Everybody seems to be trying to get a new angle on cutting angles, but one of the simplest solutions we've run across seems to also be one of the best. The new Starrett 5-in-1 Combination Protractor promises to take the guesswork out of five challenging construction calculations, and our tests show it does what it says.

Simple concept

The 5-in-1 is two precision machined aluminum legs pivoting on a Teflon O-ring. Now, I have to say, for those of us use to the engineered elegance of traditional Starrett tools, this device is a rather colorful departure. With bright graphics and charts splashed all over, it doesn't look like your father's revered Starrett combination square with protractor. But don't let the graphics fool you, the precision is there.

Laser-engraved scales on both sides of the tool give precise indication of angles, measuring in four different scales. On one side is a window and pointer for conventional protractor angles from 0-180-0 degrees and from 180-0-180 degrees. On the opposite side are two more scales specifically designed for use with miter saws. There are also charts to calculate compound cuts and roof rafter pitches.

How it works

You use the tool like a conventional bevel gauge, holding it up against an angle. But then, depending on the scale you use and the task at hand you can save time and increase accuracy by transferring numerical readings directly to the saw.

For example, if I have to cut moulding to match an odd corner I just lay the protractor legs up against the wall. The protractor says it's 91 degrees instead of 90, so I could do the math, but it's easier to just look on the other side on the miter saw scale of the protractor. There I can directly read a miter setting of 44.5 degrees to set my saw for the cut. This is especially handy in more complex angles where it is easy to get confused by the typical reverse reading miter saw scale that is set to 0 to make 90-degree cuts. An extensive chart allows you to use the protractor's miter-cut reading to directly calculate compound cuts for 38- and 45-degree crown moulding, so you can cut the moulding flat.

Although most CabinetMaker readers may not encounter a need for the rafter gauge on the tool, it does look like a handy accessory for builders and remodelers.

Installer accessory

We talked to Marc Shapiro, who invented the tool after more than 35 years working as a carpenter. The tool reflects that no-nonsense, job site background. Priced at about $85, it wouldn't take too many saved errors on an installation to pay for this tool. For details, go to www.starrett.com or circle 251 on the Reader Service Card in this issue.

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