Air canes! Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Air canes were produced and used throughout the British Isles from the beginning of the 19th century until around 1920. The guns spanned the price spectrum from affordable to nearly priceless cased guns with all the tools and equipment. Air canes were made in such profusion that hundreds or perhaps thousands have made their way to the U.S., into the hands of advanced collectors.

Handmade or factory?
Air canes fall into a transitional category of production. They were not made on automated machinery, and a lot of hand-filing was involved in the making of each one. Different makers did have more or less standard designs they followed. The parts were made by a collection of cottage industries. While a man might make a leaf spring, he wouldn’t touch a reservoir – nor know much about how it was made. A few larger makers brought all the little parts-makers together into a confederation that produced canes of a certain type. The little guys made what the big guys asked for to keep their “employers” happy.


The bottom and top half of the cane are on the left, the barreled action is in the center, with the rifled insert barrel and the ramrod/cane tip on the right. Below the barreled action is the firing valve, removed from the reservoir that forms the top part of the cane.

A standard air cane
There is no standard air cane, but there is a type that’s commonly encountered in this country. It’s a straight cane with a smoothbore brass or bronze barrel of .42 or.43 caliber and a rifled brass insert barrel of .28 to .32 caliber. It’s loaded at the muzzle, and the separate air reservoir unscrews from the action for filling. In its day it was filled with a hand pump, but today’s collectors often fill their guns with CO2. Canes like this get around 20 powerful shots on a single charge of gas or air, though they get a few more lower-powered shots on CO2.

Firing
A ball is rammed all the way into either the smoothbore barrel or the smaller rifled insert. The cane is cocked by inserting what looks like a male clock key into a square female socket in the body of the cane and turning it clockwise. When the gun cocks, a steel button pops out of the side of the cane. This is a trigger.

In the photo, you can just barely see the action in the center, but it’s impossible to make out the parts. Essentially, the cane’s lock is similar to a percussion lock, except that the cane has a cam that holds the air valve open a relatively long time. That’s how they get velocities in the 550 f.p.s. range with 140-grain lead balls.

Sighting
Most canes have very small front and rear sights for aiming. The two I owned were accurate enough to hit a coke can at 20 yards – that’s right, 60 feet! You hold the top of the cane next to your sighting eye and squint through the tiny open sights, then press the button trigger. The piece recoils about like a .32 Colt revolver with standard lead bullet loads, so use your hand to keep the cane from punching you in the cheek!

Tomorrow, I’ll finish this report with some surprising air cane facts!

27 Responses to “Air canes! Part 1”

  • Dave Says:

    So B.B.,
    Is there any way other than the chronograph (I don’t have one)to tell if there is something wrong with my mainspring?

  • Ben B Says:

    Hi B.B.,

    It’s the first I’ve ever heard of these things. Who was the market? I assume you didn’t buy one for hunting or target shooting. There must’ve been more effective or practical options in those days. I would imagine that one would buy one for self defence or possibly “epsionage”. Did they hold their charge (air or co2) for long periods of time?

    Regardless it’s an interesting article and it’s a intriguing concept. if only canes were back in style these days!

    Ben B

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Dave,

    Not really. You need accurate performance data to evaluate the condition of your gun, because a broken mainspring functions just like a good one. The ONLY thing that might change is a sudden reduction in cocking effort, but have you noticed that?

    We are only assuming your gun is broken. As I recall, this is your first experience with a spring piston air rifle.

    Why don’t you talk me through what seems wrong and why you think it may be broken one more time.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Ben B,

    If only we get some others who are as captivated as you I will gladly tell a lot more. There is an entire UNIVERSE of information on air canes.

    Not going to answer your questions today, but I’ll hit them in the next report.

    B.B.

  • Dave Says:

    OK
    This is my first Air Rifle, but I am experienced with Airsoft rifles, but I understand that they are very different. I have had the CF-X for about a year, and have been very pleased. It is accurate, and the sound and cocking effort have been the same since the fist day out of the box. The reason I mentioned the noise was partly because I don’t want any complaints from neighbors, (Being that I shoot more because it is summertime), but also because my friend who shoots with me recently bought a Gamo Delta rifle. It is a smaller, less powerfull rifle (750?), but when he fires his gun it makes one crisp, solid, CHWAK, without any vibration. Louder than an airsoft gun, yes, but not loud. But when firing my gun it makes a lasting, buzzing type sound, more of a BFFFRRRRRT. It also seems to vibrate compared to my friend’s, and it is very noisy, to the point where it can be heard by my family inside with the A/C on. I mentioned if anyone knew of any techniques to quiet it, and that led to the discussion of a briken mainspring.

    I have no chronographing equitment, but maybe a test like:

    if your rifle can peirce _________ at _________ yds with a _______ grain pellet then …….

    but that may be jsut wishful thinking, and it doesnt seem very accurate measuring.
    Thanks B.B.

    Dave

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Dave,

    Thanks for explaining the situation so clearly. I don’t think there is anything wrong with your rifle. It has simply broken in. You are describing the classic sound of a high-speed vibration, and Gamos can do a lot of it. Your friend’s Delta is calmer by comparison, and it always will be.

    Your test won’t work because of the variables. A chronograph is really the only way to tell for certain.

    Now, how to quiet the gun. Airsoft springers and AEGs are quite different because they use synthetic parts, where your CF-X has a steel piston. To get the buzzing out you have to remove ALL the tolerances. It is a straightforward but lengthy process.

    There is no way I can show you how to do this in a blog comment, so I will do a series on tuning a spring gun. It will be for you and for anyone else who wants to quiet a springer.

    I’ll probably use a Weihrauch – but the techniques for tuning spring guns are all the same.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Dave,

    I don’t think your gun is broken. I think it’s broken in!

    The vibration you are describing as noise is quite common in Gamos. It can be removed by tuning.

    A spring piston airgun is a lot different than an AEG, in that the piston alone weighs as much as the gearbox in some guns. That’s a lot of reciprocating weight to cancel!

    I can’t tell you how to tune a spring gun here, but I will do a series in the blog, if that’s of interest.

    Let me know,

    B.B.

  • Jed Says:

    Wow!For some reson the Legacy 1000 is no longer available in .22 cal,I I am so glad I bought it before then,why is it no longer available?I have no Idea,this gun in my oppinion is much better suited for .22 due to style and esspecially power.This site was the last one I new that had it in .22,now I dont know any location that sells the .22 version anymore,this gun could be worth a decent amount years from now maybe?All I know is its a shame it seems its not made in .22 cal anymore as far as I know.I am glad I bought the .22 version before it stopped being sold.

  • Dave Says:

    Please do B.B. and I’m so glad that there is nothing wrong with it. I don’t have any special tools (ie. srping compressor) will I stil be able to do the tune?

    Thanks again!

    Dave

  • Anonymous Says:

    BB,

    Hi long time since I asked something here but,

    If you can,and when you can.

    Can you make a post about how to fit a tuning kit(maccari)in an airriflr(hw97k).Thanks in advance

    CF-X guy

  • Anonymous Says:

    AEGs are quite different because they use synthetic parts

    AEGs do not use all synthetic parts unless they’re the low end trash you see at flea markets. Most High end maruis including the ones Pymrid sells come stock with Steel gears, Spring guide, Cylender, Motor head, trigger, Contacts.

    ICS and CA guns that you guys sell come stock with everything the marui has + steel cylender heads, piston heads, metal gear bushings, and often times metal pistons.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Forgot to mention that the gearbox/internal shell is also metal on every marui/CA/ICS

  • cz 631 Says:

    ah, now if only jamie and adam could have a look at these.
    bb, i would like to buy a set of two AEGs , either a crosman m70 and crosman p50, or two p50s. i have heard from many places the m70 jams horribly, to the point of no return. if this is true, i will happily buy the two p50s. also, from different vendors, i hear different things (although wholesale sports is my only shooting vendor). most say the slide moves back with each shot (p50), which would classify it as an ebb, if i am correct. is this true? i would think it is, from the crosman website. and how is the reliability for either of these guns? better yet, a mini review?
    links ( to refresh memory/show other readers)
    http://www.crosman.com/site/listing/1203 -p50
    http://www.crosman.com/site/listing/1202 -m70

  • cold shooter Says:

    Yes, B.B., please do a series on “how to tune a spring gun.” I would greatly appreciate it.

    By the way, why won’t you tell us how to measure the force necessary to cock a “break barrel” pellet rifle or pistol?

  • Volker Says:

    Hello B.B.,
    I have been reading your blog for the past weeks, very interesting, congrats! I have had a Mendoza RM600 in .22 (I live in Mexico…) for about six months and I have been pretty happy with it. However, I haven’t been able to get tight groups, about .3 inches is the best I get at 10m, at 20m its about .7 inches and at 25m they open up much more. It seems the gun is really hold sensitive, I have been experimenting with it a bit. I also tried a bunch of pellets, Crossman Accupell, Premiers, Gamo Pro Magnum, Beeman Crow Magnum and Gamo TS18. The best results I get with the heaviest pellets, specifically the Gamo TS 18 is the single best pellet, I haven’ tried Kodiaks yet though. I have a 4×32 Gamo sporter scope on the rifle, and I have sighted it in at 20 m, thinking that I would get another 0 at around 30m, but alas, no. The pellet drops from 15 to 20 to 25 m about 1cm per step, as I said, its heavy with 18 grains but its a powerful springer, and I don’t quite understand why the theory doesn’t seem to work here. I thought it might have to do with the scope rings, they are pretty low, so the scope is close to the barrel. Maybe you could give me a hint how I can solve that issue and get a decent zero. The flight path is very curved, that makes it hard to estimate the point of impact at longer distances. I don’t ave a chrony to measure fps, but I tried your soap bar approach, the Premiers gow about 4 fifhts of the length of the soap bar the TS 18 drop out at the other side (shot from 10 cm away), seems to me that power is doing fine.
    I’d appreciate your input,
    Cheers
    Volker

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Dave,

    You will make a mainspring compressor, as part of the lessons.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    CF-X guy (and everybody else),

    I’ve decided to do a series on tuning a spring piston air rifle. It will be exhaustive (covering all the points thoroughly) and we will make any special tools we need, such as a mainspring compressor, along the way.

    I won’t run it every day because not everyone is interested in the subject, but I will keep it moving along.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    cz631,

    I have zero information on the Crosman airsoft guns. Also, my plate is pretty full for awhile with all the projects I’ve taken on.

    How about you reporting back to us what you discover as you get into these guns? You might be able to get us ahead that way.

    Just a thought.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    cold shooter,

    I learned how to measure cocking force from Tom Gaylord. Put the cocking lever in the center of a bathroom scale and press down to cock the gun. With experience, you can press repeatedly without cocking and get a sense of the range of effort it takes.

    Despite the simplicity, this method really works.

    B.B.

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Volker,

    The reason the zero points aren’t working for you is velocity, or lack of it. Those zero points are based on 800 to 900 f.p.s. You are probably getting in the low 500s. Your second zero will be about one to one and one-half meters or yards past the first one. Try a 14-meter zero and see if it isn’t better.

    You are right that the power is good. The soap proves that.

    I suggest that you clean the bore with JB Bore paste. It would be best if you could shoot lighter pellets and perhaps cleaning will make that possible.

    The other thing is to make sure the scope in in the middle of its adjustment range for both elevation and windage. If it’s out towards the end for either adjustment, the erector tube may be bouncing with every shot. You’ll never get a group if that’s happening.

    B.B.

  • Volker Says:

    Hm,
    I will try some lighter pellets, and take the Premiers out to the field. Do you really think velocity its that low? The gun anounces over 800fps (obviously with light pellets). I’ll try the zero at 15 m, see how that comes out.

    Regarding the scope, I haven’t turned the dials more thn one round I am pretty sure of that. How do I find out whether it is already off to one side, counting clicks until it stops towards both sides?

    I have been cleaning the bore, using Ballistol and a piece of cloth attached to some stiff monofilament line, it looks pretty clean to me but I can give it another round. I can’t buy the bore paste here, so that is not an option at the moment. The rifle has got about 2000 shots sofar, so it should be settling by now.

    Cheers
    Volker

  • Anonymous Says:

    BB,

    Thanks.Im looking forward to the tuning posts.

    CF-X guy

  • Anonymous Says:

    Another vote for tuning articles!

    Ehrich

  • Giancarlo Poli Says:

    Another vote for the tuning articles!

    …Did you ever completete them? I might have missed that?

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Giancarlo,

    I did a 13-part series. See it here:

    http://www.pyramydair.com/blog/2006/08/spring-gun-tune-part-13-range-testing.html

    B.B.

  • Anonymous Says:

    Hi BB, ive got some technical questions if you'd care to help me out with regarding a cane i own, could you e mail me on p5026@aol.com
    Thanks pete69

  • B.B. Pelletier Says:

    Pete,

    I answer all my questions through this blog, because I get hundreds each day. There's no time for one-on-one.

    But if you will come to the current blog, we have several thousand readers, so of whom might be able to help.

    B.B.

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