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A Comprehensive Guide of Calipers: Part 3 of Series

Updated: May 17, 2020

Should I Get Dial or Digital Calipers?

"Dial calipers use a mechanical system consisting of a rack and pinion, there's a gear-set inside as well that moves the dial in increments of one thousandth of an inch (or hundredth of a mm). To read, the 'most significant' value is read from the rule and the fractional value from the dial. The nice thing about dial calipers is that they don't use batteries and although are not waterproof, work well even if damp.

There are some downsides: if they are dropped, the rack and pinion can get out of alignment (especially on cheaper calipers) and it can be difficult to recalibrate. They're a little tougher to read and often are either imperial or metric (but not both)" (

"Digital calipers don't have any rack/pinion/gear system. This makes them more shock-proof which we like (since we're a little clumsy and have dropped the calipers a few times).

Digital calipers can also easily convert from inches to mm and back which we really like since a lot of electronics is mixed-units" (

"So how does a digital caliper work without gears? it turns out that underneath the plastic 'ruler' overlay is an engraved copper design. The slide part has a circuit board with thin strips that look like a 'comb'. The comb and copper pads form a grid of capacitors, two conductive plates separated by the dielectric plastic overlay. As the comb slides over the copper pattern, the capacitance between the plates changes. If the patterns are engraved precisely, even very small changes in capacitance can be detected by an analog interface (such as an RC timer or oscillator)" (


"Digital calipers do require a battery (there are solar ones as well, with an internal backup battery) but good calipers rarely need to have the battery replaced. The pair we have is used many times a day and often isn't even turned off for a few days but has been running without issue for over 5 years. We do suggest turning them off when not in use but many people don't even bother since the battery drain is so low.

To replace the battery, just snap of the top cover, the battery is LR44/SR44 size 1.5V button battery, available in any hardware or grocery store. The Silver Oxide SR44 costs more, but will last longer"(

If you want to find out more, checkout where I acquired the information above about calipers.


These calipers are simply every reloaders favorite and has proved itself time over time. The unit is stainless steel and comes in a plastic hard case. Accuracy is up to 0.001" and the measuring range is 0-200mm, 0-8." Resolution is set at 0.0005", 0.01mm.

With an LCD display, this caliper also offers graduations marked on the beam itself for quick manual checking. As mentioned previously, since this is a digital caliper it does not use a rack and pinion. It has an automatic on/off feature to reduce battery life and has a IP54 rating. This means that it has an acceptable amount of resistance against dust and water. At just 0.16 oz, this caliper is a workhorse.

If you plan on using these for 50 BMG, they also offer a longer unit to be purchased by request.

As described, the "deluxe features in a moderately priced, precision caliper. Easy-to-see, LCD digital readout takes the guesswork out of measuring. Gives inside, outside and depth functions. Manual on/off switch. Push button zero allows pre-selection of a zero dimension and plus or minus comparison for sorting of parts based on variation. Single toggle button and dual beam graduations give instant inch and millimeter conver-sions. Reads to 6"/150mm with .0005"/.01mm resolution and .001"/0.1mm accuracy" (

Lyman has all the same similar features as the Mitutoyo for about a fraction of the cost. Is it as accurate? I'd say no. Does it get the job done and keep you safe? yes. These are just as accurate as you would ever need them to be. With some of the cheaper calipers from Harbor freight, you will constantly run into problems where you'll get different readings for the same object you are measuring. If it's not USA, German, or Brazilian made, I tend to stay away from the caliper.

As described, " the 6" electronic calipers are lightweight, ergonomic, smooth and simple to operate. You can shift from inches to millimeters on the fly, shut off automatically after 5 minutes of non use but retain the last measurement taken. It is perfect for reloading because they are very easy to use and read. It has a long battery life, accuracy up to .0005", and comes in a very nice hard red plastic case" (

Thought as one of the competitors to Mitutoyo, these specific calipers are a straight disappointment. It seems the manufacturer had recently started to third party produce these fine calipers overseas to China and got that exact quality back while keeping a high price. I will say BUY THE OLD VERSIONS. The brand itself and products before they started going overseas with production are absolutely rock solid. Hopefully, they will get their things in order and bring production back to the US.

Here's some other Starrett calipers made in the USA I'd look at:

Here's a snippet from a few reviews of customers expressing their anger.

"Like other users, I bought this set of calipers because I wanted a high quality American made tool that I could trust. All of the old timers where I worked immediately said "Starrett is the way to go, don't waste your time with that cheap Chinese crap," so I bought the Starrett 799A because I love my country. Unfortunately I didn't not end up with a high quality American made tool and I definitely cannot trust it.

The main problem I have with these calipers is that I cannot trust them. I popped in the battery and immediately noticed the buttons did not function as labeled. To change the unit, the mm/in button had to be held down and the on/off button pushed. To zero the calipers, tapping the on/off button worked. To turn it on and off, holding the on/off button worked. Maybe I don't understand how buttons are supposed to work, but I can work around my own lack of understanding that things are supposed to do what they say.

Next issue is when I went to measure something, the main function of calipers. I take the measurement, reading about half of what I would estimate. That is a little bit weird. I open the calipers up a little more to the 1 inch mark on the slide. The reading is 0.500". I switch to metric to see if the definition of 20 mm has also changed. It reads 10 mm. Last time I checked the world didn't shrink 50% and I don't remember getting a memo saying the definition of a mm or inch had changed yet again. Weird, so I just need to multiply everything by 2 now.

So in preparing to put it all back to return, I popped the battery back out and then put it back in. Somehow, buttons worked as they were supposed to. Did I have a temporary lapse in sanity? Then one inch returned to being one inch. 10 mm was once again 10 mm. Or pretty damn close.

Unfortunately after this episode, there is no way I can ever trust this tool to be right. What if the error is no longer 1/2, but 1/16? 1/32? 1/64? 1/128? 1/1024? I'll never know. The plus side is I finally figured out why all the parts I receive from China are the wrong size. It's because their calipers are junk. Buy Mitutoyo instead. Those are made in Brazil now."

I know, this is just one customers review and he could not be knowledgeable enough about the unit. Instead, here's the link. You be the judge:

Here's some features: " the digital calipers offer 4 measuring capabilities: outside dimensions, such as diameters, measured with the large jaws, inside dimensions measured with the smaller jaws, depth measurements with the extending rod, and step measurements taken from the back end of the jaws. Smooth movement of caliper with very accurate measurement along the entire travel. Large LCD Numerals for easy reading in 5 Digit display with resolution of .0005"/0.01mm. Measurement data can be output through SPC interface port to computer. 3 function button: On/Off, Zero reset, Inch/mm conversion. 1 SPC output port. Firm and crisp response feel on all 3 push buttons, unlike the soft feel from many other import digital calipers. Zero point can be set anywhere along the full travel for comparing measurement. Features auto turn-off if sit idle to save battery power; when turn on the caliper at the same measurement coordinate (without changing the travel of the caliper) it will remember the numeric value of this coordinates before it auto turn-off. Hardened stainless steel body to give solid feel from your first touch and graduation on the caliper scale surface is easy to ready and prevent glare hardened, ground and lapped measuring faces, Includes: Lithium Battery (3V CR2032), Caliper manual, Fitted in plastic case

My initial thoughts is the feel of the actual caliper is rock solid and works great. However, many have reported the exact opposite. Some individuals report that the wheel literally fell off when using and others report that they have been using it for 5 years without any problems.

Just like most digital calipers in this range, if the individual drops this caliper a number of times you will without a doubt have a problem down the road with readings. One of the most common is that the battery cover will begin to come lose and upon measuring, it will reset halfway through your reading and re-zero.

Is this caliper even worth the buy? Of-course it is. The company makes rock solid products and this could have been a problem in the past that has been fixed. I recently got one and I have nothing but good things to say. Time will tell if it still holds up.

Specs: "New designed dial movement for ultra smooth sliding and high shock protection. Titanium Nitride (TiN) coating is applied to the sliding surface to increase wear resistance. Can measure OD, ID, depth, and steps. Lock screw for dial bezel and for holding the sliding jaw position. Accuracy .001 inch. Supplied in fitted plastic case" (

the brand name speaks for itself. at a fraction of the cost of the digital version, this is our top pick for a set of calipers. No wiggle in these what so ever, which can be a problem with most dial calipers getting caught up while measuring. While this is not a deal breaker, it is something very nice to not have to deal with when measuring your hand-loads.

Specs: "Instant reading. Very easy to use. Hardened stainless steel body for prolonged tool life. Switches from inches to millimeters with the touch of a button. Range of 0-6"/0-150mm. Accuracy +/- 0.001"/0.02mm. Resolution: 0.0005"/0.01mm. Large, easy to read numbers, reduces error-no guessing. Adjusts to zero at any position. Measures internal, external, depth and step dimensions. Jaw depth measures 1-1/2" outside, 5/8" inside. Lock holds slide in position for measuring constants. Battery included. Low battery indicator. Fitted plastic storage case. Imported" (

One of the cooler features I like about this caliper is that it actual has a battery indicator telling you if it needs to be replaced. Comes with an extra battery and plastic hard case. This is another great contender to a lot of digital calipers. The price is great and this will do everything you will need it too. Now, it's not the best on the market, but it will get you through the gate with accuracy and is something you can rely on.

Standard caliper and specs, the Hornady Dial Caliper is a great investment to have on your bench. I have had this for a long time now and is super reliable. The build and quality that went into this is superb. Goes back to zero every-time. easy to read. No brainier, this set of calipers is great.

Specs: "ACCURACY: Accurate to within .001” when measuring case length, neck and base diameters, overall length and primer pocket depth with 0-6” measurement range and an SAE to Metric conversion. VERSATILITY: Use for measurements on and off the reloading bench. DURABLE: Constructed of hardened steel. CONVENIENT: LCD display allows for a quick and easy measurement and reading. INCLUDES: Calipers and a heavy-duty protective case" (

The first thing I'd note that the case is not heavy-duty by any means. The caliper however is fine, and will get things you need done. Do not drop it because it will throw everything off. It happened with mine as well. The battery cover overtime begins to wear from changing it in and out and starts to loose its "force" onto the battery which constantly turns on and off then. However, for $21 you can get by with these for a few years. It's a great intro caliper. However, defiantly not machine shop grade quality.

At a surprisingly cheap price, these calipers are pretty good.

Specs: "ACCURACY: Accurate to within .001” when measuring case length, neck and base diameters, overall length and primer pocket depth with 0-6” measurement range and an SAE to Metric conversion. VERSATILITY: Use for measurements on and off the reloading bench. DURABLE: Constructed of hardened steel. CONVENIENT: LCD display allows for a quick and easy measurement and reading. INCLUDES: Calipers and a heavy-duty protective case" (

These dial calipers work great. With very minimum wobble from use overtime, they defiantly get the job done. Most of all, you won't experience wobble in most caliper units if you take very good care of them. Sometimes you get the bad one and it comes out like that right out of the box, but sometimes that just happens with any product. Return it if so, they will take care of you. I highly recommend these over the digital version for anyone.

Specs: "Hardened stainless steel construction. Matte, non-glare finish. Range 0-6"0.100" direct reading per revolution. 0.001" graduations. Accurate to +/- 0.001" Four-way measurement capability: inside, outside, depth and step. Shockproof movement for accurate measurements. Clear glass lens protects dial from dust and scratches. Slide may be locked in any position with thumb lock. Dial easily zeroed. Lock screw holds dial in position for precise measurements. Thumb wheel makes for easy opening and closing of the caliper. Fitted hard plastic storage case. Imported.

I've used these calipers for over 4 years now and they are great. I've dropped them about 9-10 times at-least and it still performs great. Their is very little wobble from dropping it so many times but is fully functional just like pretty much any caliper that has minor wobble. This would be a great alternative to our top pick.

As always, stay safe, shoot straight, and happy reloading!


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In my opinion, you should, because this is a very important factor that will determine the quality of your performance and the reliability with which you will do your job. When I was in the army, we were immediately told to use them, because there were cases of accidents with soldiers. I also remember how the army tank vector changed during training when one of the soldiers accidentally pointed a grenade launcher in the direction of this machine, and then a terrible punishment was applied to this soldier. So I'd rather use this accessory right away.

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