Archive for September 2009

Norica Goliath 88 Classic Carbine – Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Norica Goliath 88 Classic Carbine is a bullpup springer.

There’s certainly some outspoken interest in the Norica Goliath 88 Classic Carbine, so I shuffled some priorities and rushed this report to the front.

First, let me tell you about the trigger. It’s a two-stage trigger and the only adjustment is the point where the second stage begins. The trigger on my brand-new rifle breaks at between 5 lbs., 6 oz., and 6 lbs., 8 oz. Most often it breaks below 6 lbs. While that sounds like a lot, it doesn’t feel that heavy to me. It breaks very crisply, which is uncommon for most bullpup triggers, so somehow Norica found a way to do it right.

I think the reason I don’t mind heavier triggers is that I shoot a lot of military firearms, and they typically have triggers with pull weights around 5 lbs. and more. I have always been used to this type of trigger and, although I do shoot 10-meter pistols, whose triggers break at just over 1 lb., I don’t mind a sporting trigger being heavier. I’ve had several accidents in which commercial adjustable firearm triggers have slipped off the sear, firing the gun, but there has never been a single accident with a military trigger. I think most owners will enjoy this Goliath trigger.

Max velocity
According to Norica, the Goliath is rated up to 984 f.p.s. That’s what the gun will do when shooting the lightest pellets. Because our readers want to know such stuff, I fired a few Crosman Silver Eagle hollowpoints to see the speed. Lord help me when I finally run out of them! The fastest shot went 1070 f.p.s., so booga booga! In other words–who cares? We want to know what the gun will do with real pellets–the kind you and I are going to use. However, for the record, the Goliath exceeded the advertised spec. Now, don’t go all, “What they oughta do…” on me, because it won’t change a thing. Airgun manufacturers will continue to test their guns with the lightest pellets for the American market, regardless of what anyone thinks.

Gamo Match
The first pellet I tried was the Gamo Match 7.5-grain pellet. They averaged 835 f.p.s. and ranged from a low of 824 to a high of 843. So, a span of 19 f.p.s., though the slowest shot was 6 f.p.s. slower than the next-slowest shot. In other words, it seemed to be an anomaly.

RWS Basic
Seven-grain RWS Basic pellets averaged 856 f.p.s., with a stretch from 842 to 866. Most of them were in the 850s.

Crosman wadcutter
Finally, I tried the 7.9-grain Crosman wadcutters. They averaged 817 f.p.s. and ranged from 812 to 821. With a tight spread like that, they’ll be tried in the accuracy test.

Firing behavior
The Goliath doesn’t vibrate too much, but the recoil is something else. It jumps sharply forward at the shot. We’ll have to see what that does to hold sensitivity in the accuracy test.

The hollow plastic stock amplifies the shooting sound. I think some of you are going to want to fill it, though the bullpup design may present problems. Remember, ther’s an action inside there!

The barrel measures 0.568″ outside diameter near the muzzle and, although I can’t be certain, it looks like there’s no step at the muzzle for the brake. The plastic brake that comes on the gun is probably put on with epoxy, so a heat gun of some kind will be needed to release the bond. Pyramyd Air carries a replacement brake from Beeman that’s made of black anodized aluminum.

Next, we’ll see how she shoots!

Hammerli Razor – Part 4 and the BKL test continues

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Today, I’m testing the .22-caliber Hammerli Razor for accuracy. This test spanned a two-day period, because I actually began last week. The first groups were not promising, and I started suspecting the scope had a problem–you know the common complaint of “scope shift”? Except that the scope doesn’t usually shift in the middle of shooting a group!

However, there was one overriding thing that helped me keep on track. The Razor is a breakbarrel, and breakbarrels can be the most difficult of all rifles to shoot accurately. Some of them are sweeties, but a few can be very cantankerous, and you never know until you try the gun.

The solution is to try modifying the artillery hold and even to try shooting directly off sandbags. A few times, the gun will actually group best right off the bag–though this was not one of them. I also tried shooting the gun off the backs of my fingers and off the open palm–and the back of the fingers won, hands down (pun intended)! But that wasn’t the only thing I had to do.

The Razor I’m shooting refused to group unless I held it with the lightest touch possible. I know that is a part of the artillery hold, but this rifle wants an exceptionally light hold. So light that I’m spending extra time explaining it to you.

What pellets didn’t work
Rather than spend extra time going over what didn’t work, I’ll just make a list:
Beeman Kodiak Double Gold
Crosman Premier
Gamo Hunter
14.3-grain JSB Exact Jumbo Express
RWS Hobby pellets

Here’s what I mean by “didn’t work.” They grouped in 1.5″ to over 2″ at 25 yards. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get these pellets to shoot to the same place every time.

RWS Superdomes
The first pellet that actually did group well was the RWS Superdome. They were a pleasing surprise, as pellet after pellet went to the same place at 25 yards. In the end, they were the most accurate pellet.

Ten .22 caliber RWS Superdomes went into this 25-yard group measuring 0.68 inches.

Beeman Silver Bear
The Beeman Silver Bear hollowpoint isn’t a pellet I usually turn to when testing accuracy, but when Crosman Premiers and JSB Exacts fail, I pull out all the stops. They stayed together until the final four shots, but I don’t blame that on technique, because I was really trying at this point.

Ten Beeman Silver Bears went into this group measuring 1.221 inches. While it isn’t anything to brag about, it looked good compared to what all the other pellets were doing.

Air Arms domes
The final good pellet I tried were 16-grain Air Arms domes. Even though they’re JSB Exacts, this is the heavier version of that pellet, and the Exact I had tried before was the 14.3-grain pellet. They grouped 10 in 0.738″ at 25 yards, the second-best of the test.

Air Arms domes shot second-best with this 0.738″ group at 25 yards.

How’s the BKL 260 mount doing?
After about 100 rounds, the tape I put to test the BKL mount for moving hasn’t budged. Everything looks exactly as it did when the mount was installed. And the groups underscore that–particularly the better ones.

One reader asked if I should also test to see whether the scope moves inside the rings. I didn’t set up a test for that because it is far less common, in my experience, than the whole mount sliding on the dovetails. I’m going to shoot another 400 shots through this rifle with the scope mounted, and then we’ll have a look at the tapes.

And the Razor?
I have to say I was less-pleased by the accuracy from this rifle. Not that it isn’t accurate, because it clearly is. But it’s so sensitive to hold that it takes real technique to extract all that accuracy. But other than that, I love the trigger and I like the general looks of the rifle. If you like it, don’t be afraid. It’s just going to turn you into a better shot.

Norica Goliath 88 Classic Carbine – Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Norica Goliath 88 Classic Carbine is anything but classic. A bullpup design, the rifle is compact, yet powerful.

When I visited Pyramyd Air’s garage sale in May of this year, just prior to their recent move, I was shown a pile of Norica spring guns and asked to comment on each of them. Pyramyd owner, Joshua Ungier kept handing me guns to take to the indoor range and try out. The one he was most excited about is today’s rifle, the Norica Goliath 88 Classic Carbine. When he showed me that it came in a double-locked hard case and looked like a tactical black rifle, I knew why he was excited. I’ve been sitting on this rifle since June, waiting for Pyramyd’s orders to come in, and now that the time draws near, it’s time to get started with the reports.

The Goliath (I’m shortening the name to save keystrokes) is a conventional breakbarrel spring rifle encased in a dark gray tactical stock. It’s short, at only 33.5 inches long, but the weight of 6.25 lbs. seems heavy in such a small package. The buttpad extends by pressing a button on the right side of the stock, making the length of pull adjustable to three distinct lengths–14-5/8″, 16″ and 17-1/2″ fully extended. A normal adult pull length is about 14.5″, so this is a small gun sized for big shooters.

Second notch out gives a 16-inch pull.

Third and final notch out gives a gigantic 17.5-inch pull, suitable for giants and Klingons

The stock is synthetic, and indeed the only external parts that are metal are the barrel and the safety switch. There are no sights, so the dot sight included in the combo package is necessary. The carry handle does not detach from the stock and it has a Picatinny rail on top–so Weaver bases will be required. I think the red dot sight compliments the look of the rifle, but I wasn’t sent one, so I opted to mount a scope, instead. More on that in the accuracy report.

Also mounted to the stock when you get the gun are two auxiliary rails–one on either side of the forearm. So you can mount flashlights, lasers, rangefinders, night sights or whatever extra accessory you like and not impede the scope or dot sight.

It’s a bullpup
What’s a bullpup, you ask? A bullpup rifle is one that has been shortened by running the action back into the buttstock. In the case of the Goliath, that means pushing the spring tube back into the butt. That makes the overall length much shorter and gives a cool, compact look to the rifle..

The problem with bullpups is their triggers. To put the trigger blade in a place the shooter will naturally grasp, it has to be moved forward of the place where the sear resides. A link is then needed to connect the trigger blade to the sear, and that link can cause a reduction in the crispness of the trigger. I’m not saying what the Goliath’s trigger is like–yet. I’ll reserve those comments for the second report. This trigger has a single adjustment screw that controls the length of the stage-two pull.

The power claimed for the Goliath is astonishing, to say the least. Looking at the rifle, you get the feeling that the gun was made from a youth model, but when you cock it, the 34 lbs. of force required snaps you back into perspective. This may be a short gun, but it’s no youth model. This one is for adults, and for those who don’t mind a hard-cocking rifle! I say that because the two short pieces of the gun you grab to cock it when the barrel is broken open don’t provide the same leverage found on a conventional rifle like the Crosman NPSS or Beeman R1. You’ll think this is harder to cock than it really is. We’ll see what the power is in the next report.

This is what the bullpup design does to the cocking stroke. The Goliath is a mighty mite!

The two-piece articulated cocking link plus the barrel come back very far when the rifle is cocked. The barrel is 14 inches long, but is augmented by a soft plastic muzzlebrake. You’ll have to treat this brake with care because it doesn’t look that strong. The safety is automatic, but there’s no beartrap device, so the rifle can be uncocked without firing. You can apply the safety at any time. The detent is a ball bearing that is the hardest ball-type to open I’ve ever seen. You have to slap the muzzle to open the barrel for cocking, which bodes well for the conservation of air during firing.

The rifle is completely ambidextrous. Nothing favors one side over the other.

Quick look
I know you want to know everything about this new airgun, and I’m about out of things to show you in this report, but for us all I took a couple shots–in addition to the shots I had taken back in May when I saw the gun in Cleveland. The gun seems powerful and quick. And the vibration isn’t too bad. But she recoils more than you might think.

The box
I don’t usually comment on the box guns come in, but this one is the exception. How about a dedicated hard case with TWO resettable combination locks? Pretty neat!

Hard case has–not one–but two resettable combination locks!

I already told one reader that the Norica guns have a high level of build quality, and that observation extends to the Goliath. More after I test her for velocity.

Goliath is 100 percent ambidextrous.

TS-45 – An early Chinese sidelever

by B.B. Pelletier

The history of me and Chinese airguns isn’t that old. Ray Apelles and his father, who were subscribers to The Airgun Letter, were experimenting with them and they were leaning on me to test them. I said no, but other readers picked up the thread and before I knew it I was in the middle of a huge plot that had me not only testing Chinese guns but also modifying them.

Then, I encountered the late Paul Landrith at the Little Rock Airgun Expo. Paul, a semi-retured barber, sold and repaired airguns in his shop in Arlington, Texas. He was well-known for his work with vintage Benjamin guns, but he also sold some early models of Chinese spring guns. Among them was a rather good-looking sidelever called the TS-45. I had already tested a TS-45 for The Airgun Letter by this time, but the rifle Paul was selling looked nothing like what I had tested. It was both sleeker and better looking.

Older-style TS-45 sidelever was an attractive air rifle.

Paul had been selling these rifles for years before hearing of a beartrap accident with one. He stopped selling when he learned of it, and then disassembled each one and made certain the anti-beartrap mechanism was functioning before he sold it. That slowed his sales quite a bit, so he sat on a pile of rifles for many years before bringing them to Little Rock. I bought one after learning of its possible faults and promising never to let go of that sidelever while the breech was open. Through this strange twist of fate, I was able to buy a 20-year-old air rifle as new-old stock.

General description
The rifle is mid-sized, at 40.5 inches long and 6 lbs., 12 oz., total weight. It’s a sidelever spring-piston rifle that uses a sliding compression chamber, so the access to the breech is large when the compression chamber is slid all the way back. The rifle has a ratcheting anti-beartrap mechanism, but it’s entirely dependent on springs and is not controlled by the shooter in any way. If the springs were to bind or fail and the sear were to slip while someone is loading a pellet, severe damage would be done to one or more digits that got caught in the way.

When the sidelever was pulled out, the gun cocked and the sliding compression chamber went back out of the way for loading.

The wooden stock is made from some kind of hardwood and covered by a tough shiny finish that doesn’t completely cover all the exposed wood. Sling swivels are mounted on the stock, so you can add a sling–and a one-inch strap will just fit.

Should we finish the wood–or not? Apparently that was the question.

The metal finish is a thin black oxide (conventional gun “blue”) over metal that appears to not be prepped in any special way. Perhaps, the parts were tumbled, but that’s as far as things went. There’s no plastic to be found anywhere on the outside of the rifle, which helps confirm the early manufacturing date.

The metal got finished by itself, if it wanted to–or not.

Being Chinese and from the 1970s, it’s almost guaranteed that the bore will be large for most pellets. The Chinese manufacturers started rifling their barrels with overbore buttons they could hone and re-hone over time and still be able to rifle the bore. I’ve never encountered an undersized Chinese airgun barrel, but I’ve seen plenty that were too large.

The rear sight, which is spot-welded to the spring tube, is adjustable for elevation only, using a stepped elevator. No horizontal adjustment is possible. There are also no provisions for a scope, though I believe there was an active aftermarket business of scope mount installation going on.

Rear sight adjusts for elevation only. But that seems to be all the rifle needs. Note the release catch on the sidelever. Must be pressed down to unlock the lever.

The trigger is single-stage and as crude as a trigger can get. It breaks at 9 lbs., which makes the rifle difficult to hold for precision shooting. There are absolutely no provisions for adjustment, so anything you do to make it work better will have to be done by gunsmithing. Incidentally, that’s a guess about the breaking weight, because my RCBS trigger-pull scale only goes up to 8 lbs. I have to interpolate the extra pound from where the indicator is when the gun lets go.

When the gun fires, the impulse is quick and relatively free of vibration. Of course, the rifle isn’t that powerful, but it’s more pleasant than I would have imagined. I have owned this rifle for about 12 years now, and this is the first time I’ve really tried to see what it can do.

This rifle averaged 519 f.p.s. with Eley Wasps, which are too small for the bore. The spread was from 503 to 535, indicative of a couple diesels in the string. Gamo Match fit the bore a little better and averaged 539, with a tighter spread from 526 to 545. But Crosman Premier 7.9-grain hollowpoints fit the bore well and gave an average of 502. The spread was the tightest, ranging from 495 to 510.

Don’t hope for much and be surprised if you get any. That’s my motto with older Chinese airguns. I shot from a bag rest using the artillery hold. The distance was 25 yards.

Ten Crosman Premier hollowpoints sailed through this loose group at 25 yards. Open sights.

Ten Beeman Ram Jets went into this 1.766″ group. Not bad for an old Chinese air rifle and open sights.

Six Gamo Match pellets went into this group measuring 0.909″. This was the smallest group of the session, though I shot only six times instead of ten.

What’s the verdict?
Well, until I shot those Gamo Match pellets, this rifle performed about as I thought it would. But that group is tight enough to warrant further investigation. This may be a nicer gun than I thought!

Hammerli Razor – Part 3 and the BKL introduction

by B.B. Pelletier

Before we begin, here are the answers to the splat quiz about velocities shown in Wednesday’s Splatology blog:

Splat 1: 250 fps
Splat 2: 340 fps
Splat 3: 614 fps
Splat 4: 503 fps
Splat 5: 523 fps
Splat 6: 497 fps
Splat 7: 568 fps
Splat 8: 419 fps
Splat 9: 639 fps
Splat 10: 478 fps
Splat 11: 539 fps
Splat 12: 384 fps
Splat 13: 584 fps
Splat 14: 560-580 fps

Part 1
Part 2

Two tests in one
Today, I’ll prepare to test the accuracy of the Hammerli Razor and also start another big test. Since I’m mounting a scope for the accuracy test, I decided to let the Razor be the first testbed of the BKL 260 one-inch scope mount that holds onto an 11mm dovetail by clamping pressure, alone. Describing the mount and scope installation will take up today’s report.

BKL cross-section shows how the clamping jaws will move under pressure.

As many of you know, BKL scope mounts are pretty popular among airgunners. The company went out of business some time back, but even before that happened the shipment of mounts became sporadic. BKLs are about the only airgun scope mount actively bought and sold with any regularity on the classified sites.

Auto-Numatic, the parent company of AirForce Airguns, bought the company and has been quietly producing many different models of the BKL mount line to meet the expected demand when the dealers who used to stock BKL products place their orders. The wait is about over now, as the inventory has been built up to satisfactory levels, more or less. All products may not be ready to ship, but the most popular ones are.

Installing the BKL 260 MB
The BKL 260 MB is a one-piece, medium-height scope mount with two rings, each having two screws. The mount base that clamps to the rifle’s 11mm dovetail has six screws. But that isn’t the only thing that clamps it to the dovetail. The clamping jaws are closer together than the Razor’s dovetail grooves, so before it can be installed, those base jaws must be spread. This is where BKL’s special technology comes into play. Besides the six screw holes, there are thee holes where three of the six screws can be inserted to put spreading pressure on the base jaws.

BKL 260 has six clamping screws, shown here. The three holes accept a clamping screw that can spread the clamp jaws to go on a rifle with a larger-width dovetail.

The Razor must be prepped to receive the BKL mount by removing every last bit of oil found in the 11mm dovetails. I use a cotton swab and denatured alcohol. I rub the swab into each dovetail cut with force so that the alcohol gets into the deep recesses and dries up all the oil. The alcohol evaporates rapidly and leaves nothing behind. Soon, the rifle is ready to receive the mount.

Three screws are positioned to spread the clamp jaws. When I turn them inward, it forces the jaws apart.

To spread the base, I tighten each of the three screws in turn, so not too much pressure gets applied in one place. It’s possible to see the base clamp jaws spreading, plus the anodizing in the center of the base develops a line as the metal flexes.

When the jaws were spread, the anodizing came off the center of the mount base. That metal definitely moves!

Working slowly to not over-flex the base, I finally reach the point where both clamp jaws fit into the Razor’s dovetails at the same time. Now, the three spreading screws are backed out of their holes. When that’s done, the base holds tight to the rifle by clamping pressure, alone. But, of course, I’m not finished.

The six clamp screws are inserted into their holes and tightened. I work successively down the line, tightening each screw as I go. After five or six trips down the line of screws I have the mount clamped to the Razor as tight as I believe it’s possible to go. Next, I installed some movement markers, in the form of Gorilla tape. For those who haven’t yet tried this stuff, it’s far stickier than regular duct tape. We use it on the TV show, and I’ve seen it do things I didn’t think tape could do. These small strips of tape are not going anywhere until I purposely remove them.

I place them in front of and behind the mount. Any movement will cause the tape to rise as the mount presses against it, or we will be able to see the mount move away from the tape. Either way, we should all be able to see it clearly and have no cause for argument.

Tape at the left rear of base.

Tape at the left front of base.

Tape at the right front of base.

Tape at the right rear of base. If the mount moves, it will either curl the tape or move away from it. Either way it will be visible.

It’s time to select and mount a scope. These are one-inch rings, so I need a scope with a one-inch tube. I selected a Bushnell Trophy 6-18×40 scope, and, YES, the scope does clear the breach, and, YES, the 40mm scope objective bell has clearance over the spring tube with this medium-height mount. A 50mm bell would not clear.

Bushnell scope is large but not too long for this rifle. The barrel is still an inch in front of the objective bell. 40mm objective bell just clears the spring tube.

When it was time to remove the scope caps, another BKL innovation came to light. The cap screws are the SAME SIZE as the base clamp screws. Hallelujah! Finally a scope mount maker gets it. Why put three different-sized hex screws in a mount when one will do? This is a great engineering call that shows someone gave some thought to the customer in the field. You need only one Allen wrench to do everything.

Now that everything is cinched down tight, I’ll test for accuracy. After that test, the gun will have at least 100 shots on it, so we will take a look at the tape. If it hasn’t moved, I’ll continue to shoot the rifle another 400 shots and then remove the scope and photograph the tape for you.


by B.B. Pelletier

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for Airgun Revue #3, which was published in 1998.

The airgunner of yesteryear was a happier person than his modern counterpart. If he wanted to see how accurate his gun was, he shot at something. If he hit it, he looked for a smaller target to shoot until the parameters of accuracy were firmly established. If the gun had to be held right or left, high or low, or some combination of these, he was willing to do it because that was the way the gun shot. Period!

It worked the same way for velocity. If the projectile made it to the target and did whatever was expected of it, velocity was adequate. Punching holes in paper is easier than downing large game animals, and our simple countryman with his primitive airgun was smart enough to know that. He lived at a time we now call B.C.–before chronographs.

Unfortunately, for those of us on the cusp of the third millennium [of course, we're in it now], writers of earlier times were also hamstrung by the lack of instrumentation. Their descriptions of velocity, power and accuracy sounded like political speeches, filled with subjective words like “substantial,” remarkable” and “amazing.” All of which gave rise to a body of half-truths and downright prevarications regarding the power of ancient big bore airguns.

Today, an airgun maker has to build his big bore pieces to compete against the airguns of history, which reportedly threw huge lead balls at 900 f.p.s. with sufficient accuracy to kill a man 100 yards distant. It would be nice to fire these oldies once again so the claims could be verified, but of course they’re both too valuable and too embrittled by age to permit that. So, they repose at permanent rest, shielded by their value while the myths about them continue to grow.

Every splat tells us its impact velocity, if we know how to read the signs.

New info about old guns

Except for one thing–airgun maker Gary Barnes has conducted tests showing that round lead balls deform along rigid lines until the ball is completely fragmented by the force of impact. Here’s the big news: this phenomenon happens irrespective of caliber! His claim is that all lead balls deform in more or less the same fashion when they impact a rigid steel plate at a given velocity. A .350 caliber ball impacting a steel plate at 350 f.p.s. will look the same as a .535 caliber ball going the same speed, except for the difference in size. Thus is born the science of “splatology,” or the study of lead “splats” to determine the impact velocity of the ball that created them.

Barnes created this graduated splat board to compare to splats recovered when no chronograph is available.

The board starts where the smaller one ends. Although these balls are a different caliber, Barnes found that it doesn’t make a difference. The fragments at lower right are from a 700 f.p.s. or higher impact.

Barnes noticed this relationship very early in the testing of his first big bore guns. The phenomenon was so intriguing to him that he made up “splat boards” containing a spectrum of lead balls that had impacted at different velocities. These he mounted in series, ranging from lowest velocity to highest. The velocities were obtained from an Oehler model 35 chronograph placed in front of the splash plate. He then carved the velocity for each ball into the wood next to the recovered splat. All his splats were produced by a one-inch steel splash plate that stands perpendicular to the flight of the ball, so it’s identical to the plates mentioned in the early airgun documentation.

A .535 cal. ball penetrated this 2×4 board and still hit the splash plate at over 500 f.p.s.

It doesn’t matter when it was shot; a splat tells the same story forever! 
It’s important to keep in mind the fact that the splats reveal only the velocity upon impact. If the actual muzzle velocity is desired, additional calculation is required. That depends on how far the muzzle was from the impact point. Fortunately, this distance is sometimes given in literature. It’s possible to calculate velocity for tests conducted a century ago, providing the splat is accurately represented (usually by a drawing, but in this century photos were also used) and the distance to the plate is given.

The “splash plate,” as it’s called, must be rigid for the results to be consistent. If not, some of the ball’s energy will be used to move the plate, which results in a splat that looks like it’s going slower.

We know the ancients were aware of this phenomenon because it’s mentioned in their notes. In W.H.B. Smith’s book, The Standard Encyclopedia of Gas, Air and Spring Guns of the World, the author mentions that European makers were still testing the power of their modern pellet rifles in 1956 by firing them against steel splash plates.

Today, we put our trust in modern chronographs that instantly display the numbers we convert to love or hate our guns. But only a few people have any clue as to what those numbers mean. For example, is 600 f.p.s. slow or fast? If you’re looking for the most powerful pellet gun in the world, it’s probably slow. If your pellet just hit the paddle of a field target at that speed, it’s probably just right.

How to calculate velocity without a chronograph
Older English writings state that big bore airgun velocities were gauged by flattening the ball against a steel plate at a specified distance. In the book Air Guns and Air Pistols by L. Wesley, there’s a photograph of flattened balls shot from an air cane, representing the progressive lowering of velocity as the pressure dropped. It’s obvious to anyone who sees the photo that lower velocity results in a ball that is less flattened.

With this technique, it’s possible to examine the older writings about big bore airguns and determine the impact velocity from drawings of recovered balls. Since the steel or iron plate test was a common one when these guns were new, there are several drawings of flattened balls that accompany the guns. Caliber doesn’t matter, remember, since all balls exhibit the same characteristics when they impact a metal plate at the same speed. Here’s an abbreviated version of Barnes’ observations:

At or below 250 f.p.s., the ball will be smashed perfectly flat on the impact side, with the opposite side still round. It will look like a perfect hemisphere, with little of the ball spreading out from the edges of the hemisphere.

At 275 f.p.s., the edge of the ball starts fanning out from the central hemisphere. Barnes calls this “feathering.”

Above 300 f.p.s., the hemisphere that was intact starts to thin out. It’s no longer a true hemisphere.

At 350 f.p.s., the remainder of the ball begins to look like it’s “melting” toward the sides, which are now starting to show signs of separating into both large and small “petals”.

At 400 f.p.s., the ball is nearly flat and separated into distinct petals. Little remains of the original hemisphere.

At 450-480 f.p.s., the ball is completely flat, and the petals are tearing deeper toward the center of the ball.

At 550 f.p.s., the petals are well-formed and very deeply separated. After this point, they start to break off.

At 600 f.p.s., the ball has lost two-thirds of its petals. Now, the center of the ball starts to look like the whole ball did at 450 f.p.s.

At 609-610 f.p.s., a strange thing happens. The center of the ball recoils off the splash plate, and the petals that remain attached to the center recoil back toward the steel plate.

At 650 f.p.s., only the center of the ball remains. Sometimes, it looks like a smaller whole ball, but often there are angular sides and irregular shapes, where major petals were joined. The surface that struck the steel plate is now pointed in the center.

At 675 f.p.s., the center of the ball is smaller. It’s starting to disintegrate into flakes.

Above 700 f.p.s., the center is destroyed; only flakes remain. You can taste vaporized metal in the vicinity of the splash plate.

Test your new splatology skills!
Try your hand at guessing the velocity of the following splats. The featured splats went through the chronograph at recorded speeds. See if you can guess their velocity by comparing them to the splat boards! I’ll publish the actual velocities in tomorrow’s blog.

Splats 1 & 2

Splats 3 & 4

Splats 5 & 6

Splats 7 & 8

Splats 9 & 10

Splats 11 & 12

Splats 13 & 14 (14 is a drawing of a splat from history)

Turning lead into bullets – Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Reclaiming lead from used pellets
Part 1

Before we begin today, I want to alert you to a HUGE price drop on the RWS model 52 sidelever. If you’ve ever contemplated buying one of these, now might be a good time! The Striker Combo is an especially good deal at this time.

We began this report on casting bullets yesterday. Today, I’ll finish and show the results.

When the metal is ready, the cast iron bullet mold must be brought up to temperature. I start by sticking a corner of the mold into the molten metal for a minute, then I begin casting. It takes about 15 bullets before the mold is warm enough to cast a perfect bullet. From that point on, casting goes on continuously for as long as I care to work, or until the metal runs out.

The furnace I use has a spout on the bottom from which molten lead will pour when a valve is opened. With many molds, you can hold the mold up to the spout and fill it perfectly with little wastage. However, with the particular mold I’m using today–a 370-grain .439 caliber bullet for the .43 Spanish rifle cartridge–I have to pour the lead in from a distance. So, the mold is held below the spout about a half-inch, and the lead is allowed to pour in until it puddles on top of the sprue plate. Every mold will be unique in this respect, though I often encounter this characteristic.

Open the spout and a thin stream of molten lead comes out. I’m holding the mold low so you can see this better. Pour until lead overflows in a small puddle on top of the sprue plate.

Safety first!
Though I want to move through the steps rapidly, the newly cast bullet is still hundreds of degrees and cannot be touched. I have to do things to avoid touching it. When the metal has hardened in the mold, which takes 5-10 seconds per cast, I cut off the sprue by striking the sprue plate with a plastic hammer. Then, I open the mold and strike the handle joint with a plastic hammer to dislodge the new bullet.

Once perfect bullets start coming, the rhythm of casting allows for 3-4 bullets a minute. After that, I stir the pot every 5 minutes and flux with more beeswax every 15 minutes throughout the casting session. If I’m motivated, it’s possible to cast several hundred perfect bullets this way in a couple of hours.

Whack the sprue plate with a plastic hammer to cut the sprue.

Open the mold and a perfect bullet is ready to drop out.

After a little more than an hour, this is the result.

Inspect every bullet that you cast. This one came at the very end of the process, when I tried to hold the mold tight to the pouring spout. Some trapped air prevented it from filling completely. Be ruthless if you want to hit the target!

I always put the mold away with a bullet in it. That way, the inside of the mold will never rust.

Inspect every bullet ruthlessly. They should be as close to perfect as you can make them. Look for voids in the base of the bullet and also look for driving bands that are not filled out perfectly.

This is the one thing I can’t teach, because every cast bullet will have imperfections, if you look hard enough. An anal person is going to reject most of the lot, while the slacker will wind up shooting fishing sinkers.

As for me, after I am finished with my rejections, the bullets you have seen me cast here will shoot into a 1.5-inch group at 100 yards when I shoot off a rest with military open sights. That’s all I am after. I rejected about 25 percent of the bullets seen here.

Video article
Because this process isn’t easy to explain, Edith also filmed me casting. I’ll write an article about casting bullets and include a narrated video that should explain things clearly. I’ll try to get it out this month.

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