Best Uses of Dial Indicators: All The Dos and Don’ts You Need To Know

Best Uses Of Dial Indicators

If you work in an environment where precise measurement is a must, there is a great possibility that you are familiar with a dial indicator. For those who don’t know, a dial indicator is one of the precision instruments widely used across the country. As the tool is a bit delicate. There are a set of instructions to follow if you want your dial indicators to last long and keep providing you precise and comparative measurements. Today we will talk about the best uses of dial indicators to make sure you can use this versatile tool to its full potential for a long time.

Taking care of a dial indicator is a delicate process. There are many ways both the measurement and the tool can become compromised. That is why we’ll discuss all the dos and don’t of using a dial indicator. So without any further ado, let’s get started. Shall we?


What’s A Dial Indicator?

Dial indicators are one of the basic measurement tools widely used across the planet. They are primarily used in precision engine building. This tool uses a calibrated stem that transfers linear movement to an easy-to-read dial interface. Typically dial faces are graduated in .001-inch hash marks so that one full revolution of the indicator needle equals one-tenth of an inch or .100-inch travel. There is also a smaller indicator that indicates hundredths or .100-inch travel.

The primary use of the dial indicators is to align workpieces in a machine, check spindle runout, analyze surface roughness, measure pit depth in EDM, and many more. Though many of the workers use digital indicators nowadays, dial indicators are a cheaper alternative. Despite being cheap, the dial indicators give as accurate measurements as the digital ones.


Let’s Break It Down

Now let’s have a deeper look inside a dial indicator.

Though the components of a dial indicator change depending on the intended use, these are the most common parts of a dial indicator:

  • The plunger (spindle)
  • Indicator (Needle)
  • A dial
  • Magnification mechanism
  • Locking screw/Locknut
  • Mini dial

What’s The Use

Dial indicators are one of the most flawless tools in taking an accurate measurement (linear). This amazing device works by using a calibrated stem that transfers linear movement to an easy-to-read dial face. Unlike dial indicators, very few precision measuring tools can also be useful in dimension control. If you attach some additional parts to this versatile tool, you can also measure several dimensional deviations.

As this nifty tool is flexible and useful, you can use it for a wide range of measurements. Let’s have a look at the most common uses of a dial indicator:

  • Mounting in a magnetic dial indicator base to check work on a surface grinder
  • Checking spindle runout in any machine tool
  • Aligning workpieces in a spin fixture, such as a Harig or Hardinge spinner
  • Analyzing EDM pit depth
  • Comparing heights of various components on a granite surface plate
  • Aligning workpieces in a machine like a lathe, milling machine, EDM, or surface grinder
  • Compare injection mold parting line details.
  • Analyzing surface roughness
  • Inspecting workpieces in a grinding machine, such as a Ded-tru, or cylindrical grinder
  • Mounting in a fixture to inspect work in a Bridgeport milling machine, vertical machining center, 5 axis milling machine, or high-speed machining center.

The list keeps going. Dial indicators are one of the most accurate and, at the same time, sensitive primary measuring tools that you can use. There are many types of dial indicators available for completing different tasks.


Best Uses of Dial Indicators

Dial indicators are very delicate precision tools to use. Just like it provides accurate measurements, it is very sensitive. You need to provide extra care and undivided attention if you want your dial indicators to last for a long time. Here are some does and don’t you need to follow if you want your dial indicators to provide accurate measurements for a long time. Let’s have a look.


  • Always Keep the reference surface clean and level
  • Mount your indicator securely to the fixture or holding device
  • Clean the indicator spindle and point with a soft, lint-free cloth
  • Handle the gage lightly to make sure it can seat itself on the workpiece
  • Mount dial indicators close to short support columns on test sets or comparators
  • Keep the reference surface clean and level at every step of the measurement process
  • Clean your dials with soap and water, benzene, or a soft eraser.
  • Make sure that the indicator hand can move freely. It should be able to move to its fullest extent from the zero-end of the scale in one fluid movement
  • Keep your dial indicators stored away in a dry place and keep them covered to avoid dust and moisture pollution.
  • Test your indicators regularly. This will prevent the spindle from sticking.
  • Use warm soapy water to clean the dial. Remember, the dial needs to be clean and dry at all times
  • Make sure the indicator hand moves toward the minus side of the dial as the workpiece dimension decreases
  • Handle the gage lightly to make sure it can seat itself on the workpiece
  • You can use diamond, tungsten carbide, or hard chromium-tipped indicator points whenever it’s likely that the contacts will be subject to heavy wear.


  • Don’t make the indicators subject to harsh, sudden blows.
  • Don’t lock your indicator into position without setting the gaging tension correctly first.
  • Don’t use an indicator that has been hit with something heavy or dropped. until you have tested it thoroughly
  • Don’t try to change the setup by drilling into the case. This can damage or affect the fluid movement of the spindle.
  • Never use your dial indicator for anything but what it is intended for.
  • Avoid oiling an indicator that has been idle for some time. Instead, work it in and out by hand until it slides freely on its own bearings
  • Don’t over-tighten contact points or adapters. The strain will cause distortion, make the spindle bind, the mechanism stick, or the guide pin loosen/shear off
  • Don’t clamp the indicator against the stem with a set screw. It can cause a distortion in the measurements, cause the spindle to bind/the mechanism to stick
  • Don’t oil spindle bearings under normal conditions. If you must do it, do it sparingly and never use grease.
  • Don’t overlook the accessories that will make your indicator more efficient, adaptable, and versatile.

Over To You

Though mechanical dial indicators are a cheap alternative to digital indicators, they can be just as sensitive as digital ones. No matter what types of indicators you are using, you need to be extra careful while measuring and safekeeping this nifty little tool. The more you take good care of your dial indicators, the more accurate reading you’ll get and for a longer period. So try to follow all the dos and don’ts (best uses) of dial indicators to maximize the potential of your device.

No more today. I hope this article proves to be helpful to those in need. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comment section below. If you follow all the tips mentioned above, you will be able to increase your dial indicators’ accuracy and lifespan. Thanks for reading this far. Happy measuring to you.

Scroll to Top