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i work with a guy thats been setting up ring and pinions for over 20 years and he uses a dial indicator everytime (he can guess pretty close but pretty close is not good enough if you want your gears to last)
the pinion depth is measures from the center line of the the diff. housing, then depending on how your set of gears are machined is if you will need to set the depth in/out acouple thousands, (Dana gears alway have this etched on the pinion itself)

checking backlash: the amout of slop (freeplay) between the teeth on the pinion and the ring gear, it checked with the pinion properly set and held still (not rotating) then you turn the ring gear back and forth measure the rotation on the tip of the teeth at a 90 degree angle, different axles have a different limits usually something like .010 to .016 thousands.

of course this just get you close, then you need some gear marking compound to see how the pattern on both sides of the gear are.
good luck

3/4tonYJ
My Jeep Page
 
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