RELOADERS CORNER: Meter Use Tips

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How well you set up and operate a powder meter has a lot to do with ammo consistency. Here are a few tips on getting the most from this tool. READ MORE

Glen Zediker

Going back to our last conversation, the topic was dispensing propellant charges, and whether to weigh each charge or dispense each charge using a powder meter. Generally, most seem to agree that weighing each is the sure way to better consistency. I don’t always agree with that, and I say that mostly because my chronograph and group size numbers don’t support superiority of either approach. However! I sure do know that metering charges is way on faster and easier than weighing them all out!

Once again: the only answer that works is to experiment for yourself and settle the question based on empirical evidence. Right: shoot it and see!

This next offers a few tips I’ve had good success with over the years. I can tell you that, without any doubt, learning how to set up and operate a meter has a decided influence on those chronograph and group size measurements.

scale weight
I am adamant about following this process to set a meter: Don’t throw and weigh single charges to adjust the meter. Throw and weigh 10-charge portions, with the scale set, of course, to 10-times the desired single-charge weight. I do not recollect one time when my meter adjustment did not change following this process from what I first arrived at weighing single throws. Here’s how I set it to adjust for a 24.0 grain throw.

First: I very strongly recommend setting the meter throw based not on one single charge, but on multiple charges. Here’s my method: After running a few single throws to get it close, I set my scale to 10 times the desired single-throw propellant charge weight, then throw 10 charges into the scale pan. I have done this (so) many times over (so) many years that I can tell you that I have no memory or record of this tactic not influencing the final setting I have dialed in. Do this 3-4 times and see what you see. There’s a huge likelihood there will be an adjustment needed. And for some reason, supported by my notes at least, the final setting is usually a tick lower than I gauge for one-throw-at-a-time weight checks.

Now, I know that if the meter is accurate then each single charge will weigh what it should, but maybe the difference that makes this method work best is that scales aren’t perfectly accurate. Maybe it’s the damping system, or continual issues with calibrations, but a 10-throw lot ultimately results in a more precise setting. I’ve proven that too many times to myself to qualify it with a “may.” No, it does.

As mentioned in a past article, the smaller the propellant granules the more precise each fill can be. Longer-grained kernels provide more air space and “stack” more than smaller-grained kernels. It’s also clear that the higher degree of precision on the meter internal sliding surfaces, the more “clean” the strike-off will be.

And, meter operation has a whopping lot to do with the consistency of filling the meter drum. Just like tapping a case bottom settles the propellant to a lower fill volume, same thing happens filling the drum in a meter.

powde meter operation
Not too heavy, not too light. Work the handle the same each time, and have it come to a positive stop. “Thunk. Thunk.” Focus on a consistent speed. This has a huge effect on how consistent the throws will be.

The trick to good throws is working the meter handle consistently, and also settling on a contact force when the meter handle comes to a stop in the “fill” direction: It should bump but not bang… I wish I could be more clear on that, but it’s a feel. Don’t go too slowly, gingerly taking the handle to its stop, and don’t slam it there either. You want a positive, audible “thunk” when the handle stops. If it’s the same each time, fill consistency will, not can, improve. Focusing on operating the handle at a constant rate of speed teaches this in short order. It’s a positive movement that, for me, takes about one second to lift the handle.

harrells meter
I recommend longer drop tubes (meter or funnel). The longer tube has the same effect as tapping the case to settle the propellant. This helps in loading stick propellant into small-capacity cases. Rubber-band a dryer sheet around the propellant container to static influence, which can be an influence, especially in the Western regions.

There’s a few more tips in the photo captions, and here’s another: Do not leave propellant in a meter! Return it to a sealed container when you’re done for the day.

This article is adapted from Glen’s books, Handloading For Competition and Top-Grade Ammo, available at Midsouth HERE. For more information about other books by Glen, visit ZedikerPublishing.com

 

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14 thoughts on “RELOADERS CORNER: Meter Use Tips”

  1. I need to get a triple beam. The electronic scales suck! I use the Honady one, and even with fresh Duracell batteries, it will “walk” if left on the scale for a few seconds. I’ve recalibrated and is zeroed out, but it still ticks one way or another in 10ths of a grain, which to me is unacceptable. I want EXACT weight. And I measure EACH load EACH time. My 7mm reloads are awesome shooting, but when doing my .357 Sig loads, it could be off slightly. 5 or 6 grain capacity with a small deviation of .2 or .3 grains VS a large capacity rifle case with small deviation of .2 or .3 grains and it won’t affect the rifle, but would affect the pistol cartridges.
    Thanks again Glen for all your wisdom.

    1. You need to get a more accurate electronic scale. Digital readouts are so much easier to see than tiny printed hash marks on a traditional scale. I bought two electronic scales of the same type and calibrate them to a scale of known accuracy. Cost was under $40 for both, and they read accurately to 0.1 grains.

  2. The consistency of a powder measure depends on the operator. I could never get consistency from my FIL’s RCBS measure, and he couldn’t get consistency from my old Lyman. He was a gentler operator than I was.

    1. Your consistency with any powder measure will improve 100% if you use a spherical (‘ball’) powder. Like pouring sand vs Lincoln logs or frisbees.

  3. Interesting tip on the 10 throws. I found that my powder meter was dead on every time at 4.2 gr when loading 9mm but when I switch to loading .357 and loading 5.2 gr it is less consistent but still almost always 5.2 +/- 0.1 gr. I attributed it to the geometry inside the meter.

    I’m fairly new to reloading. I’ve only loaded about 400 rounds to date and the 100 I test fired were good. I’m going to try the 10 drop test to adjust and see. I also notice it’s much more consistent when I tap the powder tube on the meter a few times between.

    Does anybody have any other tips for a newbie? Thanks.

  4. Has anyone noticed that your power drop starts changing the weight it drops as the powder empties out of the drum? Mine does, it drops less as the powder empties. No matter how I work the handle, Iam pretty consistent with it, the charges changes by a couple grains. Any way to fix that?

    1. Yes. Either keep your powder at a consistent level by constantly adding powder or buy a powder meter that has a baffle at the bottom. There are several out there, but mine are Dillon. Metering will always vary some, but the baffle at the bottom of the meter definitely makes a huge difference. You will notice that in reloading any ammunition, the key is consistency in everything. You have to be just a little bit obsessive compulsive to be a successful reloader

  5. Set of scale check weights, Lyman, is a must and always use at least two scales. I use the procedure talked about above except I check the charges on my Lyman beam scale and at least one of my 3 electronic scale. I always calibrate all the scales with my scale check weights before starting. Electronic scales can and do wonder, recalibrate often or check them with your check weights. I check random drops, every 10 – 20, to make sure they are staying consistent on the beam scale. I use the Hornady powder measurer that uses a meter that can be changed so once I set a meter for a charge it gets locked down, witnessed and labeled for powder and charge weight. If you are having trouble with your scales consistency you may have to :
    TURN OF THE CEILING FANS, HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING VENTS!!! DON’T PUT YOUR FACE CLOSE ENOUGH THAT YOU BREATING CAN AFFECT THE SCALE.

    1. Your comment about air flows are Great! Been loading for 40 years, 13 calibers and doing HVAC for the same.
      I’ll be trying the ten drop weight, I’ve been doing three two round drops. Do like my LNL press and still have 5 other presses.
      Stuck in CA a little longer

  6. Look, weight or through whatever works for you is fine. But weighting a charge on a balance beam “RCBS/Lyman” scale is the only way I know of getting the same amount of powder in to each case.
    Now there are a hell of a lot of cases and loads that this is just not a big deal for them, so no one way is the only way for everyone.
    But if you work near the upper edge of the zone of a load, weighting is the only way to keep on the safe side of it. Most of the stuff I load is running out in the 4,000 fps range, so I feel I need to weight my loads, 17, 204, 224 caliber rounds. Yes I shoot a lot of them “1,000’s” each year and they are all weighted!
    Oh, yah I did the same with my 243, 264 Mag, 7 Mag and .308’s. But that’s me.
    Yes, I have a RCBS Charge Master, but the powder still goes on a balance beam scale before being put in the case.

  7. SO what electronic scales actually work and do not wander? I have an old RCBS, one of the first out and it’s all over the place, and has kept me from ever buying another electronic scale. Any out there worth using that aren’t over $100.?

    1. I have also had electronic scales that couldn’t be trusted. I recently bought a set of MTM Case Guard scales in a foam lined plastic box for around $40.00. They were to be used for weighing cases and bullets but they turned out to be accurate enough to be used for weighing powder. Dropping or shock can damage scales, they must be treated like precision instruments.

  8. I’ve been using balance beam scales for over 50 years. They are as reliable and as constant as gravity.
    Several years ago I paid a lot of money for an electronic powder dispenser and scale. My experience was that it was slower than Christmas and the scale was tedious to calibrate. The scale would also have to be recalibrated way too often. I quickly lost all confidence in electronic powder measuring.

    1. Psychology of humans is such that if something work with stick with it even though sometimes there is something better. This is especially true for older people no offense. But I have good news the technology advanced to the point where you can have cheap digital scales ($20) that work good. Check out Joanny’s reloading bench on youtube where he does review. I myself bought Gem Pro 250 and it wasn’t cheap! It was about $130 but it’s accurate down to .02 grain. Does it wonder? well yes and no. If you leave the pan on the scale so there is no negative number than it’s fine, it will fluctuate .02 grains which is negligible. but if you leave it off for too long than numbers will wonder more but than you just put the pan back and hit zero and you’re good to go. I don’t even calibrate anymore, don’t need to. I also got new RCBS Chargemaster Lite which is very accurate compare to original Loadmaster 1500. It has a spread of .05 grain that’s half of 1/10 all day long regardless if I am using long stick powder like 4198 or fine powder like H110.

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