English Layout Square

I was watching The Woodwright’s Shop the other week and saw the episode where Chris Schwarz made an English layout square and thought to myself that it would be a fun project to build.

You can watch the episode here:  http://www.pbs.org/woodwrightsshop/video/3100/3106.html

So I grabbed some quarter sawn cherry I had lying around, ripped it on the band saw and then planed it to 1/4″ thick. Chris made his square 24″ long. Mine is only about 12″ long x 1 1/2″ wide since that was the size of my scrap.

During the show Chris showed how to clean up the half lap joint using a router. Once you set the blade to half the thickness of the wood making the two sides fit together is a breeze. After the joint is cut, simply glue the two pieces together.

I used the front cover of “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” to sketch a roman ogee design onto a piece of scrap. Then I used it as a template for all the little details on the square. I used a dovetail saw, chisels and a round bastard file to cut the shape into the pieces of the square.

Lining up the center of the cross-bar with the center of the square I marked the edges where the cross-bar meets the sides of the square. I used a pencil but in hindsight I probably should have used a knife to get a crisper line.

After cutting the half lap joint on the cross-bar, I laid it back on the square and marked where the cross-bar laid on the sides and cut the half lap joints on the sides.

By far the hardest part making the square is to properly line up the cross-bar and cut the half lap joints so that they fit perfectly together on both sides. There are a lot of surface areas that need to meet tightly and an error in one end may telescope to the other end of the cross-bar.


As you can see I didn’t quite make a perfect fit on one side. I could have fudged the cross-bar so that there would be a small gap on both sides but I opted to make a larger gap on one side then fill it in with a thin piece of scrap.

Cross bar being glued with thin scrap glued in place. Just don’t tell anybody I screwed up.

For the roman ogee details at the ends I simply used a circle template and scribed a couple of pleasing arches into the wood and cut them at the scroll saw. I really had no rhyme or reason, I just made it look pleasing to my eye.

After the square was glued, I needed to true it up. I laid the square on a board with a perfectly flat edge and ran my pencil down the side. Then I flipped the square over and ran my pencil down the other side. If there were two lines, it’s out of square.

I gauged the distance between the two lines (1/8″) and trimmed half of the amount (1/16″) off the bottom corner of the square. I kept trimming off a little bit at a time off the bottom until there was only one line when I flipped the square over checking its accuracy. When there is only one line, it’s square.

The square turned out fairly nice and was a fun little project to build. I’m sure it’ll be a favorite tool in my shop.

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