Best Engraving Pens for Every Budget and Material

Engraving pens come in a wide range shapes, sizes and capabilities. You want to find the one that is just right for you project.

As you read our guide to the best engraving pens, make sure to keep your planned project in mind to determine what tool will work best for you.

Some applications such as jewelry engraving will benefit from a smaller tool for more precise strokes. Other materials such as metal or glass will engrave better with a more powerful tool such as one of the engravers by Dremel below.

No matter what you are working with, we have laid out the best tools on the market and an extensive list of items at the bottom of the article for you to consider when looking for your right fit tool.

Name

Awards

Where to Buy

Dremel 8220-1/28

Best Overall Cordless Engraving Pen

Tidalpool Easy Etcher

Best Budget Cordless Engraving Pen

Tacklife PCG01B

Best Value Cordless Engraving Pen

Dremel 290-01

Best Corded Engraving Pen

IMT Scriber

Best Manual Engraving Pen

Best Overall Cordless Engraving Pen

Dremel 8220-1/28

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Pros

Power
Warranty
Case

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Cons

Bulky compared to some engraving pens

The Dremel company is so associated with rotary tools that many would refer to a rotary tool as a Dremel like they would call any facial tissue a Kleenex. There is good reason for this. Dremel has been making well made rotary tools for decades.

This cordless version is on the larger side when compared to your typical engraving pen but with the added size comes added power. Power that will allow you to do more with your tool. The tool has an adjustable speed that can run at 5,000-35,000 RPMs.

With all that power it would be easy to think the battery would be a big concern. Luckily, the 8220-1/28 charges to full battery in only an hour.

The Dremel 8220-1/28 comes with a nice variety of accessories and bits that will allow you to carve, engrave, cut, grind, sharpen, clean, polish and sand your projects. Speaking of all those add-ons…

The included case does a nice job of containing the tool and various extras.  Which is great because many of the bits are small and it is a good idea to protect them, so they stay sharp for the next project.

The Dremel 8220-1/28 has a quick-change collet that makes changing out all those tools a snap. This is definitely one of the features that sets it apart form many other tools.

The other standout feature is the 2-year warranty. Most other manufacturers don’t even include a 1-year warranty. It’s obvious that Dremel stands behind their product.

So, if you are looking for a versatile tool capable of performing a variety of operations and working with many different kinds of materials, think about going with the Dremel 8220-1/28.

Best Budget Cordless Engraving Pen

Tidalpool Easy Etcher

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Pros

Lightweight
Easy to control
Included stencils

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Cons

May be underpowered for some materials

The Easy Etcher is an excellent engraving pen for beginners. The tool is so lightweight that engraving with it is as close to using an actual pen as you will get. The Easy Etcher is actually about the size of a standard marker.

The rubberized grip also helps keep the engraver under control while using it. While the 12,000 RPM speed may seem under powered when compared to other engraving pens, it actually helps keep the tool stable during use.

Runtimes will vary depending on the type of material you are working with, but the Easy Etcher runs on AAA batteries which means there is no waiting around for the tool to recharge. The batteries aren’t included but other extras are.

The Easy Etcher comes with 10 sets of stencils that make engraving text or designs on your material a piece of cake. It also comes with a nice starter selection of bits that allow you to create a variety of textures and finishes.

The Easy Etcher won’t be the be all, end all for engraving every material but it is a great tool to get you started without breaking the bank.

Best Value Cordless Engraving Pen

TACKLIFE PCG01B

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Pros

Adjustable depth setting
Warranty

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Cons

Hard to install bit
Loud

While the TACKLIFE PCG018 is not as nimble as the Easy Etcher it does a good job of making up for it in the power department. With similar price points, it would be wise to determine whether power or maneuverability is more important to you.

The PCG018 has 3 speed settings of 5, 10 and 15,000 RPMs. This means it will work well for a variety of materials.

This TACKLIFE engraving pen is cordless and rechargeable. It charges over USB which has some benefits and drawbacks.

The charge time is fairly long at 2 hours but with a runtime of 90 minutes it lasts long enough to complete most jobs.

Additionally, the tool comes with 31 different accessories for engraving, sanding and finishing along with a case to contain them all. Two collets to accommodate different bit sizes of 3/32” and 1/8” is also a nice addition.

The TACKLIFE PCG018 is a solid choice when it comes to cordless engraving pens.

Best Corded Engraving Pen

Dremel 290-01

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Pros

Adjustable depth setting
Warranty

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Cons

Hard to install bit
Loud

The Dremel 290-01 is different than most of the other engravers on this list. Instead of being a rotary engraver, it has a vibrating tip that moves in and out. Basically, it operates like a mini jackhammer.

Corded engraving pens like this Dremel have some advantages and disadvantages.

Being corded means that you are tethered to your power outlet and it can be slightly cumbersome to work with the power cord snagging on objects in your work area. The 290-01 is pretty lightweight though which makes maneuvering it around your workpiece a little easier.

A nice benefit of using a corded engraver is that you won’t ever run out of power. This is helpful for harder materials that may take multiple passes to get the amount of engraving you desire.

The power of the 290-01 is controlled with a dial that allows five depth settings. This works well to adjust for different material types such as wood or rock. All that power comes with the side effect that the tool is quite loud when running. You should expect it to be noisy. It is a power tool after all but take note that the other tools on this list are quieter.

There are a couple minor downfalls for the 290-01. The biggest one is that the bit can be difficult to install. The set screw that locks it is tiny and it can be challenging to work with.

Also, the provided stencil comes in handy but is somewhat lacking. Many other engravers come with a wider variety of stencils so keep in mind that you may want to purchase some extra stencils if you plan on engraving a lot.

On the plus side, just like this engraving pen’s cordless counterpart, the Dremel 290-01 comes with a two-year warranty which is well above what most competing engravers come with.

Overall, the Dremel 290-01 is a solid engraving pen. A couple minor inconveniences are balanced nicely by the higher, non-stop power that comes from being always plugged in.

Best Manual Engraving Pens

IMT Scriber

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Pros

No power required

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Cons

Doesn't engrave deep

If all you need is something basic and reliable for engraving then the manual scriber from IMT may be your best bet.

It requires no batteries or power cord. The tool is extremely lightweight and its tungsten carbide tip will engrave a large variety of materials including steel, ceramics and glass. If you are working with plastics though, a powered tool would be a better choice.

The IMT scriber will actually perform an operation that is more akin to scratching your material than actually engraving it. For many use cases, this is more than enough. Just keep this in mind when choosing your engraving pen.

It also comes with extra tips in case one snaps. They are somewhat brittle because they are so hard. They aren’t fragile but can break if you aren’t dropped or handled roughly. Luckily, the scriber comes with a protective cap that will help shield the point from damage.

The IMT scriber is definitely more low tech than some of the other engraving pen options available but if all you need is a simple engraver then it may be a great choice at a cheap price.

Things to consider when buying an engraving pen

Safety

Remember that these tools can be dangerous, especially to your eyes. Be careful handling them and use eye protection to protect you from things such as flying chips or broken bits.

Corded vs cordless engraving pens

Corded engraving pens generally have more power than their cordless counterparts. The downside is that the cord can get in the way and make the tool more difficult to maneuver. The easiest engraving pens to use are those that are lightweight and battery operated.

Cord length

If you choose to use a corded engraving pen to have more power, keep in mind that the length of the power cord is very important. If the cord is short, then make sure that you have an extension cord handy because some of the power cords can be very short.

Speed

RPMs do not equal power. Being able to adjust your RPMs over a wider range is more beneficial than simply having a higher RPM overall. Different materials will require different RPMs. In general, materials such as glass or metal which are harder will benefit from a higher RPM and softer materials will engrave better at lower RPMs.

Bits and accessories

It is a nice bonus for an engraving pen to come with a good selection of bits and accessories but not a necessity. There are many bit or accessory kits available that allow you to perform different types of engravings or finishing to your piece for a fairly cheap price.

Extra bits aren’t required to start but before too long you will definitely want to expand your bit collection if your engraving pen doesn’t come with many. Different bits will allow you to different styles of engraving.

Battery

If you go the cordless route, make sure you find a tool that charges quick and has a long runtime.

Cheaper tools tend to run off standard AA or AAA batteries which means they can run out of power quickly but also that more power can easily be on standby. Keep extra batteries nearby but consider the amount of power you will need for your project when choosing which engraving pen to go with. Harder materials require more power.

Warranty

Pay attention to the length of the warranty for your tool. Just like many other power tools, a good warranty is a solid indicator of the quality of the tool. This doesn’t mean that good tools don’t come with shorter warranties, just that it is something to be mindful of.

Stencils

Stencils can be very important for getting the correct design on your part. There are many different stencil kits available but it is definitely a bonus to have a couple to start with. Creating visually appealing designs freehand is going to take some practice so having a template to follow when getting started will be helpful.

Engraving vs cutting

Engraving pens are just that, engravers. They generally are not meant for cutting. If you are looking for a tool that is capable of doing more than simply scratching the surface of a part, then you will want to look into something with more power like the various Dremels or other higher power rotary tools.  

Related articles

For more information check out these related articles:

Best Digital Calipers [2022]

A good set of digital calipers is an invaluable tool for any machinist or hobbyist. Calipers are versatile and capable of taking a wide variety of measurements. They do this all while maintaining a high level of accuracy.

However, the problem is that picking the right set of calipers is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The best digital calipers depend on the needs of the user and what their application is.

Because they can be so versatile and accurate, it means they often see a high level of use no matter who is using them.

A good set of calipers makes a big difference in the quality of your work so read on to find out which ones can measure up.

Name

Awards

IP Rating

Where to Buy

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Overall Digital Caliper, Most Accurate, Easiest to Use

None

VINCA DCLA-0605 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Budget Digital Caliper

None

Starrett 798A-6 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Rugged Caliper

IP67

iGaging Absolute Origin 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Budget Rugged Caliper

IP54

Mitutoyo 500-754-20 0-12" Digital Caliper

Best Large Range Digital Caliper

IP67

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Pros

Accuracy
Dependability
Battery life

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Cons

Cost

Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: 1 SR44 (included)

Amazing accuracy, excellent battery life and protection from dirt, water and oil. Mitutoyo makes a digital caliper that is everything you would want in a precision measuring tool.

These calipers from Mitutoyo are a reliable and consistently accurate measuring instrument. Perfect for reloading, engine work or every day use in a machine shop. 

Basically, Mitutoyo has set the standard for what a digital caliper should be and maintained that standard for a long time. In fact, if you can find a used set do be afraid to pick them up. 

These calipers are heirloom quality.

That isn’t something you would normally say about something electronic, but these digital calipers from Mitutoyo break the mold and are built to last.

Everything about these calipers is well-made.

  • Quality stainless steel frame
  • Solid plastic body
  • Buttons that just feel nice and are easy to use
  • Large, easy to read LCD display
  • Better battery life than any other caliper I have seen (Mitutoyo claims 3.5 years – it might be longer)

Combine these things with the dependable accuracy and you got a tool that is truly best in class.

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Pros

Price
Customer service

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Cons

No IP rating

Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm, fractions

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: LR44 (included)

If you’re just getting into machining and you’re a bit nervous about dropping a lot of money on a high-end caliper like the one above, then this budget-friendly VINCA just might be the tool for you.

First and foremost, it’s a very accurate caliper for the price, with an accuracy of +/- 0.001″/.0254 mm. These are measuring devices after all. They need to be accurate.

While it is made of stainless steel, you’ll also be happy that this caliper comes with a heavy-duty case to keep it protected at all times when it’s not in use.

The LCD display face is fairly large, however you should note that the way the values are displayed is a little awkward, especially when measuring in inches. It appears VINCA did this to allow fractional measurements.

This isn’t something that is a deal breaker but worth noting because some of the numbers you will be reading are only half the size of the screen.

Battery life is good on these VINCA calipers. Take note that they automatically turn on when the caliper moves which can cause them to drain the battery faster even when not in use. Using the lock to gently keep them in place will go a long way towards extending your battery life and keeping them ready to use when you need them.

An excellent bonus feature of this caliper is the RS232 port which allows you to plug the caliper right into your computer. This is something that is rarely seen with budget priced calipers.

Digitally transferring readings can be super helpful, because it’s so easy to fat-finger a measurement if when entering them manually. 

Overall, these VINCA digital calipers are a great value for the price. They aren’t quite on the same level as some of the higher end measuring tools but they make an excellent starter set that doesn’t break the bank.

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Pros

Protection from the elements
Accuracy

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Cons

Expensive

Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: CR 2032 3V (included)

It’s tough to do a review about calipers and not include anything made by Starrett. Starrett is an industry leader, and for decades has carried a solid reputation for making incredible products.

This heavy-duty digital caliper from them has an accuracy of 0.001″, or 0.254 mm and a resolution 0.0005″ or 0.010 mm. Exactly the type of precision you would expect in a quality measuring tool.

When it comes to build quality, the stainless steel bar of this caliper is designed to last just like many other Starrett tools and the case it comes with only helps to extend the life of your caliper by keeping it safe when you’re not using it.

This display is easy to read and quite large. The buttons work as designed and overall the 798A-6 functions exactly as intended and just feels very well built.

However, the real reason you’ll want to buy this caliper is because of how rugged this thing is.

The 798A-6 is rated IP67. IP stands for ingress protection. This is a measure of the amount of resistance a device has to dirt, water, and other contaminants. For a full breakdown of IP ratings, see our rundown in the Things to Consider section.

Just know that most digital calipers, especially lower priced models, often offer no IP rating at all. The better models that do offer some form of IP rating are usually rated IP54. The IP67 rating of this Starrett is a significant jump up in protection.

One thing to keep in mind is that the IP rating doesn’t protect against damage from drops or other physical damage. You’re going to still need to treat it carefully. But let’s face it, we aren’t always working in the most pristine environments.

While the added protection that the Starrett caliper offers is welcome, it does come at a cost. Mechanics and machinists have known for a long time the value of a tool that can withstand a little abuse. Whether that is necessary for you situation is something you will need to decide.

I can’t say that I know of anyone who has regretted spending the extra to step up and get a tool from Starrett.

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Pros

Two-year warranty
IP54 rated

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Cons

No auto power off feature

Accuracy: +/- .001”/0.02mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm (a separate model is available that does fractions as well)

Warranty length: Two years

Battery used: CR 2032 3V (included with spare)

While they are a budget tool manufacturer, iGaging has been around awhile and made quite a name for themselves providing decent tools for a much lower price.

Made of stainless steel, this iGaging caliper has an accuracy of +/- .001” or .02mm, and a resolution of .0005” or .01mm which is directly in line with the capabilities of higher priced tools.

When it comes to build quality, there isn’t anything in particular that sets it apart from the competition. The LCD display is nice when compared to other budget priced calipers such as the VINCA DCLA-0605 which displays values with some numbers that are smaller. 

Similar to the VINCA caliper, the iGaging tool includes an SPC output to transfer measurement data to your computer.

But the real standout feature of this caliper is just how tough it is given its price. The iGaging caliper  has an IP54 rating, which, as we mentioned earlier, is the average rating for calipers with an IP score.

However, given the price point, this is a very uncommon feature for calipers in this price range. Most will have no IP rating at all.

Being a budget caliper, but still offering protection from dust, oil, water, and other contaminants is what sets this caliper apart from others in its class.

Another nice thing about this caliper is the 2-year warranty. You’ll notice that a lot of the calipers on this list are given a 1-year warranty which is still higher than the average warranty. 2 years provides quite a bit of assurance that the caliper will function for a good long time.

One small drawback of this caliper is that the on/off power function is manual. What this means is that you need to remember to hit the power  button every time you are done using it or else you’ll drain the battery. Many digital calipers will feature an auto off feature to extend the battery life.

Overall, the IP rating this tool has offsets any issues with battery life. iGaging has done a great job of making a budget priced tool that stacks up well in most areas against some of the most well known measuring tool manufacturers.

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Pros

Large measuring range
IP67 rated

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Cons

Very expensive

Accuracy: +/- .0015”/0.0385mm.

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: 1 SR44 (included)

We’ve included another Mitutoyo caliper on this list because this caliper is a bit different than the other one. For one, it’s got a much larger measuring range, going from 0-12″.

While measuring above 6″ is less likely, especially for beginners, this caliper gives you the option for larger measurements when needed.

Keep in mind that you wouldn’t want this as a replacement for a 6″ caliper, instead larger calipers such as a 12 or 24″ model will get used in addition to a 6″ caliper.

There are situations where you might need to measure something larger and the 6″ caliper just won’t do. But anytime you are measuring a smaller size, a large format caliper such as this will be difficult and awkward to use. Not to mention it won’t fit into tight spaces well.

You should also take not that the accuracy is slightly reduced because it needs to maintain that accuracy over a larger measuring range. This caliper has an accuracy of +/- .0015″/0.0385mm which is pretty good. 

You will find that some of the budget tool makers will spec their 12″ digital calipers with an accuracy of +/- .001″, which on paper looks like they are better than this Mitutoyo. In reality, they are often far worse than that. This is especially true if you move up to a 24″ caliper.

The Mitutoyo 500-754-20 comes with a whopping IP67 rating, meaning it’s super water and dust resistant. Having that level of protection on a tool that costs this much is important because you wouldn’t a splash of coolant or oil to destroy your prized measuring tool.

While it’s an expensive tool, if you have bigger projects that you plan on working with, then it’s well worth the money. And, as we touched on earlier, Mitutoyo is a premium brand in the industry, so if you do pull the trigger and decide to buy this caliper you won’t be disappointed in the quality of the product.

If you must go the budget route with a large range digital caliper, then be extremely aware of the accuracy you need and what the tool can actually provide. They might not line up.

I know everyone doesn’t have unlimited budgets so if you need to keep costs down, think about looking for a used Mitutoyo or Starrett digital caliper (good luck) or maybe going with a good quality dial caliper instead. Remember, that your large calipers are going to see much less use than a standard 6″ version.

All in all there are a lot of choices available nowadays when it comes to digital calipers and they are not created equal. 

Mitutoyo and Starrett lead the pack but they do come at a cost. 

Tools that have IP protection will help them last but may not always be a necessity for each user.

For smaller 6″ calipers, you can get a serviceable option that will often get the job done at a fraction of the cost. 

When it comes to larger calipers, don’t believe the claimed accuracy on those budget tools. 

Things to consider when purchasing a digital caliper

Accuracy vs resolution

Accuracy is the single most important feature of your digital caliper. 

They are measuring tools and they need to measure correctly.

The accuracy is the ability of the caliper to give the true value of a given measurement. The accuracy of the best calipers is usually +/- .001.

Cheaper alternatives will have an accuracy between +/- .002″ to +/- .010″. For some this may be fine, but it will depend on what level of accuracy you need for your project.

I also recommend that you do not blindly trust the claimed accuracies touted by the budget manufacturers. If Starrett or Mitutoyo specify an accuracy level, you can trust it but this is not the case 

Keep in mind the type of tolerances you will be working with to help you decide how accurate your caliper needs to be.

Measuring range

iGaging 0-24" Digital Caliper

The measuring range of the caliper is one of the most important aspects it has. You need to make sure that it will cover all the measurements you will want to take. 0-6″, 0-8″, 0-12″ and 0-24″ are some of the typical measuring ranges. 

0-6″ is the most common size of caliper. Measuring sizes over 6″ is less frequent. 

A 0-6″ caliper maintains a nice balance of measuring range and ease of measurement. As the measuring range of a caliper gets larger, it becomes more difficult to use. Using a 0-24″ caliper to measure a 1″ hole diameter would be quite difficult. 

Even if you require the ability to measure larger sizes, you will want a 0-6″ caliper for many measurements because of its ease of use.

Display size

mitutoyo digital caliper display
Look For A Large Display

The display on your caliper plays an important role in how easy it is to use. Being able to quickly read your measurements will save you time in the long run. 

Let’s be real, some of us don’t have the best eyes. Larger displays make getting your reading simpler. This is one area that digital calipers have a nice advantage over dial calipers. The dial and indicator needle can be hard for some to read on your average dial caliper.

Measuring units

Most digital displays are capable of showing measurements in inches as well as millimeters. Some calipers will also read measurements in fractional units. 

Fractional units are generally not the best way to take measurements because the displays don’t round and instead will display a measurement of something similar to 53/128″. That isn’t a very helpful way to display the data. If the display rounds to something useful such as 1/16 or 1/32 it would be more useful but most don’t.

Battery life

Battery life should be a prime consideration when examining the quality of a digital caliper. An auto on and auto shut off feature can greatly extend the longevity of a calipers battery life. 

The best digital calipers will have battery life that is measured in months or years. Most of the budget options available have much shorter battery lives. If you go the budget route with your caliper, make sure to keep some extra batteries on hand and maybe think about taking the battery out when the tool is not in use.

The biggest benefit of good battery life is that it will be ready to use when you need it.

Dial vs digital calipers

Dial calipers make a good option for a measuring device as well. The main benefit they possess is that they don’t require batteries so they are always ready to use. 

Dial calipers can’t switch measuring units at the press of a button though. There are some dial calipers that measure in mm as well as inches at the same time but they haven’t been proven to be particularly reliable.

For a more comprehensive look at the two caliper types, be sure to check out our  guide to the differences between dial and digital calipers.

IP ratings

Ingress protection rating or IP rating for short is the amount of resistance a device has to things such as dirt and water. 

Many digital calipers have no protection rating at all.

For the ones that do, IP54 is the most common rating. This equates to limited protection from dust and protection from splashing water which will be more than most users require.

The less frequent IP67 rating is excellent and means they are almost impervious to everyday dirt and water.

Keep in mind though that IP ratings don’t protect the tool from physical damage such as being dropped.

The chart below outlines how protected a tool is. The first digit in any IP rating is for the solids protection and the second digit covers the protection from liquids.

ingress protection (IP) ratings solids description
ingress protection (IP) ratings liquid protection

Materials

For most applications you will want to get a caliper made of stainless steel. Other materials available include carbon fiber composites and plastic. 

While tools made of carbon fiber and plastic are generally not as nice in quality as those made of stainless steel, they do have some benefits. Carbon fiber and plastic calipers are less likely to scratch or damage softer materials such as wood or plastic. 

Stainless steel calipers tend to have sharp jaws that can scratch some materials but if you are careful in their use, there shouldn’t be any issues. Carbon fiber composites and plastic also have the benefit of being non-magnetic.

Calibration certificates

Some calipers are sold with a calibration certificate for a decent upcharge. Skip it. The tool should be accurate when purchased, regardless of whether it comes with a certificate or not.

The best practice is to verify the accuracy of the caliper when you receive it. Check the tool against a known standard such as a set of gauge blocks. At a bare minimum, verify the zero position before using your gauge.

Cases

EAGems Caliper with case
A Case Provides Much Needed Protection

A case is an important accessory for a digital caliper. These are precision measuring instruments after all and all too often they get knocked off a workbench or dropped by a careless coworker. 

Keeping them in a case will add a layer of protection to help keep them safe. Cases come standard with calipers from the the best toolmakers such as Starrett, Mitutoyo, Fowler and Brown and Sharpe. 

They do not come standard for cheaper tools so keep that in mind when looking at those budget friendly options.

Data transfer

An RS232 port can be a handy addition to your caliper, but is certainly not a necessity. A RS232 port allows the transfer of data/measurements from your caliper to your computer.

For most users this is an unneeded feature, but for some applications it can be handy to record the data directly to your computer.

BobsCNC Evolution 4 Review

If you’re looking to impress some folks at the next tailgate or house party with a sleek homemade cornhole set, then Bob’s Evolution 4 CNC Router might be right for you.

A favorite among hobbyists and woodworkers who are looking for a machine with a bit more torque than other entry-level CNC machines. BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC router is a solid choice for getting started in CNC woodworking or stepping up from smaller CNCs such as the 3018 series of CNC routers.

Check out all the nitty gritty details that make this machine so good below.

Machine specs

Feature

Spec

Work Area (Inches)

24" x 24" x 3.3"

Work Area (MM)

610mm x 610mm x 85mm

Machine Size (Inches)

32" x 39" x 21"

Machine Size (MM)

812mm x 990mm x 530mm

Weight

47 Pounds

Warranty

60 Days

Materials It Will Cut

Wood, Plastic, Aluminum, Acrylic, PCB, Leather & More

Review

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Pros

Large work area
Excellent customer service

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Cons

Assembly time

Power and capabilities

The Evolution 4 is fairly heavy-duty. The added power means it is capable of cutting a wider range of materials, including soft aluminum, leather, and of course, wood. Some of the less capable machines struggle with harder woods and are outright incapable of working with aluminum. More power in your CNC router will always be a good thing.

Speaking of capabilities, another area in which the Evolution 4 stands out from the competition is the size of the work area. This determines the size of the project you can machine. To get to that larger work area is going to take some assembly though and it might take a little while.

makita RT0701C router
Makita RT0701C router included with the Evolution 4

Assembly

One thing worth noting if you’re considering the Evolution 4 is that it takes some time to get set up. Unlike many other CNC router kits, the Evolution 4 does not come pre-assembled at all. As a result, you’ll want to carve out a solid day to complete the build.

For many people though, assembly is part of the fun. Putting everything together yourself will get you intimately familiar with the machine itself, the parts and how they all work together. Understanding how your machine moves and is setup will benefit you in the long run. You will have a better idea of what might have gone wrong when your machine crashes. Trust me, it’s gonna happen eventually.

The last thing to note about the assembly is that while it may be time consuming, the instruction manual is extremely thorough. Still, if you run into any trouble, there are a ton of great YouTube videos that can help guide you through the process. 

bobscnc evolution 4 back view
Some assembly required

Work area

Once you finally get the Evolution 4 together you’ll notice just how much bigger this machine is than most other entry level machines. A few inches in each direction can make a large difference in the projects you are capable of working with. While the two may not be all that much different when we’re talking about technical specs, the work area of the Evolution 3 is only 16″ x 18″ (still larger than most entry CNCs), while the Evolution 4 is 24″ x 24″. 

Let’s do some quick math. 16 x 18 = 288 square inches. 24 x 24 = 576 square inches. That’s twice the surface area that the Evolution 4 is capable of machining. Compared to the 3018 series CNC which are very common entry level machines, the Evolution 4 has almost ten times the work area.

bobscnc evolution 4 side view

Noise and mess

The Evolution 4 has more power and more work area. Once you get the machine up and running, you’ll notice that there is a bit more noise than many other entry-level machines. The included Makita RT0701C router is a quality power tool and it sounds like one. You probably don’t want to buy the Evolution 4 if you are working in an apartment or if you have to worry at all about the machine’s noise while it’s working.

Also, that noisy router is going to make a large mess. You can imagine the dust it creates while working. Having a vacuum or other kind of dust collection system is a must if you go with the Evolution 4. None of this is really a criticism of the Evolution 4; this is just what happens when you start working with bigger, more powerful CNC machines. Dust and chip collection will become a necessity to get good surface finishes on your projects.

Software

When it comes to software, the Evolution 4 uses an Arduino microprocessor to connect the machine to your computer. Grbl firmware comes preinstalled on the microprocessor and uses a USB port to receive information from the software on your computer.

The USB works with Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi and OSX operating systems. Free software can be found on the BobsCNC website. There are multiple paid software packages available, but for those just starting out it is best to work with the free stuff in the beginning. 

Customer service

The last, and likely most important aspect about purchasing any one of Bob’s machines is that they have an extremely high level of customer service. People rave about how prompt, friendly, and helpful the people at Bob’s are. It’s also not uncommon to have Bob himself reply to any question or comment you have!

Many of us, like to figure out things on our own but it’s great to know that you have experienced, knowledgeable support available should you decide to throw in the towel and beg for help. Ok, maybe sometimes it is just nice to save yourself some headache by asking a quick question over the phone or via email.

Conclusion

Overall, the Evolution 4 from BobsCNC is a heavy-duty, well-built beginner’s machine and is an excellent way to get started with CNC woodworking, and machine work in general. 

The Evolution 4 is at the top of its class for value and capabilities.

Things to consider when purchasing a CNC router

Safety

safety glasses
Try to keep your eyeballs intact!

Safety is by far the most important consideration when it comes to working with a CNC machine.

Safety glasses are an absolute must. Read your instruction manual to ensure you are staying safe working with your particular machine. In many cases, hearing protection as well as dust collection will be a necessity.

Above all, remember that these are dangerous cutting tools and you should treat the with the utmost respect.

Work area size

As noted above, the Evolution 4 has a work area much larger than many other similarly priced machines. The width of the work area will be the primary limiting factor when it comes to your projects. An extension kit can also be added to the Evolution 4 to give you a full 2’ x 4’ (24” x 48”) work area. Just make sure you have room for the machine and the extension kit in your work space.

Machining different materials

The Evolution 3 can work with and cut a large variety of materials including wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, and leather. The machine has ample power for most hobbyist projects. The biggest material that the Evolution 3 can not work with is steel. To work with steel, you will need a much more expensive machine. Industrial grade CNCs can quickly climb in price.

birch plywood sheet closeup
Birch plywood sheet

BobsCNC Evolution 3 vs Evolution 4

Specs

Evolution 3

Evolution 4

Work Area (Inches)

18" x 16" x 3.3"

24" x 24" x 3.3"

Work Area (MM)

406mm x 457mm x 85mm

610mm x 610mm x 85mm

Machine Size (Inches)

26" x 31" x 21"

32" x 39" x 21"

Machine Size (MM)

660mm x 787mm x 530mm

812mm x 990mm x 530mm

Weight

32 Pounds

47 Pounds

Warranty

60 Days

60 Days

Materials It Will Cut

Wood, Plastic, Aluminum, Acrylic, PCB, Leather & More

Wood, Plastic, Aluminum, Acrylic, PCB, Leather & More

In terms of overall capabilities, the two machines are relatively similar. They both have a torque of 75 in-oz and an AC power source of 600 watts. They also both use a Makita RT0701C router.

However, the Evolution 4 does provide you with a much larger workspace, and it’s quite a bit heavier than the Evolution 3. Really, if you’re trying to decide which machine is for you, just try to figure out the size of projects you’re working on or will want to work on in the future.

Also, think about the size of the space you’re going to keep the machine in. Almost everyone has some limits on what they can fit in their workshop or garage.

Assembly

Assembly can be a frustrating process and it will go easier with some machines more than others. Partially pre-assembled CNC router kits will come together much quicker than kits that require a full assembly such as the Evolution 4.

Almost all of the 3018 and 6040 series CNCs that are available from various manufacturers will come assembled to some extent which significantly reduces the setup time.  

If you have any concerns about the assembly process then focus on machines that have great resources available to help such as guides or YouTube videos online.

Customer service

BobsCNC’s customer service is about as good as it gets. They have a proven track record of being responsive and helpful.

CNC machining can be complicated and overwhelming, so it is nice to know that there is a resource available to provide some guidance when you really need it. BobsCNC is definitely that resource.

Tooling

router bit set

The router for these machines come with 1/8″ and 1/4″ spindle bits. You can use any straight, vee and rounded bits or buy them from various local and online retailers as long as they have shaft sizes of 1/8″ or 1/4″.

One add-on that is almost a must have, is some form of dust/chip collection. For many, this means using their shop vac along with a “dust boot” to clean up debris while the machine cuts.

Removing the chips will also help you obtain better finishes because chips can mar the surface as they are “recut” by the router.

CNC software

Bob’s recommends using a Universal Gcode Sender (UGS) software platform. This software can be found for free on Bob’s website. The UGS can communicate with the gbrl software that actually runs the machine.

The workflow will be to create your project in a software such as Fusion360 (also free!). The Fusion360 output will be put into UGS and then communicated to your CNC machine. 

Final thoughts

The Evolution 4 from BobsCNC is right in line with their other CNC router kits. They are well made, versatile and capable.

To top it off, they come with excellent tutorials and customer support that is second to none. Add the ability to expand the work area to double the size and the machine is pretty much future proofed for most users. 

Overall, BobsCNC has done a remarkable job of putting all the right stuff into their flagship CNC router. It truly is a best in class machine.

BobsCNC Evolution 3 Review

BobsCNC makes excellent CNC router kits all around. Unfortunately, while the Evolution 3 checks almost all of the necessary boxes you would hope for in a quality CNC router, it falls short in a couple key areas that ultimately end up holding it back compared to the competition.

However, if you have limited space and are looking for something with more power and capabilities than other entry level CNCs, the Evolution 3 may be the perfect fit. Read on to find out more.

Machine Specs

Feature

Spec

Work Area (Inches)

16" x 18" x 3.3"

Work Area (MM)

406mm x 457mm x 85mm

Machine Size (Inches)

26" x 31" x 21"

Machine Size (MM)

660mm x 787mm x 530mm

Weight

32 Pounds

Warranty

60 Days

Materials It Will Cut

Wood, Plastic, Aluminum, Acrylic, PCB, Leather & More

Review

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Pros

More power than most entry-level CNC routers
High-quality customer service

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Cons

Limited work area for the price

Power and cutting capability

Let’s start with some of the best bits (CNC router humor, I’ll be here all day folks).

When it comes to build quality, BobsCNC has built a sturdy, rigid frame for this machine which makes it highly accurate. Combining its accuracy with the power of the included Makita RT0701C variable speed router means it can outpace the vast majority of entry level CNC routers.

While you shouldn’t expect an industrial grade machine, you will be able to drastically elevate the complexity of projects you are capable of creating. 

All that power means that with some tweaking and experimenting, it is likely that you will be able to work with soft aluminum. This is not something that many machines are capable of handling. Still, if your new, make sure to work your way up to more difficult materials such as aluminum.

makita RT0701C router
Makita RT0701C router included with the Evolution 3

Assembly

Don’t expect to be cutting aluminum right out of the box. Actually, don’t expect to cut anything right out of the box. This is because the Evolution 3 is going to take you several hours to assemble.

You will need to assemble the machine entirely on your own. Fortunately, this shouldn’t be a problem because Bob’s machines are known for having extremely detailed and thorough instruction manuals.

A great benefit of the extensive assembly process is that you will become intimately familiar with all the workings of your new CNC. On a side note, if you do find yourself stuck, you can always hop on over to YouTube – there a many video tutorials available to help you put the E3 together.

YouTube is great for help but it is always great to be able to fall back to something more reliable. And, as always with BobsCNC, if you have any issues that you can’t resolve on your own, you can reach out to their customer service department.

Customer service

BobsCNC is well-known for being extremely helpful and responsive when it comes to technical issues. This includes initial setup and assembly as well as any operation issues you might run into down the road. Bob himself is even known to frequently return emails and phone calls to help customers who have questions.

bobscnc evolution 3 back view
Some assembly required

Build quality

Now, you may be worried about buying a machine made out of wood to… cut wood. But there really is no need to fret. The Evolution 3 is made of baltic birch which is oftentimes used to make furniture because of its strength.

The Evolution 3’s components and frame are durable, and you’ll be able to repeat the same cuts and engravings over time with a high degree of precision.

Speaking of durability, the Makita router that comes with the Evolution 3 is a workhorse that will keep you cutting chips for quite some time.

Work area

Everything is great right? Well, up until this point at least. While the Evolution 3 is a solid machine, it does have some downfalls.

First is the work area. The Evolution 3 has a work area that is about 4.5 times larger than many other entry-level CNC routers such as the 3018 series of CNCs that are made by many manufacturers. Unfortunately, many will still find the size of the project they can complete a touch too small. Many CNC routing software packages are capable of tiling work so that you can work on longer projects, but you will still be limited by the width your router is capable of working with.

Compared to other CNC routers

The second and frankly, only other downside is the cost. The price point is about 2.5 times those 3018 CNCs we talked about and while this sounds fair when you think about the added capabilities, it bumps the Evolution 3 up into a slightly higher tier of machines.

At the Evolution 3’s price point it is competing with 6040 series CNCs as well as those from other well-known models such as the Shapeoko. In a strange decision, the stiffest competition is from BobsCNC’s next model up which is the Evolution 4.

The Evolution 4 has a significantly larger work area (24” x 24”) which allows a much bigger work piece to be cut. The machines are very similar otherwise and in all instances I would recommend going with the larger machine to allow you more versatility in what the machine is capable of.

Operation

Some may find the smaller size is easier to fit into their garage or workshop. The smaller machine isn’t quite portable like some of the 3018 CNCs but it is still fairly easy to move around. CNC machines – especially quality ones like the Evolution 3 – aren’t typically made to be moved around a lot, but if CNC is just a hobby and you’re working out of your garage or work shed, you may find it helpful to be able to easily move this CNC out of your way if you need to. 

As far as actually running the machine goes, the Evolution 3 has an Arduino microprocessor that allows your computer and CNC to communicate. The grbl firmware, which comes preinstalled on the microprocessor, uses a USB port to receive information from the software on your computer.

The Evolution 3 is compatible with Windows, Linux, Raspberry Pi and OSX operating systems. 

Conclusion

As an entry-level machine, the Evolution 3 is great CNC router.

Unfortunately, it stands in the shadow of its big brother machine, the Evolution 4. Both machines are well made and extremely capable.

You can save a few bucks if you know you won’t use the added machine work area but for most, I recommend stepping up in size to future proof your purchase.

Things to consider when purchasing a CNC router

Safety

safety glasses
Stay safe!

While it may be fun to operate, this is a serious power tool. Treat it with the same respect you would give a table saw or something similar.

Wear eye and hearing protection. Dust collection is a great idea. Remember, that some materials can produce hazardous dust so be aware of the materials you should and should not work with.

Read your instruction manuals! They might save you a finger.

Work area size

Work area size is one of the most important features of any CNC router because it determines how large of a part you will be able to machine.

In most cases it will be best to go with the largest machine you can afford because many often find that they want the ability to make larger signs, engravings, etc. and can’t because their router physically cannot accommodate the item they want to work with.

CNC routers vs spindles

When it comes to beginner level CNC machines, the terms router and spindle are used almost interchangeably. Some machines, such as the ones from BobsCNC, use an actual router like you would buy at a hardware store. Others use spindles.

Practically, they are both motors which have a collet or chuck to hold a cutting tool such as a router bit or end mill.

BobsCNC Evolution 3 vs Evolution 4

Specs

Evolution 3

Evolution 4

Work Area (Inches)

18" x 16" x 3.3"

24" x 24" x 3.3"

Work Area (MM)

406mm x 457mm x 85mm

610mm x 610mm x 85mm

Machine Size (Inches)

26" x 31" x 21"

32" x 39" x 21"

Machine Size (MM)

660mm x 787mm x 530mm

812mm x 990mm x 530mm

Weight

32 Pounds

47 Pounds

Warranty

60 Days

60 Days

Materials It Will Cut

Wood, Plastic, Aluminum, Acrylic, PCB, Leather & More

Wood, Plastic, Aluminum, Acrylic, PCB, Leather & More

In terms of overall capabilities, the two machines are relatively similar. They both have a torque of 75 in-oz and an AC power source of 600 watts. They also both use a Makita RT0701C router.

However, the Evolution 4 does provide you with a much larger workspace, and it’s quite a bit heavier than the Evolution 3. Really, if you’re trying to decide which machine is for you, just try to figure out the size of projects you’re working on or will want to work on in the future.

Also, think about the size of the space you’re going to keep the machine. Almost everyone has some limits on what they can fit in their workshop or garage.

Machining different materials

birch plywood sheet closeup
Birch Plywood Sheet

The Evolution 3 can work with and cut a large variety of materials including wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, and leather. The machine has ample power for most hobbyist projects. The biggest material that the Evolution 3 can not work with is steel. To work with steel, you will need a much more expensive machine. Industrial grade CNCs can quickly climb in price.

Assembly

As was discussed in the review, you have to completely assemble the machine yourself. Expect this process to take several hours, but don’t expect it to be too difficult. Though it’s time-consuming, the instruction manuals are highly detailed, and the YouTube tutorials and videos are extremely helpful. 

Some other CNC router kits come partially pre-assemble which can be helpful but because many have awful instructions written in something between Chinese and English, they can end up taking almost as long to assemble.

Customer service

I touched on it above, but BobsCNC’s customer service is the best in the business.

If you have any problems at all – or even if you just want to run a project idea by them to get some input, don’t hesitate to send an email. In almost all instances, they will get back to you very quickly and give you a detailed answer. Bob himself might even give you a call or drop you an email!

Tooling

router bit set
CNC Router Bit Set

The router for these machines come with 1/8″ and 1/4″ spindle bits. You can use any straight, vee and rounded bits or buy them from various local and online retailers as long as they have shaft sizes of 1/8″ or 1/4″.

One add-on that is almost a must have, is some form of dust/chip collection. For many, this means using their shop vac along with a “dust boot” to clean up debris while the machine cuts.

Removing the chips will also help you obtain better finishes because chips can mar the surface as they are “recut” by the router.

CNC software

Bob’s recommends using a Universal Gcode Sender (UGS) software platform. This software can be found for free on Bob’s website. The UGS can communicate with the gbrl software that actually runs the machine.

The workflow will be to create your project in a software such as Fusion360 (also free!). The Fusion360 output will be put into UGS and then communicated to your CNC machine. 

Final thoughts

BobsCNC produces some of the best CNC router kits available and the Evolution 3 certainly fits the bill.

It does lack a little in the work area category, which somewhat limits the projects you will be able to work on. While I do recommend going with the largest machine you can afford and also fit in your space, if the Evolution 3 is as big as you can go, you won’t be disappointed by it’s capabilities.

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Best Desktop CNC Routers for Home Use [2022]

Let’s face it. There just isn’t enough space at home.

We all do it. We have mountains of tools, gadgets and just plain ole stuff strewn everywhere. Sure, you can clean your garage, workshop, kitchen table or wherever you tend to work on stuff, but it just doesn’t last.

Space is at a premium, which is why we bring you our guide to the best small desktop style CNCs. While these CNCs won’t be carving up 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood anytime soon, they are more than capable of creating some pretty cool projects on a smaller scale.

The best part is their small footprint means they can be easily stashed away when not in use. But please don’t run one in your closet. Your significant other will not approve of a sawdust and metal chips on their clothes. Don’t ask how I know.

Without further ado, check out our picks for the top desktop CNCs.

Name

Awards

Work Area

Where to Buy

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

Best Overall Desktop CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

Best Desktop CNC/Laser Engraver Combo

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030

Best Desktop CNC for Aluminum,
Best Desktop CNC under $1,000

15.7"x11.8"x4.3"

VEVOR CNC 3018 Router Kit

Best Budget Desktop CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

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Pros

Quick assembly - ready in less than 30 minutes
Quiet enough for use in an apartment
Sturdy and well-built, made of aluminum instead of plastic

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Cons

None for the price point

Machine Work Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8″ x 7.0″ x 1.7″

Physical Machine Dimensions (Machine Footprint): 400mm x 330mm x 240mm = 15.7″ x 13.0″ x 9.4″

Weight: 21.4 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Plywood, MDF, PCB, acrylic, nylon, carbon fiber and soft metals

Warranty: 1 Year

This SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer comes mostly pre-assembled, needing only about thirty minutes of assembly once out of the package. A smaller machine that is great for CNC beginners, hobbyists, and small business owners, this machine is very quiet and can operate inside an apartment or similar space without disturbing the neighbors. The smaller size also means it is easy to move around.

Further, the PROVer comes equipped with an emergency stop control that is very visible and easy to access for an immediate shutdown of your machine. You’re inevitably going to mess something up if you work for long enough, so having a big red button to shut off the machine is pretty helpful.

The machine also comes with acrylic safety baffles to help stop dust from spreading while you’re working, making clean up a bit easier and faster. That said, the machine does produce a lot of dust and wood chips, so you may want to make your own cover, or at least be prepared for a thorough cleaning after use.

This 3018 PROVer comes with an offline controller, which allows you to run the machine without having a computer attached.

Though the machine is not particularly wide it can be used to make pass-throughs for narrower, but longer pieces.

 Even though it is a smaller machine, it is built using solid materials. Rather than being made out of wood or plastic, like a lot of cheaper models, the PROVer is made with aluminum. This solid construction also helps reduce noise and vibration while the machine is working.

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

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Pros

Easy to assemble and operate
Great beginner laser engraving machine as well

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Cons

Not built for cutting harder materials

Machine Work Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45 mm = 11.8″ x 7.0″ x 1.7″

Physical Machine Dimensions: 400mm x 330mm x 240 mm = 15.7″ x 13.0″ x 9.4″

Weight: 15.82 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Wood, bamboo, paper, ivory, leather, flammable plastic, PCB, acrylic, ceramic/stone, metal surface paint, metal surface plating

  • Note: DO NOT work on metal, iron, glass, 201/304 stainless steel, jewelry, or silver

Warranty: 1 Year

One important thing to understand with this machine is that it is truly a machine made for CNC beginners. If you expect to get this in the mail and begin a large project, you’ll be somewhat disappointed. With that said, it is a good machine for those who want to start learning CNC.

Though the machine does not come assembled, assembly is relatively easy, taking between one and two hours. If you need some extra help, there are plenty of videos on YouTube that can assist you. 

That the machine does not come pre-assembled is not a surprise given its price point, but, again, assembly is easy so don’t let that discourage you.

Initially, it may seem worrying that the frame of the machine is plastic – plastic can easily snap and break if the machine is running a hard job that causes vibrations and shaking. 

However, the plastic framing is phenolic resin, meaning it’s really strong stuff that will not break easily. Such strong plastic also means that there are fewer parts needed for assembly, which is of course a bonus.

It should also be emphasized that the machine defaults to metric movements, so if your code is in inches and you manually move the machine with the offline controller you will run into some issues. So, you either have to be really careful when the machine is operating and be prepared to do conversions on the fly, or you can just make sure that your code is done using the metric system.

Lastly, one shortcoming of this machine is that it is mainly only for engraving on wood. This machine does not do all that well for any cutting action.

If you’re looking to engrave harder materials – such as soft metals – this machine is probably not for you. It does have the added benefit of  working well for laser engraving.

For those who might want a multipurpose machine, the MYSWEETY CNC makes a good choice. The easy to use laser engraving software means most will be able to set it up and start engraving in short order (remember your laser safety glasses). 

CNC work will take a little more effort because the included CNC software isn’t as user friendly, but is still very manageable.

Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030

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Pros

Quick assembly - comes mostly pre-assembled
More power than most small CNCs - can cut metal

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Cons

Takes up more space but allows larger projects

Machine Work Area: 400mm x 300mm x 110mm = 15.7″ x 11.8″ x 4.3″

Physical Machine Dimensions (Machine Footprint): 641mm x 755.5mm x 580mm = 25.2″ x 29.7″ x 22.8″

Weight: 57.2 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: wood, MDF, plastics, foams, vinyl, and aluminum.

Warranty: 1 year

The setup for this machine is really nice. All of the hard bits – such as routing the wiring – are done for you, so what’s left only takes about an hour if you’re working hard. Maybe two hours if you’re going through it at a slow pace.

Once you get started, you’ll notice that this machine definitely has a lot of torque. It’s probably a good idea to start off with the 3018 model if you’re a true beginner, but if you have just a little bit of CNC experience this is a well-built, powerful machine. This model comes with a super rigid structure, so you shouldn’t have any difficulties with it in terms of vibrations and shaking once your work starts.

Because the PROVerXL 4030 is so powerful, it can work on a fairly wide range of materials. You can work on wood, MDF, plastics, foams and even aluminum. Some users have said that they can also cut other soft metals, though if you’re not experienced with soft metals you shouldn’t try to work with them on this machine.

genmitsu proverxl 4030 on table next to 3018 cnc
4030 series CNC compared to 3018 series

In terms of workspace, if you’re doing relatively small projects there should be plenty of room to work. For beginners, or even a small wood/metalworking business you should have enough space to do virtually any project within reason.

But if you are looking to do something a bit larger, there are some really nice upgrade kits that you can purchase for this machine. For more working space you can buy additional sizes 24”x 24”( 600 x 600mm), and up to 40” x 40” (1000 x 1000mm).

For even more versatility in terms of what you can make with this machine, you can buy the Rotary 4th Axis or High Powered Laser Modules.

VEVOR CNC 3018 Router Kit

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Pros

Price - cost about half of what most others cost
Aluminum construction

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Cons

Assembly instructions are lacking

Machine Work Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8″ x 7.0″ x 1.7″

Physical Machine Dimensions (Machine Footprint): 400mm x 300mm x 240mm = 15.7″ x 11.8″ x 9.4″

Weight: 17.1 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: All types of plastics, soft aluminum, woods, acrylics, PVC, PCB

Warranty:

The biggest advantage of the VEVOR 3018 is its price. Generally coming in at a little more than $100, you’re going to get a ton of value out of this machine. Of course, a cheaper machine generally means fewer capabilities and cheaper materials, but the VEVOR 3018 is still a good CNC machine for beginners.

Speaking of its construction, the frame is mostly aluminum with some plastic in there as well. For a cheap machine, having an aluminum frame is a big bonus. Metal frames help to reduce vibration, which makes the machines more accurate.

pieces to build vevor 3018 cnc
VEVOR 3018 Pieces for Assembly

One downside for this machine is its assembly. You have to do most of the work yourself, and the assembly guide comes with only pictures, no words. However, there are helpful videos that you can find on YouTube to help out.

Generally, this machine should only be used for engraving, as it is not the strongest machine on the market. You may be able to cut through some balsa wood, but don’t try anything stronger than that. Some users have said that if you push the VEVOR 3018 to its outer limits the machine begins to shake a fair amount, so that is one thing to keep in mind as well. However, if you’re using the machine within its normal range it is pretty quiet.

Generally, people have seemed to have good interactions with the manufacturer if they’ve had any issues, so that’s always a bonus.

Overall, if you’re okay with installing the machine using only pictures and YouTube, then this is a good introductory CNC machine if you do not want to spend a lot of money. But remember, you get what you pay for.

Things to consider when purchasing a desktop CNC

Safety

Just because these are entry level machines does not mean they aren’t powerful and cannot hurt you. Always read instructions. Also, some of these machines can cause a lot of dust and particles to fly into the air while they’re operating, so you should wear safety glasses if you’re getting close.

Size of work area

The size of the work area for any machine directly affects the size of the project you are capable of doing with that machine. All of the machines on this list are entry level, so they are not particularly large. That means they can be easily moved around and do not take up so much space, but that also means the projects you are capable of producing is limited.

It’s also important to remember that the overall size of the machine is not the same as the work area of the machine. For example, the SainSmart PROVer 3018’s overall size is 420 x 340 x 280mm, but its work area is only 260 x 155 x 35mm. That’s a big difference, so make sure you’re reading the machine specs carefully.

Machine construction

This relates to the materials the machine is made out of. When a machine has a really solid frame – typically made out of metal, like the Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030 for example – this is always preferable to a frame made out of wood or plastic.

A solid frame will reduce the shaking of the machine, which makes cuts and engravings more accurate. Reduced shaking can also make the machine quieter when it’s running.

Work materials

Not every CNC machine will cut all materials. This is especially true when it comes to smaller, desktop style CNCs. 

There are two big jumps in capabilities. The first is to soft metals such as aluminum. The second is to harder metals such as steel. 

Some of the machines above will handle aluminum. Not all will do it easily. None of them will be able to cut steel.

Take note of the capabilities of each machine as referenced above and you won’t be disappointed. 

Tooling

Tooling is another word for cutters. Different materials require different cutters, and the type of cutter you’re using can make all the difference on a project.

Most machines will come with a few cutters for you to use right away. These bits are not usually of the highest quality, but if you’re a beginner they will do the job. Learn the pieces, and when you’re ready you can buy separate, more expensive ones.

Customer service

Customer service is really important because these are complex machines if you’re new to CNC. It’s not uncommon to have an issue during assembly, or while you’re using the machine.

In many online reviews, people note the level of customer service that they have experienced, and you should pay attention to this. Don’t be afraid to go on a company’s website and look around to see how easy it is to contact customer service, and also look for things like video tutorials that the company has provided themselves.

CNC software

There is a large variety of software that gets used on these machines. Covering them all would be a giant topic by itself. To get you started here is a quick rundown:

  • CAD or computer aided drafting is software that will allow you to create models to machine or engrave. This is only a drawing and needs further processing before your machine will know what to do with it. The most commonly used CAD software are Fusion 360 and Tinkercad
  • CAM or computer aided manufacturing is the software that takes your model and turns it into code that your CNC will understand. If you are familiar with 3D printers, CAM software is similar to slicing software. The most common CAM software are Fusion 360, CamBam, SheetCam and MeshCam.

A good starting point is to look into Fusion 360. It has an enormous number of tutorials on YouTube. You are likely to find help for any issue you run into and there are many guided courses on use of the software.

CNC routers vs spindles

When it comes to beginner level CNC machines, the terms router and spindle are used almost interchangeably. Some machines, such as the ones from BobsCNC, use an actual router like you would buy at a hardware store. Others use spindles.

Practically, they are both motors that have a collet or chuck to hold a cutting tool such as a router bit or end mill.

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Best Dial Calipers for Any Budget

It used to be that there were a limited number of options when it came to dial calipers.

Well known manufacturers such as Mitutoyo, Starrett and Fowler were the only choices available. Boy, have times changed.

Now the same tried and true tool makers are still there but they are competing from a long list of knock offs and up and coming manufacturers. 

Find out how the old compares to the new in our guide to the best dial calipers available found below.

Name

Awards

Where to Buy

Starrett 3202-6 0-6" Dial Caliper

Best Overall Dial Caliper,
Best Dial Caliper for Reloading & Best Dial Caliper for Machinists

Anytime Tools 0-6" Dial Caliper

Best Budget Dial Caliper &

Best Starter Dial Caliper 

Starrett 3202-12 0-12" Dial Caliper

Best Large Dial Caliper

Starrett 3202-6 0-6" Dial Caliper

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Pros

Exceptional accuracy
Built to last

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Cons

None

The Starrett name is synonymous with precision measuring instruments. Known for making quality micrometers and calipers as well as many other tools for well over a century. They are a premier machine tool manufacturer.

Their calipers are top shelf across the board. They have long been exceptionally accurate and well made.

Many of the features of Starrett’s caliper seem like simple things to get right. What makes this set of calipers better than all the others is the way that they are able to get all those little things right all at once and on a consistent basis.

As anyone who has used a set of calipers can attest to, the feel of a good set of calipers is where the tool shines. Starrett has been able to put it all together through the years and make calipers that provide top notch accuracy while maintaining an amazing level of smoothness in the mechanical workings.

Depth measurements are one area in which dial calipers from many manufacturers struggle. This is not the case with Starrett. Depth measurements from these calipers are every bit as accurate as any inside or outside measurement.

The accuracy is easier to attain with a tool as good as this one from Starrett. The thumb roller is smooth and with a little practice allows the user to gain a high level of precision in their measurements.

The easy-to-read dial face helps as well. The bright white face makes it easier to read your measurement even in lower light situations such as in your garage or leaning in to take readings in a dimly lit machine.

Overall, there are only positives for Starrett’s dial calipers. They just feel right and on top of it all are built to last. This truly is an heirloom quality tool.

Anytime Tools 0-6" Dial Caliper

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Pros

Price point
Customer service

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Cons

Not "shock proof"

Anytime Tools has quietly worked their way up to be one of the higher quality inspection tool makers. They have found a way to balance making a consistently good measurement device while still keeping the overall cost down. This is not an easy feat.

Easily the best budget friendly caliper. They have been able to create a tool that mirrors the same characteristics of calipers that cost almost twice as much.

As the best dial caliper under $50, it is amazing that they are still able to come packed with extras that other brands like to skip in an effort to keep the cost down. This caliper from Anytime Tools comes with a nice padded case that helps to keep the precision tool safe from accidental damage.

The most important aspect is that they have been able to maintain the same accuracy of tools that cost almost twice as much. Nothing matters more than accuracy when it comes to inspection and measuring tools.

Starrett 3202-12 0-12" Dial Caliper

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Pros

The usual Starrett quality
Accuracy

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Cons

Hard to take smaller measurements
Cost

One thing you should know about any precision measuring tool such as a dial caliper is that as the measuring range goes up, the price can climb steeply.

You might think that the cost of a 0-12” caliper would be twice as much as a 0-6” set. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case and that 0-12” set can be 5-10x more expensive. This is especially true with sets from the most well-known manufacturers.

Luckily, Starrett makes a great 0-12” caliper that doesn’t completely break the bank. It has all the same great features of their 6-inch caliper but in a larger package. Another instance of a truly remarkable measuring tool. If you need a large caliper and trusted accuracy, then look no further.

One last thing to keep in mind with larger calipers is that they will likely see much less use than a 0-6” set.

For some, this may mean that they can sacrifice a little in accuracy and go with a cheaper set of 0-12” calipers such as this set from Fowler. They are a great set but keep in mind that they are only half as accurate as our other recommended dial calipers. The set from Starrett is +/- .001” while the Fowler set is +/- .002”.

Fowler makes a very nice set of 0-24” dial calipers that competes nicely as well. When the sizes get that large, the added cost doesn’t offset any increase in accuracy.

Stick with the set from Starrett if possible unless you need a truly massive set of calipers for your application.

Things to consider when purchasing a set of dial calipers

Measuring range

Dial calipers come in a large variety of sizes. The most common size has a measuring range of 0-6”. Less common ranges of 0-4” and 0-8” are also available. 

Larger sized calipers such as 0-12” and 0-24” are available as well but they are most often used in conjunction with a 0-6” set of calipers. This is because taking smaller measurements with a large set of calipers can be extremely awkward. In most instances, the larger sets get pulled out when other measuring tools just won’t do.

Sets of calipers with measuring ranges above 24” are available but are much less common than sizes under 24”.

Accuracy

A good set of dial calipers is accurate to +/- .001”. Any calipers which are less accurate should be ignored.

If you are in need of accuracy that is greater than this, you will need to find a nice set of micrometers for your application.

Micrometers are commonly available with an accuracy of +/- .0001”. Some cheaper sets of micrometers will not quite meet this accuracy, but you can rest assured that a set from the most well-known manufacturers such as Starrett and Mitutoyo will more than meet this standard.

Dial calipers sacrifice some accuracy to gain versatility in measurement.

Dial vs digital calipers

mitutoyo digital caliper
Our pick for best digital calipers - Mitutoyo 500-196-30 0-6" Digital Caliper

Both dial and digital calipers have their advantages. For dial calipers, their lack of batteries mean they are always ready to take a measurement.

Digital calipers have the benefit of taking instant measurements as well as switching between units at the press of a button.

There is no difference between the accuracy of digital and dial calipers and they are both available with similar measuring ranges. Ultimately, the choice between which is better comes down to a matter of preference.

For a more complete guide to the differences between dial and digital calipers see our guide on the topic.

Micrometers vs calipers

starrett 0-1" micrometer
Starrett 0-1" Micrometer

The differences between micrometers and calipers lie in their accuracy and versatility. Micrometers are more accurate but with a much smaller measuring range.

Micrometers are generally ten times more accurate than calipers and have a measuring range that is 1/6 of the range of a typical caliper.

For a complete rundown of the differences, see our full guide to the differences between micrometers and calipers.

New vs used dial calipers

Don’t be afraid to look for a good set of used calipers. Brands such as Starrett, Mitutoyo, Brown and Sharpe, and Fowler have made quality calipers for years.

This is especially true if you know where the tool is coming from. Often retiring machinists are more than willing to part with their tools if they know someone is entering the trade with a passion for it.

If you don’t know the history of the tools, make sure to check the accuracy before buying. Not everyone treats their tools as gentle as they should. If you have access, check any potential purchase against a known standard such as a calibrated set of gauge blocks.

One item to look for when purchasing used tools is a case. If someone has kept the case and/or original box for a number of years, then it is likely that they have treated it carefully and it is every bit as good as new.

What can a dial caliper be used to measure?

starrett 3202-6 6 inch dial caliper measuring a part

Dial calipers can be used for a large variety of measurements. Most models will take inside, outside, step and depth measurements.

The inside, outside and step measurements are fairly standard and will be consistent among many manufacturers, but the depth measurement is what sets many quality calipers apart from the pack.

Note: Some calipers with larger measuring ranges such as 0-24” will come without the ability to take depth measurements. This is true as well for outside measurements. Some calipers will come with the ability to only take outside measurements thought this is usually only for calipers with measuring ranges over 12”.

How to reset or zero a set of dial calipers

To adjust a dial caliper, move the caliper until the jaws are closed.

Once in the zero position, check your reading on the indicator needle. If it lines up on zero, then no adjustment is needed. You can proceed to verifying the tools repeatability as noted below.

If it does not line up on zero, loosen the bezel lock screw and turn the dial face until it lines up on zero. Once aligned, tighten the lock screw.

Now open and close the jaws to verify that the caliper repeatedly returns a zero reading.

Once this is verified, if available use a set of known reference standards such as a gauge block set to verify different readings across the calipers measuring range. For a 0-6” caliper, 0”, 2”, 4” and 6” would be a good start.

After the tool has been verified as accurate across its measuring range, you can proceed to take your part measurements.

How to calibrate dial calipers

gauge block set
Gauge block set

Calipers should be calibrated periodically at an interval of your choosing. In a machine shop atmosphere, this will be determined by the company. Normal calibration intervals will range from 3 months to 1 year and everything in between. Some shops will even base the calibration frequency on tool use as opposed to length of time.

For home use, I recommend verifying them before each measurement.

With critical measurements, at home or in the shop, this verification becomes even more important. You don’t want to find out that your engine was bored oversize because you neglected to check your caliper before using it right?

Verify your tools and if possible, check them against a known calibrated standard such as a set of gauge blocks.

For more info on caliper calibration, please see our post on the Complete Guide to Caliper Calibration.

Calibration certificates

Please don’t pay more for anyone to provide a calibration certificate with your caliper. It just isn’t necessary.

Any extra money that would be spent on calibration costs would be much better spent on a set of gauge blocks so you can calibrate the tool yourself. Buying your own set of gauge blocks allows you to check the caliper regularly.

This can be especially important because it allows you to verify the accuracy of your measuring device, or measuring devices if you have more, right before taking a critical measurement so you know the readings are accurate.

Skip the calibration certs, if you think you might need it, get a set of gauge blocks and calibrate the tool yourself instead.

Maintenance and care tips

Lubricating your dial calipers

starrett tool and instrument oil bottle with cap
Starrett Tool and Instrument Oil

Most dial calipers will be made of stainless steel and therefore be resistant to rust. Not all types of stainless steel are created equal. Because of this it can be a good idea to have a light oil coating on some of the surface of the tool such as the beam.

Starrett makes a tool and instrument oil that works very well for lubricating all types of precision tools such as dial calipers.

Storage

It may be an old wives tale but many stand by not storing their calipers and micrometers with the measuring faces closed. Some say the surfaces in contact will corrode quicker. Others say it stresses the frame.

It is simple enough to back the tool off a little when you put it away and that is why we recommend doing it. If you plan to store the tool for extended periods of time, think about storing them with one of those little desiccant bags to absorb any rogue moisture.

Handle with care

Dial calipers are precision measuring tools, treat them like they are. They should be handled carefully and protected from shock damage as well as elements such as moisture and dirt.

Putting them away when not in use will go a long way towards keeping them out of harm’s way.

Cases

Dial calipers are precision measuring tools so the best thing you can do with them is protect them from damage as much as possible. Cases provide some damage from shocks and contaminants such as dirt, water, oil and/or coolant.

When not in use, the best place for quality measuring tools such as these is in a toolbox and the next best thing is in a decent case. Stash the case in your toolbox and you can double up the protection.

Depth base attachments

caliper depth base attachment
Caliper with depth base attachment

Calipers are notoriously difficult to use to take depth measurements. The nature of the tool makes it top heavy and therefore easy to get an incorrect reading when taking those depth measurements.

A depth base attachment makes the tool more stable and much more capable of taking accurate and repeatable measurements when it comes to things such as hole depths.

Dial caliper diagram and part names

parts of a caliper

Jaws

They are the primary measuring faces. They come into contact with your part. Make sure they are sitting square on your surface. You don’t want to twist the caliper at an angle because you won’t get an accurate reading.

Scale

The scale is used in conjunction with the dial indicator face to get your measurement reading. The scale reads in increments of .100” while the dial face reads in increments of .001”. They get added together to determine your measurement size.

Dial indicator face

Where you will look for the most important part of your measurements. The dial face reads in increments of .001”. The reading on the dial face gets added to the reading on the scale to get your measurement.

Beam

The beam is the surface along which the body of the caliper moves.

Depth rod

Not present on all calipers, though most have them especially at smaller sizes. The depth rod is the part of the caliper that extends out the end of the tool to take depth measurements.

Lock screw

Not present on all calipers, the lock screw allows the caliper to be locked in place to take readings that may be in hard-to-reach positions that may not allow the caliper to be read while measuring the part.

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Starrett 3202-6 6 Inch Dial Caliper Review

Starrett has been making precision measuring tools such as micrometers and calipers for over a century. Sure, they know their stuff but how do they stack up against some of the up and coming manufacturers as well as options from tried and true tool manufacturers such as Mitutoyo and Brown and Sharpe?

Keep reading to find out.

Overview

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Pros

Extremely accurate
Built to last

This Starrett dial caliper, made out of hardened stainless steel, is perfect for metalworking, woodworking, automotive, and machining applications. The caliper’s sturdy but sleek design – including a satin finished bar – means it will look as good as it works, even after it spends all day banging around in your toolbox or garage.

Like all Starrett products, this dial caliper is designed and built for precision and accuracy. This particular model features a 0 – 6 inch measuring range, 0.001 inch graduation, and one revolution around the dial face is equal to 0.100”.

This caliper is ideal for measuring exact outside dimensions, inside dimensions, and depth.

The dial’s bright white background and black graduations mean it is easy to read, even in bad lighting. The bar itself also comes equipped with black graduations, measuring in both inches and millimeters. The adjustable dial bezel further adds to your ability to take precise measurements.

This Starrett caliper is one of the most versatile tools of its kind on the market. It comes equipped with a thumb-operated fine adjustment roll, and razor-thin contacts.

The jaw has lock screws so you will never have to worry about it moving if you’re measuring at an angle and need to pull the tool out of a tight spot to take your reading. Speaking of readings, the caliper’s spring-loaded double pinion is designed to prevent any backlash for an even higher degree of accuracy.

Though this caliper is extremely sturdy on its own – as mentioned above it is made of hardened stainless steel (never rusts!) – it is nonetheless a tool designed for precision, which means it needs to be treated carefully whenever possible. That is why this caliper comes with a plastic, easy to carry, pin hinge case to store your set when not in use.

In addition to protecting the caliper, the case also makes it harder to misplace or lose this smaller tool when it’s not in use.

Also, with this Starrett dial caliper, you can say goodbye to project delays caused by the fact that your tools won’t turn on. That’s because this caliper uses a dial reader rather than a digital one, so it is always ready to use from the moment you pull it out of its case.

You will not have to buy batteries when the caliper is delivered to you, and you will never have to worry about the instrument dying in the middle of an important job.

You can also rest assured that the dial will reset back to zero after every single use, whereas cheaper digital models can miscalibrate over time and after repeated use.

The accuracy, measuring capability, and quality of parts make this dial caliper a must-have. Starrett might be a name brand, highly trusted industry leader in precision measuring instruments, but this tool really is for everyone – whether you’re an expert, novice, or somewhere in between.

The cost is more than reasonable, and if you’re working with wood, machines, or metal, you can’t afford to buy a cheaper product that will give you inaccurate measurements.

Things to consider when purchasing a dial caliper

Measuring range

A 24" caliper - notice how it is missing a rod for depth measurements

The most common size of calipers is 0-6”. This set from Starrett is exactly that. Larger calipers are available. For larger sizes, they most often come in 0-12” and 0-24” versions. Different measuring range sizes are available, but these are the most common.

Larger sets of calipers can be more difficult to use when trying to measure small sizes. Because of this, most users will have a 0-6” set of calipers in addition to a larger set if they have the need for a larger measuring range.

The 0-6” set usually gets the most use and the larger set gets pulled out only when the smaller caliper won’t do.

Accuracy

Dial calipers almost all give readings at a resolution of .001”. However, they are not all accurate to .001”. Some will give a reading to .001” but only be accurate to .002”. This is more common in larger caliper sets as well as cheaper dial calipers.

When looking for a set of dial calipers, make sure to get a set that has a resolution of .001” and an accuracy of +/- .001”.

For accuracy greater than .001”, you will need to look into a quality micrometer. Micrometers are capable of taking measurements to an accuracy of .0001” or better. That is 10x more accurate than a dial caliper. To learn about the differences between these two types of measuring tools, see our guide to micrometers vs calipers.

What kind of measurements can a dial caliper take

caliper depth base attachment
A depth measuring rod extending out the end of a caliper

Dial calipers are versatile tools. They are capable of taking inside, outside, depth and step measurements. Not all will, but most do.

When looking at smaller 0-6” dial calipers, make sure it is capable of taking a depth measurement. Again, most will but some of the budget brands do not include the depth rod to keep costs down.

Additionally, if you are looking at a larger set of calipers then pay attention to both the depth measurement rod as well as whether or not the caliper has jaws for measuring internal dimensions. Some calipers are only capable of taking outside measurements.

This is likely all they will be needed for when dealing with larger sizes, but just be aware of what you are getting. Calipers that only take outside measurements and nothing else are most commonly seen in calipers that measure 24” or larger.

Dial vs digital calipers

mitutoyo digital caliper
Our best overall digital caliper, the Mitutoyo 500-196-30 6" Digital Caliper

Digital calipers can make a great alternative to dial calipers. Both types come with their benefits and drawbacks.

Digital calipers are easier to take measurements, and most will have the ability to instantly switch between units at the press of a button.

Dial calipers don’t require batteries and will always be ready to go even if you haven’t used them in a year.

For more info regarding the differences between these two types of calipers, see our guide to dial vs digital calipers.

Handling

Be gentle with your tool.

Dial calipers are precision measuring devices. They should be treated like it. While some may label themselves as “Shock Proof”, none really are.

Trust me, you don’t want to drop any caliper off your workbench onto a concrete floor. Handling your tool with care and storing it away, preferably in a case inside a toolbox when not in use, is the best practice.

Treat it right and your dial caliper will likely last a lifetime.

Related articles

Best Telescoping Gages

Telescoping gages are an extremely useful measuring tool for checking all types of internal features on a part. 

They are a perfect complement to a nice set of outside micrometers. It’s important to have a quality set of micrometers and for many, it’s a necessity to have a quality set of telescoping gages.

The best telescoping gages are made by the usual suspects. Both Mitutoyo and Starrett have a long history of making quality telescoping gages. But who wins out? Read on to find out.

Best overall

Starrett S579HZ Self-Centering Telescoping Gauge

starrett telescoping gage set
Starrett telescoping gages

Measuring tools by Starrett are typically referenced as the gold standard when it comes to telescoping gages, but it is debatable whether they are good enough to warrant the added cost when compared to the Mitutoyos. Both are great sets.

The Starrett set gets the edge by a small margin. Like so many other precision tools, the importance of the “feel” of the tool can not be overstated. 

The locking mechanism works exceptionally smooth and the spring action is everything you would hope for also. 

Telescoping gages are very much a “feel” tool and as a result the smoothness of the internal workings is of the utmost importance. Just like their micrometers, the telescoping gages by Starrett work exactly as intended and do it very well while being extremely accurate.

Runners-up

Mitutoyo 155-903 6 Piece Telescoping Gage Set

mitutoyo telescoping gage set
Mitutoyo telescoping gages

Please note that I am basically a big Mitutoyo fanboy. They just make excellent measuring equipment. Starrett does too, but through their whole catalog I believe Mitutoyo is generally of higher quality.

That’s one reason to take note that the Starrett telescoping set won our best overall here. They are just that good.

Basically everything that was said about the Starrett set applies to this set from Mitutoyo. The Starrett set is a little bit smoother and feels just a touch more solid. 

In saying that though, it is hard to imagine being disappointed in either set and the Mitutoyo set comes at a decent price reduction compared to the Starretts which is why it warrants mentioning even though it got beat out by the Starrett set.

Pick one. Go with whichever one is your precision gauge manufacturer of choice and you won’t be sad you did. Treat it right and you’ll have a tool your grandchildren can use. Both Starrett and Mitutoyo are heirloom quality.

Anytime Tools Telescoping Bore Gauge Set

anytime tools telescoping gage set with case
Anytime Tools telescoping gages

If you absolutely must go with a budget brand, Anytime Tools has a decent track record. They won’t be the same heirloom quality tools as you find from Starrett and Mitutoyo, but they do work well for most people.

If you need to measure to tolerances tighter than .001”, I recommend getting either the Starrett or Mitutoyo set. If .001” is close enough, then go with a cheaper set.

One thing I always say when going with super budget tools is to check them when you get them. If they don’t work as intended or are inaccurate, then send them packing. Most online retailers have lenient return policies.

As a side note, I only wish some of the top tier toolmakers would catch on and provide a case similar to the cheaper units. For whatever reason, telescoping gages have historically come in a strange plastic sleeve holder. These sleeves simply do not provide the amount of protection most would want for a precision measuring instrument.

Frequently asked questions

What is a telescoping gage?

Telescoping gage parts

telescoping gage with parts labeled

A telescoping gage is a tool used in conjunction with a micrometer to measure the size of internal holes, slots, and similar features.  They are usually sold in sets which cover a specified measuring range.

Some varieties have two telescoping arms while others have one. They are simply different styles of the same tool and neither style is preferable to the other.

What are telescoping gages used for?

Telescoping gages are used to measure internal features of a part such as a hole diameter or a slot width. They are versatile and capable of covering a large measuring range, especially when compared to other internal feature measurement tools such dial bore gages and inside micrometers.

What is the measuring range of a telescoping gage?

Telescoping gages come in many different sizes.  Typically, they are purchased as sets with a range of 5/16” or ½” up to 6”. Smaller sets are available also and individual gages may be purchased as well.  

Some typical individual gage measuring ranges are listed below.

telescoping gage size list

How accurate are telescoping gages?

The accuracy of any telescoping gage depends on multiple factors. The accuracy of the micrometer that is used together with the telescoping gage affects the accuracy most of all.

Additionally, the quality of the telescoping gage, as well as the cleanliness and surface finish of the measured part play a role as well. Parts with a rougher surface finish will not be measured as accurately as those with a smoother surface finish.

The skill of the tool user is another factor in the accuracy of a telescoping gages. Some experienced machinists claim to measure to an accuracy of .0002” while many would argue that .001” is the limit when it comes to telescoping gages. Personally I believe that .0005″ is a more easily attained accuracy with some practice.

The best way to improve your accuracy using telescoping gages is to measure the feature multiple times (3-5) to build confidence in the repeatability of your measurement.

A good way to practice this skill is to measure calibrated ring gauges repeatedly and compare your readings to those of the known ring gauge size.

How to use a telescoping gage

To use a telescoping gage, compress the measuring arms and insert them into the feature to be measured. Gently rock the tool until you feel it “center up” on the feature. Rock it through the hole one time only.

Lock the tool and gently remove the gage from the hole or slot and measure the distance between the measuring faces with a micrometer. Be gentle with your micrometer measurement because excessive force can cause the telescoping gauge to give a smaller reading.

Do you need to calibrate telescoping gages?

eye loupe
A pocket comparator used for visual inspection

Telescoping gages do not need to be calibrated. They should however be inspected to verify they are in good working order.

This inspection should consist of:

  1. Verifying the spring mechanism is in good working order
  2. Verifying the locking mechanism is in good working order
  3. Visually inspect for flat spots or other signs of wear on the contact ends. An eye loupe or pocket comparator come in handy for this check.

As noted in our accuracy section, checking a known ring gauge can allow to develop some certainty that the tool is working as intended.

Telescoping gages vs inside micrometers

mitutoyo inside micrometer set
Mitutoyo inside micrometer set

Inside micrometers provide more accuracy than telescoping gauges but they do it at the expense of ease of use. 

In most instances you will find that a set of telescoping gages will provide readings that are accurate enough and quicker to use or a dial bore gage will be much more accurate and still faster to use, especially in high volume shops. 

Inside micrometers have their uses, but many will find them not needed.

Telescoping gages vs dial bore gages

fowler dial bore gage set in case
A dial bore gage set

Dial bore gauges are more accurate than telescoping gauges. The accuracy of a dial bore gauge will depend upon the accuracy and resolution of its dial indicator.

Telescoping gages will be accurate to about a thousandth (.001”), possibly more in the hands of an experienced user. Dial bore gauges can easily be found that are accurate to a tenth (.0001”) or better.

The measuring range of dial bore gages varies but is generally quite a bit smaller than that of the telescoping gages or an inside micrometer set.