By Nick Harvey
The Hornady Auto Charge represents the ultimate in dispensing accurate powder charges.
The Hornady Lock-N-Load Auto Charge introduced a couple of years ago, represents the ultimate in dispensing accurate powder charges automatically. This kind of tool represents a major advance in the evolution of reloading. Gone are the days when a handloader was obliged to use a magnetic scale to set up a mechanical powder measure to throw powder charges. One method was to weigh each powder charge on a powder scale, after throwing a slightly low charge from the measure into the scale pan and then using a powder trickler, add a few granules at a time, to bring the charge up to the desired weight.
The precision of a mechanical measure depends to a great extent on the consistency of pulling and returning the operating handle. The operator was obliged to develop a technique of using the same motion time after time. But even after the powder measure was adjusted, it was wise to check its accuracy, and yours, by dropping every fifth load into the scale pan for check- weighing. Accurate loads are supposed to be within a tolerance of +/-1/10th of a grain. However, it is not that easy to attain such a high degree of accuracy using a mechanical measure, even for the most experienced handloader, let alone a careless one. Once, I checked a guy’s reloads and found they varied by three grains up and down!
It is the careless or sloppy handloader who stands to gain the most by acquiring an automatic powder dispenser, but for guys like me who reload vast quantities of ammunition annually, they save a lot of time spent at the bench by dispensing precise powder charges time after time.
Seeing my mates “doing it easy” with their RCBS and Lyman powder dispensers I got all fired up to the stage where I was seriously thinking about mortgaging the homestead to buy one. Then the Hornady Lock-N-Load Auto Charge caught my attention and I requested one for review from Outdoor Sporting Agencies. It turned out to be a good looking unit coloured bright red like all Hornady products. No different to all the other automatic powder dispensers on the market, it is essentially an electronic powder measure which meters the propellant into the pan of an integral digital scale; the dispenser slows down as the charge weight approaches the prescribed amount and then trickles the last few granules needed to top-off the exact amount entered into the touch pad.
The Auto Charge differs from the others in that it has some features that I find most desirable. In addition to a large keyboard with easy-to-read backlit LCD figures and dedicated function keys, automatic and manual dispense options, it has a trickle function, three different speed settings and overcharge protection. In addition, the ease with which it can be emptied of powder makes the Auto Charge one of the most effective powder measures on the market.
The Auto Charge has a 1000 gr hopper capacity and is capable of dispensing charge weights of up to 300 grains with +/- 0.1gn accuracy. Having three speed settings optimises dispense speed to suit different powder shapes and densities to ensure precise charge weights.
Activating the Auto Charge is pretty straightforward, but this electronic device must be given from 5-15 minutes to acclimate to the environment after you switch it on. You won’t get peak performance until the unit reaches room temperature. Your first task is to “teach” the unit how to make readings by calibrating it. This only takes a few minutes and the accompanying instructions are easy to follow.
To set up the Auto Charge, you press the MODE switch to change from AUTO to MANUAL and then enter the target weight. After entering the amount of charge, press BACK CANCEL to delete the last digit entered. Set on AUTO a charge is thrown each time you remove and replace the powder pan; if you use the MANUAL mode it will be necessary to press the DISPENSE button to begin each dispensing cycle after the pan is replaced on the scale plate. This allows a partial charge to be placed on the scale and the Auto Charge will finish trickling the balance of the charge until the target weight is reached.
The SPEED button allows you to access three speed settings - SLOW, NORMAL and FAST. Slow is normally used for dispensing powders that flow easily or coarse stick powders that bridge in a mechanical measure to jam the drum, and cut granules into shorter lengths. NORMAL, however can be used with most types of powder and charge weights. It gives a shorter trickle function as the unit approaches Target Weight and approximately the last grain gets trickled into the powder pan. FAST works best with small to medium size granules and charge weights, or for powders that don’t flow as easily. With this speed the last 1-1/2 grain gets trickled into the powder pan.
If the unit dispenses powder too fast set on SLOW, press and hold the MODE button to begin trickling 0.2 grains sooner. Press and hold MODE again to increase trickle time in 0.2 grain increments. Press and hold CANCEL to reset to default settings.
To test the scale I used three powders of different types - spherical WIN-748 (ball powder); medium fine AR2219; and Hodgdon’s H4831, a coarse stick powder. And I tried each at all three speeds. Grain size makes this powder prone to bridging and subject to hard cut-off in conventional volumetric powder measures, hence such measured charges are apt to vary in weight more from charge to charge than with smaller grained propellants.
In 1994, ADI introduced AR2213sc which has the same burning rate as H4831 but with a new “short cut” grain structure that allowed it to meter more easily and throw more precise charges than the original surplus powder.
For my initial test I half-filled the hopper with H4831, and with the unit on MANUAL set a target amount of 60 grain after which I pressed ENTER to store the setting. To reload 60 .270 Winchester cases. Speed was set on NORMAL and a charge was thrown every time the pan was replaced on the scale plate. Each charge was thrown in about 12 seconds and each was checked on my RCBS Digital Scale. Out of the first 20 charges thrown two were 0.1gn over and one was 0.2gn over. Now this isn’t enough of a variation to have any effect on a 60gn charge in a .270, but an overcharge was registered by OVER appearing in the window. This can be removed by pressing ENTER. Normally, I wouldn’t have bothered changing anything for a load 0.2gn over, but for testing, I changed the speed to slow and thereafter every load was exactly 60 grains. In the event the charge registers 0.1 or 0.2 short, you simply hold the TRICKLE button to increase the charge weight.
The Auto Charge is very easy to use and my routine was to pour each charge from the pan into the case via a 6 inch drop tube while gently tapping the case on the bench to settle the powder down. To change the target weight all you have to do is press the BACK/CANCEL button and hold it down for 3 seconds to clear the previous amount, punch in a new charge weight and press ENTER.
The second powder tested was WIN-748 with a target weight of 50gn for a 130gn loading in the .308. With the speed set on NORMAL, each unit consistently dispensed charges without as much as 0.1gn variation. This is a medium slow burning ball-type propellant which shows exceptionally smooth metering through mechanical powder measures for highly uniform charge weights and high density loads in small to medium size cases from the .222 to .308. It doesn’t offer enough bulk to give ideal loading density in large-capacity cases. Too much air space is left in the case, which causes erratic ignition with consequent pressure fluctuations and loss of accuracy. As with other ball powders made by Winchester, the company does not recommend much compression when loading 748. A loading density of beyond 101 percent is inviting trouble according to Olin, particularly if the cartridges might be fired in extremely cold weather.
The third powder tested, AR2219, is an extruded powder which has very small granules in the form of tiny perforated sticks that flow through powder measures quite smoothly without bridging or binding. It does best with lighter bullets in small-capacity cases , or with larger diameter bullets in medium-capacity cases. I like it in the .222 for full power loads and in the .223 for top accuracy as well as cartridges which have a relatively high expansion ratio, such as the .30-30 and .45-70.
I set the Auto Charge on FAST to dispense a 25gn charge of AR2219 for the .223 Remington with the Hornady 35gn V-Max bullet. This combo churns up 3550fps in a Sako rifle with 600mm barrel and disintegrates rabbits in a red mist. Each charge was thrown in about 10 seconds and not one varied by as much as 0.1gn.
To change to another powder or after you’ve finished a reloading session, it is necessary to empty the powder hopper. This couldn’t be easier. You turn the Auto Charge side-on to the edge of your bench, hold the canister under the empty tube cap on the right side of the unit, open it and let the powder run out. Then tilt the unit back to release any residual granules left in the tube. This is an easier method than with some other powder dispensers on the market. However, remember to close the cap on the empty tube before you refill the hopper or you’ll have powder spilled all over your bench.
The Auto Charge is subject to the same problems with electrical interference that causes scale drift, and plagues all electronic powder dispensers. Keep it at least one meter away from fluorescent lights (I have them in my reloading room) and other electronic devices (radios, motors, phones etc) away when using the scale, and do not let a fan, heater or draught blow on it. Using the clear cover over the powder pan will lessen the effects of outside variables.
The Auto Charge is a compact unit that doesn’t take up very much room on your bench. It lacks a memory, but this isn’t going to worry most handloaders as they will have a log book to record components, powder type, charge weights and muzzle velocities. The Auto Charge should always be set on a flat, level and stable surface when in operation, and should be calibrated every time you use it. This is only a sensible precaution and shouldn’t be necessary when you only change powders. Be careful not to lose one or both weights as it may be difficult to get an identical replacement.
If the platen on which the pan rests is removed for cleaning or any other reason, remember to do a calibration run after you reinstall it. If you take the time to familiarize yourself with the Auto Charge and keep those calibration weights handy, you can’t go wrong. I liked the Auto Charge so much that I couldn’t bear to send it back and went and bought it!
Supplied by Outdoor Sporting Agencies. Web: www.osaaustralia.com.au