Top 5 Dial Test Indicators of 2020

May 1, 2020 12:17 pm

If you are needing to measure for consistency purposes and not comparative purposes, a dial test indicator is the tool for you. The applications of this popular measuring tool are very broad, ranging from tramming your milling machine to measuring the roundness or runout of cylindrical parts.

Unlike dial indicators, dial test indicators (or DTI) have a lever-type arm. The angular motion of the lever allows the contact to ride easily over irregularities on part surfaces.  Potential alignment errors are measured by how far the arm is pushed sideways. This capability is lacking in dial indicators, because the vertical-action plunger may resist responding to surface irregularities pushing “sideways” against the contact. You can learn more about the differences between DTIs and dial indicators here.

Using a dial test indicator is not very complicated, but it requires a little bit of patience. First, press the  contact point against the desired part’s surface. As you press the dial test indicator against that surface, lock the dial test indicator into place and watch the dial as you rotate the part. It is important to note that test indicators allow just for a single revolution of the pointer around the dial, and the tool only allows for clockwise rotation as opposed to a dial indicator which rotates both clockwise and counterclockwise. Make sure your project meets these parameters.

For a specific walk through of how to properly use the tool, see below.

To help you discover what model is best for you, we reached out to the Practical Machinist community via Practical Machinist’s social media platforms to learn more about the community’s preferred dial test indicators. Let’s take a look at the top 5 dial test indicators models recommended by your fellow machinists.

Recommended Models

Fowler 52-562-778 Black Face Dial Test Indicator, 0.030″ Maximum Measuring Range, 0.0005″ Graduation Interval, 1″ Diameter

This dial test indicator does not have issues sticking to surfaces and the repeatability makes this tool highly reliable. The tool has a three-point contact system for the detection of lobing or triangular form error.

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Starrett 711GPSZ Last Word Dial Test Indicator with Attachments, White Dial, 0-15-0 Reading, 0-0.03″ Range, 0.001″ Graduation

This test dial indicator has a replaceable contact point and features a jeweled lever action for smooth readings. The half yellow shading on the dial’s face helps with more accurate readings. Use either a body clamp, friction holder or shank to mount this swiveling, tubular body.

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TESA Brown & Sharpe, 01889023, Dial Test Indicator, 0.0004 in.

This dial test indicator measures with +/-0.0001” accuracy making this dial test indicator both reliable and affordable. This model features a dovetail mount.

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Mitutoyo 513-406-10E.0005/0.01mm X .030/0.7mm Horizontal Test Indicator, 0-15-0/0-35-0, Inch and Metric

The Mitutoyo dial test indicator features a .079″ carbide contact point, users have expressed high praise about this tool for their smooth use and accurate readings.

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Interapid 312B-2V .060″ 0-15-0 1″ Dial Vertical Dial Test Indicator

Featuring an easy to read dial and jeweled mechanism fitted with ball bearings, this tool is a Practical Machinist fan favorite.

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  • Bob says:

    Interapid is expensive, but is high quality and accurate. Check your indicator accuracy with gage blocks. Also check or replace the contact point when worn. Keep clean and away from coolant.

    Mitutoyo makes good tools too.

    The Last Word indicators are rugged, but not as accurate. The replaceable contact point is a good feature.

  • Indicare says:

    Been in business repairing dial indicators for close to 40 years. The Interapid dial indicator is heads above the best. Quality, accuracy, integrity, design, etc.

    • Sal says:

      how would you rank it compared to sylvac? i know we dont see much sylvac stuff in the states but i have a sylvac digital dial indicator that is good under a tenth on my gage blocks. was really impressed with the build quality of it blows my mitutoyos away and im generally pretty gay for japanese stuff. also am looking at getting a rebuild on at least one of my test indicators.

  • Lane says:

    Do not forget the Compac by Tesa. Yes its expensive but is top of the line and worth every penny.

  • Kcstott00 says:

    Keep in mind none of these recommendations relate to the ease of repair or calibration.
    I’ve been told by the guys that fix indicators that B&S best test is #1 and (and this is going to hurt some feelings) #2 is interapid.
    Fowler is at the bottom of the list just above the Chinese garbage. And the reason for that is design and parts.

  • GHeumann says:

    Test indicators I have. Really good, flexible holders for them that lock securely into place on a variety of surfaces? That I DO NOT have. I’d love to see you do an article on test indicator mounting systems for a variety of purposes – focus on lathe and milling machine.

    • Murph says:

      I make my living with a Inter rapid .0001 indicator. I have actually removed the face and taped off half the numbers and gave it a half yellow dial with a highlighter . It takes a while to dry , but it works great in set ups and swinging large diameters with a mirror.

  • Alchemy Imagineering says:

    Fowler?…don’t think so. The Starrett unfortunately is hard to read because of it’s small size. I believe Starrett is controlled as a Chinese company now. So don’t expect any changes. Interapid, Tesa and Mititoyo are high quality….for now.

  • John Martin says:

    The half yellow face on the Starrett Last Word is not meant to improve accuracy. It’s meant for the times you’re sweeping a hole and have to use a mirror to view the indicator. No question about which way it’s reading.

    • GR says:

      Thanks!!!! I have screwed that up countless times and wasted much time I’ll never get back. Plus now the last word will move up in the drawer next to the Mit.

  • Wes says:

    I’m surprised Compac did not make it in the top 5 spot. I would definitely prefer one of those to the chinese made value line Brown & Sharpe or fowler.

    Although the top 3 in my list are so close its hard to call. 1 Interapid, 2 Compac, 3 Swiss made Tesa/B&S. 4th would be the Mitutoyo and 5th would be the Starrett Last word.

  • John says:

    I agree with all the previous comments, and having used and repaired all of these for over 45 years, the only indicators I would recommend are: B&S/Tesa, Interapid, Compac, and the older Alina.
    Mitutoyo is ok, just never liked using or repairing them.
    Any of the Chineese clones are unrepairable.
    Last Word indicators are frustrating to use.
    Going through my apprenticeship, the Starrett was nick-named “Last Chance”.

  • John says:

    Also, MarTest makes a good indicator, and I have a Girod-Tast that I really like.

  • chewietwo says:

    In 35 Years in the tooling trade i have used a lot of different Indicators. My go to indicators are still My B&S and my Interapid Indicators. I had one Mitutoyo Top reader, after using for a month on the jig bore and being repaired 3 time for not reading right. I threw it against the wall and went out and bought a Interapid top reader. Not a big fan of Japanese Tooling. I got in the trade before Starrett and B/S went over to the dark side most of my tooling is starrett, just didn’t like their indicators.

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