There are times when the humble old measuring tape or steel
ruler just will not cut it as a measuring device in woodworking.
Sure, you can use them with reasonable success for most
woodworking tasks, but then there are the times when either by
design, or lack of precision, they are not feasibly useful or
as accurate as you need them to be.
And in today's world, time is more precious than ever before,
and any tool that can help you save time and deliver better
results surely has to be something worth having, right?
So I thought we would highlight and review two cost-effective
devices that help make your every day shop measuring and tool
setup tasks a little easier. We have the Torquata DC-8 Digital
Calipers and HG-180 Height gauge 'tools' from Timbecon in
Western Australia -
If you are in the USA or Canada see at the bottom
of this review for where you can source similar items in your
Torquata DC-8 Digital Calipers
Calipers have been used in woodworking for a rather long
time as a measuring device. The Vernier caliper is
perhaps the most familiar. Some calipers use a dial readout and
others just a simple tape measure method. It's not surprising
that the 'digital' age has also been adopted in woodworking
circles, and you can now buy digital calipers to help speed up your
The DC-8 digital caliper is, in fact, not much different
to a traditional non-digital vernier caliper. They are
essentially of similar design, the only difference, and it is
quite a big difference, is that the digital version uses a large
LCD screen that displays the current measurement, saving you
from reading and deciphering the measurement from a printed
scale or dial yourself, which can introduce a little human error here
The DC-8 has a described range of 0 to 8 inches (imperial), or 0
to 203mm (metric). It actually can extend slightly wider than
that, but 8 inches is the stated range of the tool. When the
caliper is widened to any point in the range the displayed
reading on the LCD screen is updated in real time. There is also
a printed scale on the tool, and although not essential to the
function of the tool, it does act as a checkup scale to ensure
that your digital reading being shown is displaying
approximately what the printed scale reading is measuring. Of
course, the digital reading is more precise than a scale reading
interpreted by the user. The tool delivers a stated accuracy of
+/-.0005". While I do not
have the high level equipment to verify this, it does measure up
well against a measuring tape and other known accurate measuring
devices I have around the shop. This level of accuracy is pretty
much overkill for most common woodworking tasks, so you are
somewhat assured that the device will deliver accurate
measurements on a consistent basis. You do need to check that
the device is zeroed before each use to ensure that high level of
accuracy. This is a two second task and not a concern.
The large LCD display
provides a clear view of the digital reading being shown. So
even if you have a slight visual impairment you shouldn't have
any problem reading the numbers. The display unit also contains
all the adjustment features on the caliper. There are three
control buttons on the unit itself. Your standard ON / OFF
button (red) will turn the digital display on or off (but you
probably already knew that). You could of course still use the
calipers without the digital display, but your measurements
would certainly not be as accurate. The caliper uses
a small round cell battery as its power source. Most watchmakers
or good electronics stores will sell replacements. The kit comes
with two batteries so that will keep you powered up for a while.
The yellow 'zero' button
does exactly that. It zeroes or calibrates the tool to give you
precise measurements. Naturally, you need to have the caliper in
its full 'closed' or 'zero' position before you hit the 'zero'
button. At the top of the display is a blue conversion button.
This switches the caliper between metric or imperial readout, so
whether you prefer to use imperial measurements or metric
measurements, it doesn't matter. The DC-8 will accommodate both.
It can also be used as a quick conversion tool between the two
units of measurement. For example, if I just wanted to convert
3/4" to metric, I'd just slide the caliper to the 3/4" setting
on the LCD and hit the blue "mm/inch" conversion button and it
will give me the converted figure, in this case, 19.05mm. It
should be noted that the DC-8 does not display readings as 3/4",
but rather as decimal units, i.e. 0.750". Another example we may
write as 2 1/4" would be shown as 2.250" on the caliper's LCD
display. For metric, it is all pretty straight forward. 10mm is
show as 10.00mm on the display. In metric mode only 2 decimal
units are shown, but this should provide all the accuracy you
need for woodworking. On the top edge of the LCD casing is a
small locking screw. This allows you to lock the caliper at a
specific width. You might lock it if you wanted to transfer a
particular measurement and stop the caliper from moving from
your set position.
You can slide the
measuring head along the bar just by pulling it or pushing it
along. There is also a small slide wheel on one end to allow you
to make smaller, more precise adjustments. The caliper allows to
to take both inside and outside measures. See the accompanying
photos which better describe what I mean.
Ok, so what can this
caliper be used for? Well, many things. In my shop it gets used
mostly side by side with my stacked dado set on the table saw.
When you buy timber or sheet goods from a supplier, they
traditionally are not exactly the width it says they are on the
label. So, if you are making a simple bookcase for example and
need to cut a few dados for the shelves, you need to know what
the exact width of the shelf pieces are, whether you are using
them straight off the shelf or planed down. If you just go by the
label, sticker, or what you have been told, chances are your cut
dados are going to be too wide, showing an obvious gap between
your shelves and the bookcase sides, or too narrow and the
shelves will not fit at all. With a digital caliper
that is no longer a problem. Simply measure the width of your
stock and get a precise figure. Next, load up your stacked dado
set to the same width, perhaps just ever so slightly wider so
the shelves are not too tight a fit before glue up. Using the
calipers again, you can check the exact width of your stacked
dado cutters to ensure that you only need to cut once, and get
it right. Don't trust the dado configuration information
provided with your set as to what combo of blades and chippers
gives a certain width. Often it is not exactly accurate and you
need to shim to get the width you need. It's a little different
with router bits if you are using those to make your dados.
Because they come in set diameters, the adjustments you make
will need to be made to the router fence if you need a dado
slightly wider than your bit diameter. Of course, the other option is to
plane your wood down to a size that will match a cutter. Either
way, the digital caliper will help get things right first time
and get your timber cut to the width or thickness you need.
If you have a draw or box full of drill bits
and have no idea of their sizes, you can use the digital
calipers to determine the correct drill bit required for the task at
hand, or to repack them in their labeled container correctly.
You can do the same for straight router bits.
If you're on the lathe you can get some precise
diameter measurements for spindle work, quickly figure out both
the inside and outside diameter of the dust port on your newest
power tool before you hit the hardware or woodworking store
looking for vacuum system adaptors to fit, or taking inside
measurements of small boxes, measuring hollowed out small
turnings, the list could go on forever. Basically, wherever
there is a need to measure something less than 8 inches or
200mm, the DC-8 digital calipers can make the task much simpler
Overall, I'd have to say that for the cost of such an item, they
are really an indispensable tool in the workshop. They will
certainly save you plenty of time and improve your measuring
accuracy. I'd go as far as to say that they should be a standard
item in every woodworker's shop because they are incredibly
useful and very easy to use.
HG-180 Height Gauge
Here's another useful workshop measurement tool that even
somewhat compliments the DC-8 digital caliper. As its name
implies, the height gauge is a device used to measure the height
of something. This "something" can be many things, and we will
look at a few examples below.
Firstly, however, let's take a quick look at the
'tool' itself. Unlike the DC-8, the HG-180 does not have an LCD
display, so it's a matter of manually reading and deciphering the
printed scale attached to the tool to obtain your measurement.
You can buy digital version height gauges, but expected to pay
up to ten times as much as the HG-180 for the convenience. The
HG-180 is comprised of a solid cast iron base (painted blue in this
case) which acts as your flat reference point for height
measurements. The cast iron gives the base plenty of weight for
stability and ensures the tool wont tip or fall over
easily. Extending up from the base is the main measuring gauge
bar which includes a printed tape scale in imperial and metric
format. Imperial scale ranges from 0 inches up to 7 inches,
although usable measurement is only available to just over 6
inches. The metric scale ranges from 0cm to 19cm, but maximum
useable measuring height is around 15cm. For most woodworking
tasks, there is more than enough range in the tool to
accommodate your needs.
A sliding arm with offset height toe
provides the reference point for the actual height measurement
from the base of the tool, or rather, the tool's flat base
reference point. This sliding arm features a sub-scale for both
imperial and metric where you can account for fractional units
when measuring along side the main scale. I found the metric
sub-scale was slightly out of calibration straight out of the
box, but thankfully, you can adjust these by loosening the two
small slotted screws holding it in place. There is a small range
of adjustment on the scale to allow you to zero everything off
for enhanced accuracy. This is a one-off task. Also, like the DC-8, the HG-180 has a
small locking screw on the sliding arm to allow you to lock the
arm at a set height measurement for transfer or use later. This
prevents the arm from sliding or moving off your measured
So that takes care of the HG-180's construction and
features. Be sure to take a look at the photos included as these
will help you understand exactly what I have explained above. So
what am I going to use this for I hear you ask? Well, I'd dare
say that if you do not have such a height measuring device in
your workshop already, then chances are that if you do end up
buying one like the HG-180, you will probably use it every day
in your shop.
For starters, we all often need to set saw blade
or stacked dado set heights to make grooves or dados in wood.
This process is very common for drawer making, rabeting, and tenon cutting, and
there are plenty more examples that you probably know of and
perform regularly. To set the saw blade height simply set the
desired height on the HG-180 and tighten the locking screw. Now
move the gauge so the measuring point on the arm is over the top
of your saw blade (see photo). Raise or lower your blade until
the teeth at the top of the blade's arc of travel and just
touching the measuring point on the arm. You have now matched
your saw blade height to the pre-determined height you have
chosen on the height gauge. The same process is used for setting
router bit height on the router table or even measuring off from
the base of your router itself.
If you make a lot of raised panel doors using
rail and stile cutters on the router table, you will know that
setting the rail and stile bit separately can pose some
problems. This is a great example of where the height gauge is
very useful. Say we are making doors using 3/4" stock. On the
first run of 3/4" doors, I will shape the stiles providing the
groove in which the raised panel sits in, and ensuring I have
enough material behind the groove to adequately support the
raised panel. Now, the trick with rail and stile joints is to
get them fitting together so both the front and back faces are
pretty much flush with each other. Doing so will help align the
groove for the raised panel and ensure there is only a minimal
amount of sanding later to make nice flush face joints. Setting
the rail cutter to the correct height can be tricky at times. But with
the height gauge, and after a few test runs, I scribbled down
the height that both the rail and stile cutter sat above the
router table that gave me an almost perfectly flush face result
using 3/4" stock. So next time I go to use 3/4" stock for
doors, I can quickly and easily set the router bit height for
both cutters and ensure a good, flush fit with no trial and
error resulting in wasted time and wood. There are other ways around this
course, like making set up blocks, but this method seems to work
The table saw and router table is where I tend to
use the height gauge the most, and for the small price you pay
for the tool, it will pay for itself one hundred times over in
time savings and lost wood due to height setting errors on your
cutting tools, perhaps just in the first year alone.
It's hard not to recommend both of these items. I have ready
many posts on online forums about these tools, and everyone who
has them seems to find them useful. I totally agree, after
having used both for even just a short period of time. You can
spend hundreds of dollars on gadgets that promise to make your
woodworking more accurate and precise, and of course, a lot of
these gadgets and upgraded components are very good. But for
around AUD$110 for both tools reviewed above, I think it is
money very well spent. These items are almost essential
accessories if you own a table saw or router table in my
opinion, and you will find more and more uses for them, both in
the workshop and even around the home on a daily basis. Well
Order Online through these companies...
Click graphic to go to
their direct product page for this item
DC-8 Digital Calipers
HG-180 Height Gauge
Timbecon will also mail out to most parts of the
if you cannot find these items locally.
In the USA
Note that models and specifications
These are similar items as those reviewed above, but may not be
Torquata DC-8 and
All photos copyright onlinetoolreviews.com. Use without prior
written permission prohibited
The DC-8 Digital
Calipers come in a handy padded storage case with extra battery.
The large LCD display
provides clear measurement figures.
The DC-8 will allow accurate measurements up to 8 inches
Inside measurements, such as
this dado/trench are a prime example of how handy these devices are. You
wouldn't be able to get such a precise measurement with a tape measure.
Digital Calipers are extremely useful for stacked dado
set owners. Set your blades to cut perfect fit dado for shelves or
drawers, among other things.
The sticker on this sheet of MDF states a thickness of
6mm. Not so according to the digital calipers, which were correct, here
showing 6.34mm - quite a difference.
The HG-180 Height Gauge
Heavy cast iron base provides good stability.
Scale available in both imperial and metric units.
A great use for the HG-180 height gauge is setting saw
blade heights for accurate cuts.
Rail and stile bits can be set
with repeatable accuracy with a height setting gauge like
the Torquata HG-180.