Beams or Digital?


Well-Known Member
Jan 7, 2003
Swartz creek Mi
I load for accuracy but as we all know we learn something new every day,
I have a choice to continue using my beams(over 35 years old) or buy a digital scale.
What do you know, and are they worth buying?
Keith, though I had used beam scales for all of my reloading in the early years, I have come to rely on digital scales over the last decade. I now use a RCBS chargemaster 1500, which by the way is an excellant product however, I do double check the first couple of charges it drops with a pocket digital scale for my own piece of mind. Two cannot be wrong! The CM 1500 has never missed a charge as long as I have owned it so I am happy for that. When I first recieved it I check it against my beam scale and it was right on the money. So for me anyways I would say they are worth buying and feel you will get a more accurate measurement, especially if you want to increase your work up load in 10ths of a grain to fine tune a load. As with any scale, digital or beam, you must always calibrate them before you use them. It's just good common sense. Digital scales only take but a few minutes and could save your life.

I will go out on a limb and say you may get replies from some "Old dogs" who will have a much different opinion.

From one of those "Old Dogs", I use a digital for sorting brass and bullets, but all of my powder charges are throne short and then trickled up on a beam scale (10-10). When you are loading for 1,000 yd competition even a .2 grain variance can cost you. And I feel every animal I shoot at deserves at least as much attention to detail as I give to a paper target!
I bought a ChargMaster 1500. I bought it because powder should be measured by weight, not volume. I've been dissapointed by it's accuracy and repeatability. I weighed every charge that came off it on my 10-10 and found it to be no better than +/- 0.2g and some times worse. Looking at my shiny new $300.00 instrument I wondered what had happened to my 10-10? I always set the 10-10 using check weights at the nearest half grain. Perplexed, I had a friend bring over a very expensive lab scale (+/- 0.01g) to see what was going on.

We checked the check weights and found they were right on. The 10-10 repeats within 0.05g. The bottom line is that the Ohaus 10-10 that I've had for 30 years, used in conjunction with the check weights, is a whole lot more accurate and repeatable than the 1500 I bought. This may not always be the case, but it is the case with mine.

Now I set the ChargeMaster 0.3g low and trickel to weight on my 10-10. The output of the Charge Master varies from 0.3g low to reading zero on the 10-10, and now and then will be .2g over which is a 0.5g variation.

I am glad I have the ChargeMaster, it is really fast for pre-measuring charges (which get weighted on the 10-10) to run ladder tests, and much faster to set up as a pre-measure than either of my volumetric throws (Lyman 55, Redding BR3). But I do not pour powder into the case directlly from it, ever. I weigh it on the 10-10 first.

What is so frustrating is that if I put the check weights on the charge master, it gives me the right answer. That is because the weight falls in the middle of a sampel range for the electronics. But when it is trickling to weight the digital thresholds get into the act and it will sometimes switch just as it crosses the threshold (which will be low). Or because of dynamics and some clumping of the powder it will switch after it is past the window. I don't think the industry has gotten it "right" yet with the automatic power dispensors. They are close, but not close enough for someone who needs a low ES for repeatability at long ranges.


"..continue using my beams(over 35 years old) or buy a digital scale.
What do you know, and are they worth buying?"

Opinon: Digitals are the current fad and when someone gets a hankering for a new gimmic I would never say, "Don't."

Fact: As a retired electronic insturment tech in the space/defence industries, I won't.

I continue to wonder, what is a digital scale supposed to accomplish that I can't do with my 45 year old 1010, which is still as dead-on as the day I bought it and expect it will be so another 45 years from today. (Anyone want to say their digital anything will equal that dependabilty?) Obviously, those who get "good" ones love them - now - but, still, they are vastly over priced and what do they do that a beam doesn't, and with much more security and ease of use? IF I had surplus cash spilling outta my wallet, and I don't, I MIGHT buy one for weighting bullets and cases. But, since I quit doing that long ago, it would mostly be an expensive trinket to decorate the loading bench.

Reloading grade electronic scales ain't high grade scales. High grade scales for drug and grocery stores, labs, etc., are EXPENSIVE! AND they still have a trained technician come in one to three times a year to test and adjust them, but NO reloader ever gets his digital scale tested/adjusted after purchase.

Digital dumpsters, aka, RCBS Chargemasters, etc, are not, per se, "scales". And they too are vastly over priced! If I had one, I too would use it to dump charges just under weight and trickle up, on a beam, to what I wanted. I'd NEVER trust one of those things to set my hot charges, all it would have to be off is ONCE! I KNOW what I will do and I do not trust any electromechanical gadget to do it for me.

No matter the room temperature, I can walk up to my mechanically leveled 1010, set a weight on it and know it's going to read properly, right then, every time. It works on gravity and, unlke power line voltage, that never changes and it isn't sensitive to external electical fields. All it needs to maintain accuracy forever is proper handling to prevent damage and an occasional cleaning to remove dust from the pivot knife and vee bearings.

With a "fast" digital scale, I would have to turn it on and allow it maybe 15-20 minutes of warm-up time. Then tare it, zero it and test the calibration. Then I could check my weight and, who knows, it may tell me what it really weighs. But, if I continue to use it for an extended loading session I would have to rezero it and recheck calibration from time to time. And that thing is supposed to SAVE TIME! ???

Nope, uh-uh, others may love them but they ain't for me. But...the folks who sell them digitals need to make a (good) living too, so...YOU get one! :D
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I think we're splitting hairs here!

The way I see it is if my CM 1500 can repeat ably throw a charge of the same weight "it reads" that I have tested for accuracy for any one of my rifles then it's just as accurate as any 10/10 scale regardless if the beam scale will show what the charge actually weighs.

If anyone were going to continually run "HOT" loads then I would advise buying a highly expensive lab scale and pay to have it calibrated every month by a professional company. I on the other hand do not play on the high end of any charge and never had a need or a reason to. If you don't have it calibrated by a professional than your beam scale is no more accurate than a digital scale. You could never know for sure unless your that trained professional yourself.

I can guarantee you that I am never satisfied with any load that the extreme spread was in excess of 10 FPS. My loads for any of my rifles never exceed an ES of 5 fps so that must say something for the accuracy of the CM 1500.

If you think you can't load for accuracy using a digital scale well then your sadly mistaken! I don't shoot at 1000 yards but I do at 600 yrds at my club. My Remington M700P chambered in .308 caliber can produce a 3" group at that distance if I do my part! I also have a T/C Prohunter ML 50 cal thats shoots 1.5 groups all day at 200 yards. All those charges are weighed at 72.3 gr. for consistancy on the CH 1500. That is 110 grains by volumn of BH 209. I do believe that would qualify as ethical accuracy for any game animal.

For those of you who do own a charge master 1500 here is a link that will help you fine tune it.

There are other things you can do to improve how they perform, RCBS is a fine company with great customer service if you call them with the right attitude.

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"If anyone were going to continually run "HOT" loads then I would advise buying a highly expensive lab scale and pay to have it calibrated every month by a professional company."

Not necessary. My 1010 is accurate to .1 gr, all the time, every time. That's more than sufficent accuracy for reloading.

"If you don't have it calibrated by a professional than your beam scale is no more accurate than a digital scale. "

Not so. The 1010 has a standard test weight (mine is 260.9 gr.) and anyone can purchase a set of test weights for a modest price. All I need do is set my poise weights at the correct places, set the standard on the pan and it quickly settles exactly on the mark, just as it has since day one. Electonics drift but mechanicals have ONE SLOW MOVING PART that is ONLY driven by gravity and that does not drift.

I fully agree that absolute accuracy is NOT required for reloading but absolute repeatability IS. Electronics are rarely long term repeatable, not precisely so anyway. Those tiny components change as they age, especially in the power supplies, and that's just a fact.

Rifles vary. Virtually all of mine shoot markedly better when running full bore! So, I'm always certain to load exactly what I plan to load, and no more. I've never found any rife that shots well "loaded down" unless I go to a faster, less than optimum powder. Seems that most powders burn more consistant at normal design pressures while reduced pressures give greater Extreme Spreads and less accuracy. For me anyway, YMMV.

Gravity seems to be quite reliable tho. My oldest scale, the 1010 (well it's actually a Lyman M5 but it's the same Ohaus scale with minor changes as the current 1010) has been reading exactly the same with the same test weight since 1965 so accuracy and repeatability are unchanged. I am, or was, a "professonal" calibrator of electonic scales for some years and I did reset the gain of many scales during that period to keep them within tolerance. But I've NEVER had to change anything on either of my (three) beam scales, there is simply nothing to go bad unless I hammer them!

If all that is hair splitting, seems to be some pretty large hairs with clearly defined black and white sides!

But, digital scale makers gotta earn a living too, buy one if you are willing to help them out! :rolleyes:
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I agree completely with WRG
No matter how poor or precise your scale, you will not charge to better than single granule.
My CM1500 easily indicates single granule changes. And after tuning and alot of test comparisons with an Acculab, I am very confident that my charges really are to single granule.

I have a 10-10, Dillon D-Terminator, CM1500, and Acculab VIC-123.
My Acculab has highest resolution
My 10-10 has lowest resolution
My Dillon was for many years, the best digital 'reloading scale' available(continous read in GRAINS)
My CM1500 is now the best charging system overall, and it's scale betters the Dillon slightly.

When I say 'overall', it is with reference to hands down -the most 'accurate charging system' (Prometheus).
Wen you take everything into account, all roads lead to ChargeMaster.
It's fast, easy to use, less finicky, accurate, cheap, easy powder changes, and totally practical.
Overpriced?? I would have paid triple the price I paid.
And I would be using a Prometheus if it were better 'Overall'.
What many do not know or have not taken the time to learn is that the 1500 is a highly accurate powder THROWER. IOW after calibrating (it comes with 2 ea 50 gr weights) then set it to THROW a little lower; .4 gr with stick powders like IMR4831, .3 gr with short cuts like RL22 or .1 gr lower with ball powders like H380.

For instance in this set of pics I want to load 60 gr RL22, so I set the dispense to 59.7 gr

after the machine runs and beeps, WAIT 5 SECONDS, and it will display the exact amount dispensed, in this case 59.9 gr

It is then a simple thing to dislodge a couple of granules from the end of the tube to get exactly what you want

The main thing is that EVERYTIME after calibrating my pan weighs EXACTLY 155.0 gr, after rezeroing and when I pick the pan up to load the powder in the case the readout reads -155.0 gr EXACTLY EVERYTIME. When I set the empty pan back on the machine it rezero's EVERYTIME for the past 3 years through 1000's of loads.

Another thing is that when I finish charging the cases I am through seating the bullets because I seat the last case while the dispenser is going and have the next one set up in the press. Saves a lot of time.

I wouldn't be without the 1500.
"Electronics are rarely long term repeatable, not precisely so anyway. Those tiny components change as they age, especially in the power supplies, and that's just a fact. "

Wait awhile, they will age.

And don't get me wrong. As I said before, those who like them love them. I don't but I'm truly happy for all who do. I just don't find using a manual measure and my beam scale all the much trouble and I TRUST it!
Great points Woods.
With mine I have tuned the program, preweighted to linearity, installed 'the straw' mod, and wired in a potentiometer for different powder settings. This gets me well within .1gr .
I can punch what I want, hit dispense & seat the last charged case like you do.

On the beep, I pick up & re-set the pan(disturb the reading) for a proof read. I have gotten where I can sense a single granule off by the way the scale settles, rounds the value, & locks in.
For example, if I dispense 47.4gr, disturb the pan, and watch it go right to and hold 47.3 for a few seconds before changing to 47.4, I know I'm a granule low. So I pick one from another pan & drop it in, then re-set the pan again. Now it will go right to 47.4 and hold.
It rounds down the same(with the same timing).

There are plenty of excellent scales out there with higher resolution. But they need to be enclosed to read correctly, and re-zero'd constantly. When you get down to ~.02gr resolution without an enclosure, you have to shutdown the ventilation, make anyone moving in the house move on out the door, and condition the scale power. The Prometheus is basically an enclosed version of the ChargeMaster, so it goes more accurate than needed. No prize for that on my bench though.
mikecr & woods, I was hoping sooner or later that someone would chime in and back me up here. Those of us who own one already know just how good a product they really are. But if it wasn't for guy's like us to field test equipment like this, the "others" wouldn't have any way of knowing. This scale repeats it's self everytime without fail and I rely on it totally. You guys really put it best so I'll leave it at that!

There is a little trick using a Mcdonald straw on the end of the trickler that really is the cats *** for stopping over throughn charges. Check out my previous post.

Oh and how could we foreget, you can program in up to, I think its 30 of your favorite loads. Tell me, what beam scale can do that?
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