Caliper Recommendations

What calipers are you using these days?

The cheap digital ones I’ve used recently seem to burn through batteries crazy fast (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B017KUC6XQ/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1).

Reading reviews of modern Starrett dial models aren’t encouraging (which is a shame). I’ve got a nice set of vernier calipers at work, but I do like the convenience of a dial or digital readout.

My team has several of these: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B5XJW7I/

Good enough for anything we do (In fact, I just used my personal one for several 3D printing projects in the past week, and the results fit perfectly!), and reasonably priced.

Personally I use mitutoyo calipers like these: McMaster-Carr

I have found some of the cheaper calipers on mcmaster really nice for team use. Also harbor freight calipers are nice if you plan on them being abused since they are cheap.

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Inventables $100 PDV

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Dial ftw…no battery issues, and it’s easier to see what you’re doing.

The cheap ones seem to work well enough for what we do. No brand names, sorry.

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Big fan of dial calipers. We have about 6 digital calipers in my college research lab and none of them work. The batteries die, the screens shatter, or they just decide to stop working. The one dial caliper we have sees it’s fair share of abuse but just refuses to quit

Edit: On the other hand, I am not a fan of Vernier calipers. We have a few in our team shop and they’re much harder for the students to read. I’ve been using them for years now and I still have to double and triple check my reading to make sure I didn’t make a mistake with the interpolating scale. Two people can read values differing by many thous even when the caliper is in the same exact position. They’re probably the hardest type to break, but that doesn’t make up for the difficulty of use IMO.

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I recently acquired a set of iGaging ABSOLUTE ORIGIN 0-6" digital calipers and if you have the funds (~$40 at the time of writing), I would highly recommend them. The absolute origin feature means that one does not have to zero on startup and they have kept their factory calibration. They are well made, have an easy to read display and can convert between metric and imperial. I should note that I have not subjected them to much abuse yet.

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I have this set in green for my personal use, and the same set in blue at work. Most of us here that have a set, have different color dials so that we don’t mix up our calipers. https://www.mcmaster.com/2325A61/

I had those Vinca calipers for ~2 years before a battery change, and they finally stopped reading correctly around February of this year (purchased late 2016). Definitely one of the better cheapo options, and they have fractions, which are nice for drill bits, but the QC seems meh at best.

I’m very much in the “Dial or Mitutoyo” crowd.
Even then not complete garbage dials, except for scribing.

Seeing that it’s Covid hours and time is meaningless, eBay lurking for solid quality calipers seems like a move. Be careful with Mitutoyo Digimatics, there’s a lot of very good fakes.

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I started at cheapo HF calipers a couple years ago and have worked my way up the price range until I arrived at the Fowler “premium” dial caliper option for $45 at time of purchase:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0014DEXNM/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

It runs about $15 more than the standard, but that is a very well spent $15.

Pricing was updated post-COVID and hasn’t dropped back down yet. Well worth it at $45 for a much cleaner action & hand-feel; at $60, if I was outfitting a classroom I would hit the search box and start [ab]using Amazon return policies again until I found another good one near $40-$45.

Good fakes which you can get on ebay for cheap and (IMO) still work better than basement-brand digital. If you’re not budging on digital, I’d still pick up a fake Mitutoyo at $20 before HF at $6.

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This is true, just make sure you’re also paying the matching bottom-barrel price.

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Mitutoyo digitals: https://www.amazon.com/Mitutoyo-500-196-30-Advanced-Measuring-Resolution/dp/B00IG46NL2/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=mitutoyo&qid=1597192674&sr=8-2

The golden rule of calipers for me is “keep with the box”. I always put a note on the calipers to “keep with the box”. The box should be a rack for the calipers to be placed when they are not actively being used. The Mitutoyo cases are durable yet let you easily access the calipers when the box is open, and even provide a nice rest so they can easily be found and grabbed whilst machining or doing other tasks.

You do that, and your $90 is well spent. I’ve never seen a pair of those go bad.

Alternatively, any number of good quality dial calipers.

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If you can afford it I would recommend a 12" pair of dial calipers instead of a 6" or 8". I have a 12" pair on my desk at work that i use every day and most days I measure stuff that is over 6".

This pair is very similar to the set I have used for the last 15 years and they still work like they are new.

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Students can destroy nice expensive calipers just as easily as cheap ones. They seem to get mishandled far too often in our shop. So, cheap it is. I’m a big fan of dial calipers. We have quite a few of the Harbor Freight Pittsburg dial calipers and most of them are quite fine actually. The only issue is the zero between the OD jaws and the depth gauge can be a couple thou different. Other than that, they’re fairly accurate for a $20 caliper. And, I’ve warrantied a bunch of them at the local store, no problem, as long as they are in stock, which unfortunately they haven’t been lately. Remember, a caliper is just a reference tool. For real inspection you want gauge pins, surface plates, gauge blocks, indicators, mics, etc.

For a slightly nicer caliper we have some Fowler ones. They were about $45. I actually expected them to be a little nicer than they were. Not real smooth out of the box.

For a quality caliper, I have a nice black face Swiss-made Etalon. It was closer to $300, and you can definitely feel the quality when using it. The students don’t get to use that one.

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Agreed, the case is important. At home I keep my $10 calipers in $30 mahogany boxes:

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Shars is a good place to look. They have about everything

I use a 15-ish-year-old Mastercraft set (from Canadian Tire): they have been essentially perfect for $17. The measuring faces are very straight and finely ground, the action is smooth, the hardness is good (enough to scribe with1), and the display is fast and clear (digits same size, good LCD contrast). I regularly achieve 0.001 in or better repeatability and accuracy, at least relative to small, precision ground reference objects (I don’t have a large precision standard to compare it to at the big end of the scale). I have dropped them, and they survived without serious damage. My only real complaint is that the battery terminal is circuit board mounted, and needs cleaning and maybe a bit of adjustment every few years. But at least it doesn’t have an always-on feature that burns batteries even when the display is off.

Also, cheap battery chemistries are not going to last long: see if you can find SR44 instead of LR44, and beware of counterfeit batteries being sold online,

The calipers I have are a clone of an older Mitutoyo Digimatic, but with generic markings (i.e. not counterfeits). The trouble is, there are a lot of bad clones that look almost the same. If you can’t inspect it in the store, or don’t know how to inspect it, just spend the $35 or so and pick up something from a machinist supply company’s value-priced line (or an equivalent recommendation from above). If instead of machinist’s suppliers, you go with budget tool suppliers, the Harbor Freight ones are significantly inferior to my Mastercraft, while the Princess Auto ones from their higher-end line are approximately as good.

Vernier calipers are a waste of time.2 The additional resolution takes way more time to read, and you can’t do unit conversions with them (unless they are dual scale) or zero them at intermediate locations. If cost is an extreme issue, you’d still be better off rolling the dice with the cheapest digital calipers that you can afford.

Dial calipers are only for the rare occasion when you need to measure something big quite finely (and can’t use a micrometer) and are content interpolating between graduations and averaging your measurements (this is almost never the case), when you need analogue sensitivity to changes in reading (maybe you’re measuring something of varying size and want a continuous sense of the variation), or when you are all out of batteries (this is a supply chain problem). Good ones always cost more than equivalently good digital calipers.


1 And yes, for someone who is using calipers for machining, and not quality inspection, scribing _through layout fluid or marker_ with calipers is correct and optimal. Transferring marks with dividers introduces error unnecessarily. Scribing wears $17 calipers out only after thousands of uses.
2 A vernier can be useful on a micrometer, but even then, I'll take my $35 Harbor Freight micrometer over any vernier version. Fairly repeatable, comfortable, precise, and even has carbide anvils.
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We have a iGaging 12" digital caliper in the shop I bought a couple years ago. The battery hasn’t died yet. Highly recommend the brand. It’s $40 for a 6" pair.

If you can’t afford those, these are ok for less: https://www.amazon.com/VINCA-DCLA-0605-Electronic-Fractions-Conversion/dp/B017KUC6XQ/ref=sr_1_6?dchild=1&keywords=digital+caliper&qid=1597201737&s=hi&sr=1-6
I’ve bought a few and they work well. They do eat batteries though, so pick up a pack of those for the shop.

If you are buying for personal use, I’m a big fan of Mitutoyo. I have a 12" dial pair that I got some years ago for $20 and it’s very smooth. Avoid vernier calipers if you can for anything under a 12.1" caliper. They are more accurate and the most robust, but also just difficult to read. Good for measuring very long distances 24-36" though.

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This is what I use at home in my shop. The dial caliper gets about 95% of the outside measuring jobs. The 12" vernier caliper about 1%, and the Starrett micrometers (not shown) the rest.

I own five pairs (varying lengths) of dial calipers and one digital.
The digital is my metric caliper. Super easy to convert and zeros easily anywhere along the travel. That feature is great for setting the nominal length, zero, then you can quickly read if you’re in tolerance.

But the key word there is “read”. You have to READ digital calipers. Dial calipers only need to “scan” to know if you’re in tolerance. Arguably, they’re easier to add with also. i.e. measuring to the center of a pair of holes? Just measure the minimal/maximal length between the two holes and move the dial the distance of the hole diameter. Of course, you can do that by zeroing the hole diameter with digital calipers too.

To me the biggest downside to dial calipers is that chips can destroy them pretty quickly. …and I’ve watch how the students treat calipers for many years. As other note, keep them in the box!