The Best Beam Scale for Reloading
While beam scales have been around for centuries, digital scales specific to the reloading industry have only recently begun to expand and really mature, and satisfy serious reloaders with the quality of their products.
Why should you get a beam scale then? Here are our top reasons.
Why Use a Beam Scale for Reloading
If you’re a reloader and care about precision, as well as accuracy in your loads, investing some money into a quality beam scale can be a game changer for you. When it comes to reloading, repeatability is the name of the game.
Are you able to consistently repeat the same measurements in the variables you can control in your loading process? That question will ultimately determine the quality of your load output, and scales play a huge role in the process.
The difference between precision and accuracy
First off, it’s crucial to understand that precision and accuracy are two different things. Precision refers to how close measurements are to each other. Accuracy, on the other hand, refers to how close the measurements are to the actual real value.
This means digital scales, while extremely precise(Meaning you’ll get the same measurements each time, with little to no variance), they are prone to inaccuracy.
To illustrate with a practical example, while you can’t exactly measure the amount of difference between a 10.10 grain charge vs. a 10.14 grain charge on a beam balance scale, the balance indicator will shift, letting you know that there’s a clear weight difference. It will do this EVERY SINGLE TIME. However, a digital scale might report these as exactly the same weight every single time. So what you end up with is inaccurate loads.
Repeatability and ease of mind
For me personally, I’m a paranoid person, so I always make sure to use a set of check weights every time I’m on a reloading bench. There’s a huge sense of relief and comfort knowing that when I drop a 20-gram check weight on my beam scale, and it reads 20-grams. I don’t have to worry about variables that come with a digital scale – ‘breeze’ factor, zero-ing, battery issues, etc.
This isn’t to say that a balance beam scale are foolproof, either. Do yourself a favor and invest in a quality one. From our experience, cheap, low-quality balance scales sometimes undershoot. I’ll tap it and find it setting on a reading a few tenths higher. WTF?!? What do I do? I tap it again! Is my load correct? Do I need to re-zero the scale? This WILL drive you crazy. The good thing is that quality beam scales will not have this problem.
What to look for in a quality beam scale
The things you want to check for in a beam scale are the material quality, knife edges, and the bearing setup. I know some of our readers get used scales from eBay as well. That’s fine, but be sure to read the following instructions over.
Ideally, the scale should be made out of high-quality material, durable metals that can survive years of use without rust or damage. The agate bearing should NEVER ware, and examine the steel knife edges using a jewellers’ eyepiece(This is very important).
Upon examining closely, the edges should be spotless clean and sharp. When it comes to beam scales, dirt and dust are always the culprit of inaccurate measurements. If you’re getting a used scale, you’ll want to take the edges apart, take the bearings out and wash them over with lighter fluid along with a toothbrush.
Also check that the magnets have no wire-wool hairs, or anything attached to them.
Last but not least, after putting them together, use check weights to test them with a number of measurements.
Reputation of the brand
Reputation of the brand absolutely matters in choosing a beam scale. Beam scales have been used for centuries. Look for, and invest in brands that have literally stood the test of time, and have been used for decades. The only two brands we can recommend with zero hesitation are RCBS, Ohaus, and Lyman.
It’s quite common to read reviews of people having used an RCBS 5-0-5 scale for 40~50 years throughout their reloading career, and that’s for a reason.
Our top picks
RCBS M1000 Magnetic 98916 Powder Scale Die Cast Metal/1000 Grains (Our Favorite By Far!)
If you stop and don’t even bother reading the rest of this article, we get it.
RCBS recently stopped supporting their classic models, the RCBS 5-0-5 and the RCBS 5-0-0 and instead came out with the M1000.
The only difference is that the manufacturer has changed from Mexico to China. Don’t let this worry you at all – we’ve owned both, and there is literally zero difference in the quality of the scales.
The first thing about the RCBS beam scales is that they have literally been used for hundreds of years, by many happy reloaders. They’re still the #1 recommended, and widely used beam scale simply because of its quality and functionality. It seems to last forever if you take proper care of it(More on maintaining beam scales below), and another big reason this is our #1 recommendation is because of RCBS’ lifetime warranty.
The scale includes a weight, and it’s calibrated perfectly out of the box. It levels incredibly easily, and is magnetically dampened. The poises are easily adjustable, and the grooves are at the perfect depth, making it easy to hold them without skipping over to the next one.
It’s also ambidextrous, meaning it supports both left-handers and right-handers.
One killer feature we love is that it has a clear plastic cover that’s designed to transport it to the range and back, saving a lot of time.
Yes, it’s a higher-end beam scale, but buy it once, and use it for generations. You won’t regret it.
Hornady 050109 Lock-N-Load Balance Beam Scale (Budget Option)
Our second pick is the Hornady LNL beam scale. It’s slightly more affordable, but still offers great accuracy for the price. It’s got a 500-grain capacity, +/- 0.1 grain, and a magnetic damper that will give you fast and accurate measurements.
It’s made with durable material(Metal body and beam), and the balance bar is easy-to-read, laser etched and flake and peel-proof. It’s made in USA.
If you need razor-sharp precision and accuracy, definitely invest in an RCBS. However, if you’re simply looking to add a beam scale to pair with your digital scale to double-check the consistency of your loads, then this is a great budget option.
How to maintain a beam scale
Yes, beam scales will last for a long time and won’t quit on you easily. But maintenance is key. To give you an example of the importance of maintaining, one day I was having very sporadic measurements on a Hornady LNL scale. So I took the beam off, and using a graphite stick, refurnished the knife edges. The measurements were on spot again.
Keep the knife edges clean
An easy way of doing this is to go down to a local art supply store and buy a graphite stick(Basically what’s used inside pencils, minus the wooden bit). We’ve found that a soft graphite like B2 works best for cleaning beam scales.
Rub this graphite stick on your knife edges, until the edges are coated well. You can use canned air to blow off the excess graphite.
Maintain the agates
The next thing we recommend you do is to clean the agates. These are the stones that the knife edges sit on. Take them out, and clean all the sides with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol. Be careful not to be too abrasive as well. If you find that your scales are getting significantly rusty and damaged, you can call customer service to let them know(The brands we recommended above will give you excellent customer support).
Do yourself a favor, invest in an RCBS beam scale, and thank us later. You’ll lose it for centuries, and pass it down to your kids, and grandchildren. Happy reloading!