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Digital Powder Scales: Buy Dillon’s D-Terminator

In our view, that unit offered the best performance at the best price—more so than Lyman’s LE-1000 Electronic Scale and Blount’s RCBS RangeMaster Digital Scale.

Dillon Precision Products’ D-Terminator
Electronic Scale comes with powder pan, one
700-grain standard check weight, draft shield
(used where air currents may interfere with
the scale’s operation), an AC power adapter,
and a 9-volt battery.

Handloaders know that even very small discrepancies in a given cartridge’s powder charge—even a fraction of a grain—can make the difference between a 10-millimeter group and fliers outside the bullseye. In competition, that difference can spell the margin between first and not in the running.

Many handloaders use mechanical scales, which if they are well-made, can be precise and reliable. However, mechanical scales have a couple of problems: they are slow, and they cause vision and concentration fatigue because the operator must pay ongoing, focused attention to the position of the balance-arm scale. Let your concentration wane for a minute, and you’ve just created a match-losing cartridge at best, or a deadly safety hazard at worst.

Both of these problems are circumvented with digital scales. These devices reduce loading time by giving an immediate readout, and they significantly decrease the possibility of reading errors because of their clear LED displays.

We recently selected three such products for evaluation, choosing the top model available with both AC and DC power usage from the manufacturers chosen. Included were Lyman’s LE-1000 Electronic Scale, $259.95; Blount’s RCBS RangeMaster Digital Scale, $220.38; and Dillon Precision Products’ D-Terminator Electronic Scale, $149.95. Of the trio, we liked the D-Terminator for its combination of price and performance.

We relate the details of this choice in the text below:

Testing Methods
Each unit was set up and calibrated to determine the ease and reliability of the calibration. Calibration is essential to the ongoing operation of any digital scale, in order to keep the electronics aligned properly with the load sensing system. Without proper calibration and ongoing monitoring, the two can dissociate, causing electronic drift.

All functions were examined on the units, and repeated weighings of identical weights were made to determine consistency of readouts. Specifically, a powder charge in a pistol case (.357 magnum) was weighed three times, zeroing the scale before each weighing. Each such procedure was repeated with two new cases (for a total of nine individual weight readings). For each case, the three weights were averaged and the standard deviation (SD, a statistical measure of how well the results group together) was determined. The smaller this value is, the better the grouping.

Each product comes with one or more standard check weights, and each of these was inspected on all test models. Because of the sensitivity of electronic scales in general, the instruction manuals were also evaluated for a good balance between completeness of information and ease of following.

It’s worth noting that all calibration weights registered essentially identical weights on all of the scales; the largest deviation seen was 0.1 grain on the 700-grain check weight (from Dillon) and 0.01 grams for any of the 50-gram check weights from the other companies. This suggests an acceptable level of accuracy and precision from any of the units.

Dillon Precision Products’
D-Terminator Electronic Scale

This comes with powder pan, one 700-grain standard check weight, draft shield (used where air currents may interfere with the scale’s operation), an AC power adapter, and a 9-volt battery. The weighing platform must be installed before use, but it’s an idiot-proof matter to simply place the platform right onto the designated area. Installation of the 9V battery was also very easy.

The unit overall measures about 6 inches wide by 7 inches long, with a height around 3 inches. In addition to the labeled function buttons, there is also a set of simplified instructions on the front panel—a convenient feature, in our view.

Unlike the other products, the calibration weight accompanying this one is rated in grains rather than grams. Although this should not affect reliability or accuracy, it does eliminate the necessity of calibrating in one unit (grams) and then weighing in another (grains). Calibration itself is quick and painless, and the instruction manual correctly points out that calibration should be performed before initial use, and every time the scale is moved from one location to another (even on the same bench top).

Of the scales tested, this one showed the most reliable performance. In all weight trials, the results were right on the money: each case gave the exact same reading for each of the trials. Because there was no measurable deviation from one weighing to the next, the standard deviation showed a value of 0 percent: essentially a perfect analysis. And it was the only one that measured two out of the three check weight standards perfectly.

The inclusion of the draft shield, designed to fit over the weighing platform and object being weighed under drafty conditions (such as at the range), was a nice perquisite as well.

It seemed that the audible feedback feature was a double-edged sword. The unit is designed so that every time any of the control buttons is pressed, the scale beeps. This shows that the product is acknowledging whatever command is being entered. But in our opinion, this was irritating after repeated occurrences. Yet at the same time we appreciate the value of instant acknowledgment.

Like all the units, it has an auto turn-off feature, designed primarily to save battery life. Although the amount of time for it to be activated is not specified in the instructions, we found that it kicked in at 5 minutes.

We felt that the instruction manual might have been improved by using some diagrams or illustrations. This would have helped to make it less daunting to read, and simplified the learning curve. On the whole, however, it is complete and clear. The only negative we could dredge up—and this is admittedly a stretch—is the powder pan itself. The pan, which is not an integral part of the unit, had a metal finish that was either not quite as smooth as the others or was more prone to developing static electricity. We observed that more powder residue tended to adhere to the pan after it was emptied, compared to the others. Careful inspection showed, however, that this did not impact the weight readings. Apparently, all such residue was well under the weight sensitivity of the unit, and therefore insignificant.

Lyman LE-1000
Electronic Scale

The smallest of the three test units, this scale has a 7-inch by 5-inch footprint, and a slim profile about 2 inches high. It also comes with powder pan, 50-gram calibration weight, dust cover (which can double as a draft shield), and an AC adapter. It will also operate on a 9-volt battery (not included). The weighing platform is pre-attached to the unit by the factory, and the scale needs virtually no assembly when it’s received.

Calibration is a snap. It can be accomplished in just a couple of steps, making this one the fastest to calibrate. This unit also contains a storage compartment for the check weight, which serves the dual purpose of reducing chances for loss of the weight, as well as keeping it clean (an important consideration for any calibration weight). Getting the weight out of the compartment was a mite cumbersome, but not too bad.

Performance was good, although not as rock-solid as the Dillon scales. Weight trials showed an average relative SD of 0.07%. This is well within the stated accuracy limits of plus or minus 0.1 grains. Although the unit didn’t weigh any of the check weights at exactly the prescribed value, no reading was off by more than 0.01 gram or 0.1 grain—again within its stated limits.

Lyman’s auto turn-off is programmed to activate within 5 to 10 minutes, according to the user’s manual. In our test we found that it functioned perfectly at exactly 5 minutes.

On the downside, we felt that the Lyman’s digital readout was the most difficult to see. The numerals were the smallest, and the display panel did not provide enough contrast. We see this as a potential problem, especially if a handloader is going through numerous readings in a session. That phenomenon of vision fatigue could set in and cause a misreading—clearly something that we want to avoid.

The instruction manual was more user-friendly than Dillon’s, with the text broken up into easily-read blocks, with a couple of illustrations. Appropriate suggestions (such as recalibrating after changing the scale’s position) are included as well.

Blount’s RCBS RangeMaster Digital Scale
This is the largest of the units, but still takes up little space: a 9-inch by 7-inch rectangle on your bench top, and it stand less than 3 inches high. It comes with a powder pan, two 50-gram calibration weights, and an AC adapter. Like the other two, it will also operate on a 9-volt battery (not included), which installs with only minor difficulty into fixed terminals in the battery compartment.

Although not difficult to operate, this unit is the least accessible. With only two function buttons, they must necessarily multitask. There is little that is intuitive in this design, mandating careful use of the instruction manual. While this is not a bad thing in itself, it does imply that getting familiar with the unit’s functions will take significantly longer to achieve.

Setup requires only that the weighing platform be installed on the platform support, which requires minor tweaking. The drawback to any tweaking at all, however, is that the user must perturb the load-sensing system, which can be sensitive. Due caution must therefore be exercised.

Calibration comes in two modes: regular calibration and linearity calibration. The latter is used to ensure accuracy over the unit’s entire range of 100 grams, and must be performed when the product is first set up and if other indications suggest. Regular calibration is easy, but again the instructions must be carefully followed to ensure proper procedure. Linear calibration is similar, but requires a different sequence of button strokes and the use of both calibration weights.

Performance was comparable to the Lyman unit, yielding the same relative SD (0.07%) and check-weight results.

The auto turn-off will work after three minutes of no activity, but this must be programmed by the user. This is something that might easily be overlooked by a handloader, noticing it only after he’s at the range with a dead battery. Finally, the unit will read in grains or grams, but if the latter measurement is desired, this must likewise be programmed in by the user. Although neither of these functions are difficult to perform, they do require extra effort, and an extra session with the instruction manual.

Performance Shooter Recommends
At $149.95, the Dillon Precision Products’ D-Terminator Electronic Scale represents a savings of more than $70 below the RCBS scale and $110 less than the Lyman unit. In our view, it provided superior functionality for the dollars, and is a best buy. If the powder pan is a concern—and it shouldn’t be—you can always replace it for just a few dollars.

Thus, we see no compelling reason to choose the other two units. Blount’s RCBS RangeMaster Digital Scale, $220.38, and Lyman’s LE-1000 Electronic Scale, $259.95, performed well enough that we can’t fault their functioning. But they were more expensive than the Dillon, and didn’t offer performance that we judged to be better than the Dillon. Therefore, we would pass on the RCBS RangeMaster Digital Scale and Lyman’s LE-1000 Electronic Scale.

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-by Oliver Shapiro

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