Garage Tools: Micrometers, Vernier Calipers, and Dial Indicators

My dad was a career mechanic-machinist, spending most of his working life first in the garment district in Manhattan, repairing sewing machines, then with Proctor & Gamble at their Port Ivory (Staten Island) manufacturing plant, maintaining the production lines. Much of the love and respect I have today for tools of all kinds came from hanging around my father in his workshop. It is also my privilege to have inherited many of his tools, which now reside in my garage. Recently, when straightening out one of my tool drawers, I thought that featuring some of my dad’s old tools would be an enjoyable topic for a blog entry.

While it’s a cliche to say “they don’t make ‘em like they used to”, in many cases they don’t (but in some cases they still do!). To the point: these measuring tools, each about 60-70 years old in my estimation. Their metal composition gives them heft in the hand, yet operating their slides and dials is to exercise their silky smoothness. Their markings are for the most part stamped into their faces; no printing or transferring to wear away. They feel like they will last another 75 years. They may see infrequent use; but there is no doubt that they have maintained their measuring accuracy.

Starrett micrometer #216
Starrett micrometer #216

This first tool is a micrometer, with two features that I especially enjoy: it’s metric, and it’s digital. Reading a micrometer in the conventional way is something I can do, but I’d rather look at the digital readout! This one is marked “Starrett No. 216”, and to my surprise, it’s available today from Starrett:


Starrett micrometer #230
Starrett micrometer #230

Another Starrett micrometer in my collection looks a little worse for wear, but still functions fine. This one, model #230, has its fractional readings converted out to 4 decimal places in both 16ths and 32nds. I love the way those numbers are sturdily stamped directly into the frame of the tool.

This too can be bought new from the Starrett Company:


MZB vernier calilper
MZB vernier caliper

The kind of automotive work I’ve done has called for use of Vernier calipers more often than a micrometer. This Vernier caliper was made by a company called “MZB”. A Google search coughed up this ad from the May 1951 issue of Popular Mechanics. It would not surprise me if my dad bought this via this advertisement. (What, they don’t take Pay Pal?)


MZB caliper ad, May 1951 Popular Mechanics
MZB caliper ad, May 1951 Popular Mechanics


On my calipers, of special note is the reverse stamp: “Made in Germany Western Zone”. That must date its production to the time immediately after the end of World War II. (Also note my father’s name engraved into the tool, as he did with almost everything he owned.)

MZB caliper: Made in Germany Western Zone
MZB caliper: Made in Germany Western Zone

Spot-On Engineering Products of London England produced this lovely dial indicator, in its own protective hard-shell case. Little else is known about Spot-On, at least based on futile Google searches. However, the tool lives on in my garage, seeing occasional use for run-out measurements. It’s delightful to operate, and I especially enjoy watching the dial move around the face of the gauge.

What is it about tools that appeals to us car guys? Whether we fix our own vehicles or not, I think we share an admiration for the fine workmanship and usefulness that goes into a long-lasting quality tool, much like we feel about our classic rides.


All photographs copyright © 2015 Richard A. Reina. Photos may not be copied or reproduced without express written permission.


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