What Type of Caliper Should You Use?

November 9, 2018 4:28 pm

Calipers are arguably one of the most used tools in any machine shop around the world. No matter how technology evolves, the old school way of measuring parts will never go out of fashion.

As most of the tools filling job shops’ cabinets, calipers changed quite a bit over time. Modern calipers have become an extremely reliable tool that allows machinist to make extremely precise measurements in a quick an easy manner.

Although no machine operator will disagree on the importance of owning a good caliper, the choice of the type is a something that divides the trade. Vernier, dial or digital? Which one is the most accurate and reliable?

To answer the question, we decided to take a step back and analyze the pros and cons of each type.

 

Vernier Calipers

 

The most traditional type of caliper. The name derives from Pierre Vernier, the inventor of the scale – the Vernier scale – engraved on any model. The Vernier scale allows for much more precise readings than to a standard ruler (usually to the nearest 0.02mm or 0.001 inches).

 

 

Pros:

  • Make no mistake they can still take simple measurements that are more than satisfactory for woodworkers.
  • Minimal moving parts. Only inaccuracy in results is that of the user making a calculation mistake.
  • No batteries required.

 

Cons:

  • Getting values requires a few seconds of thought more than just reading of a display or dial however it is just basic math.
  • Most don’t go to the decimal places that dials and digitals are capable of.

 

The Mitutoyo 530-316 Vernier Caliper is probably the best option available in the market, although more affordable models are available, we generally recommend to invest in reliable tools that will last long.

 

Dial Calipers

 

Dial calipers use a rack and pinion mechanism system to transfer the linear movement of the jaws of the caliper to the rotary motion of the dial indicator.

 

 

 

 

Pros:

  • Assuming the rack and pinion are free of debris the accuracy can almost always be trusted.
  • Since it is mechanical many trust the readout more in comparison to digital.
  • No batteries required.

 

Cons:

  • Reading takes getting used to as you are reading a dial as supposed to just values.
  • Dial mechanism can be knocked out of alignment or break entirely, rendering the dial readout useless

 

The most recommended models are the Mitutoyo 505-742-56 D6″TX-6 Dial Caliper and the Starrett 3202-6 Dial Caliper.

 

Digital Calipers

 

Digital calipers are the most modern version of this tool. The distance between the two jaws is measured through a pattern of bars is etched directly on the printed circuit board in the slider.

 

 

 

Pros:

  • Digital readout is instantaneous and easy. Many support switching between metric and imperial.

 

Cons:

  • Since it contains electrical components extra care needs to be taken. Moisture and battery life need to be accounted for.
  • The value that is presented can sometimes be inaccurate whether it be due to the pressure used or the general quality of the tool.

 

The Mitutoyo 500-196-30 Advanced Onsite Sensor (AOS) Absolute Scale Digital Caliper is our first choice. The iGaging ABSOLUTE ORIGIN 0-6″ Digital Electronic Caliper is also a valuable (and cheaper) option.

 

So which type should you choose?

 

After evaluating the pros and cons we can say that there’s no universal answer to the question. Digital calipers are definitely a practical solution take makes it easier and quicker to measure, but don’t provide the same reliability and accuracy of Vernier and dial calipers.

Vernier calipers are definitely the most accurate type but are trickier to read.

Our recommendation is to choose the type that makes you feel more comfortable and invest in a quality and long-lasting tool.

 

 

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12 Comments

  • LIMEY.

    Vernier calipers are nicknamed very nears,because that is what they are used for a near measurement.They were the best back in the day.Personally,I prefer dial for quick and easy.I do have a set of mitutoyo verniers.Not many people nowadays know how to read them.

  • Quality MGR

    Calipers should not be used for anything less than +/- .005” tolerance.

  • Bud

    Digital only for me, I’m older now and eyes not as good as a young person, lot faster and just as accurate as any of them, I squeeze the arms around piece if I need an accurate measurement, no flexing then

  • Bob

    In my experience, Mitutoyo analog and digital calipers are very good quality. The digtital caliper has a switch to measure in both English or Metric.
    We used Interapid dial indicators in the gear shop I worked in. Measuring to 0.0001″
    I have an old Lufkin V60 dial indicator that still works well and is accurate.
    Keep these instruments out of coolant or chips and don’t bang them around and they will last a long time. Check them once in a while with gage blocks.

  • Edmund

    Vernier was my choice together with Micrometer, it amazes me when watching youtube machinists of varying skills taking measurements with Dial or Digital tooling of diameters with close fit tolerances, I’m not saying it can’t be achieved but there is an element of greater error when measuring bores and diameters, but then I am old school and its hard to change ways,

  • Norm

    I have at least one of each. The one I use depends on the job. One thing you forgot in the write-up is “Old Eyes”. With the Vernier I have a loop that I use to read it.

  • Joe Gwinn

    One big disadvantage of vernier calipers is tyat they are sifficult to read with old eyes.

  • All great information. In the work I do, I like verniers in the 18 inch and up requirement. Dial at the bench as well as dial on the height gauge. Digital for inspection/quality check on the fly. JMO

  • matchy500

    A traditional Vernier Caliper has a two advantages – no moving parts to wear out(except the jaws) and with the Millennials – thief-proof.

  • John

    Hello. You didn’t mention that some digital calipres have fractions of inches as well as metric. I particularily like the fractions especially when using the readins to select a drill bit from a set of bits with inch sizing.

  • Keroseneian

    A good vernier calliper with a good eyesight can enable measurments down to 0.02 mm, but as one gets older it would be difficult to see those fine lines without glasses. A top quality dial calliper, with shock proof design and reads down to 0.01 instead of the cheaper one that only reads down to 0.02, would be superior. Digital ones are easy to read but requires a battery, they are more heavy as well.

  • I have all three,
    The digital and dial are less than absolutely reliable, but then none are Mituyoyo instruments.

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