Updated: November 2017
- What is a caliper?
- Benefits of digital calipers
- How much do Mitutoyo calipers cost? Which should I buy?
Whether you are a woodworker, metalworker, mechanic, engineer, or even health care professional, chances are you've used calipers when other measuring tools, like tapes and rulers, do not give precise enough measurements. Designed for the greatest accuracy, calipers can be used for any number of applications, including measuring the depths of holes or even body fat. As with buying any tool that needs to be precise, it can be difficult to know what to get because there is an overwhelming selection.
Isn't a caliper a caliper, like a simple ruler? Some may cost more, but don't they do the same job? Not really: calipers need to be very precise in everything, from the quality of the metal used to construct them to the type of readout they have, can affect your measurements. Take a few minutes to read about the best digital, dial, and Vernier calipers so you can make the most informed decision - and have the most accurate results.
The video below shows the basic functions of a digital caliper:
Finding the Right Calipers for Your Needs
Because calipers are used to measure anything from artifacts to metalwork to body fat, they need to be very precise. In general, there are three different types of calipers that you may choose for your job: Vernier, dial, and digital calipers. Let's take a look at each so you know which would work better for you.
Vernier Calipers - These are widely considered to be the most precise calipers available - if you know how to read them. Vernier calipers measure both internal and external dimensions, as well as depth measurements. Along the side is the Vernier scale, which is like a scale within a scale. It marks the space between two points on the main scale. This allows measurements to be very accurate. They can be used to measure to a hundredth of a millimeter, which is equal to 10 micrometers or one thousandth of an inch. As with any tool, there are pros and cons to using a Vernier caliper. Advantages include:
*- Better precision
*- No power source needed
*- There are no expensive caliper parts to break
* - Difficulty reading the small Vernier scale
* - Typically more expensive
* - A little more time-consuming than a digital caliper
* - Can be more difficult to use or to convert measurements from metric to standard and vice versa.
Dial Calipers - These are designed to offer the precision of the Vernier caliper with an easier to read measurement system. It is a refinement of the Vernier and works in the same way. Instead of the Vernier scale, though, there is a dial which will make the readout a bit easier. Basically, you add the number of the main scale to the number on the dial for the total measurement. So say your scale is reading 2.0cm or 20mm, and the dial's needle is pointing to the 80 - your final reading will be 20.800mm. These are meant to be easier and quicker than the standard Vernier and can measure to within .001mm accuracy.
Digital Calipers - These are made to be even easier and require no adding and squinting at a tiny scale. The measurements are displayed via LCD screen so you don't have to estimate as you sometimes do on an analog dial or with a Vernier scale. Your readings are quick and very easy. There are a few drawbacks, notably the need for a battery and the increased price. Some also contend that digital calipers are not as precise as Vernier. By now, you should have a good idea of the type of model you are going to go with. What you need now is to have a few good suggestions to get you started. You can view the top rated calipers here.
Best Vernier Calipers:
The experts at Long Island Indicator say that for precision, nothing beats Vernier calipers. They are exceedingly durable, and today's models can often have their jaws reground so they remain accurate even after a lot of use. Long Island Indicator, a leading measurement tool retailer and repair service, use Vernier calipers in their work and recommend them highly. Their suggestions are to go with Brown & Sharpe or Etalon. You will pay a little more for these brands, but if you want a caliper that will last for more than a few decades, this is a good choice. Cheaper calipers use lower quality metal, which can quickly become worn and skew your readings.
One of their top picks is the Brown & Sharpe Model no. 599-577-1, or more simply, the TriCal. This caliper measures interior and exterior surfaces, as well as depth and steps. It has inch measurements from 0 to 5 inch- the beam is in increments of .100 inch and it has 25 divisions for reading .001. The upper scale has metric readings and 20 divisions for reading .05mm. It features quick setting, clamp screw lock, corrosion resistant stainless steel build, and satin chrome finish for superior readability. Now comes the part that can be a downfall for many: the TriCal costs around $300.
Etalon is another high-end brand that makes some of the best calipers in the world. Their Professional Metric Vernier Calipers are Swiss-made and meant for precision and are perfectly calibrated. These are also quite expensive at about $240. They can be difficult to find, but Long Island Indicator orders them directly from Switzerland and offers servicing for their products. As you can see, these are rather expensive, but they are ideal for professionals to whom accuracy is essential. On the plus side, though, they last for years and remain precise. If you want to spend less money, you could go with the Precision 6-Inch/150mm Stainless Steel Vernier Caliper and Depth Gauge.
As one Amazon reviewer puts it, it is not of "ultra high quality" like the Sharpe & Brown or Etalon, but it is functional and solid. It is also a more budget-friendly $13. Again, though, if you need this for work, you'll want to seriously consider upgrading to the high-end names. BEST - We feel like the Neiko Tools vernier calipers are your superior choice for "good value" given a reasonable cost and solid performance.
To check out how to use a Vernier digital caliper - click the image below to go to video.
Best Dial Calipers:
One of the top names in dial calipers is Mitutoyo. Among their dial caliper line is the Dial Caliper 505-611, which offers interior, exterior, depth, and step measurements, an accuracy of 0.001, rolling wheel thumb, 3/4mm thick main beam, stainless steel construction, locking clamp, and an internal mechanism for smooth operation. These are a comparative steal at just over $116.
RECOMMENDED - A brand that reviews well on Amazon and other consumer sites is Grizzly (Grizzly G9256 6" Dial Caliper). Their 6-inch dial caliper has 6-, 8-, or 12-inch measuring range with .001-inch graduations per revolution. It is made of durable stainless steel and features a hardened knife edge. It takes interior, exterior, and step measurements. It is very smooth and has the added advantage of being shock and dust proof, which is important because as debris enters the dial, it gives inaccurate readings. These can be found for a mere $18. Reviewers give this tip: you may want to blow out the track with a dose of compressed air before use so it is a bit smoother to start.
Best Digital Calipers:
It is just as important to look for great quality in digital calipers so you get the most accurate readings. You will again find that Brown & Sharpe and Mitutoyo are among the top names. Cool Tools, a non-commercial site that provides consumers with product information, ranks the Mitutoyo 6-Inch Digimatic as their favorite digital caliper.
Mitutoyo was one of the first to create digital products, and they are among the most emulated. It is easy to find a cheap knock-off but the quality will be nowhere near that of Mitutoyo. The Digimatic has a durable stainless steel body and measures interior, exterior, depth, and step dimensions. It provides readings in metric or standard and its battery life is about 20,000 hours under normal conditions. This model costs $130. Another one to try is the Stainless Steel 6" Digital Caliper from Neiko. This digital caliper is accurate to .02mm, has an extra large LCD display, depth gauge, and it allows you to switch from standard to metric with a push of a button.
Reviewers call it a bargain and say it is excellent for the money. These Neiko digital calipers sell for $12 to $40 (see all top rated Neiko calipers here). As you can see by looking through the suggested models, the price range varies greatly with calipers, whether Vernier, dial, or digital. It is a good choice to buy the best quality you can get and keep your intended use in mind. A professional would do well to get a more expensive, durable, and precise tool, while do-it-yourselfers and casual users can get by with the less expensive models, like Neiko and lower-end Mitutoyo. Our local mechanic uses these calipers to measure braker rotors and says they are very accurate. Browse the best selling calipers here.
More videos and resources are here on our Caliper Resource Page.
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