Pros: Simple; Reliable; Durable; Cost effective; Good range
Cons: Can be moved out of zero if you're not aware
When it comes to reloading for the majority of firearms, virtually every reloading manual lists load data based on grain weight; with a number including an associated column for each load identifying the % capacity for that particular grain weight for the specific test case used. Thus, the point of reference that the vast majority of reloaders have is based on charge weight and not a measurement of volume. Much of the rationale for this is that grain weight is a consistently repeatable number; i.e., assuming proper functioning, a Lyman scale will read the same weight as an RCBS scale, as a Hornady scale, etc. Unlike volumetric measurement, grain weight is not as susceptible to issues such as density, improper technique, differences in case manufacture, or the specific tool used.
With that said, not all scales are made equal when it comes to reloading. You can't just surreptitiously grab your significant other's Weight Watchers scale and go to town. Likewise, while most companies which market reloading equipment produce at least one measuring scale, there are different types, with various features, and a wide range of pricing. Given these criteria, for the sheer combination of utility, durability, reliability, and economic feasibility, it would be difficult to find a "better" reloading scale than the RCBS Model 5-0-5.
You Mean It's Not Electric?
One of the first points of discussion to come up when talking about reloading scales are the electronic scales that now seem to be all the rage. I mean, why not let technology do the work? Proponents of electronic scales (some coming as combination scales/powder measures) would have you believe that those still using 'balance beam' scales are reloading Luddites - anachronisms who should just relent and stick with black powder firearms given all the work they appear to put you to.
While it would be easy to simply say "to each their own," such a response avoids several key issues. Probably the single most often cited 'advantage' of electronic scales is speed; i.e., they are quicker to use. I don't see speed for its own sake as an overriding concern in reloading. In fact, if speed is your primary focus when reloading, well... good luck to ya.
Accuracy? This can lead to many, heated debates. Good electronic scales (read that expensive) can be consistently accurate. Remember, electronic scales are electronic and are, therefore, susceptible to all the foibles of all things electrical; e.g., resistors vs. weight/temperature/etc., battery charge, wiring, algorithms, et al. Suffice to say, bang for the buck, balance beam scales are at least as accurate and, arguably, more so provided the user is paying attention.
Yes, large, digitally displayed numbers can be easier for the visually declining to see; but, I've seen far too many LCD displays come up virtually unreadable after a relatively short period. Juxtapose this to the fact that the RCBS 5-0-5 scale is one of the best labeled balance beam scales on the market; with mine, which is over 20 years old, as readable as the day I purchased it - especially when I remember to clean my glasses before sitting down to a reloading session. (The numbering/hash marks are black on a white background.)
In the final analysis of balance beam vs. electronic, there are two factors that seem to tip the balance (no pun intended) in favor of balance beams. First, I've watched many electronic scale users end up checking the accuracy of their techno wonder with their old, reliable balance beam scale; something others seem to have consistently noted in a number of internet forums as their standard procedure. That says a lot right there. Second is the cost. Currently, the RCBS 5-0-5 has an MSRP of $109.95; though I've seen it as low as $89.95. (Do I dare mention that the Payless Drug Store [remember those days folks?] price tag on mine, even after 20+ years, still clearly reads $45.99?) Set this against the fact that the least expensive RCBS electronic scale has an MSRP of $147.95 and that says enough for me.
So far as I can discern, the RCBS Model 5-0-5 is made for RCBS by the Ohaus Scale Corporation. (Mine says so on the box and instructions. The downloadable manual on the RCBS website also says so.) Based in Pine Brook, New Jersey, the company's website states that: "Ohaus corporation is a leading manufacturer of scales and balances for the laboratory, education, industrial and specialty markets worldwide." In other words, the 5-0-5 is a scale made by a company which specializes in manufacturing scales and is not made by RCBS, which specializes in reloading presses and dies.
A "balance beam" scale is just what it sounds like. The simplest analogy is that of a teeter-totter. You set a desired grain weight on the beam and balance that weight with your powder charge. The 5-0-5 has a maximum, 511 grain capacity with a guaranteed sensitivity (accuracy) of 0.1 grains. Which there are larger capacity scales, the vast majority of handgun and rifle reloaders will never max out the 511 grain capacity. Why? Well, bear in mind that fairly standard loads for .30-06 fall between 40 and 50 grains. Even the 50 BMG comes in at around +/- 220 grains.
So, why all the extra capacity? Well, some like shooting shotguns. While the powder charge will still never tax the 5-0-5, it is necessary to check your pellet charge. A standard reloading press for shotshells uses a bar to drop a certain weight of pellets; most loads for 12 gauge falling between 3/4 ounce and 2 1/4 ounces. To check this, there is an easy-to-read conversion chart (ounce to grain) attached to the die-cast aluminum base of the 5-0-5 scale. A fairly standard 12 gauge trap load is 1 1/8 ounces of lead shot; with 1 1/8 ounces equaling 492.2 grains. Get the idea?
The 5-0-5 has three poise scales on the beam; the poise for each having a 'pawl' which fits into 'notches' along the top of the beam, giving the beam a faintly "saw-tooth" appearance. The largest ranges from 0 - 500 grains in 10 grain increments. This poise sits to the left of the beam's pivot point; with the other two resting to the right of this pivot point. The second, or middle, poise goes from 0 - 10 grains with increments of 1 grain. The smallest poise runs from 0 - 1 grain in 1/10 grain increments. To increase the weight, all three poise are moved to the left; with a 'zero' for all three obtained by centering each above their respective "0" on the beam.
The base has a leveling foot on the left end which is simply a bolt with a circular, plastic base. Pick a relatively flat surface, zero the poise, and screw the foot in or out until the beam pointer is centered on the "0" graduation on the left. The 5-0-5 is magnetically dampened; with the instruction manual stating this scale "was the first reloading scale to utilize magnetic dampening to eliminate unnecessary beam oscillation." Basically what this means is that there are magnets inside the base which create a field which resists, or 'dampens,' the motion of the copper vane on the end of the beam to keep the beam itself from 'bouncing' while adjusting the powder to achieve the charge weight you're after.
The only maintenance required being to keep things clean so as to not interfere with the copper vane, interrupt the magnetic field, or create inaccuracy in the beam. Remember, you're dealing in 1/10 of a grain measurements. That's roughly equal to just over 2/10,000ths of an ounce. Put another way, it takes 218.8 grains to equal 1/2 an ounce. How much dust or how many particles of whatever will it take to mess things up? (Never apply oil or other lube.)
Just to give you a sense for durability, reliability, etc., in the late 1980's and early 1990's, I used my 5-0-5 to measure uncounted thousands of charges for shotgun, rifle, and handgun for practice and competition. Along about 1993 or 1994, the scale got packed away in its original box and stored with my other reloading equipment, suffering a couple major moves as a result of career choices. It's only been in the last year or so that I've been able to rediscover my passion for firearms and shooting in any sort of meaningful way insofar as reloading. When I started loading again, I set up my 5-0-5 and used a standard set of RCBS check weights to assure myself that this old warrior was still up to the task at hand.
Does the phrase - "Right on the money" - hold any meaning for you?
Using the 5-0-5 is about as simple as it gets. You set the poise to the charge weight you desire, drop your initial charge of powder from either a measure or powder scoop (see Lee's Improved Powder Measure Kit: What D'Ya Want For 10 Bucks?) into the "gold" pan (the catalog lists this pan as aluminum, but it's still gold colored), lift the pan with the scoop (an extended tab grasped with the thumb and forefinger), place the pan on the pan support assembly, and proceed to adjust the powder charge until the beam pointer is centered on the "0" of the dial plate on the left of the base. The dial plate on my version has only the "0" line, with no other graduation marks present. Frankly, such graduation measures are unnessary on the dial plate in that you are attempting to achieve a "0" and a little practice will create in you a sense for how far over or under you are. Typically, you will want to start with a powder charge just under the desired grain weight and use a powder trickler to increase the charge a kernal of powder at a time to zero. In my experience, it is far easier to "add to" than "subtract from" the pan when weighing. Remember - 'Tis better to give than receive...
Periodically, you will want to check the zero of the scale by setting the poise to their respective "0" on the beam. This brings us to the single "weakness" of the 5-0-5 that I might cite. Actually, while some may see this as a flaw of design, it is really a lack of awareness on the operator's part. Unlike several scale base designs on the market, the 5-0-5's base is not design to attach to a table top. As stated, it simply uses a leveling foot on one end and the other end of the base simply sits on the table top. If you don't harshly bump the scale or your surface is slightly rough, there's typically no issue. However, a slick surface means that it doesn't take much to move the scale and by doing so, potentially messing up the zero. Likewise if you tend to be ham-handed when placing or lifting the pan.
Again... You should check your zero periodically - no matter what. Some experts even state that the zero should be checked approximately every ten charges. If you even think you've moved/jiggled the scale, you should check it. If this sounds too cumbersome or time-consuming for you, remember what I said about speed being a primary focus in reloading. When reloading, words such as precision, accuracy, consistency, and safety are the watch words - NOT speed. In fact, the school of reloading (and shooting) I came up in preached that if you didn't take the time to do it right, you might not get the opportunity to do it again. It's the same thought that Mark Wahlberg's character, Bob Lee Swagger, expresses in the movie Shooter when he tells Nick Memphis: "Slow is smooth and smooth is fast."
RCBS has been a major name of quality reloading tools for decades. To be honest, I can't find a specific warranty statement for the 5-0-5. I can stipulate that the customer service at RCBS has always been top notch on the exceedingly rare occasion when I've had to contact them. (I recently delivered my Sidewinder Case Tumbler to RCBS to have them check it over after having had it sit in storage for so long; i.e., belt and bearings being a primary concern. Not only did they lube the bearings, declare the belt sound, and show me a couple maintenance pointers, they threw in a free bottle of their Liquid Media. All at no charge except the transportation.) Therefore, I have no worries in that regard.
Balance beam powder scales adhere to a fundamental principle of engineering - the K.I.S.S. Principle. No resistors. No batteries. While arguments are had, ad nauseum, over the virtues of new vs. old 'technology,' it's hard to argue with something so simple that it works. It's also hard to argue with the concept that such a simple tool will meet the needs of most reloaders. Therefore, always bearing in mind that what you might want isn't the same as what you actually have a use for, in the balance, the RCBS 5-0-5 Scale is probably all the scale most will ever need.