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  1. #1
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    Posted By: PeteM from the Chaski Machine Forum
    January 2002

    There have been a few posts inquiring about micrometers for the home shop machinist; and I thought it might be useful to post some information about the desirable features and brands.

    FOR STARTERS

    - You'll use a 1" micrometer the most and it should be the best and most conveneint you can afford.

    - A 0-6 or 0-8" caliper might be the next investment. I'd suggest either a high quality dial caliper(B&S makes an excellent one and Mitutoyo would be my second choice) or a digital electronic caliper if you need metric as well. Mitutoyo would be my first choice in a digital; since quality ones wihtout SPC are now available under $100. The import clones aren't too bad.

    - Later you might fill in with additional micrometers and calipers. Because you'll likely use these less often, you might want to settle for cheaper imports, used, or lower-featured items. For example, you might want a cheaper 0-6" set of micrometers, a larger but vernier-reading caliper, or a supplemental set of large micrometers (say, 6-9") that uses interchangeable anvils.

    BEST 1" MICROMETER FEATURES?

    Like other which-tool-is-best debates you can get a passionate debate on the subject. Some of the variables to consider:

    - Are the anvils hardened steel or carbide? Carbide wears longer and is best in abrasive environments. Steel isn't as likely to chip and will last for years with care. I'd much prefer a high quality steel anvil to a cheap non-parallel cemented carbide. As a practical matter, if you are buying a high quality used mic, look for either steel in mint condition or carbide with no significant chips. If it's a new mic, it will probably be carbide.

    - Accuracy of the screw and screw-adjusting mechanism. Here's where there are subtle but significant differences between cheap imports and higher quality US and import mics. Some of this shows up in "feel." A cheap mic - most Chinese mics for example - feels squishy and indeterminate as it closes to zero. A good mic has a solid and definate feel as it reaches zero. Of course, you should never overtighten a mic, as it can distort the frame.

    - Solid, ratchet, or friction mechanism? Many mics have a sort of slip clutch so that the same pressure is exerted for every measurement. This is especially important in production situations, with different operators, but one QC spec. The ultimate example of this was the Van Keuren light wave micrometer, which used optical fringe bands to assure a consistent measuring force. My personal preference is for a convertable friction/solid mechanism which gives a choice of solid feel or a friction thimble. The ratchet type mechanism can actually have a sort of impact wrench effect, which might show up in .0001 differences. For practical home shop use, you can pretty much suit yourself.

    - .001 or .0001 reading? You can probably read a good .001 mic to a couple tenths. You can also mismeasure with a cheap .0001 reading mic by a couple thousandths. Most commonly, .0001 is read through a vernier. The US style vernier has closely spaced lines. The European style vernier wider spaced (easier to read) lines. Electronic mics tend to read to .00005 and can be accurate to .0001. There are also very nice mechanical digital micrometers (e.g. Brown & Sharpe, Etalon) that read directly to .001 and with a vernier to .0001. The bottom line is that mic quality is more important than .0001 reading; but the additional cost of a vernier is so small you'll probably want it.

    - Insulated or plain frames? Plastic pads on the frame help insulate them from body heat. This is a nice feature, especially when measuring tight tolerances. A good mic without plastic pads (e.g. an older model) can be held in a shop cloth etc.

    - Steel, plated, stainless, etc. thimbles and frames? Many fine quality micrometers are simply high carbon steel - Zeiss for example. Nice if you take care of them. Most quality micrometers have chrome plated thimbles and either plated or painted frames. Good plating will last almost forever; though it will wear. Cheap plating will lift. Most major manufacturers also offer a stainless version for harsh environments.

    - Decimal conversions? Don't know about you, but I don't remember every 1/64th " conversion. For this reason, a chromed frame with a carefully engraved (readable!) conversion chart is handy. Charts that are silk-screened etc. will wear off in time.

    - Digital electronic or manual? Quality digital mics have three things going for them: instant metric/US conversions, an easy to read display, and various electronic features like over-under reading. Mitutoyo is the share leader. There are also Chinese clones that seem to work, with less precise mechanical actions and uglier looking circuit boards and battery cases. The cons against digital are that they don't suffer abuse, they need batteries, and they are bulkier and heavier. If you can afford just one digital electronic tool, I'd make it a 0-6" caliper.

    - Conventional, rapid-set, non-rotating spindle, mechanical-digital, or digital electronic operation? Conventional mics have a screw that advances .025 for every turn. These are the standard; but a little slow to quickly change from small to large size.

    Some mics have a speeder on the end (small diameter knob) which is handy. Running the thimble against your palm is a good way to speed things up without undue wear on the threads.

    Rapid-set mics advance at double the rate. They have a great feel, but cost significantly more to achieve equal accuracy.

    Non-rotating spindles are keyed. Mitutoyo and others make great mics with this feature. This is useful in gaging materials where you don't want rotation. For most home shop uses it adds complexity and cost with no increase in accuracy.

    Mechanical digital micrometers have geared mechanisms to advance counters. In general, these add complexity and cost but are easier to read. Mitutoyo and the nearly identical NSK make an accurate but clunky looking version. Brown and Sharpe makes a gorgeous mechanical digital mic; one of my favorites.

    As noted above, digital electronic mics use a battery and LED display. These are especially handy if you go back and forth between US and metric units. Battery life has also improved in recent years; don't buy a "vintage" electronic mic.

    - Spindle lock. A spindle lock is handy to keep track of a measurement and also to lock the spindle for small lot gaging. Best to have one. Of the two most common locking mechanisms, I prefer the lever type (B&S, Mitutoyo, etc.) to the locking ring type employed by Starrett. The reason is that levers seem to require less attention over the years and are easier to operate.

    - Ergonomics. The real test is finding a mic that feels good to your hands, your style of work, and your eyes. There are many intangibles, like satin chrome, clearly marked graduations, light weight (S-T made and makes nice hollow frames in larger sizes), the thimbles, and so on. Ease and stability of adjustment to zero is another factor.

    PERSONAL OPINIONS (** = a favorite)

    ** Brown & Sharpe. B&S has made dozens of different styles, from mundane to space-age looking. Their combination friction/solid mic with slant-line graduations and a carbide anvil is among the best mics you can buy. In the 0-1" size you can get a full chrome plated unit with a fractions table.

    -- Central Tool is an old line US maker. I rate them a step below the best B&S, and a half step below the typical B&S, Starrett, and S-T mics.

    -- China #1. The original made in China mics with pressed steel frames for the larger sizes are junk.

    -- China #2. The more recent made in China mics that are Mitutoyo clones are pretty decent for the very low price. However, they don't come to zero with that definate feel and only time will tell if the chrome plating holds up and the thread maintains its accuracy.

    -- Craftsman. Sears and Sears Craftsman mics are made by someone else. At various times this has included Goodell Pratt, Millers Falls, Scherr Tumico and others. Today, some are made in China. The quality varies with the orginal maker.

    ** Etalon. A fine Swiss mic; often identical in form to a B&S model.

    -- Fowler / Helios. Fowler appears to rebrand others mics. A commonly available mic ("Fowler," "Helios," and also "NSK") has a nice friction thimble and is made in Japan. Almost a ** rating, except the friction thimble spring tends to break.

    -- General, Hanson, Ace, etc. Beware that "Made in USA" doesn't always mean quality. Hardware stores have sold a cheap US made mic with a die cast frame. The recent Chinese clones run rings around these.

    -- Lufkin. For years Lufkin made fine precsion tools, the equivalent of B&S and Starrett. The 1600 series (**) is especially recommended if you find one in mint condition. Very nice feel, larger diameter friction thimble, etc. Most of the other Lufkins have a small diameter thimble, about the same as the Starrett 436 series, which I don't like the feel of.

    -- Mahr. High quality mics, but not often seen here and the ergonomics often are just so-so. Their rapid adjusting mics is very nice (**).

    -- MG/National. A lower quality US (New York) make. Beats the General/Hanson/Ace die cast mics but a step below Central Tool and two steps below the mic you'll want to own. Accuracy of anvils not to be trusted to better than .001 in my opinion.

    -- Millers Falls. MF bought out Goodell Pratt before WWII and has since ceased making mics. Still, you can often find model 112 mics in good condition. I like them as well as the plain Starrett 426.

    ** Mitutoyo. Like B&S and Starrett, Mitutoyo makes a very full line. Comparable mic to comparable mic, I like them better than Starretts on the basis of "feel." Accuracy is essentially the same, and your preferences may not match. Mitutoyo is probably the world leader in digital electronic mics; though Starret and others also make some nice ones.

    -- Moore & Wright is the UK equivalent to Starrett. Nice mics; usually with a handy "measurement reminder" pointer included.

    -- NSK. Similar in most respects to Mitutoyo. Probably the same parent company.

    -- Poland. Nice mics for the price, as noted by Forrest and many others. Feel and are a little less substantial than the ** rated and other highest quality mics.

    - Reed. An old US maker. Decent mic if you find one mint.

    - Scherr-Tumico aka S-T. Formed out of two US makers, Scherr and Tumico (aka Tubular Micrometer Co.). These are high quality mics. S-T often won government bids against B&S and Starrett, so you may find some in mint condition from surplus property sales. The large sizes of tubular frame mics are nice and light. A 6-9" or 9-12" interchangeable anvil set, used, is a good buy. Of the 0-1" sizes there is one higher priced model with a very nice feel. This has a friction thimble with a short stubby speeder on the end. ** nice mic.

    -- Shardlow. Decent UK brand.

    -- Slocomb. Still made to the original 1896 patent design. Very tough US make, but lacking in features. An used 0-6" set in good shape (remember some of these are by now a hundred years old) could be a good way to fill out the larger sizes.

    -- Soviet Union. The former USSR made very heavy, very tough, and pretty nice micrometers; mostly in metric sizes. Available cheap, if you need metric (but a digital mic is probably the better choice if you switch back and forth).

    -- Starrett. Top market share in the US. The plain 426 series is what most people think of as a Starrett. Pros: it's tough and accurate. Cons: ratchet instead of friction thimble, painted frame instead of fraction chart, no insulation, and a small diameter thimble that's a bit harder to use and read. I wouldn't hesitate to own Starrett 426's in larger sizes; but I wouldn't make it my first choice in the 0-1" size. Most of those cons are handled in another Starrett full chrome friction thimble model (**). Starrett also makes a heavier 226 frame that I like a bit better than the entry level 426. Finally, as with B&S etc., there are dozens of specialty mics.

    -- Steinmeyer. Decent German mics.

    -- West Germany. Years ago, the US market was flooded with mics labelled "West Germany." The theory was fine German quality at low prices. The reality was a mic with low quality; about the same as the MG/National. Just so you don't get taken; these had a stick-on decimal chart on the frame.

    - Scores of others. The micrometer and Crescent-type wrench are probably the most copied designs of all time. You can literally trace the history of industrialization since the late 1800's by following various entrepreneur's attempts to build a better mic.

    ---------------------------------------

    Final thought -- give an interested kid your old mic. You can create a sort of Burke-like (of PBS "Connections" fame) history of industry with accurate screw threads and mics as a starting point. Plus their's fun in learning how thick as "thick as a hair" is. Great way to foster an interest in things mechanical. There are even modern business school lessons about mergers (Starrett was the original leveraged buy out king), product differentiation (B&S tried everything), market segmentation (all the surviving second tier US makers), and commoditization (so you bought an import?) to be learned from the 100+ makers.


  2. #2
    Pazuzu71's Avatar
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    Thru use, and basic trial & error, my choice in buying precission measuring tools is this:

    1. STARRETT (Never been dissapointed, good quality, long life, USA made)
    2. MITUTOYO (Japanese, but excellent quality)
    3. BROWN & SHARPE
    4. TESA (Swiss)
    5. FOWLER, SCHERR-TUMICO, or LUFKIN (Descent stuff)
    6. NSK (Japanese, a step below Mitutoyo)

    Anything labeled "Quality Import", or "Made in China" should be avoided.
    In my younger days, I bought these cheapie mics, calipers, etc. Only to have to replace them with good stuff after about 2 years of use.
    It's better to buy quality from the get-go.
    My 2 cents.


  3. #3
    Turbine is offline Junior Member
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    If you use it every day, buy a good one.If you use it once in a great while,Import will do.
    Brown and Sharpe is THE one that handles shop "Punishment" the best.If you work in a cushy inspection enviroment, Mititoyo is way ahead in quality of digital tools,but don't use these in the shop.(They break easy)
    ******************************************
    I don't buy Starret anymore.I have been boycotting them for price gouging us, after I found out that the tool parts are really
    made in Japan and only assembled in the USA.They make it there, put A STARRET dial on it, and screw us out of hard earned money.They are makeing a HUGE profit and not passing a penny savings on to us.
    I encourage everyone to boycott them as well.
    An ENCO Import Dial Caliper is made with exactly the same parts,for $20.00.The only difference is the heat treat quality.
    *************************************
    Do not buy any test indicator with a "Barrel" type body. They work off of a screw mechinism,that does not repeat over time (they may be fine when new)The "Lever" mechinism is more desireable. A B&S Best Test
    requires only 7 grams of force at the ball end of the lever to move the works.A Starret Last word takes 22 grams, and won't return with repeatability.

    [This message has been edited by Turbine (edited 06-29-2002).]

  4. #4
    Jeff is offline Hot Rolled
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    I've been buying and using Starrett tools on a daily basis for 27+ years. Can't say that there was ever a problem worth remembering. Have contacted them numerous times about repair/missing parts for stuff bought on ebay and they always had what I needed. Even sent small parts, screws, etc. to my home for FREE. B&S has, or I should say HAD, nice stuff also (mostly/possible all import now). The last time I contacted B&S, their reply was a short and rude "we don't make that tool anymore". No offer for repair parts or where to get them...nothing. Looks like they are more interested in selling CMM's, and to hell with the slob machinist. They get a big fat ZERO from me for customer service. Starrett has tours available, in Athol, Mass, given by their apprentices. Check it out if you like, I did. Can't say that they make every part of every tool, but they DO make a hell of a lot of tools at the Athol factory. Lot's of it on fairly old specialized machinery, including tiny gears and such for dial indicators. And, yes they also assembled them there...mostly women it appeared. The statement "An ENCO Import Dial Caliper is made with exactly the same parts,for $20.00.The only difference is the heat treat quality." is ludicrous, at best. I've seen several "new guys" buy the china junk calipers. Then throw them away every couple years, or less, and buy new ones. Mean while, what kind of work are they doing with them? I've got the same Starrett dial caliper I bought 25 years ago, and it's still tight and accurate, even with frequent use. Junk measuring tools don't work in my job. China stuf is probably o.k. if all you want to do is check bolt holes drilled in angle iron. I will continue to buy STARRETT tools, because in my experience there is nothing better for general job-shop daily usage.

  5. #5
    chief is offline Plastic
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    STARRETT, without question. I have over 15k worth of Starrett equipment some of it over thrity years old, absolutely no problems.

  6. #6
    Pazuzu71's Avatar
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    SEE THERE ?!?!?!?
    Even a man from Yokohama, Japan is singing the praises of STARRETT.

  7. #7
    etcetera is offline Member
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    I was at KBC tools a couple weeks ago, and just about fell over when I saw a Starrett 6" dial caliper with "MADE IN CHINA" stamped right on the back. Doesn't matter much to me, because I liked the feel of the B&S one better, but I was somewhat surprised.

    Doesn't mean it's poor quality, but...

  8. #8
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    Hi there. I own a machine shop in Houston. I have been machining for years... The best advice I can give is this, figure out what you are going to do with it!!! If you need a "scribing" set of calipers, buy "areospace" or any other cheap set of 6-12 cals. If you want a good set but B&S, Mit. or whatever. Most of my employees have had a "good" set and a "cheap set". The cheap set gets used most.(to be replaced every year) The good set only when it counts. I have both B&S, and Mit. digitals. The B&S is waterproof... THe Mit's are not!!! I scrapped a couple of parts one day because of coolant in the mechanism. B&S mics. are a great buy. They read in .00005 increments, and go up to 1.2" My digital Mit's are good, but only go to 1.000"
    Besttest, Mit's, and B&S all make great test indicators... but in the home you probably can get away with an ENCO set.
    Hope this helps,
    Doug.

  9. #9
    JimK is offline Diamond
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    Guys! Life is too short for cheap beer and a machinist's career is too long for cheap tools.

    I have Starrett, Brown & Sharpe and ST mikes, even a Slocmb - an OLD one.

    All of them are good to .001" and the estimates to leas than that are as good as one can estimate .0001" in the shop.

    I use the ST mikes for my daily work, since, despite all the bragging in any shop, we in reality have to measure roughing cuts or just ordianry work. These mikes work just fine though they are not Rare, Precious and Beautiful.

    One peson posted in an article cautioning against dial test indicators using a screw type movemnt. I have used the Satrrett "Last Word" indicator for over 40 years and have not had any such problems with it. he "Last Word" will take horrendous punishment and still be good to .001". have had them stick, but that is a lubrication problem, not a mechanical or design flaw.

    Starrett takes care of their own, so if your "Last Word" is acting up, send it back home and they will make it right.

    Jim Kizale


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    donie is offline Diamond
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    I have been very happy with the Interapid indicator I bought on sale a year ago, I also like the Starrett 120 dial caliper, but it gets chips in it that can lead to mistakes. When I am working cast iron or bronze I like the Starrett master vernier calipers. The most durable have to be my Standard dial bore gauges. DD

  11. #11
    john070 is offline Junior Member
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    etalon b&s swiss stuff in general is the best imho

  12. #12
    bckchck is offline Plastic
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    I like the feel of Mitutoyo
    0-6 mics are 20 years old
    no problems

  13. #13
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    About 40 years ago, as an apprentice, I bought my first mic from one of the Journeymen in the shop. It's a tenth-reading Model 2691 from Moore & Wright in Sheffield, England. It was used, and I don't recall what I paid for it.

    I was told that it was a "good" mic, and it has proven to be so. I still use it. I check it against the gauge blocks about once a year and it's always right on.

    Leigh

  14. #14
    lawndart is offline Aluminum
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    I think in metric, which has proven to be a blessing lately. I can find a good used Etalon micrometer or a Compac dial indicator or dial test indicator for about 1/2 price of the equivalent inch version tools.

    I just rebuilt a beater Starrett 25-441. Very straightforward guts to it. Harmless past time, and cheaper than going out for dinner and a movie. Kind of like tying flies (for fishing) on a winter's evening.

    I like the insulated tools. Also, one of those large magnifying lenses surrounded by the circular flourescent light bulb is a revelation.

    LD

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    Good thread

    Most of my work tools are Starrett, including a Model 123 12" Master Vernier that is used daily for checking drilled hole sizes. The micrometers are all green enameled Mitu's.

    The home shop tools are more mixed, but all twelve micrometers are Mitu's. The 6-12 set is the older green enameled frame, while the 0-6 set is the newer blue enamel. For whatever reason, the green enameled thimbles feel smoother. Possibly because someone turned them in and out enough to burnish the threads before selling them to me .

    Also a Starrett 12" Model 123 & a Mitu 18" Master Vernier. Precision verniers (those with a seperate thumbwheel that advances the jaw) have to be the most undervalued items on eBay today. Many sell in the $25 to $50 range, with a few of the longer ones going over $100. Accurate to .001" with proper calibration & correct reading technique. The Starrett has a better feel than the Mitu, perhaps because Starrett uses a tapered shape (on top of the bar) that mates with an undercut on the scales.

    -----------------------
    Barry Milton

  16. #16
    jswitze is offline Junior Member
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    Does anyone have experience with this this caliper:
    Mahr 16 EXV Universal Caliper with USB Direct Connect (This page doesn't show the direct connect)or a similar caliper from Mahr? It looks like it lists for $373 and sells for just over $300.

    We will be using it in a clean metrology lab and sporadically in a mechanical testing environment with some light machining.

    We are replacing an 8in Mitutoyo Caliper that has lasted about 7 years. I was hoping to use this opportunity to upgrade to something with more capabilities and an inexpensive option for inputting data directly into a spreadsheet.

    After reading this discussion: Fowler made in China? I decided against the Fowler I was looking at. After reading this discussion it seems I should be buying a Starrett Digital Caliper, but I havn't found one from them with the features of this "Universal Caliper" kit. I'm steering away from Mitutoyo due to the import restrictions they are facing and what seems to be a complicated system for connecting to a PC.

  17. #17
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    The majority of my mics are all Starrett, but I have a good selection of Brown & Sharpe, Slocomb and Scherr Tumico mics, along with a Lufkin and Mitutoyo or two. They have all been proven performers day in day out. I prefer "direct" feel micrometers, rather than those with "friction" or "ratchet" thimbles......but I have a good selection of both. The "friction" or "ratchet" thimbles are great for measuring tenths, but how often do you really do that ??? I find they just get in my way most of the time. I would probably feel differently if I ran a grinder all the time.

    I buy Mitutoyo dial calipers. I have become accustomed to a thumb wheel, and cannot get used to the Brown & Sharpe style dial calipers. I have both dial and digital in 8" and 12" length's.
    I haven't had a 6" dial caliper in years. I have never bought a Starrett dial caliper, but would like to try one someday, as long as it has the thumb wheel.

  18. #18
    jabezkin is offline Stainless
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    Etalon IMHO is ...well...the ....Etalon of mics. Their calipers are made by others but nothing has held the feel and confidence of my Etalons.

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