At a Glance: Best reloading calipers
Comparison of Best reloading calipers
Our Top Pick
|Mitutoyo – Digimatic Calipers||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Sinclair International – 6 inches Digital Caliper||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Hornady – Digital Caliper||View Latest Price|
When reloading your own ammunition, accuracy and precision are the key goals. Your hand reloaded rounds have to be of the most precise dimensions to be consistent, accurate and safe. Calipers can help you to measure and reload your rounds to the highest standards.
We reviewed the 8 best calipers on the market today
There are two types of calipers with multiple features on the market. You can either buy a dial caliper or a digital caliper. Either version can come with some extra features. Which one to choose will depend solely on your preference. Some people are used to dial devices while others prefer every tool to be digital. However, since accuracy and precision are so important for the effectiveness and safety of your hand reloaded rounds, you should always choose high quality calipers made by an established brand.
Brownells – AR-15 Heavy Carbine Buffers
Mitutoyo was founded in 1934 by Yehan Numata with one product, the micrometer. His goal was to make the best mechanical micrometer in the world, and one that was also affordable. This philosophy has been expanded to include a wider product offering focused on mechanical and dimensional gaging products including calipers. The company offers a one-year warranty.
Mitutoyo’s digimatic caliper does not require any programming. You can use it right out of the box. The jaws have a smooth-feeling thumb wheel for tightening around the object to be measured. You can use this caliper to measure outer and interior object lengths as well as the depth of the objects. There is neither any rack and pinion to get dirty nor a delicate glass dial face to break. This caliper also keeps track of its origin point once set. The large LCD correctly displays the actual slider position when ready to start measurement. Thanks to its absolute encoder technology, you do not need to set the zero repeatedly. There is also no issue with over speed errors.
This caliper is very accurate and thanks to its big LCD screen also suitable for people with visual impairment. To use it on the outside of an object, simply place the big jaws on the sides of the object and check the LCD screen for the reading. To measure inside the object, use the small jaws on the other side of the slider and place them on the inside walls of the object. Again, the LCD display will give you very accurate measurements. There is also a retractable rod for measuring the depth of an object.
- High quality
- Easy to read LCD screen
- Encoder technology to keep zero
- Two sizes to choose from
- Higher price range
- The battery charge might drop unexpectedly
Sinclair International – 6 inches Digital Caliper
In the 1970s, Fred Sinclair began building high-quality firearms and reloading tools for competitive shooters and varmint hunters. Over the years, Sinclair’s company became a well-known brand in the reloading business. The company offers a warranty for the original buyer for 45 days from the date of the order.
Its digital caliper is durable and of good quality. You can take four different measurements with it.
- Outside dimensions with the large jaws,
- inside dimensions with smaller jaws,
- depth measurements with the extending rod, and
- step measurements on the back end of the jaws.
The caliper works smoothly along the entire slider. It is made from hardened stainless steel that provides a solid feel from your first touch. There is a big 5-digit display with a resolution of .0005″/0.01mm that is easy to read and prevents glare.
This caliper can be connected to a computer through an SPC interface. It has 3 function buttons with a firm and crisp response. The functions include On/Off, Zero reset, and Inch/mm conversion. The zero point can be set anywhere along the full travel to compare measurement. That function is called relative zero. Auto turn-off is included to save battery power when not in use. If you do not move the calipers it will remember the numeric value of the coordinates before it auto turns off. It runs on a lithium battery (3V CR2032).
- Easy to use
- Big LCD screen for easy reading
- Can be connected to a computer
- 4 different measurements possible
- An auto turn-off to save battery power
- Relative zero
- Very good price
- Short warranty
Hornady – Digital Caliper
Joyce Hornady started reloading in the 1950s. His company has always valued quality, innovation, and reasonable prices. That is why they have been manufacturing great reloading tools and measuring devices for over 60 years. The company offers a lifetime warranty on all its products.
This caliper is super easy to use. Switch the power button on and pull the jaws apart. The measurement will show on the large LCD screen. There is a zero button on the screen so you can zero out any place on the caliper and start measuring from there, giving you relative zero. When measuring the length of a shell, place it between the bigger jaws on the flat parts, and use the small wheel to hold the round tight. Then read the measurement. Inside measurements can be achieved by placing the small jaws inside the object. There is also a retractable rod on the side of the caliper slider which can be used to measure the depth of a case.
This caliper is very accurate (to .001 inch). It comes with a protective case and an extra battery. The battery life is quite long, so you do not need to exchange it very often. The knob on top of the caliper can be tightened to lock down a measurement. This set also features an automatic shut-off.
- Easy to read
- Easy to use
- Multiple measurement options
- Protective case included
- Long battery life
- Relative zero
- Automatic shut off
- Very good price
- The display might not last very long
Mitutoyo – 6 Inch Dial Calipers
As mentioned above, Mitutoyo is an American/Japanese company manufacturing measurement devices and offering a one year warranty. Its 6-inch dial caliper is manufactured in Brazil. It comes in a plastic box with a certification of calibration and a manual in multiple languages. The fitted plastic box is not very sturdy and might not last very long if used daily. The caliper is made from stainless steel so it is very durable. It has a white-faced dial that is easy to read. Because it is mechanical and not digital, no battery is needed.
The caliper has sharp edges that are borderline uncomfortable. Another downside is the fact that the dial does not always return to zero and you have to set it. On the other hand, the dial slide movement is ultra-smooth so it is easy to use. The caliper is shock-proof and there is a titanium nitride coating applied to the sliding surface to increase wear resistance.
The caliper is accurate to .001 inch. It can measure outside diameter, inside diameter, depth, and steps. There is a lock screw that holds the sliding jaw position while measuring.
- Well known brand with warranty
- Stainless steel
- 4 different measurements
- New ergonomic design
- Fitted plastic case
- Lock screw holds the sliding jaw in place
- Accurate to .001 inch
- Sharp edges
- Does not always return to zero
- Quite expensive
RCBS – Electronic Digital Calipers
RCBS was founded in 1943 by Fred T. Huntington in Oroville, California, who started to make his own dies in the back room of his father’s laundry and dry-cleaning business. The bullets he made were used to shoot rock chucks, so he named them Rock Chuck Bullet Swage dies, later shortened to RCBS. RCBS has become a well-known and exceptionally well-respected brand in the reloading business over the years. The company offers a limited lifetime warranty on most of its products.
This caliper is digital and offers an instant reading. It is made with a hardened stainless steel body for prolonged tool life. Its range goes from 0 to 6 inches (0-150mm). The resolution is 0.0005 inches and accuracy 0.001 inches. You can adjust to zero at any position and start measuring outside diameter, inside diameter, depth, and steps.
The LCD screen is big with large, easy to read numbers. There is an inches to millimeters switch button on the screen. The LCD screen is battery operated and a battery is included in the package. The LCD screen will also let you know when the battery is running low. That will be quite often as the battery life of this product is quite unsatisfactory. It lasts less than it’s advertised battery life, which is a tad upsetting. Also, this unit doesn’t feature an automated on/off feature.
- Well known brand
- Good quality and warranty
- Very readable LCD screen
- Battery included
- Battery running low indicator
- Medium price range
- Short battery life
- No automated on/off feature
Starrett – 6 inches Dial Caliper
Starret was founded in the 1880s and since then it has manufactured more than 5,000 variations of Precision Tools, Gages, and Measuring Instruments. The company provides a one year warranty against defects in materials and workmanship.
Its 6-inch dial caliper is a precision tool made from stainless steel. It comes in different colors:
- White face with black marks,
- Black face with white marks, or
- Red face with white marks.
It has a satin finish with deep, recessed, black-filled scale markings. You can adjust the measurement with its thumb wheel. The movement of the jaws is smooth and can be done with one hand only. There is also a lock for the jaw and dial to make measuring easier.
This caliper can handle all types of measurement required. Similar to other calipers, you can measure inside diameters, outside diameters, depth, and steps. It is made from stainless steel. It includes “down-pointing” rack teeth that automatically shed dirt and shavings. The dial registers .1 inch per revolution. The dial features wide graduation for fast and easy reading.
- Established brand
- 1-year warranty
- 3 different color schemes of the dial face
- Smooth adjustment with one hand
- Stainless steel
- No need for a battery
- Wide graduation of the dial face
- Very high price
Hornady – Dial Calipers
As mentioned above, Hornady is a well-established company with a long tradition in manufacturing measuring devices. It offers quality at a low price. The company offers a lifetime warranty for its products.
Its dial caliper feels well made when you first take it in your hand. It is made from stainless steel for durability. Its measuring movement is tight with a very, very slight jerky-ness. That might only manifest when it is new, it might get smoother with usage. There is a thumb wheel next to the dial face that allows you to move the slider. It has a big dial face that is clear and easy to read. There is a red edge around the dial which makes the caliper design a bit unique. The dial is shock resistant and it is accurate to 0.001 inches.
You can measure outside diameters with big jaws, inside diameters with small jaws, depth with a retractable rod, and steps. The caliper comes with a plastic case for safe storage. The price is very affordable, especially considering the quality. There are, however, a couple of downsides too. The zero is not set properly out of the box, so you might have to reset it yourself. The needle at zero is not precisely at 90 degrees but very close to it.
- Good quality
- Well-known brand
- Lifetime warranty
- Accurate measurement
- Cool red design
- Medium price range
- Zero is not properly set up out of the box
Frankford Arsenal – Stainless Steel Dial Calipers
Frankford Arsenal is an American company that is well established in the reloading world. It strives to manufacture top of the line products for an affordable price. Its vision is to make make reloading fast, easy, and efficient.
Its dial caliper is a decent measuring device. It is made from stainless steel but might not be as durable as some of the other brands. Its vernier wheel is held in place by a plastic clip which might not last a very long time. You can use this caliper to measure many critical cartridge dimensions, including case length, neck and base diameters, overall length, and primer pocket depth. The caliper is suitable for non-reloading measurements as well. It comes with a convenient, hard protective case that will last you some time.
The caliper is accurate to .001 inch. It always returns to zero well. It does not depend on batteries like digital calipers do so it won’t stop working suddenly. It is also very affordable. So if you are looking for a decent quality tool for a good value this might be a good choice for you.
- Established brand
- Stainless steel
- Hard protective case
- Not as durable, wheel attached by a plastic clip
What are reloading calipers and why do you need them?
A caliper is a simple measuring device for measuring thickness, diameter, and distance between surfaces. Generally, it has two jaws, one is fixed and the other is sliding. There are different sizes of jaws for measuring outside diameters and inside diameters. Calipers include a graduated scale which goes up as the jaws are moved apart.
Calipers are very versatile for measuring almost all kinds of dimensions while handloading. They also have limitless applications outside of reloading, including any type of work requiring precise measurements. When reloading, they are used for measuring:
- the outside diameter or length of a cartridge or loaded round,
- the inside diameter of a case neck, and
- the depth of the case.
This applies especially when you are reloading rifle cartridges or you find yourself using a new set of dies. Your caliper will always assist you in getting precise and accurate measurements for any caliber.
How to choose reloading calipers
When choosing your calipers, you should first think about what type of calipers you are looking for.
- Do you prefer digital calipers or would dial calipers work better for you? Digital calipers might be easier to read but the battery can die suddenly.
- What material are the calipers made from? Those fully made from stainless steel will last longer than stainless steel combined with plastic.
- How established is the brand and how well-known are they for quality?
- How easy are the calipers to operate?
- Do the calipers return to zero out of the box?
Calipers made by a well-known company from a good sturdy material will usually have good quality and be accurate and precise. Since they are a precision measurement device, good quality is especially important. You do not want to measure your rounds wrong and end up with ammunition that does not have any consistency or is outright dangerous. Good quality might not be cheap but when it comes to safety when shooting, you do not want to exchange quality for cheaper price. Beware of calipers that involve too many plastic parts. Those might not last very long.
One cool thing about calipers is the fact that you can set relative zero anywhere along the scale. From there, you can compare your next measurement.
All digital calipers require a battery. Some calipers even have a solar battery plus an internal backup one. Good calipers are designed to be used many times a day, often aren’t even turned off for a few days, and still won’t need to have the battery replaced. We do suggest turning them off when not in use but many people don’t even bother since the battery drain is so low.
When the battery needs to be replaced, just snap the top cover of the digital box, and exchange it. The battery is usually LR44/SR44 size 1.5V button type, available in any hardware or grocery store. The Silver Oxide SR44 costs more but will last longer.
There are usually two different setting modes when it comes to zeroing the calipers.
- If you press the zero button in relative mode, it will set the current point to zero and display zero.
- If you press the zero button in absolute mode, the current point will be set to a preset value and the calipers will display that value.
Digital Calipers VS Dial Calipers for Reloading
There are two different primary kinds of calipers. The primary difference between these two is that one uses an electronic display to show exactly what the measurement is and the other one uses a dial. There are more differences:
- They display their readings on a screen
- Most digital calipers usually include a button that will allow you to easily convert between metric and imperial simply by pressing it.
- There is a copper plate underneath the digital display that has a series of precise grooves engraved on them. Those are used to do the measurement. If those engraved marks are damaged in any way, you are not going to get accurate readings any longer.
- They use a mechanical system where the primary apparatus is a rack and pinion system
- Inside the calipers, there are gears that move in increments of 1/1000 of an inch for an accurate measurement.
- The dial calipers can be knocked out of alignment by simply dropping them. That can not happen to the digital calipers. So if you are a klutz, buy a digital one.
If you would like a visual aid for learning the differences between digital and dial calipers and how to use either of them for reloading, you can check out this video.
How to use reloading calipers
Calipers are used in reloading for measuring the various dimensions of cartridges as well as measuring the dimensions of fully reloaded rounds. Using the caliper and reading the values may take some time to master, so be patient. Here are the steps to help you get there skills faster:
- Close the jaws carefully but tightly. Make sure there is no light visible through the jaws. If light is coming through, there might be dirt on the jaws that needs to be cleaned off.
- When the jaws are tightly closed, loosen the bezel nut and twist it to zero out the dial, then tighten the nut back up again to keep the zero.
- Always clean the part that you are about to measure carefully. Dust or other debris on the part being measured can substantially affect the accuracy of your measurement.
- Use the outside of the big jaws to measure the thickness, length, and width of objects.
- The inside of the small jaws (or the inside of the big jaws if there are no small jaws on the caliper) can be used to measure gaps and holes.
- Open the jaws and measure the object, usually a cartridge or a fully reloaded round.
- Make sure the jaws are perpendicular to the part you are attempting to measure.
- The jaws should be tight on the object to be measured; however, you should still be able to slide it in and out without difficulty.
- Once you have the part positioned correctly, tighten the lock screw to hold the position of the caliper to keep the measurement.
- To understand the measurement, you need to know what the marks mean. On an Imperial system dial, every mark equals 1/10, or .1 and every 10 marks equal one inch. On the dial indicator the number that the needle rests on is expressed in thousandths, so whatever number you receive will need to be multiplied by .001.
- Next, check out the straight edge to the left of the dial indicator. It will show how many inches to add. Write the number down to the tenths of an inch. Now take the number from the dial indicator and multiply it by .001 and write it down.
- Add the numbers together with the correct decimal places to find the final measurement.
Usually, you can measure up to 6 inches this way. If you need a visual aid for using your reloading calipers, check out this video.
How much accuracy do you need?
To reload ammunition that will be accurate, consistent, and safe, you need to make some precise measurements. When you just start out reloading you will have to measure every cartridge. That will change with your reloading experience. Slowly, you will be able to tell what the measurements of your ammunition are before you even put the cartridge inside the caliper. So accuracy will become very much determinant upon your experience and experience level. However, you should always strive to make accurate and precise rounds and a caliper is a great device to help you with it.
What size reloading caliper should I buy?
Generally, calipers come in many measurement ranges and with variations in jaw lengths. For reloading purposes, calipers with a range of 0-6 inches (0-150mm) are suitable. These will typically come with an outside jaw depth of about one and a half inches and an inside jaw depth of about five eighths of an inch. This kind of caliper is the most popular because they are easy to hold and can measure virtually any rifle cartridge.
Are expensive digital calipers necessary?
The answer to this question really depends on what you are looking for. A lot of reloaders and gun enthusiasts are accustomed to dial calipers. They started with those years ago and they might not feel comfortable using the digital type. Usually, beginners at reloading who have no experience with dial calipers choose digital ones. Expensive digital calipers might be easier to use but that does not mean that they will be better or more accurate. Also, all digital calipers need a battery to work. So if you are out of battery, the caliper will be useless. It is a good idea to try both, dial and digital calipers, and decide which ones you like more. In the end, you need to be comfortable with the tools you are using for reloading as mistakes can be costly.
Choosing the right reloading caliper might feel quite daunting, especially if you are new to reloading. As we described above, there are two different types of calipers. However, each type also comes with various features that can make your decision even harder. Also, price is an important factor to consider before you spend any money. In order to find out which caliper would work the best for you, you might want to sit down and think about what type and features you need most. First decide whether you prefer digital or analog tools and then look into other features that are important for you.
If you like dial calipers better then you should choose between:
- Mitutoyo – 6 Inch Dial Calipers
- Starrett – 6 inches Dial Caliper
- Hornady – Dial Calipers
- Frankford Arsenal – Stainless Steel Dial Calipers
Out of these dial calipers, the Mitutoyo and Starrett models have the best quality but are also the most expensive. The Hornady and Frankford options might not last you as long as the first two, but they won’t break your bank either.
If you prefer digital calipers, then these are the ones to choose from:
- Mitutoyo – Digimatic Calipers
- Sinclair International – 6 inches Digital Caliper
- Hornady – Digital Caliper
- RCBS – Electronic Digital Calipers
Mitutoyo would be the best quality but also the most expensive. All the other three are quite affordable for decent quality and offer a good warranty.
We hope you will find a caliper that is perfect for your needs and helps you reload the most accurate and safe rounds.