When it comes to sophisticated engineering, even a millimeter deviation in dimensions can cause issues to the build of an engine or other machines. This is where dial indicators come in – they are devices, made to precisely measure distance that is invisible to the naked eye.
They are generally used to measure small components of a part or the distance between two exteriors. Confused about which one to get? Worry not, in this article, I will review five top dial indicators you can find on the market; accompanied with other things you should be aware of if you want to get one.
To know more, keep on reading!
Best 5 Dial Indicators Reviews Below
Now that you are aware of how to choose and use a dial indicator, let’s have a look at the 5 best ones you can get your hands on.
1. Clockwise Tools DIBR-0105 Digital Electronic Dial Indicator
Made to satisfy both professional and home DIYer needs, the Clockwise Tools dial indicator gives a high performance, relative to its cost. There is a carbide anvil ball on top of the 3/8 inch stem.
The product itself is shipped in a very professional packaging; which is something you would not expect at the price point. It is also very sturdy and reliable; the magnetic base can pull up to 176 pounds and you can tighten or loosen all 3 joints at the same time. The joints are also quite tight; so, they will not unscrew very easily.
However, zeroing is not the easiest with this tool. It takes some time and effort to get the zero exactly right; but it gets easier with some practice. The auto turn-off feature creates an issue here because every time it shuts off, the zero setting resets.
Overall, this dial indicator works smoothly with great accuracy, so it’s worth checking out.
2. Neoteck DTI Digital Probe Dial Indicator
If you are after a tool that is very convenient and straightforward to use by even a novice, then look no further. The Neoteck DTI gives you correct measurements effortlessly every time, with its intuitive controls and convenient features.
A positive side of digital dial indicators is that there is less room for error. The exact number will show up on the screen and you will not need to read the measurement manually from the dial, like in traditional indicators. This means there is very little room for inaccuracy and you can rely on this product.
The option to switch between millimeters and inches is another big pro, especially for someone who needs to do a lot of projects for different clients who give measurements in different metric systems. This makes it the best woodworking dial indicator.
Be aware of the fact that you cannot load data from this tool directly to excel or other electronic software through cables; it does not support that. This could be a big issue for some people, and nothing at all to others. So ultimately, it comes down to preference and the mode of usage.
3. Fowler 52-520-109 AGD Dial Indicator
Looking for a dial indicator that will give accurate measurements consistently without breaking the back? Then this Fowler 52-520-109 is for you. Even the National Institute of Standards and Technology gave this indicator a certificate of calibration, so rest assured the quality is there.
For the price, the durability of this product is shocking. As I have already mentioned, Fowler used hardened stainless steel for the contact points to ensure longevity. On top of that, the casing and gear wheels are made of forged brass and hard brass, respectively. This one is made to last.
Unlike the previous two, this product is not digital; which means there is room for human error. But it makes up for that with the longer springs and more accurate reading. Just be careful with the measurements and you’ll be fine.
Personally, I enjoy the black design of this indicator; it looks sleek and elegant. However, the dark design may make it tough for some people to read. So, if you are someone who tends to have a hard time reading tiny fonts, stick to something that is lighter in color.
4. Mitutoyo 2416S Dial Indicator
My fourth pick is quite popular among users, and it’s for good reasons. This Japanese product is more than enough for the various jobs a dial indicator can be used for, with smooth, precise and superior performance.
You are going to love this one if you are used to working in harsh conditions. There are no screw holes on the main frame of this tool, which means it is totally waterproof and dust proof. You do not need to be mindful of carefully using your indicator anymore, Mitutoyo has got you covered!
Another impressive feature is the number of options the manufacturer gives you – you can get the indicator according to your preference. You have the option of choosing the back design from either lug type or flat type. Additionally, you can also choose whether you want the face to be black or white.
The double reading capability of the dial is another stunning feature of this device. Balanced dial readings are made for relative measurement to a reference point; and continuous dial readings are for direct measurements with no such reference. The range for continuous dial is also bigger.
5. Starrett 25-441J Lug-on-Center Back Dial Indicator
Last but certainly not the least, this Starrett dial indicator is the most expensive one on this list. It is meant more for professional use rather than amateur use; and it’s made to give the best possible performance for said professional use. Every penny you’ll be paying for this will be worth it.
The first thing that sets this dial indicator apart is how tough it is. It is made with hardened stainless steel and unbreakable crystal. Both of which ensure that it has a smooth mechanism even after accidental drops and other harsh treatment. Need something that will last you for years? This is it.
Starrett is known to make top-quality gears and this one is no different. A professional will definitely notice how the gears, springs, jeweled bearings, bushings, and the other mechanical parts of this product are made with excellent craftsmanship. It is very solidly built, and you will be satisfied with the performance.
Because of its superior quality, this indicator will be saving you a lot of time, effort, and money in the long run. It takes less effort to get the correct measurement as the deviation is as minimal as it can be.
How Do You Use A Dial Indicator?
Here’s how you can use a dial indicator;
Step 1: Prep & Equipment
The accuracy of measurement depends solely on complete stability & firm mounting. Even the slightest amount of movement during reading will compromise the preciseness of it. This is why dial indicators are widely used with a magnetic base which can be fixed solidly on a surface.
Step 2: Positioning
After equipping, the dial indicator is positioned in a way in which the stem of the indicator can measure movement. Depending on how you have positioned it, the stem can travel in two directions – to either give a positive or a negative reading. Position the dial indicator parallel to the component you want to measure.
Then, adjust the indicator to have the stem positioned at the middle of its range of travelling.
Step 3: Zeroing & Measuring
Prior to every measurement, you need to zero your dial indicator. Rotate the dial and position the zero mark to the exact opposite of the needle. Once that is done, you can start taking measurement by moving the part that the dial is attached to through the range of travel.
Difference Between Test Indicator and Dial Indicator
The main difference between dial test indicator and dial indicator is that the former has contacts that are of lever-type, and the latter has contacts that are of plunger type. Usage for these are different too, although there is some overlapping between them where either of them can do the job.
Typically, dial indicators are used for comparative & small measurements between two surfaces or cylinders. On the other hand, test indicators are used for consistency measurements on surfaces with one or two dimensions; such as height, roundness, flatness et cetera.
Test indicators are slightly smaller than dial indicators. Therefore, they can be mounted relatively more flexibly to the work subject compared to dial indicators; with a wider range of angles.
On the flip side, dial indicators can measure the depth of holes, something test indicators cannot. They are also more suitable for fixture gaging applications, bore gages, ID & OD gages, and height & thickness gages.
Factors to Consider While Choosing the Best Dial Indicator
These factors will help you make the right pick. Let’s get to know them!
Traditional dial indicators require reading measurements manually from the marked lines and numbers on the face. Modern indicators come with a digital screen that shows the measurement on it, eliminating the need to read manually. What you choose depends on how capable you are at reading manually, and your preference.
There are a number of things you can do with a dial indicator, and different ones are suitable for different tasks. For example, the plunger back type might be preferable over the flat back type for a certain kind of reading and vice versa.
Carefully research online to see which dial indicator style is best suited for your intended use. For general use, get a plunger type dial indicator with back mounting.
Generic dial indicators come with an accuracy of 0.001 inch, which is suitable for automotive and general use. For more precise measurement, you can get ones with more accuracy. Beware though, the more precise ones are very fragile and unsuitable for generic use. Buy them for specialty use only.
Maximum dial indicators are made to mount on a magnetic base while using. For basic use, get a magnetic base with a crossbar and upright design. You can also find specialty bases meant for a specific use. But for most generic uses, a magnetic base will work just fine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I transfer data from digital dial indicators to my PC?
Yes, you can. Most digital dial indicators come with a standard RS323 port. You cannot directly connect the port to your PC, but you can buy an interface box with an indicator port to do the job. Some dial indicators come with cables that can do it. With the right cables, you can directly import data to excel or any other software.
Can a very strong magnet damage my dial indicator?
Most dial indicators are made to be used with a strong magnetic base, so they are in close proximity of a magnet quite frequently. Hence, magnets will not damage your dial indicator.
Does the country of manufacture matter for dial indicators?
Dial indicators of popular brands are made in the US, Japan, or China. The country of origin does not play a big role in indicating the quality of a dial indicator; it depends on the company. If you are suspicious, do some quality control tests to see if the tool is good. Online reviews will help too.
Can I use dial indicators on soft surfaces?
Yes. But soft materials are very likely to cause minor deflection, throwing off the measurements a little. So, be careful when measuring on a soft surface.
Some dial indicators do not come with a storage case. Is that a deal breaker?
Generally, dial indicators are fragile tools and can stop working precisely or smoothly if met with harsh treatment or accidental drops. Higher quality durable indicators can stand up to that; but it is always safe to store them in a hard case to prevent damage and extend longevity. You can try getting a separate storage case.
Still confused about which one is the best dial indicator for you? Each of the dial indicators from my top 5 list has a specialty that sets it apart from the rest. Ultimately, it boils down to what you prefer the most.
Starrett will give you the highest durability and smoothness. Mitutoyo is water and dust proof. Fowler is the most affordable, while Neoteck & Clockwise Tools come with a digital screen. Choose what appeals to you the most.
That’s all! Thanks for reading.