Every article that ever discusses reloading compared to buying factory ammo inevitably touches on the touchiest topic of all – cost. Nearly every reloader I’ve ever met, teeth clenched, smile painted on, tells me that, yes, they definitely save money rolling their own. Having done it on my own for a bit, I can tell you that’s not the case. Unless you load tens of thousands of rounds each year, reloading is not likely to save you any money. That said, it is good fun and allows a great deal of flexibility in what you can conceivably put together for your rifle or handgun of choice.

One of the most luxurious items you can purchase for yourself is an automated powder trickler that lets you dispense your exact charge weight at the press of a button. There are a couple models on the market from various manufacturers, but the one that always seems to garner the best reviews is the RCBS Chargemaster.  Unfortunately, the Chargemaster suffers from a few fatal flaws. First, it’s a serious investment at a street price of well over $250. I picked mine up for $270 on an Amazon sale and felt like I got a steal.

The second major flaw is the powder trickling tube which has always suffered from a bout of “overthowitis” with stick powders like Varget, H4350, and the Reloader series. Luckily, it can be fixed and salvation is but a McDonald’s straw and some programming away. Still, dropping nearly $300 on a gadget that you then have to fix up right is a downer.

For 2017, RCBS is introducing the Chargemaster Lite, meant to be a lower cost alternative to the much more expensive Chargemaster line currently gracing the reloading bench in my shop. The Lite takes all the great features of the regular Chargemaster, fixes the dispensing pipe, and uses a less expensive load cell along with a much cleaner interface to bring a true value based automated powder trickler to market.

For those worried about that load cell comment, fear not. RCBS’s product manager reassures me that the load cell in my legacy Chargemaster is accurate +/- .1 gr from 3-700 grains which requires a very precise, and therefore very expensive, load cell. The Lite version moves to a load cell that is accurate to +/- .1 gr from 3-300 grains. This, along with some other changes, reduces MSRP by ~$200 to $299.95. Given that real world cost on the regular Chargemaster is about 55% of MSRP, my hope was that the Lite would hit the market at a price substantially lower than $200, but it appears from a cursory search of the internet that you’ll be able to pick one up in the wild for ~$210.

That’s still very affordable, and if it’s as accurate as my premium grade Chargemaster, it should be a fine complement to a well equipped reloading bench. RCBS has a test unit winging its way towards Austin, TX now and I intend to drag race it against my much pricier legacy unit. Stay tuned.

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33 Responses to RCBS Introduces Chargemaster Lite – 2017 SHOT Show

  1. Great! I’m especially interested in how it handles Unique, my go to for .38spl, .45acp, .44spl, .44mag, .45 colt, and .38-55.

  2. Best way to roll your own cartridges on the cheap, use a friends reloader!

    One of my good friends recently began reloading. He bought it all second hand on Craigslist. Someone else spent a bunch of money getting all kinds of equipment then a few years later sold the whole package for under $300. Complete with powders, cases and bullets. He had loaded several thousand rounds just with what was included in the purchase.

  3. If you’re trying to save money then buying a bunch of expensive gadgets you don’t really need isn’t gonna help.

    I’m not saying they’re not cool and don’t make life easier (when they work as advertised obviously), I’m just saying it’s not a budget reloading setup when you start adding in high end digital scales, electronic powder tricklers, electronic calipers, electric case tumblers, ultrasonics etc. Heck, you don’t even need anything past a single stage press, really.

    What you’re reloading will also make an enormous difference in if you save money or not. There’s a big difference between reloading 9mm and .338 Lapua to match grade specs.

    • I’m still working up to that single stage press. I bought a Lee loader so I could reload .45 colt with black powder. Works great, but a bit labor intensive.

      • I, too, started with a Lee Loader kit in 1975. Only that first summer tho. That was the one and only time loading my own ever saved me any money. I shot about the same amount, and did save some cash. By the end of that summer, though, I was buying components in greater quantity, starting to shoot more, and the simple way was too slow. So I went with a Rock Chucker and a simple powder measure instead. That increase in speed loaded up all my brass, which I then proceeded to shoot all up in short order, and then I figured out that this was NOT going to save anything, but cost me a lot MORE instead. But if I add up what I would have spent on that much factory ammo, it saved me a small fortune. But I never would have used that much factory ammo, because I couldn’t have afforded it. So loading is a double edged sword, but the extra shooting will make you a lot better shot, and that’s priceless. At least to me. Plus, there’s the vast array of components that means one can tailor the loads better for each firearm, experiment with projectiles that no factory makes, squib loads, make ammo that’s long obsolete, even create your own cases for rounds that haven’t been around since before I was born, and on and on.

      • I had a Lee turret press for awhile (Classic 4 Hole), scrapped it for an RCBS single stage.

        Maybe I just got a dud but the thing often didn’t line up quite right and ended up being significantly more work to deal with than a single stage. Not only did I have to fiddle with the press itself I often had to resize and then re-trim a piece of brass if I was trying to go too quickly and the press was off.

        To me it doesn’t really matter. I do things one step at a time anyway rather than trying to turn out a round as quickly as possible. When my box of properly sized and primed brass of whatever caliber gets full it’s time to load them with powder and stuff a bullet in them.

        I understand the appeal of a turret press, at least if it works better than mine did, I’m merely pointing out that you can get the job done without one. YMMV.

        • The only issue I’ve had with a Lee turret was a tool head machined incorrectly so it didn’t index in alignment with the ram. Lee replaced it. I use the classic cast 4-hole, and at this point my Redding turret is reserved for service rifle calibers. The Lee is fantastic for pistol and straight-wall black powder rifle calibers. Now the Lee load master- lets just say that’s the reason I stepped back from progressive presses.

  4. Stick powders are a pain in the rear, and there are usually good alternatives.

    My experience has been that ball powders flow out of my powder drop with so much consistency that weighing each charge is a waste of time. It’s also a darn sight quicker, with no need for a $200+ machine.

    Rolling your own can save you a ton of cash, under two conditions:
    1) The brass is free, and
    2) You don’t place any value on your time.

    • It also depends on what you reload. With my larger precision rifle cartridges like .300 Wn Mag and .338 Lapua, I can realize a savings of $2-$3 per round over the precision factory stuff. Seeing as I can easily shoot 50+ rounds in a single session, over a year or two, that savings can add up to some pretty expensive gear. Plus I get rounds tuned exactly to my rifle.

      • “Plus I get rounds tuned exactly to my rifle.”

        That’s the key thing right there. If you’re “handloading”, you’re getting ammo optimized for YOUR weapon. Should still be saving you money over the cost of buying loaded ammo. Stalk the supply houses for sales, buy in bulk, share powder/primer orders with friends to split up the hazmat fees.

    • I count my time ad relaxation. Quiet, focused on making something and being able to look at what I’ve produced. Otherwise, l’ed be a couch potato in from of the babble box.

  5. Yea, um, i can load .223 by the thousands around what i pay for .22 ammo when i can find it, .22= .08/round .223= around .09/round and i dont have to shoot steel cased ammo, which by the way is still more expensive. Single stage press and my manual powder measure work just fine for me. I prep cases in stages so when i actually complete rounds its usually a couple hundred an hour. Idle hands are the devils playground and rolling my own keeps my hands plenty busy.

    • ok i gotta call bs on that claim.
      I’ll make the assuption that the brass is free..
      Cheapest you can get primers is just over $.02/rd for (tula) $.03+ for CCI or anything else
      Hodgedon 355 is @ $155-175 for 8lbs so that is $06-.07 /rd
      about the cheapest you can get NON-blemished/defective .224 would be the standard 55gr BT
      those run $80-90/1000 at the cheapest i could find so $.08/rd
      that adds up to AT LEAST $0.17/rd
      Half of what you’d pay for bulk ammo but definitely not $0.09/rd UNLESS you meant only the projectile which means you’d have to use a slingshot

  6. Not true for most. I purchased a new Dillon 550, one set of dies and a powder scale. I kept accurate records as my wife had bet me it would never pay for itself. Well 4,500 rounds later she was paying up. Now I have added a few more calibers and for the most part I’ve broken even after just 500-600 rounds. With 4 shooters in the family it is not uncommon to fire 1,000 rounds in just an hour at the range, sometimes twice as much. We average about 9 trips a year to the range and reloading will save us about $600 a year give or take. That’s a “free” firearm a year.

    Plus I really save much more on defensive rounds. I can load HST clones for just a few cents more than fmj.

    I think like most sports or hobbies it boils down to how crazy you go with the cheese whiz. Throw in three dozen techno gadgets and you will not be saving money.

  7. If you’re claiming your time is free, then you can reload and “save” money. I reload to make ammo I can’t buy, i.e. tailored to the individual firearm it is consumed by, OR isn’t available commercially (non-lead hunting ammo ca. 2008-2010). I’m delighted to see RCBS respond to the Hornady electronic dispenser, I hope the development time was well spent. The barrier to entry with the original ChargeMaster was too high for a lot of less experienced (i.e. younger) reloaders, but for match shooters it was SO worth the money.

  8. Reloading really saves when you load some of the expensive calibers.
    Just in my .416 Rigby alone, I’m saving over 5 bucks a round, allowing me to be more proficient.
    I’ll wait a bit on that newer charge master. Price should come down sooner or later.

  9. I have spent $100 bucks give or take for 60rnds of .500 S&W and probably have 40 left. Handloading 500 cases from starline has lasted 7 full power reloadings and I’ve tamed them down with 350s on top of a casefull trailboss and will get 2-3 more but would never have fired the monster as much….less than a buck each…yes time is not counted…but mastering not blowing my headoff and launching 575 grains at 1275fps….priceless. Plus I bought all my gear in 1990 with highschool summer work funds…over the 30 years more than paid for itself. As much as we buy guns as legacy hand me downs, tools to help feed them and who taught us “how” = awesome memories. My great uncle showed me and since I dont have kids my niece and her hubby will get quite a spread one day.
    Teach a man to fish….

  10. I got the similar looking Lyman Gen 6 on Amazon for $145 a year ago and it has worked very well. I put a wish list on Amazon and watch it everyday and usually only buy something when it has a freaky price drop.

    • Just being picky, but actual ‘high end’ lab balances have a few more zeros to the right of the decimal.

      Did you notice in the beginning of the video where the displayed weight was unstable and bounced around a bit?

      That’s caused by air currents in the room. Lab balances usually have a door on the weigh chamber to neutralize this.

      You can make your balance a *lot* more stable if you build a small box or cover with a window in it and place it over the weight pan until the display stabilizes.

      And contrary to popular belief, what makes an analytical balance expensive *isn’t* how many decimals to the right of the zero it has.

      The real money is in how fast the display stabilizes, its actual ‘settling time’ once the door to the weigh chamber closes. That’s a *huge* savings in time, especially if you have hundreds of individual weighs to make when you butt is parked in the seat in front of the balance. Like I did for more years than I care to recall.

      (And I grit my teeth when I see the word ‘Zero’ on a button on a balance when it should properly read ‘Tare’…)

  11. If you’re planning on saving money by reloading .223 or 9mm, you’re wasting your time.

    That said, for some calibers, reloading is the only cost effective option. Unusual ones like 458 Socom and 338 sepctre come to mind (unless you like paying $2-4 per shot). Other less common, although mainstream cartridges like 300AAC also see benefits to reloading, especially with subsonics.

    If you start HiTek coating cast bullets you can save even more on the cost of rifle ammo. I’ve been playing around with some coated 300AAC subsonic projectiles that are so far showing promise, and casting at around $0.06 each, they’re pretty cheap.

    • Simple mathematics says that even 9 and 5.56 cost less to load than buy, as long as you don’t include a monetary value on your time. 8 cents each for 55 gr bullets, apx 7 for powder, and 3 for primer. That equals apx 18 cents a round, vs 30 for the cheapest steel cased Berdan on the market. A savings of 12 cents per round means by the time you load ten thousand rounds it would have paid for a complete loading room including a progressive press, dies, scale, vibrating tumbler… the works.
      .12 X 10K = $1200.
      Press: apx 700 (Dillon 650. Could save by dropping to the 550 also. Could save even more by going to the cheap Lee tools, but they don’t hold up like the good stuff. Aluminum just isn’t cast iron)
      Dies: 3 calibers, 200
      Vibrator: 80
      Scale : 75
      Add 150 for trays, primer flippers, and misc. and you get to apx 1200 USD.
      And the tools are now yours, their value intact so long as you don’t destroy them. Hardly ” wasting your time”. So long as you don’t value your time at corporate CEO rates, ofc. And the ammo you produce will be tailored to your firearms, brass cased, and much superior to Tulammo that goes for apx 300/1K or .30 per.

  12. As someone who started loading in 1975, I can agree that it cost me much more than what I did spend on factory ammo. NOT, however because the money was not there to save. The reason it cost me so much more was buying large quantities of components, and then shooting many times as much.
    I got one of these when the auto digitals first came out, but I found that either my Redding or RCBS simple cavity measures made ammo just as accurate as the digital trickler type, and at many times the speed. Being a volume reloader by then, I sold it. It was just too slow.
    Then progressives became affordable, and I never regretted the switch. I still use my Rock Chucker from 1975 though. The leverage comes in handy for large thick cases, and also for case forming and such heavy duty use. When forming obsolete cases and such I only need a few, and the only rifle rounds I shoot in enough volume to bother setting up the progressive is 5.56, 7.62X51, and .222REM. Perhaps one of the super long range rounds might see a minor increase in weighing each charge, but I shoot .375H&H out to 500 yards, and .300 WBY and WIN out to a thousand and can’t see a noticable improvement
    That Rock Chucker, and the powder measures, have never needed anything but cleaning in all that time. I can’t say the same for progressives tho. And I’ve gone through quite a few scales, esp. the digitals. I’ve worn out two lee priming tools, though, and am on my third. But they’re cheap and disposable. The aluminum arm wears out and then the thumb lever cannot seat the primer. I think this one might last the rest of my life since my volume loads go through a progressive nowadays.

  13. Reloading’s value is caliber dependent. No sense in doing it for 9mm or 5.56, but for more obscure stuff (or even just 308) it’s a better idea. 300 blackout in particular benefits (I’ll wait for the HPA before jumping on that train).

  14. If you’re not saving money reloading you’re doing it wrong. Using range pickup brass I shot my last 50 rds of 45acp for $5.76. 230grFMJ bullet. I don’t know what Tyler’s time is worth but I get up at 4am without an alarm clock, and reload on an old Rock Chucker. Been doing it for 23 years.

    • I’m not saying you are lying, but where are you getting that number (~11.5c/rd) from? Your brass is free, fine but primers are 3-4c, depending on loads you are going to be using 4-5c worth of powder, so we’re at 7-9c a round which leaves only 3-5f for the most expensive component that goes into loaded ammunition…. so you can se where one might get confused. Unless you cast your own bullets I don’t see it, and you said FMJs.

      You can buy high quality brass cased FMJ ammo for .20-.30/rd these days and I don’t have to spend 30minutes after my range session scrounging brass, or sorting it, or cleaning it, prepping it etc etc etc etc.

      I get the argument that it’s a hobby so any time spent is sunk cost, but that would be like saying cars are my hobby but every time I want to take a weekend drive I have to completely rebuild the car and have to hang around at the track after everyone leaves to pick up used parts for it. That’s fine if your car is a high performance race car (i.e. Precision rifle ammo) but doesn’t make sense for volume practice stuff.

  15. I don’t consider the price of the equipment because reloading is a hobby for me. I also enjoy the options and independence it allows. I do save money when rolling my own 308 supers and I save a $hit load of money rolling my own 308 subs. Go figure brass lasts a while on a 308 sub round. For 9mm I’m probably getting 147gr ammo for abouf what I can get 115gr cheapo stuff for. That’s alright in my book.

  16. Reloading definitely saves me money. I shoot about 1k rounds of .30/06 per year for match. I could buy match grade .30/06 at $1.50-2 per round, or I can load stuff my rifle likes at $0.35-0.38 a round. I probably make 30 rounds per hour of labor put in. I load military surplus brass 10-15 times, only trimmed once before the first reloading. I could probably push it further, but I haven’t yet. I’ll save a similar amount of money loading .223 for my National Match AR as I start to shoot that more. The equipment has been long paid for in savings.

    I load pistol ammo on a single stage too, which probably doesn’t save me any money when I factor in time, but lets me save some money using free time I’m not using for anything else here and there.

  17. A little back of the envelope math tells me I probably break even on reloading cash wise.

    I always think the “factor your time cost” in is a little silly. If I didn’t HAVE the time to use on a hobby I enjoy, I wouldn’t be doing it. 😉 It’s fun to tinker. And then I get to go shoot.

  18. That street price makes this a serious contender with some of the higher end volumetric powder measures out there, and it cuts out the need for the extra step of trickling up to a specified weight that is almost mandatory even with the best of the best mechanical powder drops out there.

    For reference, since I know people will claim that their $30 Lee tools are “just as good” (they aren’t but you are entitled to your opinion so whatever), a really outstanding powder measure like the Redding 3BR is going to run you $150-180ish, then you need a scale (spend another 60-80 for a decent one like their #2), and a good trickler is going to run you another 25-30 so already you are nearly to the cost of a big daddy Chargemaster. So this thing (if that $210 street price is legit) undercuts a high end mechanical setup by $80 give or take.

    I’d still want my mechanical trickler and beam scale for smaller batches/ladder testing but this thing is incredible value for the quality you get. Remember, you can cheap out and get lesser components and bring that cost down to well below this, and the argument that you reach a point of diminishing returns holds some weight for the average hunter/recreational shooter who is just knocking over bambi at <200yds, but the Chargemaster (and presumably this model) are competing with all but the highest end powder measures and scales, so again, they represent incredible value for those who also count their time in the equation of reloading costs.

  19. I’ve had my chargemaster for a couple 3 years now and the membrane keypad is almost black from daily use. Not sure how the touch screen keypad is going to hold up but maybe for the less intense user would be ok. I called RCBS about a year ago and asked the tech about adjusting the contrast on the readout, figuring maybe there was a service menu that would let me do it. He said no. I still think there is but we got to talking and I told him my feedback for product improvement would be to add that feature and he said doubtful as they were not going to be making the 1500 much longer. Not sure what much longer means but it’s been a year and they are still making them. If they quit and blow them out, I’ll be buying another.

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