Best Digital Calipers

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Digital calipers are the most popular type of precision measuring equipment you can buy. They are used in a multitude of different trades but are most prevalent with machinists.

If you own and operate a cnc machine/router you will need a set.

This article will help you to choose the best digital calipers.

Best Digital Calipers – Buying Guide

Digital Calipers use a linear encoder to give the measurement on a digital display. Being digital enables manufacturers to add other useful functions.

Digital Calipers have the ability to switch the readout between different measuring units and an incremental function.

If you are considering purchasing a set of digital calipers and would like my recommendation, the Mitutoyo 6″ digital calipers are in my opinion perfect for any machinist, not just a hobbyist.

calipers in box
My new Mitutoyo digital calipers, yay…

What are Digital Calipers used for?

Measuring two external or internal faces and depths from one parallel face to another, also internal and external diameters. 

They can be used to measure almost everything you need, and do it quite accurately.

Sure there are other measuring instruments that will do specific jobs more accurately and consistently but digital calipers can be considered a ‘jack of all trades’ when it comes to measuring.

How to use your Digital Calipers

They are really simple to use but require a certain amount of skill and practice to use properly.

The first procedure is to make sure the blades are clean and free of debris.

It is common practice to wipe the jaws clean with your fingers and check that the readout is zero with the jaws closed.

For achieving the most accurate measurement you need to make sure you have the calipers parallel and perpendicular to the faces being measured.

You need to check if this is true when looking from above and to the side.

Typically the hardest measurement to achieve accurately is using the depth blade on the rear of the calipers. Holding them perpendicular to the measured face can be quite tricky and multiple measurements may be needed to get a consistent reading. 

It is not uncommon for two different machinists to get quite different measurements of the same depth. 

Are Digital Calipers ideal for the hobby machinist?

This question is a no brainer. They are essential for anyone with any type of cnc machine. If you don’t already have a set you need to buy some now!

How long will Digital Calipers last? 

If you don’t abuse them, a good quality set of calipers will last many years.

I own a set of Mitutoyo calipers that I have had and used consistently for 15 years. 

They are getting worn out now and in need of replacing but they still work just fine. (Both of the jaws are wearing slightly at the tips through use.)

Cheap vs Quality Calipers

The one measuring tool any machinist should not cheap out on….

Digital calipers are a tool you will rely on and use the most, you want them to be as accurate and consistent for as long as possible.

That does not mean you should not buy a budget set, they have many uses and having a set you are not worried about abusing or lending to someone can be useful.

But they will not be able to compete with the durability and accuracy of a quality set of digital calipers.

Are Digital Calipers necessary if I only use a cnc wood router?

Yes, you will still need a set. Even if you are only milling 3D reliefs and decorative projects you will still need them for measuring tooling, fixturing etc. 

How to Maintain Digital Calipers

Keep them clean – occasionally wipe them with a clean dry rag. 

Don’t drop them, if you do, check the tips of the jaws with a loupe (eye glass). If the jaws get damaged, use a flat stone to carefully smooth away any dings or burrs.

If your calipers aren’t coolant proof, don’t worry if they get splashed.

All that happens is the readout goes doolally. Wipe them dry and leave for a while and when all the moisture is gone they should work just fine. 

Are Digital Calipers Delicate?

If they fall off the bench into a bucket of oil, they’re screwed. 

If you throw them against a wall in a temper ‘cos you’ve just scrapped a job, they’re also screwed.

Just use your common sense and keep them clean, they will last a long time.

Solar Powered Digital Calipers

Don’t be tempted, they can keep switching off if you are trying to measure in a low lit area, which is extremely annoying.

The battery in a regular set will last a long time.

Digital Caliper Tolerance

A typical set of digital calipers will measure in increments of .0005” or .01mm on its readout.

This is as high a tolerance as you can expect to get when measuring with calipers due to their design.

Getting a repeat measurement with a smaller tolerance would be very unlikely.

Product Reviews

Mitutoyo 6” calipers

Mitutoyo are considered the industry standard when it comes to digital calipers. All other brands get compared to them. 

Mitutoyo calipers

My experiences with owning several of them are very positive, they do what they are designed to do and will last a long time if you look after them.

They are made from quality materials, there are no cost cutting with the design and they feel smooth and precise when using them.

Pros

  • As Accurate as you can expect a set of calipers to be.
  • Made with high quality materials that produce a solid, tight feel when using.
  • Long lasting hardened steel jaws
  • Industry standard, Used by professionals
  • Battery will last approx 1 year of regular use
  • Reliable consistent readout 
  • The quality ensures they will last for many years
  • Complete with a protective case

Cons

  • Higher cost for initial purchase, but will likely be more cost effective over time due to its longer lasting build quality.

Mitutoyo 8” calipers

Even though I have just reviewed the 6” mitutoyo calipers I thought it would be useful to review these as well. There are several sizes of Mitutoyo calipers available including, 12”, 18” and a small 4” set.

mitutoyo 8" calipers

All the opinions I gave about the 6” calipers apply to these as well. 

The main issue is that bigger is sometimes not better. If you need the extra measuring distance these calipers provide then you should get them. 

But don’t buy a bigger set just because you can, the extra size of the calipers can work against you in smaller spaces.

If you extend a 12” set of calipers out, the depth blade at the rear will make the overall length of them to over 24” long.

If your machine is close to a wall or in an enclosure, a larger set might not let you measure your part while it is still in the machine.

Choose your size wisely…

Pros

  • As Accurate as you can expect a set of calipers to be.
  • Made with high quality materials that produce a solid, tight feel when using.
  • Long lasting hardened steel jaws
  • Industry standard, Used by professionals
  • Battery will last approx 1 year of regular use
  • Reliable consistent readout 
  • The quality ensures they will last for many years
  • Complete with a protective case

Cons

  • Higher cost for initial purchase, but will likely be more cost efficient over time due to its longer lasting build quality.
  • Make sure these are not too big for the space around your machine.

Adoric calipers

adoric calipers

At the other end of the price spectrum is this set from Adoric, they give you a choice of a plastic and a stainless steel steel body. The plastic set is optimistically described for household or diy use but I doubt they will be good for anything. 

They might get bent in shipping.

The other choice of stainless steel would be the preferred option if you want a budget set for general ‘household’ use. 

The accuracy is listed as +/- .05mm which is +/- .002” which isn’t great to be honest, but for the price these cost it isn’t too surprising.

My biggest concern with any of the budget priced calipers would be the reliability of the digital readout and the linear encoder.

Given the price these types of calipers sell for I doubt the quality of the electronics can be relied on to last. 

Luck may play a part in getting a reliable set.

Pros

  • Extremely well priced, can almost be used as disposable.
  • Made with stainless steel.
  • Good for general d.i.y etc.

Cons

  • Not well made enough for consistent accurate readings.
  • Questionable reliability with the readout.
  • Possible to order the plastic set by mistake.
  • Unlikely to last for too long before you upgrade to the set you should have bought.
  • No protective case supplied

Igaging Calipers

igaging calipers

If cost is an issue and you are determined to save a few bucks these Igaging calipers are definitely worth considering.

These are at the higher quality end of the chinese built digital calipers and have plenty of positive reviews.

The manufacturer claims they have an accuracy of +/- .001” and a readout resolution of .0005” which is comparable to the high end calipers. 

There are a lot of different options and sizes available from this company and they claim an IP code of 54. 

An IP54 rating means it is slightly dust proof and can resist a ‘splash’ of water.

They also come with a protective plastic case.

I would be tempted to buy this set for general use and abuse but I have an old set of Mitutoyo 6” calipers that I use at home. 

They are definitely an option to consider if you are budget conscious although I am reluctant to recommend them without actually owning and using a set for a reasonable amount of time.

I am considering buying a set to test out and will update this review if I do.

Pros

  • Competitively priced.
  • Made with stainless steel.
  • Perfect for general d.i.y, for mechanics etc
  • Supplied with a protective case.

Cons

  • Questionable reliability with the readout.
  • A few minor build quality issues reported in reviews

mitutoyo dial calipers

mitutoyo dial calipers

These Mitutoyo dial calipers are probably as good quality as you can expect to buy, If you prefer dial calipers instead of digital, these are the set I recommend.

There are still some people who like to use good old fashioned dial calipers, so I included a set in this review to give my experiences using them. 

Reliability will never be an issue with dial calipers if you buy from a high end manufacturer, they will last a long time provided they receive proper care. 

They work using a rack and pinion to drive the pointer on the readout face giving an accuracy of around +/- .0005. This is the same as digital calipers.

This type of caliper relies heavily on the quality and fit of the rack and pinion mechanism, any slop here will result in a noticeable decrease in accuracy and repeatability.

This is why I would only recommend you buy dial calipers from a reputable company.

I do own a budget set that will occasionally jump teeth when some debris gets on the rack. This emphasizes the biggest problem with dial calipers and that is the exposed rack.

Making sure the gear teeth are clean is important, as well as checking that the dial reads zero with the jaws closed before every use. 

Pros

  • Reasonably priced.
  • Made with stainless steel.
  • A good quality set will be as accurate as digital calipers
  • Supplied with a protective case.
  • No battery needed

Cons

  • Only reads in one unit of measurement
  • Not as versatile as digital calipers
  • Need to keep the rack and pinion free of debris

Conclusion

In my opinion the best digital calipers are the Mitutoyo 6” calipers. They are the best all round and are the calipers that all others are compared to. 

All you need to decide is which size range would be ideal for your needs.

Being a machinist by trade, I could not possibly recommend any of the lower priced calipers and have a clear conscience.

If you needed a set for general use, buying budget along with a good quality set would certainly be an excellent combination.  

I know the difference a quality set of calipers makes to your work and even though the cost of a mitutoyo is higher, the price is certainly justified. This is definitely a ‘get what you pay for’ situation.

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