How to use a dial indicator

Updated April 17, 2017

Dial indicators are utilised to make precise measurements down to the thousandth of an inch and smaller. Dial indicators can measure a variety of quantities, provided a stand or fixture is used to position the dial indicator. While it takes work to make sure that the measurement is made to the accuracy of the indicator, when used properly, the dial indicator is a valuable tool for the machinist and inspector.

Select your dial indicator. There are a variety of kinds of indicators and the choice depends on the precision and accuracy desired. Regular dial indicators typically measure as small as a thousandth of an inch, while dial test indicators can measure even smaller. Dial test indicators have a much smaller range of motion however. Accuracy typically is a function of cost.

Find a fixture for measuring. These can be as simple as a stand that will hold the dial indicator to a complicated fixture to hold the item being measured. A stand would feature a base held by sheer weight or affixed via a magnet or screws. Then the dial indicator can be positioned where it can measure the desired quantity. A more complicated fixture is a precisely made stand for general or specific measurements.

Measure your item. This involves first zeroing the dial indicator where you are seeking to measure. When you then measure the item the dial indicator will provide a measure of how far off the item is from the desired measurement. Dial indicators can be outfitted with a variety of tips that enable them to be used for a variety of applications, and a variety of fixtures for a variety of purposes.

Keep the indicator clean. A single dial indicator can be used for a variety of measuring tasks. It is important that you take care of the dial, making sure to keep it clean and free from chips and debris. A small of piece of metal or wood can cause damage to the sensitive internals of the indicator and throw off the measurement.


A well kept indicator will last a lifetime. Keep it clean and use it carefully.


Make sure to keep the dial indicator clean, and test it periodically for accuracy. Make sure to not move the contact too rapidly, or else damage may ensue.

Things You'll Need

  • Dial Indicator
  • Dial Indicator Measurement Fixture
  • Item to measure
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About the Author

James McIlhargey is currently attending the University of Texas as a doctoral candidate in physics. In addition to his studies, McIlhargey has quite a bit of experience in electronics, engineering and other science-related fields, which he uses to write online content for various websites.