Digital Calipers Surprise: You Get What You Pay For…

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“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” — Aristotle
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Life around here gets murky at times.

As mentioned in an earlier post, we planned on introducing the AngleMaster Pro v2 last week.  And our plan was to include a caliper with each unit. The question; which caliper?

Over the past two weeks we have spent in excess of $1,000 trying to arrange an ideal marriage for our totally awesome and yes you need it Angle Master Pro v2. We bought and tested calipers in all price points…it was an enlightening and frustrating two weeks (I was going to say the best and worst of times but that has been taken…).

The results are not a total surprise, but we thought you might enjoy the pic of our new caliper graveyard:


From $12 to $150, we tried a bunch and what we learned was amazing.

All of the calipers we purchased under $50 have major issues. Choppy resolution, sloppy travel, grungy travel, and worse yet, unreliable results–all were very common. Surprisingly they all shared abysmal battery life. And we have been struggling with what to do. To quote Michael, “These cheap calipers blow.” I guess I get that.

We have decided that we are not going to include a caliper with these units. We do strongly urge a dedicated caliper for ease, speed and consistency but we can’t in good faith send you something that you will complain about every time you change the battery.  Some of these units needed replacement batteries–some more than once in less than a week! Ouch.

That’s the bad news. Here is the good news. WE CAN’T FIND ONE NEGATIVE THING TO SAY ABOUT THE MITUTOYO 6″ ABSOLUTE DIGIMATIC. It is the perfect caliper for the AMP v2. Here’s why;

Battery Life: How about every two years?

Resolution? 0.01mm with ease.

Operation? Smoother than an encyclopedia salesman in backwoods (pick your state).

Price? Not $12

Here’s the deal; the Angle Master Pro v2 will debut without a caliper. We can buy the Mitutoyo caliper wholesale but not for a lower price than you can!

We found a strange quirk where wholesale is more than retail. This tool can be found on the the web anywhere between $115 to $150. However you can get it here for $98 until the end of December (and I believe it is freight free). It will be one of the best tools you will ever own. I have one in my briefcase, on my home desk, my office desk and have had two confiscated by airport homeland security folks who think I can fly passenger jets… (We bought 6 from this firm and you will soon see them in action in the AMPv2 video .)

Lastly, this is my last post until after the holiday. On behalf of all of us here, particularly those that actually work, you are sincerely appreciated beyond words. We have had an incredible year in really crappy times and it is because of all of you. Drivel is good. The Drivel Starved Nation is AWESOME!

Happy Holidays everybody.

Best-

John and Gang. Michael too.

PS: Full Disclosure: We have no business interest or connection (other than as a customer) with either Mitutoyo or the link posted above. I am sure somebody needs to know this.

28 comments on this post:

  1. John;
    I agree re cheap calipers.
    I also found the original angle master a pain to use. The inconvenience of the included manual(bulky and easy to mess up) was an issue as well.
    I’m inclined not to purchase the new Angle Master unless an easy to use app is included that i can use on my iPod, IPad or computer.

    Allan

  2. Allan,
    We are actively seeking a programmer for said ap and much more.

    If anybody knows of a good one, let us know!

    John

  3. John – for the programmer I’d suggest looking at OSU or UofO – get someone in their computer department to make it a student project. I’m sure it wouldn’t be difficult. I could program something in MATLAB, but I have no clue how to make it an app. The math’s pretty easy – it’s making it pretty that takes time.

    Now I’m thinking I need to check my $35 calipers. Or at least try the Mitotoyo to see what I’m missing…

    Have a great break. We’ll miss you.

    – Peter

  4. Peter;

    Will follow-up on your suggestion-thanks.

    Regarding the Mitutoyo caliper, I can honestly say from afar that you will not believe the difference. This tool is a pure, unadulterated accurate joy. Treat yourself and smile every time you use it–that is the hallmark of a great tool!

    Best-

    John

  5. I agree with John. I’ve used the Mitutoyo 500-196-20 for a while now and I love it.

    I wonder if 100 members of the DSN would be willing to spend $10 a piece on a simple iphone app?

  6. Charles;

    I am working on a solution as I type–if only these silly holidays were not so time consuming I would be further ahead…

    The ability to work the AngleMaster with a smart phone (all the majors), iPad, etc. will be done before the tools are built!

    John

  7. John,

    Have you considered mechanical dial calipers? It sounds like most of the problems you are having is with the electronics.

    John

  8. John,

    Mechanical calipers in a wood shop are prone for issues–dust is a big problem. We are not recommending dial calipers for the AMP v2, but one could make them work.

    The issues we are discovering is that the value proposition for most of the inexpensive calipers is really low. How good can an electronic caliper be if the cost of the unit equals two of its batteries?

    We know of an awesome caliper and we shared it and compared to lower cost alternatives, and their issues, we believe the value proposition is high.

    Thanks for posting.

    -John

  9. John,

    I’m also a fan of the Mitutoyo caliper, I have 3; one on the coffee table(by the computer), one in the shop, and one in the AMP-6i. I think that I’ll order another from the site for use in my new AMP!

    Will the new AMP use the same math as the old version; allowing me to use my cheat card and my HP-32s and vice versa?

    Thanks, and Happy Holidays!

    -Rutager

  10. You had a Starrett caliper in the AngleMaster you had at the IWF. Were you having problems with the Starrett caliper? Do you have any recommendations for a USA made caliper? Thanks

  11. J.C.;

    To my knowledge, there is no such thing as an American made digital caliper. I would love to be proven wrong.

    The reason I say this is we were pursuing the possibility of having a chipset made to accommodate the Angle Master and all roads lead to Asia. Mitutoyo has a mfg. facility in Japan and a couple of others, one in Europe I believe, the other I don’t remember.

    Regarding the Starrett, I bought one, and would not buy another–one of the few tools from this great US company that I don’t like –but that is just me. I don’t believe this tool is US made but I could be wrong.

    Rutager;

    Math is identical…but you are going to be able to work it with a smart phone…

    –John

  12. I thought your Starrett said Made in USA on it but perhaps I’m incorrect.

    Looks like the Starrett 797B was Made in USA but seems to have been discontinued. Although, it looks like there are still retailers that have them for sale.
    Central Tools offers a made in USA digital with Swiss Electronics.

    I’ll try to find some others. Anyone else know of any US Companys that make calipers?

  13. Just “tossing” this out there; there is a version of the caliper that has an output cable. Would somebody smarter than me, be able to run the reading into a program on their computer and get a angle reading? Does that version come with software that could do this, it might be pretty cool!

    -Rutager

  14. Rutager;

    First the output calipers cost more than regular versions so that is a concern.

    You will be able to do everything on a smart phone, iPhone, iPad, iPod, Palm, Windows 7. We are going to delay the video of the AngleMaster a week or so because we are going to include this capability in the video. And this is insanely fast.

    For the Luddites, there is going to be a downloadable PDF of the settings that can be printed.

    Lastly, knowing what I know now, NOT having the caliper read direct may not be such a good idea after all. With the app, we can do so much more…complimentary angles, supplementary angles, instant miter angles for known obtuse angles, etc. Pretty cool! Working on including the Guide to Compound Miters too. I think when you see it work, you will be impressed.

    -John

  15. I’ll throw another recommendation in for the Mitutoyo Digimatic caliper. It’s great, I use mine almost everyday for both wood and metal working.

  16. That $98 link in the original post is from Enco. They started a free-shipping promo today until Dec 31. Use code FSCDEC. I ordered my calipers the day John posted about this thinking the rest of y’all would sell them out :)

  17. Okay, so Enco buys a few more than 96 at a time! A lot of nice options for calipers on that site as well; likely more for machinists, but the one for reading from center-to-center of holes seemed useful.

    I had the Wixley fractional digital calipers before; battery life didn’t exist (routinely keep the battery door propped open between shop days). I was happy to see the Wixley matched the Mitutoyo on some random items down to a few hundredths of a millimeter. Based on your testing, did I get lucky with the Wixley or are there other issues that took out certain calipers from the running (like battery life)?

    Lastly, will the AMPv2 have some kind of microadjustment? I’m thinking that if I want to dial in an angle and know the caliper setting, it would be nice to get it close then use a microadjuster rather than nudging. I’m bad at nudging. It’s a hockey thing.

  18. Paul-

    Using the Mitutoyo, we don’t seem to have any difficulty setting to .01mm by .01mm increments (the finest resolution available).

    One trick you can use is to slightly tighten the gibs (lock screw) so the head is not so willing to skip increments.

    We did find that it was extraordinarily difficult to adjust the less expensive versions–they seem to be “missing” increments at times. Example, going from 140.12 mm to 140.18mm with nothing in between. Battery life is the big one. The sliding action is so crude on some of them it makes fine adjustments impossible too–not good for a tool that is supposed to measure in .01 mm or .0015″ increments.

    We quit buying low-end calipers when it became obvious that they were all made at the same Asian factory.

    -John

  19. Hi everybody,

    I am new to your forum and just ordered the Mitutoyo caliper. I found two coupon codes: “EDDC” & “EDDF” which gives me 10% off and free shipping (need to use both). This brings the price down to $88.20. These coupons ends tomorrow.

    Robert

  20. Robert:

    Welcome to the Drivel Starved Nation-great group of intelligent and passionate folks here.

    You just got the best deal on this tool I have seen-congrats!

    Thanks for sharing.

    John

  21. John,

    I have long suspected this . . . and you just slipped up and proved it.

    It’s time to fess up and admit you have a time machine and are from the future.

    One guy is not going to come up with the tool innovations we all see here at Bridge City. “Borrowing” future ideas and manufacturing them here in the past is the only logical explanation.

    How else would you figure out in a two week time period that Mitutoyo calipers have a battery life of Two Years?

    Don’t try going back and changing the original post. it will mess up the space time continuum or so I have been told, but I guess you already know more about that than I do.

    Mark

  22. A long time ago I came across a very interesting article talking about the poor battery life of cheap digital calipers. Alas, I can’t seem to find the article any longer.

    Basically, they tore some apart and found that the “on/off” switch only turned the LCD on and off, the rest of the electronics were always on. The LCD, it should be noted, consumed an almost trivial percentage of the power drawn from the battery. You could tell they were always on because if you turned them “off” and moved the jaws, then turned it back “on”, it would read the correct distance.

    The super-cheapass LR44 batteries they come with don’t help things one bit.

    I now have a 6″ harbor fright one that I modded to use a tiny dip switch to disconnect the battery.

    Though, I suspect, I may stop using that one when the $98 Mitutoyo shows up.

  23. Joe-

    Thanks for chiming in. Another example of how cheap=most expensive. I just received an email this AM from a company that is giving away a 6″ digital caliper with every $25 purchase freight free. Amazing.

    You will not regret your $98 purchase.

    John

  24. Any experiences with Starrett 798 family of calipers? They are made in Massachusetts. The 120 dial calipers are also made there.

    I may be beating a dead horse but I have never had anyone from Japan or China or any of those other countries ask me to build them anything. I’d like to send my money somewhere where I might get it back.

  25. @J.C., We have learned that up until very recently, all of the digital calipers from Starrett were made off shore. Apparently they have a new caliper line, the 798 as you mentioned (we obviously have not tested them) that is made in the States @ around $200. This price likely reflects the SPC output capabilities. I don’t think this USA model comes without SPC so for most of our customers, it is a feature that will never be used. FYI. That said, any digital caliper can be inserted into the AMPv2.

    John

  26. For more recent arrivals, Enco has a FSCJAN code for free shipping over $25. The other codes mentioned in these comments (FSCDEC, EDDC, and EDDF) have expired.

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