Skip to main content

Digital Scales Exposed

Digital Scales Exposed

The ballistics lab I worked in loaded huge numbers of cartridges where every charge was weighed, not metered.

It's vitally important for a digital scale to stand on a level surface. Don't guess--check it.

The ballistics lab I worked in loaded huge numbers of cartridges where every charge was weighed, not metered. You can't do that for 20 years without embracing some strong opinions--and some useful habits--about the technology of weighing.

Analog Versus Digital
With reloading scales, this is easy. "Analog, old; digital, new." To better understand the weighing process, it helps to understand the technology. Analog is characterized by an infinite number of possible values between two points. Digital has a discreet number of evenly spaced values. A couple musical instruments illustrate this:


A trombone has a slide that continually changes the sound's pitch through the range of lowest to highest note the instrument can produce. In between lie an infinite number of pitches. That's an example of an analog output. A piano can produce only certain notes programmed by the tuning, and nothing in between. "Middle C" is 261.63 Hz, and the next key up, "C Sharp," is 277.18 Hz. You cannot produce any note between these frequencies using the keyboard. That's like digital output.


With reloading scales, this difference shows up in the way we see values displayed. With the old beam balance, you watched a pointer that swayed past a reference line, and when it was steady, you had your charge. Digital is different, and that difference has caused some consternation for new adopters of this technology. With that in mind, I offer some "Digital Dos and Don'ts."

Calibration is key to success with digital scales. Keep the weights in a safe place.

Flashing Numbers
The first thing a reloader with a new digital scale notices is what we called "toggling," the readings not sticking on one value. All decent reloading scales have an accuracy tolerance of ±0.1 grain, but a mechanical scale's pointer can stop a minute fraction of this tolerance over or under the target value because it's analog. With digital, the scale can show 45.7 or 45.8 grains, but nothing in between. If the charge is close to 45.75, the scale may flash between two readings. Unless this is due to outside influences (discussed below), learn to ignore it.


Warm It Up
Any electronic device should be given time to acclimate to the environment. If Mr. UPS delivers your new scale on a cold February morning, don't expect peak performance until it comes to room temperature. It's also a good idea to turn on the scale and let it idle a few minutes before any use. I have one scale that's not been turned off in years.


Level & Steady
Many of us are accustomed to a mechanical scale's comfort with uneven surfaces because its zeroing methods usually compensate for it. With digital, you must be more precise. Use a carpenter's level to check potential sites for level in two axes--north-south and east-west. Unless level, some scales will not let you past the next set-up operation--calibration. Don't assume a surface is level.

If your scale has a removable platen like this model, keep hands and tools away from the case opening.

I find most "digi-scales" prefer a more stable base than their ancestors. These sensitive devices can act like seismographs on some surfaces, picking up and reflecting household vibrations. We set up one lab scale temporarily on the top of a file cabinet that we determined was level. Still, the thin, sheet-metal top acted like a drum head, magnifying vibrations in the building. Place the scale on a surface with a thick top; I prefer wood surfaces to be a minimum of 3/4 inch thick.

Calibration
Most digital scales need to be "taught" how to make readings. Although done at the factory, effects of shipping and handling mean any scale should be recalibrated before being put into service. Most scales allowing calibration will ship with one or more special weights that do the job. Read the instructions--all scales have different procedures, even those within one brand. With a new scale, calibration will tell you very fast if something is wrong with the unit.

Place the scale on the surface where it will be used and warm it up before the calibration run. Then simply do what the instructions call out. Most calibration runs take only minutes. This is how we discovered one of our lab reloading benches was not level--a new digital scale failed to complete its calibration until we leveled the bench.

If you are prudent, you will calibrate once a week during continuous use, or whenever you haven't used the scale in a while, or if you move the scale to a different location or manage to give it an accidental bump.

Should you miss a calibration (other than the initial one), charge variance is generally less than 0.3 grain--not a safety problem if you're loading a big case, but could be of concern in a small high-pressure cartridge when loads approach maximum. Oh, and put those weights someplace safe; if you lose one and the scale has become obsolete, it will be tough to get a proper replacement.

Shielding
Wind drafts are the prime cause of toggling and can be frustrating because you may not notice a draft. Once discovered, if you can't stop the draft, place a cardboard box, open on one side, around the scale. It's an inelegant yet nearly foolproof fix. Make sure the box admits your hands and that no part of the scale touches the sides.

Electromagnetic shielding is a more difficult task, better handled by adding distance than adding hardware. A fluorescent light fixture can affect even mechanical scales. Keep all scales at least 3 feet from any fluorescent lights--more is better. Electric motors can emit magnetic fields, too; don't set up your new scale next to an electric case tumbler.

Care & Cleaning
After calibration and reasonable care in handling, there is really not a lot of special care required other than occasional dusting and cleaning up any powder sp

ill. A well-engineered scale has a case design that diverts propellant spills from the area of the sensor. If the platen--the flat surface upon which the pan rests--can be removed for cleaning, remember to do a calibration run after you reinstall it. And don't stick your fingers or tools in that hole when the platen is off!

Take a little time for familiarization and setup, keep those calibration weights handy, and you will find that you'll never want to use a mechanical scale again.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Hornady 6MM Creedmoor

Tom Beckstrand and Neal Emery of Hornady highlight the 6MM Creedmoor ammo.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Tactical Solutions Introduces New X-Ring Takedown SBR Rifle

Keith Feeley of Tactical Solutions sat down with Michael Bane at SHOT Show 2018 to talk about the new X-Ring Takedown SBR .22LR rifle.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

The Remington Model 700 PCR is a long-range rig built for punching paper, ringing steel, and hammering hogs, deer, and coyotes.Remington Model 700 PCR Review Rifles

Remington Model 700 PCR Review

Sam Wolfenberger - April 15, 2019

The Remington Model 700 PCR is a long-range rig built for punching paper, ringing steel, and...

The joys of handloading are many, and one of them is sharing the experience with a novice.Share the Handloading Experience Reloading

Share the Handloading Experience

Lane Pearce - May 19, 2019

The joys of handloading are many, and one of them is sharing the experience with a novice.

Improved bullet ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance and accuracy downrange without upping blast and recoil. Here's why.Improved Ballistics a Key to Accurate Long-Range Shooting How-To

Improved Ballistics a Key to Accurate Long-Range Shooting

Rick Jamison

Improved bullet ballistic coefficients lead to greater performance and accuracy downrange...

The heart of the newest Model 70 is, of course, its action.Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather SS Review Rifles

Winchester Model 70 Extreme Weather SS Review

Greg Rodriguez - September 23, 2010

The heart of the newest Model 70 is, of course, its action.

See More Trending Articles

More Ammo

It's not much of a stretch to make a case for the 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser being the best 6.5mm cartridge of them all.Best 6.5mm Cartridges: 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser Ammo

Best 6.5mm Cartridges: 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser

Joseph von Benedikt - December 02, 2020

It's not much of a stretch to make a case for the 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser being the best 6.5mm...

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the .338 Winchester Magnum. Why? Because hunters are often after game bigger and tougher than whitetails. Here's a list of the .338-caliber greats in chronological order in which they were introduced.11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges Ammo

11 Great .338 Caliber Rifle Cartridges

Payton Miller

Starting in the late 1950s, the .338-bore size gained considerable traction — thanks to the...

The new SIG Sauer Elite Hunter Tipped ammo utilizes premium nickel-plated cases, custom-formulated propellant and premium-quality primers.SIG Sauer Elite Hunter Tipped Ammunition Ammo

SIG Sauer Elite Hunter Tipped Ammunition

Jake Edmondson - May 06, 2020

The new SIG Sauer Elite Hunter Tipped ammo utilizes premium nickel-plated cases,...

Because of its excellent ballistics, outstanding terminal performance, modest recoil, and tremendous accuracy, the .280 Ackley Improved could be the best all-around cartridge for western hunting..280 Ackley Improved Cartridge Review Ammo

.280 Ackley Improved Cartridge Review

Joseph von Benedikt - November 04, 2020

Because of its excellent ballistics, outstanding terminal performance, modest recoil, and...

See More Ammo

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Shooting Times App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now