7 Best Micrometers For Any Budget

Micrometers are amazingly accurate measuring tools. 

But for anyone just starting out it can be hard to know which ones are good and which ones are bad.

This has only gotten trickier in recent years as some of the once great manufacturers have moved their production to China and various other countries known for lesser quality. On top of that some of the Chinese manufacturers have really upped their game and are producing quality tools.

We’ll break it down for you and let you know which micrometers are best with some tips on what to avoid.

One last tip if you are very new to micrometers.

Think about what you plan to measure. What are the sizes involved? Most of the time people don’t need huge sets of micrometers.

My advice for someone new would be to get the best set of 0-1” micrometers that they can afford. This is the tool that will get the most use.

A good starting point is a quality 0-1” mic from a company like Starrett or Mitutoyo. After that look into a cheaper set of 0-6” micrometers from one of the better Chinese manufacturers.

Now let’s break down our picks for the best micrometers.

Name

Awards

Analog/Digital

Where to Buy

Mitutoyo QuantuMike 293-180-30

Best Overall Micrometer

Digital

Mitutoyo 293-340-30 Digital Micrometer

Best Digital Micrometer

Digital

Anytime Tools 0-1" Micrometer

Best Budget Micrometer

Analog

Starrett ST436.1 0-1" Micrometer

Best Standard Micrometer

Analog

Mitutoyo 329-350-30 Depth Micrometer

Best Digital Depth Micrometer

Digital

Starrett 440Z-6L Depth Micrometer

Best Standard Depth Micrometer

Analog

Fowler 52-225-116-0 Depth Micrometer

Best Budget Depth Micrometer

Analog

Best overall micrometer

Mitutoyo 293-180-30 QuantuMike

The best overall micrometer is easily the QuantuMike by Mitutoyo.

Mitutoyo has long been one of the very best micrometer manufacturers. They make top of the line tools across the board. Standard micrometers, digital mics, depth mics. You name it and they are leading the pack.

Every micrometer on our best of list is incredibly accurate but the digital micrometers from Mitutoyo, including this one, are on another level. With accuracy of .00005” or .001mm, Mitutoyo’s digital micrometers measure tolerances 2x tighter than most standard micrometers.

For reference, the human hair is about .003”. Take a strand of your hair and split it into 60 pieces and that is how accurate these micrometers are.

Besides the accuracy, the other standout feature of the QuantuMike is the speed. Anyone who has used a micrometer knows they aren’t quick to open or close.

The QuantuMike is unlike any other micrometer on the market and opens and closes four times faster. Each turn of the thimble moves the tool .100” instead of the normal .025”. No arm rolling needed.

Combining speed and accuracy is not a feat easily accomplished but Mitutoyo’s QuantuMike has done just that and more.

For a more in depth look at what makes the QuantuMike so special, see our full review.

Best digital micrometer

Mitutoyo 293-340-30 Digital Micrometer

I am a huge fan of Mitutoyo’s digital micrometer line. Across the board they are quality all around.

Rather than gush over the quality of these things for paragraphs on end. I am just going to include a bulleted list of what makes them so good:

  • Extremely accurate
  • Quick to use and take measurements
  • Battery life is long
  • IP65 rating means they are protected from dust and splashing water
  • Great build
  • Excellent durability

Unlike standard analog micrometers, the cheap ones are not as close in quality to the budget tools. A budget digital micrometer is going to be a significant step down. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means that the gap is bigger.

If the price is too high, I would recommend going with a standard analog micrometer instead. If you must get digital, then go with one from one of the bigger budget brands such as iGaging.

If you are still on the fence, re-read the bulleted list and contemplate whether its better to “buy once, cry once” or not.

Best budget micrometer

Anytime Tools 0-1″ Micrometer

There was a time where Chinese made knockoff micrometers were bad. I mean real bad. This isn’t the norm anymore though.

Many manufacturers such as Anytime Tools have made a name for themselves by providing quality measuring instruments at a fraction of the price of higher end tools.

For instance, a 0-6” set of micrometers can be had for about the same price as a single 0-1” Starrett micrometer. That’s a pretty huge price variation.

And quality wise there just isn’t a big difference between the cheaper tools and the more expensive ones anymore. At least when it comes to the best of the budget tools. If the pricier tools from companies like Starrett or Mitutoyo are 5% better, honestly most won’t notice the difference.

One note about budget priced micrometers, don’t go buy some random mic made in China and expect it to have the same quality. The good brands that are cheaper are usually American companies that are purchasing the tools from Chinese manufacturers. They have performed the quality control to ensure you get a good product.

If you want a quality tool that is accurate and built to last but your budget doesn’t allow for the best from Starrett or Mitutoyo check out Anytime Tools.

Best standard micrometer

Starrett T436.1 0-1″ Micrometer.

For standard analog micrometers, Starrett has put out a line of excellent measuring tools for a very long time. Founded in 1880, they were one of the creators of the modern micrometer and it shows.

Having never used a micrometer from the 1800s, I can not attest to their quality from 100 years ago. What I do know is that anything made on this side of the 1950s has been excellent. In machine shops all over the world, Starrett micrometers bought decades ago are still in use.

They are built to last. Often the only tell-tale sign of their age is a slight polishing of the frame or thimble from heavy use.

The quality does come at a price though. If you won’t be using this tool all day every day or for an extremely critical measurement, it might be best to think about our best budget micrometer below. If you are going to put this tool to use constantly, you would be hard pressed to find a better tool.

Best depth micrometer

Depth micrometers are another monster. Certainly more difficult to manufacture, as a result they are quite a bit higher in price.

Because they are so expensive, I am going list a few different options.

As a side note, when it comes to depth mics think about looking for used options. Many people take excellent care of their tools and you can save a pretty penny by picking up a second hand set. My only recommendation would be to find a way to verify them before buying. Bringing a set of gage blocks along could save you quite a bit of headache in the future.

Best digital depth micrometer

Mitutoyo 329-350-30 Digital Depth Micrometer

Just like their outside micrometers, the digital depth mics from Mitutoyo are excellent.

They are easy to use and easy to read. Most importantly, they are extremely accurate. Unlike normal micrometers, depth mics are one tool that the Chinese knock offs have really struggled to replicate. Many times cheaper depth mics are not accurate. The quality simply isn’t there.

This is not the case with Mitutoyo depth mics.

Mitutoyo depth mics, like their other digital micrometers, are in a league of their own. Unfortunately, their cost reflects this.

These depth mics are the best of the best but I only recommend them if you plan to put them to heavy use. If not, look into one of the non-digital options below to save more than a few bucks.

Best standard depth micrometer

Starrett 440Z-6L 0-6″ Depth Micrometer

Both Starrett and Mitutoyo make great depth micrometers of the non-digital variety. Both companies make depth mics that are strikingly similar to their standard outside micrometers.

Really the differences are minor. Both are highly accurate. The ratchet on the Starrett is a little better. Additionally, the base is slightly smaller which I prefer.

The Mitutoyo depth micrometers have two types of bases. One that is larger such as what is seen on the digital version above. The other type is smaller. This makes it slightly more tipsy. The base of the Starrett depth mic feels like it is just right, smack in the middle.

It really is only small differences that give the Starrett depth micrometer the edge. You can’t go wrong with either, especially if you can find a good deal on it somewhere or pick one up used for a good price.

Best budget depth micrometer

Fowler 52-225-116-0 0-6″ Depth Micrometer

I’m sure you have noticed that the prices are pretty high on all of the listed depth mics so far.

This is because the quality and accuracy don’t come cheap with depth micrometers. This depth mic from Fowler is the about the closest thing you will find to cheap and accurate.

I don’t know about all of their tools but many of Fowler’s gauges seem to be made in China. Nothing wrong with that in particular as seen with some of our other mic recommendations. Unfortunately, Chinese made depth mics are not something that they have perfected.

I have used Fowler depth mics that are every bit as accurate as Starrett or Mitutoyo, I just wouldn’t count on every single one coming off the line that good.

The nice thing about many online retailers is that they have good return policies. So if you absolutely need a depth mic and need it as cheap as possible then order away. Just make sure you check it for accuracy when you get it and send it packing if it isn’t up to snuff.

Things to consider when buying a micrometer

Accuracy

Know your tolerances

A common mistake the newbies make is thinking they need a micrometer when a caliper will do the job just fine.

igaging digital caliper with case

If your tolerances are +/- .001” or more then you can likely get by with a dial or digital caliper. These can be had for prices well below the cost of a good micrometer.

Another benefit is that they are much more versatile and have larger measuring ranges.

For more info check out our Micrometers vs Calipers post to see what makes these tools different.

Digital vs analog micrometers

Digital micrometers are a good choice because they are quick to read. This is especially helpful for anyone just starting out. 

It’s not that hard to read an analog micrometer but some people struggle a little learning to read a micrometer. Digital mics simplifies the process, but it is a good idea to still learn how to read a standard analog micrometer.

Digital micrometers also have the added benefit that they can be easier to see the readings. If your vision isn’t great up close or you need a new set of readers, you might want to stick with a digital micrometer.

Analog micrometers have the benefit of always being ready to use. Digital mics require a battery and some are better than others when it comes to battery life.

An analog mic will always be ready to pick up and use. If you only use your digital micrometer occasionally then it might be a good idea to take the battery out when not in use. This way it isn’t dead when you need to use it.

button cell battery for micrometer

Measurement units

Unless you are purchasing a digital micrometer, you will only get a reading in one set of units. Take note of the units you will be working with and buy accordingly. 

This seems pretty self explanatory. I include it only as a reminder to double check your units before purchasing and to contemplate getting a digital micrometer if you are going to be working in both units constantly.

Measuring range

Micrometers typically are capable of taking measurements over a one inch measuring range. You will find them available individually, such as a micrometer that can take measurements from 4″-5″ and you can also find them sold as sets.

anytime tools micrometer set
0-6" micrometer set

Set sizes are generally sold in 0-3″, 0-6″ and 0-12″ varieties. They are available in many different configurations but these sets are the most common. Sets will usually start at 0″ and go up. Some of the bigger sets differ and only include larger size micrometers such as with a 12″-18″ set. 

As the set gets bigger and the micrometers get larger, the cost gets significantly higher. 

Because this is the case, don’t go out and buy a set that contains tools you won’t be using. In many instances a 0-3″ micrometer set will be sufficient for taking the majority of your measurements. 

Think about the sizes you will need to measure and don’t overspend on a set larger than you really need.

Calibration certificates

Does your micrometer need to be calibrated?

Yes, but also no.

What you will want to do is check the calibration yourself. Use a known standard such as a set of gage blocks to verify the accuracy of the tool over its measuring range. At a minimum, verify the micrometer with the standard provided by the manufacturer.

What you should not do is pay extra to get a calibration certificate from the micrometer seller. Many sellers will offer a NIST traceable calibration certificate at a substantial upcharge. In reality, all the calibration certificate tells you is that the tool was found to be accurate at the time of calibration. 

 

box damaged in shipping
Damaged shipping box

In between the time you receive it and the time the calibration was performed, the tool passed through many hands, most notably the hands of a shipping company. I shouldn’t need to tell you that those shipping companies are not always gentle in the transportation of your precision measuring instrument.

It will probably be packaged well and everything will be fine. Remember many micrometers have withstood harsh machine shop environments for decades and continued to measure as accurately as a brand new tool. 

Should I buy a used micrometer?

Used tools are an excellent way to save money when it comes to micrometers. This is even more true when talking about depth micrometers, if you can find the right deal.

Generally, I have found prices for used tools fall into two categories; cheap and priced like new. Avoid the like new prices. It just isn’t worth it. Some people just want way to much for their tools.

Personally, I wouldn’t be too excited about a standard used outside micrometer unless it was pristine and from a brand like Starrett or Mitutoyo.

There are plenty of other brands out there that put out quality tools for years. The tricky thing is that over the years some of these manufacturers have taken a step down in quality. Case in point, Fowler and Browne & Sharpe. The older stuff is much better.

If you’re looking to pick up some good tools on a budget, then keep an eye on Facebook marketplace and Craigslist along with hitting up some local yard sales. I’m sure it depends on your area, but yard sales have always been where I find the best deals.

igaging digital micrometer in case
Micrometer with a case

A good tip when looking for used tools is to look for ones that sill have the original case or box. It is usually a sign that they were well cared for.

For more info about used micrometers, see our post about the best micrometer brands to find out which ones stand the test of time and the brands you should avoid.

Carbide vs non-carbide tipped micrometers

Stainless steel tips
Carbide tips

Carbide tips have the benefit of increased resistance to wear. The downfall is that they are more prone to chipping of the anvil face.

If you are careful with either type, it is unlikely that wear or chipped anvils will be an issue.

Micrometer cases

A good case will go a long ways towards keeping your tool protected and safe. Whether you’re working in a machine shop or using it in your garage, there are hazards everywhere. Coolant isn’t something you want on most precision tools. The same can be said of dirt and brake dust.

Give them a good wipe down after use and keep them safely in a case or toolbox to make sure they will be in working order for years to come.

Micrometer ratchets

micrometer friction thimble example
Friction thimble stop
Click ratchet stop

A good ratchet makes a big difference when it comes to micrometers. If the ratcheting mechanism is bad, then the tool could give bad readings.

Micrometer ratchet mechanisms come in many forms. The most common types are the click style ratchet and the friction thimble.

Personally, I prefer to use the click style or no ratchet over the friction thimble. Just a matter of personal preference. 

Some companies claim that the friction thimble, which simply spins freely once it is at the correct size, is more accurate but I have never known this to be the case.

If possible, try out both the click style ratchet and the friction thimble and determine what you prefer. If this isn’t possible, I recommend starting with a click style ratchet for your micrometer.

IP ratings

If you go with a digital micrometer, pay attention to the IP rating of the tool. The tables below show how well protected the device is from the elements.

The first number is for protection from solids such as chips and dust. The second number is for protection from liquids such as oil and coolant.

Both of the Mitutoyo digital micrometers recommended above are rated IP65. This is a very high level of protection. The next level down that is commonly seen is a IP54 rating which would be sufficient for most environments as well. 

ingress protection (IP) ratings solids description
ingress protection (IP) ratings liquid protection

Data transfer

Many micrometers are capable of transferring measurement data to a computer. I don’t believe this is something that will prove useful for most users unless they are working in a high volume industrial setting so I will be brief on the topic. 

Please note that there are multiple ways of transferring measurements to a computer including:

  • USB
  • SPC
  • RS232
  • Wireless, including Bluetooth
  • Other proprietary wired and wireless formats

If data transfer is a feature you are interested in then please pay attention to the manner in which the tools communicates and the price of any required accessories. The cost of a simple cable can often be half the cost of the micrometer itself or more.

Related articles

9 Best CNC and Machining Books

Whether you are a seasoned machinist or a machine operator starting a new career, a good book can go a long way towards developing your understanding of the parts, pieces and processes involved in the machining trade.

We have laid out our recommendations for all skill levels and even included some quality choices for topics such as CAD and GD&T.

Check out Machinist Guides picks for best machining and CNC related books!

Best Beginner Machining Book

Machining Fundamentals

It’s not quite machining for dummies, but this text is easily the most beginner friendly book while also going in depth on the subject.

If you take a beginner machining course, this is likely the textbook that will be used. It covers everything from manual machining to CNC and everything in between. This textbook does a good job of not assuming you have previous knowledge and instead teaches all the basics and then some in an easy-to-understand format.

One of the best things about this title is that there are a lot of pictures to show you what is being taught. There is no better beginner’s book for machining. If you are looking for something that is primarily focused on CNC machining then look for one of the books listed below instead.

Best Beginner CNC Book

Machining and CNC Technology

Machining and CNC Technology is a great overall machining book similar to our Best Beginner Machining Book. 

Where this book excels is in providing an excellent introduction to CNC related topics. Too often the actual operation and setup of the machine are not given enough coverage. 

This book gives a great introduction to CNC machining and covers everything from machine setup to program planning and g code tutorials.

Machining and CNC Technology is another textbook that is so thorough it is often used for training in machine tool classes.

Best CNC Programming Book

CNC Programming Handbook

Not a book for beginners. The CNC Programming Handbook by Peter Smid goes in depth on just about every CNC programming related topic.

Everything is covered and in great detail. Personally, this isn’t the type of text I would read straight through. Instead, I recommend using it like a CNC version of the Machinery’s Handbook.

This is absolute CNC reference grade material.

The CNC Programming Handbook makes a great comprehensive desk reference. When it comes to learning CNC programming, if this book doesn’t have it then most likely no book does.

You won’t need it on a daily basis but when you come across a topic that you don’t understand, it will be an invaluable resource.

Best Beginner GD&T Book

2018 Ultimate GD&T Pocket Guide 

GD&T can be a complex topic to learn. Our best GD&T book recommendation is 488 pages! That’s a lot of information to take in. 

Luckily, there are many different “pocket guides” out there that condense it down to a beginner level so you can comprehend the basics.

This pocket guide does a good job of covering the most common applications of GD&T and it’s likely that unless you are working in inspection, it will cover everything that you need.

Even experienced inspectors can benefit from having a quick reference handy.

Best Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) Book

GD&T: Application and Interpretation 

Geometric dimensioning and tolerancing can be a difficult subject to tackle. Fortunately, this book by Bruce Wilson does a great job of breaking it down into smaller pieces.

In my opinion, when it comes it GD&T related matters, a picture says a thousand words. Luckily this book contains countless examples to make understanding some of the more difficult concepts of GD&T much simpler.

One item worth noting is that this book is based on the ASME Y14.5 2018 revision. This is the most recent revision of the drawing standard and many other textbooks available are based on older revisions of the standard. For reference, 2009 was the previous revision of ASME Y14.5.

Note: If your shop doesn’t have a copy (which they should), more experienced GD&T users may want to consider a copy of the ASME Y14.5-2018 standard to have around for reference as well.

Best Overall Machinist Reference Book

Machinery’s Handbook

This is the book by which all other references are judged. Machinery’s Handbook, which is often referred to as the Machinist Handbook, is the quintessential reference for all machining.

This is not a book for beginners, but instead for someone who already has some knowledge of machining. Every machine shop should and likely already does have a copy or two laying around. Each new edition continues to add new and relevant content to an already extensive collection of important information.

Don’t be afraid to pick up a previous edition if you can find it used or cheaper. The difference between one edition isn’t that great. Just avoid a copy that is five or ten editions out of date.

Every machinist should have a copy of this book available to them.

Best Beginner CAD Book

Fusion 360 for Makers

If you are just getting started with CAD, then in all likelihood you will be working with Fusion 360. Fusion 360 is a free (for personal use) piece of CAD software from Autodesk, makers of Inventor.  Inventor is one of the most popular pieces of drafting software used in machine shops around the world.

Learning Fusion 360 will teach you skills which will transfer to other more advanced pieces of software. Although, I should point out that Fusion 360 is no slouch and will allow you to create some pretty advanced widgets and doodads if you take the time to learn it.

Fusion 360 for Makers is a great starting point for newbies to learn the basics and get acquainted with the software.

Best Budget Beginner Book for Lathes

Basic Lathework for Home Machinists 

If you are just getting started with lathes and are looking for a guide to start you off cheap then this is the book. It is not the most comprehensive, but it does a good job laying things out for beginners.

The abundance of pictures helps machining newbies wrap their head around the parts and processes involved with metal lathes. The only complaint would be that the pictures are in black and white which makes it a little bit harder to see some of the finer details in the photos.

If you aren’t ready to dive into a literal textbook yet, then this book can get you started at a budget friendly price.

Best Budget Beginner Book for Mills

The Milling Machine for Home Machinists

Just like Basic Lathework for Home Machinists, this book is a good starter book.

One area where The Milling Machine for Home Machinists excels is the color pictures. There are a lot of them and they make it easier to understand the topics being covered.

This is not the book you want if you have been running a mill for any length of time. It covers entry level material only. Once you fully understand the information covered, think about stepping up to one of the more comprehensive machining books for beginners such as Machining Fundamentals or Machining and CNC Technology.

Conclusion

Thanks for checking out our guide to the best machining and CNC books. Hopefully they help add to your physical and mental library.

P.S. If you have a good recommendation for a machining book please share it in the comments below.

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11 Best 3018 Series CNC Upgrades and Accessories

Why do they have to make so many cool toys for adults?

Actually, I suppose it’s not the toys that are the problem, but instead it’s the cost of the toys.

Luckily if you recently purchased a 3018 series CNC such as the SainSmart Genmitsu series, MYSWEETY or one of the numerous other manufacturers out there, there are some relatively cheap or homemade upgrades to trick out your new machine.

Check out our list below to find out how to improve your 3018 CNC without breaking the bank.

Safety glasses

First and foremost, you should make sure you have a quality set of safety glasses. While these are small machines that are not as high powered as industrial CNCs, they are still dangerous.

Read your instructions. Wear safety glasses and it’s a good idea to have ear protection too.

Enclosure

An enclosure is one of the best upgrades for any hobbyist CNC. These machines can create a lot of dust and noise. It is a good idea to reduce both, especially if running the machine in your normal living area.

The enclosures are pretty straight forward. Assemble the box and place it over your machine to start reducing the volume of dust and noise created by your CNC.

If you have a 3D printer and are so inclined, it is possible to construct your own with some PLA, pieces of plexiglass and a little elbow grease.

Vise clamp

Larger CNCs use a machinist vise to hold the workpiece. This vise is a smaller version for the 3018 series of CNC machines. They work great to secure a variety of materials.

This tool is especially useful for holding parts which are an unusual shape such as jewelry or some electronics.

Many different forms of work holding are available such as clamps and T nuts but a vise is a simple way to hold a large assortment of material. Compared to other types of workholding, a vise will decrease setup time and increase productivity.

T nuts

If a vise is too costly for securing your workpiece. Think about some T nuts. They aren’t as fast but they are versatile and a vast improvement over the typical clamps included with most of the 3018 series CNCs.

Check out our bonus tips for ways to protect your workpiece while using T nuts.

Router bits and cutters

Upgraded router bits and end mills are an important addition. 

But not every type of bit is worth buying. 

Check out our Beginner’s Guide to CNC Router Bits to figure out which ones you need to get started and which ones are fun toys for later on.

Rotary engraving module

The 3018 series of CNC are capable of laser engraving but for anyone looking to laser engrave cylindrical objects such as cups, tumblers, etc. this is the perfect solution.

The rotary engraving module will allow you to rotate the workpiece to allow the part to stay in the lasers ideal path. This will allow uniform engraving of the workpiece around the circumference of the engraved piece.

This isn’t an upgrade for everyone but if you have a specific application in mind which requires laser engraving a circular object then think about checking out this upgrade.

Collets

Different collets are a great addition for a 3018 series CNC. They allow you to use many different size bits or end mills to machine your workpiece with. At the bare minimum it would be wise to consider adding a ¼” ER11 collet. For a little more you can get a set that will allow just about any bit or end mill that you would want to use.

There is no need to break the bank on ER11 collets for a 3018 CNC. The added quality and reduction in runout won’t translate to a big difference in quality for your projects. A simple set is the best choice.

Z axis touch setting probe

No one likes setting Z axis heights with paper. It feels imprecise and clumsy. Luckily, there is a simple and cheap upgrade which will allow you to make the process simpler and more accurate.

The probe is very easy to use. First connect the probe to your control board. Now measure the height of the probe with a tool such as a digital caliper or micrometer.

The thickness of the probe now needs to be entered into the CNC software. Place the probe on the workpiece and then connect the clip to the cutting tool. Run the probing program and lower the cutting tool slowly until it contacts the probe. The Z axis will now be set.

For more detailed instructions check the manufacturer’s website, they have a nice tutorial.

You can make your own if you wish but for the price it is hard to justify messing with a homemade tool.

If a homemade tool is more your speed then check out this tutorial which will walk you through creating your own Z axis touch setting probe.

The cost of the homemade tool is close to the cost of an actual probe but you might have some of the supplies on hand already which will bring the cost down.

Limit switches

Limit switches are a great addition to a 3018 CNC machine. Without them it is all too easy to crash your machine. While crashing the machine won’t always cause damage, it is a definite possibility.

Honestly, the machines should all come with limit switches to protect the machine from damage but I am sure that the manufacturers are trying to keep the cost down as much as possible and therefore did not include them in some versions of the 3018 CNC.

The 3018 series of CNC machines are pretty budget friendly but that doesn’t mean you want to scrap the machine right away.

Take note that adding limit switches will reduce your work area by a small amount. While this is unfortunate, it is definitely a recommended upgrade to protect your machine especially at the relatively small cost of the upgrade.

Storage tray

As you gain more experience with your CNC machine, it is inevitable that you will develop quite the collection of bits and end mills. A good storage solution is a must to protect your bits from damage.

The storage tray has holes for many different sizes of bits and end mills along with storage for miscellaneous other tools. The tray from Genmitsu does a great job of organizing all the little odds and ends along with your cutting tools.

If you have a 3D printer then check out Thingiverse for storage trays. You should be able to find something similar that will meet your needs. If you don’t have a 3D printer then you might be able to find something that will work at the dollar store.

The important thing is to keep your tools organized and protected so that they will remain sharp and ready for your next project.

Wire and cable protectors

Those with experience working with a 3D printer will likely recognize the value of a good wire/cable protector. This is often one of the first things printed when someone buys a new 3D printer and for good reason.

The movement of the machine back and forth in the process of cutting or engraving means that there is some risk that the wires will snag on some portion of the machine. The cable protectors will keep this from happening.

If you have a 3D printer already, take a peek on Thingiverse to see if there are any plans or find a premade alternative somewhere else like Amazon.

Bonus tips for your 3018 CNC

One great way to hold down projects that are difficult to secure for all types of reasons is to place blue painters tape on the bed and the workpiece. Now use an adhesive to glue the two sections of painters tape together. The tape and glue combo will hold the part and once you are done, you can simply peel the painters tape off.

3D printed holding fixtures can be a great addition and allow more versatility in what you can machine. Check out Thingiverse for all kinds of 3D printed addons.

Use felt furniture sliders from the dollar store with clamps or t nuts to protect surface of delicate workpieces.

If you have any additional tips you learned experimenting with your 3018 CNC please let us know and we will happily share them here to save others some of the headaches that come with learning how to work with a new machine.

Culiau Customizer Engraving Pen Review

With the correct engraving tool in your hands, you can finish various creative tasks with precision and simplicity.

Engraving is a terrific way to personalize and modify an otherwise generic object, and it can be a fun hobby for anyone who enjoys being crafty and creative.

Engraving pens are available in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and capabilities. So, you want to find the one that is ideal for your project.

The Customizer by Culiau is an engraving pen that is more than capable of meeting most people’s needs. This engraving pen is a popular choice among professionals and home crafters who enjoy DIYing their way through things.

The Customizer’s durability, power, compactness, and exceptional value for money make it an excellent professional etching tool suitable for all materials, including glass, wood, and metals. 

The price is a little high in comparison to other similar engraving pens which keeps the Customizer from making our list of the best engraving pens on the market but the Customizer is still a solid choice.

contents of culiau customizer box including bits

About the Culiau Customizer

Culiau has been producing high-quality rotary tools for decades now. The Culiau Customizer Engraving Pen has a broad selection of accessories.

For novices, the Culiau Customizer Engraving Pen is excellent. Because the tool is so light, engraving is as simple as using a pen. 

Don’t get me wrong, it will still take practice to get a nice, finished product but the Customizer is easier to use than some of the other bulkier engraving pens on the market.

The Customizer is roughly the size of a regular marker. The rubbery grip and light weight make controlling the engraver while in use a snap.

You can sketch with it just like a normal pen or pencil.

The flexibility of this tool makes the job as simple as drawing on paper. It works well on wood, including hardwoods, glass, and metals like steel, silver, and others.

The Customizer comes with a rechargeable battery and a USB charging wire. The run time is about 2 hours. 2 hours is more than enough time. Unless you are super experienced, your hand it going to get tired well before the 2 hours runs out.

closeup of culiau customizer engraving pen

The engraving pen includes an LED display indicator, which shows you the battery level and speed of the tool.

One of the biggest indicators of the quality of the Customizer is its lifetime warranty. This is a well built tool that feels good in the hand.

It is ergonomic, lightweight, and small. Because of this it is exceptionally comfortable to use and handle. The Customizer truly is a pocket-sized engraving machine.

The quality comes with a price though and the Customizer does cost more than many of the other engraving pens on the market. The cheaper engraving pens aren’t built as well, but if you only plan to use it for the occasional project then it might not be a big deal.

If you plan to use it a lot, I recommend going with an engraving pen that is a step above such as the Customizer from Culiau and skipping all the generic cheapy ones.

How to use the Culiau Customizer

Safety

Above all, make sure you think safety first with any power tool. Proper eye protection as well as gloves and/or a dust mask may be needed depending on the materials you plan to work with.

Working on a clean surface

Before you begin, be certain that the surface you will be working on has been well cleaned.

Some materials may be cleaned well with soap and water, while others will require the use of more specialized cleaning chemicals. Start with soap and water, it will work for most materials.

Practice makes perfect

To learn how to use your tool, practice different words and symbols on a scrap piece of material.

Your first few designs are not likely to be eye pleasing.

Another key point is to make sure you practice with the type of material you plan to work with. In other words, if you want to engrave on sea shells then find some to practice on.

Proper lighting

a desk lamp sitting on a desk

Nobody’s idea of a good time is engraving in the dark – and it’s not safe or productive. Make sure your workplace has adequate light and that it is placed above or in front of you so that your head and shoulders don’t create a shadow on the work.

Proper lighting will make it much easier to see the fine details that you are creating on your workpiece.

Create an outline

If you’re going to use shading or filling, you should still finish the outline of your project first before coming back for the finer details.

Once you’ve completed a decent outline, it should be pretty easy to go back and give the project the final design you want.

Make use of a template

Consider producing a paper template to guide your work when feasible. This is especially useful at the beginning, when you may lack the courage to produce something entirely freehand.

For example, if you want to etch your name into some of your equipment, consider printing it out on a suitable scale and then using that printout as a reference when conducting the engraving.

Frequently asked questions

What kind of material can the Customizer work with?

an engraved piece of glass
An engraved piece of glass

The Culiau Customizer is capable of working with a wide range of materials including:

  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Metal
  • Glass
  • Leather
  • Stone
  • Shells
  • Clay

Does the Customizer use standard Dremel style bits?

Unfortunately, the Customizer does not take Dremel bits straight out of the box. For an added cost, you can purchase an adaptor that will allow you to use them however.

Best Machinist Calculators & Calculator Apps

title of article best machinist calculators and calculator apps with graphics of a calculator and a smart phone with apps on screen

Machinists, CNC Machines Operators, and hobbyists often need to work with complex engineering and mathematical equations daily. With practice they get easier to work with, but a good calculator tailored to machining can speed up the learning process.

After all, a miscalculation can be the difference between a scrapped part or crashed machine and a perfect part.

Standard hand-held calculators are designed for basic arithmetic calculations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

A good machinist calculator will perform all the functions of a standard calculator along with other specialized functions such as trigonometry, logarithms, and exponential functions.

At the very least you will want to get a calculator that can perform all of the necessary operations.

If you want to step things up and make those calculations easier, then some of the specialized calculators below simplify the formulas and calculations.

In this article, we discuss some of the best machinist calculators and apps for machinists available while including tips for making the most out of these mathematical tools.

Best machinist calculator

Our pick for the best machinist calculator is the Calculated Industries 4088 Machinist Calc Pro 2.

The Machinist Calc Pro 2 Model 4088 easily ranks among the best machining calculators because of its ease to use, and rugged build. This calculator is ideal for machinists, engineers, programmers, and hobbyists.

The Machinist Calc Pro 2 Model 4088 makes solving the most common formulas used such as speeds, feeds and trigonometry super simple. Adjusting those calculations, with a larger depth of cut for example, is also easy. A couple button pushes to adjust the value in the calculator and it quickly spits out your new speeds and feeds. No need to run through the whole calculation step by step again.

It also solves right-angle triangle and bolt-circle patterns problems with ease. The trig functions are great. Enter what you know, any combination of angles or sides, and the Calc Pro 2 will spit out all the unknown values.

Also, the calculator comes with built-in charts that you can look up information for calculating milling, boring, spindle speed, cut speed, chip-load, etc.

Back to speeds and feeds because that is a large portion of what this calculator is so good at.

The calculator makes solving for any of these values quick and easy:

  • Surface feet per minute (SFM)
  • Revolutions per minute (RPM)
  • Inches per revolution (IPR)
  • Inches per tooth (IPT)
  • Inches per minute (IPM)
  • Width of cut (WOC)
  • Depth of cut (DOC)
  • Length of cut (LOC)

On top of this, there are a ton of variables that can be adjusted to accurately setup your machine. You can pick the type of cutting tool you are using as well as the material you are cutting.

It comes loaded with material info for various steels as well as aluminum and titanium alloys among others. The tool choices are high speed steel, carbide, and high-performance tools.

The pre-programmed processes built in are:

  • Turning
  • Drilling
  • Boring
  • Slot milling
  • End milling
  • Face milling

The Machinist Calc Pro 2 is handy but also built tough. Things don’t always get treated as carefully as they should in the shop which is why the included case/cover is important. Just remember that the case isn’t waterproof, it is only meant to protect it from a splash, don’t go dipping it in your coolant.

The case has a quick tips guide to the most important functions and this thing practically comes with a textbook. It can seem overwhelming, but it is pretty well laid out and you can find what you need pretty quickly.

The Calc Pro 2 isn’t necessarily a calculator replacement. It isn’t meant to do all math calculations, but it is meant to do a large selection of the ones that anyone working in machine shop would need.

Best budget calculator for machinists

Let’s be real, not everyone wants to break the bank when picking up a calculator. If you fall into this category, keep it simple and go with one of the classics.

The TI-30XIIS scientific calculator by Texas Instruments is solid calculator fully capable of any calculation the average machinist or CNC operator might need.

While it won’t step you through the formulas and calculations like the Calc Pro 2, it is still more than capable of getting to the end result.

The TI-30XIIS has all the functions you will need for solving your machining formulas. Algebra, geometry and trigonometry functions are all built in.

The TI-30XIIS is both solar and battery powered, and the battery practically lasts forever. I have used literally dozens of these calculators in my time working in machine shops and I can’t recall ever having one that had a dead battery.

They are simply built to last. This isn’t cheap plastic. I feel like you could use the thing as a hammer and it would keep on ticking.

Please don’t though. Using the calculator as a hammer will likely void your one-year warranty.

The only thing I have seen kill one of these calculators is chemicals. But in fairness, a heavy dose of acetone will put an end to most things plastic.

If you simply need a calculator to do your job and aren’t looking for something super specialized, then stick with one of the classics and grab a Texas Instruments TI-30XIIS scientific calculator.

Best machinist calculator app

screenshot of CNC machinist Calculator Pro app showing calculator feature

Everyone uses the calculator on their smart phone. But this is not your ordinary calculator app. 

The CNC Machinist Calculator Pro app is an extremely powerful machining tool. It features all the standard calculator functions you would expect along with a wide assortment of specialized functions.

screenshot of CNC machinist Calculator Pro app showing trigonometry solver

It has functions for milling, drilling and turning calculations. 

The app also includes a nice variety of charts and references to use. This is a great all around app that has a little bit of everything and enough of it to help anyone using the app along.

For example, not everyone will need to reference the G code library or the GD&T symbols guide but both sections of the include a nice amount of info and examples to prove useful.

screenshot of CNC machinist Calculator Pro app showing quiz feature

I really like the mini apps that are included in the Machinist Calculator Pro app.

The trigonometry solver and geometry solver are very handy. 

I also really enjoy the quiz function called Brain Check. It has various quizzes on different machining related topics. Seems like a fun way to figure out what you might need to brush up on for subjects.

Overall, the app is well made and easy to use. While it isn’t a $1 or $2 app, it does pack an extensive amount of functions into the package while still being quite a bit less expensive than some of the competing machining apps.

Best premium machinist calculator app

screenshot of Calculated Industries Machinist Calc Pro 2 App showing cutting speed

There’s an app for nearly every gadget, tool, or piece of equipment you can think of. This even applies to calculators for machinists.

The best premium app is a no-brainer. It is Machinist Calc Pro 2. Yeah, you read that right. Calculated Industries have literally made an app that replicates their physical calculator.

screenshot of Calculated Industries Machinist Calc Pro 2 App showing decimal degrees

The mobile app features all the same functions of the handheld version with a built-in help function for when you can’t figure out your next move. By pressing and holding specific keys, the app displays clear explanations of what the key does alongside elaborate examples.

Everything we said about the physical calculator still applies to the digital replica.

screenshot of Calculated Industries Machinist Calc Pro 2 App showing rpm

The app is available for all android and iOS devices and the best part is that you can get it for about half the price of the physical handheld version.

Best free machinist calculator app

screenshot of FS wizard app home screen
FSWizard Home Screen

FSWizard Machinist Calculator by Zero_Divide is an amazing calculator and overall machining resource especially considering the price of admission.

It has a ton of different calculators for things such as speeds and feeds, triangles, bolt circles, and more.

In addition, there are a huge quantity of references and charts that will come in handy. Most of the references aren’t intended to be the ultimate resource on the topic but instead simply a quick reference.

Many machinists, especially those just starting out, will enjoy the all-in-one app that includes GD&T, G code and speeds and feeds info all in one place.

screenshot of FS wizard app showing the navigation menu
FSWizard Navigation Menu

The biggest downfall of the free version of FSWizard is the limited selection of materials available in its speeds and feeds calculator. There are enough to get by, but the numbers won’t be exactly tailored to your workpiece. The additional materials are available in the Pro version of the tool.

Overall, FSWizard provides a ton of value for free. The app is available for all android and iOS devices.

Best online machining calculators

There are a large number of machining calculators available online. It can be a pain to have a bunch of bookmarked sites for all the different calculators you might need.

MachiningDoctor.com has a great selection of machining calculators for everything from speeds and feeds to sine bar calculations all in one place. Most of their online calculators are fairly advanced and allow customization for many different variables.

I also like that they often have a simple mode available for users who might not be as experienced.

Neiko 01407A 0-6″ Digital Caliper Review

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Pros

Great value for price
Measures in inches, millimeters and fractions

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Cons

None

Full review

The Neiko 0-6” digital caliper is made of stainless steel. It features a metric measuring range of 0-150mm. It is capable of measuring in inches, millimeters and fractions. Although most people won’t use the fractional mode, it is nice to have the option. 

Neiko digital caliper display mm
Metric measurements
Neiko digital caliper display fractions
Fractional measurements

The Neiko caliper is capable of taking outside, inside, step and depth measurements. The manufacturer claims that the caliper has an accuracy of .001” or .02 mm. 

I tested that claim by measuring various gauge blocks sizes over the entire measuring range of the calipers and found them to be well within the claimed accuracy. Quite a feat for a budget friendly tool.

The most important quality of any set of digital calipers is good accuracy and these Neikos got it.

Neiko digital caliper display inches
Three small digits when measuring in inches, Two when measuring in mms

The display on the 01407A reads out to .0005” or .01 mm when in metric mode. The fraction mode has a resolution of 1/128 of an inch.

Unfortunately the caliper is incapable of rounding to a different fraction such as 1/32. 1/128th of an inch isn’t exactly the most practical units to use. The display does display reduce the fractions down so you will see 1/2″ instead of 64/128″ which is nice.

The display is large which makes it easy to read, but I am not a fan of the format. It is obvious that it is made like that to read the fractional measurements, but having 2 or 3 of the digits smaller is just weird. It’s not a deal breaker but it does take a little getting used to.

Neiko digital caliper battery closeup
Open battery compartment

The digital caliper comes with an extra LR44 button cell battery which is handy because many report issues with dead batteries on arrival. I ran into the same issue and quickly swapped in the fresh battery.

Luckily the battery is easily changed with no tools required. The battery cover simply slides off with a swipe of your thumb. 

Additionally the caliper is often reported to turn itself on frequently which causes the battery to die quickly. The caliper can be locked in place to keep it from turning itself on but it still might not be a bad idea to try and keep an extra battery on hand.

The caliper also comes with a sturdy plastic case to protect it. 

Neiko digital caliper in case unwrapped
The case is solid with nice padding and room to store an extra battery

One of the harder qualities to convey is the overall build. Some might call it the “feel” of the tool. This is where the Neiko 01407A excels. 

They feel like a much higher priced tool. The jaws slide smoothly along the frame. This is one area that many budget level calipers struggle with. Often they can get the accuracy but the tools just feels like junk when using it. Not the case here. 

The only other build quality item I would note is the fine adjustment roller wheel. While other cheap calipers either tack on a bad one or skip it entirely, Neiko has added one that is comparable to much higher priced calipers. 

When you combine the smoothness and the excellent fine adjustment, it is much easier to get the accuracy you want because over time you will be able to feel your measurements. This is not something that would be possible without this kind of build quality.

Verdict

The Neiko 01407A digital caliper is not the best caliper that money can buy, but it just might be the best value.

The display is a little quirky but it is definitely something that you can get used to. 

In the end, the overall accuracy and the build quality at a bargain price are what make the Neiko 01407A digital caliper one of the best around. 

Adoric 0-6″ Digital Caliper Review

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Pros

Cheap
Not magnetic

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Cons

No fractional mode
You get what you pay for in accuracy

Features

These digital calipers from Adoric feature your typical caliper measuring range of 0-6” or 0-150mm.

They have a claimed accuracy of +/- .010” or +/- 0.2mm. I tested this claim by measuring various gauge block sizes over their measuring range. I repeated this for inside, outside and depth measurements. In all measurements, the tool met its claimed accuracy.

Adoric digitial caliper measuring block
Testing the accuracy of the caliper

Still, their accuracy isn’t great when compared to many other calipers but at the same time their cost reflects it. When you are buying a set of calipers in the neighborhood of ten bucks you can’t expect a lot.

For instance the packaging:

Adoric digital caliper in packaging
Action figure packaging
Adoric digital caliper back of packaging 2
Highly branded packaging

It screams kids toy more than it does precision measuring tool.

In fact, the packaging is so generic that the only mention of Adoric on it is on a sticker slapped on the backside. I’m pretty sure this means there are carbon copies of this same caliper being put out by other companies.

Carbon fiber copies might be more appropriate because that is what these calipers from Adoric are made of. They definitely don’t feel as rugged as metal calipers, but they don’t feel flimsy either.

The carbon fiber construction does have some benefits. Firstly, they are non magnetic  which means measuring magnetic materials will be much simpler than with standard stainless steel calipers. It also means that these calipers are less likely to scrape or scratch your workpiece during measurement. 

The nicest benefit of being made from carbon fiber is that they are extremely lightweight. I really thought these were going to be a cheapo tool, but the caliper has enough weight to make it feel strong while still being light enough to make it very easy to use one-handed and maneuver for all kinds of measurements. 

Adoric digital caliper display
The display when measuring inches

Similar to most calipers, these Adoric digital calipers are capable of taking inside, outside, step and depth measurements.

These measurements can be taken in inch or metric readings. Unfortunately there is no fractional mode which in my opinion would be a nice addition considering their accuracy. A fractional mode that read to 1/64″ or 1/32″ would probably have worked well more many people.

Units are easily switched with the inch/mm button on the face of the caliper. A simple selection of buttons surround the easy to read display. Besides the inch/mm units button there is also an off/on and zero button.

Adoric digital caliper battery
Open battery compartment and extra battery

Battery life is decent thanks to the tool’s ability to turn off automatically. When not in use, the caliper turns itself off after about 4.5 minutes.

The caliper also turns on automatically when it senses movement. So why even have an On/Off button? Use it or not, it’s there.

The Adoric caliper comes with an LR44 button cell battery already installed and a spare in the package.

One last note about the battery is that it is easily changed, possibly too easily. Many people have noted the battery cover accidentally coming off during use. I had not issues with the set I ordered for this review.

There is no ability to lock the caliper during measurement as seen on many other calipers. Additionally there is no protective case provided which is unfortunate but at this price point you can’t expect many extras.

Verdict

Adoric digital caliper full
Limited accuracy but otherwise surprisingly good especially for the price

A nice alternative to your standard tape measure for shorter measurements. These calipers are a great tool for homeowners to take precise measurements.

Their accuracy is lacking but for many applications such as working with crafts or 3d printing, they will be sufficient. The most important thing will to know what type of tolerances you need to hold. Higher quality calipers will be usually be accurate to +/- 0.001″.

If you require more accuracy, but are on a tight budget check out the Neiko 01407A 0-6″ digital calipers. They make a decent alternative.

All-in-all for the price, these Adoric digital calipers are great to throw in a junk drawer or garage toolbox to keep handy for a quick and easy measurement.

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 0-6″ Digital Caliper Review

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Pros

Excellent accuracy
Resistant to dirt, oil and water

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Cons

Quality comes at a price
Doesn’t measure in fractions

Features

Mitutoyo’s 500-196-30 0-6” digital caliper is a true quality measuring tool. Made in Japan, they have a measuring range of 0-6” or 0-150mm. These calipers are made of stainless steel and have a resolution of .0005” or .01mm. 

mitutoyo digital caliper packaging
The calipers arrive in some snazzy orange packaging

They are advertised as having an accuracy of +/- .001” or .025mm. In my experience they are closer to +/- .0005”. This is a nice contrast to some of the cheaper alternatives that claim a better accuracy than they actually possess. 

mitutoyo digital caliper measuring 1 inch block
Measuring a 1 inch gauge block
mitutoyo digital caliper measuring 4 inch block
Measuring a 4 inch gauge block

If you do require calibration documentation, you will most likely be performing the operation in house or through your normal calibration vendor. Long story short, if your using them for personal use then skip the extra cost and just check your zero when you go to use them.

They already come with an inspection certificate from Mitutoyo anyways.

Note: These calipers can be purchased with a calibration certificate if desired. Most people will get no added benefit from the extra calibration. 

mitutoyo digital caliper inspection certificate
Inspection certificate from Mitutoyo

If you do require calibration documentation, you will most likely be performing the operation in house or through your normal calibration vendor. Long story short, if your using them for personal use then skip the extra cost and just check your zero when you go to use them.

They already come with an inspection certificate from Mitutoyo anyways.

mitutoyo digital caliper depth rod
Closeup of the depth rod for taking depth measurements

This 0-6” caliper is capable of taking inside, outside, step and depth measurements like many others. It has a large easy to read display. Buttons for on/off, zero/abs, in/mm and origin are present on the face. Units can be switched from inch to metric in an instant. 

mitutoyo digital caliper display in inches
Measuring in inches
mitutoyo digital caliper display in mm
Metric measurements

Unfortunately there is no option for fractional units but most will find their application doesn’t require them. The zero position can be changed making comparison measurements easier. 

mitutoyo digital caliper with battery installed

Battery life is very good with this model. Mitutoyo claims a 3.5 year battery life with normal use. That sounds too good to be true. In reality the battery lasts a very long time.

The calipers come with a battery and if needed the battery is easily changed with no tools required. The battery cover simply slides off.

One thing of note is that these calipers don’t turn off automatically like other models so make sure to hit the off button when you’re finished. A final note related to the battery is that these calipers feature a low battery indicator to let you know when it is time for a change. 

Unlike many other digital calipers, these ones are resistant to dirt, oil and water. Mitutoyo claims they are coolant proof. I wouldn’t recommend submerging them in anything but a light splash shouldn’t hurt anything. They come with a nice plastic case which protects them while not in use.

mitutoyo digital caliper in case
The caliper comes with a sturdy well fitting case

Verdict

I can’t say enough good about them. The Mitutoyo 0-6” digital caliper is a step above most of their competitors. 

Amazing accuracy, excellent battery life and resistance to contamination that might affect your measuring tool makes for a reliable, dependable measuring tool. They are perfect for reloading, engine work or every day use in a machine shop and will easily stand up to all of your measurement needs.

Frequently asked questions

Where are Mitutoyo tools made?

Mitutoyo are manufactured in Japan and rival the quality of many American made tools.

How long is the Mitutoyo warranty?

mitutoyo digital caliper warranty
Warranty documentation from Miitutoyo

The warranty on these calipers is one year. If you register your tool with Mitutoyo you can extend this to a total of three years. Definitely something worth doing.

What type of battery does the Mitutoyo caliper use?

mitutoyo digital caliper sr44 battery
The included battery from Mitutoyo

The Mitutoyo 500-196-30 digital caliper and many others by Mitutoyo use an SR44 battery. A 357 battery is the equivalent by various other manufacturers and can be used also.

How to reset the Mitutoyo digital caliper

If your caliper is ever flashing or needs to be reset because of something such as a dead battery, follow these simple steps.

First close the jaws so they are in the zero position. Now hold the origin button. This will reset the display. Verify your instrument is working by checking against a known standard such as a gage block.

How to calibrate Mitutoyo calipers

To learn how to calibrate your Mitutoyo caliper, follow the calibration instructions in our Beginner’s Guide to Calipers.

What does the error code on my Mitutoyo caliper mean?

Check out this thread for a great rundown of all the error codes you might run into using Mitutoyo digital calipers. I have never used a set that has thrown a code other than one for the battery but just in case.

Related articles

Best Beginner CNC Machines and Routers

Whether you want to learn a new skill, work on a pet project, or start a small business there is a CNC machine or router for you. CNCs, which are generally thought of as being ridiculously expensive don’t have to be.

These beginner machines prove the assumption wrong. While you won’t be able to cut a giant chuck of hardened steel with them, they will cut through wood, plastic and other soft materials like butter. With the right machine and some tweaking you might even cut aluminum.

All of the CNC machines listed below are excellent machines. However, it is important to take note of some of features such as the work area of the machine. Feel free to skip to the end of this article to see our comprehensive list of things to consider when looking for your first CNC machine or router.

Budgets vary, but all of these machines should be considered affordable, entry level CNC machines that are extremely capable.

Now, let’s get to the meat and potatoes and find out which machines top our list.

Name

Awards

Work Area

Where to Buy

BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router Kit

Best Overall CNC,
Best for Woodworking & Carving

24"x24"x3.3"

SainSmart Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO

Best Budget CNC,
Best CNC for Beginners

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

Best Mini CNC,
Best CNC under $1,000

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

Best Beginner CNC Router and Laser Engraver Combo

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router Kit

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Pros

Customer support is second to none
Large work area - great for making bigger signs

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Cons

More detailed assembly
Not setup for laser engraving

Materials it will cut: Wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, leather, others possible with experimentation

Work area: 24” x 24” x 3.3” = 610 mm x 610 mm x 85 mm

Warranty: 60 Days

BobsCNC makes machines that are a pretty big step above other entry level CNC machines. Bobs makes machines that are aimed at users that want to machine wood, plastic and other soft materials. CNC wood routing is their specialty.

Size matters and the work area of the Evolution 4 (E4) is two to three times larger than other machines. This makes a huge difference in what you can make. 

Many people use the E4 for making CNC routed signs or art. BobsCNC even has some “unofficial” plans that allow you to expand the machine even more. The work area can be expanded to 24”x48”x3”.

One downfall is that the E4 is not designed to be used with a laser. The company claims this is for safety reasons and honestly it makes a lot of sense. Lasers can be very dangerous. 

Many of the beginner level laser engravers have a small work area. This makes it easier to build an enclosure for protection. The E4 is a much larger machine.

A key difference of the E4 when compared to other starter CNCs is that the setup is more involved. 

While other machines often arrive mostly assembled, this is not the case with machines from BobsCNC. You will need to assemble everything yourself. It will likely take a day or two but you will develop a good understanding of the machine itself doing it. 

Luckily, the included instructions are detailed and thorough. If there are any questions, there are plenty of good resources on YouTube and in Facebook groups.

Speaking of questions, if you have any issues BobsCNC has top notch support. Like ridiculously good support. By all accounts they are extremely fast to respond. It is not unheard of for Bob himself to respond and help to troubleshoot any issues by phone or email outside of normal working hours.

A couple things to know about the E4:

It’s louder than most entry level machines. The router/spindle is a real power tool, so it makes quite a bit of noise.

It’s messy. The E4 is capable of cutting a lot more than other entry level machines. This means it generates substantially more dust as a result. Think about getting a dust shoe and dust collection system to keep things tidy.

Overall, the Evolution 4 from BobsCNC is an extremely well designed and built product. It does exactly what it is meant to do, which is CNC routing of wood and other soft materials. Some light metal work might be possible but realize this is still a starter tool.

In the end, I think a picture is worth a thousand words so check out the gallery on BobsCNC to get an idea of the types of projects you can make.

SainSmart Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO

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Pros

Easy assembly
Great for beginners
Easily switch to laser engraving

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Cons

Limited work area

Materials it will cut: Wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, leather, others possible with experimentation

Work area: 30 cm x 18 cm x 4.5 cm = 300 mm x 180 mm x 45 mm = 11.8” x 7.0” x 1.7”

Warranty: 1 Year

The 3018 Pro is a great starter CNC machine. Primarily meant to be used for engraving, it is extremely well built for such a budget friendly machine.

The 3018 Pro will easily cut softer materials such as plastic and wood. Metals are a little more of a challenge. 

Aluminum can be cut but it will require playing with the speeds and feeds to find something that works for your machine and cutting tools. Other soft metals may be possible but expect to experiment quite a bit. 

This is a nicely built machine. The frame is rigid and assembly is easy.

The 3018 Pro can easily be switched to a laser engraver by purchasing a laser unit and swapping it in place of the router/spindle. The swap only takes 2-3 minutes on the machine.

The Genmitsu 3018 Pro is an excellent choice for anyone who is just starting out with CNC. 

The one big downfall of the 3018 Pro is the work area. You simply won’t be able to work on large projects. 

The manufacturer’s support and communities such as the dedicated Facebook group are a huge help to those trying to learn CNC. Because these 3018 CNCs are so common, chances are that any question you have has already been answered.

The Genmitsu 3018 Pro is a quality, versatile machine for beginner level CNC machining, routing and laser engraving.

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

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Pros

Pre-assembled
Comes with most common upgrades

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Cons

Not a full enclosure

Materials it will cut: Wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, leather, others possible with experimentation

Work area: 30 cm x 18 cm x 4.5 cm = 300 mm x 180 mm x 45 mm = 11.8” x 7.0” x 1.7”

Warranty: 1 Year

Essentially the Genmitsu 3018-PROVer is the same as the Genmitsu 3018 with the exception that it comes with almost all of the upgrades that people normally add on to their machine.

Let’s get to the upgrades.

One area which is nicely improved is the body of the 3018-PROVer. It is now all aluminum. This improves the rigidity of the machine which increases cutting performance. 

The drivers have been upgraded too. They are more powerful while also being much quieter. This is a nice change for anyone who might be operating the machine in close proximity to their neighbors.

Limit switches have been added which help to keep your machine from crashing. While these are a great addition, it should be noted that they actually decrease the work area by a small amount. Not a huge concern but plan on losing a little travel.

The biggest change is the addition of an offline controller display and emergency stop button. The emergency stop or e-stop button is a welcome addition. 

The machine will crash. It’s inevitable. Being able to hit a big red stop button is fairly important. Emergency stop buttons are standard on anything bigger than an absolute beginner model and for good reason.

The offline controller allows you to run the machine without having a computer attached. For a good rundown of the offline controller check out this guide from the manufacturer.

The added side enclosures on the machine are just OK. They won’t contain all the noise or dust but they help a little. Not a big change over the other Genmitsu 3018 models. They feel kinda pointless because when it comes to dust, you need to go all out and get a full enclosure or just deal with the mess.

The last upgrade is the addition of a z-axis tool setting touch probe. This allows you to set the location of your part without messing with sheets of paper or something similar. 

Place the probe on the workpiece and connect the clip to your cutting tool. Lower the tool until it touches the probe. The machine will automatically set the height of your workpiece and you are ready to cut.

The Genmitsu 3018-PROVer is an excellent all-around CNC for the beginner. It combines the already stellar 3018-PRO CNC machine with the most common and beneficial upgrades to make setup and use easy.

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

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Pros

Easy to use laser engraving software

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Cons

Laser focus lens

Materials it will cut: Wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, leather, others possible with experimentation

Work area: 30 cm x 18 cm x 4.5 cm = 300 mm x 180 mm x 45 mm = 11.8” x 7.0” x 1.7”

Warranty: 90 Days

The MYSWEETY CNC 3018-PRO is a great starter CNC machine especially for those looking to get into laser engraving. Overall the build is very similar to other 3018 model CNC machines. What sets it apart is the included laser.

The MYSWEETY comes in 3 different versions:

  • Large = 3 watt laser
  • Extra Large = 5 watt laser
  • Full Size = 7 watt laser

It’s an odd naming structure but I guess with a name like MYSWEETY maybe that should be expected.

The machine comes in need of full assembly. The included instructions leave something to be desired, so seek out some YouTube videos to help you along. Assembly should take about an hour, possibly a little longer to watch instructional videos.

The build is sturdy and most of the components are aluminum. Let’s talk about the included laser.

The lasers available are passable. Don’t expect to do much cutting with them. They are primarily for engraving. Remember these are beginner machines and whether you are CNC routing or laser engraving, they often end up lacking somewhat in the power department.

That being said, the included blue laser is capable of cutting smaller pieces of wood such as 1/8” balsa wood. It might just take some experimenting to get right.

A frequent complaint about the laser module is that the focus lens fits rather loosely. This makes it too easy to turn accidently. A little bit of Teflon tape on the threads will go a long way towards remedying the problem. This will keep your laser focused where it needs to be on the workpiece. A correctly focused laser will increase its performance.

Also included in the package is a set of laser safety glasses. Read the instructions and make sure to use these when operating the laser. Lasers can be quite dangerous. Safety first! You don’t want to put an eye out with this thing.

An offline controller comes as part of the package. This is a welcome addition for those who don’t want to dedicate a computer to the use of their CNC machine.

The software that comes with the MYSWEETY CNC-3018 PRO is a mixed bag. Laser engraving works very well and in most cases the machine can be setup and engraving in no time.

It is enough to get you started but if you want to get serious with laser engraving then you will want to pick up a copy of Lightburn sooner rather than later. It is reasonably priced and works extremely well.

Unfortunately, the software for the milling aspect isn’t quite as user friendly as the included laser software. Expect to take a little time to learn some of the intricacies of the program before you get you used to it. Or jump straight to one of the other software packages out there. Easel by Inventables can be a good starter software to make your first projects more simple to get going.

All in all, the MYSWEETY CNC-3018 PRO is a good beginner laser/mill combo for someone who is looking to get their feet wet in CNC routing and laser engraving. The build is in line with other entry level machines such as the Gemnitsu. It comes with a nice set of extras and makes an excellent learning tool. Small scale laser engraving is this machines specialty.

Conclusion

BobsCNC Evolution 4 Router Kit is the clear winner with a much larger work area and improved cutting performance when compared to other beginner CNC machines. 

The other CNC routers listed, such as the Genmitsus and MYSWEETY, can do most of the same tasks just on a much smaller scale. However, they do it at a budget friendly price.

The MYSWEETY machine makes a nice compromise between CNC routing and laser engraving if you aren’t sure which way you want to go yet and would like to try both out before stepping up to a more capable machine once you know which you like more.

Keep this in mind and check out the list of things to consider that follows to help you get started and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below. 

Things to consider

Safety

While some of these entry level machines can be “cute”, don’t let them fool you. These are powerful tools that are capable of causing serious damage. Treat them like the dangerous power tools that they are.

Read your instructions.

Wear property safety equipment including eye and ear protection.

Be careful and if you aren’t sure about something, don’t be afraid to reach out to the manufacturers or other learning resources to make sure you are being safe.

Size of work area

The size of the work area is very important part of a CNC machine. Many hobbyist machines do not have a large envelope that they are capable of cutting, routing or engraving in.

The Z axis (up and down) is always the axis with the least amount of travel. This will determine how thick of a work piece you are able to cut. Keep in mind that this will be further reduced by your tooling. If you have a long end mill or router bit that you are using, then it will shorten the thickness of the part which you are able to cut.

Please note that the physical dimensions of the CNC are not the same as the work area.

For example, the Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO has a physical size of 15.7” x 13.0” x 9.4”. The work area is only 11.8” x 7.1” x 1.8”. Clearly there is a significant difference between the two. So make sure that you know the two specs are different and how they relate to what you can cut and where you can physically place your machine.

Speeds and feeds

Speeds and feeds can be a fairly complicated subject but here are some resources to get you started:

As you work with more difficult materials such as metals, you will find that the window of speeds and feeds that will work will shrinks up drastically. 

If you are sticking with soft stuff like wood or plastic, then your window for success will be more open and forgiving. For this reason, wood is a great material to practice with when you are first getting acquainted with your CNC.

CNC routers vs spindles

When it comes to beginner level CNC machines, the terms router and spindle are used almost interchangeably. Some machines, such as the ones from BobsCNC, use an actual router like you would buy at a hardware store. Others use spindles.

Practically, they are both simply motors that have a collet or chuck to hold a cutting tool such as a router bit or end mill. For the beginner level machines, an actual router such as one from Dewalt or Makita will be more powerful than the spindle included in similar machines.

Tooling

Tooling is your cutters. This includes router bits and end mills of all shapes and sizes. The right cutter will make all the difference when machining. Cutters can be purchased for many different types of materials.

Many CNC machines will come with some type of cutter right out of the box. They aren’t usually great. They will get you started however and as you gain experience you can look into adding additional tooling for your application.

The most important bits for getting started with you CNC are end mills (both flat bottom and ball nose), v bits and a surfacing bit. These are the first ones you will want to get and the first ones you will want to upgrade down the road. For a full guide check out our Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to CNC Router Bits.

Customer service

Pay attention to the level of customer service that the manufacturer provides. While the machines are not overly complex, they can pose some challenges for someone just starting.

Look for companies that are quick to reply and don’t be afraid to check their website for tutorials or additional information. While some of the foreign made machines might not have the best phone support, they often have support groups and communities that do an excellent job of helping you with any issues.

Software

There is a large variety of software that gets used on these machines. Covering them all would be a giant topic by itself. To get you started here is a quick rundown:

  • CAD or computer aided drafting is software that will allow you to create models to machine or engrave. This is only a drawing and needs further processing before your machine will know what to do with it. The most commonly used CAD software are Fusion 360 and Tinkercad
  • CAM or computer aided manufacturing is the software that takes your model and turns it into code that your CNC will understand. If you are familiar with 3D printers, CAM software is similar to slicing software. The most common CAM software are Fusion 360, CamBam, SheetCam and MeshCam.

A good starting point is to look into Fusion 360. It has an enormous number of tutorials on YouTube. You are likely to find help for any issue you run into and there are many guided courses on use of the software.

Related articles

Best Digital Calipers for the Money

Precise projects call for precise tools. When measuring, often that tool is a quality set of digital calipers.

And when we’re talking about CNC machining, we’re talking fractions of inches, not yards. 

Unfortunately, tools capable of ultra-accurate readings can run away in price, while the measurements given by cheaper models can be so far off that the tool itself is useless.

Fortunately for you, we’ve gone on the hunt and found the best value digital calipers on the market.

Name

Awards

Where to Buy

Starrett 798A-6 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Digital Caliper < $200

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Digital Caliper < $150

iGaging Absolute Origin 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Digital Caliper < $50

VINCA DCLA-0605 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Digital Caliper < $25

Best digital caliper under $200

Starrett 798A-6 0-6" Digital Caliper

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Pros

IP67 rating
Quality all around

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Pros

Price tag

Admittedly, this caliper from Starrett is not going to be for everybody. Mostly because it comes with a hefty price, but if you have the extra cash lying around, the 798A-6 is absolutely worth the money.

Starrett has been making tools of all types for decades and the level of quality they have been able to hold over that time is remarkable. While they have been able to produce heirloom quality tools for a variety of uses, their measuring tools stand out as easily some of the best stuff on the market.

Starrett micrometers have long been the gold standard of precision and their digital calipers are very much up to the task as well.

The 798A-6 has an accuracy of 0.001″, or 0.254 mm and a resolution 0.0005″ or 0.010 mm. More importantly, this isn’t a spec pulled out of left field somewhere. These calipers easily meet the specified accuracy. In fact, we have found that many exceed the listed accuracy and are accurate to 0.0005”. They don’t spec it, so there is no guarantee but likely you will find them more accurate than they claim.

In addition, this set of calipers holds its zero extremely well so you won’t find yourself resetting them often like you might with a budget tool.

The 798A-6 is made of high-quality stainless steel. The parts that are not stainless steel such as the LCD display feel well made as well. No cheap thin plastic here.

Speaking of the display, it is large and easy to read. A nice feature of the display is that it comes with a limited number of buttons to fiddle with. A button to switch from inches to millimeters and another to turn the unit off and on are the only two buttons present. The on/off button can be held to zero the caliper at any location for taking measurements relative to a standard. Keep it simple.

One feature that is so-so is the battery life. It is listed as one year which is good but not as long as some other high-end calipers such as the Mitutoyo 500-196-30 which lists a three-year battery life.

The battery life of this Starrett caliper is likely hampered by the auto off feature which takes 30 minutes to kick in. Something closer to 5 minutes would likely have been more than sufficient and kept the juice flowing longer. Making sure to turn the tool off after each use can help increase the life of your batteries.

Still, this battery life is very good and stacks up well above what you find with cheaper digital calipers, but it is one of the few areas where the 798A-6 isn’t the cream of the crop.

While they are noticeably well built, the included case is a welcome addition that will work to keep your caliper safe when it’s not in use. Way too often has a set of calipers been bumped off a bench only to hit a hard concrete floor. Stashing your prized calipers away when not in use will add an additional layer of protection.

The main reason for the high price tag of these calipers is the tools protection from the elements. In the electronics industry, there is a rating called an Ingress Protection (IP) rating, which measures the amount of resistance a device has to dirt, water, and other contaminants that can mess with the device.

The Starrett 798A-6 digital caliper has an IP rating of 67. When reviewing other digital caliper models, you will find that most have no IP rating (no protection from water, coolant, dirt, etc.). The majority of digital calipers that are IP rated will have an IP rating of 54. We won’t get too far into the details here but be aware this is a large jump in protection even when compared to the IP54 rated calipers. If you want more info about IP ratings, jump to the IP Rating section of our Things to Consider list below.

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about accuracy. This is the main reason you need a digital caliper after all. This caliper from Starrett, like many others they make, is extremely accurate. Additionally, it holds its zero very well which means you won’t be constantly resetting it to maintain that accuracy.

To sum it up, you’re going to have to pay a pretty penny for this caliper, but due to its build quality, IP67 rating and most importantly, the excellent accuracy, it’ll likely be the last caliper you ever need.

Best digital caliper under $150

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 0-6" Digital Caliper

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Pros

Highly accurate
Long battery life

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Pros

No IP rating

You may recall another article we wrote where we ranked this Mitutoyo as the best overall digital caliper on the market. Our opinion has not changed. While this caliper is on the pricier end, it’s cheaper than the Starrett yet still incredibly accurate and durable. We really think it’s worth the money, and that’s not the fumes from the wood finish talking. We mean it.

The 500-196-30 caliper is made of stainless steel and has an accuracy of 0.001”, or 0.254mm and a resolution of .0005” or .01mm. The accuracy is what is important here and this caliper is right in line with the best of the best when it comes to accuracy. Similar to the Starrett 798A-6, the accuracy that Mitutoyo is able to provide will exceed what they have specified the accuracy to.

Again, they aren’t guaranteeing this level of accuracy but it really goes to show the level of quality found in these calipers.

We also appreciate how well-marked this caliper is. The scale and large display are very easy to read and there’s no mistaking the on/off, zero/abs, or in/mm buttons.

Something that could be easily overlooked is just how fast the caliper is. The display updates very quickly when taking measurements. Switching from mm to inches is accurate and instant. Don’t blame the caliper if you accidentally take a metric reading, these bad boys are spot on.

While this caliper from Mitutoyo might not be IP rated, it is still well protected. It doesn’t have the same level of protection that the Starrett caliper has but it will hold up well to light dirt, dust, and coolant. I wouldn’t submerge them in anything or hit them directly with coolant, but besides that you should find they are pretty resilient. I suspect they don’t have an IP rating because the battery cover doesn’t seal well enough to meet spec. Speaking of batteries…

A truly standout feature of this digital caliper is the battery life. We’ve used a lot of digital calipers through the years and none have the battery life that this one has.  Cheaper models generally run out of juice in a span of months. Higher quality tools like the Starrett will last longer, usually about a year, possibly more depending on use. This Mitutoyo caliper claims a 3.5 year long battery life! I don’t have time to check that claim, but I do know I can’t remember ever changing a battery in any of the Mitutoyo calipers I own or have worked with. These things are always ready to take a reading.

All in all, the Mitutoyo 500-196-30 is a top shelf tool. Most of the digital calipers from other high-quality manufacturers will be in this same price range and as a result they should be benchmarked against this caliper right here.

If money is no option, it makes sense to go with the Starrett 798A-6 to get a couple extra bells and whistles, but if not then this Mitutoyo is the best option. This caliper sets the standard for what you should expect from a digital caliper.

Best digital caliper under $50

iGaging Absolute Origin 0-6" Digital Caliper

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Pros

Two-year warranty
IP54 rated

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Pros

Battery life

The iGaging caliper finds a nice middle ground between the expensive, incredibly accurate and highly durable models above and cheaper models that start to have questionable accuracy.

Made of stainless steel, this caliper has an accuracy of +/- .001” or .02mm, and a resolution of .0005” or .01mm. This is in line with what you would expect from a good quality caliper.

Perhaps the best feature of this caliper is its IP54 rating. It isn’t as good as the IP67 rating of the Starrett caliper we noted above but it still amounts to a solid amount of protection from the elements, especially because this is a budget friendly tool.

Another plus that is unusual for lesser priced tools is that iGaging gives you a two-year warranty on the caliper. Most manufacturers (even the really good ones) only give a one-year warranty, if any at all.

The IP54 rating plus the two-year warranty means iGaging stands behind this caliper and it should be up to task for quite some time.

One downfall worth mentioning is that the iGaging caliper does lose accuracy as the battery power winds down. The problem here is that there’s no way to track the battery level.

We recommend checking your zero regularly to make sure you aren’t in need a new battery. The process is quick and easy. Also, remember to keep some spare batteries on hand for this reason as well.

While the battery issue isn’t ideal, we still think this iGaging caliper provides great value in terms of accuracy and overall build quality. The IP54 rating and two-year warranty are just the cherries on top.

Best digital caliper under $25

VINCA DCLA-0605 0-6" Digital Caliper

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Pros

Price

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Pros

Cheaper calipers generally less accurate

If you’re brand new to CNC machining, or if your budget is looking a little bit tight this year and you need to save on a caliper, one option would be to go with the VINCA DCLA-0605.

Though it’s a fairly cheap tool, it still provides a good amount of accuracy. The VINCA caliper has an accuracy of +/- 0.001″/.0254 mm and a resolution of 0.0005″/0.01mm. Remember, when picking a digital caliper, accuracy should be your main focus.

Additionally, this caliper comes with a case. For the price you’re paying, this isn’t a bad freebie, especially if you’re taking this caliper with you from site to site. Heck, even if you’re not travelling with your tool, it’s a good idea to protect it to ensure they remain accurate and protect them from the elements.

Another feature we like on this VINCA is the RS232 port. The port lets you plug the caliper straight into a computer to digitally transfer readings. Even just this slight bit of automation is a nice safeguard since inputting wrong measurements will cause your machine to make the wrong cuts, thereby ruining your project altogether.  

It’s worth noting that one of the nice features of these calipers can also be a pain. They turn on automatically when you slide them. The display also turns off after not moving for a bit.

In theory this is great but even the slightest movement or vibration can cause the display to turn on which drains the battery quickly. Luckily this can easily be remedied by gently turning the lock screw when you put them away to keep them in place.

This set of calipers from VINCA isn’t perfect, but they are accurate and cheap. I wouldn’t plan on them lasting forever but at this price point, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Neiko 01407A 0-6" Digital Caliper

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Pros

Cheap
Measures in inches, mm and fractions

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Pros

Display is awkward to read

The Neiko 01407A is another solid option in the same price range as the VINCA.

When it comes to this end of the price range for digital calipers, you will find that many are the same Chinese manufactured tool with different branding slapped on top.

In this same vein, the VINCA and Neiko calipers have very similar displays which both read in inches, mm and fractions. This LCD is large which makes it easy to read but because they read in fractions (which aren’t that useful for most people) the last few numbers on the display are smaller which makes them a little awkward to read. It’s not a dealbreaker, but just something that takes a little getting used to.

So, let’s get down to brass tax with these super budget calipers from Neiko and VINCA.

To be honest, we don’t really see a whole lot of differences between these two models. They offer similar accuracy, and both come in at around the $25 mark with similar features.

Just remember that these aren’t the kind of tools you will pass down to your kids but they will get the job down for a fraction of the price of the higher end stuff.

For these two calipers, our recommendation would be to buy whichever model is cheapest at the time. Keep your eye out for sales on these two models, and just go for the lower price. 

Can you find a cheaper digital caliper?

Sure, you can find calipers out there for dirt cheap. But you’re going to get what you pay for, so if you’re only willing to drop $10 on a caliper, just know that it’s not going to be very accurate.

We think it’s always going to be worth it to spend an extra ten spot on a nicer caliper. The two missed trips to Starbucks will be worth it for a tool that is both more accurate and more reliable.

Things to consider when looking for a digital caliper

Battery life

button cell battery for micrometer

You might have noticed some of these calipers have a tendency to drain batteries, while others will last years on a single cell. Though most batteries aren’t incredibly expensive, they do add to the cost of the tool and it can be pretty darn inconvenient to have a dead tool and no backup batteries.

If you don’t go with a digital caliper with a long battery life, make sure to pick up some backup batteries to make sure your tool is always ready to go.

Measuring accuracy

After reading this review, you might’ve noticed that every caliper on here claimed the same measuring accuracy: +/- 0.001”. For Starrett or Mitutoyo, you can take them at their word for just about any spec.

If you are thinking about a tool on the bottom of the price range, then keep in mind that it might not actually meet the accuracy listed by the manufacturer. For this reason, we have prioritized accuracy in our budget friendly options above all other features.

If you need highly precise measurements that can be trusted without question, you better think about purchasing a more expensive caliper especially if you plan to use it for your day job.

Measuring accuracy vs resolution

Accuracy is how close a reported measurement is to the true value being measured. Resolution is the smallest change that can be measured.

Think about your car’s speedometer: Accuracy is how closely your speedometer measures the car’s true speed. Resolution is all of the little hashes on your speedometer, which indicate the speedometer can only measure in whole miles per hour (i.e. the speedometer reads “20 mph,” not “21.38 mph.”).

Be careful you don’t confuse the two. A digital caliper may give a reading (have a resolution) out to half a thousandth (0.0005”) but only be accurate to a thousandth (0.001”).

Measuring range

Every caliper we listed here measures 0-6”. This is by far the most common measuring range of calipers. You’re generally not going to need to measure sizes over 6”, especially as a beginner or hobbyist. If you are working in a machine shop, then likely the shop will have larger range calipers that can be used when needed.

0-6” calipers strike a great balance between measuring range and ease of measurement. Using a large caliper to measure smaller features can be very awkward. Use a 0-24” caliper to measure a 1” hole diameter, and you’ll quickly see what we mean.

IP ratings

As we mentioned earlier, an IP rating is the amount of resistance a device has to dirt, dust, water, and the like.

A lot of digital calipers – especially cheaper ones – have no resistance at all. If a caliper is IP rated, the average rating is IP54, which provides limited protection from dust and splashes of water. Honestly, for most people, IP54 is really all you’ll need for a caliper.

But some may want a more rugged caliper, and in that case there are some digital calipers which are rated IP67. This means they are virtually impervious to everyday dust and water.

With that being said, IP ratings don’t account for clumsiness, so if you drop your caliper on a concrete floor, it won’t matter what your IP rating is.

Below is a useful chart we made to help you navigate IP ratings. The first digit in a rating is protection from solids, while the second digit denotes protection from liquids.

ingress protection (IP) ratings solids description
ingress protection (IP) ratings liquid protection

Cases

Speaking of protection, some calipers will come with a case. These are precise measuring tools, which means they can be a bit delicate at times. It’s definitely not a bad idea to either buy a caliper that comes with a case or purchase your own.

Cases protect your investment and make locating your tool easier.

Materials

A good rule for calipers is to find one made from stainless steel. Though you may find models made from carbon fiber composites or plastics.

Again, we recommend a stainless-steel model, but the other kinds do have their benefits. A carbon fiber caliper is much less likely to scratch up wood, for example. They’re also non-magnetic, if that would be an issue for you.

Keep in mind the materials that you plan to work with but for most people, we recommend stainless steel calipers.