A dial indicator or dial gauge is able to magnify a tiny hard-to-observe length difference into a rotatable easy-to-count distance. When the plunger moves back and forth, it drives the needle/pointer on the dial scale to rotate. Nicely, this workshop precision measuring tool can give you a resolution down to .001″, even .0001″.
By using the dial indicator, you can inspect how rounded an object you just lathe. That said, it measures roundness. You can inspect how flat the metal bar you just mill. That said, it can measure flatness and straightness. There are many things a dial indicator can do, thus, this is a critical tool you have to own in your workshop.
A dial indicator is commonly paired with a magnetic base. The magnetic stand base will stick to the working surface. One of the applications is to align the saw blade. You could do it with a dial indicator that is attached to a magnetic base. There are also many applications of a dial indicator, especially in woodworking and machining. In the workshop, you could apply it in engine building as the readout scale of a bore gauge.
If you plan to buy a new one, this post can help you. We have dedicated work finding out some great dial indicators on the market to present here. As a result, the top 10 best plunger-typed dial indicators are in the following. Supporting content to help you gain more information about the dial indicator is also available.
Top 10 Best Dial Indicator Reviews in 2023
1. Mitutoyo 2358S-10 Dial Indicator [Most Accurate & Best Overall]
If you are looking for a dial indicator with a high degree of accuracy and meant for heavy and frequent use, Mitutoyo 2358S-10 is the best for you.
Its resolution is .0001″ while the accuracy is varying depending on the revolution it has taken. Less than 20 revolutions, the accuracy varies from ±.0002″, ±.0003″, and ±.0004″. More than 20 revolutions, the accuracy is ±.0008″. Moreover, its repeatability is ±.00003″. This spec is of course the best one so far that we find on the market. However, in terms of travel range, it is only 0.5″ which should be reasonable.
Aside from that, the catalog also tells us that one rotation is equal to .01″. Since there are 100 divisions on the scale, then one division is equal to .0001″ (which is the resolution itself). The 0-10 numerical markings printed can help you spot the position of the pointer.
Another great thing about this Mitutoyo dial indicator is the jeweled bearing. If you observe the internal part of the indicator, you’ll notice it. It’s likely rubies or sapphire (but it’s artificial). When heavy and frequent use can cause wear down to the bearing and repeatability issue, this bearing can solve it.
If you highly concern about accuracy, undoubtedly select this Mitutoyo dial indicator. The excellent spec, quality build, smooth operation, jeweled bearing, stainless steel material, .375″ diameter stem for stem mounting, and also the lug back for mounting as well are all that you get from this best dial indicator. Further, an option to buy with the NIST calibration certificate is available for you.
- Accurate, high resolution
- Smoothly operates
- Jeweled bearing; for sensitive measurement and heavy use
- Mitutoyo Product
- Only provides 0.5 travel range
2. Mitutoyo 2776S Dial Indicator .0005″ Resolution [2nd Best Option]
Mitutoyo 2776S dial indicator is another option of a great precision and accurate dial indicator. It comes with a fine spec that is critical for accurate measurement.
It serves you with a 1″ range by a resolution of .0005″. And based on the official site, the accuracy is ±.0005″ for the first 2.5 revolutions and ±.002″ for the rest revolutions. Though it’s still under the Mitutoyo 2358S-10 above, it’s more superior to the rest indicators on this list in terms of spec.
The reading is an inch scale and not hard to read. There is a scale of 0-50 numerical markings per one full rotation. At the same time, there are 100 divisions that mean counting for .0005″ per division (the resolution itself). Therefore, one rotation of the longer pointer represents a .05″ reading.
It has a stem diameter of 3/8″ and a contact point of 4-48 UNF. The weight comes up with 8.8 ounces. The bezel’s diameter is 57 mm or almost 2.25″. On the back, there is a lug back for the magnetic base stand to easily secures the indicator.
A single Mitutoyo dial indicator may charge you more, but it won’t upset you. For professionals and high accuracy measurement, Mitutoyo 2776S is recommended.
- Accurate and high resolution
- Easy to secure to the magnetic base stand
- Nice construction to repel dust and water
- the NIST traceable certificate is requestable.
- No jeweled bearing
3. Mitutoyo 2046S Metric Dial Indicator [Affordable Choice & Metric Model]
If you are a fan of metric reading and looking to find perhaps there is an option for you, you are lucky because this is not only a metric but also from a reputable brand Mitutoyo.
Mitutoyo 2046S is a continuous model that counts the graduations from 0 to 99 clockwise. The smallest reading (resolution) has a value of 0.01 mm. So, it will be a reading of 10 mm for 10 revolutions which is its maximum travel range. In terms of accuracy, it has a varying MPE (maximum permissible error) depending on the revolution. In the first 1/10 rev, the MPE is 0.005 mm. The MPE then increases in the half (1/2) rev, full (1) rev, and overall range (up to 10 revs) respectively to be 0.009 mm, 0.010 mm, and 0.013 mm.
In terms of its look and design, it has a 57 mm dial diameter, 6.5 mm diameter lug back hole, carbide-tipped contact point, a pair of the limit marker, hardened stainless steel stem and plunger, water-and-oil-resistant construction between the bezel and crystal, and scratch-and-chemical-resistant crystal.
All in all, this is great news for you. It’s an ideal option for standard use and comes with metric unit reading. Though Mitutoyo, you don’t need to worry because it’s not expensive. Check the price through the following button.
- Mitutoyo brand which means good quality but affordable
- Metric reading; great for some users
- Good accuracy and resolution
- Only 1 mm measurement range
4. Mitutoyo 2416S Dial Indicator
This is another best dial indicator that we pick on the market and it’s made by Mitutoyo, a well-recognized company that produces precision measuring tools.
If you are looking for a high-quality and durable dial indicator, Mitutoyo 2416S is for you. It also provides you with sufficient specifications such as a 1″ maximum measuring range, .001″ resolution, ±.001″ accuracy for the first 2.5 revs, and ±.002″ accuracy for up to 10 revolutions (the maximum range).
The dial scale is quite large as it’s 2.244 inches in diameter. Its number and line make it intuitive to read. As each division is read .001″, it should be easy to calculate the total reading. The smaller scale is also easy to read as it counts from 0-1 in one rotation.
You can find it come with a lug back which is essential for mounting, a 3/8″ (0.375″) diameter stem which is for base mounting as well, and a #4-48 UNF contact point thread mount.
Overall, if you don’t intend a high spec but remain high quality, smooth operation, and durable product, then we pick this Mitutoyo 2416S as the right choice for you.
- Decent spec
- High-quality Mitutoyo product
- Long last
- Smooth operation
- No jeweled bearing
5. Starrett 25-441J Dial Indicator
Another popular model in the recent market is Starrett 25-441J dial indicator. Around the models that come with .001″ resolution, this one should be prioritized.
It contains .375″ of stem diameter, this model has a travel range of 1″ and resolution of .001″ similar to the other model as usual.
The marking system and white black color let you work and read the reading with ease. They are also bolded. A fully one rotation of the large circular scale contains 100 divisions. While the smaller scale contains 10 divisions. That way, calculating the two dials becomes faster especially since the resolution is .001″.
For the internal components, it comes as expected. The gears, pinions, rack, stem, and spindle are made of hardened stainless steel. Even, the bearings are jeweled. This ensures durability against a heavy application during the working. Like many Starrett products, these spare parts are repairable. You can purchase the spare parts in case it breaks.
This dial indicator is 8.0 ounces in weight. The lug for mounting purposes appears on the back. And enjoy a 1-year of warranty for this instrument.
- Decent specification
- Jeweled bearings; for heavy use
- Expensive price
6. Triton ALL-52000 Dial Indicator [Most Affordable Option]
All Industrial Triton All-52000 is so far the most affordable option available on the market. If you are first learning to use dial indicators, then this must be your first buy. You also have to pick this one if you don’t need high accuracy or anything fancy for this time.
Despite the most affordable, it comes with a nice specification. The total travel range is 1″. The smallest reading is .001″. It’s graduated with 100 divisions per one revolution and one revolution equals .1″. However, as we browse on the official site, there is no info about the accuracy.
Other specs you need to know are the stem and dial diameter which are respectively 3/8″ and 2″. The rack is made of hardened stainless steel which is good. But the interchangeable contact point (with 4-48 thread) is not carbide which is the drawback side. Moreover, according to the seller, the bearing movement is jeweled.
In terms of the manufacturing process, it’s based on ANSI standards. Its weight is 0.38 lbs. The body case looks made of metal. There is a screw lock to tighten or untighten the bezel. Lastly, it comes with some other features such as tolerance marking which is beneficial to perform tolerance measurement and a replaceable lug back with a 1/4″ hole.
- An affordable option for beginners and those who don’t need a high level of accuracy
- For light use
- Decent specification
- Not for high-level accuracy measurement
- The contact point is not carbide
7. Clockwise DICR-0105 Dial Indicator + Magnetic Base
If you are looking for a complete set of dial indicator that comes with the base stand and the price is also friendly, Clockwise Tools DICR-0105 is the choice. You are free to buy it either without or with the magnetic stand.
Mentioning the spec, the range is 1 inch and the resolution is .001″. The graduations are from 0 to 99 (totally 100 divisions per one rotation).
This indicator is versatile to use whether with the lug back or flat back. Make sure the base stand fits with its 6.5mm lug back’s hole if using the base stand. Without lug back, the stand can do it by holding the stem. The stem diameter is like others which are 3/8″. In terms of space occupation, it won’t take much as the dial diameter is only 2″.
Overall, this dial indicator is worth considering. It has nice accuracy and resolution. Considering its features and magnetic base stand, the price is friendly.
- It is easy to read and simple to operate.
- Very cheap price compared to other models.
- Very light in weight.
- Accurate and can fix the location with a single knob
- The simple option to turn the magnet on and off
- Hard to lock the ball and socket joints of the magnetic stand.
- The smaller scale has only 5 divisions.
8. Taytools Dial Indicator 0.0005″ Resolution
Now, you can enjoy a dial indicator that comes with a nice resolution of .0005″ but no need to worry about the price. However, we don’t rank it higher because its accuracy is only ±.001″ as claimed. If you don’t require high accuracy, this tool is uniquely very considerable to have.
The body material is anodized aluminum. That said, it’s durable against rusting. Despite affordable, the rack, pinions, and gears are made from steel which is good. The item weight is 5.6 ounces according to the seller. Since it’s built-in with a lug back, you can mount it to the stand base and that’s nice.
- High resolution
- Durable against rust
- Unintegrated numerical markings and the number of divisions printed
9. Fowler 52-520-109-0 Black Face Dial Indicator
Another decent spec dial indicator on the market we’d like to share with you is Fowler FOW52-520-109-0. Nicely, for the spec and quality it has, Fowler 52-520-109-0 is another nice choice for the budget. It’s not perfect but it should worth every penny.
This one is a continuous model, 1-inch travel range, .001″ of the resolution, white marking, black face, red pointers, lug back, tolerance markings, and 0-100 markings. The white markings are expected able to reflect the light. Combined with red pointers, turns to easier to read.
The spindle rack is durable due to made of hard stainless steel. While the gear wheels are hard brass. But the drawback comes to the contact point which is hard stainless steel instead of carbide. It’s actually decent but carbide is more durable against wear. The case is forged brass and satin chromed; durable against rust.
- Sufficient specification
- Metallic body and gears ensure stability and durability
- Economical choice; best for the price
- White markings and red pointers for easy to read
- Not for high accuracy measurement
- The contact point is not carbide
10. HFS(R) 0-2″ Long Stroke Dial Indicator
If you are working with a lathe, but there is no reading about the cross slide distance, you may need a long-stroke dial indicator model to monitor the movement.
By adjusting the magnetic base to the appropriate place or make your own attachment, HFS(R) 2-inch range can fulfill that requirement. As it also equips with a 1/4″ mounting lug back hole, we see this is an appropriate choice to consider.
It has a 2″ measuring range and .001″ resolution. In terms of accuracy, it has ±.001″ accuracy for the first 2.5 revolutions and ±.003 for the rest which is actually a nice specification considering the price and its longer plunger. The bigger scale markings are from 0-100, while the revolution counter has 20 markings. The revolution counter is unique because both pointers share the same center. Most importantly, they are easy to read.
If you want to unscrew the lug back and use a magnetic back instead, consider the dial diameter which is 2.28″. While the stem diameter is common which is 3/8″ if you want to hold the stem instead of mounting the lug back.
Considering the body construction, this HFS 16648 long stroke indicator is interesting. Its body is from aluminum that means lightweight and rust-proof. Another thing is the jeweled bearing. Though it’s affordable, it provides jeweled bearings. You may want to try it for frequent use in the shop.
- Nice specification considering the cost it charges you
- Comes with a longer plunger which is needed for certain tasks
- Jeweled bearing; for repetitive use
- Not smooth movement
What to Consider Buying Dial Indicator
Dial Indicator’s main task is to measure, so accuracy is an important topic. Besides, there are other important factors we need to consider while deciding to buy the best dial indicator.
The first step you have to do is to define your accuracy requirement. If you buy this tool for business, the chance is you need a high degree of accuracy. In contrast, you need a decent one for hobbyists. Accuracy of ±.0001″ for professional use is recommended. While the accuracy of ±.001″ for hobbyists is considered sufficient. The smaller the accuracy value given a certain tool, the better it is.
To make sure that the tool comes with the expected accuracy, it’s better calibrated by NIST. This calibration gives you a report of the actual spec of the tool.
While selecting the indicator, the resolution is another major factor to consider as well. Resolution is the smallest reading value that the dial indicator can give. The smaller the value, the better it is. It determines the indicator’s sensitivity.
Most dial indicator products provide a resolution of .001″. There are also .0005″ and .0001″ resolutions but affecting the price. Again, you have to meet it with your requirement. For hobbyists, a resolution of .001″ is okay. While .0005″ and .0001″ resolutions are needed for more serious measurements. Combining great resolution and nice accuracy would create an accurate measurement.
Material is important to consider in regard to the contact point, body case, gears, rack, pinion, and bearing. Stay away from plastic. Plastic material will not corrode but it can easily wear down and lead to inaccuracy. Metal may corrode, therefore, you have to choose high-grade stainless steel. Some products are made of alloy. You can choose this option rather than plastic.
4. Lug Back
The presence of a lug back allows you to attach the indicator to the stand base. This feature is really helpful when facing a difficult position in measurement. Most lug back hole diameter is 1/4″. Make sure your base fulfills this specification.
An alternative is selectable when there is no center lug back is by holding the stem. Most stem diameter is 3/8″. In some situations, you can opt to hold the stem instead of the lug back and adjust the indicator accordingly.
5. Jeweled Bearing
Jeweled bearing means the bearing is made of gems instead of steel. The most used gemstone for dial indicator bearing is ruby or sapphire. But this ruby is not mined, but human-made. The jeweled bearing has some advantages that you cannot obtain from a steel-made bearing.
Here are the physical properties of ruby:
- Low coefficient friction 0.15 on steel according to Generalruby.com. It’s 0.2 according to MellerOptics.com (but not sure whether on steel or ruby). This property is very critical to smoothness and accuracy.
- Hardness degree close to diamond 9 Mohs (durability)
- Nearly chemically inert (good to prevent rusting)
- It is 9 times better than carbide tungsten in regard to abrasion resistance (durability)
- Non-magnetic (to avoid error due to environmental issue)
- No need to lubricate
Note: the ruby’s friction coefficient that we found is not clear whether it’s the static or the kinetic friction coefficient one. Surely, we need to take these two things into account. Compared to the steel-on-steel static-and-kinetic friction coefficient (Wikipedia), ruby wins so much better especially when there is no lubrication.
Since we use it a lot in the machine shop, we frequently encounter dust, water, and oil. That said, the construction should be water-and-dust-resistant. The indicators should pass an IP test rating.
Aside from that, the crystal should be scratch-resistant. It also should be replaceable. In case it breaks, you can replace it. Further, the case should be shock resistant to protect the gears and pinions inside.
7. Define Which Type and Model You Need
It’s important to make sure that you are not picking the test indicator when intending to buy a dial indicator. The test indicator is different from the dial indicator. You have to be aware of the differences between the dial indicator and test indicator. Define your need first. It can be a test indicator that you need instead of a dial indicator.
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: How to calibrate a dial indicator by myself?
A: You could check the accuracy of your dial indicator by calibrating it using the gauge block. Keep in mind that the gauge block should be traceable to SI or at least NIST (NIST for the US). Additionally, the block gauge’s grade must be at least ASME AS-1 in this case. Read more about tips buying block gauge here.
Q: What is the difference between the dial indicator and the test indicator?
A: Dial indicator uses a plunger while test indicator uses a lever in terms of the part that contacts to the surface being measured. The plunger moves up and down, while the lever pivots.
Q: Should I lubricate the bearing?
A: If your indicator bearing is made of steel, it’s physically recommended. Lubricating the steel will reduce its friction coefficient.
Summary: Top 3 Choices
Make sure you recognize the types of dial indicators. This recognition is critical to be able to handle various measurement challenges. After you know what type to use, then you have to learn how to use it. Using this tool needs to be careful because errors are highly potential to happen. You need to make use of the base stand as well. Afterward, you need to learn how to read the two dial scales and sum them up to get the final reading.
If you are still not satisfied with the above choices, perhaps, you may want to check the digital indicators. A digital indicator is easy to read because the reading is instantly displayed on the LCD screen.
Top 3 Choices
All in all, if you need a further selection, we can say that these are the top 3 choices: Mitutoyo 2358S-10 (for highly accurate measurement), Mitutoyo 2046S (for accurate and affordable option), and Triton All-52000 (for inexpensive option).
In terms of best dial indicators based on its resolution, here they are:
For the models providing .0001″ resolution, the winner is Mitutoyo 2358S-10. There are no other choices in this range that we can pick on the market so far. If you want other models with the same spec, you need to contact the company directly.
While the models serving .0005″ resolution, the options are Mitutoyo 2776S & Mitutoyo 2046S. Mitutoyo 2776S is an inch reading, having fine spec, but expensive. If you are okay with metric reading, you can pick 2046S (0.01mm resolution). It also has a fine spec and affordable. Remember that 0.01 mm = .0004″.
Lastly, for the models with .001″ resolution: Mitutoyo 2416S (fine product quality but expensive plus no jeweled bearing), Starrett 25-441J (good quality, jeweled but expensive), and Triton All-52000 (claimed jeweled and affordable). If no need for any fancy, pick Triton.