View Full Version : Dial Vs. Digital Caliper & Micrometer

April 1, 2012, 10:57 AM
I have spoken to a few gunsmiths regarding digital Vs. dial calipers & micrometers. They are all from a "older manual machinist" generation. Being younger and from a CNC generation I am wondering why they would all recommend dial instead of digital.

April 1, 2012, 11:20 AM
Although they're easier to read, digital readouts don't do anything critical that the dial readouts won't do, unless you're getting into fancy stuff like averaging multiple measurements and calculating standard deviation, or being able to temporarily re-zero the tool at some position other than "jaws closed" in order to directly measure the difference between two length.

You're also at the mercy of battery life, temperature drift in the electronics, and just a higher level of complexity in general. That being said, I'd be comfortable using a good-quality example of either type.

James K
April 1, 2012, 12:20 PM
I have used all of the above, and also vernier calipers, and now use digital for the simple reason that it is easier for these old eyes to read. There might be slight problems, but gun work does not require very high precision, and the digital caliper is plenty good enough.

As to batteries, there are two holes in the case for spares; I keep them filled.


April 1, 2012, 12:51 PM
I've tried them all at one time or another.

Micrometers---I like plain old mikes, with a tenths vernier on the barrel.
Had digital and ones with analog "counters" on them, they are OK but
they don't do anything a old school micrometer won't.

Calipers: My 24" and 12" are vernier. I've also got a couple of 6"
verniers, but they don't get used much. A good set of 6" Mitutoyo digitals
gets the most use.

Dial calipers: If you are in a CLEAN environment, go for it. Dials work off
of a microscopic gear rack and a itty bitty spur gear. Sooner or later, if
there is any dust/dirt/chips etc within 10 feet of the thing, a piece will get in
the rack and when the spur hits it it will jump a tooth. You won't even know it
did it until you try to fit two parts together and one part is off by .015" or
so. I currently own ZERO dial calipers.

April 1, 2012, 01:48 PM
I prefer the "old fashioned" way in most things, including this.

April 1, 2012, 08:59 PM
40 years ago, a good set of dial calipers could easily cost you $100 or more. Nowadays you can get pretty good oned for about $30, OK ones for about $20, and cheap ones for about $12. Digital calipers are getting pretty cheap now too. That said, I use dial calipers and vernier calipers for most of my work.

chris in va
April 1, 2012, 09:11 PM
I used a cheap digital for a while but finally got tired of having to re-zero all the time. The dial I bought is much more 'repeatable' and reads a lot faster.

April 1, 2012, 11:58 PM
"Dial calipers: If you are in a CLEAN environment, go for it."
Totally wrong. having worked in NDT in a shipyard envoriment, dial calipers are tougher that he thinks. The important thing is keep them clean and keep them in the box when not in use.

April 2, 2012, 07:24 AM
I hear you. I probably used a solid mic as much as a dial calipers. The calipers is for ruff-out stuff.

Mikey the Barbarian
April 9, 2012, 12:36 PM
When I was working in the oil industry, we had a few Russian engineers start work for the company, and they each had one-meter-long vernier calipers. Huge things, hefty and substantial, and measured only in millimeters, centimeters and decimeters. Those things spoiled me for any fancy-schmancy dial or digital calipers, and I came to really love working with them.

That said, none of these guys would part with their toys for any price, so I'm back to dial calipers, 12" or 24", which work just fine.

April 9, 2012, 12:41 PM
I like dial calipers, but I currently don't have any, and the cheap digital that I bought at HF works shockingly well. My eyes aren't good enough for verniers anymore.

April 9, 2012, 12:55 PM

April 10, 2012, 10:38 AM
I use a Frankford el cheapo digital at home. My big complaint is that the battery life just plain sucks. After using much higher quality tools at work for many years, I'm just about ready to buy a really nice set for home use.

When I do, it'll be digital.

April 18, 2012, 06:12 AM
If I'm measuring 'stuff' I use an inexpensive dial caliper.

When I'm measuring 'important stuff' I use a quality ten-thou mike.

None of my tools require batteries.

April 18, 2012, 07:53 AM
an prefer either.

Electronic when first out were definitely "squirrelly".

Last company supplied dials were "Fowler" and a 10-incher, to boot.
Got tired of trying to stretch a 6" to 6"+.

April 18, 2012, 08:21 AM
I have all three. The batteries on the digital keep going bad. The old-fashioned micrometer is OK but hard to handle and read. The dial is the one I reach for. Accurate, easy to read, no batteries.

April 18, 2012, 07:52 PM
I personally like dial calipers over digital just for the sake of not having to rezero them. If I need to set a zero that is different than closed jaw, I just turn the dial and lock it. I have left my calipers just laying on the bridgeport table while hacking away and have not had any problems. the more expensive digital calipers are pretty good though and don't eat through the batteries.

The Micrometers I use are standard mics but I also use some with a number counter in them at work and like them too. The digital mics seem to bulky to hold them right, at least the ones I have used anyway.

Like anything the more you pay the better the item, this is more true for digital then anything. You can get a cheap set and they will work fine but you will have to rezero more and burn through batteries more.

April 20, 2012, 09:48 PM
Pin gauges come in .0010" increments in sets.

But you can buy pin gauges individually in between. I have some of these for using as a spud to dial in barrels.

Identifying these without reading the engraved value, if you can beat machinists with micrometers, when all you have is dial calipers, you are good.

What does is all mean?
You may think that micrometers are more accurate than calipers, while that is usually true, there still is the advice, " Never bet on another man's game."

April 21, 2012, 03:35 AM
At one time I wouldn’t even entertain the thought of using digital. Still don’t like ‘em but I broke down and bought a 6" set…. Only ‘cause I lose my reading glasses too much and can’t read the dial. Tools stay where they’re supposed to… friggin glasses sprout legs. The more I use digital, the more I hate ‘em … ‘cause they remind me that I need glasses and can’t find ’em. Getting old sucks and I’m not THAT old !:mad:

How’s this for a confession: I have a slide rule in the tool box that I still use.
It don’t need no stinkin batteries either, but I still need my glasses with it.:o

April 21, 2012, 12:25 PM
Digital isn't any more accurate than analog until you've spent thousands on your tool. I always use analog.

April 21, 2012, 02:26 PM
have used both-

digital is easier to read (fewer mistakes) but too many bad readings
bad batteries, cheaply made, worn out way too soon causing inconsistant readings
too many *** is going on heres

I went back to dial, even the cheaper ones give a consitant reading

I load for accuracy and when a bullet shoots best between 10 and 15 thou. off lands that is where I want it, with a case trimed to where I wanted it to be trimed

April 21, 2012, 02:49 PM
I went digital because I can't read a dial anymore. Have a hard enough time reading digital with glasses.

4V50 Gary
April 24, 2012, 08:33 AM
I used vernier calipers until my eyes changed. I thought about dial but went digital. Big is easy to see.

April 24, 2012, 10:22 AM
I use calipers and mics daily. I prefer dial for checking a lot of work. I can read them faster. The digital has a slight delay and ofetn makes people second guess over a .0005 when in reality it is a matter of feel. If you buy either Fowler makes a reasonable priced product thats pretty good. I use Starret but be careful as they now have a plant in China and a lot of there price minded stuff is coming from that plant. Brown and Sharpe makes a great price minded 6" dial caliper. In a micrometer they are all good out of the box. I just started switching my personal stuff over to the Starret digitals and I am very impressed.

4V50 Gary
April 28, 2012, 04:51 AM
Some Starrets are made in the Workers' Paradise now? Oh, the humanity!

April 29, 2012, 07:40 PM
I've been a machinist for 25 years. Even though digital calipers may have 4 (or even 5) digits on the display, they are considered accurate to +/- .001" just like dial calipers. I prefer a good quality dial caliper, such as Starrett, Brown & Sharpe or Mitutoyo. Verniers have less problems than dial calipers, but I find them harder to read, and when you use them constantly, you end up taking a lot more time just reading the measurements. As far as readability for old eyes, I always make sure the dial is .100" per full revolution. There are some that are .200" per rev, with a .100 mark at the top & bottom of the dial. Even when I was young and could see I didn't like that.:) The divisions are so close together they're just plain hard to read. So if you need to be more accurate than +/- .001", you have to use a micrometer, and even then, it has to have the .0001" vernier on it, or else it's only good to .001". If you are checking the same bore repeatedly, pin gages are definitely more accurate, the lowest class (Class ZZ) have a +/- .0002" tolerance on the small diameters (.010" - .825").

April 30, 2012, 09:27 AM
I am a mechanic and automotive enthusiast. For micrometers, use regular micrometers that read to .0000, nothing less. They are not hard to read at all, they are extremely simple. If you have a hard time reading them, then I seriously doubt you can perform the work you want to. I have set of Mitutoyo set and paid around $100 used.

May 2, 2012, 03:27 PM
temperature drift in the electronics

Not much of an issue in the past 5+ years.

Ratiometric circuits do not depend on absolute value, but the ration between two values.

It makes things a lot easier.

Strafer Gott
May 2, 2012, 03:50 PM
Calipers make better thinking sticks. Their best use is for roughing out.
I know an old Smith employee that swears (Navy style) that micrometers are the only appropriate metrology tools. Starret makes electronic readouts that
read much smaller than.0001 inches, traceable standards, repeatable to Johannsen blocks, for about a grand.

May 3, 2012, 06:17 PM
I use a digital mitutoyo. Excellent resolution, fast read, accurate, repeatable and not that expensive. I've never tried the dial ones.

July 4, 2012, 05:19 PM
Would there be any difference in accuracy between

Starrett Electronic

Mitutoyo dial

Or $45 set of Lyman Dial or digital calipers?

July 4, 2012, 08:27 PM
Just looking at the advertised accuracy for the Mitutoyo and Starrett you linked to, and for the Lyman digital and dial calipers I could find, they're all advertised to be accurate to 0.001", except for the Starrett which advertises 0.0005".

July 5, 2012, 08:57 AM
I like the dial calipers but as with any tool buy quality and you'll never go wrong. Get a set of gage blocks to periodically check the accuracy unless you work in a shop that recalibrates them for you. You can send them to a company that does calibration if you wish also. The biggest difference between the two is that one uses an embedded tape to transfer data to the digital readout and the dial ones have a rack and pinion that mechanically drives the dial. The most common problems I see are that the electric ones sometimes lose the battery cover and the dial ones get dirty and sometimes jump the gears and need to be reset.

July 15, 2012, 02:53 PM
In order of what I prefer:

Vernier: There's nothing to gum up, they maintain their accuracy unless someone screws up the jaws.

Dial: They're what I'm used to, they're fast, reasonably accurate with skill and there's no batteries.

Digital: They're OK in their own way, but I only tolerate the high-end ones that are coolant/water proof and have batteries I can readily find. My biggest beef with many digital calipers is that they present false precision to the operator.

By all means, get a set of gage blocks for reference.