a multi-story building onto solid concrete. Both levels are deeply impressed with markings for length, hip/valley measurements, protractor degrees and even detents for making perfect line scribes at various widths.
The Swanson aluminum Speed Square measures 7″ in length along its height and width. The tool is approximately 3/4″ wide with two lips that can rest, on either side, against a piece of lumber for measurement. This tool is perfect for use as a square, miter square, protractor, line scribe (1″-2-1/4″) or even a small circular saw guide. It is lightweight (less than 8 ounces) and fits easily into most tool pouches (point down, like a gun). One of the coolest things about this square is the included diamond mark that Swanson includes. This mark, when laid out properly with the plumb line of a rafter, will give you a quick way to mark your bottom or heel cuts. You simply align the Diamond cutout (at 3-1/2″) on square with the plumb mark, set the pivot point of the square against the rafter and set the protractor (hypotenuse) side at the 45 degree mark. Scribe your line across the top from Diamond to pivot and you’re all set. If this all sounds like Greek to you, that’s no problem – Swanson includes its handy “Blue Book” for Rafter Lengths and Roof Construction.
The Swanson aluminum Big 12 Speed Square is a larger, more capable version of the standard Speed Square designed, among other things, to function as the perfect tool for laying out stairways. The best “among other things” activity I found for this tool was laying out countertops which butt against non-square walls. I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but where I live the houses were built in the 20’s and you’re constantly dealing with out of plumb and out of square situations. This tool includes a separate Layout Bar that is designed to help it mark and adjust for out of square corners.
The Big 12 Speed Square weighs more than its little brothers, about three and a half times more as a matter of fact (1 pound, 11 ounces with the Layout Bar attached). As such this is an excellent tool to have in your arsenal, and while you may actually reach for it quite a bit while on the ground, you may not find yourself carrying it with you in your tool pouch. It also includes the little “Blue Book” for Roof and Stairway Layout – a book similar to the one found with the Speed Square, but which includes an additional 15 pages of, among other things, instruction on stairway layout and design.
Swanson Aluminum Speed Squares Testing
As I hinted above, we used the unique capabilities of the Big 12 Speed Square to help determine and mark the rather non-square edge of a kitchen countertop where we were installing Silestone. While we were laying out the counter, we quickly realized that the walls and corners were slightly out of square. With this tool we simply adjusted the Layout Bar to match the amount which was out of square (Which ended up being about 2 degrees) and adjusted the template accordingly. It worked well and this is a tool we could see many granite and marble countertop installers using on a regular basis.
We also took the Big 12 and used it to cut the angle on a rather unusual door whose top had to be trimmed to match a warped frame. Living in a 1920’s house is a bit like living in a Dr. Suess story sometimes, but small adjustments are often simpler than reframing an entire interior door – especially given the complexities of the trim molding and wall materials. In either case, it was easy to find our measurement, apply it to the top of the door and make a simple cut along it to ensure that the edge matched perfectly to the distortion of the existing frame. It was a quick fix, made even quicker by the Swanson Big 12 Speed Square.
The Swanson Speed Square is one of those staples of construction tools that no serious builder or journeyman should be without. It’s a handy device that will save you both time and money and at a street price of just $9 for the 7″ square and around $20 for the Big 12, you’re looking at a couple of super-duty tools that every tool person should have. If these heavy-duty aluminum squares aren’t your cup of tea, check out Swanson’s other offerings which are available in composite plastic form at a fraction of the weight. Some even integrate a block level, so you can use them in additional ways. We gave these squares a professional rating of 9/10 for their ruggedness, ease of use and dependability. They received a high 10/10 in value since they are among the best products on the market for the price and represent an incredible value for professionals and do-it-yourselfers. With the included Blue Books, these tools are accompanied by Swanson’s years of experience as well.