Building an airgun library

by B.B. Pelletier

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog about the Roanoke Airgun Expo, this year there was more time to sit and talk, and we all did a lot of it! I chatted with Jay in VA about a number of things that will become blogs in the future, but something that was said as an aside turned out to be the most important thing of all. Someone asked a question about something — I can’t remember what — but it prompted me to answer that such-and-such a book was the best place to get the answer. It might even have been Jay who mentioned it, and the topic might have been firearms-related and not airgun, but it started us talking about an airgunners library. Jay suggested that I write a paragraph of description about the books I think every serious airgunner needs to have.

I’ve done this before, I know, but this time I’ll be doing it from a different and more personal angle. I have recently been helped by some old books that almost nobody even knows about, thanks mostly to recommendations from Kevin and Robert from Arcade. So, let’s get right to it.

Yours Truly by Harvey Donaldson
Yours Truly by Harvey Donaldson is a compendium of the written works of Harvey Donaldson, the man best-known as the inventor of the .219 Donaldson Wasp cartridge. In the book, Donaldson is revealed not as a wildcatter of the 1920s, but as a thoughtful benchrest and varmint hunter who was always searching for accuracy. He knew all the greats such as Pope, Neidner and Whelen; and he even schooled a few of them — notably Whelen. He drove a Corvette and was honored in his ’80s by GM as the oldest sports car enthusiast in the world, so the man was in touch with reality, too. From his book, I learned a loading technique that promises to advance my accuracy with the old Ballard rifle by an order of magnitude. Search Amazon for used copies of this book.

This is the book that started my current quest for “new” gun books. It’s a marvelous read.

The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle
Ned Roberts, the inventor of the .257 Roberts cartridge, is the author of The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle. Roberts wrote the book in 1940; yet, when I tried his ideas in a Schmidt-Rubin target rifle a couple weeks ago, I found them fresh and applicable. For the first time in my life, I shot a 100-yard group smaller than one inch with cast lead bullets. True, it was only a 5-shot group, but I’m just getting started. Oddly enough, this book had very little to say about cartridge arms, yet the info is quite germane to accuracy. It was the impetus for the overbore blog I wrote last week, and it helped me formulate several ideas about accuracy. If you’re serious about shooting and hitting what you aim at, read this book! Find it on Amazon or at one of the used book dealers you get with a Google search.

This old book is a prize for shooters who want to put them all in the same hole!

But they’re not about airguns!
I know that many readers will look at the two books mentioned already and wonder what they have to do with airguns. Both are about firearms with not a mention of an airgun. Yet, the principles of accuracy still apply. I find that when something works in one world, it probably carries over to the other. And let’s face it — a good universal airgun book doesn’t exist. I will recommend a couple books I find to be most helpful, but I have to admit that the airgun world is lacking in anything as universally applicable as can be found in the world of firearms.

Powder to Target/Trigger to Target
Here are two books of fundamentals that every serious airgunner needs to own. The first is The Bullet’s Flight from Powder to Target, written by Dr. Franklin W. Mann in 1909. It has tests that Mann conducted to try to identify the components of accuracy. Not much has changed in a century, has it? Mann spend considerable time (37 years) and money testing everything he could think of to try to identify why some guns shot more accurately than others. He called fliers the X factor. And 30 years later, Roberts called them “outliers.” But both men were interested in why some bullets did not go where the shooter intended. Mann even made a range protected from the wind, by stretching a canvas tunnel 18 inches in diameter down the 100 yards of his test range. The tunnel was curved to allow for bullet drop! Can you imagine the skill it took to construct such a thing — and the anal personality it took to actually build it? Mann would have been one of those guys who carries around a thick notebook full of targets and spreadsheets, and if you saw him coming you would turn around and walk away. You would do so because the first time you met him you had a pleasant five-hour conversation about the effects of precession induced by crosswinds coming from various angles. You said, “Hello” when the conversation started and “Goodbye” when it thankfully ended. He did the rest of the talking.

Both books are about the things we want to know but don’t have the time or resources to test ourselves. These are fundamental references that a shooter cannot afford to do without.

So — not a crowd-pleaser, but a milestone experimenter when it comes to accuracy. It reads like stereo instructions written by Shakespeare, so it’s not a page-turner; but I can say the same about a lot of other valuable references. Buy the book off Amazon or from the used book dealers and buy only a reprint, as an original costs about what an HW55 costs!

In the 1970s, a father-son team of G.V. Cardew and G.M. Cardew wrote The Airgun from Trigger to Muzzle. It was updated in 1995 to The Airgun from Trigger to Target, when they added material. I have both books and the later one is the better one to get.

The Cardews were just as curious about airguns as Mann was about accuracy. They carried out numerous experiments to answer those questions that always come up whenever airgunners get together — only they actually tested their theories.

Want to know how dieseling differs from detonations? They cover it. How long does a spring gun barrel need to be for maximum velocity? They were the first to publish the results and today they are quoted by people who don’t even know they exist. Their book is a seminal work, and though it is sometimes hard to follow, I recommend it to everyone. This one will be hard to find, as it goes in and out of print. Just buy it if you ever see it.

It’s a Daisy
It’s a Daisy is a book about the birth and growth of Daisy — the most iconic American airgun company. The author is Cass S. Hough, the grandson of the founder of the company, and a character in his own right. Hough was the test pilot who inadvertently broke the sound barrier in 1943 in a dive over an airfield in England while trying to rectify the handling problems of the P38 Lightning fighter. He worked for Daisy both before and after the war, and was finally president of the company. He gives a deep insight into the workings of the company during its first 50 years.

The first printing of this book had skyrocketed to $100 on the used market a few years ago. Then, Daisy reprinted it. You can’t buy one directly from them, but it’s available here.

If you want to learn the history of BB guns in America, this is the place to start.

The Blue Book of Airguns
Twenty years ago when I got back into airgunning the biggest complain about airgun books was there were no reliable price guides. Today the biggest complaint is that the Blue Book of Airguns exists, and who do they think they are? Their prices are often so different from what you really pay for the same guns.

This is the best reference for what’s out there. It gets better with each new edition. This one is number nine.

Well, surprise, surprise! The Kelly Blue Book of automobile values works the same way. Thery may say that a 1998 Ford F-150 is worth X, but you might see one in great shape for half that if the owner lost his job and can’t keep up with the payments. Or you might see one listed for 2X if it was last owned by a famous personality (Remember John Voight’s Chrysler LeBaron on Seinfeld?). Just deal with it. The thing about the Blue Book is not the prices — it’s the other information on guns many of us have never seen or even knew existed. I have made a lot of money by owning and consulting a Blue Book.

Wrap up
So there you have it. My short list of airgunner must-haves. Even if you are not a reader, these books can make you a better-informed airgunner, and shooter in general.

One last thing
I wasn’t going to mention this, but there has been some talk among you readers, so I will post it here. My best buy at this show turned out not to be an airgun at all! While looking at the tables I saw and bought a slingshot that has both a red dot sight and a laser designator for Edith. She was really keen on getting one after seeing it online, so I bought it for her. It’s a cool device and I may find a way to work it into a posting sometime, but that wasn’t my best deal.

At the same table I spotted a 1918 trench knife that I assumed to be a replica. I assumed that because this is a rare variation of the more common 1917 model made by LF&C. I had seen the 1918 version on Pawn Stars, so I had some sense of what a real one would be worth, and the asking price was well within my budget, so I bought it.

A chance find at an airgun show! The 1918 trench knife is rare.

Long story short, this isn’t a replica. It’s the real deal from World War I. Most of these were used and abused, so mine, which I would rate as very good, is even rarer. I didn’t expect to find one of these at an airgun show, but because I knew what it was I bought it the moment I saw it. The fact that it turned out to be real is a plus, because I paid for what I thought was a very good replica.

The old salesman’s adage applies here. If you want to make the sales you have to make the calls. Or better yet — the time to buy them is when you see them.

32 thoughts on “Building an airgun library

  1. Great find on the knife.

    BOOKS!!! I love books! Indeed, collecting gun books is cheaper than collecting guns, and you can read ‘em on rainy days. And there are a TON of excellent books out there on guns and gun makers.

    Oh how I’d love to have a good gun-book collection someday.

    • AlanL,

      Well, it did. In fact. the improvement was perhaps even larger than that, but it’s too soon to tell.

      I’m referring to my Ballard rifle and a special loading technique that Harvey Donaldson suggested and Ned Roberts refined for me. I want to show you the whole process — how it works and the comparative results — but I’m not quite there yet.

      If you have followed my comments to Kevin, I shot a three-shot groups (out of five) that measured LESS than two-tenths of an inch at 100 yards. The two stray shots were number one and two out of a clean barrel. I was just testing the process that day and wasn’t going for recordable groups.

      I will show this in an upcoming report, because I think it relates directly to accuracy with an airgun. That’s why I listed those two books first and second.


      • BB; I’ll try this again as the first two replies didn’t show for some reason? Another book that you may find useful is the,” Breech Loading Single Shot match Rifle” by Major Ned Roberts and Ken Waters. Copyright 1967, by the D. Van Nostrand Company Inc . Library of Congress No.67-27986. It was the last book written by Ned Roberts and intended to be a sequel to the book ” The Muzzle Loading Cap Lock Rifle ” that you mention above. The book was completed by Ken Waters after Roberts death. I am lucky enough to have both books. There is a treasure trove of information in both these books on the old guns , written by men who actually used them.

  2. BB: Another book that you may find of value in your enjoyment of your Ballard is ,”The Breech Loading Single Shot Match Rifle” by Major Ned Roberts and Ken Waters. Copyright 1967, by the D.Van Nostrand Company, Inc, library of congress No. 67-27986. This book was started by Major Roberts as a sequel to ” The Muzzle loading Cap Lock Rifle ” that you mention above. It was completed by Ken Waters after Roberts death. I have both books and they are atreasure trove of infomation on the old guns and how they were managed by men who used them.

  3. I’m a big fan of Building an airgun library.

    Reading about airguns has made me a better shooter, helped me understand our airgunning roots, taught me how to get the best from my guns and introduced me to models I had to try.

    Since modesty is one of B.B.’s faults, I’ll say it. The Beeman R1 Supermagnum Air Rifle book is a must have if you only intend to buy a few books for your airgun library. Since springers are far and away the most popular first adult air gun purchase this book is a must have. Although the book is about the Beeman R1 it is packed with important information that applies to all spring guns, i.e., breaking a gun in, variety of tunes and testing results for them, shooting techniques, how to scope a springer, etc. etc.

    Finding a deal on a trench knife at an airgun show is a lesson. I think too many people attend gun shows with a short list of what they’re looking for. This mental short list easily allows a person to overlook opportunities that are right under their nose at the show. Many of these folks return home and declare that the show was a bust since they didn’t find one of the items that was on their short list. Not uncommon for another show attendee, with a broader perspective, to return home delighted with purchases from that same show that could easily double his money in the next few weeks.


    • Kevin,

      Thank you for stating my purpose so clearly. I used to be a “short-lister” and wondered how other guys always made those wonderful buys at the same show where I was finding nothing. Once I remember a guy finding an excellent Supergrade Sheridan for $400, at the time when they were just begunning to take off!

      Then I met Mac and listened to how he operates. In a few years, he has slowed me down, broadened my perspective and I’m now bringing home the good finds.

      And you are right about what I will do with it. I like knives, but I will sell the trench knife to increase my funds for the next good airgun find.


      • B.B.,

        Your comment has brought us back full circle.

        This hobby can pay for itself if you know what and how to buy right. Buy low sell high and you can acquire airguns and related equipment for little or no money. The Blue Book of Airguns is an important reference to learn the basics and be successful.


    • Absolutely! Critical reference for anybody wanting to shoot well and understand the whys as well as the hows. MEC also publishes “Air Rifle Shooting” which is loaded with good dope and very helpful pictures.

  4. Huh, well this is a wake-up call from my surfing of car repossession videos and clips of Tony Jaa to get back to some useful research. I think we’re on to something deep here: None other than the very force that drives the current information explosion which is why people put so much effort into communicating that is not really in their material interest. I had this brought home to me the other day in the library where a colleague was orienting me to a new assignment. For two hours, she spoke non-stop about the Library of Congress Classification schedule and just about sent me into a spiral of madness. I thought I was encountering some important phenomenon here….but what. Clearly the urge to self-expression is close to life itself. Nice knife. The next step is to have Frank B. put a super edge on it. I believe this design was invented by the British and adapted by the Americans, and the most succinct explanation of it’s use that I’ve heard is that “One strike with the hilt would generally shatter a man’s jaw, then you would get him with the knife as he was going down.” Gruesome. But I also heard that this design was ultimately not that successful because the brass knuckles secured you to the knife in a way that was not good. These and other sinister tools of hand-to-hand combat were developed in the Great War as one outgrowth of trench warfare. Given the impasse of the trenches, both sides took to raiding at night and the raiders would often run into each other in no-man’s land and fight to the death. No guns were allowed because at the slightest sound both trench lines would open up and annihilate everyone. So the fight was played out in pitch darkness and total silence. The word is that the Germans favored Bowie knives while the British preferred clubs with a metal spine down the center to give it balance and weight. Unimaginable. I do believe that the “Great War” was no misnomer…

    Flobert, yes what to do at impending annihilation is an interesting question. The word is that after Hitler committed suicide in his bunker and with Russian forces closing in, the remaining SS staff (normally under a strict code of morality) had a wild orgy. I guess they figured there was nothing to lose at that point…. Yes, I agree about Hawaii. There’s much there to admire including the fabulous weather and scenery, and the people are a mixed bag after all. If you want to talk real violence, it is not the mokes (thugs) who operate largely in the shadows and do not hold up well to the light of YouTube. The winners here can be none other than the local Japanese who were heavy contributors to the 442nd 100th Battalion Regimental Combat Team (something like that) who were supposed to be the most heavily decorated American unit of WWII. You couldn’t pick a more unlikely bunch based on appearance. They are very small statured. I tower over the men of that generation. And they are very laid-back and friendly in manner–no trace of the Samurai anywhere except on the battlefield I guess. It’s quite a puzzle. As for the mokes, my fantasy for them is for Vladimir, the Systema practitioner, to visit Hawaii on vacation and have the mokes pick him out as a haole tourist and an easy mark. The results I would pay to see….

    PeteZ, thanks for the reference to Q.E.D. although I have my doubts about how comprehensible it is. The Feynman Lectures have a simple appearance, but I’m told that they give professional physicists difficulty and were mostly a failure even at Caltech. I was able to finish A Brief History of Time. I just didn’t really know what was going on. I think that book won some sort of award for most bought and least read.


    • The Feynman Lectures (aka “Red Feynman” for the bright red covers on the original edition) form a three volume text book intended for a freshman course. Ha! Ha! HA! Nowadays they are mostly used as a graduation present for physicists getting their PhD. They are very difficult to *learn* from, but they are wonderful if you already know the formalism and want insight into the underlying physics, and want to learn how to think.

      But QED actually is comprehensible. You just have to take it a bit slowly — not treat it like a novel or a popular science book (e.g. “Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland” or “Zen and the Art of Whatever”).

    • Matt, I’m convinced they had one look at Furuya’s ears and gave up!

      There was a movie called Downfall or something about the final days in Hitler’s bunker. Shown from the perspective of a young lady who became his secretary. Wild partying, suiciding, all sorts of reactions, a bunch were given the option of leaving, and they left. She stayed with Der Fuehrer for lack of much else to do, in the end Hitler’s dead and she crawls out, there are partying Russians all over the place, one lurches up to her and you’re ready to view something awful happening, but he only wants to share his vodka with her. She teams up with a young boy and they ride out of there on a bicycle. Quite a good movie, it was very popular in Palo Alto for some reason.

      There are a bunch of books out on “The existential question”, basically ,what do you do with your life? And there’s more impetus to stare this question in the face when the old order (Get a job, buy a house, drive a car, keep rising on life’s escalator) is falling apart.

  5. Wow,what an awesome find at an airgun show…..that knife is in PRIMO condition.Perhaps I’m leading a sheltered life…..but it is such a great feeling to unearth a major find right beneath the noses of other “pickers”.Let alone in a venue filled with them. I am so overloaded here because I have been flea mkt. crazy for at least 30yrs.This weekend alone I scored a mint H&K USP BB pistol for 5$ (had gas in it,and sounded broke because 3 BBs were trapped inside) and the major score was a Kirby Tradition vacuum that needed a belt and brush bar.Paid 5$!!!!! Invested another 30$ and have one of the best vacuums ever made.This vac is so powerful it had 3 pennys in the dumper chute,and all three were actually bent!I could wast your whole day with just the highlights of a couple years worth of garage sales and weekend flea mkt finds.Amazingly,I go late,compaired to most…..because I have NO buisness buying anything.I have nowhere to put anything else.I constantly find great stuff, need a partner that is good at SELLING!

    • Frank,

      Mac and I have established a good buying/selling relationship. He is like you and the great buys just jump into his lap. But he lives in an oppressive state, so I became his outlet. You need to find someone like that, or you need to find a person who can be an Ebay’er for you.


  6. B.B.,

    Great find on the knife. A character on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire uses one of those with grizzly results.
    I have a three combat type knives hidden around the home for emergency use, but have forgotten where all but one is.
    Fortunately, since I take the firearms to he range periodically I can recall all their locations.

    Here is a cheap copy of the knife for the rest of us that may not be so lucky to find an original:

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