A caliper is a device used in the metalworking field of mechanical engineering, to measure the distance between two symmetrically opposing sides. A caliper can be as simple as a compass with inward or outward-facing points. After the measurement is taken the distance can be read by applying the caliper on a ruler or between the jaws of a Vernier caliper.
Two inside calipers
The inside calipers on the right are used to measure the internal size of an object.
- The upper caliper in the image (at the right) requires manual adjustment prior to fitting, fine setting of this caliper type is performed by tapping the caliper legs lightly on a handy surface until they will almost pass over the object. A light push against the resistance of the central pivot screw then spreads the legs to the correct dimension and provides the required, consistent feel that ensures a repeatable measurement.
- The lower caliper in the image has an adjusting screw that permits it to be carefully adjusted without removal of the tool from the workpiece.
Outside calipers are used to measure the external size of an object.
The same observations and technique apply to this type of caliper, as for the above Inside caliper. With some understanding of their limitations and usage these instruments can provide a high degree of accuracy and repeatability. They are especially useful when measuring over very large distances, consider if the calipers are used to measure a large diameter pipe. A vernier caliper does not have the depth capacity to straddle this large diameter while at the same time reach the outermost points of the pipes diameter.
A pair of dividers
In the metalworking field divider calipers are used in the process of marking out suitable workpieces. The points are sharpened so that they act as scribers, one leg can then be placed in the dimple created by a center or prick punch and the other leg pivoted so that it scribes a line on the workpiece's surface, thus forming an arc or circle.
A divider caliper is also used to measure a distance between two points on a map. The two caliper's ends are brought to the two points whose distance is being measured. The caliper's opening is then either measured on a separate ruler and then converted to the actual distance, or it is measured directly on a scale drawn on the map. On a nautical chart the distance is often measured on the latitude scale appearing on the sides of the map: one minute of arc of latitude is approximately one nautical mile or 1852 metres.
Oddleg calipers, Hermaphrodite calipers or Oddleg jennys, as pictured at left, are generally used to scribe a line a set distance from the edge of workpiece. The bent leg is used to run along the workpiece edge while the scriber makes its mark at a predetermined distance, this ensures a line parallel to the edge.
The uppermost caliper has a slight shoulder in the bent leg allowing it to sit on the edge more securely, the lower caliper lacks this feature but has a renewable scriber that can be adjusted for wear, as well as being replaced when excessively worn.
A vernier calipers
A variation to the more traditional caliper is the inclusion of a vernier scale, this makes it possible to directly obtain an accurate measurement.
Vernier calipers can measure internal dimensions (using the uppermost jaws in the picture at right), external dimensions using the pictured lower jaws, and depending on the manufacturer, depth measurements by the use of a probe that is attached to the movable head and slides along the centre of the body. This probe is slender and can get into deep grooves that may prove difficult for other measuring tools.
The vernier scales will often include both metric and imperial measurements on the upper and lower part of the scale.
Vernier Calipers commonly used in industry provide an accuracy to a hundredth of a millimetre, or one thousanths of an inch.
(A more accurate instrument used for the same purpose is the micrometer.)
A further refinement to the vernier caliper is the dial caliper.
In this instrument, a small gear rack drives a pointer on a circular dial. Typically, the pointer rotates once every inch, tenth of an inch, or 10 millimetres, allowing for a very accurate and direct reading without the need to interpolate a vernier scale (although one still needs to add the basic inches or tens of millimeters value read from the slide of the caliper). The dial is usually arranged to be rotatable beneath the pointer, allowing for easy "differential" measurements (the measuring of the difference in size between two objects, or the setting of the dial using a master object and subsequently being able to read directly the plus-or-minus variance in size of subsequent objects relative to the master object).
The slide of a dial caliper can usually also be locked at a setting using a small lever; this allows simple go/no-go checks of part sizes.
A refinement now popular is the replacement of the analog dial with an electronic digital display. This version of the caliper finally allows simply reading the value directly from a single display. Many digital calipers can also be switched between metric and English units and all provide for zeroing the display at any point along the slide, allowing the same sort of differential measurements as with the dial caliper but without the need to read numbers that may be upside down. Digital calipers may also contain some sort of "reading hold" feature, allowing the reading of dimensions even in very awkward locations where the display cannot be directly seen.
Like dial calipers, the slide of a digital caliper can usually be locked using a lever or thumb-screw.