Making A Custom Caliper Case For Pros

Every professional has a tool set that they would never part with. Likewise, for experimental physicists, mechanical engineers, and tinkerers, a caliper set can be unspeakably crucial to their work. That’s why [Andrew Birkel] designed his own personal caliper set to fit just the right proportions for his tools while adding a bit of personal flair.

The project uses CNC routing, Solidworks for CAD, laser engraving, and woodworking to design the custom case for a set of calipers, metric and English screw pitch gauges, fillet gauges, and radius gauges. It’s a practical build for a custom tool set that doesn’t already come with a case of its own. The particular tools were chosen for their use in particle physics experiments: for determining threads, inside and outside curvatures, and measuring length, depth, and width.

The box was made from an oversized piece of wood with holes drilled into the sides. After compiling the G-code program for the build, the two halves of the box was was milled from the wood. The first run on the CNC mill with aluminum managed to cause the grain to split, so [Birkel] went with a CNC router instead. Once the piece was sanded, hidden barrel hinges were added. The finished box was wiped down with mineral oil and teak oil to bring out the natural coloration of the wood as well as to add protection (lacquer mixed into the oil). To finish it off, the case was customized with a laser engraved name and email for identification.

It’s a pretty slick build to say the least, and certainly one that can be customized to the dimensions of whatever tools your personal caliper set happens to have.

19 thoughts on “Making A Custom Caliper Case For Pros

  1. That’s beautiful and I would pay to have custom cases like that made for things like my calipers, sliding squares, chisels, etc. Especially if they all had the same outer dimensions so the could fit nice and neat on a shelf.

    1. You say you have chisels. That’s already 80% of the tools you need to make such a box. No need for CNC.

      I made a similar box from plywood when I was young and had to haul my caliper and other tools to school 3 day’s a week. Plywood has a big advantage that you can split it at the layers, which makes it vey easy to keep a consistent depth.

  2. Lest people think they can’t plant a rose bush unless they own a backhoe/JCB…

    The basic process if you have only grampaw’s workshop… draw around all the tools you want to house on paper, cut out those templates. shuffle them around on a piece of card until you have a nice arrangement, hold them securely in place and mark around them, or paste them if you like, trace pattern to assist in making lid pattern, paste/mark that. Mark out the outside of the box around them. Now, two ways to go, handheld router, or fret saw or scroll saw. With router you select your 2 bits of wood, (Make sure your depths are right for size of tools you’re housing), insert bit, set your depth, secure work, rout it out… if you have a suitable bit with a bearing on for edge following, you might have wanted to use thick card for your template, cut that out with Xacto then gone around inside that, but eyeball line following works. If you need to use a fret saw or scroll saw, then you’re making a sandwich, 4 bits of wood that match, the middle ones with the templates on, drill through, insert saw, follow lines, glue up, clamp together… then either way sand and finish to your taste. This is really just an overview of generic older school shop workflow, research router or fret saw use if you’ve never used one.

    There’s value in doing stuff like this the technological way if it’s a good “hello world” to help you learn those machines and processes, but I get sad when younger folks say “I love this but can’t do it because I haven’t got CNC/3Dprinter/laser cutter, etc etc”. It’s my bet that maybe only 5% of the amateur projects done with CAD/M actually really need it and leverage the technology, the rest you can be half way done with conventional tools before the other guy has finished with the CAD model. So bear in mind, a lot of CNC, 3D printed stuff is done in hobby circles “just because they can” (do it on the fancy machines) not because it shows off the ultimate and exclusive capabilities of the machine.

    1. I don’t have a workshop or anything that I can even call that – however I do random DIY at home, and I have picked up so much from youtubers who do things ‘the old ways’ – This old tony, blackbeard restorations, Uri Tuchman and so many others – plenty of channels I watch just ‘fire up the cnc and away we go’ and I’m like yup, i’m completely unable to even touch this, but it’s great when there’s things I feel like I can pick up and do, even when I don’t actually have the full workspace, tools, etc.

  3. It is a very nice, heartwarming piece of work. Congratulation. I gave a caliper for my son on the 11th birthday, with some engraved wishes on the backside. He has now become a graduated mechanical engineer. The caliper is still in use but is a valued relic at the same time. I had a similar plan, to make some nince case for this cherised tool. My original intention was to saw a leather case with some archaic ornament. This nice wood case made me to rethink about the other possible ways of handcraft.

  4. I use those exact calipers at work, and the case they come in long since snapped the lid from the base.

    Blow molded plastic cases for fine tools infuriate me. They always, always have blow molded hinges that snap. I don’t understand why it is considered acceptable for two companies like Mitutoyo, Starret, Tesa, all of them- to encase tools that are sometimes over $1,000 in plastic cases with hinges that are just long-lived sprues to injection molds.

    It’s like no engineer it designs these has ever heard of fatigue failure, which is exactly how these things fail. They could at least make a captive Barrel hinge but they never do that.

    I have thought of doing this for a long time with my own tools and this is actually a project I had planned my own.

    Companies like Starrett used to offer wooden boxes as an extra charge and still do on only a couple of their tools.

    I wonder how legal it would be to start a side business making wooden cases for fine common tools? I have a CNC..

    1. Just consider the blow moulded box as a means to safely transport the instrument from the factory to your workshop. Even the hinges are an extra just to give the box a year or so of extra life beyond the first purchase.

      With me it’s often the other way around. If you buy realatively cheap Chinese stuf such as precision vices or sets of mills they quite often come in quite nice looking boxes (varnished wood with dove-tailed corners and plywood top and bottom). Once you have a drawer with 20 of those boxes and have to open all of them just to get a single mill or instument (it’s always in the last box you open), then you get to a point that your’re fed up with it and throw all the boxes away, or at least rip off all the lids so you can see what’s in them at a glance.

      I’d rather make my own storage system than pay for those wooden boxes.

      On a sidenote:
      I do have a digital Mitutoyou caliper, which I use in a different location than most of the rest of my tools, and therefore is still in it’s original box. I did heat the blow moulded plastic to deform it to make more room for my fingers to easily take it out of the box, and once the hinges break, I may or may not screw some small brass hinges to the box. That’s just an easy & quick modification.

      That Starret (not very abundant in Europe) has better boxes as an option for only a few of their instruments probably says enough. Apparently not many people are interested enough in them to spend the extra dough.
      Factory boxes are just hard to fit into custom storage solutions. (And once you have many tools, a custom storage solutioon is pretty much the only option).

      1. I like how Teng deal with their blow-moulded boxes: the lids are dovetailed and removable. Take off the lids and the cases dovetail into each other to form a tray you can build to size/configuration for a rollcase drawer. Need just one box? Dovetail the lid back on and stick it in a bag. Lid hinge broke? Replace just the lid.

    1. Dry wood is not gonna be a problem, wood that’s actively composting on top of your tools might be.

      Cleans with citric acid (What else is a citrus based cleaner?) no mention of rinse or neutralisation, daubs with a concoction made with vinegar, then worries about the wood being acidic *sigh*

    2. Actually I have been told by old Machinists that wooden boxes are superior because they do not sweat like modern metal tool boxes.

      When I asked what they meant they said moisture condenses on the metal and contributes to rusting in non temperature controlled places.

      From what I have seen of quality wooden tool boxes they are usually felted in the bottom so that your tools do not directly rest on wood, and it looks like they could be sealed with beeswax melted into the wood so there is no moisture absorption.

      Unless your toolbox no matter what it’s made out of seals airtight like a Pelican case I would say atmospheric humidity would affect your tools the same either way and I would say anything works fine as long as you keep your tools oiled with WD-40 likely maybe once a year.

      In such case I see no real need to worry either way. I see more rust from handling eventually like after years then I do from any atmospheric reasons.

      Fun fact I learned when I was in watchmaking school- the myth that some people just rust steel quicker than other people on touching is actually not a myth and is absolutely true. Some people have for reasons of diet or natural body chemistry more acidic natural body oil and sweat then other people and they do actually rust stuff quickly. It’s not common but it’s not uncommon either. When working for years in a laboratory with Precision ground steel instruments everywhere they discovered this to be true.

      Basically just lightly oil anything you consider important with WD-40 and wipe it off. It won’t congeal like CRS and other anti-rust sprays, and a very fine layer will be left even if you wipe it off with a paper towel. That will keep it from rusting for a while depending on the environment you work in. Maybe twice a year if you live in a place like Florida should be enough or once a year for anywhere else with low humidity.

      Hope this helps someone.

      BTW, until this article I had never seen hidden barrel hinges and I think these are awesome now and I want to use them in everything

      1. IMO, wood is mostly a humidity regulator, slowly adjusting to prevailing humidity whether it starts wetter or drier, but it ain’t gonna save you if you store tools in a very humid environment. A constantly damp mildewy basement, even a cedar box is eventually gonna succumb and go mildewy and rust everything in it. Would have happened sooner with anything else but a completely sealed case stuffed with silica gel. Sawdust in an outdoor, not continually heated shop probably gets the rep of attracting moisture because it soaks up the actual condensation off concrete floors and off metal tools.. they’d have stayed wetter if it didn’t. I believe if you’ve got average humidity storage say 40%, steady temperature, a wood box would let wet tools dry out, by sucking up the humidity and breathing it out (Unless you coat it in epoxy or something dumb) obviously you don’t wanna put in stuff wet enough to end up with puddles in there.

        But agreed, WD-40 is good for rust prevention.

    1. I have bought brand new $400 mitutoyo calipers and they still come in a crappy pathetic blow molded case. I have bought enough of stuff like this over the last 10 years to know the general lifespan of all of these cases before the hinges break is around 1 year of daily use on the job.

      It really angers me because then I permanently have a case in two pieces that I can’t even snap together properly and this is for a tool costing hundreds of dollars. 4 less than a dollar or so of plastic they could change their molds to make the hinges two-part pin hinges blow molded even with a plastic pin, and they don’t do it.

      My shop just bought a $600 long tip custom interapid dial test indicator and it comes in the same crappy blow molded hinge case as anything else.

      Even tools from Switzerland come in the same design cases.

      This stuff 30 years ago all came in wooden boxes of a simple make with metal hinge.

      I think it says a lot about the world of tools now that even very expensive new tools just get thrown in junk cases. Coming with a case at all should not be an afterthought when you are paying this kind of money for something.

      Mitutoyo, Starrett, Brown & Sharpe, Tesa, Compac, Interapid- I’m calling all of you idiots out on this if you are reading this!

    2. I cant speak for the higher end tools never having owned one, but I have a set of Pittsburgh Tools (Harbor Freight) calipers that come in a halfway decent two part injection molded case with a real barrel hinge holding the two halves together. If Mitutoyo, and Starret are using blow molded cases with living hinges then they deserve the scorn that that they are getting. A high end tool should have a case designed to protect it when not in use and as such designed to last the life of the tool.

      1. Im from Pittsburgh- and it pisses me off that they put my city’s name on their poor quality tools.

        That said, yes- I own some stuff from Harbor Freight too. My toolchests are from them- but they are actually decently made for the price.

        Yes, every high end tool company uses the same style of just a flap of plastic hinge, and its all junk. The Harbor Freight case hinges might indeed be better quality, which I find hilarious

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