RCBS Chargemaster 1500 Review
By Jim Brown
For approximately a year or so now I have been using a RCBS Chargemaster 1500 for all my reloading, a simple tool to use in spite of its complicated appearance. This review will discuss my experience with it. The RCBS Chargemaster 1500 is a fairly pricey piece of reloading gear with prices ranging from $300 to as little $260 when on sale. The Chargemaster 1500 is essentially two separate tools (powderhopper/dispenser and an electronic scale) that when joined together communicate with one another to dispense powder to the weights you set via a numerical keyboard.
Because the powder is dispensed through a rotating tube on the RCBS unit, there is none of the “shearing“ of kernels as is experienced in traditional powder dispensers. On the side of the powder dispenser portion of the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 there is a very convenient “gate” that makes it very quick to remove powder and place it back in the original container.
The dispenser tube on the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 model I have rotates at four different speeds. When approximately 75% of the set weight is thrown the tube slows to half of the first speed. Then when the weight gets within 3 grs. of the set weight it slows by half again until within 1.5 grs of the target weight. At that point it turns 1/8 of a revolution in start and stop bumps until the full weight is “recognized“ by the scale and communicated to the dispenser. Press the buttons and watch the powder be dispensed into a pan that is on a scale. Pickup pan and pour into case. Simple, yes? There are however some things to be on the watch for as you use the RCBS Chargemaster 1500. In this review I will attempt to pass on what I have observed with my unit during the last year along with some “dos and don'ts“. Keep in mind that this review of the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 contains one man’s observation with one example of the product.
Accuracy with the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 is + or - one tenth of a grain. This has been verified with my balance beam scales. However, that accuracy is not possible with each charge when dispensing powder charges. You must re-weigh each charge to receive that “ + or - 1/10 gr. accuracy. When watching the rotating tube as the charge nears its set weight I find that I can very often “call“ a charge light, on or heavy by what I see tumble out at the very end of tube motion.
The scale on the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 will drift if certain procedures are not followed. When first beginning to use the unit I would calibrate each and every time I fired it up. Then with the scale zeroed I would weigh my pan. Checking this weight against the weight reported by the balance beam scale produced identical results. Then placing the pan on the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 scale and pressing the “zero“ button, I would begin loading. It is rare to have more than a couple of charges that are more than one tenth gr. light. It is also just as rare to have a charge that is more than three tenths heavy. The scale on the RCBS Chargemaster 1500 will not report these deviations unless you let the charge sit for more than a minute. Then it will report the actual weight as near as its resolution allows. That is why I re-weigh each charge. It is faster than waiting for the scale to report the correct value, and it allows you maintain a “rhythm“ in the process.
Out of 57 consecutive throws with a target weight of 39 grs. (was going to do 100 but got lazy) of H4350 powder, the twice weighed charges were as follows:
38.9 grs. - 8 charges
39 grs. - 19 charges
39.1 grs. - 26 charges
39.2 grs.- 3 charges
39.4 grs.- 1 charge
I weigh all charges twice. Once as they are dispensed and then again after dumping the charge into a separate pan, replacing the original pan back on the scale and then waiting for the “zero“ to appear to indicate that I am back at the original zero. At this point I pour the charge back into the pan on the scale and am rewarded with a closer to actual weight report (+ or - 1/10 gr.). This only takes a second or two to accomplish and my confidence in my load is worth more than that. If the weight is short a peck on the dispenser tube with your fingernail is all it takes to bring the weight up to spec. When the weight is over, I use a Lee powder dipper to scoop out a few kernels. By now I know how many kernels it takes to equal a tenth gr. for all the powders I use.
All is well unless I do not return the powder pan to the scale in a fairly short period of time. I don’t have figures, but from repeated use I would say within one minute. If the pan was not returned in that amount of time the scale could and often did lose its “zero“. At that point it would be necessary to rezero the scale minus the pan then zero it with the pan on the scale. Just as a rhythm always benefited my use of a manual powder dispenser and balance beam scale, so it seems that it is also effective in the use of the RCBS unit. Included in that rhythm is ”timing”. Keeping the intervals the same between removing the pan and replacing it as well as waiting for the “under“ weight to show and the “O“ in the upper left corner to reappear are part of a routine that will eliminate the drift factor.
Some have reported problems with their RCBS Chargemaster 1500 units that they felt was associated with the type of lighting being used in the immediate vicinity. I have not seen this with mine and have three different sources above my workspace. Two are fluorescent and one is incandescent. Turning of one or the other and the various combinations while in a reloading session caused no noticeable changes. One thing that is sure to have an adverse effect is any breeze blowing across the scale.
As time passed with my RCBS Chargemaster 1500, I began experimenting to see if it made any difference whether I calibrated the scale before using it. It did not, not one whit. My pan still weighed 138.1 grains, and the procedure I had adopted worked just the same and the scale would still drift if left to its own without a pan on the scale for too long.
Speed of use vs Balance Beam
I set up a trial to determine the difference in how fast the RCBS is vs. the “old“ balance beam, powder dispenser and powder trickler method I had used for the last 35 years or so. I should say I “attempted“ to do this as my skills obtained over those many years were almost forgotten because of my exclusive use of the Chargemaster during the past year or so. On top of that, I didn’t want to. Such a lot of trouble it seemed. Still, I did my best and found that there is not a lot of difference in time. A skilled old school operator would probably beat out the RCBS user in a race, but on the other hand, he would be working his buttocks off to do so. All this said, I, for one, do not want to go back. When weighing bullets or brass it wins hands down, as it is not necessary to weigh twice in order to get around the program window that is in effect while weighing dispensed rounds. It really shines when loading rounds with increasing amounts of powder for each round (as in a “ladder” test), just tap in the new weight on the dispensers keyboard and press dispense.
Average time to dispense loads
H4350 - 39 grs. 9 sec.
H4350 - 70 grs. 15.8 sec.
RL 25 - 47.2 grs. 12 sec.
RL 25 - 100 grs. 26 sec.
I use the time between charges to seat a bullet in a previously charged case. By the time I have seated a bullet, the new charge is ready to remove and re-weigh.
The Chargemaster has more functions than I use. Load memory and trickle mode are two that I do not use. My loads are all committed to memory or are in my load log, so I do not feel like committing them to yet another data storage. I am sure a lot of people will enjoy being able to call up a favorite load out of memory. The trickle feature, well, let’s just say a tap with my fingernail on the dispensing tube is more refined than the quickest tap on the trickle function button--faster, too!
My personal “Do’s and Don’ts“
One thing I will not do again is put ball powder in the unit. You can hardly get the stuff out! The tiny ball powders are so static sensitive. Static is not a problem with all the coarser grained powders, but the little ball powders are the pits! I have read that some use the cling-free sheets as are used in a dryer for clothes. Don’t know if it works or not, but if you are going to use a ball powder I would recommend trying them.
One thing I HOPE I never do again is to leave the little dump outlet open again after I remove all the powder from the unit at the end of a loading session. There you are, pouring powder in the hopper for a new reloading session, and the hopper won’t fill up geemineeze, what a mess !!
Early on in my experience with the Chargemaster I managed to pull the whole powder storage hopper off of the unit when attempting to remove the cap. (It was full of powder at the time. Another big mess). So be careful that the cap is not stuck to the storage hopper.
You will also benefit by putting some type of cover on the unit when not in use . This will prevent dust from accumulating in unwanted places, causing erratic readings.
Publisher's Note: Mossy Oak Break-Up® would work, too.
For those that are adventurous, you can even access the programming portion of the unit via the operational keyboards and change certain aspects, such as speed of the rotating tube and timing of the rotational speed shifts, perhaps even other parts of the factory programming. Some have done so and created personal programs that will hold tighter to the target weight, but it is at the expense of longer dispense times. I would suggest contacting RCBS for information on this, as it is not included in the supplied instructions.
I have not used the Chargemaster in a traveling scenario, but have read many reports of the unit’s ruggedness while being carted all over the country, some even bouncing around on the dash of a pickup truck on country roads, yet still performing as designed when called on. If you plan on carting it around, I would recommend removing the plastic “table” that the powder pan sits on, as it depresses on the very sensitive and easily damaged “load cell“.
I am sure that the next “greatest thing“ as regards powder dispenser/electronic scale combos is just around the corner. Until that time comes, I heartily recommend the RCBS 1500 Chargemaster Combo to the beginner and expert alike.
Jim is a semi-retired landscape contractor and former naval petty officer. He has been reloading, shooting and hunting out west for 35 years. He competes in benchrest and f-class. Jim also has been making custom forged and stock removal knives for 15 years with some featured in knife magazines.