Sharp Ace: The Sheridan of the orient?
by B.B. Pelletier
I'm still in New York for another few days and pulled this article from Airgun Revue #1 because blog reader iyonk asked for a write-up on the Sharp Ace. The article was originally published in 1997.
Airgunners are sharply divided about which segment of the hobby they're interested in. Some are spring-piston shooters, some only like CO2, while others shoot only precharged guns. There's also a fiercely dedicated group of airgunners who view the multi-pump pneumatic air rifle as the only gun worthy of the title.
Within this small community, there are further subdivisions centered around the various American brand names Benjamin, Crosman and Sheridan. They argue such points as whether or not the Crosman Town and Country was a better all-around rifle than the famous Sheridan Model A Supergrade (it wasn't), and whether or not a front-pump Benjamin has more power potential than a scissors-linkage underlever. And the boys who had Benjamin pumps in their youth will remain brand-loyal to their graves!
But they all stop talking whenever the name Sharp Ace is brought up. For, with just its limited exposure in the US marketplace, this Japanese pneumatic has built up such a legend that it's hard to tell fact from fantasy any more. So, the focus of this article is on the .22 caliber Sharp Ace Hunter. Is it the Sheridan of the Orient?
The Sharp Ace comes in either the Hunter trim or as a Target model. They're very different rifles. Aces also come with relief valves, to limit their total pressure for the power-restricted UK market, or with unrestricted for U.S. specifications. The subject of this article is an unrestricted gun. It was originally sold by Beeman Precision Airguns in the early 1980s, when that company flirted briefly with some Sharp models, plus Benjamins and Sheridans, in their product lineup. Sales must have been slow, for the Sharp guns have always been priced way above their U.S. counterparts. Today, the Ace Hunter costs in excess of $300.
The rifle is almost all steel (it has a plastic trigger) with a tasteful beech sporter stock. It weighs about 6.3 lbs., which is about one pound more than the Sheridan Blue Streak of the same era (early 1980s). But the deeper stock and longer barrel of the Ace make it look and feel like a much larger air rifle. In fact, when you compare it directly to the Sheridan, it makes the American gun look positively diminutive, even though the Ace is only a few inches longer overall.
The sights are a crudely adjustable rear aperture and a cheap, hooded front post that doesn't have replaceable elements. Here, the Japanese could have learned a lesson from Daisy, who manages to put fine adjustable sights on guns costing less than one-third the price. But, when compared with the Sheridan Blue Streak, the Sharp comes out on top. The Blue Streak can have a Williams aperture fitted as an option, in which case it moves ahead, but the simple (and goofy taffy-pull) sights it comes with puts the rifle from Racine (now East Bloomfield, NY) squarely in the back seat.
The Sharp loses some ground in the trigger department. This is due to the designer's choice of air valves. Where the Sheridan has a traditional knock-open or striker-type valve, in which a spring-loaded weight (called a hammer) forces the valve stem open, Sharp chose to go with a blow-off valve system. With this system, there's no requirement to cock the rifle, because the act of pressurizing the reservoir is all that's required. The trigger doesn't release a spring-loaded weight--it frees the rifle's valve to open violently and release all the pressurized air stored inside. Crosman used this type of trigger in their 140 and 1400 rifles. When they worked, they were adequate, although the trigger effort grows with each additional pump of air in the reservoir. Crosman designed some ingenious adjustments into their final 1400 triggers, which made them quite livable; but they were never anything special. The Sharp is in the same boat. There are adjusting screws, but the net effect isn't that noticable.
The trigger on the Ace Hunter is creepy. Besides being made of plastic, the performance of this trigger is remarkably mediocre. For this article, I compared it to an inexpensive Crosman 1400 Pumpmaster; and although the Sharp was better, it wasn't $225 better! The Sheridan trigger was crisper than the Sharp, although the latter was considerably lighter. Of course, the current gun being sold as the Sheridan Blue Streak has a completely redesigned trigger, which breaks at over 8 lbs. The Sheridan I'm using for this comparison is the classic Blue Streak with the rocker-type safety, manufactured between 1964 and 1990.
When I first pumped the Sharp, I was put off by the loud click the wood forearm made when it slapped the metal reservoir. Then, I discovered that it wasn't necessary to bottom the pump handle against the gun as it is with almost every other pneumatic. Pumping became much easier. Both the Sheridan and the Crosman 1400 are smoother to pump than the Ace, but not much. The Sheridan also has a rubber bumper to silence the pump handle noise, making this another feature we must deduct from the Sharp's design.
Another quirk you'll notice when pumping the rifle is a bobwhite whistle when the internal chamber opens to accept each stroke of air. It's not annoying, but I've seen this happen only in Sharp guns.
In the area of fit and finish, the big Sharp comes out second to the Sheridan. The bluing of the steel parts is even, but underneath they're finished only to an average degree of smoothness. Polishing with Flitz metal paste can bring things up to the German Weihrauch level of finish, but the gun certainly does not start out at that level.
The wood stock is well-shaped and finished, and great credit must be given for the tight complex join between the pump handle and the buttstock. Alas, all this fine woodwork is rendered in beech--an adequate, but ho-hum wood, at best.
And the steel barrel, while it's a more traditional metal for firearms and spring airguns, is a poor choice for pneumatics. The cooling effect that accompanies every shot promotes condensation in the bore, which results in rust unless measures are taken. We lubricate all our pellets for pneumatics and CO2 guns with FP-10. That way, they leave a thin coat of oil in the bore and rust doesn't get started.
The Sheridan metal parts are made of brass and painted, a feature that will turn off many airgunners. But the finish on my 18-year-old Blue Streak looks as fresh as the blued 13-year-old Sharp Ace, which was virtually unused when I got it. So, both guns are durable, with the Sheridan having the preferred metal in the barrel. The Sheridan stock is American black walnut, a wood that leaves beech in the dust. To find walnut on an $80 gun (the price when new in 1978) is remarkable.
Power and accuracy have always been the strong suits of the Sharp Ace, and our test rifle did not disappoint in those categories. Five 14.3-grain Crosman Premier pellets went into a group at 10 meters that measures 0.096" center-to-center. That was with four strokes of the pump handle. The instructions say eight pumps are maximum, the same as for the Blue Streak. But where the Blue Streak truly is limited to eight by its valve design, you can cheat a bit with the Ace. Of course, the law of diminishing returns quickly asserts itself and more than 10 pumps is really a wasted effort, so we did our chronographing at that level.
At four pumps, our Sharp launches its oiled Premiers at 553 f.p.s. with only 14 f.p.s. extreme deviation in a five-shot string.
On 10 pumps, the Sharp averaged 786 f.p.s for 10 shots with oiled Premiers. Extreme deviation for this string was 19 f.p.s. That works out to 19.62 foot-pounds of muzzle energy with this medium-weight pellet. The energy grows to 25 foot-pounds with super-heavyweight 29.6-grain Korean Dae Sung pellets.
The best our Sheridan can do accuracy-wise is a five-shot group of 0.204", center-to-center at the same 10 meters. Of course, this is with the open notch and post hunting sights that come standard on the rifle. They are much less precise than even the simple aperture sights on the Sharp.
I used the Crosman .20 caliber Premier, which weighs the same 14.3-grains as the .22 pellet. And, on the recommended eight-pump maximum, the Sheridan averaged 639 f.p.s. with 17 f.p.s. extreme deviation. This gives 12.97 foot-pounds of energy. Were you to over-pump the Sheridan, velocity wouldn't rise much, for the valve simply wouldn't dump all the air in a single shot. And you couldn't use the .22 caliber Dae Sung pellets in the .20 caliber American gun, even if the velocity were fast enough. The .20 caliber Premiers are about the best pellet for this rifle. At five pumps (the test target level), the Sheridan averaged 554 f.p.s.
There you have it. A test of the legendary Sharp Ace compared to the all-time favorite Sheridan Blue Streak. Although the Sharp fails to equal the American rifle in some quality categories, I have to crown it the champion for accuracy and power. I guess that says a lot for the legend, doesn't it?