Frank McLean's Digital Height Gage

By Paul Pierce


During 1992 my uncle, a tool maker, gave me several older copies (1978) of "Live Steam" magazine. Needless to say I promptly got ahold of Village Press and became a subscriber of LS, then on to HSM, PIM, and put the topping on the cake with several of the VP hardbound collections. (My whiskey, tobacco, and wild women money)

The article that probably interested me the most was one by the late Frank McLean on the construction of parts to convert a digital caliper into a height gage. This was reprinted later in the hardbound "The Shop Wisdom of Frank McLean".

The young guys in my shop class would sort of chuckle when I broke out a pocket magnifier to read a vernier gage. Now I need not. I had finished my shop project early and a very cooperative instructor allowed me to utilize the college's equipment and a couple of small scraps to go ahead and make the parts. The completed gage worked very well for me.

In a couple of minutes I can have the caliper back for hand use. The only modification to the caliper is to file a small flat on the top of the upper jaw where the setscrew (grubscrew) holds an arm on. Two setscrews hold the caliper in the base block. I made the slit in the base wide enough to take the lower jaw of the caliper plus some protective shim stock. Then I promptly tried it out without the shims and left two nice marks on the jaw to remind me that haste makes waste. Per the drawing I relieved the bottom of the base about 1/32" or so.

It is nice to be able to put the pointer on the base or anything else and zero it with the tap of a button. Then to go to whatever and determine the relative height in inches or millimeters. Accuracy of course is determined by the investment in the caliper. Mine is $60.


An Easy to Make Vernier Height Gauge

By Frank A. McLean
as published in Live Steam 11/78

Most home workshops have a 6" vernier caliper, but few have a vernier height gauge, largely because of the price of the latter. This lack can be solved easily. Two or three evenings spent making these attachments will convert your caliper into a height gauge when one is needed, without spoiling it for its original purpose.

When making the base the slot is most easily made with one of the screw-slotting cutters. These are available in a range of thicknesses from .020" up and are relatively inexpensive.. They are 2 3/4" diameter with a l" bore. For those without a milling machine make up a mandrel for the lathe and use the milling slide.

To sharpen the scriber after hardening and tempering assemble the height gauge and place it on the surface plate or drill press table. Place a piece of emery cloth flat on the surface plate in front of the height gauge. Slide the vernier elide down until the scriber touches the emery cloth, then elide the scriber back and forth until the scriber is sharp and the underside surface is dead parallel with the surface plate. Any time the scriber becomes dulled from use, it should be re-sharpened by this same method.

To set the scriber in position, adjust the vernier to read .100" and lock the elide. Loosen the scriber setscrew and bring the scriber down to touch the surface plate and re-tighten the setscrew.

Just remember that your base or zero reading is .100" instead of 0" and you will have a very simple and useful vernier height gauge while still retaining the usefulness of your vernier caliper.

See the finished product

The information furnished on the Digital Height Gauge was originally published in "Live Steam Magazine" November 1978 and is reproduced here with the permission of Village Press, Inc.


Submitted by: Paul E. Pierce - Subscriber 2900 Superstition Suite 124 Apache Junction, AZ 85220

For more information contact: Village Press, Inc. 2779 Aero Park Drive Traverce City MI 49686 Attention: Joe Rice, Editor

If you need more information: Email: ppierce@cyberhighway.net Paul Pierce


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Created: 05/26/97
Rev: 09/06/2001