Shopping for Dial Indicator

UncleDoc

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Apr 4, 2020
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Does anyone have a suggestion/preference for a particular dial indicator for use on a Sherlne lathe? I know there are a million choices, but I'd rather not make a mistake, as funds are finite.

Thanks.

Duane
 

Schatznut

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Sep 26, 2020
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I highly recommend Starrett or Mitutoyo measuring tools. First class all the way. Buy used if you can; you can save yourself considerable money by shopping judiciously. If you're into old tools like I am, consider Lufkin. You may think of them as only manufacturers of tape measures, but 60-70 years ago, they made precision measuring tools as nice, and in some cases nicer, than Starrett. And without the Starrett name, they don't command the Starrett prices. You'll want a back plunger indicator to give yourself the precision you need - look for one that indicates to 0.0005". The Starrett 711 "Last Word" indicator is an excellent choice and can be found fairly reasonably on the used market. Note that you'll need some kind of holder - whether a magnetic or clamp-on base - for it to be useful.
 

Schatznut

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Yeah, the holder part is the most difficult part to get my head around.
The Starrett 711 usually comes in a fitted case with various back clamps and positioning rods, which is what makes it particularly attractive. See what you can find, and if you have questions, let us know. Happy hunting!
 

etmb61

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Oct 25, 2010
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Here is the one I use for the lathe and mill. I found it used online for about $80.
2.jpg
The rectangular bar (second from the top) fits in the standard lathe tool holder.

The range for this indicator is only 0.030". If you need more than that you may need a plunger type dial indicator.

Eric
 
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Wayne A

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Sep 24, 2019
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Cheap dial indicator from asia I've had for decades actually works well, so cheap it does not even have a name on it. Mitutoyo 0-15 is very handy as well. Like those holders that work with one knob making it easy to position.
Have a number of calipers and micrometers from estate/garage sales that work great. Have a hard time passing them up if the price is right. Cheap calipers makes a nice layout scribe too.
 

measuretwice

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Jul 28, 2019
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Are you after a dial indicator (plunger) or dial test indicator (lever)? Plunger tend be handier for measuring (e.g. infeed of cross slide) and levers for comparison (e.g. truing work in the 4 jaw, aligning a vise). DTI's are more compact so might make sense with a small lathe

For DTI's, Federal, Starrett, Verdict, Mitutoyo are all good....best are the Swiss, Interapid, Compaq, some Browne and Sharps, Aline (all made by the same folks). Some of those aren't made anymore, but imo there is better value with used quality indicators. I've got some, but can't say put high on the list the Starrett last word or back plunger types.

For dial indicators, sort of the same list but being larger, its easier to make a decent one. Even some of the China ones people say work ok. The Mit digitals are nice, lets you switch from imperial to metric.

I do a lot of repairs on these items so my views are based 30 years of using them + seeing how well made they are on the inside. Just like a watch, the good ones are jewelled and overall better made. I've collected a large number them and probably fixed cleaned and sold 50 more and find my go to's for DTI would be an Interapid or Compaq and the dial indicator would be a Mit digital. They work perfectly and are a pleasure to use.

For a DTI you also have to decide what reading you want - 1/1000 or 1/10,000. (or metric 1/100 or 1/1000 I guess). If you only have one I'd go with the finer one...some don't like the extra sensitivity but you don't be working to a tenth to benefit from the added amplification. i.e. working to a thou is easier when you can indicate to something less
 
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glenhead

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This is another of those areas where I'll probably be considered a heretic.

You don't need to spend a boatload of money on a dial indicator or a dial-test indicator. All of these types of devices are for A-B comparison, not for accurately determining any independent measurement.

The primary thing that matters is repeatability. If the indicator shows that you're off by .003", does it tell you the same thing if you remove it and replace it and measure at the same spot again and again? What about if it shows things are dead on? Does it always show you're dead on?

A secondary consideration is the mechanical operation of the indicator. Does it operate smoothly? Are there spots in its operation where it drags or snags or hiccups or does anything else to show it has problems? Does the bezel zero the measurement easily, but stay in place once you've set it?

I started out over ten years ago with dirt-cheap indicators. They work just fine. In use there's no meaningful difference between the no-name Chinese one and the Mitutoyo. Over the years I've bought more expensive ones (used, if I knew the seller) simply because I had the money to do so and decided to spoil myself. Some of the sets have more tips and whatnot. I mentioned the bezel a minute ago because that's where the cheap ones have developed issues in mine. I've chosen not to take them apart and clean the bezel surfaces or whatever, I just know there are gritchy spots or that the bezel is a bit loose.

There are several listings on eBay where you can get a new indicator and magnetic base for less than $50. For starting out those will do what you need to do. If you really get into it maybe you can spoil yourself in the future.

Hope this helps.

Glen
 

bartmes

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May 20, 2012
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A large internet retailer, headquartered in Seattle, is offering a Mitutoyo 2046S indicator (metric) for less than $45. Seems a chance to buy top quality at a reasonable price. One cautionary note is the 8mm stem-not all indicator stands accommodate this size so be aware.
 

measuretwice

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Jul 28, 2019
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A large internet retailer, headquartered in Seattle, is offering a Mitutoyo 2046S indicator (metric) for less than $45.
Thats a great price. Just a note of caution, Amazon is more like a clearing house than a retailer.... and its hard to know the integrity of the vendor. Counterfeit (Mitutoyo seems to be a counterfeit favourite) does get moved through Amazon who would have little reason to look into it unless there were complaints.

The vendor is ONLINE TREATS out of New York. Its a good deal and probably fine, but I'd call Mitutoyo and ask them if they can verify Online Treats is a distributor (Mit only sells to distributors)...or ask known tool vendor if they'd price match
 
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karlmansson

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Apr 20, 2013
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And then there is the question of travel and resolution. Sensitivity is a different matter that I’m not that versed in. For general use a 0,01mm/graduation indicator will do you fine. For precise inspection work and runout measurement a 0,002mm is probably good to have, I haven’t gotten around to getting one but I’ve missed one many times.
As for travel, it comes down to the size parts you are making. I have a 30mm travel indicator that I use on my lathe that has come in handy a lot lately. I also have a Mitotuyo 10mm with magnetic base that I use more as a positional reference with “early warning”. IE, I set the tool to the depth of shoulder I want to turn to, set the indicator against the carriage with about 5mm preload and then zero the scale (also an important aspect, does your indicator have a rotating bezel and scale? Very handy for lathe work!) and then I have five turns of the needle until I hit my mark while turning. Plenty of time to react.

I would have to disagree about the absolute measurement aspect. A good dial indicator together with a surface plate with indicator holder and a set of gauge blocks is probably one of the more precise ways of measuring to an exact dimension. You do compare two measurements still but if you are 0,02 over dimension you would mill off 0,02 and would therefore want that measurement to be accurate.

Regards
Karl
 
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Rob Martinez

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May 3, 2013
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.......Have a number of calipers and micrometers from estate/garage sales that work great. Have a hard time passing them up if the price is right. Cheap calipers makes a nice layout scribe too.
Any of those Estate sale deals you willing to pass on to us new-bees? Feel free to message me if you have any you would like to sell....
 

measuretwice

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Jul 28, 2019
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"Any of those Estate sale deals you willing to pass on to us new-bees? "

Used quality indicators can be a good way to go, I've never bought a new one. One of the most common failings with indicators is that people oil them. The oil dries, they get sticky. I maintain indicators should not be oiled whatsoever. Rational is that, unlike a watch they will likley never receiving a servicing - the cleaning and oiling that is so crucial keep the oil fresh and the watch working. Also unlike a watch they have an extremely low, minuscule duty cycle. A harden pivot on a jewel bearing in an indicator quite literally can last generations, but with a bit of dried oil they get pushed to the back of the toolbox with the assumption its pooched. The average guy using one can't service it, and they are not economical to send out.

That's good news for watch guys....take them apart,clean them and away you go.

The other failures, 5 or 10% of them, are either damage rack/wheel teeth from a drop or a cracked jewel. The cracked jewels are a problem because they much larger than what we use for watches. They can be bought, but repairs quickly become uneconomical (say 3 jewels @ $20 each for a indicator that might be $50 used in good shape). I have replaced the jewels with minature ball bearings but mostly to see if I could....its time consuming and considering the value of a used indicator debatable if its worth it

Lastly, here's another application of using an indicator for direct measurement. The lathe is a bit bigger than a Sherline, but this principle works on any machine and I've seen it on everything from a unimat on up, on the X or Z axis. Its for fussy work as well as conveniently letting you use the lathe for metric and imperial. I most work in imperial but metric comes up often enough, say for a bearing, that this is really handy

 
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