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.




Where to Buy

Mitutoyo QuantuMike 293-180-30

Best Overall Micrometer


Mitutoyo 293-340-30 Digital Micrometer

Best Digital Micrometer


Anytime Tools 0-1" Micrometer

Best Budget Micrometer


Starrett ST436.1 0-1" Micrometer

Best Standard Micrometer


Mitutoyo 329-350-30 Depth Micrometer

Best Digital Depth Micrometer


Starrett 440Z-6L Depth Micrometer

Best Standard Depth Micrometer


Fowler 52-225-116-0 Depth Micrometer

Best Budget Depth Micrometer


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


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
0-6" digital caliper

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
Typical button cell battery used in digital micrometers

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

Best Digital Calipers – Buyer’s Guide & Reviews [2022]

A good set of digital calipers is an invaluable tool for any machinist or hobbyist. Calipers can take a wide range of measurements. 

And they do it with a lot of accuracy.

For many people, finding the best measuring caliper is important because they get used so much.

I used digital calipers almost every day for 15 years and there isn’t much competition. 

Mitutoyo digital calipers are the best. 

There is solid competition in the value department but Mitutoyo has the most well-made caliper on the market.



IP Rating

Where to Buy

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

Best Overall Digital Caliper, Most Accurate, Easiest to Use


VINCA DCLA-0605 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Budget Digital Caliper


Starrett 798A-6 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Rugged Caliper


iGaging IP54 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Budget Rugged Caliper


Mitutoyo 500-754-20 0-12" Digital Caliper

Best Large Range Digital Caliper


Mitutoyo 500-196-30 Digital Caliper

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Battery life

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Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: 1 SR44 (included)

Amazing accuracy, excellent battery life and protection from dirt, water and oil. Mitutoyo makes a digital caliper that is everything you would want in a precision measuring tool.

These calipers from Mitutoyo are a reliable and consistently accurate measuring instrument. Perfect for reloading, engine work or every day use in a machine shop. 

Basically, Mitutoyo has set the standard for what a digital caliper should be and maintained that standard for a long time. In fact, if you can find a used set do be afraid to pick them up. 

These calipers are heirloom quality.

That isn’t something you would normally say about something electronic, but these digital calipers from Mitutoyo break the mold and are built to last.

Everything about these calipers is well-made.

  • Quality stainless steel frame
  • Solid plastic body
  • Buttons that just feel nice and are easy to use
  • Large, easy to read LCD display
  • Better battery life than any other caliper I have seen (Mitutoyo claims 3.5 years – it might be longer)

Combine these things with the dependable accuracy and you got a tool that is truly best in class.

VINCA DCLA-0605 Digital Caliper

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Customer service

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No IP rating

Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm, fractions

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: LR44 (included)

If you’re just getting into machining and you’re a bit nervous about dropping a lot of money on a high-end caliper like the one above, then this budget-friendly VINCA just might be the tool for you.

First and foremost, it’s a very accurate caliper for the price, with an accuracy of +/- 0.001″/.0254 mm. These are measuring devices after all. They need to be accurate.

While it is made of stainless steel, you’ll also be happy that this caliper comes with a heavy-duty case to keep it protected at all times when it’s not in use.

The LCD display face is fairly large, however you should note that the way the values are displayed is a little awkward, especially when measuring in inches. It appears VINCA did this to allow fractional measurements.

This isn’t something that is a deal breaker but worth noting because some of the numbers you will be reading are only half the size of the screen.

Battery life is good on these VINCA calipers. Take note that they automatically turn on when the caliper moves which can cause them to drain the battery faster even when not in use. Using the lock to gently keep them in place will go a long way towards extending your battery life and keeping them ready to use when you need them.

An excellent bonus feature of this caliper is the RS232 port which allows you to plug the caliper right into your computer. This is something that is rarely seen with budget priced calipers.

Digitally transferring readings can be super helpful, because it’s so easy to fat-finger a measurement if when entering them manually. 

Overall, these VINCA digital calipers are a great value for the price. They aren’t quite on the same level as some of the higher end measuring tools but they make an excellent starter set that doesn’t break the bank.

Starrett 798A-6 0-6″ Digital Caliper

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Protection from the elements

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Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: CR 2032 3V (included)

It’s tough to do a review about calipers and not include anything made by Starrett. Starrett is an industry leader, and for decades has carried a solid reputation for making incredible products.

This heavy-duty digital caliper from them has an accuracy of 0.001″, or 0.254 mm and a resolution 0.0005″ or 0.010 mm. Exactly the type of precision you would expect in a quality measuring tool.

When it comes to build quality, the stainless steel bar of this caliper is designed to last just like many other Starrett tools and the case it comes with only helps to extend the life of your caliper by keeping it safe when you’re not using it.

This display is easy to read and quite large. The buttons work as designed and overall the 798A-6 functions exactly as intended and just feels very well built.

However, the real reason you’ll want to buy this caliper is because of how rugged this thing is.

The 798A-6 is rated IP67. IP stands for ingress protection. This is a measure of the amount of resistance a device has to dirt, water, and other contaminants. For a full breakdown of IP ratings, see our rundown in the Things to Consider section.

Just know that most digital calipers, especially lower priced models, often offer no IP rating at all. The better models that do offer some form of IP rating are usually rated IP54. The IP67 rating of this Starrett is a significant jump up in protection.

One thing to keep in mind is that the IP rating doesn’t protect against damage from drops or other physical damage. You’re going to still need to treat it carefully. But let’s face it, we aren’t always working in the most pristine environments.

While the added protection that the Starrett caliper offers is welcome, it does come at a cost. Mechanics and machinists have known for a long time the value of a tool that can withstand a little abuse. Whether that is necessary for you situation is something you will need to decide.

I can’t say that I know of anyone who has regretted spending the extra to step up and get a tool from Starrett.

iGaging IP54 0-6″ Digital Caliper

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Large display
IP54 rated

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No auto power off feature

Accuracy: +/- .001”/0.02mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm, fractions

Warranty length: Two years

Battery used: CR 2032 3V (included with spare)

While they are a budget tool manufacturer, iGaging has been around awhile and made quite a name for themselves providing decent tools for a much lower price.

Made of stainless steel, this iGaging caliper has an accuracy of +/- .001” or .02mm, and a resolution of .0005” or .01mm which is directly in line with the capabilities of higher priced tools. Fractional measurements are taken in increments of 1/128″

We tested the accuracy and it performed wonderfully reading spot on in all inside, outside and depth measurements taken across the measuring range. It even comes with a calibration certificate. Most budget priced tools skip this.

This is a solid set of calipers, especially for the price. The LCD display is large and skips the weirdness that other calipers such as the VINCA DCLA-0605 has because of the fractional units. 

igaging ip54 digital caliper display fractions

But the real standout feature of this caliper is just how tough it is given its price. The iGaging caliper has an IP54 rating, which, as we mentioned earlier, is the average rating for calipers with an IP score.

However, given the price point, this is a very uncommon feature for calipers in this price range. Most will have no IP rating at all.

Being a budget caliper, but still offering protection from dust, oil, water, and other contaminants is what sets this caliper apart from others in its class.

Another nice thing about this caliper is the 2-year warranty. You’ll notice that a lot of the calipers on this list are given a 1-year warranty which is still higher than the average warranty. 2 years provides quite a bit of assurance that the caliper will function for a good long time.

igaging ip54 digital caliper in box with battery

One small drawback of this caliper is that the on/off power function is manual. What this means is that you need to remember to hit the power  button every time you are done using it or else you’ll drain the battery. Many digital calipers will feature an auto off feature to extend the battery life.

Overall, the IP rating this tool has offsets any issues with battery life. iGaging has done a great job of making a budget priced tool that stacks up well in most areas against some of the most well known measuring tool manufacturers.

Mitutoyo 500-754-20 0-12″ Digital Caliper

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Large measuring range
IP67 rated

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Very expensive

Accuracy: +/- .0015”/0.0385mm.

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: 1 SR44 (included)

We’ve included another Mitutoyo caliper on this list because this caliper is a bit different than the other one. For one, it’s got a much larger measuring range, going from 0-12″.

While measuring above 6″ is less likely, especially for beginners, this caliper gives you the option for larger measurements when needed.

Keep in mind that you wouldn’t want this as a replacement for a 6″ caliper, instead larger calipers such as a 12 or 24″ model will get used in addition to a 6″ caliper.

There are situations where you might need to measure something larger and the 6″ caliper just won’t do. But anytime you are measuring a smaller size, a large format caliper such as this will be difficult and awkward to use. Not to mention it won’t fit into tight spaces well.

You should also take not that the accuracy is slightly reduced because it needs to maintain that accuracy over a larger measuring range. This caliper has an accuracy of +/- .0015″/0.0385mm which is pretty good. 

You will find that some of the budget tool makers will spec their 12″ digital calipers with an accuracy of +/- .001″, which on paper looks like they are better than this Mitutoyo. In reality, they are often far worse than that. This is especially true if you move up to a 24″ caliper.

The Mitutoyo 500-754-20 comes with a whopping IP67 rating, meaning it’s super water and dust resistant. Having that level of protection on a tool that costs this much is important because you wouldn’t a splash of coolant or oil to destroy your prized measuring tool.

While it’s an expensive tool, if you have bigger projects that you plan on working with, then it’s well worth the money. And, as we touched on earlier, Mitutoyo is a premium brand in the industry, so if you do pull the trigger and decide to buy this caliper you won’t be disappointed in the quality of the product.

If you must go the budget route with a large range digital caliper, then be extremely aware of the accuracy you need and what the tool can actually provide. They might not line up.

I know everyone doesn’t have unlimited budgets so if you need to keep costs down, think about looking for a used Mitutoyo or Starrett digital caliper (good luck) or maybe going with a good quality dial caliper instead. Remember, that your large calipers are going to see much less use than a standard 6″ version.

All in all there are a lot of choices available nowadays when it comes to digital calipers and they are not created equal. 

Mitutoyo and Starrett lead the pack but they do come at a cost. 

Tools that have IP protection will help them last but may not always be a necessity for each user.

For smaller 6″ calipers, you can get a serviceable option that will often get the job done at a fraction of the cost. 

When it comes to larger calipers, don’t believe the claimed accuracy on those budget tools. 

Things to consider when purchasing a digital caliper

Accuracy vs resolution

Accuracy is the single most important feature of your digital caliper. 

They are measuring tools and they need to measure correctly.

The accuracy is the ability of the caliper to give the true value of a given measurement. The accuracy of the best calipers is usually +/- .001.

Cheaper alternatives will have an accuracy between +/- .002″ to +/- .010″. For some this may be fine, but it will depend on what level of accuracy you need for your project.

I also recommend that you do not blindly trust the claimed accuracies touted by the budget manufacturers. If Starrett or Mitutoyo specify an accuracy level, you can trust it but this is not the case 

Keep in mind the type of tolerances you will be working with to help you decide how accurate your caliper needs to be.

Measuring range

iGaging 0-24" Digital Caliper

The measuring range of the caliper is one of the most important aspects it has. You need to make sure that it will cover all the measurements you will want to take. 0-6″, 0-8″, 0-12″ and 0-24″ are some of the typical measuring ranges. 

0-6″ is the most common size of caliper. Measuring sizes over 6″ is less frequent. 

A 0-6″ caliper maintains a nice balance of measuring range and ease of measurement. As the measuring range of a caliper gets larger, it becomes more difficult to use. Using a 0-24″ caliper to measure a 1″ hole diameter would be quite difficult. 

Even if you require the ability to measure larger sizes, you will want a 0-6″ caliper for many measurements because of its ease of use.

Display size

mitutoyo digital caliper zeroed
Look For A Large Display

The display on your caliper plays an important role in how easy it is to use. Being able to quickly read your measurements will save you time in the long run. 

Let’s be real, some of us don’t have the best eyes. Larger displays make getting your reading simpler. This is one area that digital calipers have a nice advantage over dial calipers. The dial and indicator needle can be hard for some to read on your average dial caliper.

The best displays have large uniform digits as shown on the Mitutoyo caliper above.

Measuring units

Most digital displays are capable of showing measurements in inches as well as millimeters. Some calipers will also read measurements in fractional units. 

Fractional units are generally not the best way to take measurements because the displays don’t round and instead will display a measurement of something similar to 53/128″. That isn’t a very helpful way to display the data. If the display rounds to something useful such as 1/16 or 1/32 it would be more useful but most don’t.

Battery life

mitutoyo digital caliper sr44 battery

Battery life should be a prime consideration when examining the quality of a digital caliper. An auto on and auto shut off feature can greatly extend the longevity of a calipers battery life. 

The best digital calipers will have battery life that is measured in months or years. Most of the budget options available have much shorter battery lives. If you go the budget route with your caliper, make sure to keep some extra batteries on hand and maybe think about taking the battery out when the tool is not in use.

The biggest benefit of good battery life is that it will be ready to use when you need it.

Dial vs digital calipers

dial caliper reading 0.661
Dial caliper face

Dial calipers make a good option for a measuring device as well. The main benefit they possess is that they don’t require batteries so they are always ready to use. 

Dial calipers can’t switch measuring units at the press of a button though. There are some dial calipers that measure in mm as well as inches at the same time but they haven’t been proven to be particularly reliable.

For a more comprehensive look at the two caliper types, be sure to check out our  guide to the differences between dial and digital calipers.

IP ratings

Ingress protection rating or IP rating for short is the amount of resistance a device has to things such as dirt and water. 

Many digital calipers have no protection rating at all.

For the ones that do, IP54 is the most common rating. This equates to limited protection from dust and protection from splashing water which will be more than most users require.

The less frequent IP67 rating is excellent and means they are almost impervious to everyday dirt and water.

Keep in mind though that IP ratings don’t protect the tool from physical damage such as being dropped.

The chart below outlines how protected a tool is. The first digit in any IP rating is for the solids protection and the second digit covers the protection from liquids.

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


Adoric digital caliper display
Carbon fiber digital caliper from Adoric

For most applications you will want to get a caliper made of stainless steel. Other materials available include carbon fiber composites and plastic. 

While tools made of carbon fiber and plastic are generally not as nice in quality as those made of stainless steel, they do have some benefits. Carbon fiber and plastic calipers are less likely to scratch or damage softer materials such as wood or plastic. 

Stainless steel calipers tend to have sharp jaws that can scratch some materials but if you are careful in their use, there shouldn’t be any issues. Carbon fiber composites and plastic also have the benefit of being non-magnetic.

Calibration certificates

Some calipers are sold with a calibration certificate for a decent upcharge. Skip it. The tool should be accurate when purchased, regardless of whether it comes with a certificate or not.

The best practice is to verify the accuracy of the caliper when you receive it. Check the tool against a known standard such as a set of gauge blocks. At a bare minimum, verify the zero position before using your gauge.


VINCA digital caliper in case unwrapped

A case is an important accessory for a digital caliper. These are precision measuring instruments after all and all too often they get knocked off a workbench or dropped by a careless coworker. 

Keeping them in a case will add a layer of protection to help keep them safe. Cases come standard with calipers from the the best toolmakers such as Starrett, Mitutoyo, Fowler and Brown and Sharpe. 

They do not come standard for cheaper tools so keep that in mind when looking at those budget friendly options.

Data transfer

An RS232 port can be a handy addition to your caliper, but is certainly not a necessity. A RS232 port allows the transfer of data/measurements from your caliper to your computer.

For most users this is an unneeded feature, but for some applications it can be handy to record the data directly to your computer.

Best Dial Calipers for Any Budget – Buyer’s Guide

It used to be that there were a limited number of options when it came to dial calipers.

Well known manufacturers such as Mitutoyo, Starrett and Fowler were the only choices available. Boy, have times changed.

Now the same tried and true tool makers are still there but they are competing from a long list of knock offs and up and coming manufacturers. 

Find out how the old compares to the new in our guide to the best dial calipers available found below.

Best dial calipers overview

Best overall dial caliper: Starrett 3202-6 0-6″ Dial Caliper

Best budget/starter dial caliper: Anytime Tools 0-6″ Dial Caliper

Best large range dial caliper: Starrett 3202-12 0-12″ Dial Caliper

Best budget large range dial caliper: Fowler 52-008-0 0-12″ Dial Caliper

Best made in America dial caliper: Starrett 120A-6 0-6″ Dial Caliper

Starrett 3202-6 0-6" Dial Caliper

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Exceptional accuracy
Built to last

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The Starrett name is synonymous with precision measuring instruments. Known for making quality micrometers and calipers as well as many other tools for well over a century. They are a premier machine tool manufacturer.

Their calipers are top shelf across the board. They have long been exceptionally accurate and well made.

Many of the features of Starrett’s caliper seem like simple things to get right. What makes this set of calipers better than all the others is the way that they are able to get all those little things right all at once and on a consistent basis.

As anyone who has used a set of calipers can attest to, the feel of a good set of calipers is where the tool shines. Starrett has been able to put it all together through the years and make calipers that provide top notch accuracy while maintaining an amazing level of smoothness in the mechanical workings.

Depth measurements are one area in which dial calipers from many manufacturers struggle. This is not the case with Starrett. Depth measurements from these calipers are every bit as accurate as any inside or outside measurement.

The accuracy is easier to attain with a tool as good as this one from Starrett. The thumb roller is smooth and with a little practice allows the user to gain a high level of precision in their measurements.

The easy-to-read dial face helps as well. The bright white face makes it easier to read your measurement even in lower light situations such as in your garage or leaning in to take readings in a dimly lit machine.

Overall, there are only positives for Starrett’s dial calipers. They just feel right and on top of it all are built to last. This truly is an heirloom quality tool.

Anytime Tools 0-6" Dial Caliper

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Price point
Customer service

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Not "shock proof"

Anytime Tools has quietly worked their way up to be one of the higher quality inspection tool makers. They have found a way to balance making a consistently good measurement device while still keeping the overall cost down. This is not an easy feat.

Easily the best budget friendly caliper. They have been able to create a tool that mirrors the same characteristics of calipers that cost almost twice as much.

As the best dial caliper under $50, it is amazing that they are still able to come packed with extras that other brands like to skip in an effort to keep the cost down. This caliper from Anytime Tools comes with a nice padded case that helps to keep the precision tool safe from accidental damage.

The dial face on this tool is one of the nicest. The lines are sharp and contrast nicely with the white background which makes reading the caliper easier.

The most important aspect is that they have been able to maintain the same accuracy of tools that cost almost twice as much. Nothing matters more than accuracy when it comes to inspection and measuring tools.

Starrett 3202-12 0-12" Dial Caliper

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The usual Starrett quality

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Hard to take smaller measurements

One thing you should know about any precision measuring tool such as a dial caliper is that as the measuring range goes up, the price can climb steeply.

You might think that the cost of a 0-12” caliper would be twice as much as a 0-6” set. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and that 0-12” set can be 5-10x more expensive. This is especially true with sets from the most well-known manufacturers.

Luckily, Starrett makes a great 0-12” caliper that doesn’t completely break the bank. It has all the same great features of their 6-inch caliper but in a larger package. Another instance of a truly remarkable measuring tool. If you need a large caliper and trusted accuracy, then look no further.

One thing to keep in mind with larger calipers is that they will likely see much less use than a 0-6” set. Whenever possible you will want to use a smaller set of calipers for your measurements because they are so much easier to maneuver. It can be quite difficult to measure a small hole with a set of 12″ calipers.

Because they will be used less often, for some this may mean that they can sacrifice a little in accuracy and go with a cheaper set of 0-12” calipers. 

The Starrett 3202-12 is accurate to +/- 0.001″ which means it is an extremely capable measuring tool.

Just like any other measurement, you should pay attention to the tolerances you need before making any purchases.

Fowler 52-008-712-0 0-12" Dial Caliper

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Reduced accuracy

There is only so much that can be said about any dial caliper. They are all constructed roughly the same. 

The biggest difference between any make or model dial caliper is the accuracy.

Most will want a caliper that is capable of taking measurements to +/- 0.001″ but if you know you can get away with a little less then there are some cheaper options available such as the 52-008-712-0 from Fowler.

Fowler has made/imported measuring tools for decades and done it well. Lately, they have skewed towards the lower end of the pricing range. Often they are not as cheap as the Chinese made tools and aren’t as accurate as the American, Japanese or European made tools.

Where they have really been successful is in making some of the tools that are more complex at a lower price point than most of their competition. Depth micrometers and dial calipers are two of the tools they have done well.

This dial caliper makes a great budget friendly choice for anyone who can sacrifice a little accuracy. Most will find this isn’t an issue because as parts get larger, they do tend to have looser tolerances. Pay attention though because this isn’t always the case.


Starrett 120A-6 0-6" Dial Caliper

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Excellent quality

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American made tools can be quite hard to come by nowadays.

Luckily, Starrett continues to make a selection of their tools in the USA. The only downside is that they come with an added cost.

At about double the cost, Starrett’s American made calipers are excellent but in my opinion they just don’t justify the cost. 

I realize that some would prefer to buy American made tools at all costs and because of this have include them on the list. 

This set of calipers is great. The build quality is amazing but it just isn’t enough to justify the added expense for most people. 


Things to consider when purchasing a set of dial calipers

Measuring range

Dial calipers come in a large variety of sizes. The most common size has a measuring range of 0-6”. Less common ranges of 0-4” and 0-8” are also available. 

Larger sized calipers such as 0-12” and 0-24” are available as well but they are most often used in conjunction with a 0-6” set of calipers. This is because taking smaller measurements with a large set of calipers can be extremely awkward. In most instances, the larger sets get pulled out when other measuring tools just won’t do.

Sets of calipers with measuring ranges above 24” are available but are much less common than sizes under 24”.


A good set of 0-6″ dial calipers is accurate to +/- .001”. Any 6 inch calipers which are less accurate should be ignored.

As the measuring range of the caliper gets larger, the accuracy of the caliper will often be reduced. Pay attention to the specs because it isn’t uncommon for a 24″ set of calipers to only be accurate to +/- 0.002″.

If you are in need of accuracy that is greater than this, you will need to find a nice set of micrometers for your application.

Micrometers are commonly available with an accuracy of +/- .0001”. Some cheaper sets of micrometers will not quite meet this accuracy, but you can rest assured that a set from the most well-known manufacturers such as Starrett and Mitutoyo will more than meet this standard.

Dial calipers sacrifice some accuracy to gain versatility in measurement.

Dial vs digital calipers

mitutoyo digital caliper measuring 1 inch block

Both dial and digital calipers have their advantages. For dial calipers, their lack of batteries mean they are always ready to take a measurement.

Digital calipers have the benefit of taking instant measurements as well as switching between units at the press of a button.

There is no difference between the accuracy of digital and dial calipers and they are both available with similar measuring ranges. Ultimately, the choice between which is better comes down to a matter of preference.

For a more complete guide to the differences between dial and digital calipers see our guide on the topic.

Micrometers vs calipers

starrett 0-1" micrometer

The differences between micrometers and calipers lie in their accuracy and versatility. Micrometers are more accurate but with a much smaller measuring range.

Micrometers are generally ten times more accurate than calipers and have a measuring range that is 1/6 of the range of a typical caliper.

For a complete rundown of the differences, see our full guide to the differences between micrometers and calipers.

New vs used dial calipers

Don’t be afraid to look for a good set of used calipers. Brands such as Starrett, Mitutoyo, Brown and Sharpe, and Fowler have made quality calipers for years.

This is especially true if you know where the tool is coming from. Often retiring machinists are more than willing to part with their tools if they know someone is entering the trade with a passion for it.

If you don’t know the history of the tools, make sure to check the accuracy before buying. Not everyone treats their tools as gentle as they should. If you have access, check any potential purchase against a known standard such as a calibrated set of gauge blocks.

One item to look for when purchasing used tools is a case. If someone has kept the case and/or original box for a number of years, then it is likely that they have treated it carefully and it is every bit as good as new.

What can a dial caliper be used to measure?

starrett 3202-6 6 inch dial caliper measuring a part

Dial calipers can be used for a large variety of measurements. Most models will take inside, outside, step and depth measurements.

The inside, outside and step measurements are fairly standard and will be consistent among many manufacturers, but the depth measurement is what sets many quality calipers apart from the pack.

Note: Some calipers with larger measuring ranges such as 0-24” will come without the ability to take depth measurements. This is true as well for outside measurements. Some calipers will come with the ability to only take outside measurements thought this is usually only for calipers with measuring ranges over 12”.

How to reset or zero a set of dial calipers

To adjust a dial caliper, move the caliper until the jaws are closed.

Once in the zero position, check your reading on the indicator needle. If it lines up on zero, then no adjustment is needed. You can proceed to verifying the tools repeatability as noted below.

If it does not line up on zero, loosen the bezel lock screw and turn the dial face until it lines up on zero. Once aligned, tighten the lock screw.

Now open and close the jaws to verify that the caliper repeatedly returns a zero reading.

Once this is verified, if available use a set of known reference standards such as a gauge block set to verify different readings across the calipers measuring range. For a 0-6” caliper, 0”, 2”, 4” and 6” would be a good start.

After the tool has been verified as accurate across its measuring range, you can proceed to take your part measurements.

How to calibrate dial calipers

gauge block set
Gauge block set

Calipers should be calibrated periodically at an interval of your choosing. In a machine shop atmosphere, this will be determined by the company. Normal calibration intervals will range from 3 months to 1 year and everything in between. Some shops will even base the calibration frequency on tool use as opposed to length of time.

For home use, I recommend verifying them before each measurement.

With critical measurements, at home or in the shop, this verification becomes even more important. You don’t want to find out that your engine was bored oversize because you neglected to check your caliper before using it right?

Verify your tools and if possible, check them against a known calibrated standard such as a set of gauge blocks.

For more info on caliper calibration, please see our post on the Complete Guide to Caliper Calibration.

Calibration certificates

Please don’t pay more for anyone to provide a calibration certificate with your caliper. It just isn’t necessary.

Any extra money that would be spent on calibration costs would be much better spent on a set of gauge blocks so you can calibrate the tool yourself. Buying your own set of gauge blocks allows you to check the caliper regularly.

This can be especially important because it allows you to verify the accuracy of your measuring device, or measuring devices if you have more, right before taking a critical measurement so you know the readings are accurate.

Skip the calibration certs, if you think you might need it, get a set of gauge blocks and calibrate the tool yourself instead.

Maintenance and care tips

Lubricating your dial calipers

starrett tool and instrument oil bottle with cap
Starrett Tool and Instrument Oil

Most dial calipers will be made of stainless steel and therefore be resistant to rust. Not all types of stainless steel are created equal. Because of this it can be a good idea to have a light oil coating on some of the surface of the tool such as the beam.

Starrett makes a tool and instrument oil that works very well for lubricating all types of precision tools such as dial calipers.


It may be an old wives tale but many stand by not storing their calipers and micrometers with the measuring faces closed. Some say the surfaces in contact will corrode quicker. Others say it stresses the frame.

It is simple enough to back the tool off a little when you put it away and that is why we recommend doing it. If you plan to store the tool for extended periods of time, think about storing them with one of those little desiccant bags to absorb any rogue moisture.

Handle with care

Dial calipers are precision measuring tools, treat them like they are. They should be handled carefully and protected from shock damage as well as elements such as moisture and dirt.

Putting them away when not in use will go a long way towards keeping them out of harm’s way.


Dial calipers are precision measuring tools so the best thing you can do with them is protect them from damage as much as possible. Cases provide some damage from shocks and contaminants such as dirt, water, oil and/or coolant.

When not in use, the best place for quality measuring tools such as these is in a toolbox and the next best thing is in a decent case. Stash the case in your toolbox and you can double up the protection.

Depth base attachments

caliper depth base attachment
Caliper with depth base attachment

Calipers are notoriously difficult to use to take depth measurements. The nature of the tool makes it top heavy and therefore easy to get an incorrect reading when taking those depth measurements.

A depth base attachment makes the tool more stable and much more capable of taking accurate and repeatable measurements when it comes to things such as hole depths.

Dial caliper diagram and part names

parts of a caliper


They are the primary measuring faces. They come into contact with your part. Make sure they are sitting square on your surface. You don’t want to twist the caliper at an angle because you won’t get an accurate reading.


The scale is used in conjunction with the dial indicator face to get your measurement reading. The scale reads in increments of .100” while the dial face reads in increments of .001”. They get added together to determine your measurement size.

Dial indicator face

Where you will look for the most important part of your measurements. The dial face reads in increments of .001”. The reading on the dial face gets added to the reading on the scale to get your measurement.


The beam is the surface along which the body of the caliper moves.

Depth rod

Not present on all calipers, though most have them especially at smaller sizes. The depth rod is the part of the caliper that extends out the end of the tool to take depth measurements.

Lock screw

Not present on all calipers, the lock screw allows the caliper to be locked in place to take readings that may be in hard-to-reach positions that may not allow the caliper to be read while measuring the part.

Related articles

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.


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.


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.

VINCA DCLA-0605 Digital Caliper Review

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Great price
Has features not normally seen in its price range
Excellent customer service

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Unusual display


The VINCA DCLA-0605 0-6” digital caliper is nice little measuring tool. It is made of stainless steel and is capable of taking measurements in inches, metric and fractional units with an accuracy of +/- .001”.

The VINCA like many other calipers is able to take external, internal, step and depth measurements.

We tested those capabilities by measuring various size gauge blocks over the total measuring range of the tool and found them to be accurate to the manufacturers specs in all instances.

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

The DCLA-0605 comes with a large, easy to read display. One thing that does take some getting used to is that the first two digits are larger on the display. 

This allows the fractional units to be displayed. An odd choice when most will use the caliper in either inches or millimeters, but definitely not a deal breaker.

VINCA digital caliper display mm
Battery compartment shown

The VINCA caliper comes with an LR44 button cell battery installed along with  two spares. While the battery life isn’t as good as something like a Mitutoyo, it isn’t awful either. The caliper has an auto shut off feature for the display when not in use which helps it from draining all the juice.

The screen also flashes when the battery is low to let you know it’s time to swap batteries. Some digital calipers have been known to behave strangely when their batteries are low so this is a welcome feature.

VINCA digital caliper in case unwrapped

The DCLA-0605 comes with a protective case which is a nice bonus that some cheaper digital calipers don’t have. 

VINCA digital caliper data port
The RS232 data transfer port - DO NOT plug a USB cable in

Another feature not commonly seen on lower priced digital calipers is an RS232 port.

This will allow you to hook your caliper up to a computer to record measurements. It is worth noting that you should NEVER try to use a USB cable to hook the caliper up to a computer as this can cause the battery to explode. There are warnings all over the case and on the backside of the caliper to remind you.

Make sure to use the manufacturers recommended cable to connect your tool.

VINCA digital caliper rust on bar
Some rust on the frame

This VINCA caliper comes with a 1 year warranty and it is worth noting that by all accounts the company’s customer service is excellent. Considering my caliper arrived with some rust on the backside slot where the depth rod sits, that is probably a good thing. 

I am not planning on testing it for a budget level caliper, but they are noted as being quick to respond and offer solutions to any issues that are encountered. Maybe if there had been issues with the accuracy as a result.

VINCA digital caliper measuring 4 inch block
Accurate measurements across the board

The overall build quality of the tool is good. It isn’t the smoothest sliding caliper I have used but it does slide freely and it doesn’t catch or hang up at all. 

The fine adjustment wheel works well too and helps make those critical measurements as accurate as possible.


VINCA digital caliper packaging
The packaging looks cool

The VINCA DCLA-0605 digital caliper is an excellent budget tool. It has accuracy on par with other calipers in its price range.

The addition of a nice protective case, a couple extra batteries and an RS232 port make it a great choice especially for those looking to record their measurements directly to their computer.

The 1 year warranty and noted excellent customer service make this VINCA caliper a great budget friendly digital caliper.

Neiko 01407A 0-6″ Digital Caliper Review

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Great value for price
Measures in inches, millimeters and fractions

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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.


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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Not magnetic

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No fractional mode
You get what you pay for in accuracy


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.


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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Excellent accuracy
Resistant to dirt, oil and water

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Quality comes at a price
Doesn’t measure in fractions


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
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
The battery compartment with SR44 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


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 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.



Work Area

Where to Buy

BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router Kit

Best Overall CNC,
Best for Woodworking & Carving


SainSmart Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO

Best Budget CNC,
Best CNC for Beginners


SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

Best Mini CNC,
Best CNC under $1,000



Best Beginner CNC Router and Laser Engraver Combo


BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router Kit

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

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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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Easy assembly
Great for beginners
Easily switch to laser engraving

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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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Comes with most common upgrades

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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.


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Easy to use laser engraving software

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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.


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


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 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.


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 Engraving Pens for Every Budget and Material

Engraving pens come in a wide range shapes, sizes and capabilities. You want to find the one that is just right for you project.

As you read our guide to the best engraving pens, make sure to keep your planned project in mind to determine what tool will work best for you.

Some applications such as jewelry engraving will benefit from a smaller tool for more precise strokes. Other materials such as metal or glass will engrave better with a more powerful tool such as one of the engravers by Dremel below.

No matter what you are working with, we have laid out the best tools on the market and an extensive list of items at the bottom of the article for you to consider when looking for your right fit tool.



Where to Buy

Dremel 8220-1/28

Best Overall Cordless Engraving Pen