If you have an old manual lathe, mill, or even a drill press, a digital readout (DRO) is a very handy tool to have. A DRO gives you a readout of how far you’ve cut, milled, or drilled into a piece of work without having to stoop to caveman levels and look down at a dial. Here’s a stupidly cheap DRO for all your machine tools. It should only cost five bucks or so, and if you need it, you already have the tools to manufacture it.
This build is inspired by an earlier build using the same single component – a digital tread depth gauge. This digital tread depth gauge is commonly found in countries that don’t use the US penny as currency to measure the depth of tread on a tire. The throw isn’t that large – only about 27mm – but with a few modifications it can fit on any machine tool.
The modifications include a small bit of metal glued to the back and four tiny neodymium magnets. For the ‘tool head’ of this DRO, only a tiny plastic collar and another deo magnet are needed.
This digital tire depth gauge looks like – and probably is – the same mechanism found in those super cheap calipers from the far east. In theory, it should be possible to extend this modification to those digital calipers, making for a simple DRO with a much larger throw.
Thanks [Ben] for sending this one in.
In general, machining metal on a lathe or mill takes skill and patience as the accuracy of the cuts are important. To make those accurate cuts, it is important to know where the tool is located and how far it moves. For manual machines, the most basic method of determining position is by using graduated dials mounted on the hand cranks. Although these graduated dials can certainly be accurate, they may be difficult to see and they also require the operator to do math in their head on the fly with every full revolution of the dial. Another option would be a digital read out (DRO) which has an encoder mounted to the moving axes of the machine. This setup displays the exact position of the tool on an easy to read numeric display.
Professional DRO kits for mills and lathes can cost between a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. [Robert] has a lathe, wanted a DRO but didn’t want to shell out serious cash to get it. He built his own for super cheap in an extremely resourceful way…. using a Harbor Freight Digital Caliper. A housing was first fabricated so that the added equipment would not hinder the axis travel of the lathe. The caliper was then cut to length, installed in the housing and the entire assembly was then mounted to the lathe.
It is totally reasonable to use the stock caliper display to read the positional information, however, even these cheap digital calipers have connections for the encoder output data, which can easily be read by a microcontroller. That means it is super simple to hook these low-cost digital calipers up to a display remotely located in a more convenient position.
This particular hack is actually used in a kit design, but it’s still pretty sweet. This is a digital read out unit that’s a kit sold by shumatech. I’ve even mentioned it in passing before. The design takes in the pulses from inexpensive chinese made digital scales/calipers, and allows one stop calibration and ouput of three axis’s of measurement. Using the interface and a usb enabled pic, and you could make your own usb digital calipers… (Hmm, I might have to make some.)