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Super-Tune Your Tools with a Dial Indicator Helena MT

A dial indicator is nothing more than a spring-loaded rod, a needle and a dial. Move the rod up or down and the needle rotates around the dial's face. The dial tells you how many thousandths of an inch the rod has traveled. The one at right is measuring the thickness of a dollar bill at .003 in.

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Super-Tune Your Tools with a Dial Indicator

Super-Tune Your Tools with a Dial Indicator



Machinists use a simple measuring device called a dial indicator for setting up metalworking equipment. It works great in the woodshop, too, though for woodworking, you don't need a real fancy model. I found  a perfectly adequate dial indicator, complete with all the accessories, for only $18 (see below). The big advantage of using a dial indicator for setting up your machines is that you get instant, clear readings. The needle shows you exactly how far you've gone when you make a minute adjustment. Let's be honest, though. Fine-tuning a machine is fussy business. Even with a dial indicator, it takes some patience and finesse. Grab a comfortable stool, and let's begin with the tablesaw.



What is a Dial Indicator?
A dial indicator is nothing more than a spring-loaded rod, a needle and a dial. Move the rod up or down and the needle rotates around the dial's face. The dial tells you how many thousandths of an inch the rod has traveled. The one at right is measuring the thickness of a dollar bill at .003 in. A complete dial indicator kit also contains a magnetic base, a long articulating arm and a set of contact points. The heavy magnetic base holds the instrument absolutely rigid on any metal surface. It's not electronic (there's no cord to plug in); you flick a switch to raise or lower the magnet inside the base.
The articulating arm is used for holding the dial at a distance from the base. It's tricky to adjust, so we won't use it for these two jobs. Contact points screw onto the bottom of the measuring rod. Each one has a special shape for measuring different kinds of objects. We'll be using three contact points: a ball, a disc and a bent arm.

Zero the Dial
The first step in using a dial indicator is to turn the dial so the zero mark lines up with the needle. This way, you don't have to add or subtract any numbers to calculate how far the needle moves when measuring a distance. Let's practice on the top of the tablesaw. Install a disc contact point on the end of the rod and place the base on the saw. Turn on the magnet. Clamp the dial and rod so the contact point touches the table and slightly compresses the spring-loaded rod. Turn the dial to zero and you're ready to go.

Tablesaw Tune-Up
Here we're going to make sure the blade, fence and miter-gauge slot are absolutely parallel to each other. This reduces the chances of kickback, eliminates burning and produces the smoothest cut. Install the ball contact point on the measuring rod. If your miter gauge wiggles in the slot, you'll have to take out the play for an accurate reading with the dial indicator. Simply push the miter gauge and bar toward one side while you measure. Always push to the same side.

Align the Blade to the Miter-Gauge Slot

PHOTO 1:
Measure the front of the blade. Raise the blade as high as it will go. Turn off the magnet. Clamp the b...

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