Caliper recommendations?


June 11, 2013, 09:47 PM
I made a potentially gruesome discovery tonight. Loading 9mm at a COL of 1.067" on the progressive I was checking periodically as good practice goes and coming up with acceptable deviation using bulk bulkets once I got the seater set where I wanted it. I had a few long ones on the bench from when I was getting it set so when I was finishing up I ran them through to "fix" them. I got down to the last one and cycled it without a case going into the sizer die...figured it would be close and didnt mind gambling on having to toss one 9mm plinker. I hit it with my very reasonably priced digital calipers and it measured 1.019"!!! I figured it would be a touch shorter but not .048 shorter!! Then i stared at the digital display while rolling the claiper slowly in and out and noticed it incremented from 1.019 to 1.062!! I checked the round on an even cheaper set of plastic calipers and it was actually 1.055" still unsafe no doubt but those digitals skipped right through that range!! I doublechecked the small lot I loaded and found them to be over minimum according to the cheapo plastic calipers but I'm not real damn thrilled about shooting them all until I check them on an instrument I feel like Ican have some faith in.

Moral of the story is don't invest in blue calipers in the $25 range. What"s a good digital caliper and how much should I plan on investing to get something I can trust?



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June 11, 2013, 10:10 PM
Had the exact same problem with a Frandford Arsenel set of calipers. Very unnerving and potentially dangerous. I emailed FA and they sent me a replacement set asap, but I left them in the package and have not opened. I checked it again after I received the new set and the old one was working properly, but I can hardly ever trust it again. I switched to a dial caliper and haven't looked back. I have the hard measurements on the scale that can never change and I dont have to worry about battery life. As for the brand, and I'm sure this will cause some comments, but i paid twenty bucks for a harbor freight dial scale and am satisfied. As always YMMV.


Hondo 60
June 11, 2013, 10:16 PM
A good one, like Starrett is about $125.

I've been using the same $12 one for about 4 years.
Changed the battery 3? times.

Guess I got lucky

June 11, 2013, 10:22 PM
Go to harbor freight and get a $20 set of dial calipers. No battery, just two things to read...the dial and the shaft. Anyone can learn it in minutes and zeroing os next to instantaneous.

June 11, 2013, 10:55 PM
Exactly why I never considered digital calipers. I'm thinking I spent $20 or less on Midway's stainless steel dial caliper years ago and never looked back. They may market them under the 'Frankford Arsenal' name now, but you can always trust a steel dial caliper, as well as micrometers. (as for micrometer's, I guess vernier is what I mean as opposed to digital)

June 11, 2013, 11:03 PM
I got a decent digital caliper at Home Depot and they work great. Haven't had any complaints with them yet. Been using them about a year and a half now.

American Finn
June 11, 2013, 11:04 PM
I agree with Hondo. Starrett are the best measuring tools available on the market. When working with tolerances that are so tight and critical, you want the best. The $125 is well worth the money, and I recommend you get yourself a dial need to worry about batteries. :)

June 11, 2013, 11:09 PM
jrowland77: I guess unless I constantly tested them against any number of 'known' constant and fixed pre-measured items, it's kind of hard to really KNOW that what I was reading wasn't some kind of electronic anomaly. Rack & pinion dials, to me, are just more trustworthy.

June 11, 2013, 11:10 PM
These sre made by Fankford Arsenal. The display is flashing which I imagine indicates they need a battery. Do they start acting haywire like this when the battery is weak?

The cheapo plastics I mentioned are dial calipers. Are the Starrets you mention for $125 digital Hondo?

American Finn
June 11, 2013, 11:15 PM
Starrett has a 6 inch dial caliper listed for $98 on their website:

Here's a link to a digital one listed at $147:

Hope this helps.

June 12, 2013, 02:47 AM
These sre made by Fankford Arsenal. The display is flashing which I imagine indicates they need a battery. Do they start acting haywire like this when the battery is weak?

Yes, needs a new battery.

June 12, 2013, 03:00 AM
Go to harbor freight and get a $20 set of dial calipers. No battery, just two things to read...the dial and the shaft. Anyone can learn it in minutes and zeroing os next to instantaneous.
X2.....A decent set of dials will last a lifetime.

June 12, 2013, 04:13 AM
I'll disagree with Starrett being the best around, but they're certainly among the best.

I like my Brown & Sharpe 6" dial calipers, about $140 and rock solid, also have lots of Starrett and Mitutoyo measuring tools. At home I have Mitutoyo 6", I don't like the ratchet mechanism as much, which is how they became my home calipers, but they're the same quality and about $100 from Enco. I spend a lot on my measuring tools, but they'll last forever, I have some old Starrett and B&S stuff from the 20s and 30s that get the job done just fine.

I use Fowler on my waterjet since they get destroyed no matter what, for $45, they're really pretty decent, and would definitely be my low budget recommendation.

Whatever you get, get a dial, they're 100% mechanical, never need batteries and will be much more reliable.

June 12, 2013, 04:14 AM
All the inexpensive digitals(HF-FA etc, etc) are from the same place, same factory most likely. They are fine.
We are not even remotely measuring something as precise as fine machining work where you need machinist quality gauges.
I have an inexpensive Fowler dial to double check my digitals, they are spot on.
My old eyes prefer the big read out and speed of the digitals.

June 12, 2013, 07:22 AM
My B&S dial caliper slides like butter, my Mitutoyo is nice and it is with my hobby lathe in the shed, but my cheapo HF digital just keeps on working fine. It will act up if the battery is low. Store it outside the box to keep the box lid from turning it on. For precise measurements I use a Mitutoyo or B&S micrometer.

You will never regret, in the long run, buying quality measuring tools, but the HF digital caliper works very well and handles most reloading requirements just fine. If you buy it on sale and it craps out, you really haven't lost much.

Don't cheap out on a micrometer.

June 12, 2013, 07:29 AM
I switched from digital to dial and couldn't be happier. I use the steel RCBS dial calipers.

June 12, 2013, 09:06 AM
I have several Frankfort Arsenal calipers as well as several machine digital read outs that use a similar slider system and all work fine and read consistently.

I remove the batteries from the calipers when in storage as I find the battery life is short, but that may be the caliper is getting turned on in the box. I have never have really investigated it.

When I was working for the man, I had a Starret digital micrometer that was hard on batteries. We would use the micrometer once every few weeks and if we left the battery in the caliper, they would be dead at the next use. I doubt the wooden case stored in my desk drawer would have turned on the micrometer when not in use.

On the other hand, the battery powered digital read outs on my machine tools are easy on batteries even if I forget to turn them off. Go figure.

I do have an old set of Starret dial calipers that I use in the shop a lot and a Mitutoya solar calipers that I use regularly in the reloading room. Neither require battery replacement and are great for quick measurements.

I use the Frankfort calipers when i am doing frequent measurements or where I attach a measuring aid to the caliper such as a Sinclair Bump gauge.

June 12, 2013, 10:30 AM
I like my 6" and 8" Mitutoyo 500 series digital calipers. They're smooth as glass and have been 100% repeatable. They don't have auto-off and auto-on like my old cheap calipers did, but they don't eat batteries like popcorn, either. I don't turn them off (too lazy and forgetful), so they have been on 24/7 for 15 months and 10 months, respectively. I had to change the battery once on the 6" and not yet on the 8". And I probably just jinxed them. :cuss:

June 12, 2013, 10:33 AM
The Starrett 1202 global series calipers are imported (chinese). The good USA built Starrett is the 120 series - they run closer to $200 and more.

The Mitutoyo Calipers at about $120 are pretty highly thought of.

The roughly equivalent B&S dial calipers run about $158 through MSC

June 12, 2013, 10:56 AM
Is there a vendor that carries starret, B&S, Mitutoyo that I could go to to pick then up instead of mail ordering? Grainger, Ace, Home Depot, Lowes...etc.? I'd like to get them in my hands right away if I could. I live around Baltimore/Annapolis, MD.

June 12, 2013, 11:19 AM
I have been using the FA digital for years. Even bought a extra one on sale as I thought this one would die but it hasn't yet. Without some sort of precise calibration test how can you determine 1/1000th. Guess all my ammo is wrong:D

Not to say I do not agree with using the best tools if possible. My dear old Dad sure beat that into me.:)

June 12, 2013, 11:27 AM
My cousin got a patent on the Mitutoyo coolant proof calipers, so I got some digital calipers. Those are not as good for reloading as dial calipers. They are great for my amateurish gunsmithing.

Just about any $20 dial calipers are good enough for reloading. I have lots and lots of dial calipers. The expensive brands are nicer, but not needed.

Making measurements with calipers is like target shooting. It takes practice and good equipment to get accuracy and precision.
I like to use pin gauges as a reference.
Measure the same object 10 times.
The variation is the precision.
Measure a pin gauge.
The difference between your measurement and what is marked on the pin gauge is your accuracy.

Using dial calipers and beating your machinist buddies with their micrometers will take lots of practice.

Practice measuring with calipers and strive to improve both your precision and accuracy.

June 12, 2013, 12:15 PM
I ordered a mitutoyo dial caliper from MSC direct. Selected 2 day shipping. It was on my porch the next day - shipping was something like $8. After all the money I've spent on shipping reloading equipment it was a pleasant surprise. They carry the Starrett, B$S, Mitutoyo and several other brands.

MSC has a Baltimore location:

Baltimore, MD
1550 Caton Center Drive
Suite F - G
Baltimore, MD 21227
Local: (410) 644-1313
Fax: (410) 368-3888
Map and Directions

June 12, 2013, 03:44 PM
I had issues with the cheap digital calipers dropping zero. I took a chance on digital calipers from Home Depot, as previously mentioned. The brand is General and the model is I believe Ultra Tech and cost around 35 or 40 bucks. These are very nice and I have had no trouble trusting it's consistency. I've been using it for maybe three years now.

June 12, 2013, 05:16 PM
The good ones have been mentioned above. I have my father's OLD vernier calipers (never use them - what a PAIN!), a dial caliper and a digital caliper.

The only one I trust is the dial caliper. It has a mechanical linkage between the needle and the caliper... I trust that a lot more than the digital things that have to "see" the scale to read it, as it moves I think. Anyway, I prefer mechanical over magic.

I'm an old guy, but my hand loads are trustworthy. :)

June 12, 2013, 06:04 PM
I personally prefer a dial caliper. There has already been several posts concerning the top of the line ones. I've found the one made by RCBS also does a nice job and is moderately priced.

June 12, 2013, 06:41 PM
Before you trash the calipers:
Have they been reading consistently in the past?
Have you tried changing the battery?

Even pricier calipers can get squirrley when the battery is on the way out.

June 12, 2013, 08:27 PM
As already said, Starrett pretty much sets the standard. However, there are plenty of other brands which are perfectly acceptable for use, even the lower priced ones.

Personally, I detest plastic slides. Don't like the idea of it in a caliper. I don't care whether it's digital or analog, so long as it's accurate AND repeatable.

You can test accuracy and repeatability using a set of feeler gages. I suppose if you wished, you could also invest in a set of calibration rods or discs. Actually, you don't need a set...just one that's close to the range you would use, such as a one inch one for handgun ammo. You can google this and find places to buy them from. Expect to pay about 50 bones or so for one this size.

I have an OEM digital slide caliper I picked up at an auto parts store for about $25 or so, if I remember correctly. It's accurate and repeatable.

Another thing to look for is ruler markings on the slide. Mine has them in both metric and English and the difference between 1.062 and 1.019 is quite visibly noticable. Just another "attention to detail" feature you can use to easily double check for gross errors.

It should go without saying that calipers, being a fairly delicate precision instrument, should be cared for accordingly. Get one with it's own case and be sure to store it in the case when not in use. Change the batteries periodically, remove them when not used long term, make sure they're kept clean and dry, make sure they operate smoothly, and check their calibration periodically against feeler gages or calibration rods. And don't drop them.

Even so, like any such precision tool, sometimes you need to replace them for whatever reason. Your calibration checks will tell you when this is necessary.


June 12, 2013, 11:26 PM
I use a Mitutoyo dial caliper that I bought in 1967 when I was a machinist. I now use it in reloading and it still works great and is accurate. I probably paid $30 for it then. I think they start at about $90 now.

June 13, 2013, 10:22 AM
I have NO doubt that the pricier measuring instruments can provide accuracy to within a 1/2 gnats eyelash and for those folks who feel the need for that level of accuracy in their home-made ammo? I say Go for it!

Me? I have a $10 digital set from Harbor Freight, I keep it in fresh batteries I get on flea-bay from battmanaz for literally pennies apiece shipped and it is more than 'accurate enough' for my needs.

To test my hypothesis that this ain't rocket surgery or NASA level work when I first got the thing I measured the OAL of a large sample of .45ACP WWB ammo. As you might expect the variance in that Factory Fresh ammo was far beyond that 1/2 gnat's eyelash level accuracy capability of high priced measuring gear.

Caveat? I make mid-range ammo in 4 calibers all using the same powder Win 231/HP-38 and only plated or FMJ bullets due to local range rules against bare lead reloads.

June 13, 2013, 01:33 PM
I used to use a 6" digital many years ago, but it always ate batteries at an unacceptable rate. They were the cheap ones from Harbor Freight, but they were accurate when working. I used a much pricier one at work, and it ate batteries, too.

I bought an inexpensive (Harbor Freight) dial caliper about two years ago, and haven't looked back. It's accurate, repeatable, and always returns to zero. I have yet to replace a battery in it (wink).

Spend $100+ on a nice one if it makes you feel better. But, you should know that it really isn't necessary.

June 13, 2013, 02:11 PM
I have an 30+ year old set of Strerrett #120 dial calipers. Bought the cheap set from HF when they were on sale for $9.99. When I put them on my cal blocks I discovered that the old Sterret's were wore out of calibration. I was off anywhere from 0.001 - 0.002" just depending where you are on the scale. If I got above a certain range they were on again. I checked the HF set they were right on with the cal blocks (1" increments) but when I took a pin set to check in between marks. They were off too. Just because they check out with the std Cal blocks does not mean they are precise through out the full range. I bought a set of Mitutoyo Absolute Digital and these are dead on through out the full range.

So if your doing something that requires a precision measurement the cheap ones or a old worn out set may not be the best choice. With most reloading, OAL a few thousandths will not matter. But if your trying to measure bullet sizes it might not be accurate. Choose wisely. You will never go wrong buying high quality tools, they will last a lot longer.

dagger dog
June 13, 2013, 02:15 PM
I could never get the batteries to last in my HF digital so I traded them and yes they act screwy with weak batteries.

I f you have young good eyes a quality vernier caliper can be had for $50.00, if you have older eyes a dial caliper is the way to go, you can go from $ 14.95 HF to $465.00 for a Starret.

If you have eyes like mine you need a braille caliper :D

The dial calipers available from RCBS, Redding, and other reloading equipment manufacturers are probably made off shore.

I've tested my $14.95 Harbor Freight POS Chi-Com dial against my Mititoyo metric dial, and Starret analog digital mike, and can't find a problem.

For the younger members, there was a time when Made in Japan was a derogatory label only found on the cheapest POS junk made. Funny how 60 years can change technology.

Of course there is some maintenance required on all measuring instruments regular cleaning and lubrication along with accuracy zeroing and proper storing.

June 13, 2013, 02:21 PM
I used a Mitutoyo for 30 years until I lost the reset tool
Last 10 years I use Harbor Freight $9.95 digital caliper--works good--I changed battery about 2/3 times.

Hondo 60
June 14, 2013, 01:14 AM
Are the Starrets you mention for $125 digital Hondo?

Yes, digital

and I saw a post above about a flashing display...
Yes, when it flashes that means the battery needs to be replaced.
And yes, a weak battery will cause wild fluctuations in accuracy.

June 14, 2013, 06:59 AM
Everytime I think I have enough stuff, a damn thread like this comes along.

I had a bad feeling about my digital calipers, then I read this.


Are these dial, stainless from RCBS good/worth it.

June 14, 2013, 07:35 AM
"The good USA built Starrett is the 120 series - they run closer to $200 and more."

Well call me clueless, old and out of touch. About 25 years ago a buddy gave me a new 6" Starrett 120A - red dial marked American Made. Dang.

June 14, 2013, 08:53 AM
I use el-cheapo digital calipers. I have several and check them against each other and if I am not yet confused I check them against my good ol' dial calipers. Been doing it this way for many years and still have both my eyes, all my fingers and both thumbs.

June 14, 2013, 10:26 AM
About 30 years ago I purchased a Lyman dial calipers, for less than $40.
It has never failed me, and I trust it as close enough.
A quick check online at midway shows Lyman still offers one, and it's still reasonably priced.

June 22, 2013, 06:35 PM
I've used my Mitutoyo dial calipers for years, stepped up to the current production digital ones because I like switching units, setting a zero where ever I want.

I do hobby machining at home, real machining and machining center repair at work. My tastes are likely a bit more refined.

Even a plastic dial caliper is fine for case length. Measuring bullet diameter, you need a micrometer.

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