TLDR; The Neiko 01407A Electronic Digital Caliper is a great option for small project with a decent price. For a premium tool, the Mitutoyo 500-197-30 Advanced Onsite Sensor (AOS) Absolute Scale Digital Caliper is hard to beat, but a lot more expensive.
Calipers have long been a staple of the engineering and building community. However, they were traditionally very limiting in terms of both cost and accessibility, so few makers would have one on their bench. Until recently, calipers were analog devices that were difficult to read, and would often cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
Modern digital calipers are now not only extremely easy to use but very affordable as well. You don’t need to be an engineer to get a lot of use out of calipers. When you’re building things, a set of digital calipers can make your work easier and more efficient when you’re trying for example to fit a project in a case, or replicate a small part. Theses digital calipers will help you choose the best option.
What should you look for in a set of digital calipers?
The market options for digital calipers are more varied than ever so it is important to know what features are available and what you need. Some features are a must-have for any project, whereas some might only be needed for more specific applications. At its simplest a caliper is simply an adjustable set of jaws that have the ability to display the distance between those jaws. But there are a lot of additional features to consider.
One of the key selling points when working with calipers is the resolution. This refers to how small of a distance the caliper can accurately measure. Generally, most calipers will have at least a 0.0005″ resolution. In other words, the caliper can measure increments as small as five ten-thousands of an inch. On the other hand, for most hobbyist project, you generally do not need to worry about resolution: even the least expensive calipers will have more than enough resolution to satisfy your needs
Depth and Interior Measurement Options
As mentioned earlier, the main use of calipers is to measure the distance between the jaws. But this only allows measuring the outside size of an object. Often, it is useful to be able to measure the inside of an object, such as a pipe or the opening of a container. For this, many calipers have a second set of jaws that are mounted in reverse orientation, allowing the inside measurement to be taken.
Similarly, some calipers have a depth option. This takes the form of a small extension to the end of the caliper, which can be stuck into a hole or opening to measure the depth.
When working on a project, it is common to have to switch back and forth between units. While it is possible to convert millimeters to inches manually, this can be an annoying and slow process that slows down your workflow. Many calipers offer the option to convert on the fly with the push of a button. Further, some calipers offer the ability to display inches in fractions, making the size easier to equate to the units you’re usually see when purchasing parts or on your measuring tape.
Absolute and Relative Measurement Options
There are two ways in which a caliper can measure an object: the absolute measurement, and the relative measurement. The absolute measure is simply the distance between the jaws at any point. This is the most obvious way to use a caliper and is generally the default option. However, having the ability to utilize a relative measurement is useful in many instances. A relative measurement option allows you to zero the measurement at any point and then begin measuring from that point. Thus, if you need to compare the difference in the thickness of two objects, a relative mode will facilitate that without requiring additional math.
Here are the digital calipers that we will review:
- Neiko 01407A Electronic Digital Caliper
- REXBETI Digital Caliper Measuring Tool
- Fowler Xtra-Range Electronic Caliper
- EAGems Durable Stainless Steel Electronic Measuring Tool
- Mitutoyo 500-197-30 Advanced Onsite Sensor (AOS) Absolute Scale Digital Caliper
The Neiko 01407A is a fantastic option for most purposes. Despite its price, it has a stainless steel construction which will help with durability as well as accuracy.
One feature that the Neiko packs that is often lacking in budget-oriented calipers is a thumbwheel for moving the slide. This means that you can have more granular control of the jaws, rather than just sliding them manually on the rail. While this is certainly not a crucial feature, it increases the ease of use and can make measuring delicate items less perilous.
Another great option on the Neiko 01407A is that there is an available “large display” model. It costs a couple of dollars more but almost doubles the size of the numbers on the screen. For those that need a quick reference or for those who no longer have the best eye-sight, this would be a welcome addition.
Beyond the noted features, the Neiko has all of the features discussed above, including millimeter, inch, and fraction display, relative and absolute modes, and depth and interior measurement options. Perhaps the only downside of the Neiko is its battery situation. It uses watch-style coin batteries which, while not difficult to find, are not as common as other options and may not last as long. That aside, the Neiko is a sure-fire choice for a budget digital caliper.
The Rexbeti is another 6″ digital caliper. The Rexbeti features most of the same options as the Neiko in terms of display and measuring options, so it would certainly qualify as a full-featured budget set of calipers.
A potential let-down for the Rexbeti is the build quality. While the body of the unit is stainless steel, the display housing itself is made of cheaper plastic which makes the unit feel somewhat cheaper than its price tag would suggest. It is admittedly unlikely that this will cause problems, but the feel of the unit is less ideal.
One of the key differences in the Neiko and the Rexbeti is that the Rexbeti is IP54 certified. This makes it water and dust resistant, and thus the preferred option for working in damp or dirty environments. However, unless this moisture certification is necessary for your work (which is unlikely for a hobbyist), there are better caliper options on the market.
Compared to the two options already mentioned, the Fowler is a beast. While many of the small digital calipers had a maximum measuring width of six inches, the Fowler features a gargantuan twenty-four-inch width. However, this size also comes with a premium price.
The calibration, fit, finish, and features are second to none as you would expect. However, unless you need the size range of this unit, the price is enough to warrant looking at other options.
The EAGems digital caliper is actually the same basic unit as the Rexbeti, with only minor cosmetic differences. Thus, the same features and commentary will apply. Cosmetically, many of the reviewers in our office found the aesthetics of the EAGems to be somewhat classier and more appealing. That aside, if you are stuck deciding between the Rexbeti and the EAGems, simply go with the one that is less expensive at the time.
The Mitutoyo has all of the important features mentioned and has a mid-pack maximum opening size of eight inches. The Mitutoyo is certainly a more premium product. Yet, when you hold it in your hand, the cost will feel justified. While the less expensive options were not lacking in quality, the fit and finish of the Mitutoyo are unquestionable. This is not surprising given that Mitutoyo is one of the oldest names in the digital caliper game.
While the expense is fully justified, most consumers would be best starting with a cheaper option. Then, if they find that they use digital calipers enough to want an upgrade, the Mitutoyo is a fantastic “forever tool.”
It is clear that there is a set of digital calipers for every need and budget. And while it is easy to quibble and analyze the nuances and features of each model, the clear takeaway is that even the lowest-priced options still pack enough features to demonstrate immense utility. Among those, the Neiko 01407A Electronic Digital Caliper is a great choice.
If you are on the fence about whether or not to take the plunge, simply grab yourself an entry-level set and leave them on your workbench for a while. You will likely find yourself reaching for them more than you would have ever believed. When you’re ready for a most expensive tool, the Mitutoyo 500-197-30 Advanced Onsite Sensor (AOS) Absolute Scale Digital Caliper is a great premium option.