Classic Motorcycle Build

Best Digital Caliper For Engine Building

Article by Mark Trotta

Although you can buy a measuring caliper really cheap, it's not a good idea for engine building purposes. If you were measuring parts for woodworking, or crafts like jewelry making, any caliper will be satisfactory. But for engine work, measurements often need to be as precise as five-thousands of an inch (0.005).

digital caliper review

Rebuilding an engine requires accurate measuring of precision machined parts. One example is bottom end roller bearings, which in a running motor spin several thousand times a minute. This is where 0.005" means the difference between a short-life or long-life engine.

Types Of Calipers

The vernier caliper is the least expensive style. It works on a rack and pinion and requires no power source. The downside is they are slow reading, and it takes a few steps to get the measurement result.

engine measurement tools

Most, if not all calipers feature two sets of jaws for reading both external and internal measurements. They will also read step measurements and depth measurements.

Dial Caliper

Like the vernier style, a dial caliper works on a rack and pinion and does not require a power source. They are easier to read than a vernier caliper, but not as easy to read as a digital. One drawback is the clock display is usually set for either metric or inches, not both.

dial caliper for engine build

Before I bought my digital caliper, I had an inexpensive dial caliper. I never used it for engine building though, it was more for measuring things like bolts and bolt holes, etc.

To measure internal engine parts effectively, a caliper needs to be accurate and consistent. Stay away from plastic body calipers. Look for an metal body and hardened tips, which prevent flexing.

Digital Caliper

The quickest and easiest caliper to read is the digital style, which operate from a tiny electronic circuit board. They can convert inches to millimeters and back with the touch of a button. Their main drawback is initial price. They are also sensitive to water, oil, dirt, and shock (being dropped).

best digital caliper for engine build

Before I bought my Mitutoyo caliper, I considered two Chinese-made calipers, the Vinca and Neiko brands.


Vinca DCLA-0605

For the home workshop, the Vinca DCLA-0605 is a good inexpensive digital caliper. Features include a stainless-steel body plus a wide screen for easy reading. It has an inch/metric/fraction conversion, and a resolution of 0.0005"/0.01mm.

Measure range is 0-6 inches.

best digital caliper for the money

Shop: Vinca Digital Caliper

No need to push a button to turn on the Vinca - sensors do that automatically when the jaws are opened. An automatic on-off feature shuts off the caliper after 5-7 minutes of non-use.

There is an advertised accuracy of plus/minus .001" (0.03mm) but no calibration certificate is included. It's Chinese-made, but has a good reputation and plenty of positive customer reviews.


Neiko 01407A

Simple, cheap, and usable, the Neiko 01407A digital caliper also features a stainless steel body with a large LCD Screen. It also has inch/metric/fraction conversion, and a resolution of 0.0005"/0.01mm.

Measure range is 0-6 inches.

best digital caliper for the money

Shop: Neiko Digital Caliper

The tips on the Neiko 01407A are hardened so they don't flex and dull out like cheaper calipers. There is an on-off switch with auto-off.

Like the Vinca, it's Chinese-made and not certified - you won't get certified calibration in this price range. But in this lower price-range, the Neiko 01407A is hard to beat.


Mitutoyo 500-196-30

Mitutoyo instruments are made in Japan - not China. They started producing precision instruments in 1934, and have had headquarters in the U.S. since 1963. All of their products are precise and well-built.

Mitutoyo digimatic caliper review

Shop: Mitutoyo 500-196-30 Caliper

All Mitutoyo calipers include a certificate of calibration. This means it meets standards set by the International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission (ISO/IEC).

Mitutoyo - Positives

best digital caliper for engine rebuilding

Mitutoyo - Negatives

Aside from the initial price, my only critique is that there is no automatic shut-off. After leaving it on a few too many times, I came up with this clever reminder.

best digital caliper for engine building

Beware Of Fakes

Unfortunately, there are fake Mitutoyo calipers being sold on the internet. The obvious giveaway is the cheap price, but there are several ways to check authenticity.

Genuine Mitutoyo's come with an uninstalled SR44 battery and the word "Japan" printed right on the battery. The calipers and packaging should not mention China anywhere, especially on the box in which it was shipped. The serial number on the caliper should match the serial number listed on the calibration certificate.


Best Digital Caliper For The Money

If you're on a tight budget, but you still want accuracy, either the Vinca or the Neiko digital calipers will be adequate for your engine building needs.

However, if you're planning on rebuilding motors for the next 20 years or so, consider investing in a Mitutoyo caliper.


Digital Caliper Maintenance

As mentioned, digital calipers are susceptible to water, oil, dirt, and being dropped. When not in use, I keep mine in the back of a tool drawer on top of the case, out of the way of other tools.

best digital caliper for engine rebuilding

Notes and Misc

There are 51 roller bearings in the lower end of an 900cc Ironhead Sportster. After purchasing a new connecting rod set, I did not assume that all the bearings were correct, so I checked each one of them with my digital caliper before installing.

tools needed for an engine build

Readout Shows Minus Zero

If your digital readout is showing minus zero, there's nothing wrong with the caliper. My Mitutoyo does this all the time. To reset, close the jaws all the way and hit ZERO. This will reset it back to zero.


Final Thoughts

Engine bearing clearances are crucial, and learning to correctly read a micrometer takes some time. First-time builders should practice-measure 10 or 20 times before trusting their readings.

When your new digital caliper arrives, try it out on your spark plug gap tool. Set it to .040" and lock it in place, then measure the gap tool.

Mitutoyo digital caliper review

You may be surprised at the difference.


Related Articles:

Motorcycle Engine Tools
DIY Motorcycle Tools
Anaerobic Gasket Sealant Review
Classic Motorcycle Resources

Read: Best Hand Tools