Andrew C writes: “Harbor Freight has an acceptable (+/- about 0.002″) dial caliper, which is a great tool when you need ‘precise’ measurements. I last used mine to measure the shelf pegs for a custom cabinet that used (it turned out) 17/64” pegs.
‘I’ve also got an HF digital caliper, but it seems like every time I want to use that one the batteries are dead. The dial caliper keeps working so it’s the one I take with me.”
It’s better to have more accurate calipers — especially for machining work — but 2/1000ths is fine for most day-to-day measuring. We use ours (from Starrett) all the time, often for the kind of thing Andrew’s talking about — like measuring a piece of rod found around the shop to pick the right die for threading.
But you won’t get a Starrett for $20 — or carry it out of the shop much for fear of losing it.
6″ Dial Caliper [Harbor Freight]
Note: Andrew, a friend of mine used to have the same problem battery-wise even with much more expensive digital calipers. It turned out that they were turning themselves on while stowed in a drawer. He eventually modified his to include a small switch — at which point they lasted much longer.