View Full Version : Test Indicators and Holders

04-16-2004, 10:46 PM
Enco, Peacock, Fowler, B&S, Starrett, ... and so on. Bare indicator, indicator with point set, holders, 1", 1-1/2", 15-0-15, 30-0-30. And so on.

I'm a hobbyist, just getting started. Have a small knee mill and a 6" Atlas lathe. What sort of indicator/set should I buy?



Tim Clarke
04-16-2004, 11:30 PM
At risk of getting a little heat from the purists, I'll tell you what I did. Get your basic, cheap import 1" travel indicator. You can get them from the mail order outfits, online and on ebay. Under 10 bucks. Maybe a magnetic base also. Make yourself up a holder to fit on your toolpost so you can dial in parts in your lathe chuck. Likewise, a couple holders will allow you to measure travel of your mill table, and other uses will become evident as you gain experience. You'll likely crash the cheapie indicator, and maybe destroy it, but they're pretty durable. AFTER you learn the care and use of indicators, get yourself a nice unit. The other guys will be able to tell you the advantages of the different brands. Myself, I used the cheapies from Harbor Freight, and still do. I did get a really Nice Starrett #711 indicator and kit for the fine work a couple years ago. It would have died if subjected to the dumb things I did to the cheapies.

Regards, Tim

J Tiers
04-17-2004, 01:21 AM
I would suggest a couple types, depending on what your usage is.

For dialing in on an OD, either plunger or 'lever" type will work.

For dialing in an ID, setting tapers to match inside tapers, or other work with IDs, the "lever" type is really the only type readily usable.

So for all-purpose use I would get a "lever" type, the one with the pivoting arm at the end.

Just remember that it won't give an absolute measurement very well, due to the "swing" of teh lever.

You can get a plunger type for $10 if you buy chinese, and a "lever" type for around $20 similarly chinese.
A stand with movable arm may be packaged in , but might cost $15 if (you guessed it) chinese.

I use the "lever" type 5x as much as the plunger, since I mostly use it for centering work and tramming. A recently acquired back-plunger starrett is getting some use now too.

if you need travel measurements, as for instance a quill, etc, a plunger type is the one for you.
I'd get one of each, or the lever type if buying only one for general use.

Buy cheaper now, later you will know what you want and why. Time enough to buy wisely then. Busting a $199 indicator will spoil your morning........

The lever type (or back plunger type) also tends to have the dial pointing in a good direction for visibility when using it. Another reason to like it if your need can use it.

Your work is only as precise as you can measure.

04-17-2004, 01:46 AM
I agree with both previous posters. I am not a purist, but I try to be practical. I will add though, in my experience, the indicator is usually not the weak link. You can get by with a cheapie indicator, but the holder on the cheapies is usually a pain to manipulate into position so the indicator can do its thing. Normally you would think that you could just "deburr and polish" the clamp so it works better, but the rods are usually metric dimensions and don't mesh well with the domestic ones you'll be adding later. If you get a cheapie, make sure the rods are a fractional size and you'll be good to go.

I would recommend a "test indicator" (the "lever" type) for use on the mill, and I find that a 0-1" (plunger) dial indicator mounted to a Mighty Mag type holder will handle most of the lathe's needs. The test indicator with a 3/8" or 1/4" rod mounts easily to the mill for sweeping the vise and for finding centers of holes and diameters - most of what you'll indicate on a mill. I use the Mighty Mag with an indicator mostly for precisely stopping Z on the lathe. Occasionally a mag base with the vertical rod (or a NOGA base - nice!) with a 0-1" plunger-style indicator is useful on a lathe too for knowing how far you actually feed X for diameters - despite what your cross-feed dial says.

So, in a nutshell, I would splurge for decent holders while not sweating the indicator. Wait 'til you feel secure you are done trashing indicators before you invest in the expensive ones. By then, your holders will still be in good shape.

p.s. I use indicators almost every day and the ergonomics of the holders is an important issue to me. If you don't use your indicators all that often, you would likely be fine using a cheapie. You can get them in position with an additional minute of tweaking and I've seen package deals for about the price of a supersize Big Mac meal or two. You can always throw them away at upgrade time, or use the stock to make a project. Personally, I'm done with them, but if I didn't use them much I'd rather spen my money on something else I need, and the wants list never gets very short. http://bbs.homeshopmachinist.net//biggrin.gif

[This message has been edited by vinito (edited 04-17-2004).]

04-17-2004, 12:47 PM
I agree with Vinito about the holder. I have several of the inexpensive holders (from Enco and HF). I would have liked a Noga but they are expensive (compared to the above) so I compromised with a Noga like holder.
Grizzly sells one like this:
I bought mine from JTS, but it is quite similar. I really like the way you can move the indicator around with this type of holder. It also has a longer reach than the other less flexible holders.

04-17-2004, 02:11 PM
JTS also sells a $4 magnetic back (with
indicator for about $15 or so) that is
round and fits on the back of most of the
cheap and some of the expensive chinese
DI. It is useful for tight quarters on the
lathe when the mightmag type is too long.
The mity mag holder can also be used to hold
a piece of sheet metal that a DI in
another magnetic holder can push against such as moving the milling machine table a
precise distance, (some lathes, like 16" older SB, have cross slides with nothing for the DI plunger to push against). If you get the lever type, spend a little extra for the bits and rods that come with the "Sets", these bits are what you use to attach the lever type to the machine and make it useful. As Vinito says the holders are more important than the DI. HF also has a 2" plunger DI that is useful on the lathe at times and runs about $20. It may not fit on your 6x20 though. The most commonly used
measuring device for me is the 6x0.5" metal rule, then the dial caliper. Steve

[This message has been edited by sch (edited 04-17-2004).]

Excitable Boy
04-17-2004, 04:43 PM
I recently bought an Indicol holder for my test indicator and find it to be quite a handy device. It mounts to the outside of the spindle on the mill and allows a lot of flexability with your test indicator for set up.


Pursue Excellence and the rest will follow.

J Tiers
04-18-2004, 10:16 AM
Completely agree on cheap holders.

If you can, get a good one.. One with the fewest joints wil usually be the solidest and least trouble, but too few and there will be places it won't fit.

I'd use the simple no-arm mag base holders (Mighty Mag) except my machines don't have enough flat places to stick it. All rounded castings in the areas it would be useful.

04-18-2004, 11:35 AM
"Completely agree on cheap holders"
Me too
Cheap holders are a pain!!

04-18-2004, 01:07 PM
I have some great indicators and bases too,(starrett, B&S,lufkin,etc.)I like then all but when I have to get some jobs done I grab enco or some of the other brands like it that I have. This way if by some quirk using these, I don't feel bad if something were to happen to the indicator or holder.

Bruce Griffing
04-20-2004, 10:13 AM
The cheap base story is correct. Go with a cheap indicator(s) but buy a Noga single knob base. Watch for a sale, but it will still cost much more than the indicator.