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A precision balance scale for weighing silver and gold located on display at the Historic Archive and Museum of Mining in Pachuca, Mexico.

The pivot balance (also balance, balance scale, beam balance, and laboratory balance) was the first mass measuring instrument invented.[1] In its traditional form, it consists of a pivoted horizontal lever of equal length arms, called the beam, with a weighing pan, also called scale, scalepan, or bason (obsolete[2]), suspended from each arm (which is the origin of the originally plural term "scales" for a weighing instrument). The unknown mass is placed in one pan, and standard masses are added to the other pan until the beam is as close to equilibrium as possible. In precision balances, a slider mass is moved along a graduated scale. The slider position gives a fine correction to the mass value. Although a balance technically compares weights, not masses, the weight of an object is proportional to its mass, and the standard weights used with balances are usually labeled in mass units.

Odważniki 2, ubt

Two 10-decagram masses

Gewichtendoos B

Masses of 50, 20, 1, 2, 5 and 10 gram

Balances are used for precision mass measurement, because unlike spring scales their accuracy is not affected by differences in the local gravity, which can vary by almost 0.5%[3] at different locations on Earth. A change in the strength of the gravitational field caused by moving the balance will not change the measured mass, because the moments of force on either side of the balance beam are affected equally. In fact, a balance will measure the correct mass even on other planets or moons, or any location that experiences a constant gravity or acceleration.

Very precise measurements are achieved by ensuring that the balance's fulcrum is essentially friction-free (a knife edge is the traditional solution), by attaching a pointer to the beam which amplifies any deviation from a balance position; and finally by using the lever principle, which allows fractional masses to be applied by movement of a small mass along the measuring arm of the beam, as described above. For greatest accuracy, there needs to be an allowance for the buoyancy in air, whose effect depends on the densities of the masses involved.

The original form of a balance consisted of a beam with a fulcrum at its center. For highest accuracy, the fulcrum would consist of a sharp V-shaped pivot seated in a shallower V-shaped bearing. To determine the mass of the object, a combination of reference masses was hung on one end of the beam while the object of unknown mass was hung on the other end (see balance and steelyard balance). For high precision work, the center beam balance is still one of the most accurate technologies available, and is commonly used for calibrating test weights.

To reduce the need for large reference masses, an off-center beam can be used. A balance with an off-center beam can be almost as accurate as a scale with a center beam, but the off-center beam requires special reference masses and cannot be intrinsically checked for accuracy by simply swapping the contents of the pans as a center-beam balance can. To reduce the need for small graduated reference masses, a sliding weight called a poise can be installed so that it can be positioned along a calibrated scale. A poise adds further intricacies to the calibration procedure, since the exact mass of the poise must be adjusted to the exact lever ratio of the beam.

Balance scales in China 02

An aluminum, mass-produced balance scale sold and used throughout China. Note the larger ring beneath the user's right hand. The scale can be inverted, and held by this ring. This produces greater leverage, and is used for heavier loads. This scale is sold with an aluminum pan, but this is rarely used. The cost approximately 12 yuan ($2 USD) in 2011. Photo taken in Hainan Province, China.

For greater convenience in placing large and awkward loads, a platform can be floated on a cantilever beam system which brings the proportional force to a noseiron bearing; this pulls on a stilyard rod to transmit the reduced force to a conveniently sized beam. One still sees this design in portable beam balances of 500 kg capacity which are commonly used in harsh environments without electricity, as well as in the lighter duty mechanical bathroom scale (which actually uses a spring scale, internally). The additional pivots and bearings all reduce the accuracy and complicate calibration; the float system must be corrected for corner errors before the span is corrected by adjusting the balance beam and poise. Such systems are typically accurate to at best 1/10,000 of their capacity, unless they are expensively engineered.

Some high-end mechanical balances also use dials (with counterbalancing masses instead of springs), a hybrid design with some of the accuracy advantages of the poise and beam but the convenience of a dial reading. These designs are expensive to produce and have become largely obsolete due to the advent of electronic balances.

Milligram scale Edit

Orion product

A&D Orion series. Model HR-60 is one of very few Legal for Trade (NTEP in USA) certified scales approved for 1 milligram readability.

Milligram scales are typical used for drug dealing, industrial, research, chemical, pharmaceutical, electronics, precious metals, jewelry (commonly sold as "carat scale", "diamond scale", and "jewelry scale"), and educational applications.

Analytical balance Edit

An analytical balance is used to measure mass to a very high degree of precision and accuracy. The measuring pan(s) of a high precision (0.1 mg or better) analytical balance are inside a transparent enclosure with doors so that dust does not collect and so any air currents in the room do not affect the balance's operation. The use of a vented balance safety enclosure, which has uniquely designed acrylic airfoils, allows a smooth turbulence-free airflow that prevents balance fluctuation and the measure of mass down to 1 μg without fluctuations or loss of product. Also, the sample must be at room temperature to prevent natural convection from forming air currents inside the enclosure, affecting the measure of mass.

Analytical precision is achieved by maintaining a constant load on the balance beam, by subtracting mass on the same side of the beam to which the sample is added. The final balance is achieved by using a small spring force rather than subtracting fixed masses. This makes calling it an "analytical balance" a misnomer, because it should actually be called an "analytical scale", due to it measuring force, rather than gravitational mass.


  1. Sanders, L. A Short History of Weighing. Birmingham, England: W. & T. Avery, Ltd. (1947, revised 1960) (
  2. "A Practical Dictionary of the English and German Languages" (1869) p.1069
  3. Hodgeman, Charles, Ed. (1961). Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, 44th Ed.. Cleveland, USA: Chemical Rubber Publishing Co..  p.3480-3485

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