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Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

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Unread 04-07-2009, 02:14 PM
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Location: Northamptonshire, UK
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Re: Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

Originally Posted by B23 View Post
Not that it matters a great deal but I am curious. For those of you that DON'T like digital scales, why don't you like them?

I understand personal preference and all that but obviously it's more than that and by knowing why you don't like them I just may learn something new which for me is always a good thing.
+1 - am also curious....
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Unread 04-07-2009, 03:35 PM
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Join Date: Apr 2009
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Re: Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

My first post, and I'm not expert. But, since you asked about opinions - then I'm fully qualified ;-)

I prefer the beam scale over digital for charge weighing due to some bad experiences with the 1500 drifting from zero by nearly half a grain. Had to rezero it often and wouldn't trust the near max loads done with it. Warm up times didn't change the drift issues. Too frustrating dumping measured loads I didn't trust.

I owned the whole chargemaster combo at one time. I eventually found that with a mechanical RCBS thrower and my pacific beam scale I could easily outpace the chargemaster. Not that the chargemaster didn't work, just that as I used it more and more, I found reasons to trust it less and less.

On the whole, the beam process is more involved from a concentration perspective (maybe a good thing). I still use the digital for sorting bullets and cases by weight as I'd need saintly patience to do that with a beam scale. For me, the beam scale produces more "trustworthy" ammo charges.
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Unread 04-07-2009, 05:35 PM
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Re: Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

"For those of you that DON'T like digital scales, why don't you like them? '

Okay, once more around the ring. Listen this time! ;)

Pete covers quite a bit of it. Let me add;

1. Digitals drift a lot while warming, and sometimes after, so the user had better keep track of zero and calibration. No beam does that. I don't care how cold it is in my loading room, I can put a weight on it and it reads right, right now.

2. Costs too much for a "good" one. I don't mind paying more IF it's getting me something tangable but, at best, the digital is equal in accuracy to a beam, no better, so what's that extra money supposed to be giving me?

3. Speed advantage? My beam settles in a couple of swings, maybe two seconds. If the digitals were instantaneous, which they aren't, how much 'faster" would that be in a loading session?

4. Easy to read? Sure a digital has a big ol' read-out but it only matters if the beam user puts his scale flat on the bench top instead of on a shelf at about nose/eye level as it should be.

5. Don't like to fiddle with a beam's poise weights? Come on guys, how hard is it to set a couple of little sliding weights where we need them to be? Surely it's no more complicated than setting bullet seating depth or crimping in a cannalure.

6. Reloading type digital scales are cheap machines, no matter the price. Professonal scales are quite good and accurate too but they cost several hundreds of dollars and they DO get professionally calibrated two or three times a year by technicians with the proper tools and knowledge to keep them reading correctly. Reloading scales NEVER get professionally calibrated but with beam scales they really don't need it. Digital scales sure do, IMHO, just ask anyone in the business of keeping the good ones running!

7. Cheap pressure sensing mechanisms aren't rugged at all and the more sensitive they are the more fragile they are. You rarely know if/when one has gone bad. Drop the scale, or drop a load on the pan suddenly, and BANG, the sensing cell may be damaged if not destroyed. We can damage beam scales too but we can clearly see it so there's no ambiguity.

8. Digitals are too insensitive and slow to respond to small changes. We can trickle powder charges up to weight easily while watching the beam. That's rarely true with a digital. Many have a quirky time lag that makes trickling a chore, at best. The read-outs tend to move in little jumps that may totally destroy the accuracy you think you are working towards.

9. The life span of electronics is not good. My Lyman (Ohaus) M-5 beam scale (fore runner of the current RCBS 1010) was new in 1965, it was dead on accurate then. I can go out to my cold shop now, set the poises at 260.9 gr. and check leveling zero, put the test/extended range weight in the pan and it will settle on the mark in a couple of seconds, everytime. And it still has a LOT of life left in it. My scale is good but, fact is, it isn't any different that others like it! Anyone want to suggest their favorite digital will last that long and still be running? When was the last time you had to replace a computer? I spent most of my life reparing that electonic stuff and had a secure job doing it too, 'cause it fails!

!0. I often read of digital owners who keep their beam scales around to use as a check for their wonderful digitals. Something is WRONG with that picture! ??

11. So, some people are happy with their digitals? And, okay, they sure are vocal about it too, aren't they? What you more rarely hear is how many AREN'T happy with them! Sure, some people probably got a good Yugo too, but it wasn't the norm so they are gone now. I suspect the fad of "new" for digital scales will fade just as the once "new" wonderful RCBS plastic strip loading primer tools did. No, digitals will never disappear because a certain percentage of us will always go for the most expensive gimmicks in hope they will add something to their reloading. I just ain't one of them.

Again, like Pete, I do see a place for digitals on the well heeled reloader's bench tho. It can be helpful when weighting a LOT of non-critical things that vary quite a bit, such as cases and bullets but NOT powder. I also concede that digital powder dispensing systems (not just scales, standing alone) can have some value of those who load large volumes at a sitting, maybe anything over a couple hundred rounds at a time but that's rare for most of us. I would also argue that any extra speed of a digital, even with large volumes, could be largely negated by more efficent loading methods with a beam, as Pete mentions. Finally, anyone who is loading hot loads really needs to consider what could happen if just ONE of his charges is off! No beam is going to jump calibration, it can't, but digitals sure can.

So ---- that's it specifically, point by point, why I don't care for digital scales. I'll stick to my beam as long as I draw breath. My grandson already knows my lloading gear is his, including my beam scale, after I croak. He knows it will take care of him for as long as it has me IF he takes care of it as I have. Why not, it has no little electronic parts inside to wimp out!

Last edited by boomtube; 04-07-2009 at 09:18 PM.
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Unread 04-09-2009, 02:00 PM
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Re: Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

Boomtube, this question might be for you (et al). Seems to be right up your alley with your background!

I have heard that florescent lights, dimmer switches, mobile phones, RFI and even static electricity from the neighbors cat (another post, another website, no BS) might interfere with electronic scales. Can you please enlighten me as to WHY?

It takes an integral knowledege of how digital scales measure weight that I don't have. I guess my question really is what makes an electronic scale work. Educate me please!

Does anyone calibrate lab scales for a living?
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Unread 04-09-2009, 03:38 PM
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Re: Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

Good info. here. Enough reasons to keep me from buying a digital. Several of the reasons I hadn't to date were addressed here. I think I'll know if my mechanical beam scale is acting up. Not sure how I could know if a digital was unless I kept on checking them with the beam scale. Thanks for taking the time to express your rationale for prefering mechanical beam over digital powder scales. Now I'll spend some more money on bullets instead. Or primers or powder if the stampede to purchase and hoard them ever dies down.

I suspect gun shop owners will vote democratic next time, because it's proven to be so good for their business sales to date. (I am Kidding.)
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Unread 04-09-2009, 06:30 PM
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Re: Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

"I have access to all sorts of extremely accurate scales (both electronic and beam good to 0.0001 +/-).1"

Vis, i just re-read the posts above. Am I reading right that you have access to scales that read to one ten thousant of a grain, plus or minus a hundred thousant? WOW!
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Unread 04-09-2009, 06:57 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Mountians of SW NC, near Asheville
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Re: Electronic vs Balance Beam scales

"I have heard that florescent lights, dimmer switches, mobile phones, RFI and even static electricity from the neighbors cat (another post, another website, no BS) might interfere with electronic scales. Can you please enlighten me as to WHY?"

Not quickly, but yes. (Well the cat thng may be an exageration.) Basically, it's either or both static/magnetic fields that have the potential to impact such sensitive instruments as even cheap digital scales have to be.

"Does anyone calibrate lab scales for a living?"

Yes. There are many professional calibration/repair labs for electonic measurement instuments of all types. I worked in that business for some 20+ years, first for the USAF at the Cape and later for NASA. I only did a few scales and that was a LOONG time ago so I have no current specific knowledge of what they are using for a weigth sensening cells but it still has to be either of two main types of strain gages.

Given that .1 grain is only 1/70,000 th of a pound you can see that it requires a LOT of amplification of a tiny signal to see that and read a change of one unit at a time. Electronic amplifier gains of such magnitude, even in solid state and digital chips, are subject to interference from many more things than would be the case at lower levels of gain. The gain will drift easily because very high gain makes for unstable gain.

You also need to know that such high gains from the scale's tiny amplifier means any small changes in the circuit temperature AND/OR power line voltage has the potential (granted, not an automatic certainty in all instruments and good feedback design can help) to change the gain. Thus, digitals need frequent user re-zeroing and calibrations, even while working. What a pain.

Finally, to have even a chance to provide the amp a input usable signal , reading stress on the pan, requires a VERY sensitive pressure cell. Again, great sensitivity means physically quite delicate. Dropping a one ounce weight on a digital scale's pan, from say 6 inches high, would likely damage the cell if not destroy it. But that's my guess, not a fact from personal knowledge. Keep the pan in a digital scale covered at all times if you can.

All that may not help you much but it's about as clear as I can make it for anyone who is not an electronic tech.

As I see it, there are perhaps two valid hopes for a digital over a beam scale. Speed is one, but proper work flow and good work methods will greatly reduce any potential speed advantage. Easy readablity is the other, but putting a beam scale on a shelf at the right height makes it as easy and fast to read as a digital display sitting on the bench. ??

I have no faith in such digital instuments. My beam scale works too well to spend so much money on something I would never trust. Hope those who have them never have cause to regret it but doubt if many experienced electonic techs would disagree with me.

Am I wrong?

Last edited by boomtube; 04-09-2009 at 07:20 PM.
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