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Old October 9, 2011, 06:54 PM   #1
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Scales Mechanical vs. Digital

It seems like digital scales would be more productive (instant results) but the threads I read on this forum seems to suggest mechanical/balance scales. I don't know if this is an old school preference or if there is an accuracy/reliability reason? Personally I think I would prefer a digital scale but I understand that I need to make a decision based upon accuracy, not convenience.

I currently have a Lyman Acculine mechanical/balance type scale that came with the used reloading equipment I bought. It's base is plastic and I can't find a way to zero it so I have to subtract .7 grains from all of my measurements. I am not satisfied with this scale.

I noticed the digital scales seem to start at $25 and have different claims to accuracy. I would appreciate input to help me choose a decent scale be it mechanical or digital, or both.
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Old October 9, 2011, 06:59 PM   #2
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Whichever way you go. You would be well served with a check weight. I have a digital that is acurate enough for my purpouses. Though I have a Lee ballance beam scale to cross check the digital with to be sure it is working properly.

For the money the Lee scale is hard to beat. It is very simple, and is very accurate. Though it is hard to read those small numbers. If I had the spare cash, and was wanting to upgrade I would probably buy one of the manual scales, and RCBS just to name one example.
No matter how many times you do it and nothing happens it only takes something going wrong one time to kill you.
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Old October 9, 2011, 07:01 PM   #3
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FYI: This is the digital one I am considering...
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Old October 9, 2011, 07:08 PM   #4
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I say beam.

I have a pact bbk 2 that is no good it went south after 6 months and the part that broke is not covered unde any kind of warranty. That part (weight sensor) fragile and is the one part that is prone to failing. Yet no warranty. I now have a nice box with a scale in it that is nothing more than a paper weight. The beam scale is simple and it works. I would get an RCBS 1010.
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Old October 9, 2011, 07:10 PM   #5
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My thinking was along the same line as yours. Then I bought an inexpensive digital. Very inconsistent. Went back to my balance beam. I have the Dillon, which is one of the less expensive ones. Actually, all are good, and all are made by Ohas.
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Old October 9, 2011, 07:11 PM   #6
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I have an older Lyman mechanical scale. I don't remember the model name and number. My point is that my Lyman scale and I have also been told many of the older RCBS mechanical scales were manufactured by Toledo scale company. I would contact Toledo scale customer support about your scale. If they were the original manufacturer, they would probably offer repair support for it.

The small manual that came with mine states to "Contact Toledo scale" for warranty and repair service.

Just another thought for you.
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Old October 9, 2011, 07:57 PM   #7
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I much prefer digital. But buy check weights and verify that the number on the screen is has a basis in reality.
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Old October 9, 2011, 08:17 PM   #8
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I have electronic and balance beam, but I like the digital and use check weights to verify the weights occasionally.
What I can not get my head around is a digital mic, don't know why, just cant get a warm fuzzy!
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Old October 9, 2011, 08:30 PM   #9
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If the electronic scale doesn't come with check weights for calibrating and proofing, it isn't worth buying.
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Old October 9, 2011, 08:32 PM   #10
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If your choice is between an inexpensive digital or a beam use the beam. I have both and prefer the digital. Can't remember exactly what I gave for it but it was on sale in the $250 to $300'ish range. It is accurate to within a milligram or less and the read out can be adjusted for multiple types of measurements, milligrams, grains, carrot, ounces, etc. It came with calibration standards, powder pan, and built in levels and adjusters.
Seams like once we the people give what, at the time, seams like a reasonable inch and "they" take the unreasonable mile we can only get that mile back one inch at a time.

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Old October 9, 2011, 08:58 PM   #11
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The usual way to zero a mechanical scale is to raise or lower one end of the scale or the other, usually with a screw or wheel or something. Look underneath the scale to see what feet touch the tabletop. Usually there are three. One of them should be adjustable.

If that is not the case, there may be a thumbwheel or movable weight on one end of the balance beam. It might be adjustable with a screwdriver instead of your thumb, too.

I looked for pictures of your scale on line, but did not find any. Can you post some?

For gross adjustments, my Ohaus-made RCBS 10-10 has BBs inside the bottom of the scale's tray. The tray is held on with a screw. Your scale might have a compartment or something like that. Taking a BB or two out might let you zero your scale.

You have probably guessed from the length of time and thought I have put into making your mechanical scale function that I eschew electronic scales. You are right.

I have a friend who bought an electronic scale from a manufacturer with a good name that cost $130. It's instructions commanded a 45 minute wait time after turning it on before using it. It also required a new setup time if you moved it or jostled it. I was not impressed with its speed or ease of use. He asked me to trade it off for him.

Now he has an RCBS Chargemaster combo scale and powder dispenser. He loads slowly and carefully, so the Chargemaster is able to keep up with him. He is happy. I would not be. But then, he weighs every charge and I use a powder measure or a dipper. If I weighed every charge and trickled up to weight (as I do when I do weigh every charge) I would be marginally slower than the Chargemaster and get tired out before he did, too. But I don't, so I have no need of any electronic scale.

Except I do have a $30 electronic scale that can fit into a pocket. It is handy for a quick check of anything I need to weigh quickly (It does not take but a minute to settle in). But if I want precision I can be sure of, I set up a balance beam.

I have heard too many stories of electronic scales going "off" due to voltage variations, flourescent lights or unexplained reasons.

Lost Sheep

Last edited by Lost Sheep; October 9, 2011 at 09:47 PM.
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Old October 9, 2011, 09:38 PM   #12
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I can't find a way to zero it so I have to subtract .7 grains

The way you zero a balance beam scale is to raise or lower one end of the scale with a set screw on the base on one end of the scale.

The problems that affect a electronic scale affect a balance beam as well.

First is your surface LEVEL and stable? Is it away from vents (heat and air) that will cause a draft to blow accross it? Are you keeping dirt and dust off your scale so it won't affect you readings? Is your scale OFF the bench so your press will not affect it?

When it comes to scales, you can take 100 people into a room and endup with 200 different opinions.

Is a $20.00 balance beam scale as accurate as a $250.00 balance beam scale, YES, gravity works the same no matter what. Some are easier to use, some are magnetic dampened so you get results faster, Some have better and easier markings to read. Some are easier to set. But all work the same way.

When it comes to electronic scales you can spend anywhere from $25.00 to $2,500.00 for a scale. Are there differences in electronic scales, you bet your bippy there is. You just need to start out and decide on how bad you want your wallet to hirt. (LOL)

Is there an advantage in buying a stand alone electronic scale over a balance beam scale, NO. The advantage comes when you purchase the powder dispenser that comes with some electronic scales, these make a difference. And will cost betweet $200 to $350 and are well worth it. (or so my opinion says it is). (only one of two hundred)

I have used all three types and can honestly say best way to go is with a combination scale and powder measure. More expensive yes but I think better.


Si vis pacem, para bellum
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Old October 9, 2011, 11:44 PM   #13
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Here is is how I understand the the conflict between the two:

Beam scales(of a decent quality) will be more accurate than a digital scale. they are also less sensitive to the elements around it such as air pressure,humidity ,etc. The main downside is the cost and lack of quick setup and results.

Electronic scales are usually considered more precise(please note the difference between precise and accurate). You will also be able to find a relatively high quality electronic scale for a lower price point than a comparable beam scale. They can also give very quick readings and will be more productive. The main issues with electronic scales is that they can be quite sensitive to their environment(my hornady doesn't like my garage because of all the EMF from old wiring and light bulbs) so if you buy an electronic scale you will have to decide at what point to trust the scale and when to question it.

Please note that everyone will have a different experience with the scales they choose based on how they use them. Also note that I am still relatively new to reloading but have experienced a lot over these short months.

Good Luck, Happy Reloading, And STAY SAFE!!
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Old October 10, 2011, 02:02 AM   #14
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My observations

Kealil (post #13) thanks for your input. Your observations are close to mine, but not in every respect.

Every beam scale I have used, from the $25 Lee Safety Scale to the highest end (RCBS 10-10 and 505 and Redding are what I have used) scales, all are accurate enough. Almost all have the finest gradation at .1 grain and are truly that accurate (no false precision). The Lee is harder to read and capacity only goes up to 100 grains, but it is as accurate as any of my others.

The best part of mechanical scales is that there are no "hidden" traps. If it is not working right, it is easy to tell.

Electronic scales (I am told, but have not tested these reports) are sensitive to stray electronic signals (from flourescent lights, motors and such). I also have heard reports that battery-operated ones get unreliable as the voltage falls. BOTH THESE SHORTCOMINGS are reportedly found in the cheaper electronic scales, leaving the higher-quality/higher-priced scales more likely to be immune to such problems. But it is relatively hard to tell when you are getting unreliable readings.

I have seen one scale, a $130 unit that I would have expected to be one of the good ones that took 45 minutes to settle down (according to the manufacturer's directions) and be usable after powering on. That, to me, is completely unacceptable.

However the replacement unit (costing nearly three times as much but including an automatic powder dispenser and trickler) does seem to work satisfactorily for my friend.

While your observations and mine don't agree 100%, I suspect it is just because we have observed different anecdotal evidence.

I find balance beam scales to be accurate to .1 grains, equal to the better electronic scales. The prices of mechanical scales of that accuracy run from $25 to $200 or so. Electronic scales of similar quality run from $150 to $300 and up for extra features. Electronic scales are certainly easier to read, though. But to me, the extra convenience is not worth the extra money

Thanks for sharing and thanks for reading.

Lost Sheep

Last edited by Lost Sheep; October 10, 2011 at 02:12 AM.
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Old October 10, 2011, 03:15 AM   #15
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1 more for the RCBS Beam
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Old October 10, 2011, 09:35 AM   #16
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The difference isn't so much whether balance beam or digital - if they are equally accurate. It's whether you use it to check the weight of the powder thrown in a dispenser, or weight each load individually to the limit of the scale to reduce charge deviation. That's to make them more accurate.

If it's hundreds of rounds of plinker ammo from a turret or progressive, nobody does it. They check a sample every now and then, and keep loading. A beam would be sufficient.

If someone is loading precision ammo for the range, and it's 1MOA shooting or less, then every one gets weighed. A good digital won't impede the process the way a beam does - it's just slower - and the smaller quantity of rounds doesn't take as long.

Start with a decent beam, then get a digital when precision ammo sneaks up on you. Most reloaders seem to do that eventually.
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Old October 10, 2011, 10:50 AM   #17
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A 'good' digital is as good as any and those who get 'good' ones are always very happy. Until they fail. And all electonic gimmicks fail eventually. Digitals do present a number immediately but it's usually worthless, most of them take a second or more to settle. And digitals also have a time lag when useing a trickler to adjust the charge, beams follow tricklers in real time and a LOT of us like that. Magnetic damped beam scales typically swing a couple of times and settle in maybe 2 seconds...I can't see much advangtage to a digital for that.

I have three beams, all different brands. The first was purchased in '65 and is a accurate and sensitive as it was the day I took it out of the box and it's ready to do that much more; no digital at any cost will do that and my old scale is not unique in any way, they are typical of beam scales. I bought the second and third used at such low cost I just could't pass them up; both work as well as my original.

Digitals are quirky/sensitive to ambient and circuit temperature, steady line voltage, magnetic fields and, for some of them, stray electical fields. Beams couldn't care less about any of that. IF someone gives me a digital I'lll take it and use it to weigh cases and bullets but not powder; getting the weight of a case wrong won't hurt me.

The basic 'leveling' of a beam, left to right, is done at the factory, usually using small weights under the middle of the pan hanger. All we do with the zeroing of the base is adjust the base so it comes into alignment with the beam, and it matters not a whit if the shelf the scale sits on is precisely level or not. Leveling front to rear isn't critical either, if it LOOKS level it is plenty level enough. (It IS critical that any digital sits on a level surface tho.)

Saying a beam scale is a consistant .7 gr. off says something is missing in the operation. IF the base is adjusted to match the beam at zero there is no physical way a consistant offset can follow. IF the base zero adjust screw can't get you closer to right than .7 gr. something is wrong with the beam, the pan or the pan hanger; probably the last. You don't say if your scale is reading high or low so I can't tell you which way to go but change the weights under the covered part of the pan hanger until you can get the beam to balance well enough for the leveling screw to finish the job and all will be well.
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Old October 10, 2011, 11:05 AM   #18
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I used a RCBS 505 until I broke it I bought a Lyman 1000 digital, it comes with a calibration weight (20 grams). It is harder to set up than a beam scale but after its leveled and warmed up, and calibrated properly, it's alot easier.
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Old October 10, 2011, 04:12 PM   #19
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Nothing works well if it's smashed.
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Old October 10, 2011, 04:36 PM   #20
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Mechanical with a spoon. I'm too anal about reloading to chance it.
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Old October 10, 2011, 04:41 PM   #21
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I like and have used both types. Each has its strengths.

My favorite beam scale is the Redding #2, it is compact and settles down very quickly.

My favorite digital scale is the RCBS 750.

I agree completely that you need to calibrate and verify a digital scale with a known reliable check weight. This is more important for the digital than the beam typically, but it is always nice to verify a beam with check weights as well.

Digital scales are easy to use (no fumbling with counterweights) and speed, but you need to understand the way they work is different than a beam scale. In a beam scale, you calibrate it to zero with an empty pan and it stays on zero. In a digital scale, it has a load cell that it uses to tell the weight. Like many things electrical, load cells will wander up and down based on factors such as voltage and temperature. So, a load cell is constantly going up or down. This throws the concept of "zeroing" a scale one time like the beam out the window. Many digital scales have a -0- or -zero- indicator on the display that indicates when the scale *thinks* it is on zero. When a scale thinks it is on zero, it keeps watching the load cell's variations and keeps adjusting itself to the new "zero". When you put weight on the pan, it sees a large change and then uses the difference between the new load cell value and what it considered zero to calculate the weight. Now, this is where some people can get into trouble. While there is weight on the scale, that load cell is still wandering, but the scale can no longer adjust for this since it isn't on zero. For this reason, the best way to get accuracy from a digital scale is to:

1. Remove all weight from the pan.
2. Wait for it to show zero and indicate it is on zero (press tare/zero if not).
3. Add the weight.
4. Get the measurement.
5. Remove the weight again and let it re-zero.

You can measure groups of items without returning to zero, if you do it quickly, but I would probably let it go to zero after every 5 or so.

Beam scales also have their issues. If their beams aren't machined perfectly, they can be slightly high or slightly low at certain ranges...

Good luck,

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Old October 10, 2011, 05:12 PM   #22
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I have both ...but I use the Digital / and keep the old balance beam scale as a backup.

A lot of the digital scales these days are made by PACT ....but I think for the money, I'd go with the Dillon scale these days for $ 140 / or the RCBS version ....unless I wanted to go to a scientific quality scale ...that will get you more accuracy the Denver Instrument ... get you down to 0.02grain accuracy for $ 275 or so....

.a Denver Instrument MXX-123

It is nice to know rather than 4.2gr or 4.3gr that you're really averaging around 4.275 - 4.280 you really know what you're getting..
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Old October 10, 2011, 05:43 PM   #23
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My RCBS 5-10 balance beam has been dead on for 30 years - the two digital ones I have had have failed within 6 months -and they need batteries
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Old October 10, 2011, 06:05 PM   #24
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I have a cheap digital I got off the ebay for about $20.

It came with a check weight, I also used store baught jacketed slugs. Everything checked out. Getting the same weight the same time you weigh the same thing is important.

I have no reason to doubt it.

they are very sensetive. no fans on in the room, flat level surface. Works great.
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Old October 10, 2011, 07:51 PM   #25
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I'm with BigJimP. I used a RCBS 1010 for a couple of decades, until a son-in-law gave me a good digital scale (a PACT). After many many check comparisons on known weights, I finally went completely digital about 2 years ago. I told myself that I could always go back to the beam scale, but I haven't done so and I probably won't. And I can use the digital scale for easily and rapidly weighing and sorting cases. I think that was the added benefit that finally pushed me toward digital.
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