Motorized Bicycle Engine Kit Forum  


Go Back   Motorized Bicycle Engine Kit Forum > Motorized Bicycle > Motorized Bicycle General Discussion

Motorized Bicycle General Discussion All topics regarding bicycles with engines.

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 05-10-2015, 07:20 PM
Tony01's Avatar
Tony01 Tony01 is offline
Motorized Bicycle Elite Member
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 613
Default A brief guide to measuring tools -DON'T buy HF calipers


My buddy bought one pair of HF calipers and was wondering why his stuff didn't fit on a project with small machined parts. HF calipers and other cheap ones are generally very weak and will give you measurements that don't repeat depending where on the jaw you measure. I recommended to him to return them and buy a better quality caliper and 1" micrometer.

I've seen a lot of youtube videos showing how to rebuild engines, general mechanical stuff and I see a lot of people using the cheapest calipers they can find, namely the no-name harbor-freight type digital calipers and measuring crankshaft journals thinking they are measuring within thousandths. I cringe when I see people using cheap stuff to make critical measurements.

I realized most people don't know a thing about this stuff.. and so here I am showing you guys what I showed my buddy.

In this guide I will show you the range of quality and what to look for when buying measuring tools. It is always better to buy new tools from a reputable brand name, but if you find used tools in good condition, there is no reason why they shouldn't be just as good as new ones, provided you know what to look for.

Let's start with calipers. Calipers are the most widely used measurement tool: Calipers come in standard sizes of 6", 8", 12", and larger. You can measure OD's, ID's, depths, steps, and use the side of it to measure flatness across a surface, by sliding different feeler gages between your surface and the side of the caliper length. I suggest you stay away from digital calipers on the low-end. There are many quality issues with them, and you don't really know if they are skipping when you pick them up a few months later.

For the 6" size of calipers (or 8"), BUY NEW. This is the most common size, and these tools will have the greatest wear. Everything else, indicators, mics, larger calipers, whatever, don't get used so much and can be bought used safely.

Here are my own calipers from when I used to work as a machinist. The top left was my main caliper, a top-quality Brown & Sharpe 6" that could measure down to .0005" with a good feel. Bottom left is the first caliper I ever bought: a 6" Fowler dial caliper on sale for $20 from Enco. This one was good out of the box, however it had some burrs that I cleaned up with an ultra-fine file. Since I acquired more calipers, I relieved the static jaw to be able to measure small parts' overall length close to the collet on a Hardinge manual lathe. The upper right is a Mitutoyo made in Brazil - Mitutoyo top notch tools are made in Japan, but this one from Brazil is good too. The lower right is the cheap HF type brand, what you want to stay away from.

Down below, you can see a Mitutoyo Japan 12" dial caliper I picked up for $30 used. The guy told me it was over 15 years old.. more now. It came without the donkey dick (the depth measuring stick) which made it very useful when reaching inside a CNC lathe to measure diameters and bores larger than 7", because the caliper was still a foot long instead of being that much larger due to the donkey dick. For my motorized bicycle needs, I have not found a use for a depth measurement greater than 6".

With precision measuring tools, always remember to have a super-light feel. Use the same super-light feel to measure everything. Use your feel to make sure the part is square and never push hard on it. This will cause your tools to wear and eventually give you different readings.

Round parts should be measured with micrometers, because it is hard to get a good caliper feel on a small round diameter (i.e. 1/16" diameter pin). If you don't have or don't want to invest in a micrometer, just remember to use an ultra-light feel when measuring round parts with a caliper, and measure as close to the slide as possible to reduce all flexing forces.

The first thing you will find with cheap calipers is that they are built cheap and have multiple quality issues on all sides. The easiest thing to check is the quality of the OD jaws. Clean the jaws with your finger to make sure there is no dirt, then close them gently and hold them up to the light. Quality calipers will have no gap, HF calipers you will see light shining through. This gap could be anywhere from a few tenths up to one thousandth (.0003" - .001").

It was difficult to photograph. My HF caliper I got from a buddy NIB came stock like this. Used calipers might show this too - the used 12" mitutoyo I got had no gap at all.. that's quality.

The next thing to look for is the ID tips. OD tips as well. The cheap caliper came with a flat on the tips. I measured a .1997" ring gage which measured .005" off with the hf caliper. BAD BAD BAD!! This caliper came stock with a flat on one tip:

Compare to a Brown & Sharpe:

The cheap HF caliper also had an issue with the donkey dick. At the end of the caliper, everything should line up flat an level. The depth measurement was approx. .003" shallow, so from zero leveling it, it would read .003".. not good for precision.. if you are milling your head down or whatnot.. you want something that is good to .001 that you don't need to zero out every time you use a different side of it.

Rather than going and buying an HF cheapo caliper, I recommend you get a new name-brand dial caliper. You don't have to buy the top quality stuff, but now you know what to look for. I like Fowler for cheap stuff. They make everything from calipers, to mics, indicators, all sorts of stuff. The dial caliper I got was $20 on sale and five years later there is still no gap between the jaws, despite being my "relief caliper".

If you find a Starrett, Brown & Sharpe, or Mitutoyo Japan caliper used, make sure the above parts are good and there are no broken teeth. Most times, used calipers will have broken teeth on the gears from being dropped. A broken tooth will make it skip .025 or .05". If it does skip, but not often, that is OK too, just look on the .1" scale and see that is is approximately in the middle if you're reading .050" on the dial, or right on the line if you're near 0.000/.100" on the dial. My 12" will skip occasionally if I ramp it up too fast.. no biggie. If it skips a lot and you can feel the hiccup, don't buy it.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg IMG_1364.JPG (192.3 KB, 15 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_1367.JPG (83.9 KB, 12 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_1368.JPG (125.0 KB, 12 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_1369.JPG (129.4 KB, 14 views)
File Type: jpg IMG_1370.JPG (162.9 KB, 11 views)
Reply With Quote
Old 05-10-2015, 07:41 PM
Tony01's Avatar
Tony01 Tony01 is offline
Motorized Bicycle Elite Member
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 613
Default Re: A brief guide to measuring tools -DON'T buy HF calipers

Part 2: other tools

In measuring outside diameters of standard size shafts on our bikes, we find it useful to accurately measure diameters 1" and smaller. A cheap caliper is NOT up to the task, and high quality caliper is, but a micrometer is best.

For most things, a .001" mic is good. You can find something used if it is in good shape, but it is generally cheap and time-efficient enough to order a new Fowler or SPI mic for $20-30, which will read in thousands and have subdivisions so you could estimate the tenths of thousandths.

The above mic is a Mitutoyo digital micrometer. the first three digits are thousandths, the four digit is tenths of a thousandth, and the fifth digit is half-tenths (50 millionths of an inch). You pretty much don't need that fifth digit for motorized bicycle related stuff, but it's good to know what it is. Non-digital mics use a vernier scale for reading tenths. You can look up on the internet on how to read micrometers. Generally very easy!

Always remember to have a super light feel with mics to get the best repeatable reading. I use the bottom two mics the most, the green one I will take with me to Home Depot if I need it, if I lose it I won't cry about it cause it's damaged.

The greatest use from micrometers is when you take a screw out of something, measure the OD and write it down or remember it, and remember if it is a fine or coarse thread in case you lose the screw. Let's say it measures .113" and has a fine thread, it is probably an M3x.5 screw. When looking for a longer or shorter screw, measure the diameter and match them up within .0015" up and down, then hold the screws up to the light to see if the threads mesh. Easy way to see if your screw will match to what you need.

Another thing you should invest in is a drop indicator. This has a dial similar to a dial caliper, usually a tenth of an inch (100 thousands per revolution) and they generally have a range of just over one inch: 1.05" or 1.1".

This particular one I picked up from an older manual machinist who had two of the same, he sold me this one for $25. It is an older Starrett though scratched up/dented condition. I made a mount for it to true my rear wheel. Very easy, just slap it on there is true your wheel, don't even need to take the tire off like on a regular truing stand. Get it within .010" or .005" if you're a perfectionist and enjoy running perfect wheels. Same goes for sprockets, clutches, disc brake rotors, whatever!! Find one for a good price and jump on it.

I hope this guide will help you make more accurate assemblies and parts, any questions just ask. Between a 6" caliper, 1" mic, and 1" drop indicator, you will be covered for almost everything requiring accurate measurements. My buddy sure got more than what he bargained for!!
Reply With Quote
Old 05-10-2015, 08:09 PM
2door's Avatar
2door 2door is offline
Super Moderator
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Littleton, Colorado
Posts: 16,224
Default Re: A brief guide to measuring tools -DON'T buy HF calipers

I'm sure glad I'm not the only one who has had poor luck with cheap tools. I have a digital caliper from (insert discount tool store). I have never had it measure the same twice in a row. A couple of days ago I picked it up and measured something I knew to be about 2" diameter. Nope, not according to that tool. It said it was 1.47".
Give me a break. I don't need a tool to tell me the difference betwen 1 and a half inches and two.

I used my other caliper, a nice stainless steel NDH. It measured exactly 2".

Thanks Beginner01 for reinforcing what I've been telling these guys for a while.

Attached Images
File Type: jpg Cheap Caliper.jpg (191.1 KB, 20 views)
Age and Treachery Will Always Triumph
Over Youth and Skill & "Charlie Don't Ride"
Reply With Quote
Old 05-10-2015, 08:18 PM
maniac57's Avatar
maniac57 maniac57 is offline
Old, Fat, and still faster than you
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: memphis Tn
Posts: 4,486
Default Re: A brief guide to measuring tools -DON'T buy HF calipers

I use a Mitutoyo analog dial caliper nearly as old as I am.
Don't trust digital to stay accurate. And they always need batteries at the worst possible time.
If more is better, then too much is just enough.
If you can't afford it, build it yourself.
Reply With Quote
Old 05-10-2015, 09:01 PM
crassius crassius is offline
Motorized Bicycle Elite Member
Join Date: Sep 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 2,787
Default Re: A brief guide to measuring tools -DON'T buy HF calipers

noticed similar with HF taps & dies - if one uses the die of any size to make a bolt and then uses the tap of the same size to make a nut, the nut will wobble on the bolt
Sometimes I sets and thinks, sometimes I jes sets.
Reply With Quote
Old 05-10-2015, 11:44 PM
bluegoatwoods's Avatar
bluegoatwoods bluegoatwoods is offline
Motorized Bicycle Elite Member
Join Date: Jul 2012
Location: Central Illinois
Posts: 1,576
Default Re: A brief guide to measuring tools -DON'T buy HF calipers

Good thoughts and excellent write-up. Good on ya', as our Aussie friends would say, beginner01 for going to the trouble of writing all that up and of illustrating a bunch of good photos.

I never would have thought of the inaccuracy of a $12.00 caliper. But then I don't do precise engine interior work.

I will say, though, that I've found my Harbor Freight calipers to be accurate enough to measure, say, the diameter of a seat post. So they're not completely useless.

But I'll keep it in mind if I ever start to do more precise work.
Reply With Quote
Old 05-11-2015, 05:07 AM
Greg58's Avatar
Greg58 Greg58 is offline
Motorized Bicycle Elite Member
Join Date: May 2011
Location: Newnan,Georgia U.S.A.
Posts: 2,621
Default Re: A brief guide to measuring tools -DON'T buy HF calipers

Tom I have a couple of the vernier calipers like yours that I've used for years for making wildcat cartridges from other cartridge cases, I have to be absolutely correct with ammo case lengths so good equipment is a must.
Your results may not be the same,Greg
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

All times are GMT -5. The time now is 10:35 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9
Copyright ©2000 - 2016, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.