RCBS Chargemaster Lite Automatic Powder Dispenser

RCBS Chargemaster Lite Automatic Powder Dispenser

When developing new or match grade ammunition, obtaining accurate and consistent powder charges is of the utmost importance.  Traditionally, serious reloaders have accomplished this by using a powder trickler; a simple tool that allows for the adding or ‘trickling’ of powder.  While this method certainly works, it’s also tortuously slow.

As the amount of time I spend developing my own custom ammunition has steadily increased, I decided it was time to take the plunge and upgrade to an automated powder dispenser.  After a bit of research, I finally settled on RCBS’s Chargemaster Lite; a relatively new offering with some impressive features for the serious reloader.

Contents

Let’s begin by taking a look at what you money buys you here.

Ordinarily I don’t bother talking about the unboxing of products because frankly, who’d want to read about it?  However, in this case, I’m going to make an exception.  I want to start by highlighting just how serious RCBS takes this product, and the best way to do that is to talk about the way it’s packaged.  As you’ll see in the video above, this isn’t just a fancy scale jammed into a cardboard box; instead, everything ships very tightly packed inside a form-fit plastic enclosure to protect the delicate instrumentation.  That level of care and respect for consumers is something I really appreciate as a customer, so right off the bat I feel like things are off to a good start.

Moving on to the contents we’ve got the dispenser, a pair of test weights, power supply with multiple adapters, trickler cap, powder pan, platform, instruction manual, and a brush for cleaning.  As a Canadian I’m used to being spoiled when it comes to electronics; just about everything seems to be designed with North American electrical standards in mind, so I was impressed to see RCBS hasn’t forgotten about the rest of the world, and included several other plug styles as well.

Features

With the contents covered, let’s move on to the features.

When I first saw the name “Chargemaster Lite” I immediately sighed, and wondered what I was giving up relative to RCBS’ previous model.  Let me go ahead and clear that up for you right now; nothing.  I think ‘Lite’ refers more to the reduced size of the unit than actual capabilities, as the only thing it can’t do that it’s predecessor could, is save a particular charge weight to a button– but more on that later.

Starting with the basics, the lite is large enough to use easily, but not so much so that it gets in the way of other equipment. The body is made of a thick, durable plastic that feels like it could handle some abuse, although obviously it’s still something you want to be careful with.  The built in level and adjustable feet both enable the user to ensure a nice, level working surface for the most accurate charges possible, while the large, transparent powder reservoir makes it simple for the operator to monitor both the level and operation with ease.

The GO and POWER buttons are large and prominent, while powder controls are entirely digital, with clear lettering and a bright back-light that makes the dispenser easy to read indoors or out.  They also require very little pressure to operate and seem quite responsive to the touch.

The included powder pan is metal, helping to reduce static charge, and deep enough to hold a large volume of powder. With two narrow pouring spouts, even the smallest cases can be charged with ease.  The improved trickler spout on this model is incredibly accurate, although we’ll touch on that more later.

Maintenance is something that often comes to mind with powder measures; you’ll be pleased to note that RCBS has included a built-in drain valve which does a great job of removing most of the powder.  Any remaining flakes can be swept out of the reservoir with a brush, or by removing it and wiping it down.

Whew, ok– that was a lot of features, but let’s continue on to the operation and see how everything comes together.

Setup

With the dispenser leveled off, the operator begins by install the plate, and turning the unit on to get it warmed up.  RCBS recommends leaving it on for at least 15 minutes prior to use, however I know folks who leave their’s on 24/7 (it takes almost no electricity) just so it’s always ready to go.

Now it’s time to calibrate.  The user begins by confirming the scale is reporting itself as stable, then presses the CAL button and waits until the screen displays C 0 and Stable, indicating the plate is empty, then presses CAL again to confirm.

From here the system will flash C 50, indicating it wants a 50g weight.  The operator places one onto the plate and presses the CAL key to confirm again.

The system will now flash C100, at this point the user places the second 50g weight on the plate, and once again presses the CAL key to confirm.

The scale should now display 100g.  The operator removes and replaces the weights back in their respective holders, at which point the scale will read 0 and beep.

Finally the user moves the powder pan to the plate and presses ZERO; the Chargemaster Lite is now ready to use.

Operation

The calibration is easily the most challenging element of this system, from here on out everything is pretty straight forward.  In the video above you’ll see I’ve gone ahead and filled the reservoir with Hodgon Universal powder.  Selecting a charge is as simple as dialing it in, in this case 27.5gr, and hitting the GO button.

The dispenser will begin filling the powder pan to within a couple grains of the desired weight before slowing down and trickling the remainder.  As you can see above, it’s remarkably accurate, coming to a final total of exactly 27.5gr.  When finished, the Chargemaster Lite beeps once to indicate the charge is complete, and provides a count of how many charges have been prepared.

As a charge is removed and added to a case (or poured back into the reservoir in the case of the video above) the dispenser’s default behavior is to automatically begin pouring another one as soon as the powder pan is in place.  In this manner the operator can concentrate on loading ammunition, and leave the monotonous task of measuring powder to the machine.  Conversely if you prefer, the Lite can be configured to run in manual mode, requiring the user to press the GO button for each charge.  As if that weren’t enough, the truly picky can even opt to manually trickle powder charges by holding down the TRICKLE button, though frankly I can’t imagine why you’d want to.

When finished using the dispenser, cleanup consists of using the built in drain to empty the reservoir back into the powder container, then removing it and wiping the inside clean using either the brush or a soft cloth.  That’s about all there is to it.

Results

So how accurate is the Chargemaster Lite?  In the entire time I’ve owned it, it has yet to throw a less than perfect charge; not one.  Light pistol or heavy shotshell, it doesn’t seem to make any difference to this thing, it just keeps right on chugging along with 100% accuracy.

The key to the lite’s improved performance seems to be the improved trickler spout design.  If you do some research online you’ll come across all kinds of people having problems with older model RCBS and Lyman units, and especially the Hornadys.  I’ve never owned any of them to say, but a lot folks have resorted to modifying the spout, or even using a beverage straw to replace it.  RCBS has redesigned theirs with what almost looks like ‘straight rifling’, for lack of a better term, and it seems to work.  As accuracy was the #1 consideration for me when purchasing an automatic dispenser, this is what sold me on the Chargemaster Lite.

Pro’s

It probably goes without saying I’m a big fan of this trickler, and it’s not hard to see why.  It’s small, compact, and wicked-accurate.  It includes a ton of features including an all-digital interface, large and brightly lit display, multiple modes, a built-in level and even a drain for easy cleanup.  Above all, it seems to throw the most accurate charges of anything on the market today, and RCBS backs up that with top-notch service and warranty.

Con’s

You’ve heard what I like about the Chargemaster Lite, so what about cons?  As usual I’ve got a couple.

The first thing I’ll mention is the price.  While roughly in line with other automatic dispensers, this is still a very expensive piece of equipment.  It’s no exaggeration when I say I’ve bought fully-equipped presses for the price of this unit.  New or budget-conscious reloaders may find it an especially bitter pill to swallow, particularly if you’re still accumulating the other equipment necessary to break into this hobby.  For veteran or match reloaders with a clearly defined need, it’s a bit easier to stomach.

My second issue with the lite is the lack of memory.  Several other manufacturers offer units that can record and store loads for later recall and use.  That’s hardly a deal-breaker but I have to admit it would be neat to be able to just hit “308 rifle” or “38 special” and go.

Summary

So that’s the RCBS Chargemaster Lite.  If you’re the sort of shooter who reloads 10,000 rounds of 45ACP that never change, this probably isn’t for you.  But if you’re into precision rifle, or custom pistol/shotgun load development, this is the kind of machine that will maximize performance while preserving your sanity.

Nit-picky grievances aside, its an excellent piece of equipment that does exactly what it’s supposed to, flawlessly, every time. Once you get over the initial sticker-shock, there’s just no going back to manual powder trickling.

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