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Workbench Essentials: Dial Calipers

I love these things.  I’ll admit they are not the most universal tool in my garage, and I will sometimes go for weeks at a time without ever using them.  When the need arises, however, absolutely nothing fits the bill like a set of dial calipers.

As you might guess, they are used for measuring stuff… and that’s about it.  The thing that makes them so useful, however, is how easy it is to do the measuring.  A quick roll of the thumb wheel and presto – reliable, consistent results every time.  Can’t remember what offset of rims you’re using, or how much shock travel you’re running?  Dial calipers will come to your rescue, quickly and easily.

Probably my favorite use for calipers is when I’m assembling kits.  You know the scene:  You’ve opened every parts bag, you’re elbow deep in about a million plastic trees, and the instructions are calling for the 3x20mm screws… but which ones were *those*?  Instead of swearing profusely and trying to eyeball each screw against the little picture in the instruction manual, just grab your calipers and dial up 20mm.  Done.  Finding the right screw has never been so easy.

Absolute measurements aren’t the only thing you can do with a good set of dial calipers.  You can use them to make sure your turnbuckles and steering links are of equal length, and while you’re at it you can mark that information down on a setup sheet for future reference.  Calipers are great for drilling and mounting polycarbonate bodies too; they allow you to make 100% sure those holes are perfectly spaced before you go punching holes in your new shell.

Dial calipers also come in digital versions (appropriately known as “digital calipers”), which have the advantage of being somewhat easier to use than their analog cousins.  I prefer dial-type calipers, however, because you never need to replace the batteries.  You don’t have to break the bank on a top-notch set – low end models do just fine for hobby work.  You can pick up a decent set for as little as $10, and as long as you don’t use them as a hammer they’ll last pretty much forever.


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