March 09, 2018
Ever since I can remember, when the topic of electronic powder dispensers came up savvy reloaders recommended RCBS's $509 ChargeMaster Combo, an electronically paired ChargeMaster 1500 scale and ChargeMaster dispenser. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that the new RCBS ChargeMaster Lite- which costs only about 60 percent ($300) what its bigger sibling does- is just as good, and even better in some regards.
For starters, it features a one-piece body. This eliminates the weak link caused by pairing two separate devices, makes it more stable on a bench and easier to level and calibrate, and reduces weight and overall size significantly.
It has a small, round spirit level bubble inset into the unit's housing just above and left of the control pad for leveling, and this greatly simplifies the rather important matter of getting the scale level so it can do its job properly.
The ChargeMaster Lite also features an LCD touchscreen display, which I think is simpler to use, and I can't help but think that a light touch imputing data and control commands may disturb the scale less than the firm press required to activate the push-buttons on the Combo.
Programming also requires fewer steps. For example, instead of punching in 41.5 for grain weight, then Enter, then Dispense, you simply touch 41.5 and hit the green "Go" button left of the touchscreen. However, the ChargeMaster Lite has no memory. You can't record and retrieve favorite charges like you can with the Combo- although I never use that feature anyway.
Also unlike my ChargeMaster Combo (which I love dearly, by the way), the RCBS ChargeMaster Lite comes preprogrammed to auto-dispense. This means once a charge weight is entered and "Go" is pressed, every time the pan is placed empty on the scale's platen, it automatically begins another cycle and throws a fresh charge.
Perusing the ChargeMaster Lite's specs revealed the welterweight powder dispenser is an international player. Unlike its bigger sibling, it's switchable from 120 to 240 power and comes with several adapters. In fact, it's rated EU/UK/AUS compliant.
As for capability, it's rated to throw charges from two to 300 grains, with a plus or minus 0.1-grain accuracy. It will measure items up to 500 grains in weight, and this is one other area where it falls short of the bigger ChargeMaster Combo, which ably weighs objects up to 1,500 grains. In other words, if you frequently call upon the scale portion of the unit to weigh really heavy bullets, the Combo is still a better choice.
The powder pan is ambidextrous, and a small clear plastic wind cover is provided. Electronic scales are chronically susceptible to even the lightest breath of a breeze, so be sure to use the clear cover if set up near a forced-air vent or an open window.
Atop the unit, the powder hopper is likewise clear and holds about a pound of propellant. It's a good, sturdy hopper, but I found my one complaint in its slightly loose interface with the reservoir in the top of the main unit. Fit is actually slightly looser than the lid atop the hopper. When lifting the lid to refill the hopper, I have to hold the clear cylindrical hopper tube down or it lifts with the lid and dumps powder all over the reloading bench. Yep, I've done it.
The Lite comes with several accessories- each of which has a dedicated spot on the body of the unit, keeping them handy and preventing misplacement. Two 50-gram brass weights sit in chambers on the top front corners of the powder reservoir and are used to calibrate the scale. On the left side, a paintbrush-type cleaning brush lives in a deep, small-diameter round hole.
Ideally, you'll be using the unit on a flat, level, sturdy surface, but in case your bench has a slight slant or the top surface is undulated, each of the ChargeMaster Lite's four rubberized feet feature threads and may be screwed in or out to equalize contact among all four feet and level the scale.
To use, choose the correct wall adapter, plug the supplied cord into the left side of the ChargeMaster Lite and press the red power button. For most accurate results, allow the unit to warm up for at least 15 minutes before calibrating and throwing charges.
Yes, you should calibrate every time you use it, and fortunately, calibration of the Lite is easy and fast. I usually fill the hopper with whatever powder I'm about to use while it's warming up, because in my clumsiness I sometimes bump the scale slightly. If I do that after calibration I have to recalibrate.
To calibrate, remove the powder pan from the platen, touch Zero on the touchscreen to zero the scale without the pan, and once the "stable" indicator appears at the left lower portion of the screen, touch CAL. When the display reads "C 0" and the stable indicator shows, touch CAL again.
The instructions will guide you through it, but calibration simply involves pressing a few buttons and placing first one then the second 50-gram weight on the platen. There's no "pass" or "calibration successful" display when finished; it's simply ready.
With the hopper filled and the scale calibrated, place the powder pan back on the platen, wait a few seconds for the "stable" indicator to appear, and touch Zero to bring the scale to zero with the pan in place.
Now you're ready to begin dispensing charges. Touch the appropriate numbers on the touchscreen to type in your desired charge weight and press the green Go button.
The ChargeMaster Lite's dispenser pipe features some design changes. Rather than the big open port inside that scoops up powder and sends it down the tube, the tube is perforated by a couple of holes. These do an excellent job of creating adequate flow without quite so many overcharges when using difficult-to-meter, long-grained powders.
To date, I've used it primarily with flake-type pistol powders and medium-grain rifle powders such as H4350 and Varget. Like the older, bigger ChargeMaster Combo, it throws flake and spherical powders with tenth-grain perfection. However, like all scales of its ilk, the ChargeMaster Lite is plagued with the occasional overcharge when throwing grains of extruded propellant. However, overcharges occur with less frequency than with the original ChargeMaster due to its redesigned dispenser tube, but one or two per 10 still run over.
There's an old handloader's hack that just about eliminates overcharges. It involves a McDonald's straw, which just happens to be the perfect diameter to fit snugly inside an RCBS dispenser tube. Cut an inch or so worth of straw, making sure to get a clean, burr-free cut, and slip it inside the end of the dispenser tube, leaving just an eighth-inch or so exposed. Even with troublesome, irascible powders, I only experienced one overcharge in 40 or thereabouts using this trick.
The bigger, older ChargeMaster Combo is still the most proven electronic powder dispenser on the market. However, RCBS has done a particularly good job with this lighter, less-expensive, more ergonomic version.
For more information, visit: rcbs.com.