Review By Dean Bielanowski  Timbecon Website - http://www.timbecon.com.au


Toquata DC-8 Digital Calipers
& HG-180 Height Gauge

 Review

By Dean Bielanowski

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 - www.timbecon.com.au

If you are in the USA or Canada see at the bottom of this review for where you can source similar items in your area.

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 measuring tasks.

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 and there.

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 to achieve.

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 position.

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 problem of course, like making set up blocks, but this method seems to work equally well.

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.

Conclusion
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 worth considering.

 

Available to Order Online through these companies...
Click graphic to go to their direct product page for this item

In Australia




DC-8 Digital Calipers
HG-180 Height Gauge

Timbecon will also mail out to most parts of the world
if you cannot find these items locally.

 

In the USA
Note that models and specifications may differ.
These are similar items as those reviewed above, but may not be the same.

6'' Digital Caliper
6'' Digital Caliper


*Shorter 6" version from Rockler.com
 

Torquata DC-8 and
HG-180 Photos
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 wide.


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.

 


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