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Thread: Buying a Used Micrometer

  1. #1
    Boolit Master
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    Buying a Used Micrometer

    What are some things you would ask, if you were buying a used mike. I want to know if it was stored closed. I want to know if it has hardened faces. I want to know if it has any rust. Basically I want to know if it was properly maintained. I'd like to know if it had been dropped. Seriously though, what would you ask an online seller? I have bought one NOS govt surplus ST vernier mike. I've always been leery of buying used precision measuring tools. I just want to cover my butt when buying. Thanks.

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  2. #2
    Boolit Buddy hickstick_10's Avatar
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    They're honestly much tougher than you think. One of my first major tool investments was a 0-6 inch set of used Moore and Wright mics when I was starting my apprenticeship, best 300$ I ever spent. They lasted 10 years of constant use in various shops and always passed calibration, stored them forgotten for years and dug them out for a hitch as shop foreman and they were last calibrated in 2006 and still bang on, even when the shop mics were in a questionable state. They were probably 20 years old when I bought them.

    Most of the name brands are pretty bullet proof. Starrett, M&W, Lufkin, B&S, Mitutoyo. Once you feed yourself by your measurements, you start to remember the names that have never let you down. And when a customer phones and starts complaining that their inspector that they hired from a temp agency with a tackle box filled with harbor freight measuring gear, is claiming your 20" diameter hydraulic cylinder barrel was honed 0.0005 oversize, or the adapter on their Blow Out Preventers threads were measured 0.002 too big by their engineer and the mechanics cant get it back together..........you gotta have 100% faith in your stuff when you go visit them to do a double check.

    I've bought used inside and outside mics when they pop up used to outfit new hires and apprentices, never was an issue. Most are designed to be adjusted for wear (the exception is mitutoyos small rod inside mics, which use a thick grease to maintain thread tension). One of my neighbors had a little cottage industry repairing metrology tools and had him clean up an employees set of 1940s mics that were his granddads, still worked fine.

    What will screw up a mic is dirt, wearing out the pin wrench hole on the barrel and occasionally the ratchet thimble. Mics will accumulate dirt and grime in the nut and spindle threads especially when used in a grinding shop often stiffening up the thread. Dan my neighbor had a couple old mic spindles he ground a flat on to act as a tap to get this out. Occasionally if a mics REALLY worn out, the adjustment nut on the barrel will be tightened all the way down, thereby no longer allowing any further adjustment to tighten up the thread as it wears. I've personally never seen it, and Dans only seen it once on a set stored right in front of a cylindrical grinder for 3 decades. Theres a small hole on the barrel for adjusting the calibration using a pin wrench, sometimes this gets battered from guys loosing the wrench and using the wrong one and stripping it out. That I've seen a few times so keep an eye out.

    A dropped mic you will have no way to tell, as the seller can adjust the the barrel so it will still read perfect on the standard. I've seen a couple quarantined mics in the 18" and above size where this has occurred, but I doubt you'l be using those for reloading. The smaller ones are quite durable. The exception is the ratchet, sometimes they wear out and this will be obvious.

    Biggest cause for malfunctioning precision tools? And I learned this buying enough used measuring equipment to fill a large trash can, from completely busted dial indicators, dial calipers disassembled by curious kids and ancient micrometers .........is people taking them apart to investigate or attempting emergency repairs. Probably 70% of the "broken" brand name stuff I bought for pennies on the dollar were in that state because someone at some point decided to pry it apart improperly to clean or tinker. I never was able to stump Dan with something he couldn't fix, and employees would bring me squashed dial indicators, or calipers they took apart completely and couldn't get back together or stuff rescued from the scrap bin. But he always made a point to show me where someone had previously pried it apart and tried tinkering with it by the burred screw heads or parts put on backwards, miss that guy, one of the few times in my life I always got a service that was exponentially cheaper than I expected, and the results were 10 times better.

    The cheap, imported micrometer from the Far East has improved greatly since I started. They used to be horrible, heavy clunky things, now they work ok. But very often the edge of the anvils are misaligned enough to dig into the measuring surface. The frames on some arent properly stress relieved and will creep around therefore loosing calibration in time. I have also seen all manner of no name measuring gear wear out. They work for a few years in an industrial environment, but at 60$ an hour on a weekend shift doing an emergency repair.........lifes to short to fight your measuring tools shortcomings.

    Unless the anvil faces are rusted and pitted, or the threads are rusted, theres not much that wont clean up. Often the paint is worn completely off the frame and the micrometer is still perfectly fine, and still maintained calibration after a few of the guys had the frames powder coated so they'd look pretty. I dont think you'l find a micrometer made in the last 150 years that doesn't have hardened faces. Occasionally the carbide ones might have a chip on the edge, if its not to big, a quick stroke with a diamond hone to soften the corner so it wont dig in will suffice.

    My own measuring gear is a complete mishmash of different British, American, German, Czech and Japanese brands. Probably 85% of it was bought used, to buy it all new today would exceed the down payment on a house. I distinctly remember spending 900$ for a new set of 2"-32" Starrett inside mics 10 years ago, in total I doubt I invested more then 5K$ cash for my outfit to put into perspective the savings on used measuring gear. Just slowly accumulated by swapping, trading up, saving broken stuff or hopping on deals. All wrapped up and stored away in case I need them again. Sometimes I miss that life, but I don't miss the stress.

    Its a pretty safe gamble buying used mics, you take bigger risks getting in your car every day. Apologies for the long post, but I like this particular question and its been asked of me often enough I try to steer guys in the right direction and save them money in the end. It was always a big reward for me to set up a guy with good gear and see it show in his work, paycheck and never waste his money on junk again.
    Last edited by hickstick_10; 01-19-2020 at 05:51 AM.

  3. #3
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    hickstick 10 - Thank You, that was well written and informative.


    I'll add just a little to the above. There's always a risk / benefit equation when making any purchase. The risk is always present, even when purchasing new equipment but that risk is much lower when buying new gear. However, on the benefit side of that equation, you can get very good gear for far less money by buying used gear if you're willing to accept more risk. SO, determine how much risk you are willing to take (read that as how much money are you willing to lose) and make an informed risk/benefit decision.

    I'll toss out an example that applies to a gun and not a measuring instrument: A while back I found a S&W Model 10 for sale from a remote dealer. It was old (dash 5) but looked to be un-fired. I was willing to risk a certain amount of money and purchased the gun below the amount I was willing to lose. It arrived, was beautiful and was either unfired or fired very little. Then I found out why it was cheap - it had a barrel-cylinder gap that was huge. OK, I took a risk and that was the price I paid for buying a gun I couldn't examine in person. I had to spend money to correct that problem and adjust my budget. Oh well, I took the risk.

    If you are contemplating the purchase of precision used measuring tools, you need to make that personal risk/benefit analysis before you put your money down. How much risk are you willing to accept?
    I have purchased FAR more used: tools, guns, radios, vehicles, etc. than new examples of those same items. In the end - I think I've come out way ahead of the game.

  4. #4
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    jimkim, I have four or five micrometers, all, save one (a Proto set) of which I purchased quite used. My criteria, as told to me by an old, seasoned professional university machinist, was to have a U S one dollar bill in hand. Close the mic' to snugly close on the dollar bill, and pull it through. Repeat a couple of times. "Tim" claimed this to be the way he cleaned his. Then, without the bill, close it, and ascertain it reads zero; if your mic' if one with marks (ten-thousandths) on back, check that this is accord with zero, too). Then open the mic' to full range, ascertaining that there are no spots either easier or harder -- as Tim would say, "bumps on the road". Then, pull a hair from your head (or, perhaps the seller's if you're bald ?) and measure its thickness. Open mic' to full, and repeat. Follow this with something roughly 1/2 thickness of the mic's capacity. If all is OK -- then, the micrometer is OK. Tim's last advice it to look at who the manufacturer is. Tim rated his only choices as, in his order, Browne & Sharp; Starrett; and, Mitutoyo. I have mic's from the first two, and I -- my personal choice -- prefer the Starretts.
    Good luck! As a btw, IF you're contemplating purchase vis mail-order -- I would make sure both the seller has a huge, totally positive, feedback rating; and -- you may ask a "contact seller" question on, say, eBay -- that you have a check-out the mic' time period, and guaranteed money-back return if not satisified. Bion, one of my Starrett's came vis this route -- and it's the one I use most frequently.
    BEST!
    geo

  5. #5
    Boolit Master
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    A few years back I took a part time job working for a medium sized manufacturing company. I was their safety manager. I got bored and took over the job of gage calibration tech (they were sending them out and paying for each gage to be checked). This was a machining facility and they had hundreds of gages in the system. I worked in the auto industry as an engineer prior to retiring and this wasn't a very difficult job to do. My findings were that I never saw one set of mics that were off unless they'd gotten damaged. Normal wear was non-existent, even with the Chinese products. All the ones I checked with gage blocks were dead on accurate. Unless you have a set made in a blacksmith shop in some third world country, you're probably good to go with anything you can find. My only caveat here is that if the fourth decimal place is critical, buy a better set (it never is for reloading and/or bullet making). All gages should be able to be set to "zero" if they move off that point.

  6. #6
    Boolit Grand Master

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    I would want to ask in this order
    .001 or .0001 graduations if not stated in add
    hardened faces or carbide faces, carbide is harder and lasts much better. for reloading not as necessary.
    If used in industry the last time they were certified. In plants where this is done a small sticker with number is attached and indicates it passed on that date.
    Make and model. I have 0-6" Browne and Sharps Slant lines in my Gerstner. starret mitityo and lufkin also. I perfer the slant lines but the mititoyos are digital and the others are dads and grandpas.
    Finish chrome can e harder to read in bright lights, Satin chrome is good all around.
    How the inked in graduations are. As the black ink wears thin they become harder to read
    standard thimble friction thimble or ratchet

    Industrial used mikes can be a issue do to several reasons, 1) production use normally get used in a narrow range and wear is concentrated to that spot. 2) tool room mikes can show more even wear but hardened parts grinding / lapping/ honing operations have heavier wear. Some coolants can have an added affect but a good careful cleaning can restore here.

    Last on mikes over 1" does it have the setting standard And are the adjustment wrenches still with it.

    When ever a Mike is picked up to use faces should be cleaned and zero checked with the standard, or better pin gages or Jo blocks at the actual size to be measured

  7. #7
    Boolit Buddy
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    I am not a machinist, just a hobbyist.
    I use the cheap Chinese calipers, Harbor Freight, E bay etc.
    They have worked fine for everything I have needed them for.
    Now if I were a professional machinist and doing work as in the Aerospace industry I would insist on the high end name brand tools.
    For anything in the home shop I do the inexpensive units have worked just fine.
    I built a 50 BMG rifle using them and it seems to work ok.

  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    Hickstick, you have a lot of knowledge AND common sense, that was an interesting and informative post. Thank you.

    I'm a reloader and home machinist for fun - I enjoy both - and like to chase accuracy. I really like pro tools (and have a few) but my legitimate needs aren't nearly as demanding as yours. Top grade tools are alluring but quite costly so most of my measuring tools are Chinese. I have slowly - 25+ years - acquired three (HF) 6" dial calipers and two digitals; my lone .9" and .3" Jo blocks tell me they are, at worst, within .0005" at those two points. I've never felt I needed anything better for reloading. ???

    All that said, I'd like your thoughts on the rational cost vs. value and real benefit for reloader vs. machinist grade tools. I mean, do you think it makes economic sense for a common reloader to put the precisely accurate and highly durable tools on his loading bench that a working machinist obviously needs? (I could put 15-20 new Harbor Freight 6" calipers in my shop for the price of just one new Brown & Sharpe!)
    Last edited by 1hole; 01-19-2020 at 01:13 PM.

  9. #9
    Boolit Grand Master
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    I have a Harbor Freight dial caliper now with a broken glass and have been using it for close to 10 years. Every once in a while, I compare the settings to a couple of certified plug gages ... Dead On
    Regards
    John

  10. #10
    Boolit Master
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    I got the cheep harbor freight calipers and they work great for what I need. I got a top end brand caliper can’t Remember the name that wish I could have fixed. It got dropped way to many times and abused and rusted some. the cat dog or kids I think finished it off. For what I do the cheep ones work. I actually got a digital one that a few years ago I said I would never buy. It’s my most used one now. I can actually read it easier . The old dial ones are getting really hard to read for me

  11. #11
    Boolit Buddy hickstick_10's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 1hole View Post
    All that said, I'd like your thoughts on the rational cost vs. value and real benefit for reloader vs. machinist grade tools. I mean, do you think it makes economic sense for a common reloader to put the precisely accurate and highly durable tools on his loading bench that a working machinist obviously needs? (I could put 15-20 new Harbor Freight 6" calipers in my shop for the price of just one new Brown & Sharpe!)
    Good question, and it will come down to your own personal preferences.

    The battery life of cheap digital calipers is considerably shorter than the gold standard of calipers, the mitutoyo absolute digimatic. I trust 3 things in life: my mom, my banker and the mitutoyo 12" absolute digimatic. There's actually a youtube video which will explain it far better then I can, be aware he uses some blue language. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WvszAb0Y0Ec

    Some of the more exotic reloading tools can be completely replaced with a good quality magnetic base and dial indicator. Particularly those expensive micrometer adjustable die sets, a good noga magnetic base holding a Dial indicator contacting the top of the die and you'l have 0.001 resolution for adjusting every die you own. Cause length gauging can now be accomplished using the same base and dial set up but this time with the plunger above a flat surface and use this combo as a snap gauge to check your cases far faster then you would with a vernier caliper.

    I have a "cheap" 12" dial caliper made by Sowa, still use it for 0.010 tolerance measuring its basically my tape measure. There's so much slop in the gears that any malfunction has always been remedied by a spray of WD-40 and a blast from the air hose. That constant use has also wore the jaws to the point that considerable daylight will show up between the jaws when they're closed, things wear out. On cheaper calipers, the jaws aren't hard, and nibs bend easily which affect your measurement.

    You can find used measuring gear so cheap used, that it never made sense for me to buy new economy stuff. With the popularity of ISO certification in manufacturing now (which I often question), when a company liquidates its assets or looses trace-ability of some measuring equipment..........it doesn't exactly have a high market to other manufactures. Those guys want receipts to show purchasing and certificates to show the ISO inspector. So they end up back benched on a shelf.....or tossed in the garbage. Every single placed I worked at had that shelf of "no good" measuring tools, and eventually guys either steal them and off to the pawnshop they go, or they get tossed out because hundreds of dollars of manhours is spent maintaining paper work on them or chasing the missing certifications. I bet that's where most of the good stuff you see on Ebay comes from, they truly pay penny on the dollar for it, or sometimes its free. But they do some footwork to find it. Craigslist and Kijiji have been gold mines to me. Ebay.uk also has some very good stuff.

    Last thing I want you to consider, is where that new cheap stuff is made and what it represents. You obviously like shooting guns, bought with money you earned at a job with reasonable safety, in a home you own and conversing with others over the internet about how to shoot your gun better with no fear of censorship. The people who made that cheap measuring equipment, live in a country whose government most certainly does NOT like the idea of their citizens enjoying those same freedoms. And every dime you send to them, gives them a little more influence and power to push their agenda and way of life on us. When I see people complain about cost of houses rising due to foreign investment, I take a quick look at them and ask them where the tags on their cloths or gadgets say "Made in _________", then I remind them that they gave those people the money to compete with them.

    Same with cars, everyone says new domestic cars are to expensive and they finance a Hyundai or Kia instead of working a little harder or buying used, and the race to the bottom continues. My old Jeep TJ needed replacing after 15 years of never letting me down, and the new Jeep JK that replaced it was bought cash and every red cent of that money was earned using no Far Eastern measuring equipment.........although I admit the calculator in my toolbox probably is. Some people choose to finance their downward spiral, I choose to invest in my upward one.

    I've been ranting again, short answer is it will work fine. But you'l probably be replacing it a couple times to the point where buying a good used one will be cheaper in the long haul.

  12. #12
    Boolit Master gnostic's Avatar
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    I bought a cheap one inch micrometer off ebay about ten years ago. And based on reading a feeler gauge, still works flawlessly. Handloading isn't rocket science and most measurement that I take, could be carefully done with a dial calipers...

  13. #13
    Boolit Master
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    Thanks everyone. All I have left from my toolbox are a 1" ST mike and some 6" digital calipers. I am planning on getting some tools together, in case I get to borrow a mill or lathe.

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  14. #14
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    I worked as a machinist and then as an engineer in machining industries for 45 years.
    During that time I set up and supervised the calibration labs (in 2 companies) in addition to my regular engineering duties. I also collect micrometers so I have bought a lot of used mikes off of ebay.

    My best recommendation is buy based on features what you want plus the over all condition that you see in good photos. I buy mostly like new appearing mikes and that is what I have received most of the time.

    Mikes seem to be much more robust than what we give them credit for.
    Of the nearly 2 dozen mikes I have bought on ebay all were fully usable for machine shop and hobby use.

    I have bought badly corroded mikes in a purchase of multiple tools just to get another mike in the lot.
    Even so the corroded mike was cleaned up and calibrated. It looked terrible but measures and functions perfectly.

    I have also purchased mikes that looked perfect in every way but had been stored with the faces in contact resulting in brown staining. These mikes also calibrated and functioned normally.

    Getting back to what to look for.
    I have used all of my mikes in my hobby at home. Most of my mikes are better quality mikes bought used and they were in excellent or better condition. I do have a few cheaper but decent quality mikes that are 70 to 80 years old. The greatest variation in functionality have to do with ergonomics or human factors.

    1. For use in reloading any material used for the mike faces is satisfactory. I prefer carbide for extreme precision work but that is not an issue with reloading or gunsmithing. Carbide is prone to chipping and a newbie could easily chip a mike if he is not careful.

    2. The worst offender in micrometers are those that are difficult to read quickly and easily.
    I have Swiss, German, American, Japanese, Polish and Chinese mikes.
    They are made in bright steel, dull steel, bright stainless steel, satin stainless steel and satin chrome.

    Some have deeply engraved lines and numbers, shallow lines and numbers and ink filled lines and numbers.

    The bright finished steel and bright stainless steel mikes are terrible to use.
    Some mikes have very fine lines that are difficult to see for older guys. Beware of those. You may see them well today but 10 years from now you may need a magnifying glass to read your mike.
    The mike that I have used the most was probably 25 to 30 years old when I got it 50 years ago. It is a Brown and Sharpe 8S made of stainless steel and it is satin finished with deep markings on the barrel and thimble.

    There are Swiss made mikes that have lines on the thimble every .0005 (half thousandth). These mikes have a O to 5 vernier that works with .0005 lines. These thimbles and barrels are usually a little fatter than American mikes to space the lines farther apart.

    Some of the top mikes have poor laser marked barrels and thimbles. The laser marking is not very dark so it does not contrast with the surrounding material making those mikes difficult to read in less than perfect lighting.

    I can recommend specific mikes but you should judge each mike as an individual since some brands have varied a lot over the years. Some mike designs seem to never change but the finish and contrast of the markings may have changed a lot.


    My choices for easy use with acceptable quality in easy reading order on down

    1. Brown and Sharpe Slantline from the 1960s to about the 1980s. These are satin chrome.
    2. Mitutoyo (Japan)
    3. Tesa (Swiss made) .0005 markings
    4. Etalon (Swiss made) Looks like it comes from the same company as Tesa with a different shaped frame. .0005 markings.
    5. Some Helios (German made)
    6. Scherr, Scherr- Tumico and Tubular Micrometer Company. (mostly the same designs from the last 70 years)

    There are other very usable mikes but you need to judge the material and finish for yourself to insure they will be easy to read.

    I cannot recommend some of the cheap house brand mikes sold mainly for automotive use. You pay just as much for them as first quality mikes but you get lesser quality mikes.
    EDG

  15. #15
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    I don't really like getting them online. I would rather get them from a pawn shop.

    Tim
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  16. #16
    Boolit Grand Master
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    Quote Originally Posted by dtknowles View Post
    I don't really like getting them online. I would rather get them from a pawn shop.

    Tim
    At least then you can hold it in your hand and inspect it.

    A lot of the prior posts point to what to look for when buying a micrometer, which is useful information when you have the device in your hand but of little or no value when buying on-line.

    In both situations, buying in person and buying on-line; It still comes down to: "How much risk are you willing to take".

    I would probably be willing to risk $75 on a used 1" Mitutoyo in my hands but I may not be willing to take the same risk on a similar one on-line that I cannot examine. In both situations I am risking $75.

    Whatever the amount is, are you willing to lose that amount of money?

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    Back about 10-15 years ago I was able to audit some machine shop courses at the local Community College where I adjunct during my retirement. I started assembling a nice set of Starrett mics based on a single 1-2” unit my father found in a desk at work... it was ANIB, so I figured that was a good place to start.

    I admit I got carried away and hit e-Bay for 1” and 3-5” examples fully as nice, as well as 1-6” examples in lesser condition to schlep back and forth to school and keep in my locker. Everything I bought was well within range to use for my class as the measurements on the pieces I made were a match with what the instructors got with their equipment, so I guess even the “lesser” stuff was good enough for anything I’m likely to do. The “good stuff” lives the good life in my oak Gerstner tool chest.

    BTW, the more unusual the tool, the more attractive the price was back then... tubing and thread micrometers were sometimes cheaper than standard 1 & 2” micrometers. Go figure.

    Froggie

    PS for general reloading use, don’t overlook the (stainless) 1” mic and 6” dial calipers from Lyman (made in China.) For most of what we do they work fine and I got mine so cheaply I can consider them almost as consumables.
    "It aint easy being green!"

  18. #18
    Boolit Master
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    Current Ebay practice removes most risk from a transaction.
    You can easily return a micrometer even when the ebay auction add says no returns.
    Most of the time the cost of the return postage is borne by the seller so the only risk is a little hassle and time wasted. The seller also gets a black eye.

    The advantage of buying on line is you can look at more mikes in 2 or 3 hours on line than you can look at in a life time of trolling pawn shops. Given that most buyers don't really know what to look for or exactly what to expect they are just about as well off looking at photos and picking out the best condition mike they can find consistent with a decent price. Given the large number of auctions on line you are likely to spend less even with shipping if you know what a good deal is and what to look for.

    I have a collection of high end mikes that I could never acquire through local pawn shops. All these high end mikes came at decent prices on ebay.
    They are Mahr, Etalon, Tesa and a few others.
    Local machine shops typically use only 2 brands - Starrett and Mitutoyo.
    Local pawn shops only have 3 brands - Starrett, Mitutoyo and a variety of junk mikes. The junk mikes are usually wanna be brands sold for or by automotive related parts companies and are not fit for long use in industry.
    Price pressure on used Starretts is always high in pawn shops and on line. Careful shopping allows you to buy better mikes for less money.


    Quote Originally Posted by Petrol & Powder View Post
    At least then you can hold it in your hand and inspect it.

    A lot of the prior posts point to what to look for when buying a micrometer, which is useful information when you have the device in your hand but of little or no value when buying on-line.

    In both situations, buying in person and buying on-line; It still comes down to: "How much risk are you willing to take".

    I would probably be willing to risk $75 on a used 1" Mitutoyo in my hands but I may not be willing to take the same risk on a similar one on-line that I cannot examine. In both situations I am risking $75.

    Whatever the amount is, are you willing to lose that amount of money?
    Last edited by EDG; 01-20-2020 at 01:33 PM.
    EDG

  19. #19
    Boolit Grand Master Texas by God's Avatar
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    Is Supreme from Cranston, Rhode Island a quality tool?

  20. #20
    Boolit Master uscra112's Avatar
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    Don't overlook older Fowler branded mikes. They were Swiss made.
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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check