Depth Measurement

Using calipers, depth gages and depth micrometers for depth measurement


As always, the equipment used depends on the application. The simplest depth gage is one you probably already have in your possession: the dial caliper. The depth rod which protrudes from the end of the calipers, as you open them up, is used to measure depths with a resolution of .001" and an accuracy of .001", at least for the first 4 inches of travel. Expect an accuracy of .0015" from 4 to 6 inches. Obviously you can measure depths equal to the extended length of your calipers.

The maximum width of the depth rod is .145" on Brown & Sharpe, Tesa and Etalon 6" calipers. This dimension may limit its use, but the rod could be filed or ground to a specific profile, as long as it does not affect the length of the rod.

If you need to measure the depth of small holes you may be interested in the Shop-Cal which has a thin cylindrical rod of .060" diameter for measuring depth.

For best stability when measuring, attach a depth base to the end of the calipers. These simply slide on and are clamped in place with a screw. Before tightening the screw, place the caliper on a flat surface to make sure the depth base is flush with the end of the caliper. Some calipers come with the depth base. In other cases you may need to buy it separately.

The base allows you to firmly position your calipers over the opening in order to get a perpendicular entry into the hole. This is absolutely necessary for an accurate reading.

Because the thickness of the caliper beam varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, depth bases may not always be interchangeable between makes. Depth bases designed for use with calipers are shown on page 173.


Advantages of using the dial caliper for depth measurement:

  • you probably already own one
  • long range up to 6 inches without having to change or install extensions.


  • low resolution of .001"
  • positioning can be unsteady without the added depth base
  • can be awkward to use

All calipers, including this Starrett 6" vernier caliper, have the ability to measure depth by the sliding rod that protrudes from the end of the beam.

Dial Depth Gage

This is, in effect, a dial indicator with a depth base attached. The depth base spans the opening, keeping the indicator steady and giving you perpendicular entry into the hole, slot or groove.

A lifting lever at the top of the indicator allows you to easily lift and release the gaging plunger (the indicator spindle). Since the spindle pressure is constant and slight, the readings are not likely to be distorted because of over-tightening in the case of micrometers, or unconscious fudging in the case of calipers. The use of dial indicators allows you to choose from a variety of resolutions and accuracies up to .0001"

It is possible to buy depth bases with 2-1/2" or 4" spanning widths and attach these to any dial indicator you already own. Check to make sure they'll fit your indicator's stem diameter (.375" or 8 mm). You will have to lift the indicator spindle on your own, since the lifting mechanism is probably not present. Lifting mechanisms can also be bought separately for many Mitutoyo models.

Each dial indicator probably has a spindle range of one inch. You can reach into deeper holes by attaching extensions, usually up to 8 inches. All extensions are included with your dial depth gage, but these can also be bought separately. They are used for the same purpose with any dial indicator. Be sure the thread sizes match, either 4-48 or M2.5

Before use, calibrate the gage by placing it on a flat (granite) surface and adjusting the position of the depth base so that the indicator reads zero.

Advantages of using the dial depth gage:

  • high resolution up to .0001"
  • little chance of distorted readings
  • the dial indicator can be removed from the base and used for other purposes
  • interchangeable contact points suited to the application
  • can be used for direct readings or as a quick reading comparator
  • easily repaired see repair service


  • needs to be carefully adjusted before use (if that's a disadvantage)
  • minimum hole or groove diameter (.375" or 8 mm)

Mitutoyo model 7218S (shown above) .001"/0-8" with 4" base

Digital Depth Gage

The same features as the dial depth gage (above) with the added bonus of quick and accurate interpretation of the read-out. No skill is needed in interpreting dial hands.

Additionally, you can switch between inch and metric systems at the touch of a button. Gages with SPC output can be used where large quantities of measurements are involved and statistical analysis is required.

Additional advantages of using the digital depth gage:

  • easy to read for unskilled users
  • inch / metric conversion
  • faster for large quantities


  • digital display often gives false impression of higher accuracy
  • repairs are probably uneconomical or impossible on older models
  • batteries needed

Mitutoyo 547-218S, IDC Digimatic Depth Gage with 8" measuring range

Depth micrometer

This is a micrometer head outfitted with a depth base. Take direct readings on the micrometer spindle with the highest degree of accuracy. The depth base, in common with all these depth measurement devices, allows for level placement over the hole or slot. As you can imagine, it is possible to over-tighten the micrometer spindle and get wrong readings. Use the micrometer's ratchet or friction feature to find the low spot in the depth measurement. An assortment of different length rods are attached to the micrometer for readings beyond the one inch range of the spindle.

The length of each rod is critical to accurate measurement. When the micrometer is calibrated, it will be necessary to calibrate it with each of the rods. (See calibration instructions.)

Advantages of using the depth micrometer:

  • highest accuracy


  • requires skill in handling and in reading the results
  • dedicated gage can not be used for other purposes

See page 130 for a listing of available Mitutoyo depth micrometers.

There is no question that Amazon can offer you the best prices on almost every kind of precision measuring tool. They also offer easy no-questions-asked returns and often free shipping. The small distributor simply cannot compete. That's why we include this link so you can go directly to Amazon and see what they're offering.

Two things to consider:

  • Amazon product photos sometimes don't match the product description. It's the description that you want to pay attention to.
  • There are imitation gages on the market (specifically Mitutoyo) and you can make sure you are getting the real item by looking for the words "sold by Amazon". If it is sold by a third party, you might want to call Mitutoyo to find out if they are legitimate distributors.

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