Cruiser Tested: Snap-on CAL6E Electronic Digital Caliper

As you would likely expect from anything in the Snap-on catalog, its new CAL6E Electronic Digital Caliper is a first-rate tool, accurate, easy as π to use—that's a measurement joke, son—and built with precision. The caliper's body and slide are constructed of stainless steel with a beryllium copper insert or "gib" between them to ensure smooth movement. The easy-to-read display screen is housed in a hard-shell composite case that incorporates the caliper's battery, on/off switch (the caliper will also turn on if the slide is moved), return to zero button, and the millimeter-to-inch toggle.

The CAL6E has a working range of 150mm or 6 inches, hence the “6” designation, which is certainly large enough to accommodate most of the things you’ll need to measure on a motorcycle with a resolution—resolution being the smallest difference of indicators the instrument can distinguish, of 0.01mm or 0.0005 of an inch. The accuracy, the difference between what the instrument measures and the measured object’s true dimension, is plus or minus 0.02mm (0.001 inch) up to 100mm or 4 inches and within 0.03mm or 0.001 inch between 4 and 6 inches or 100 to 150mm. So while I wouldn’t recommend using the CAL6E to measure something like a crankpin journal or piston skirt, it’s perfectly fine for determining things like bearing seat depths, diameters and dimensions, or the center-to-center distance of holes and pins.

Being electronic, the CAL6E has a number of handy features that eliminate the mental calisthenics often required when using a vernier or dial caliper. For example, you can convert from metric to fractional measurements simply by toggling the millimeter/inch button, making things a lot easier when the shop manual gives you a spec in millimeter and the machine shop wants it in thousandths of an inch. There’s also a slick comparative setting that allows you to measure a dimension, zero the scale, and then take your next measurement. The readout is displayed as the difference between the two dimensions; if it’s smaller, a negative sign is also displayed. This makes it easy to determine if a shaft has a slight taper to it or if those two bushings really are the same diameter. The same feature can also be used to determine the wall thickness of a piece, which is especially useful when you need to drill a blind hole.

Another feature I particularly like is the caliper’s ability to determine center-to-center distances of holes and pins and automatically provide the exact center point dimension without any calculating. It’s a nice feature that ensures the holes you drilled in that new fender really will match up with the mounting lugs on the fork, without using a die grinder.

Finally, there’s a battery-conserving automatic shutoff that powers down the caliper after seven minutes of inactivity—actually, by my watch, it took just six minutes, which is even better. The caliper also retains the last measurement in its memory, so when you set the thing down to answer a phone call, you won’t lose your work.

The best feature of all, however, is that a complete novice, even that guy who uses a wooden elementary-school ruler to measure things (are there still such things?), you know, the guy who tells you something is “2 inches and four little lines long,” can use the CAL6E to accurately measure something down to the nearest thousandth the very first time he uses it.

On the downside the CAL6E is a bit pricey, at $182.95. Its cost is just about double that of a high-quality vernier caliper, but its speed and accuracy are superior, and like any Snap-on tool you get what you pay for. It also comes in a nifty foam-lined plastic case with the Snap-on logo, of course, which looks bitchin’ in your toolbox. Although I was tempted to knock a fourth of a star off for the high price, the overall quality, accuracy, and ease of use won me over, so it’s five stars for the Snap-on CAL6E.

—Mark Zimmerman

Snap-on CAL6E Electronic Digital Caliper Rating: 5 stars $182.95 ($173.65 online) 12-month warranty