Calipers...Vernier, Dial or Digital?

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Forum topic by DylanC posted 03-28-2011 03:59 AM 5604 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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204 posts in 2910 days

03-28-2011 03:59 AM

Topic tags/keywords: caliper

So, I built my first drawer box today (rabbet and groove joinery) and realized that I need some help in the measuring and set-up department. With that in mind I’m looking at buying some set-up blocks and a caliper. Right now, I’m leaning towards a 0.001” resolution vernier scale caliper. However, I would like a little feedback on the (dis)advantages of each type.

I am leaning towards vernier because each of the other styles has what I would consider a significant weakness. First, I have a strong aversion to battery operated tools. I want this tool to work when I need it and I have read quite a few tales of batteries being dead without a replacement, or lasting only a few weeks/months. I thing I cold handle the batteries if I KNEW that they would last for a few YEARS, with only occasional use (once or twice per week). The battery issue is why I was originally looking at dial calipers. I use them at work and am comfortable using them, but after nosing around the web, I learned that reliability can be an issue. They can be sensitive to abuse and dust/debris. While I don’t plan on abusing any tool, I can almost gaurantee that this item will eventually fall on the floor.

So I ended up looking at vernier scales. I am not intimidated by the ‘vernier’ method of reading, but honestly, I would prefer a dial. The main advantage is see is durability and reliability. One thing I’m not sure of is if I can get a 0.001” vernier caliper for ~$30.

I don’t want this to become a debate on how much precision is enough, I just want to get a few opinions from experienced users on which type of caliper they would recommend.


-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

20 replies so far

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4129 days

#1 posted 03-28-2011 04:05 AM

I have both the vernier and the dial….......makes no difference to me and I doubt the digital is any more accurate but only more convenient : )

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3207 days

#2 posted 03-28-2011 04:28 AM

Digital is so much better I can’t see any reason to look at dial or vernier. Just buy spare batteries along with the tool. Don’t go for the $15 cheapo digitals like from Harbor Freight; instead get a decent brand name set. Good ones will have auto shut off, which will provide long battery life. I use mine almost daily in my jewelry store and get about 6 months battery life.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18423 posts in 3912 days

#3 posted 03-28-2011 05:59 AM

I have all three and I have a dead battery. I don’t use them often enough to bother with a new battery, so I use the dial most of the time. I keep the vernier as a check on the dial occasionally and as a back up that I carry in case I forget the dial. They are easy to recalibrate. I think all it takes is loosening it up and moving the dial to “0”, but I haven’t done it for a while. Memory might be foggy ;-)) The dial is easier to read and no math to do in the head;-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View devann's profile


2246 posts in 2928 days

#4 posted 03-28-2011 06:33 AM

I like the dial, I can see it working, easy to reset. I’ve bought many electric measuring devices, and been biten in a bad way because the info displayed was compromised. Between dead or low battery power and sensitivity to the environment in which I’m using the tool I don’t always trust them. Hot and cold effects batteries. And if you start to second guess the tool, then you’re left wondering. Not a good feeling for me. Nether the dial or digital will survive a fall to the floor, be careful. Don’t get a cheap dial one ether, The one at the blue or the orange store is nylon and doesn’t have a locking screw to hold the set position. Get a metal one.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View auggy53's profile


159 posts in 2916 days

#5 posted 03-28-2011 06:46 AM

i have been using the same dial caliper for 20 yrs as long as i keep it cleaned and lubbed it works just fine . i think i paid 30 .00 for it way back then

-- rick

View DylanC's profile


204 posts in 2910 days

#6 posted 03-29-2011 01:40 AM

TopamaxSurvivor / Devann / Auggy:
Have any of you ever had any problems with sawdust or anything fouling the rack and pinion of the dial caliper? That is one of my biggest concerns with that type.

TopamaxSurvivor: what is the resolution on your vernier? I’ve never actually seen a 0.001” resolution vernier scale and I’m thinking that if the graduations are too fine, it could just take too long to read. Any tool that’s not easy to use usually finds a one-way ticket into a drawer.

-- Dylan C ...Seems like all ever I make is sawdust...

View Ripthorn's profile


1459 posts in 3221 days

#7 posted 03-29-2011 02:07 AM

I have 1/128 vernier calipers and some digital ones. I prefer my digital set and get pretty good battery life (on my third battery in about 3 years, which includes leaving them in hot and cold), mostly because I like how the tip of the jaws is machined narrow for getting in between screw threads and the like and because I can set the zero anywhere I want, so relative measurements are literally jus the push of the button. I have the verniers as backups, but I am also wanting a dial set just because I like them too, and i like the precision without needing a battery.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View TheWoodNerd's profile


291 posts in 3428 days

#8 posted 03-29-2011 02:34 AM

The major advantage of digital for me is the ability to instantly convert from imperial to metric as needed. Also measuring differential between two parts is easy, set up on part one and zero out, then measure part two.

-- The Wood Nerd --

View PurpLev's profile


8548 posts in 3884 days

#9 posted 03-29-2011 02:36 AM

I like digital for it’s decimal easy readout, but the batteries just don’t last, so I use a dial caliper which will last forever ;)

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View sharpcraft's profile


3 posts in 2928 days

#10 posted 03-29-2011 02:37 AM

I prefer digital. I have a 6-inch Mitutoyo that I’ve used at work & at home for 14 years. I’ve never dropped them and always put them back in the box when I set them down, and have them calibrated every other year. (At $120 I want them to last!) The first battery lasted ~5 years, now I replace it about every 18 months. I think it uses the same CR-2032 as my Wixey stuff & some other stuff I have, so I keep a few cells on hand.

I also use a 12-inch dial & 18-inch vernier, when I must. After 20 years I still don’t like vernier scales. The vernier only works for me when it is right in front of me, if I’m measuring something at an odd angle or I can’t get lined up with the scale then I’m just guessing. I don’t like the dial because it’s English and 2/3 of what I do at work is metric. If you have to use metric and English it’s a no-brainer, but that’s not likely in a (U.S.) wood shop.

For bigger stuff I make a 40-inch set with two framing squares and some stair nuts. I measure with a tape measure so I don’t have to think about which scales to add up on the squares. Works great.

View Grandpa's profile


3261 posts in 2911 days

#11 posted 03-29-2011 05:42 AM

I like the dial and think the not too expensive ones are good too. I am not speaking of plastic calipers though. I have used a vernier pair for 30+ years and will say that you have to read them often to do it quickly. 3 or 4 times a month will not likely make you quick enough to ever “like” them. The dial is quick and easy and today I would lean toward them but they were all very expensive when I went with the vernier type. Dial is quick. Just put them in the case when you are finished.

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18423 posts in 3912 days

#12 posted 03-29-2011 07:49 AM

DylanC I haven’t had any problems, but I don’t use calipers a lot doing woodworking.

My Vernier reads to .001”, of course, you have to have good eyes or glasses to see it ;-)) Mine divides up .1 inch into 4/4. Once you get to .025, if the scale indicates .014, yoiu have to mentally sum it up to .039 and add that to the 1/10th you are in. Hope that makes some sense.

On the dial, i can read to 1/2 .001, but I’m not sure the instrument is that accurate ;-)

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Greg's profile


332 posts in 3109 days

#13 posted 03-29-2011 08:32 AM

I must chime in here because I own not ONE but TWO Mitutoyo “Digimatic coolant proof” digital vernier calipers. I use them CONSTANTLY! You can measure inside dims, outside dims, hole depths, and height gauge style. So there is almost nothing u cannot measure as long as its under 6”. I bought both used on ebay for under 80 each. Here is a link for a more expensive one

My first set I have had for a decade and have replaced the batteries ONCE if that. The higher end calipers have auto-shutdown feature so u don’t have to remember. I think this is one of the reasons it is such a common complaint. I have not had to change my second pair yet in 3 years.

I love the fact that you can zero them, and that you can switch back n forth between Metric and Imperial. Many-a-times I have used said calipers as ad-hock conversion calculators as well. VERRRRY Handy!

Some common uses for me: Measuring: diameters of old drill bits, wire, screws, & rods, depths of blind holes dadoes, & rabbets, scribing lines (theses are hardened calipers) and of course, measuring wood thickness to the 1/10,000”. (cuz that’s necessary! ;) Honestly, if it’s under 6”, I use my calipers because I know what tolerances I am REALLY playing with (equipment & material-wise)

Did I mention that they almost NEVER lose their zero? They also turn on simply by opening the jaws. No need to turn it on & off (much like a dial Caliper) I have dropped them more than I care to admit, and they are dead nuts on. Dust has never been an issue, why would it since they r “coolant proof”? Oh wait, I usually have to wipe the dust off the jaws to properly seat it at home since it meaures dust that is .0005” thick! LOL!

Good luck, I promise you won’t be sorry if you buy these calipers.

-- You don't have a custom made heirloom fly fishing Net?

View bubinga's profile


861 posts in 2904 days

#14 posted 03-29-2011 09:43 AM

I have a Vernier I haven’t touched since I got my first dial years ago,and I have digital to,and like them all ,and use them all in differant areas,except the Vernier
The Vernier caliper I am talking about has a scale ,no dial, and no digital anything
I like Digital the best ,you can buy a hundred batteries for 10 bucks at amazon,that’s right 10 bucks !!
And even really good ones for 10 bucks ,for ten batteries

-- E J ------- Always Keep a Firm Grip on Your Tool

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3304 days

#15 posted 03-29-2011 03:44 PM

Why would you need calipers to make drawer boxes? I’ve made at least 100 drawers over the past couple of years, and only use a 6” adjustable square and a tape measure for my setups.

Is +/- 0.001” really necessary?

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

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