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View Full Version : Harbor Freight calipers. No thanks.



koda2
12-27-2014, 02:54 PM
Over the last ten years I have bought some Harbor Freight calipers for various reasons. They seemed to work satisfactorily, all things considered. I even cut one up to make an inexpensive DRO for the millhead on my three in one and it worked okay.

When I accidentally got some oil on the digital readout portion of one I was using regularly, it went tango uniform so I figured I would just buy a replacement.

I picked up a 6" on sale and failed to try it out in the store. They now come plastic wrapped. When I got home I found it was a very poor substitute for their previous models. It would barely slide and the digital readout was inconsistent. There was stainless steel grinding dust in the crevices of everything and the working surfaces were extremely crude, even for HF. The two caliper sides wobbled back and forth and sent the display into even worse gyrations. For all intents and purposes it was a differently manufactured product.

Based on a web posting, I saw, I took the instrument (a gracious label) apart and cleaned all the surfaces and lightly stoned all the sliding surfaces. I noticed the top left screw on the plate was missing. The reason was that another screw hole used to peg a copper bushing was drilled right thru the original screw hole and a screw wouldn't fit. Most of the milled areas were noticeably scalloped.

When I got it back together the new purchase would slide better but the readout was still utter nonsense. I traced the problem to the ruler backing on the caliper.

In desperation, I got out my old calipers, took them apart and cobbled up a working set from the old slides and the new readout. (see pix).

http://pages.suddenlink.net/wpahpff/HFcals/caliper2small.jpg

You can also see the defective calipers (top), the now working instrument (middle) and the leftover parts (bottom). The photo doesn't do justice to how badly the ss parts were manufactured but you can see that the surfaces were crudely done. Note the screws misdrilled on the right. I think you can appreciate how much better the old set was made.

Some more photos on the machining.
http://pages.suddenlink.net/wpahpff/HFcals/close2small.jpg
http://pages.suddenlink.net/wpahpff/HFcals/close4small.jpg

Even the printed circuit board was more crudely made.

This photo is an attempt to show the edges of the two styles, with the new one at the top. Even after stoning, the sliding edge is still rough.

http://pages.suddenlink.net/wpahpff/HFcals/finishsmall.jpg

IMO, even on sale, this guy is no bargain. Walk right on by.

Dave A.

A.K. Boomer
12-27-2014, 03:00 PM
You know you pay allot more for that kind of "etching" and "oil retention" on the higher quality units :p

PixMan
12-27-2014, 03:22 PM
I can't walk by them.

However, their closest store is less than 10 miles from me, and less than 2 miles from my shop. I have no problem driving by at 35 miles an hour without so much as a glance in their general direction. About 7500 square feet of utter junk, no thanks.

I'm on my second or third Mitutoyo caliper, all still working fine and I have to change batteries almost every 5 years.

YankeeMetallic
12-27-2014, 03:50 PM
Yep! Buy lifelong tools only once.
For what you spend every couple of years on a HF caliper, you can buy a spankin' new Mitutoyo off fleabay, Usually a 6 or 8" for about $70.
I bought a new Mitutoyo about 2005 and after 9 years it still reads accurately, and that's full time duty in a machine shop, with coolant and grease mixed in. It is so beat up it has been replaced with a new one, and the old one is now just for welding & grimy environments.

A.K. Boomer
12-27-2014, 04:12 PM
We've already had this discussion, ok maybe the horror frights but the I-Gaging spanked the Mitu's and did it at a mere fraction of the cost,,,

bottom line is you don't always "get what you pay for"
there are legitimate companies out there fully competing for your dollar better than others - there are "deals to be had" period...

I also dislike companies that get big - est. a good name - and then get lazy -- plenty of em...

justanengineer
12-27-2014, 04:51 PM
We've already had this discussion, ok maybe the horror frights but the I-Gaging spanked the Mitu's and did it at a mere fraction of the cost,,,


according to the guy on youtube that most of us wouldnt let anywhere near precision tools...

A.K. Boomer
12-27-2014, 04:58 PM
You know he seemed pretty competent except for maybe that half inch gash in his hand that looked like he got caught up in some machinery :p


The fact is is you have to watch how much money you have or you could blow a water cooled alternator hose in your mercedes and take out your entire engine,,, moral of the story is sometimes you can spend allot of money for junk too...

A.K. Boomer
12-27-2014, 05:10 PM
it's also perspective --- if you spend 6 bucks on a set of calipers you can then throw a set in your glovebox of your car or whatever --- nobody's forcing you to use them for precision work and they will spank the daylight's out of a stanley 25' for the smaller stuff...

What i would like to see is your attempt at making a 6 dollar caliper,,, again perspective...

More perspective; I bought a horror fright floor jack about 25 years ago, it's the only jack I own and im a mechanic,,
my mechanic buddy has owned nothing but snap-ons,,, he's been through about 5 of them,,, again be careful how much money you spend or you could end up with absolute crap...

My jack leaks now, I have to add fluid about once every three months - not too shabby...

flylo
12-27-2014, 05:17 PM
The previous HF ones in the plastic case were pretty good I thought & keep one in eack truck, the house & 2 in the shop. Better take better care of them I guess.

Rosco-P
12-27-2014, 05:20 PM
according to the guy on youtube that most of us wouldnt let anywhere near precision tools...

You mean this guy?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la3-ll6CZKY
A.K.A. airsmith282??

Old Hat
12-27-2014, 06:39 PM
Yep! Buy lifelong tools only once.
For what you spend every couple of years on a HF caliper, you can buy a spankin' new Mitutoyo off fleabay, Usually a 6 or 8" for about $70.
I bought a new Mitutoyo about 2005 and after 9 years it still reads accurately, and that's full time duty in a machine shop, with coolant and grease mixed in. It is so beat up it has been replaced with a new one, and the old one is now just for welding & grimy environments.

Mitutoyo .. Mitutoyo .. Mitutoyo
King of Calipers!

All Hail!

sarge41
12-27-2014, 08:28 PM
Mitutoyo's are good, but I personally prefer Interapids or Brown & Sharpe (same thing I think.) Less clunky and very reliable. Just my 2 cents worth.

Sarge

Fasttrack
12-27-2014, 08:36 PM
Mitutoyo's are good, but I personally prefer Interapids or Brown & Sharpe (same thing I think.) Less clunky and very reliable. Just my 2 cents worth.

Sarge

Yep - Tesa, Interapid and Brown & Sharpe are all the same. I recently bought a 12" B&S from Enco and it came in a Tesa box. The manual and instrument were marked with Brown & Sharpe but the cardboard sleeve for the case was Tesa. My Interapid DTI came in a Tesa sleeve, too.

Edit:
The 12" B&S are nice but don't slide as smoothly as my old Mitutoyo calipers. The old ones were fully jeweled, I don't know if the new ones are - at some point maybe I'll take a peek at the B&S and see what it has for pivots. I had the B&S tested by our metrology lab and it exceeded expectations. They found it to be within 0.0005" at full scale. There are also dots between the thou lines on the dial, that make interpolating down to the half-thou possible.

Regarding Horror Freight - yep... I pass it all by, now. The few half-way decent items they used to offer have been cheapened up.

adatesman
12-27-2014, 08:55 PM
I forget if it was here or on PM, but IIRC John Stevenson recently made mention of the preponderance of cheap digital calipers being due to the factories over there switching to a new style (he posted a pic... larger display and battery cover?). Wouldn't surprise me if what we're seeing is the bottom of the barrel quality-wise being clearanced as things switch over.

That said, so long as it reads within +/-0.010" and has hardened jaws it makes a damn fine scribe for rough layout work headed to the saw... :)

PStechPaul
12-27-2014, 08:58 PM
The newer version is inferior, and one of its annoyances is the auto-power-off which loses zero. It is unconscionable that HF uses the same SKU number for the newer ones, as they are considerably different. I restored one of the older ones and it is now quite good. I also bought one of the newer ones (on sale about $10) that include fractional inch measurement, and although it has a "gritty" feel, it seems to be accurate and does not lose zero on power-off. They are, after all, just "guessing sticks" or throwing hatchets and even the much more expensive ones are not supposed to be used for anything better than 0.002" accuracy. I'm generally happy with most of the cheap HF tools I have, and much depends on attitude. I am often amazed at how China can make such items and sell them so cheaply, and yet apparently with enough profit to make some profit for the factory and the retailer.

A.K. Boomer
12-27-2014, 09:01 PM
Sometimes cheap is just plain cheap,,, but nothing really to complain about due to them being almost free,,, there's not a whole lotta room there to whine...

now use them once and then catch the clap and bring it home to your wife and now ya got somethin...

Prokop
12-29-2014, 07:09 AM
My dad gave me his, Czech made Somet but this spring I bought a Mitutoyo. Still use the Somet for general stuff but Mitutoyo (vernier, no batteries) is great when I need to go more precise than 0.10mm.

I also use a cheap no name digital caliper for reloading, mainly to check the OAL, there is no way I am dealing with fractions of an inch using mechanical caliper.

Go metric, every inch of the way :)

Black_Moons
12-29-2014, 02:22 PM
I bought a new caliper so id have two, one for each shop.. Dropped the new one and bent the tips inward within a week of buying it, had to grind em down ever so carefully...

Sure glad it was a cheap new one instead of a $150+ Mitutoyo.

Rosco-P
12-29-2014, 03:25 PM
Clumsy bastard!

Only spring calipers and a 6" scale for you from now on.

the kid
12-29-2014, 04:13 PM
I'll jump on the mitutoyo band wagon, my dial calipers have been serving well for 5 years now, slide smoothe and are plenty accurate. I have a set of Helios verniers as well I use occasionally which are also of very fine quality, I don't see Helios tools mentioned very often, I'm not sure they are still made, but the examples I've got are very well made. It's hard to go wrong though with any German made precision tools in my experience.

Norm W
12-29-2014, 04:39 PM
I still have a Mitutoyo that my Dad gave me 54 years ago. Unfortunately, it takes some high magnification now to read it. So now I'll carry a loop instead of batteries.

oldtiffie
12-29-2014, 08:10 PM
For those that are worried about the accuracy of any digital caliper (or micrometer etc.) and who don't have a set of slip gauges ("Jo" blocks ) use a micrometer setting rod/bar (inch or metrics - to suit your measuring requirements) as they are very accurate.

http://www.machineryhouse.com.au/Setting-Standard-Outside-Micrometers

PStechPaul
12-29-2014, 08:21 PM
It might be worthwhile to machine some steps in a block of steel at 1" or 1/2" intervals, and make sure they are accurate to better than 0.001". Then you can quickly check your calipers at the dimensions close to what you will be needing. There is probably some cumulative error, which you can adjust for. Repeatability is harder to deal with. My worst HF calipers seem to have uncertainty of +/- 0.002" depending on just how I hold them and how hard I press the jaws onto the work. My newer cheap fractional set seems be good well within 0.001", and mostly I see variation in the 5 tenths digit.

asid61
12-30-2014, 06:15 AM
I got a pair of 12" Mitutoyos with a little coloration on the dial for $25 shipped on ebay.
They're sooooooo smooth. I tested them against some gage blocks and I got an error of -0.001" on stuff bigger than 4".
I also bought a 1" gage block to test my micrometers and calipers against for $10. Might pick up a 3" soon too. I don't really need a full set.
Can't beat that quality for the price IMO. You can get digital 6" ones for ~$40 if you spend some time waiting/ bidding.

charlz
12-30-2014, 12:52 PM
I have the same HF calipers (the new 'gray' ones) and a Mitutoyo of the same size... they both read right on when tested with standards. I use the HF pair for layout and other rough work. The Mitutoyo stays in its box until I have something worthy of it ;)

radkins
01-02-2015, 06:04 AM
The "better" HF calipers, the older ones, were the Cen-Tech brand while the newer ones are Pittsburgh. My Cen-Tecs are almost 6 years old and still good as new (however good that may be) but the Pittsburgh version is quite a bit rougher although it seems to be reasonably accurate. Apparently the newer Pittsburgh version is not even as good as the earlier versions that replaced the Cen-Tecs which seemed to be at least decent quality. I picked up a new still sealed in the box 8" Pittsburgh version at a flea market a few months ago for $10 and I think it pretty much fits what another poster describes as a damn fine scribe for rough layout work headed to the saw. However the older Cen-Tecs were hard to beat for the price and seem to get smoother with use, not that they were all that bad when new.

MichaelP
01-02-2015, 02:27 PM
For those that are worried about the accuracy of any digital caliper (or micrometer etc.) and who don't have a set of slip gauges ("Jo" blocks ) use a micrometer setting rod/bar (inch or metrics - to suit your measuring requirements) as they are very accurate.
You made me laugh Tiffie. :) Now it's my turn.. Those who worry about keeping their parts clamped to the table, but don't have a set of micrometers, may try using C-clamps that hold work quite acceptably too.