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Alright, folks. Here’s the deal. Long gone are the days when you measured something and then read the results by hand. This is the 21st century, for crying out loud.
I can’t, in good conscience, send you out shopping for the best calipers without first specifying that the best calipers are the market today are digital calipers.
Welcome to the modern world, my friend. Of course, those old fashioned tools have a time and a place. Some people just prefer to read their results manually, and quite frankly, they’re not always wrong. Sometimes digital tools don’t always work.
When your digital display gives out, you’re going to need to know how to read it manually. However, there are some other really cool reasons why a digital caliper beats out a manual tool these days, so let’s review.
About Digital Calipers
Digital calipers are measuring tools and they’re typically used in situations where extremely precise measurements are needed, like when inspecting a manufactured building or home. Usually, the smallest increment they can measure is 0.0005 inch or 0.01mm.
Compared to the rough dimensions you get with a tape measure, you can see where a digital caliper would be incredibly useful in certain situations.
Taking measurements inside, outside, and on steps can be done with jaws on a long beam and a marked scale while a probe slide on a beam can handle depth measurements. The max range on things like this is about 6 inches depending on the length of the tool. Laser measuring tools can measure long distances.
While one jaw is fixed at the end of the scale the other jaw can slide along the scale and take precision measurements while the reading is generated electronically and then displayed digitally on a high-resolution screen.
However, the cool thing about digital calipers is that they can take measurements that can be used to determine the difference between two objects. Zeroing the display at a certain point along the scale will allow you to measure any increment you need.
Some digital calipers even have the capability to measure in either standard or metric units. Others can send your readings to a computer.
Walking into the hardware store and buying the first set of calipers you see will likely get you a very poorly performing tool. Even if you don’t know much about digital calipers and you’ve never used a set before, you should do some research before you decide which set to buy.
There’s always a possibility that the calibrations will be off, the measurements won’t convert correctly, or the display will go out. Trying to fix these problems yourself will be a huge waste of time when you can just buy a quality pair to begin with.
There are a few features you should focus on when looking for the perfect digital calipers.
You typically can’t tell how well a set of calipers will be calibrated just by looking or even reading, but you can look at the manufacturer’s website. Read about their calibration process, because they should be publishing it.
If you can’t find anything, they’re likely not already calibrated, which you don’t want. That means when you get them home, you’ll have to calibrate them yourself. If you’re experienced at using calipers, that might be fine, but if you’re just starting out, it’s not ideal.
Calipers that are already calibrated are ready to use right out of the box.
A manufacturer posting their calibration process can also clue you into the fact that they’re proud and confident in the fact that it works. Bad calibration will obviously throw your measurements off, resulting in pretty serious mistakes.
Having done your research ahead of time will also give you some legal ground on which to stand if something does go wrong later. This is especially valuable if you’re using your calipers in the workplace and you don’t want to be held responsible for any mistakes.
Accuracy of measurement is a bit different than calibration. A reading of 0.1mm is quite a bit different than 0.01mm when dealing with small spaces. Not all calipers will display measurements to the same decimal, and it’s not always a big deal for DIY projects, but it will make a huge difference in professional construction.
Some situations call for measurements way too specific for you to measure properly without a set of calipers, so your calipers should be accurate. Not only that, but some calipers can’t provide certain types of measurements, like metric, imperial, or a conversion you need.
Some might be missing fractions, which you can always convert yourself, but it wastes more time and leaves more room for error.
Not only do you want to make sure your set of calipers can provide measurements in the scale and format you want (i.e. metric, imperial, decimal, fraction, conversions, etc.), you want to make sure you can measure things in different ways.
You want to be able to measure the inside and outside of every chosen section. You’ll also want to make sure you have a step measurement feature if it’s needed, as well as depth measurements.
You may or may not need all of these in the same tool, but some people do. If you need your calipers for a specific purpose, just make sure it has the exact feature set you need, because it will make a big difference on the job site or for your DIY project.
Being able to measure in more than one way can open up a lot of opportunities to check for mistakes or improve your quality without having to buy other tools.
Check your calipers for a zero setting so that you can compare two measurements without having to record them separately. It’s not hard to record them separately, but it can save you time and avoid mistakes by allowing you to compare the measurements side by side.
Tools are prone to damage, just like anything else. With heavy use, water, rust, and other damage can lead to damage, making them unreliable and hard to use. Water and other liquids are a big problem for metal tools.
However, metal tools are less likely to break on the job because they’re more durable. They cost more upfront, but they’ll last longer if you take care of them. The cost of constantly replacing a less durable, cheaper tool can add up.
There’s definitely no shortage of options when you start looking around for digital calipers, so it can get overwhelming fast. Here are some of the best digital calipers on the market today.
This digital caliper is probably the best overall product on the market today. It can measure up to 6 inches inside and outside as well as step and depth values. The measuring range is 0.0005-6 inches, so you can get the smallest possible readings on a digital LCD display that will show you either inches or millimeters.
You can measure either absolute or incremental readings and display using either the metric or imperial system. There’s a zero/ABX so you can compare two readings on custom ranges and the display is easy to read, meaning you’re less prone to make errors.
It has an advanced onsite sensor (AOS) and uses electromagnetic inductivity for water, dirt, and oil resistance. The stainless steel body resists damage from accidental drops and a protective carrying case.
The really great thing about this particular model is that it offers quite a few advanced features that still don’t seem to get in the way. It’s a great tool for professionals but can still be useful for beginners who need to learn how all the features work.
These stainless steel calipers are also easy to read with an LCD screen and offer inside and outside dimensions as well as step and depth measurements. However, this set offers easy conversions between inches, millimeters, and fractions.
They’re resistant to dust and liquid with an IP54 rating, and the stainless steel construction means they’re reasonably durable. They come with a carrying case to protect them in your toolbox. They’re easy to operate and feature a battery saving mode that automatically turns on when you move the slide and will switch off after five minutes of inactivity. They allow for differential measuring by zeroing in at any point.
This is a simple tool with very little flair but allows for maximum operation with the conversions you need. It doesn’t focus much on other tasks that might be better solved with other tools.
This set of digital calipers has a sleek black look and an extra-large LCD display that’s easy to read. It puts more of a modern spin on the tool with an easy-to-read screen. With just one button, you can switch between inches, millimeters, and fractions.
The thumb roller and locking screw means you can move the slide smoothly and then accurately position the jaws for an accurate reading between ranges 0,0005 inches and 6 inches.
The zero button allows for easy comparisons to make every job easier and eliminate errors. It’s great for general purpose repairs and DIY projects, but may not be the most durable tool for heavy-duty construction.
Here’s another caliper tool that’s easy to read and can convert from inches to millimeters to fractions with a range of 0.0005 to 6 inches and an accuracy of 0.001 inches. The IP54 resistance is great for dust, water, and oil and the stainless steel makes it durable. It’s made from high-quality parts without much empty space between the components, which gives it stability when measuring.
You’ll find that the jaws keep their position without feeling sticky. The huge display makes it a useful tool for accurate measurements in tight spaces. It’s also a lightweight tool, making it a great tool for beginners who are still learning or anyone who’s working on something that is very precision heavy.
For the same great iGaging durability and design in a longer measurement range, go for the 12-inch version.
This particular tool has a built-in data transfer port so you can move your measurements to your computer after taking them. Measure from 0.0005 to 6 inches on the large LCD screen and then transfer those exact measurements to the computer without error.
It comes fully calibrated so you don’t have to know how to set it up, making it an effective tool for both new and experienced users to use right away. It can be used for hobbyists and as part of your regular job.
It also comes with an extra battery, which saves you the time of having to mess with getting a replacement, giving you a long-lasting tool. It’s another great simple tool that won’t overload the user with unnecessary features.
Answer: There are two different criteria you should be looking at when determining which set of calipers to purchase. One is resolution and the other is accuracy. It can be confusing, but there is a difference.
Resolution refers to the range of measurement while accuracy refers to, you guessed it, how accurate the calipers are.
For instance, a set of calipers may have a resolution of 0.0005 – 6 inches, but it may only be accurate down to 0.001 inches. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them to measure smaller increments, it just means you can’t rely on as much accuracy at smaller intervals.
Answer: While accuracy at smaller increments isn’t as great, digital calipers are still extremely accurate tools. They can easily switch between systems for more accurate measurements, conversions, and comparisons.
However, your accuracy may not be much better than 0.001 inches for a 6-inch caliper and it can be even worse for longer sets.
Don’t let this discourage you. They can still measure much smaller than a tape measure and are much more accurate. Even if they only guarantee accuracy down to 0.001 inches, you can still get a much more accurate measurement at smaller intervals than you can any other tool.
Answer: Every now and then, you should check your calipers to ensure they’re still reporting accurate measurements. Even calipers that come already calibrated need a bit of quality control. All tools need to be checked on a regular basis.
Answer: The more often you calibrate, the better your specifications will be, but you can calibrate too much. If you use your equipment every day, you should calibrate them monthly. If you use them sparingly, you may only have to calibrate them once a year.
Calibrating them more often than once a month is typically not useful because they won’t be in need of adjustment that soon and you’ll be wasting your time on an unnecessary task.
The best way to calibrate your calipers is to use a proprietary calibration card, a check box, or a circuit with known readings.
Calipers are incredibly useful tools for a variety of things, from home improvement and DIY projects to professional construction and inspection tasks. There are tools designed for beginners and experts alike, so make sure you know what you’re looking for and what you need before you buy.
From feature-rich tools with conversions, comparisons, and measuring choices to basic sets with just a few options, just make sure you choose something durable and long-lasting to suit your needs.