Who makes the best BBs?
by B.B. Pelletier
This posting was suggested by a reader who commented that Crosman Copperhead BBs don't seem as uniform and well-finished as Daisy premium grade BBs. He wondered whether they would be as accurate, so I thought a little test was in order. Just for the record, I'm talking about steel BBs today.
First, the BBs
To most of us, all BBs look the same. I don't suppose most shooters look at their BBs through a jeweler's loupe, but that's what I did to see what our reader was talking about. He said Crosman BBs are much rougher on the surface than Daisys, and that they had the flat spots left from the forming process. I was surprised to hear the latter, because I thought all BB-makers had gotten rid of the flat spots, so I looked at a brand new Crosman Copperhead BB with a loupe. Indeed, it had a flat spot, while the Daisys did not. Also, the surface was much rougher, just as our reader had said.
I also pulled out an Avanti precision ground shot to compare it to the modern Daisy Premium Grade BB. It appears to be no smoother than the standard Daisy BB and is still not a perfectly smooth sphere like a ball bearing.
How BBs are made
A BB starts out as a piece of steel wire that is chopped into rough chunks quite a bit larger than BB size. Those chunks are fed to two steel plates that have a long spiral tapering groove. One plate turns while the other remains stationary, which rolls the rough chunk into a sphere. From there, it goes on to grinding, where it is reduced in size to the desired caliber. Next, it gets a flash plating of some anti-oxidant, such as copper or zinc. Then, it's sorted by centrifugal force in a long spiral slide. The good BBs go on to packaging and the rejects become scrap. I saw this process in the Crosman plant, where they produce 10 million BBs every workday.
Each spool of steel wire (stacked in twos) in the Crosman plant weighs about a ton. About 100 spools await the wire cutter. Making 10 million BBs a day takes a lot of material!
Daisy made some upgrades
I haven't see Daisy's process; from articles others have written over the years, I know it's essentially the same. Joe Murfin, their vice president of marketing, told me they installed a new sorting machine a few years ago, and it made a big difference in the quality of their BBs. According to him, it isn't that their process is that much better, but their sorting is controlled very tightly. I haven't seen it, as I said, so I can't comment, but I've taken extreme closeup photos of all the BBs and I'll let you be the judge.
Crosman's BB looks roughest, and is the only one that has the flat spot (looks like a crater in the center of the BB).
Daisy premium grade BB is smoother, but not without imperfections. The dark spots on the upper left are reflections.
Avanti precison ground shot looks no smoother than the standard Daisy BB. It is unplated.
We'll test them!
Following the first reader's comments, there was some speculation about whether or not it mattered that a BB was more uniform. I really don't know the answer myself, so I thought I would devise a little test to see if there is a noticeable difference. You airsoft guys should enjoy this, because you have the same situation with the BBs you shoot.