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cboucher
07-14-2009, 11:04 PM
Has anyone had any luck with either SPI or Fowler tools (mics, verniers, test indicators)? Some of the stuff looks really nice, and the prices look so good in the Enco catalog! We all know how nice Mitutoyo, Starrett, and Brown & Sharpe stuff is, but I wondered how these two brands held up comparatively?

I've always worked in small shops, and they had nice tools that we could all use, so I had some cheap chinese verniers and some older hand-me-down tools that I'd accumulated from retiring old-timers. My Chinese verniers need to be retired, and now that I am looking for work at some larger shops, it's time to upgrade my gear, but it's hard to swallow the prices for the Big 3! (being 25, and currently unemployed). What do you think?

Thanks guys! :)

-Chris in NH

lane
07-14-2009, 11:09 PM
The old stuff was good 20 years ago. Now you had better hold in your hand before you lay your money down . Some is great some is junk. Both brands. A lot of it is made in China now.

recoilless
07-14-2009, 11:11 PM
Go to www.longislandindicator.com. They have a lot of info on their site that would help you out. I own neither brand so I can't offer my opinion.

Hope thar helps

hornluv
07-14-2009, 11:23 PM
I've used Fowler mics and they are pretty well made, although I think they are made in China. I've only seen one SPI mic in person and it was pretty much a dead ringer for the Fowler aside from the logo. They are probably made in the same factory.

cboucher
07-14-2009, 11:36 PM
Go to www.longislandindicator.com. They have a lot of info on their site that would help you out. I own neither brand so I can't offer my opinion.

Hope thar helps

very nice site thank you!

Boucher
07-14-2009, 11:39 PM
Sometimes hard choices have to be made. I bought a Fowler co-ax indicator. It has served my needs. In hindsight I wish that I had bought a Blake. I probably will eventually. If you are going to buy a mixture of price and quality, concentrate on the things you use the most. A dial indicator you are going to use more than a co-ax indicator in the norm, and you can do the same job with the dial indicator. I use my dial calipers more than my digital calipers. I still have and use my vernier calipers just out of habit. That is if I have my magnifiers on. Its the pits to get old and blind.

steverice
07-14-2009, 11:39 PM
I prefer the Fowler Digital Max-Cal calipers myself, I have been using a 8" set for about 20 years now.

Like it so much I got a 6" one to match.

Walter
07-15-2009, 05:34 AM
Chris,

I own one Fowler item, a 6 inch dial cal. It's what you'd expect for $20.00. It sits in a drawer and never sees sunlight. I'd compare the quality to that of a Grizzley dial cal I once had, same cheap junk.

I own one set of SPI gauge blocks. they're decently made, well boxed, well worth the $99.00 sale price. For what they get used for I have no worries. They sure aren't Croblox...

I can say with complete honesty, there is no way in hell I'd buy mics made by any other than the big three, and Starrett is out of the running as their quality has dropped off. I lean heavily to B&S, but that's just my personal preference. Digital stuff is all Mitutoyo, hard to beat the quality.

sidneyt
07-15-2009, 09:17 AM
As a HSM (home shop machinist) without a budget for high end metrology instruments I can appreciate some of the obsession with one brand of micrometer over another. The "feel" of a micrometer is real although difficult to describe in words (but not in $). However, I am not so sure about gage blocks. IF the gage block meets the specifications which are claimed there is no difference in one brand over another. Maybe the longevity could be an issue, and you can always debate the quality of the "well made" box, but if they specs are the same, then the blocks will measure the same. There is no "feel" in the way gage blocks work. Yes, the $99 SPI blocks are not Croblox, but then aren't Croblox made by "out of the running" Starrett?

J Tiers
07-15-2009, 09:43 AM
Fowler has not always been cheap and nasty....

I have a Fowler metric/imperial dial caliper. it was made in Germany, is at least 28 years old, and is still within 0.001 whenever I check it at any size.

I used it nearly every day at my old job, but retired it to the shop because too many people borrow and abuse my tools at the new place. They can use the shop-provided ones.

Mcgyver
07-15-2009, 11:31 AM
Fowler doesn't make a thing, they buy from manufacturers around the world and rebadge. I've confirmed that to point where I’m comfortable proffering it as fact.

many of the products, ie the 12" height gage are identical to what’s being sold as the no name offshore product - no design or value add, just existing product branded Fowler

Many of the manufactures they rebrand from are cheapo chinese junk, yet many are very good. Who's stuff they're rebranding changes over time however in the past has included swiss indicator makers and i believe Brown & Sharpe for some items. When they are rebadged a quality maker they will often share the name or at least make sure you know it came from Switzerland, Germany, UK etc.....if it doesn't say that, you're buying chinese stuff with a price increase because it says Fowler

oh yeah, I just bought a pile of German made tools, Helios mics & indicators, Schweizer squares etc. this stuff makes Starrett and Mit look a little sloppy....yet on ebay the Helios stuff goes for next to nothing. I suppose most of market has no clue of the brand. mics for $10. There is no cost/price excuse for the home shop person not equiping themselves with the best tools in the world.

JCHannum
07-15-2009, 12:24 PM
Helios products are very good. They are not well known in the US, and don't command the price of the better known brands.

The problem with Fowler and SPI is that they change suppliers frequently and, say, the 6" dial caliper you buy today probably is not from the same manufacturer as the 6" dial caliper you might have purchased a year or so ago. Some of their products are excellent and some are standard chicom, you will not know until you have it in your hands.

Fasttrack
07-15-2009, 12:52 PM
I own a set of Craftsman micrometers that I think are the exact same as SPI micrometers. I very rarely use them as I very rarely need .0001 resolution! They feel nice, however. They came with standards that I checked against an old set of (recently calibrated) Starett mics at the shop I work in. Seemed to read just fine.

I have also had the displeasure of using an SPI and Fowler caliper. They are junk - don't buy them! I own a Mitutoyo that gets used for almost everything. It has a much better feel and seems to be very accurate. I checked it against a 5" standard from that set of Starett mics and it I read 5.0005 - i.e. the needle was just off zero but not quite to the .001. It repeated that measurment several times - I was pretty pleased with it.

lazlo
07-15-2009, 01:08 PM
Fowler has not always been cheap and nasty....

Ironically, Fowler still sells/re-brands high-end metrology gear like the Trimos (Swiss) air bearing Height Gauges:

http://www.fvfowler.com/v-series.html

SPI was bought by MSC last year, and MSC immediately used the name to rebrand all their house-brand Chinese stuff. I've returned several SPI items I bought from MSC in the last year.

One gem from SPI that I really like is their little 10x inspection microscope with the toolmaker's reticle set. It's Made in Japan, very high quality. It's got reticles to measure holes, angles, threads,...

gregl
07-15-2009, 08:46 PM
... too many people borrow and abuse my tools at the new place.


I once knew a guy who'd say you can borrow it twice but if you need it a third time you need to buy one for yourself.

steverice
07-15-2009, 09:24 PM
If needed it one time, I would lend it to them. Second time they should have it on order already.

J Tiers
07-15-2009, 11:23 PM
I have also had the displeasure of using an SPI and Fowler caliper. They are junk - don't buy them! I own a Mitutoyo that gets used for almost everything. It has a much better feel and seems to be very accurate. I checked it against a 5" standard from that set of Starett mics and it I read 5.0005 - i.e. the needle was just off zero but not quite to the .001. It repeated that measurment several times - I was pretty pleased with it.

Oddly, I absolutely have hated nearly every Mitutoyo measuring product I have used.....

I have a Mit 6"caliper..... feels like china crap.

I have a swiveling head Mit DTI.... It works OK now, but I had to fix it because the dial slipped and took teh gears out of mesh. In the process, I found it full of nasty die casting flash, poorly finished, etc...

I know, there's one in every crowd. If it makes you feel better, I don't like Starrett either. Crude feeling, seem crudely made.

But all the B&S or Lufkin measuring tools I have I like a lot.

And my one Mit 12" caliper is very nice. The fact that it is the ONLY 12" I have might affect that, but it feels good and measures accurately.

And that German-made Fowler 6" caliper is the best one I have ever used.

lazlo
07-15-2009, 11:38 PM
I have a Mit 6"caliper..... feels like china crap.

Mitutoyo has a bewildering range of calipers, from the budget-level Made in Brazil specials to their IP-65 Made in Japan calipers. I have the latter, and love them.

The Mitutoyo digital micrometer are great as well (the Fowler digital micrometer I have is Chinese junk), and Mit electronic dial indicators are fantastic. The Mit mechanical DTI's don't seem to have a good reputation so I haven't tried them -- I'm hooked on the black dial B&S (Swiss) DTI's.

J Tiers
07-15-2009, 11:40 PM
Mitutoyo has a bewildering range of calipers, from the budget-level Made in Brazil specials to their IP-65 Made in Japan calipers. I have the latter, and love them.


It's an older MIJ version, but just isn't very nice IMO.

cboucher
07-16-2009, 10:16 AM
I once knew a guy who'd say you can borrow it twice but if you need it a third time you need to buy one for yourself.

I had heard a story (maybe online?), about an old timer in this one shop, and he kept a really crappy 0-1" mic in his pocket, and when the young kids would come in with their nice, new tools, he'd ask to borrow it really quickly to measure something over on his machine.. and when they asked for it back, he'd grab the one out of his pocket, toss it back at them (making sure it hit the ground)... and then walk up to the bewildered apprentice, hand them their mic and say "Never let anyone borrow the tools you plan to make a living with." :)

right now I am leaning towards B & S stuff... i've always liked their dial calipers and i have some of their old mics.. and a lot of their stuff is Swiss-made (either Tesa or Etalon = the Bentleys)... but the last shop i worked at had some BEAUTIFUL mitutoyo 6" dial calipers... they read .200 per rev and had carbide jaws... they were silky smoothe and bomb proof.
i have also heard that mitutoyo is the only company that still hobs their gears... starrett casts them (and when they break, starrett charges as much to fix them as a new one).

bborr01
07-16-2009, 11:02 AM
Hi Chris,
I don't know much about the above mentioned brands as new tools but I have a few of the older fowler tools. Well made stuff. Sounds like a lot of other tools nowadays. The good name was sold and the chinese are selling junk under the good name. If I were you I would be looking at used Starrett and B+S on Ebay and Craigslist. Don't be afraid of the used part. Used Starrett or B+S is probably several times better than new chinese. I have seen some screaming good deals on used precision measuring tools. I also own some older mitutoyo calipers, etc. and they are good quality. If you decide to go the chinese route anyway, check things out real good with masters. I made the mistake of buying a set of gage blocks (chinese) off craigslist without checking them out. They came in a nice wood box. $50 cash. Brought them home and started checking them out with a mic. Some of them were/are .008 to .011 off. Not 8 tenths or 80 millionths but EIGHT THOUSANTHS. I chalked it up to experience and will keep them as a reminder for the phrase BUYER BEWARE. NO CHINESE JUNK IN MY GERSTNER BOX.
Brian

Scishopguy
07-17-2009, 02:34 PM
I have a few of the older Fowler mics and they were beautifully made and have a nice feel. The only issue I had was that they are big and a bit heavy compared to B&S or Starrett. Most of the ones I have or have seen in years past were made in Poland. If it were me, I would scour the flea markets, especially in the prime retirement areas, for Starrett, Lufkin, B&S, and Mitutoyo measuring tools. I have seen all kinds of good older stuff in Tampa selling for about $15 each.

Walter
07-17-2009, 06:38 PM
As a HSM (home shop machinist) without a budget for high end metrology instruments I can appreciate some of the obsession with one brand of micrometer over another. The "feel" of a micrometer is real although difficult to describe in words (but not in $). However, I am not so sure about gage blocks. IF the gage block meets the specifications which are claimed there is no difference in one brand over another. Maybe the longevity could be an issue, and you can always debate the quality of the "well made" box, but if they specs are the same, then the blocks will measure the same. There is no "feel" in the way gage blocks work. Yes, the $99 SPI blocks are not Croblox, but then aren't Croblox made by "out of the running" Starrett?

Sidneyt,

What I meant by my comments on the SPI block, Vs. the Croblox is simply that while the SPI's function decently and do what they are intended to do, and are charted/calibrated. They are not of the same basic quality as the Croblox. The SPI finish new in the box was not as nice as the finish on my Croblox, and they just don't wring as nicely. It's neither a bitch or a complaint, simply an observation. Longevity is a double edged sword, how they are handled, stored and maintained matters, I use two sets, one for everyday use, it gets handled decently. The other is handled only with gloves on, kept clean and well oiled when stored, strictly for inspection purposes. One will be in good shape longer than the other. The last part is material, I won't waste time quoting starrett/webber but the quality of the material between the two brands is evident. I use the SPI's at work, The croblox were in my home shop before I sold it all off. Every time I touch the SPI's I feel a twinge of regret at having to sell the Croblox.

Mcruff
07-17-2009, 11:55 PM
Well the older Fowler's I have seen (circa 70's-80's) were made in England and while bulky had a good feel to them. SPI used to be good stuff back when the name "Swiss Precision Instruments" still applied. Mitutoyo's that were sold in sets (103 series) have been made in Brazil since at least 1980, individuals that you bought were made in Japan. I have never liked the feel of Starrett mic's. I prefer Mitutoyo's, Brown & Sharpe, Etalon or Tesa mic's. Tesa being the higher end of all the ones mentioned. Scherr-Tumico's are also pretty good mic's and last I seen were priced good, I have a couple of them made back in the late 50's early 60's that are real nice. My Mitutoyo's were bought new in 1981, very good quality and still used daily.

Greg Menke
07-18-2009, 09:46 AM
I tend to think of SPI as a merchandiser- I bought a set of 123 blocks w/ box, very nice, marked "Fims" IIRC. Later I bought an SPI vernier protractor- adequate but rough w/ Chinese printing on the labels stuck to the outside of the box.

I've bought other stuff from Fowler through New England Brass and Tool- some has been US made, others imported. I got two DTI's, both have been satisfactory- nothing like a Starrett or B&S but better than the really cheap ones.

Greg