by B.B. Pelletier
There’s a lot of interest in tuning a spring-piston air rifle, so I’ll start a series on that next week. I’ll intersperse other topics so everybody has something to read. I’ll also show you how to make a few special tools that are necessary to do this work. I hope this will help everyone visualize what’s inside those spring guns!
Today, I’ll finish the air cane discussion. There wasn’t a lot of interest in this topic, but I’d wager if you ever saw a cane firing, you’d become interested!
“It’s a pity they aren’t made anymore!”
One reader said that. But air canes HAVE been made in modern times. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Beeman sold a cane made by British maker Harper. It was .25 caliber, which probably detracted from its success. Canes of old were big bore and impressive! Gary Barnes made a .272 caliber 12-shot full-auto cane around the year 2000. It’s on page 96 of the Blue Book of Airguns and is valued at $6,000. When it fires, the entire magazine dumps in less than a second, and you can’t hear the individual shots.
They probably were used for self-defense!
This is another myth. To make a cane ready to shoot takes a lot of time. And, you’d never carry one cocked and loaded! So, self-defense is a role they are not suited for. I believe, along with most advanced collectors, that the very fact they exist at all is their main attraction. They are science experiments you can use to amaze your friends – just like the air rifle carried by Meriwether Lewis on his famous exploration in 1803/1806.
Some unusual models!
In part one, we saw a straight cane, but a more unusual model is the bent cane. Just as the name suggests, these canes have an artistic bend in their reservoirs. They are scarcer than straight canes and command more money. Some bent canes also come cased with additional fowling buttstocks that look like rifle butts. These sets are valued much higher than the bent canes by themselves.
Bent cane on top, ball flask cane below.
Above the bent canes in value come the shillelagh models. They are straight canes with spots of weld on the outside to look like Irish blackthorn branches. They are exquisitely made and can bring as much as $3,000 to $4,000 for a good one. Unfortunately, only a real cane collector knows their true worth. I’ve seen gun dealers asking as much as $9,000 for them because they think they are unique. That’s like saying a Checker Marathon is unique. It is if you’ve never seen one, I suppose.
The top o’ the line!
The finest air canes are cased and engraved in deep bas relief. They are mounted with gold fittings and have every accessory they came with, including the original instructions. Many of these guns are fire-blued as only tradesmen in the 19th century knew how to do it. They start at $20,000 and go upward.
Ball reservoir is removed to reveal the breech of the barrel (though this cane is a muzzleloader) and the firing valve inside the brass reservoir.
The Mona Lisa of air canes
There aren’t many known examples of ball-flask air canes, and a beautiful one was on display at the Little Rock airgun expo this year. It was made close to the end of the ball-flask era, which was around 1800. We know that from the design of the lock and flask. It is a shillelagh design with a difference. Instead of welded spots on a steel cane, this one has been expertly fitted into a genuine blackthorn casing that runs the full length of the cane. Carving blackthorn is equivalent to filing titanium.
A blackthorn branch was hollowed out to serve as the outer covering of the rare ball-flask air cane.
I hope my brief report has stimulated some interest in this fascinating niche within the airgunning world.