Reader Ben wrote…
Do you have a recommendation for inexpensive calipers? I need a link for my upcoming 3D printing tools post.
Wait, that’s me! I asked Stuart this question a few days ago and he didn’t have a recommendation, so I’m opening this up to the ToolGuyd Community.
Let’s back up. I purchased a really decent set of cheap calipers for only $20 about two decades ago. Since then, I have tried to purchase the same knock-off calipers and have found the quality seriously lacking.
Some of the issues I’ve experienced are jumpy readouts, clunky movement, and sharp edges. Also, the electronics draw way too much current and the on/off switch only turns off the display, so the battery is dead when you really need it. Apparently I’m not alone, as I’ve read about other people experiencing the same shortcomings with inexpensive calipers.
There are a few articles on ToolGuyd about calipers, but they range from inexpensive $13 calipers and $160+ solar powered Mitutoyo calipers, there’s really no ground in between.
Getting back to the question, does anyone know of decent digital calipers with the following features:
- $30 to $50 price range
- Metric and Imperial readout (fractional isn’t needed for 3D printing)
- 0-4″ or 0-6″ measurement range
- Smooth action
- Rock steady readout
- Auto shut-off feature (that actually shuts off the electronics)
- Nice finish
If you know of any calipers that fit those criteria, please let us know in the comments.
Good question. I’d like to know the answer(s) as well! I bought a supposedly popular and highly reviewed digital caliper on Amazon last year, and the thing was just complete garbage. After further investigation, most of the positive reviews were fake. Now I simply suspect the same of other cheap calipers on Amazon.
you can copy/paste the amazon url and it will analyze it for you. I noticed a lot of vitamins/supplements have tons of fake reviews.
Everything on Amazon. They could buy Fakespot with loose change from Bezos’ sofa, but why would they care? They’re making money either way.
I would stay clear of cheap digital ones and go for a set of manual Vernier ones. No need to worry about going out of accuracy.
I’ve had mine for a while and reading the scale takes no time at all really.
My thought exactly.
The manual ones are going to have better reliability at low price.
This is the direction I went as well. You can get nice mitutoyo vernier calipers for $30 or $40 on ebay. I like the ones that have both fractional and decimal inch scales.
Whiskey and wood
I’ve been happy with this Carerra one: Carrera Precision CP9808-TF Titanium 0-Inch to 8-Inch Electronic Fractional & Decimal Digital Caliper https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003BVJ56K
$40 plus shipping, the buttons are a bit sensitive, but overall I like it, may be worth a try
Koko the Talking Ape
I also got a Carerra a few years ago, the CP7906 0-Inch to 6-Inch Electronic,
It is just stainless steel, and cost about $20. I’ve been happy so far. I especially like the large display. These aging eyes don’t do well with verniers. It also toggles between decimal and fractional display, which the cheap digitals don’t always do.
It has a thumb wheel, a screw lock, and a depth rod, all of which are sometimes missing from cheap digitals.
It does continuously drain the battery, but I just remove the battery to store it. I tape it to the caliper with gaffer’s tape (which doesn’t leave adhesive on things.)
The case is nice. It comes with an extra battery!
One issue is that the battery cover is a flat chip of plastic that is super-easy to lose. If I did lose it, I think gaffer’s tape would hold it in. But I would be unhappy.
When it comes to calipers, what you pay is what you get!
My personal mantra, “Pay once, cry once”.
I own a both Starrett vernier and digital calipers. The vernier I use when the battery runs out on the digital, which it seems to do whenever I try to use it.
I have owned an igaging caliper for a few years, it worked fine, just annoying that it was always running out of batteries, it was accurate and worked fine for me, although I am primarily a woodworker
Recently I got the solar mitutoyo and am happy, does seem like a better quality item, but a luxury item for my needs.
I cannot recommend iGaging strongly enough. There are very good quality for a reasonable price.
I came here to say iGaging. I bought their absolute origin calipers and a dial indicator and both are phenomenal for the price.
This is the exact model:
+1 for iGaging, they are great.
We picked up these at my place of employment. The price is cheap enough that they were worth the gamble and could even be disposable. The quality is great though, battery has lasted 6 plus months of daily use so far, no sharp edges to speak of, good quality mitutoyo-esque plastic case, no jumpiness on readout. Couldn’t ask for much more, will be my “budget” choice going forward, with Mitutoyo being the upgrade.
Same ones I have and they are really good for the price.
I have the six inch model, and am also impressed with the quality. I only use it occasionally, for woodworking mostly, but in the 18 months I’ve had it I only needed to replace the battery once (with the extra one that was included).
I have a HF caliper that’s >5 years old, and it’s still working fine.
I have a Vinca that I got for free (at a trade show) that’s about 2 years old, and works fine.
I also have a Mitutoyo that’s about 20 years old and still works fine (it was ~$125 new).
Either the HF or Vinca would be fine for 3D printer use, with the disclaimer that it’s possible that HF’s quality has gone down since mine was made.
I have been using a few types of the Shars digital calipers for about a year now. Very impressed with all of them. My only complaint is with the “large display” model, they burn through batteries pretty fast- but the normal display model has been very good, and the batteries are lasting as long as any Mitutoyos I have ever had.
I would put the one I have (model 303-1551) much closer to Mitutoyo quality than Harbor Freight quality. And under $50, a pretty good deal.
I bought a set of the Shars Aventor not long ago and have been well pleased with them, especially for the price. I think it was $60 for a set with third party calibration.
I have a relatively expensive DeWalt laser level that doesn’t really turn off, either. It’s batteries are dead when I need them, like with your calipers. I just realized this week that there are slots molded into it’s case for 4 batteries. So I took the batteries out for storage until the next time I use the level.
It may be a paint, but doing the same might solve one of your caliper’s problems. You could also just slide a piece of plastic/paper between the battery and contact.
Just as Matt said, Shars is hard to beat. I don’t think you’ll find any digital caliper under $100 that will be better than the Shars Aventor.
I’ve had one for two years, regularly use for metal lathe work, and so much more. Repeatable readings, quality made and under $40-50 for the 6″/150mm version. There’s an option for a larger reading screen. It will check off ALL the features you want. It even holds a reading when turned back on.
Hands down, nothing else to consider in my book. They have a company direct ebay store. I’ve found that to be the easiest method.
Love my Shars Aventor
This has been in the back of my mind for a while. I’ve had a Harbor Freight special for about 10 years that has actually served me fairly well aside from the battery issue.
I’ve bandied about the idea of getting a Mitutoyo, the cheapest of those I’ve seen seems to be around $100. The Shars option has also appealed to me. It’s not something I use often but when I do it’d be nice to be able to trust it and have it turn on without having to go shopping for more batteries if I forget to remove them from the tool.
This meets your criteria except the price… it is a bit lower at $20.
Pittsburgh 6″ Digital Caliper – Metric and SAE with Case
On the back it says CEN-TECH Item 47257. I’ve been using it for years (5+), sometimes months between uses and the battery may have been replaced once. The thumb roller lets me get to within .001 quickly and the locking screw (with very little force) is solid for transferring measures.
I’m interested in where this thread goes and what features would make a caliper upgrade worthwhile.
Jeff @ Tool Box Buzz
I have this same one and it has served me quite well for woodworking tasks (mortise and tenon, turning, drilling holes). I’m only at the 3 year mark and just put in the extra battery maybe 6 mo ago. I bought mine at Harbor Freight.
I believe thats the same one i got from hf maybe 5 years ago and seems ok with infrequent use.
There’s nothing wrong with it being cheaper :>)
That looks identical to the one I purchased so many years ago, except mine says stainless hardened on the front and is not labeled Cen-Tech.
Later, I purchased one that was similar and had issues with it like I mentioned above. While it’s not unusable, it’s frustrating that it’s not the same quality.
I’ve been using these from McMaster-Carr for my work and actually 3 other co-workers. $36.50
The brand on there is http://www.productsengineering.com/calipers/index.html
“Buy once, Cry once.” -Mitutoyo
I have calipers from Mitutoyo and older ones from Starrett – that do not’ fit into the inexpensive category. I also use a dial caliper that I paid something like $36 for (I think from either Rockler or Woodcraft – 17 years ago). It is a rebranded Sentora B-26 reads in fractions and has remained accurate.
I see what looks a bit like it for $40 – on the Rockler web site:
Mostly for convenience – when I’m out and about and need a caliper – I carry a Starrett 1025-6 vernier caliper in its little plastic pouch. I think I paid way under $100 for it back in the 1970’s – and was going to recommend it until I saw its current price tag:
I have had the harbor freight model for a few years now with no issue. I have yet to change the battery and find it to be consistent in its reading. It’s one of like 3 harbor freight tools in my shop.
I’ve done a lot of 3D printing work and never run across a single issue where the 6″ digital calipers from Harbor Freight weren’t precise enough. You must be working with a really nice 3D printer to be in a situation where those calipers are sloppier than the printer output.
I didn’t exactly say not precise enough?
I was looking for a decent priced set priced set that I could recommend in a post about 3D printing tools. Chances are anybody interested in the post is going to want to buy some of the tools I recommend and they are probably going to use them for more than just 3D printing.
Even with 3D printing, You want the inner and outer jaws to match and be parallel to within as high of a tolerance as you can find.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to try to set the jaws to a certain width and have the thumb wheel jerk around the jaw.
Maybe you’ve had better luck with cheap calipers, but I’ve seen some pretty lousy ones.
I suspect that many of us here have older cheap calipers. I haven’t noticed any of the problems you ask about with my cheap calipers (HF, Vinca), BUT my HF one is pretty old, and I’m not going to buy a new set just to see if the quality has dropped.
If the quality is variable, one approach would be to go to HF, and keep returning calipers until you find a good one – but I certainly wouldn’t recommend this.
Just as I would’t recommend spending >$100 calipers for 3D printing use, especially if it’s likely the user’s 3D printer only cost $300 or less.
I think Tony could be onto something, my HF calipers are older and feel pretty rugged, but newer versions might not be made as well.
Machinist here, owning 6 different calipers and working in a machine shop has given me a lot of hands on use with plenty of cheap calipers. That being said if you need to buy digitalI would have to go with the shars aventor. Personally I would go with a shars dial caliper because you dont need to worry about a battery or an auto off function.
I’ve been down this road multiple times over the past few years and always come back to iGaging for inexpensive calipers. Relative to Starrett and Mitutoyo, they’re accurate and precise for a fraction of the cost. Though they have a range of options for data output and waterproofing, the IP54 EZ Cal is good for general staff use without worrying about flushing money with the inevitable mistreatment that occurs (despite training). I actually have one on my desk right now, along with a t-bar attachment, and use it to measure stuff printed on the little Ender 3 sitting here too.
I second the igaging as well. I had one that I have used for several years now without any problem. I don’t have a nicer caliper to compare it to but the fit and finish is very good. They are more than good enough for my use. A nice feature is the mm to inches to fraction conversion.
This looks like what you want EAGems Digital Caliper, Rugged Stainless Steel IP54 Water Resistant Electronic Measuring Tool; Get Precision Fractional Measurements in SAE/Metric, 6 inch/150mm with these Large LCD Vernier Calipers
I don’t own these, but 700+ reviews and 4.7 rating, it’s hard to go wrong.
Oh forgot to mention these are $37 delivered and appear to meet all your requirements.
Great Q and A above. Thanks.
Though, for me at least, this entire thread reinforces the thought that the Starrett digital caliper mic my wife surprised me with a few years ago at Christmas was a swell thing. (Made in Japan as I recall. Mitutoyo sourced much?)
I’ve yet to change the batteries though I’ve tested them occasionally.
Hmmm. Maybe now I’ve got to get new batteries. Yep. Jeez.
There’s this non-metallic one from Wiha. I’ve not used it, but the reviews seem pretty positive.
$110 gets you Mitutoyo’s AOS 6″ calipers, so you don’t have to spend $150 on the solar / IP67 / etc ones to get a quality tool.
They tick every box except for price – but how many pairs of cheap digital calipers are you willing to go through before finding something that’s ‘acceptable’? The Mitutoyos are going to be exactly what you are looking for every time (so long as you buy a real one and not a knockoff from ebay).
I work as a machinist and I end up handling a lot of calipers. iGaging is probably the least worst of the cheaper caliper brands. All the red/blue/yellow button rebranded calipers have really taken a huge hit to quality, and they all seem to have the battery drain problem (makes sense, as its likely the same board inside every one). For very occasional use I’d certainly either take the batteries out or get a dial caliper.
I use Mitutoyo both at home and work. They are the smoothest and most consistent Viking Tools usually has a very good price. Having owned a couple of Harbor Freight ones they are OK, but are not smooth and are jumpy. The inside dimension measurement accuracy is good, but the outside is not (there is always a gap). The jaws can be tapered and you can get 1-1.5 mil difference between inside and the tips.
The next best thing I have tried to Mitutoyo is IGaging. They are budget friendly and smooth. See link here.
Go for a Mitutoyo, it will last you way longer than the cheapo ones, and it will be way more reliable.
However I will always use a vernier, it will never run out of battery, and once you’re trained enough the reading is almost as fast as the digital one.
My 530, although not the top of the range has never failed me in five years, and if I will take care, it will last way longer.
agreed, my digital mitutoyo calipers are from the 90s, cant beet that reliability.
So true dude
$30 to $50 calipers are gonna suck regardless who makes them. I’m a machinist and use mine everyday. Personally im not a fan of the mitutoyo calipers but their digital ones are good. I prefer Brown and Sharpe. Mitutoyo makes great micrometers.
I am definitely a shade tree user of measuring tools but I have had the Fowler 54-101-150-2 for several years and been impressed by it, especially considering the price.
I have several Mitutoyo, and several Chinese knock-offs. If you go Chinese, you better buy a bunch of LR44 batteries on eBay and keep them in the fridge. Yes, I still use the Chinese ones for “rough duty” but I am always replacing batteries. I think I have a dozen LR44 batteries in the fridge right now, and I’m not joking about that. On the other hand, all the Mitutoyos are still on the original batteries. I have a B&S analog also, but I treat it like a Ferrari – only comes out on sunny days.
That’s because they drain battery even when not in use, junk
I’m satisfied with my “Neiko 01407A Electronic Digital Caliper Stainless Steel Body with Large LCD Screen | 0 – 6 Inches | Inch/Fractions/Millimeter Conversion” … $17 on Amazon.
Cool Tools recently mentioned some plastic versions for about $6 and supposedly a $2 one from Harbor Freight that was better.
there is usually a 25 dollar spi caliper on sale at MSC. I would recommend them. I have bought about 80 pairs to put into maker and educational settings.
This is a top notch review of many of the lower end calipers:
Digital Caliper Round-Up (:6:) 1st Place: iGaging OriginCal Absolute Origin
Based on this review, I purchased the iGaging OriginCal in 2016 and they’ve been great ever since.
Never seen one that didn’t burn through batteries, much easier to just read calipers the old way, doesn’t take long to do. No batteries / no worry, even vernier type,
Did you ever consider a dial caliper? For most of my uses i prefer mine over my digital one. Easy to read and takes no batteries.
Our machinist prefers his dial calipers (Mitutoyo IIRC) but for a post aimed at 3D printing enthusiasts I’d say digital is a better recommendation
And I haven’t had problems with batteries dying quickly etc
I like the $30 husky ones from Home Depot.
nice box, great value
I have both iGaging and Mitutoyo. Mitutoyo feels really smooth and solid, but in terms of accuracy I can’t tell the difference.
I work on a university team that uses milling machines and lathes on a regular basis. We are constantly checking CNC and hand made parts made out of all materials. Our calipers get worked hard, long, and put away while still powered on. All these 20 dollar calipers are made in the same factory or with the same electronics. They work great the first time out of the box but they lose their zero point and their accuracy starts to fail if you move them too fast or if the battery gets somewhat low. We have a drawer full of these things and not one of them works well. Avoid cheap calipers.
We’ve invested our own personal money into Mitutoyo calipers, but there is one member that has an iGaging set. The calipers are not as wonderfully pleasant to use as their Japanese counterparts, but they are leagues ahead of a $20 pair.
There is a youtube channel that compares calipers, and he picks out this one as well for best value.
I personally own a set of Mitutoyo calipers and a garbage $20 pair. I would have purchased the iGaging myself, but I purchased the Mitutoyo set because I want to enjoy a tool I use so regularly.
For DIY level non-machining/mechanical non-critical use, I purchased the Tacklife digital one on Amazon for under $20.
I’m happy with my $25 digital calipers from Summit Racing. Most likely a rebrand of a more common supplier but they have all the features I need and are fairly accurate. I haven’t had any issues with dead batteries or mis-measurements after several years of use.
VInca’s are good, think I only paid 16 bucks at the time, only issue I ever had is it will turn on when it bumps around in it’s case.