How to Make a Scale

A homesteader shares how to make a scale cheaply, accurately and easily.

| March/April 1976

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    Don't have enough money to buy a scale for your homesteading needs?  Read on and learn how to make a scale.
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    Water's weight differs at different temperatures.  This chart shows you how much.
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    Photo 1 shows the simple balance scale Solberg made in minutes using a carpenter's level, a paint bucket, and a burlap bunny bag.
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    Photo 2: Scale made from a car's throttle spring can weigh up to 9 pounds.

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A couple of months ago, my wife and I went into town to buy a scale. We'd decided to tighten up our rabbit raising operation and figured that if we could weigh the feed going in and the bunnies coming out, we'd have a better handle on the efficiency (or lack of it) of the whole enterprise.

We came home disillusioned. The scale most suited to our purpose cost $14.00 and only weighed to an accuracy of 1/10 pound. Now $14.00 is a lot of money to us — especially for an item that seemed to me worth about five bucks.

Then I remembered my trusty old Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, and its table which listed the weight of water to five decimal places. And I thought to myself: I've got a whole well full of water! This set in motion a chain of events which finally led me to construct a couple of sets of scales both every bit as accurate as those in town — at a cost of nothing!

The first scale I made was a simple "carpenter's level" balance. (The little spirit bubble made a fine balance indicator.) I wired a burlap sack to one end of the level, and an empty paint bucket to the other (see Photo 1). Then I tied a string around the middle, suspended the whole mess, and shifted things back and forth until the level was . . . well, level.  

Next, I put a bunny in the burlap sack and poured water into the bucket until everything balanced again. Finally, with the rabbit safely back in its cage, I measured the water with an ordinary measuring cup divided into fluid ounces — and there was the weight of the rabbit! I estimated my error as plus or minus an ounce — not bad for a scale that I had put together in five minutes!

Chemists, of course, have developed the measurement of fluids into an art. With a graduated cylinder you can determine the volume of water to within tiny fractions of an ounce. (If you ever required this kind of accuracy you'd need to know the water's temperature too, since its density does change with temperature. For most situations, however, you can figure that a gallon of cool water weighs 8.33 pounds.) (Click on the "Image Gallery" to view a chart that shows water weights.)


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