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 and 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).




  • 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.



  • 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.






  • 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.



  • 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.





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



  • 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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  • tresi says:

    I school we were required to be accurate with a Vernier caliper digitals were very rare. I used dials regular mics my whole career due to no batteries and kids that can’t functionally use a tape measure think because it’s digital they are qualified to use it. I kept the dials because those kids wouldn’t take the time to learn how to use it and they would leave my shit alone.

  • LIMEY. says:

    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 says:

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

    • Martin says:

      I use a dial caliper (cheap one) and it is always within .001 of my Mitutoyo micrometer. One difference I see though is that cheap dial indicators, dial test indicators, and dial calipers seem more prone to breakage.

  • Bud says:

    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

  • Mike says:

    I use a old Brown &Sharpe it is very old still passes cal

  • Tk says:

    Nice review. Electronic calipers are fun and easy, and a viable choice fir woodworkers, metal working i stick with dial veriner.
    The electronics are My best as alwsys value often for a hobbist with requiremrnts to use common sense. Measure twice, trice and cut once

  • Bob says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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

  • vc3006 says:

    You must be talking about Newbies finding vernier calipers tricky to read. I learned how to read a vernier caliper in 1968 and even though I haven’t use one in quite some time that is what I bought for my home shop. That is my go to for accuracy, until I need a micrometer. I also have a digital by CRK, because they are an American startup. And a couple Mitutoyo/Starrett dial calipers, Old guys like me grew up on the analog technology, and have no problem reading a vernier caliper.

  • Alec says:

    I call them Very Nears…. good but no feel to them. I prefer a Mic any day, and use spring gauges for bores. Old school maybe but still the best. Try measuring slip gauges with a digital vernier!

  • matchy500 says:

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

  • John says:

    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 says:

    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.

  • midlandman says:

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

  • There is a manufacturing standard to which almost all calipers are manufactured. ISO 2012 (DIN 863). Accuracy, according to this, is that digital and dial are more accurate than vernier.

    In the pros and cons I’m wondering how many makes/brands the author is in fact familiar with.

  • Hard to go wrong with the Mitutoyo 0-8″ IP67 Coolant-Proof Digital. The nice thing about digital is the reduction of human error – same reason why digital boring heads exist. Yes, dials and verniers may suffice most of the time, but one misread out of 10,000 is still a misread, which can lead to costly scrapped parts. Batteries are replaced no more than 2X per year under heavy use, less than 1X per year under light use.

  • Matt says:

    I have a set of verniers made by NSK in the 1980’s given to me by my dad when his eyesight got worse. They are the smoothest caliper I have ever owned, far smoother in operation than my new Mitutoyos. I can take a measurement with those and easily and quickly see it down to about 0.025mm or about 1 thou. The best thing is that it’s still on its original battery!

  • Murph says:

    Over the years I have learned to have at least two sets of 0-1 mics and two 0-6 dial verniers. Seems one will always go on vacation for a while and no where to be found.
    For instance, my favorite pair of 0-1 mics , haven’t seen them in years, then one day I had to look for something in the MSC catalog, BANG there they are, used as a book mark. Did the same with my 0-6 dial verniers , a few years missing, I found them on top of the cabinet in the tool crib.
    (Always keep a set of your favorite tools)

  • keroseneian says:

    I wonder if one can hold a digital micrometer with the right hand, with a finger grabbing the micrometer frame, and measure the diameter of a pin hold by the left hand

  • William Wantz says:

    Calipers last a long time with good treatment. However, I see folks use calipers as scribes for lay out work where they drag the jaws over the surfaces and after a while, the ends of both sets of jaws are worn and no longer as accurate as the rest of the jaw surface.

  • jim says:

    49 years + trade school . Have all 3 styles of caliper .Starrett master vernier 12 inch . very accurite with practice .Mahr 6 inch digital , fantastic . only used for only option measurment . many 6inch dial . no problem holding tolerence with any .

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