Digital scales offer precision and large maximum weighing weight. However they can be complicated to use. Here’s how to choose a good scale. We look at glass and stainless steel precision weighing scales for home and kitchen use.
Traditional mechanical, analog kitchen scales were used mainly for cooking and baking. Digital scales (also called electronic, strain gauge or load cell scales) are more versatile. They combine the high precision (sensitivity) of a small mechanical postage scale, with the large maximum weight capacity of a full-sized mechanical kitchen scale.
An 11 pound (5 kilogram) mechanical spring scale reads out to the nearest ounce (20 or 25 grams). An equivalent digital kitchen scale can give readings with a precision of 1 gram (or 0.1 ounces), 10 to 25 times more precise.
This means that digital kitchen scales they aren’t just for weighing flour. There can also be use to weigh letters for calculating postage, food portions for diets and ingredients for crafts such as making soap and candles.
Digital kitchen scales typically cost $20 to $50 (mechanical scales cost about half that). Popular brands include Salter (Aquatronic), Soehnle, Champagne, Newline, Page, Primo and Escali.
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How to Test Digital Kitchen Scale Accuracy
There’s a difference between precision and accuracy. Precision is the smallest incremental reading the scale can display (typically 1 gram) but the actual reading may be in error (inaccurate) by a few grams.
To test the accuracy of a scale, coins can be used. Coins are minted to a high degree of accuracy. The US Mint website says that a nickel weighs 5.000 grams to 4 decimal digits accuracy (http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/index.cfm?flash=no&action=coin_specifications).
Digital Scale Construction and LCD Display
Unlike mechanical scales with their large bowl and dial, digital scales are normally flat, like a book – you usually need to supply your own bowl. Size doesn’t affect performance. Some are as small as a paperback book and work well.
Because of their flat shape, it is tempting to store them vertically, on their side, to save space. However many scales need to be stored horizontally for maximum accuracy. Any such limitations will be specified in the instruction manual.
The top is almost always a flat piece of glass or stainless steel. Some are removable, for easy washing. For protection against flour and other kitchen hazards, the entire scale can be placed inside a clear plastic bag.
Covered wipe-clean membrane buttons (like those on a microwave oven) on the front panel are used to control the scale. An LCD display shows the measured weight. The display should be large and backlit, for easy reading.
The flat construction means that the LCD panel can be obscured by a large plate on the scale. Even a bowl can cast a shadow on the LCD. Some scales have pull-out panels, panels on a foot-high stand or backlit panels to counter this problem. Using a glass bowl also helps.
Digital Scale Features and Problems
Most digital scales have an automatic power-off to save the batteries. Time outs range from 1 to 4 minutes. A time out that is too short is frustrating to use.
One advantage of digital scales is easy switching between different measurement units. A digital scale will have some of these units:
- kilograms and grams
- ounces (example: 27.2 ounces)
- pounds and ounces (example: 1 pound, 11.2 ounces)
- decimal pounds (example: 1.70 pounds)
- fluid ounces, pints
The scale should:
- Allow easy push-button selection of units from the front panel. Some scales have the selection switch hidden underneath the scale.
- Remember the last setting, not defaulting to the same unit every time it is switched on.
There is always a slight delay before the LCD registers any change in weight. The delay should be as short as possible.
Most digital scales are battery-powered but some can also be powered using a DC adapter plugged into the wall socket. Batteries should be standard easy-to-find types such as AA or AAA. Unfortunately lithium coin batteries or 9 volt batteries are sometimes used.
Warranties vary between 2 and 30 years.
Digital Scale Tare Function
The tare function resets the display to zero. This can be used to ignore the weight of any empty container on the scale, registering only the weight of the ingredients that are added later.
The tare function can be used repeatedly, pushing the button to zero the weight after each ingredient is added.
Some scales have an auto-tare feature, automatically zeroing the scale after a few minutes. While convenient, it can also be frustrating, zeroing the scale when the cook still wants to read the original weight.
Unfortunately not all scales allow the auto-tare to be switched off. It is better to have no auto-tare, than to have an auto-tare that cannot be switched off.
The Best Digital Kitchen Scale
Most digital scales are accurate and precise, let down only by inconvenient time outs and default measurement units.
As long as these features are implemented in a suitable manner, other problems will be minor. The most important feature is the tare function. Other features can complicate the scale, making it difficult to use.