Dial Indicators of the World - Brand Name Comparison
It is possible to buy dial indicators that range from rock-bottom economy to deluxe. Which type you buy will largely depend on its application, your budget, and the image you wish to project as a manufacturer. It will quickly become evident that there are only a handful of manufacturers who produce most of the world's brand names.
All indicators will be more or less equally accurate and reliable when they're new (Chinese gages possibly being an exception). Wear and tear will quickly alter these parameters, however. For the inspection room, you'll probably want the better quality indicator, whereas for the shop floor you may opt for disposable tools.
A more specific discussion of dial indicators can be found on page 139.
Here is a selection of currently available dial indicators, and what we think of them:
Accupro Gold (USA) This is a vanity dial for indicators made by CDI. They tend to be inexpensive and repairs are not always economical. Refer to CDI below.
Aerospace (China) It's a fancy moniker for a really cheap indicator. 0-2" range is commonly seen. We wouldn't want to fly with this one.
Ames (USA) (B.C. Ames, Inc. founded in 1896 by Bliss Charles Ames) According to Ames, except for the digital indicators, 85% of all gages are made in Massachusetts. Somewhat old-fashioned construction, by today's standards, makes these indicators quaint. But, they're made in America! Nota bene: Ames has a peculiar way of referring to thickness gages as dial micrometers even though they've got nothing to do with microns or meters.
Amtos, an inexpensive Asian import previously offered by SPI, which is not repairable because spare parts are not available. This line appears to have been discontinued or re-named.
Arnold a vanity dial on a Federal indicator.
Atorn (German) brand of metric indicators made by Kafer for Hahn & Kolb of Stuttgart (see below).
Baker, the cheap price should tell you that these come from China. When they stop working, throw them away. (Too bad we can't send them back to China to add to their landfills.)
Barcor (US) dial chamfer gage with a CDI indicator bearing the Barcor name. Earlier models used Starrett indicators. A spin-off and competitor of the original Brencor (see below). This design has been mimicked by other manufacturers, most notably Starrett.
Berco (Germany) vanity indicator made by Kafer (refer to Kafer on this page).
Blake (USA) makes the Co-Ax centering indicator. Even though the manufacturer is starting to cut corners, it's still better than the cheap Chinese imitation offered in catalogs.
Blankenhorn (Esslingen, Germany) has been seen as a vanity dial on Kafer dial indicators.
Brencor (US) the original dial Chamfer Chek (trademark) with a cheap generic (read: Chinese) indicator bearing the Brencor name. Some of these have a set screw on the base and over-tightening it will squash the indicator stem. If the indicator is damaged, you'll have to replace it.
Brown & Sharpe (Switzerland/Germany) most are made by Kafer. Brown & Sharpe does not supply useful spare parts lists for these indicators and we urge customers to take this into consideration. When something goes wrong they probably can't be fixed. On the score card below, refer to Kafer.
Brown & Sharpe (made in USA): these last showed up in the 1984 B&S catalog and probably were sourced (Ames?) rather than actually made by B&S. They had mostly fiber construction which made them very light (maybe too light) but sturdy and probably inexpensive. Parts, other than crystals and contact points are no longer available.
CDI (Chicago Dial Indicator, USA) since 1932, offers a full line of well-made dial gages which are a copy of the Federal indicators or vice-versa. Just like Federal, they use soft steel racks which suffer from broken teeth at the slightest jolt. One difference: to get to the movement, you have to rip off the dials which are glued in place, which makes this one of the worst designs of any dial indicator. Spare parts are expensive and repairs may be uneconomical. Their model numbers, designed logically, are exceptionally confounding. CDI indicators are often components of other gages, such as the Barcor Chamfer Gage.
Central Tool (USA) makes just a handful of dial indicators, sold in sets, for the automotive repair market. We have no experience with these indicators and can not offer any opinions at this time. Central Tool indicators are sold by many distributors and online sources.
Citizen (Japan) is best known to the general public for its line of wrist watches. Theirs is a specialty dial indicator only rarely encountered in the US. New gages, parts and repairs may be available, but expect high costs and long delivery.
Compac (Switzerland) is best suited to the inspection room because of its superior construction, durability and high cost. They're masterpieces of the craft of gage construction. A distinguishing feature is the 8 mm stem diameter. These gages are too valuable to be trusted to unskilled hands. They are often seen as components of Swiss-made machines. As of September 2005, most inch reading Compac gages have been discontinued. This website offers full details and parts breakdowns of all available Compac indicators.
Craftsman (sorry, no information available)
Dreher Kreuzlingen dial indicators manufactured by Käfer (see this page)
Diatest makes the split style bore gages. The Diatest indicator "made in Germany" is a Kafer indicator. Model 01Z is graduated in .0001". It has an 8 mm diameter stem.
Dorsey indicators are made in USA. These are probably the best American-made indicators available. While we're not thrilled about some of the workmanship, their unique high resolution models (.00005" and even .00002") have good accuracy when used as comparators. Some have over-sized dials and are acceptable alternatives to digital indicators. Dorsey indicators also come in a lackluster standard version which looks suspiciously like the CDI indicator. It also has the dial which is glued in place (!) with silicon: a nuisance if it needs to be disassembled.
Elisha Penniman of Connecticut had its name put on some Mitutoyo dial indicators. See Mitutoyo below.
Enco is not a manufacturer but their name appears on many off-brands from Japan, China and elsewhere. Enco is definitely bargain-basement stuff.
Federal indicators were manufactured in Providence, Rhode Island. Many models use the letters and numbers O, 0, 1 and I which can cause confusion. The rack, made of soft steel, is easily damaged and accuracy is compromised. Spare parts are often too expensive to make repairs economical by independent repair shops. Models beginning with IDS and IDT are manufacturing specials and it is difficult to identify spare parts for these. You'll have best results by returning them to the manufacturer for servicing. The newest versions have the name Mahr-Federal on the dial. The Federal name was dropped in 2017 and superceded by Mahr.
FMS (Germany) a vanity dial for mainly Kafer indicators (see below). The low end indicators probably are of Indian or Chinese origin.
Fowler (USA) specializes in digital equipment, often made in Switzerland by Sylvac, but even very expensive gages are quickly obsolete and unserviceable. Mechanical indicators are made by Kafer (Germany). Fowler also offers cheap Chinese imports sometimes in kits including accessories and magnetic bases.
Gagemaker (Houston, Texas) is a vanity dial on a Mitutoyo indicator. See Mitutoyo below.
Gem (USA) uses inexpensive Japanese-made indicators of no particular distinction. The dials may be labeled "shock proof" but there is nothing shock proof about the low-grade mechanism. Never-the-less, the .001" indicator can be dead-on accurate.
Hahn & Kolb (Germany) well crafted dial indicators rarely seen in the US. They are made by Kafer (see below).
Haimer 3D-Taster (Germany) is a specialty indicator with a movement made by Kafer. They are sold in the US but parts and repair service will not be available without returning the gages to the manufacturer in Germany.
Hardinge (USA) a vanity dial for the CDI indicator. See above.
Heald the last time we came across this dial indicator it was a component of a Heald grinder. At the time, the indicator was made by Ames. (BC Ames).
Humboldt (USA) a vanity dial for the CDI indicator. They are sold as a component of the Soiltest length comparator. For information, see CDI on this page.
John Bull British Indicators Ltd. (UK) an obsolete, English made dial indicator.
Johnson Gage (USA) a vanity dial for the Mahr-Federal indicator. These are often custom made to Johnson's specifications. Spare parts may be hard to figure out since they do not correspond to Federal model numbers. It may be best to return these to Johnson Gage for servicing.
Kafer (Germany) variously spelled as Käfer and Kaefer, manufactures distinctive, economically priced dial indicators and is willing to put just about anyone's name on them. Many configurations in inch and metric are available. Here's a problem we run into: almost none of their indicators have the model numbers written on them. When you try to order parts, or a replacement, you probably won't know what you've got. Indicators come with metal or plastic bezels - some even have plastic bodies - and plastic or real glass crystals. In 2009 Kafer introduced a series of dial indicators which are made in China.
KHW Hommel (Germany) are customized indicators made by Kafer (see above). It may be difficult to find replacements with the exact same specifications.
Kurt (USA) although located in Minneapolis, these are generic made-in-China imports. Kurt claims to offer a life-time replacement warranty on the workmanship of these items. We are not fans of Chinese gages and we aren't sure that the warranty will benefit anyone.
Lufkin (USA) never actually manufactured their own instruments. Dial indicators were made by Federal Gage.
Mahr (MarCator) dial indicators made in Germany by the renowned German manufacturer Käfer from the looks of it. (See Kafer on this page) They are of good quality and an excellent replacement for the Swiss-made indicators which are often in short supply. Do not confuse these with the American made Mahr-Federal indicators.
Mahr-Federal (USA) formerly known as Federal Gage, most of these indicators are made in Providence, Rhode Island and can be identified by their greenish dials. In 2017 the company dropped the Federal name and became Mahr Inc. These indicators are hefty and solid. Because of the high cost of spare parts, repairs can be expensive. At least one "economy series" (1810SZ for example) is custom manufactured by Käfer (Germany). Models beginning with IDT are manufacturing specials and should be returned to Mahr-Federal for servicing. Federal dial indicators do not have identifying serial numbers. The large face Group 4 indicators are very heavy.
Mercer (England) originally manufactured for the UK market in St. Albans, just outside of London. These popular indicators "made in England" are no longer available. Parts are no longer available and repairs are not possible. You may be able to replace some of the models with the Mercer indicators currently being manufactured in Switzerland (see below).
Mercer (Switzerland) The current model Mercer dial indicators are made by Tesa in Switzerland and are similar to Compac indicators with only a few modifications. While Compac has discontinued most inch-reading models, they may still be available with the Mercer name. Most of the other Swiss made Mercer indicators appear to have been discontinued as of 2016.
Messner (Germany) this former manufacturer was purchased by Kafer in the 1990's and production has ceased on this line of indicators.
MHC (China) are generic dial indicators made in communist China.
Mitutoyo (Japan) indicators are reliably accurate throughout their entire range because the current models have a toothless spindle. This innovative design eliminates the all-too-common cause of errors seen in indicators by other manufacturers. Plastic bezels which are user replaceable turn on an o-ring and these can sometimes be difficult to turn when trying to make minute adjustments. The newest models, designated with the letter S, cleverly feature dovetails on the sides of the dial indicator bodies, to which any number of attachments can be mounted, including the bezel clamps. Unfortunately, some attachments are also plastic and they break. The long range indicators tend to be better than anyone else's due to improved designs.
Mueller (California), manufactures specialty measuring gages. The dial indicators used for these tools often have 8 mm stems. They currently use Series D indicators made by Mitutoyo, previously Series B and C made by Starrett (which they dropped due to quality issues), and once-upon-a-time Series A were fabricated in England. We can repair the indicators, but if the rest of the tool needs fixing, return it to the manufacturer for best results.
Oldak (England) an antique formerly made by Engineering Products Ltd of London. There are no repair parts available.
Peacock (Japan) a relatively inexpensive indicator which should probably be considered a "throw-away" when it comes time for repair. Parts are often not available. It's probably a step up from the Chinese products and may be suitable for general shop-floor use. Often sold through major catalogs.
Precise (China) ridiculously cheap dial indicators offered in the Penn Tool Co catalog. Consider these as throw-aways. See "China" on the score card below.
Phase-II, an inexpensive Chinese import which is not repairable because it would cost more than a new indicator. Treat these as throw-aways. The 0-1" dial indicator has a peculiar fluke: the small revolution counter goes around twice, once for the first half inch, then again for the other half inch. We can't fault the accuracy, however. When new, the .001" indicator is just as accurate as any other brand. Also available in digital versions.
Randall & Stickney (Waltham, Massachusetts) appears to be one of the early contenders in the manufacturing frenzy which overtook New England in the late 1800's. It is fascinating to see some of these vintage indicators still in circulation after all this time.
Royal Master (USA) is a vanity dial for a CDI indicator (see above).
Scherr-Tumico (USA and elsewhere) indicators are of considerably lesser quality but some of their indicators are made-in-USA. These can be inexpensively repaired if returned to the manufacturer, although the repair job is often sub-standard.
Satisloh is a vanity dial for a Kafer indicator (see above).
Seibert (USA) is a vanity dial for a CDI indicator (see above).
Snap-on is probably best known for their selection mechanical tools such as this all-in-one multi-tool.
Snap-On sets are made in USA but we can not verify the origin of the dial indicators used in these sets. Their web site has them erroneously listed as dial test indicators, a term which applies to the small, lever style measuring indicators. If they malfunction you may be best off replacing the offending item.
Soiltest, a vanity dial. Long range indicators are made by Mitutoyo, but this is subject to change.
SPI distributes cheap imports from China under their own SPI brand name even though the acronym stands for "Swiss Precision Instruments". SPI does not provide repair parts nor repair service for their indicators. These have to be considered "throw-aways." The latest models are rip-offs of Mitutoyo models. It appears that China hasn't come up with an original idea since they invented gunpowder. They probably stole that, too. SPI also sells Käfer indicators (see above) which can be recommended. SPI is owned by the catalog giant MSC.
Standard Gage (Switzerland-Germany-China) Standard Gage dial indicators are distributed by Brown & Sharpe in the USA. Formerly of Poughkeepsie, they are now a vanity brand made in Switzerland, Germany and China by Tesa, Käfer and anonymous factories in the suburbs of Beijing. As one customer said, "You never know who's going to be making them next."
Starrett (USA) indicators are home-grown favorites and probably the best of the "made in USA" indicators. The new generation has clean, sturdy construction but they still suffer from bushings which will wear out rather quickly and rack teeth which shear off because of the inferior quality metal used in its manufacture. The new plastic bezels make it easier to replace damaged crystals. They are fairly priced and almost always repairable. Back-plunger model 645 is among the best of its kind and can be recommended. Avoid model 196, though. Starrett dial indicators do not come with serial numbers. Their on-line catalog is comprehensive and parts breakdowns are available online.
Steinmeyer (Germany) indicators come from different sources, mainly Kafer (see above).
Steelex (China) a vanity dial on an inexpensive, throw-away dial indicator.
Stoppani (Switzerland) During the period of 1913 to 1945 Stoppani SA was an early innovator of dial indicators, calipers and other gages. The company is currently active as a contract manufacturer with an auxiliary division in Malaysia.
Storm (China) throw-away indicators sold by Central Tool of Rhode Island. This is their "value" line of indicators.
Sunnen (USA) indicators are components of their highly successful dial bore gages. The indicators which they use on current models are manufactured by Mitutoyo (Japan) specifically for these bore gages (indicator model no.4S2218). Ordinary Mitutoyo models can not be used as replacements, they won't fit. Older models were outfitted with Federal dial indicators.
Teclock (Japan) manufactures a light-weight but well built bargain-priced line of dial indicators. We carry the popular AI-921 dial indicator. They are, however, not repairable and must be considered as throw-aways. Some models are misleadingly labeled "shock-proof." There is nothing whatsoever in the mechanism that makes it shock proof. A number of different models are in circulation mostly because they are included as (inexpensive) components of machines. For the most part, those indicators are not available in the US and you will have to find alternate models as replacements.
Testex (Newark, Delaware) is a Mitutoyo indicator with the Testex name on it. It can be found as a component of dial thickness gages. See Mitutoyo on this page for more information.
3D-Taster (Germany) alignment and positioning indicator for CNC machines, made by Haff & Schneider, which can not be repaired by the average repair shop. The manufacturer insists that, because special jigs are required, these have to be returned to Germany for servicing and that becomes an expensive undertaking. They're distributed in the US by SPI and can be bought online. The movement for this indicator is made by Kafer.
Trav-A-Dial (USA) is a unique measuring tool about which we know nothing. Southwestern Industries is the manufacturer but they do not repair their own gages. If you're looking for Trav-A-Dial repairs, you may want to contact Hager Enterprises in Texas at 1-361-588-7459 or contact the manufacturer at 1-310-608-4422.
Westward (Canada/Asia) sells rebranded indicators of Chinese and Japanese origin at a surprisingly high price. They are available in Canada and through the Grainger catalog. As with other gages of this type, repairs will not be possible.
Dial Indicator Score Card
Information applies to the majority of each manufacturer's current model dial indicators only. It does not reflect our opinion of test indicators which are discussed on page 37.
Notes to above chart:
† dial indicators are made by Kafer, for the most part.
Vacant areas have yet to be rated.
(1) Spare parts availability
Whether you plan on fixing these yourself, or sending them for professional repair, the work can only be done if the manufacturer makes parts available. A reference to "easy availability" is made when Long Island Indicator stocks the parts or the manufacturer is willing to sell them without minimums.
(2) Bezel and crystal replacement
This should be the easiest do-it-yourself repair. The crystals get scratched, cloudy, or break and you want to know whether you can install a new one. This hinges on availability of parts, of course (see #1)
You can send your indicators to any of numerous repair shops and some indicators just won't be worth repairing. Either they're poorly built or just not economically worthwhile.
Some items are designed to be thrown away, others will last a life-time. The price is usually a reflection of this. You have to decide what it's worth to you.
(5) Functional design
We've seen the insides of all of these and are willing to laud some manufacturers and curse others. Every chain has a weak link and every indicator has something that can use improvement. Understand that this is a highly personal opinion.
(6) Accuracy and precision
The days of all-metal construction are almost over. It all has to do with making an indicator which will be cheaper than the competition from China. Quality often suffers in the process. Plastic bezels, while easy to replace, will break just as easily. Plastic gears, it is our experience, are damaged more often than metal gears.
(8) Long Range
Indicators with more than one inch of travel are often referred to as "travel indicators." These are challenging to build for the manufacturer because of price considerations. The best ones cost the most. Less expensive models often have flimsy bodies which are easily damaged. Starrett models have spindles of soft steel which wear down quickly. Mitutoyo models have been redesigned and are probably the best of these. Kafer models are very sturdy but rack teeth can become damaged. Compac are the best but rarely available, only in metric, and they are outlandishly expensive.
(9) Bezel Rotation
A bezel clamp is used to keep the bezel stationary but most of the time you'll need to rotate the bezel for one reason or another. Different manufacturers have come up with different methods to hold the bezel in place yet still allow it to rotate. The newest technique seems to be the o-ring which, when functioning correctly has a smooth movement, allows for easy bezel removal and also acts as a moisture seal. Unfortunately the rubber doesn't age well. Solvents may cause it to stretch out of shape and turning the bezel can become difficult or impossible. A little bit of vaseline on the o-ring can help. A more reliable method uses metal springs to hold the bezel. These can be bent to produce the desired amount of resistance and they won't give out or change with time. Some manufacturers use 2 or three clips, or little screws, or pieces of wire, etc. We can't decide which method is really best. When the indicators are new, the bezels all turn well. The real test comes with time. Our chart above refers only to the manufacturers' newest models.
(10) Where are they made?
Where they're made can influence purchasing decisions because we might be interested in adding fuel to a certain economy, or we may have preconceived notions of product superiority based on origin. This information reflects our own prejudices and should probably not be used as a sole determining factor in choosing a particular instrument.
(11) Serial numbers
Serial numbers are an important element for ISO qualification, for calibration certificates, and general record keeping. Even in a less formal setting, the serial number can identify who owns which gage. We should be leery of a gage which has had its serial number scratched out or obliterated. Stolen goods, perhaps?
For more general information on dial indicators take a look at Dial Indicators: For what it's worth on page 139.