Vernier Calipers: Best Models and Why You Should Use Them [Updated 2020]

October 18, 2019 3:07 pm

Calipers are one of the most common tools that you’ll find in a machine shop. Traditionally used to measure the straight distance between two points, they are also very useful when it comes to measuring the diameter of round objects or holes.

Although deemed less accurate than micrometers, calipers are generally used more frequently than their counterparts as they require less “finesse” and can be used for other tasks besides tolerance measuring. They can measure a part’s inside and outside dimensions, depth, and thickness. However, not all calipers are the same. Besides being available in different sizes – ranging from 6” up to several feet – calipers come in three different types: Vernier, dial and digital.

Although digital calipers are the most popular type these days (at least according to the Practical Machinist community), some machinists still choose to use the Vernier model for a number of reasons:

  • They are generally cheaper than their electronic counterpart.
  • They are easier to read than dial calipers.
  • They can last much longer.
  • They don’t need to have their batteries replaced.

To learn which Vernier calipers are the most popular among metalworkers in 2020, we asked the Practical Machinist community via social media to share their favorite models. Additionally, an apparent discrepancy over the accuracy of Vernier calipers surfaced between generations, with younger folks not fully trusting the tool’s capabilities. However, long time Vernier Caliper users strongly denied that notion.

If you’re in the market for a new Vernier caliper, you are in the right place. Here are the top picks from the Practical Machinist community.

New Vernier Caliper Models

Mitutoyo 530-119 Vernier Caliper

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This caliper features a satin chrome finish that is not only easy on the eyes but also protects the tool.  The raised sliding surfaces prevent defacement and wear of the scale’s graduations and the 14-degree face angle reduces the possibility of parallax errors.

Brown & Sharpe 599-577-1 Vernier Caliper

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TESA designed and Swiss made, this Vernier caliper also has the highly desired satin chrome finish for glare-free, easy readings. This model features a long Vernier bearing surface which improves both rigidity and ease of reading which is why this tool operates so smoothly.

Starrett 125MEA-8/200 Vernier Caliper

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Featuring both inch and metric measuring range and 0.001″/0.02mm graduation, this Starrett model is great for measuring the inside and outside diameter of holes, grooves, and tube thickness, along with the depth and step measurement of bores and grooves. This tool is durable and wear resistant thanks to its hardened steel depth rod.

‘Helios” Soft Pocket Caliper

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Helios, not a brand you hear every day, came to the forefront of the Vernier caliper conversation on our Facebook page. This tool features matte chrome finish and comes with a thread chart on the back. Accuracy of 0.05 mm according to DIN 862 standards.

Used Vernier Caliper Models

When it comes to measurement tools, it’s typically better to invest in a new tool, but purchasing used tooling is also a good option. Like anything else, do your homework and you should have success. There is an interesting thread on the Practical Machinist forum full with different perspectives of purchasing used tooling.

To help ensure a positive experience when purchasing used tooling, keep these things in mind. First: Check seller reliability. This can be determined through reviews and number of items sold. Second: Make sure a legitimate transaction can be made with means for accountability, for example eBay’s money back guarantee. Third: Thoroughly read all product descriptions so there are no surprises when your tool arrives. And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask the seller questions about the tool to make sure your needs are met. If these steps are taken, buying used, can be both a sustainable and affordable option and can make for quite the unique tooling collection.

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  • Tony says:

    I’m retired now, but 1964, my first set of Vernier caliper were Starrett, retired in 2011, gifted them to young fella just coming into the machined parts trade. still have my deep jawed Etalons

  • Todd says:

    Vernier calipers were fine until I needed reading glasses. I switched to dial calipers in my 40s for that reason, now at 51 years old I need reading glasses for dial calipers. I might start using some digital calipers, however, they sure seem a little bulky.

  • Cyclotronguy says:

    For Vernier Calipers I personally much prefer the parallax free style, where both scales are on exactly the same plane. Starrett, Mitutoyo and if you run across NOS ST-Industries

  • Jimbo says:

    I know when I use my 24″ vernier caliper at work, I don’t have to worry about one of the young engineers ” borrowing” them, and bringing them back damaged.

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    Thanks for the laugh.

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    Thief-proof. Just like a car with a manual gearbox.

  • JH says:

    Vernier calipers are NOT easier to read – and are NOT a good choice for every day machine shop work. You must know how to read a vernier however, because it’s used in other places – including on the ‘tenths’ part of a micrometer barrel. You may also need to read a vernier to use large calipers because that may be all you have for 24, 38 or 48 inch sizes. But for every day use in a 6 inch size caliper they are a poor choice.

    The best of them (and what I started out with) is the Mitutoyo diamond master 6 inch because it does not have a parallax problem that virtually all others have (because the reading surface is all on one plane). That difference alone is considerable. But when they became available I switched over to dial calipers which are much easier to read as well has having closer resolution (you can read between the thousands). I don’t mind digital calipers and if you are using Engilsh/Metiric, or are using some of their other features (like setting the zero wherever you like) then fine. And I have digital ones but I use dial calipers most of the time. From a practical standpoint vernier calipers are obsolete because they are too slow and hard to read. They they work as well as they ever did but there are better calipers around today. Even so you need the skill of reading a vernier anyway and a 6 inch vernier caliper is a good place to practice it.

    Another thing – there is difference between what you read and what you actually have on the part you are measuring. Calipers are not easy to make and top brands are actually better and more accurate than cheaper ones. I use a cheaper one for every day miscellany – I also have a nearly new, carefully handled Mitutoyo for more precise work. (any top name caliper should be fine) But its the accuracy, not the name that matters. And any caliper can be damaged and won’t give you what you want. And in some cases a lower cost tool can be perfectly good (VIS measuring tools are a good example). Don’t rely on the brand name in any case; use gauge blocks to check your measuring tools.

    And remember that actual screw type micrometers are always better. Use them with snap bore gauges for the ID’s and again – use gauge blocks to check and adjust your micrometers.

  • Stu1956 says:

    I sympathize with Todd on eyes. I just keep magnifiers on my head or use a jeweler’s lope to read them. Love the fine adjustment and locking setup on a vernier caliper!

  • swilhelm says:

    I like vernier calipers because they are never wrong. My Starrett dial calipers (and all cheaper dial calipers I have ever used) can skip a tooth on the rack and be out quite a bit at zero; basically, I have to check zero before every single measurement. I’ve quit using the dial calipers I have. I never have to check zero on vernier calipers, because they cannot be off.

    I also have some 8″ Starrett digital calipers. Same problem: every measurement, I have to stop and check to see if the zero is right.

    I used to work in a food processing plant, and could not use dial or digital calipers: too much water around. You can use vernier calipers underwater, if necessary. (It was often necessary.)

    I understand the problems people have with reading vernier calipers. I have taught people to use vernier calipers, and I found the following two tips helpful to everyone I have shared them with:

    1. The zero line on the sliding part of the scale is actually a pointer. It ALWAYS points at exactly the answer, exactly the measurement you have just taken. I wish the manufacturers would put an arrowhead on this line, so people could see that it is pointing at the answer. I suggest to people that they use a pencil to draw an arrowhead on this line. This helps people more than any other suggestion I have found.

    2. Now, while it is true that the (sliding) zero line IS pointing exactly at the answer, how can you tell where (in the 0.025″ range between each pair of lines) it is pointing? That is the sole point of having a vernier scale: it tells you where between say, 1.125″ and 1.150″, the zero line is pointing. If it is, say, the 11 line on the vernier scale that is lined up perfectly with a line on the non-sliding scale, just take the lower end of the scale (1.125″, in this example) and add 0.011″ to it. Answer? 1.136″ Easy, when you can cleanly separate in your mind what the vernier scale is giving you from what the zero line is giving you.

    After enough years of use, you won’t even need the vernier. You will be able to look at where the zero line is pointing and guess what the vernier is going to say. You might not think that you can guess among 25 possibilities, but it is possible, and you will eventually be able to do it. That said, I always guess where the zero line is pointing (just for practice), but I also always read the vernier scale for confirmation.

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