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Fractional Calipers - Good Idea, Terrible Product

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MontanaAardvark

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#1
A while ago, I saw the calipers that display in decimal inches, metric, and fractions on sale at Rockler's and bought one. They're on the top in this picture.

Calipers.JPG
As you can see, they're labeled General, a long established tool importer and seller. You can also see the main feature for these: they read out in fractions of an inch, down to 1/64. 1/64 is a bit critical for most woodworking, but they work just fine in the metal shop. Except for the fact that they're made of a plastic or glass-filled plastic and are therefore not as hard (in the scratch or dent resistant sense) as steel calipers would be. They also read out in decimal inches or decimal millimeters at the touch of a button.

Yeah, I have fraction-to-decimal charts around, and yeah, I have memorized lots of fractions in decimal format, but it's really convenient for things that aren't close to a multiple of 1/8, or a few others that are lodged in my brain. Plus, it's nice to measure something and know that if I measure .143, which isn't something I know by memory, it's "close enough" to 9/64. They're handy.

Unfortunately, they also act weird sometimes. They reset too often and that includes resetting zero or mode.

Enter the calipers on the bottom. Little Machine Shop carries these; they're stainless, and just look a lot better. LMS listed them as a weekly special about a year ago, and I grabbed this one. Plus, I had been hoping the weird resetting was some sort of electrical interference problem and that more metal on the back of the electronics might help.

Suffice it to say that was as good as burning the money. They reset constantly. I'll very carefully open them to measure something, just to find that as I'm getting close to the dimensions, it resets, goes to zero in mm mode. Fresh batteries don't help. Sometimes it seems like any pressure on the plastic body makes them reset. I just tilted my pair to look at them and the display is flashing 0.00mm 2 or 3 times a second.

I don't know, maybe there are good products out there, but I stopped leaving these in the shop and just keep them here by my computer where I can almost use them as ruler. The most casual use. But I doubt there are good ones. My guess is there is one maker of the the chips for these over in China.com and they're all the same.

If you know of good ones, I'm all ears. Otherwise, just a friendly warning to my fellow HMF members. Don't buy these unless you have infinite patience.
 

ttabbal

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#2
You might try bending the battery contacts slightly. The holders for those button cells are crap and the weak plastic case lets them move just a little. Lose contact with the battery and it's game over. I have some decimal calipers from HF that this helped with.

It might help to shim the top of the battery to the lid with something non conducting. Plastic, paper, etc.. Pushing them down a little bit helps a lot in some cases.
 

Groundhog

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#3
I've fixed 2 cheap calipers that were doing the same thing as you describe (resetting, etc.). There is a tiny wire (human hair sized) that is soldered to the circuit board. The other end is free - not hooked anywhere. As near as I can tell the loose end of the wire is meant to be trapped between the plastic cover and the metal frame of the sliding part (lets call this a ground).
When I carefully got the wire trapped in place both calipers started working OK. (I've also tried fixing other calipers with similar problems with no luck!)
 

ch2co

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#4
I bought a small pair of digital calipers on sale from H Freight. They really felt cheap in the hand, but they were easier to get into tight spots than my dial or verniers. Decided to keep ‘em because they were so cheap. Every time I went to use them, the batteries had died. They were “auto off” supposedly. I do keep a large stash of the little pill-like batteries around, but who wants to put batteries in their calipers every couple of weeks. I thought that I would like the metric-inch and fraction capability, but it’s just as easy to convert them in my head or use look up at the wall at one of my conversion posters. I guess I am just old school, give me a decent vernier or dial caliper any day. HF did take it back after more than 2 months.
 

RJSakowski

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#5
I bought a small pair of digital calipers on sale from H Freight. They really felt cheap in the hand, but they were easier to get into tight spots than my dial or verniers. Decided to keep ‘em because they were so cheap. Every time I went to use them, the batteries had died. They were “auto off” supposedly. I do keep a large stash of the little pill-like batteries around, but who wants to put batteries in their calipers every couple of weeks. I thought that I would like the metric-inch and fraction capability, but it’s just as easy to convert them in my head or use look up at the wall at one of my conversion posters. I guess I am just old school, give me a decent vernier or dial caliper any day. HF did take it back after more than 2 months.
Older digital calipers that retained position when turned "off" still draw current. Some of the later HF calipers actually do shut off (almost) when the power button is pushed. They do not retain the position though. Here is a quote from the thread http://www.hobby-machinist.com/threads/batteries.64094/#post-530959,
"I have one pair with a black scale cover that came from an auto supply store, perhaps fifteen years ago. It draws 13 microamps, on or off. I also have a 12" pair with black scale cover, purchased from HF and it also draws 13 microamps on or off. A third pair labeled PT draws 7 microamps on or off.
However, the two latest pair are from HF and draw 13 microamps on but only 1.4 microamps off."

Also, the doallar store batteries just don't have the capacity that the name brand batteries have. In researching the batteries, I found that the Everready EPX76 had the highest capacity and should last well over a year. Second was the Eveready 357 which should also last over a year. The most cost effective solution was the 357 as the EPX76 Cost about three times as much where I buy my batteries.
 

RJSakowski

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#6
I have had a number of calipers now that would suddenly jump by multiples of .200". I suspect that this is an internal defect rather than poor battery connection. A bad battery connection would most likely reset the display to zero. On mine, when I have a bad connection, they default to mm as well.
 

woodchucker

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#7
A while ago, I saw the calipers that display in decimal inches, metric, and fractions on sale at Rockler's and bought one. They're on the top in this picture.


As you can see, they're labeled General, a long established tool importer and seller. You can also see the main feature for these: they read out in fractions of an inch, down to 1/64. 1/64 is a bit critical for most woodworking, but they work just fine in the metal shop. Except for the fact that they're made of a plastic or glass-filled plastic and are therefore not as hard (in the scratch or dent resistant sense) as steel calipers would be. They also read out in decimal inches or decimal millimeters at the touch of a button.
I have an Igaging set, they read to 1/128, they are absolute readers, they are a good quality. When I need accuracy, I take out a mic.
 

dlane

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#8
I have that General caliper , worked good still dose but the lens got cracked, have since bought another brand that works good too. Never had a reset problem with them
 

ttabbal

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#10
The battery dieing is annoying. I have to remove the battery when they aren't in use to prevent having to replace them constantly. Mine are older HF calipers. If newer units don't do that, I'll have to think about getting some as it's really annoying.
 

MontanaAardvark

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#11
You might try bending the battery contacts slightly. The holders for those button cells are crap and the weak plastic case lets them move just a little. Lose contact with the battery and it's game over. I have some decimal calipers from HF that this helped with.

It might help to shim the top of the battery to the lid with something non conducting. Plastic, paper, etc.. Pushing them down a little bit helps a lot in some cases.
I'll have to look into this. In fact, I was thinking about that as I was posting. I have noticed that it seems like if handle them roughly they reset easier.
 

benmychree

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#13
I bought a small pair of digital calipers on sale from H Freight. They really felt cheap in the hand, but they were easier to get into tight spots than my dial or verniers. Decided to keep ‘em because they were so cheap. Every time I went to use them, the batteries had died. They were “auto off” supposedly. I do keep a large stash of the little pill-like batteries around, but who wants to put batteries in their calipers every couple of weeks. I thought that I would like the metric-inch and fraction capability, but it’s just as easy to convert them in my head or use look up at the wall at one of my conversion posters. I guess I am just old school, give me a decent vernier or dial caliper any day. HF did take it back after more than 2 months.
I have a Starrett digital caliper, and share the dead battery problem; now, I slide the battery cover back when I'm done with it, it disconnects the battery; next use, just slide it back into position, and you're good to go. I thought it was going to be handy to have the inch/metric capability, but dislike the "hunting" tendency where it does not want to settle down to only one stable measurement. I find myself mostly using a SPI dial caliper; I have had Starrett and Mitutoyo dial calipers over the years, but I think I like the SPI best so far. Another thing that I noticed is that the ID and OD measurements have been different on most calipers; if you set the OD on a standard measurement and mike the ID nibs, you get a larger measurement by a thou or two; I suppose they made them that way to allow for wear on the nibs, I have just stoned the nibs until they agree with the OD size. Actually, I think that digital or dial calipers should not be relied upon for measurements closer than a couple of thou anyway ------
 

ConValSam

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#15
I have an Igaging set, they read to 1/128, they are absolute readers, they are a good quality. When I need accuracy, I take out a mic.
++1

And even though I forget to turn them off all the time, I have yet to replace a battery after close to 2yrs.
 

Doubleeboy

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#16

woodchucker

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#17
A lot of the Amazon reviews mention that these are fakes. Just a heads up. If you want to be sure of authenticity it would be wise to buy from authorized dealer.
That is for items sold by other dealers, not necessarily AMAZON, but it would be a good idea to support a tool vendor of repute.
 

f350ca

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#18
I bought an electronic height gauge for the cabinet shop, works in fractions and decimals. Thought the fractions would be great, BUT when your setting a saw height to say 3/8 ths and your at 47/128 the which way do you go. It stays in decimal mode.

Greg
 

whitmore

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#19
I Thought the fractions would be great, BUT when your setting a saw height to say 3/8 ths and your at 47/128 the which way do you go. It stays in decimal mode.

Greg
You set the gage to 3/8ths, zero it, then do your height setting. Just watch the sign of the reading,
it'll tell you which way to adjust. Decimal mode is optional, but would give better feedback,
AFTER you do the rezeroing.

Fractional vernier calipers, on the other hand: those are just a nuisance. I've got
a set, only useful for transfer of dimensions, IMHO.
 
Last edited:

Alan H

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#20
A lot of the Amazon reviews mention that these are fakes. Just a heads up. If you want to be sure of authenticity it would be wise to buy from authorized dealer.
I do not think the fakes are sold by Amazon. But if they are fake, they're typically easy to identify. A call to Mitutoyo customer service and they will help you. It is in their interest to weed the fakes out.
 

woodchucker

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#21
I bought an electronic height gauge for the cabinet shop, works in fractions and decimals. Thought the fractions would be great, BUT when your setting a saw height to say 3/8 ths and your at 47/128 the which way do you go. It stays in decimal mode.

Greg
Posted above to the wrong post. Yep, I had the same issue. So mine stays in decimal, or metric. But I wound up buying a igaging fractional dial gauge for the WW shop. Love that. I also have a HF of the same (actually before I bought the igaging). It too is nice. Anytime I get a dial caliper, I take it apart, and stone the edges and round over the corners, and stone the rack to remove burrs. They run so much nicer after the work. They go from rough to smooth as silk. The digitals don't require that much work if any.
 

mksj

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#22
The Igaging Absolute calipers do have fractional measurements, and they always retain their position. I have had mine for several years after my Euro-cal (Fowler) started to give erroneous readings and was falling apart after 2 years of use. Been very happy with the Igaging Absolute, durable and reliable. The readings match my Mitutoyo and gauge blocks. At $40, well worth it. https://www.amazon.com/iGaging-ABSOLUTE-Digital-Electronic-Caliper/dp/B00INL0BTS

I do have a Mitutoyo 12" caliper, also very nice but much more expensive. The number of fakes on eBay and Amazon seem to dominate the sites. There are a lot of telltale difference between the real deal and the fakes if you know what you are looking for, but the fakes are very good even down to the signed paperwork.
 

MontanaAardvark

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#23
The Igaging Absolute calipers do have fractional measurements, and they always retain their position. I have had mine for several years after my Euro-cal (Fowler) started to give erroneous readings and was falling apart after 2 years of use. Been very happy with the Igaging Absolute, durable and reliable. The readings match my Mitutoyo and gauge blocks. At $40, well worth it. https://www.amazon.com/iGaging-ABSOLUTE-Digital-Electronic-Caliper/dp/B00INL0BTS

I do have a Mitutoyo 12" caliper, also very nice but much more expensive. The number of fakes on eBay and Amazon seem to dominate the sites. There are a lot of telltale difference between the real deal and the fakes if you know what you are looking for, but the fakes are very good even down to the signed paperwork.
What's interesting to me about the iGaging calipers is that the display is entirely different from the one in either of mine, so I assume they use a different chip.

I might have to give them a try. I have their angle gauge cube and a depth reading caliper; never a moment's trouble with any iGaging tools.
 

EmilioG

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#24
Mitutoyo Fakes: This is why I wrote to buy from Amazon and not other sellers, unless they're known good sellers,, like Travers Tool Co. and some others.
The fakes are being sold by lesser known sellers. Amazon responds quickly to any problem. I support the vendors that have good customer service and good prices/shipping.
 

f350ca

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#25
Posted above to the wrong post. Yep, I had the same issue. So mine stays in decimal, or metric. But I wound up buying a igaging fractional dial gauge for the WW shop. Love that. I also have a HF of the same (actually before I bought the igaging). It too is nice. Anytime I get a dial caliper, I take it apart, and stone the edges and round over the corners, and stone the rack to remove burrs. They run so much nicer after the work. They go from rough to smooth as silk. The digitals don't require that much work if any.
I use a dial caliber in fractions that Lee Valley sell. Love them, great for the planer. Think Im on my 3rd one over way too many years. They seam to work smooth with no work

Greg
 

gzoerner

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#26
The Harbor Freight digital calipers have been working well for me. I did a bit of fine-tuning on the points to make them sharp and consistent. They cost about $10 each a year ago. The prices have since increased to about $20 (before the 20% discount). The batteries have lasted for at least a year. I would definitely buy them again. I also have an HF digital micrometer with resolution to .0001. It works well, but it goes through the battery quickly so I leave it out while not using it.
 

Dabbler

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#27
+2 votes for the igaging calipers. I have 2 pairs, are getting beat up a bit, and even dropped occasioally onto the floor. (I'm not the only one in my shop).

They have never let me down. One uses 1 battery/year, the other I haven't replaced the battery (yet). Best purchase I've made for my shop, and one of the cheapest - pair 1 $16CDN (on clearance) and one at $29CDN on sale.
 

Tim9

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#28
I purchased these EAGems Digital Calipers and have been very happy with them. Not as cheap as HF, but a temperamental measuring device is useless IMO...Actually worse than that really. Only thing to add is that these are stainless yet are also magnetic. So occasionally I demagnetize the caliper jaws. Swarf sticking to the jaws will prevent them from fully closing and zeroing out. Amazon - EAGems Digital Caliper
 

royesses

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#29
I just purchased my 3rd iGaging digital absolute caliper. They all are smooth and accurate, a real pleasure to use. I save the Mitutoyo's for reloading and find the iGaging calipers are just as accurate. The mits are still the best feeling digitals I've used but the iGaging calipers come very close. I also have a 12" Aventor from Shars that is very smooth and accurate. Now my HF $10.00 digitals are used for scribing and measuring on greasy dirty stuff.

Roy
 
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