Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Crosman 118 - A gallery rifle that went public

by B.B. Pelletier

Update on Tom
I visited Tom last night, and he's been moved into the ICU. His infection is getting worse, not better. After I visit him this morning, I will update you in the comments section.--Edith

Now, on to today's blog, which comes to you from Airgun Revue #2, which was published in 1998.

The Crosman 118 looks mundane, unless you know what it is and how it works.

In the early 1950s, most American airgun buyers were not very discriminating. Their tastes ran to Benjamin and Crosman pneumatics, as well as to the ubiquitous Daisy BB gun. Most knew nothing of the fine precision airguns being made in the UK and Europe, and only a few more were aware of the fine Sheridan model A (Supergrade) that was being made right here in Racine, Wisc. It was a time when .22 rimfires held sway among the largest number of shooters, because rimfires were so easy to shoot almost anywhere. So, when the Crosman Corporation brought out a new CO2 repeating air rifle--the model 118--at a price of $34.95, it must have shocked many people.

Actually, we now know that the gun that became the model 118 was not originally offered to the public. It started out in 1947 as a .21 caliber gallery gun with a hose connected to a bulk CO2 tank under the counter. In that configuration, it was designated the model 117. That gun was made at roughly the same time Crosman was also plying companies with its shooting gallery, which is a long story in its own right. The short version is that Crosman was selling complete shooting galleries, including the guns that went with them, so companies could start shooting leagues for their employees. The guns used in these galleries were the CG-style rifles. CG stands for "constant gas," as the 4-oz. bulk tanks held enough gas for many shots. The public couldn't buy just one CG rifle over the counter, either; they came as sets with the galleries.

Crosman developed the 117, which connected to a bulk tank via a hose from the underside of the fore end, just in front of the gun's internal valve. Except for how the gas got into the gun (and the caliber), the 117 looks identical to the 118--a fact that airgunner Steve Gibbons recorded on film at a SHOT Show and shared with The Airgun Letter readers in 1995. In 1996, airgun writer/historian Dean Fletcher documented it, again, with a different photo and a brief history, which appears on page 182 of his big book The Crosman Rifle, 1923-1950.

The 118 was the first of three so-called bulk-fill CO2 rifles that Crosman sold to the public. The single-shot models 113 and 114 were accepted much more readily because they sold for a price of $21.95, which was much more affordable in 1952. But the 118 was never a big seller; and by 1956, it was gone from the inventory.

Let’s now take a look at this curious American classic, and see what makes it tick. Our subject rifle was purchased at a local flea market, and the former owner--an airgunner who had never heard of bulk-fill guns--unscrewed the filler cap to see where the Powerlets went. When he discovered that the reservoir was too small to accept Powerlets (which a bit of pre-measuring might have determined just as well), he wrote off the whole thing as a bad idea and sold the gun.

The first order of business, therefore, was to get the rifle resealed. Normally, a Crosman bulk-fill gun will still have great seals when you buy it used, especially if the former owner was smart enough to leave it charged with gas. But this one had been tinkered with and was leaking heavily. Precision Pellet resealed ours for $20, which is less than the 1952 purchase price. If that's not a bargain, I don't know what is.

The 118 is much the same kind of airgun as the Crosman Town & Country, in that it's a short rifle that has some thickness to the stock. Curiously, both guns sold for a premium when they were new and were contemporaries in the early 1950s. Our test rifle weighs exactly 5 lbs. and measures a scant 38.5 inches, tip to tail. The 22-inch barrel is steel, as is the reservoir tube underneath. But the bolt handle, filler cap and front sight are all brass parts, which is a reversal of what one might expect. The caliber is .22. American airguns of the 1950s were very much based on our national awareness of the .22 rimfire cartridge at that time. We wanted a smooth transition from airguns to firearms, so .22 was by far the favored airgun caliber. Although .177 guns existed, collectors note that it's usually harder to find American airguns in that caliber. And single-caliber models, like the 118, were invariably .22. The in-line, spring-fed clip requires the use of flat-nosed pellets for reliable feeding. I tried pellets with slightly rounded noses because they often do work in other airguns having in-line clips--but not in the 118. Apparently, the shearing action of the carrier that strips off the next pellet in line is pretty abrupt.

The bolt lifts straight up and back to cock and load. It's easy to learn and delightful to do in rapid fire.

The bolt isn't a typical Mauser-style crossbolt, either. If you examine the photos, you'll notice that the bolt handle is pulled straight up and back to cock the gun. Lowering it loads the pellet in the barrel, which makes it ready for firing. The actual loading operation takes place beneath that rectangular plate on top of the action, but you probably don't want to know! It works smooth enough, but our rifle did require some oil on the moving parts before it fed reliably.

I had feeding problems with Crosman wadcutters, and even more with Premiers because of their slight dome. RWS Hobbys worked okay and H&N Match worked the best. The cadence at which the bolt is cycled is also important. You have to work it like a gallery gun--with a fast and definite action; no hesitation or indecisiveness. After the final shot, the clip follower enters the pellet feed arm, effectively locking the action until the rifle is reloaded. This probably also carries over from its origins as a gallery gun.

Both the receiver and the removable clip have windows cut into their sides so you can see at a glance how many pellets are left, if care is taken to align them when loading. The clip on our rifle was missing a part--the keeper to hold the follower when the clip is loaded. It was still possible to load without the keeper, but I had to use my thumb to restrain the tiny follower projection that protrudes through the vision slot. Once the clip is fully inserted in the gun, the follower is held in place by the pellets, which rest against the feeding mechanism. The line of pellets advances only one pellet at a time into the carrier for transport to the back of the barrel. Spring pressure from the follower pushes the next pellet forward, once the hole in the carrier aligns with it.

Some features found on the more common single-shots carry over to the 118, such as a crossbolt safety that runs through the stock above the trigger. The trigger is a simple notch that retains the hammer against the pressure of a coiled spring. It's possible to slick up a bit, but it'll probably never be in the great category. The one on our test rifle is stiff and creepy.

At the back of the receiver is a power adjustment screw that allows the shooter to increase or decrease power at will. All it does is change the tension on the hammer spring, but that's all it takes! You might wonder why anyone would want less than maximum power; but indoors, at close range, low power is quieter and gives more shots.

Speaking of the number of shots--for some reason, the rifle I tested was a little gas hog. Where our .22 caliber 114 single-shot often gives 60 full-power shots, the 118 pooped out somewhere between 30 and 40. Of course, there could be some differences in the valves of the two rifles tested, but a difference of roughly 40 percent is too wide a variation for that to be the only reason. I believe the feeding mechanism requires more gas because it provides a less positive seal. At any rate, you'll want to keep a 10-oz. tank around when you shoot.

Velocity was a bit on the staid side, with Meisterkugelns going 586 with a 17 f.p.s. spread over 10 shots. That was at 67-deg. F, which is on the low side for CO2 guns. CO2 is a very temperature-dependent gas, with pressure rising and falling in a linear relationship. At 70-deg. F, the pressure is around 900 psi, which is a good operating point.

Not a great 10m group, but it's in the right place.

Sighting is also a trifle lackluster on this rifle. There's a peep, but it's crude and adjusts by sliding parts and friction locking. Hence, there's no real precision. The best groups I saw were with H&N Match pellets, which yielded five-shot groups just under 1/2" spread, center-to-center. This could be more a function of an imprecise sight picture, rather than the fault of the gun. I didn't spend a lot of time shooting it for the record.

The Crosman 118 was certainly short-lived. Probably the high price and the use of an exotic (for that time) gas mitigated against its acceptance by the general public. With their popular pneumatic rifles selling for around $20, there was, perhaps, too much of a jump in price up to the 118, which cost about 43 percent more. And, CO2 was far from being a popular power source in the early 1950s. Until the advent of the ever-popular Crosman Powerlet many years later, carbonic gas occupied only a minor niche among airgun powerplants, and bulk-fill guns were at the bottom of even that stratification because of the extra work they entailed. So, the rifle that might well have revolutionized the shooting gallery trade was mostly a flop when it came to the general populace. But for collectors of vintage American airguns, the Crosman 118 stands apart as one of the key pieces in a rich tapestry of airgunning in the mid-20th century.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Sheridan model E CO2 pistol

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement from Edith Gaylord
Tom/B.B. will be out of commission and offline for at least a week. Yesterday, he had another gallbladder attack. I took him to the ER, where we discovered that he also had acute pancreatitis. The pain was so excruciating this time around that three shots of morphine did little to relieve it. The pancreatitis will be treated with antibiotics over the next three days (he can't eat or drink anything, either). Then, they'll remove his gallbladder. If you happen to have Tom's cell phone number, please don't call him.

Whatever you blog readers can do to answer questions will be much appreciated. Of course, I'll answer as many as I'm able. I'll keep you posted on Tom's progress!

I'll be providing blogs from previous articles Tom's written for one of our former publications. Here's a neat one from Airgun Revue #2, which was published in 1998. Enjoy!

This Sheridan pistol is finished as nicely as any airgun from "the good old days."

"They don't make 'em like they used to!" Have you ever heard that said about airguns? Do you say it yourself? If you do, perhaps you haven't yet had a chance to see or shoot Sheridan's model E CO2 pistol. It's as well made as any of the airguns of the past and better than most. Although it was discontinued recently, there are many of them laying around just waiting for you to connect with a piece of Americana.

First, let's clear up some confusion that originates with the manufacturer. Until January 1977, there were two separate companies--Benjamin and Sheridan. Benjamin's history goes back into the 1800s with the St. Louis Air Rifle Company, which became Benjamin during the first decade of the 20th century. Sheridan is a relative newcomer, starting in 1947, with the first offering of their Pneumatic Rifle, which has since been known as the Supergrade.

So, Benjamin/Sheridan have been two separate companies until Benjamin purchased Sheridan. Although they're now one, and wholly owned by another airgun maker--the Crosman Corporation--there still are differences between the two brand names. Caliber is the biggest difference. Sheridan pioneered the .20 caliber with their first rifle and have sold their airguns with the same caliber ever since.

Benjamin guns have been offered in both .177 and .22, with public preferences of one over the other at various times. In the 1950s and '60s, .22 was by far the favorite; but in the '80s and '90s, .177 was dominant.

I've been discriminating between guns made by Benjamin/Sheridan, therefore, by caliber. If it's .20, it's a Sheridan; if not, it's a Benjamin. Our subject pistol is a bright nickelplated .20 caliber CO2 single-shot Sheridan model E. More on this in a bit.

One of the first things to disappear after the golden age of airguns ended was the use of good, substantial materials with corresponding finishes. The older Benjamin guns of the '30s through the '50s had black nickelplating over silver nickel--all on a solid brass base metal. Whether they were brand new or without a speck of original finish, these guns looked (and still look) like a million dollars. It's true that they sometimes look a little scuzzy when the black is just left in the corners and some of the silver has begun to show brass, but that's just a larval stage that can give way to a golden-trumpet sparkle with a little polishing. When contrasted against an oiled brown walnut stock, the all-brass look is my favorite.

Crosman was more conservative with finishes, applying black paint instead of plating; but their guns also looked snazzy, either new or buffed to a shine. Although they did produce some steel-tubed/barreled guns, many--if not most--of them were all brass like the Benjamins.

In the 1960s, American industry began to find less expensive ways to build products, and brass gave way to pot metal first and then plastic in airguns. Finishes weren't as durable when marketing departments and comptrollers began reining in their production departments. The reasoning of the day was that airguns are temporary possessions, after all. So, why build them to last forever? When that thinking took over, airguns became the very temporary items that it dictated. Airgunners will tell you that the golden age was over--not to be resurrected in the US, again.

But the Sheridan model E, made for just a little more than one year, beginning in 1989, belies that philosophy. It's heavily plated with beautiful nickel over a metal base that has been well-prepared. Nickel looks so nice on a gun, having a slight gold cast that can only be noticed by holding it next to something plated with chrome. And a good nickel job will outlast a good blue job by many years. Chrome, by comparison, is brittle and will soon begin to flake off in unsightly patches.

The rear sight of the model E is adjustable for both windage and elevation. Although the method of adjustment is crude, it works perfectly. The entire unit slides left and right in a groove and is held in position by a single slotted friction screw. Elevation is via a headless slotted screw running through the horizontal leaf. This same method has been used for air pistol sights since the 1930s and is just as precisely accurate as more expensive click-adjustable units, if not as easy to make fine adjustments.

You might think that accuracy in a gun selling for under $90 would be quite low, but the Sheridan is really quite the shooter. In fact, it was this aspect that caused us to look at it in the first place. One of our readers sent us some targets he had shot with his Sheridan model H multi-pump pneumatic (different powerplant than the model E, but similar in other ways) that were quite eye-opening. He had several five-shot groups fired at 25 yards that measured under an inch! That isn't bad for a rifle, let alone a pistol. For a pistol costing so little, it's very good!

He had scoped his gun with an inexpensive Tasco, but I preferred to try ours with the factory iron sights. Shooting at 10 meters (33 feet), I got one five-shot group that measured under 3/8", and several others were just a smidgen larger. The most accurate pellets were the .20 caliber Crosmans that come in a red plastic belt-loop box--the same as the .177s.

This is the kind of accuracy I got from a rest at 10 meters. Not a target gun but certainly a good plinker.

Shooting from a rest, I noticed a very pronounced flip-up at the muzzle with every shot. The escaping CO2 works backwards on the gun (like a rocket), once the pellet has cleared the bore. I adjusted the sights to a six-o'clock hold, and lighted the target well, so my nickel sights appeared totally black. The sight picture was less than precise because the front blade is many times smaller than the rear notch; but by focusing on the front sight and not the bull, I managed to keep a decent sight picture.

The trigger on the pistol we tested was a bit stiff, at more than 5 lb., but it broke without creep. A bit of moly lubrication on the sear and the bearing pin lowers this by about 1 lb. I wouldn't recommend any stoning of the sear in this gun, as the parts are not as hard as those found in some firearms. The moly grease makes a large difference.

Regular Crosman .20 caliber pointed pellets went into a tight group under 3/4". Crosman Premiers, a pellet that usually shoots best in most guns, lagged behind in this one, keeping them all in a group just over an inch. This is why it is always recommended that a shooter try all different types of pellets in a gun. Barrels will vary from gun to gun within the same brand and caliber, so it always pays to try out everything you can lay your hands on.

64-deg. F • Point blank
Crosman Pointed Pellets

High.....412 f.p.s.
Low.....384 f.p.s.
Avg.....398 f.p.s.
Ext. Spread.....28 f.p.s.
Beeman Silver Sting
High.....444 f.p.s.
Low.....423 f.p.s.
Avg.....429 f.p.s.
Ext. Spread.....21 f.p.s.

I found that shooting rapidly did cause the velocity to drop along a regular slope, but waiting 15 seconds between shots allowed things to stabilize and velocity to rise to the average. Many CO2 guns exhibit this phenomenon, which is caused by their internal parts being cooled by the steady flow of CO2, a refrigerant gas. The vapor pressure of CO2 drops when things get cooler, which puts less pressure behind each succeeding pellet. So, it's often a good idea to allow a CO2 gun to warm up between shots.

In all, I must say that I was most impressed by this Sheridan pistol. It has the genuine quality that we all look for in older American airguns. Too often, today's guns do not measure up to that same standard. This one does. If you're looking for an inexpensive American-built gun, try either the Sheridan or the Crosman line of CO2 and pneumatic pistols. The CO2 gun now comes in a dull painted finish only, but the pneumatic is still finished in bright nickel.

Monday, March 29, 2010

RWS 92 - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Before I begin, don't forget that on April 8 at 8 p.m., Eastern, I'll have a special Q&A session on Pyramyd Air's Facebook page just for you. Please join me then. You must have a free Facebook account and be a friend of Pyramyd Air to participate.

Part 1

Before we begin, I have an airgun-related story for you. Edith and I own a Select Comfort bed--the kind that is called a Sleep-by-Number bed today, but 15 years ago it was just Select Comfort. The air compressor that inflates both mattresses finally went belly-up this past weekend, so we ordered another. But while trying to fix this one, air was let out of both mattresses, and the bed was unusable until the new compressor arrives.

I used a CO2 bottle to inflate one mattress, but I ran out of CO2 before the job was finished. So, I used a scuba tank to finish the job. It did the job in less than a minute, and although I have to admit that it was not convenient to do, I was sure glad we were able to do it, because I love that bed. I would not have enjoyed sleeping on a lesser mattress for even a few nights. In the past I have also used a bulk tank of CO2 to extinguish a car fire, and now this. It's just one more reason I'm glad to be an airgunner.

Today, we'll take a look at the power of this RWS 92. Several readers were familiar with this airgun, so this should be a revealing day for them.

RWS model 92 by Cometa.

Getting right to it
Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets averaged 618 f.p.s. The spread was from a low of 596 f.p.s. to a high of 638 f.p.s. That's 42 f.p.s., which is pretty high for a spring gun. That computes to an energy of 6.7 foot-pounds.

Next, I tried JSB Exact 8.4-grain pellets. Being heavier, they should be slower; but being made from softer lead, they may be close in velocity. It came as only a small surprise that they averaged 635 f.p.s. The spread went from a low of 626 to a high of 647, so just 21 f.p.s. separation. The rifle's more at ease with this pellet, though we'll have to await the accuracy results to know for sure. The energy is a more lively 7.52 foot-pounds.

Then, I tested some RWS Hobbys. As a lightweight lead pellet, they should be pretty good in a gun like this. They averaged 693 The spread went from 675 to 707, so 22 f.p.s. The energy worked out to 7.47 foot-pounds.

The power fits in with my observation that the 92 is 7/8 of an FWB 124. It's a great place for a plinking rifle to be. A little less than advertised but still very useful.

Firing behavior
The rifle is fairly calm when it fires, but there's a jolt. The barrel was too loose when I tested because it would not remain in any position after being cocked. I took the action out of the stock and found the locking screw for the pivot bolt that Vince told us about. I tightened the pivot bolt, but then it didn't align with the locking screw with or even without the spacer he put in, so I removed the pivot bolt and reshimmed it to torque the bolt a little more. It doesn't change the velocity, but it may help the accuracy when the time comes. I see what Vince means about those notches being hard to align when doing this job, so I was glad for his fix.

Here you can see the barrel pivot bolt locking screw clearly, and how it must fit into one of the scallops cut into the periphery of the pivot bolt head. If it's off, the locking screw won't fit. A small shim under the pivot bolt head causes it to end its rotation earlier than normal. You can also see that the next notch is very far from this one, so the shim must be much thicker.

I did slice my finger while working on the action outside of the stock, which is a reminder that the metal parts on many spring rifles have razor-sharp edges unless you take the time to dull them. Normally, that's part of a tuneup. It's not the sexy part nor does it add anything to the bottom line, but it's the thing to do for your own peace of mind whenever you work on the action again.

The two-stage trigger-pull breaks at between 3 lb.., 2 ozs. and 3 lb.., 14 ozs. I attribute the large difference to the second-stage creep, as you would expect on a rifle in this price range.

When out of the stock, the 92 also resembles the FWB 124 more than a little. I would expect disassembly would be similar to the German gun. Looking through the cocking slot, I noticed that the mainspring was coated with moly paste, which confirms that this rifle was lubed after it came from the factory.

Moly grease on the mainspring is a giveaway that the rifle was tuned after the factory lubed it.

So far, so good. It looks like the RWS 92 is a fine plinking pellet rifle that was a great value when it last sold at $100. Next time, I'll check the accuracy, which will be interesting with these all-plastic sight parts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Beeman R1 update report

by B.B. Pelletier

Before I begin, don't forget that on April 8 at 8 p.m. Eastern I will have a special Facebook session on the Pyramyd Air page just for you. Please join me then.

And don't forget the Arkansas airgun show is fast approaching. Friday, April 30, and Saturday, May 1, are the dates, and this website gives all the particulars. I hope to see a lot of you there.

Today is Friday, and on Fridays I like to write about things that are of special interest to me. Do you know that I've been writing this blog for almost five years, and in all that time I haven't done a single report on the Beeman R1? I wrote a book about it, but I've never blogged it until today. I assume that veteran airgunners know the rifle well, but the newer readers may never have heard of it or given it a second thought.

The R1 book has test results from two brand-new R1s.

To clear up a rumor that people used to try to spread, the Beeman R1 did not grow out of the Weihrauch HW80. In fact, it was just the opposite. The HW80 is copied after the R1. It came to market first because the longer R1 stocks were not ready in time to build the rifles. And the nomenclature HW 0 means that the piston stroke is 80mm. The R1 was the first air rifle to be designed in part by a CAD/CAM system, and those who attend the Arkansas show next month may well have the chance to meet the engineer who designed it for Dr. Beeman--E.H. Epperson.

Back when the R1 first came to market, the FWB 124 was the fairest in the land. It had broken the 800 f.p.s. barrier and nothing else could hold a candle to it. Then, the R1 burst on the scene, delivering 940 f.p.s. in .177 caliber. Before a year elapsed, the Beeman company had tuned the .177 R1 past 1,000 f.p.s. and every dedicated airgunner wanted one. I know I sure did.

The trouble was that I had recently bought an expensive 124, and as a family man could not justify spending that much more money for another new air rifle. Robert Beeman taunted me with the Rekord trigger, the beautiful stock and of course the power that I thought I needed to be complete. So, I pined for an R1 that would not be mine until more than a decade passed. Wife No. 2 turned out to be much nicer than No. 1 and gave me one for Christmas in 1991.

The Rekord trigger had a lot to recommend it in the early 1980s. It still does.

My new R1 was in .177 caliber, of course, because I wanted the speed. But I quickly learned what I now tell other new airgunners--velocity without accuracy sucks, and you give up too much power by getting a powerful airgun in .177 caliber. So, I decided that I wanted a .22. Enter The Airgun Letter.

Starting in 1994, I wrote a monthly newsletter about airguns. Then, I hatched a plot that I would write about an R1 and all the various tunes one could do to it. It would provide the newsletter with many interesting articles (more than nine in the final tally). To do that I would have to get a brand-new R1 that I could break in and report on as I did. Cutting to the chase, that R1 served as the platform for many newsletter articles and was the basis for my book, which was published in 1995.

For those who have never read the book, there were actually two R1s. The first one broke a forearm stock mount that Beeman had to weld back on, and in the process they "gave" me a free moly tune, because they had to clean out the compression chamber before welding. That was great except for one thing. I was in the middle of a protracted break-in and test, which they ruined by tuning the gun. So, after some discussion, they replaced the rifle and I got to break in a second .22 caliber R1. It's all in the book and the remarkable thing is how close the two rifles turned out after a 1,000-shot break-in.

That second rifle is the one I still have today, though I did trade it away for a period of three years. The same man got my Whiscombe rifle when we needed the money, but was glad to sell them back to me three years later because I included his (and my) favorite M1 Carbine in the deal. While he had the gun, he made a beautiful walnut stock for it, which is a bonus given the level of my woodworking skill. Although it isn't checkered, I leave it on the rifle for the beauty.

My R1 has undergone a huge transition from new. This is how it looks today.

Isn't that nice figure in the butt?

How does a Beeman R1 differ from other magnum air rifles?
For starters, there are no synthetics visible on this rifle. None! The piston seal is synthetic and so is the spring guide in a current R1, but the guide in my rifle is steel. The trigger uses machined parts. The major stamped part is the box that holds the trigger components.

When I picked the rifle up to examine it, I was shocked by the weight. It's over 10 lbs. with a scope and Vortek tunable muzzlebrake. Yet it delivers only about 14.5 foot-pounds. I've detuned it for smoothness and because I simply do not need it to be a supermagnum air rifle anymore.

This muzzlebrake from Vortek has a moving weight that allows you to "tune" the rifle to the best vibration nodes. You can adjust the barrel vibration for every different pellet you shoot. This accessory is no longer available, though Vortek may still have a couple that were unsold.

It shoots smooth, though compared to a Bronco or Benjamin Legacy there's still some vibration. That could be cured by either tighter fitting of the powerplant components (mainspring, piston, spring guides) or with the application of black tar, but I haven't done either and I doubt I will.

The Rekord trigger on my rifle is adjusted about as light as I dare go. It releases under 8 oz., yet cannot be bumped off the sear. It's so light that my analog trigger-pull gauge cannot measure it. After a light first stage, the second is the equivalent of a target release. Paul Watts lightened the trigger return spring, which helped stage one, and he gave me a polished trigger blade.

The R1 was one of those rifles for which the artillery hold was developed. Without it, you're looking at five-inch groups at 50 yards. With it, the groups can be one inch and sometimes slightly less. All that I'm saying applies to the .22 caliber rifle, only. The .177 and .20 caliber rifles should be equally accurate, but I don't have enough experience to comment. The .25 caliber rifle was never as accurate as the other three calibers.

My dream gun
In the R1 book, I ended by telling the readers what my dream gun would be. Well, I never built it. And in the 15 years since the book came out, I've discovered that I really don't have a dream gun. I like to change the tunes of the guns I keep as the mood strikes me. So, the tune that's on this rifle now probably won't be there a decade from now. It had a gas spring before this, and now it has a light steel spring tune. If I could find the parts, I would go back to a Mag 80 Laza tune, but those parts aren't being made any longer. So, I'll get interested in something else and make it into that.

The R1 in 2010
The R1 design is getting old. It's like a '57 Chevy. It still goes fast and it still looks nice and we enjoy the nostalgia, but the R1 is a dated design today. However, like the Chevy, it's dated in the retro way that serious airgunners appreciate. The stock is real wood and the trigger hasn't been cheapened. The barrel is all steel and full-sized. While many magnum rifles today are more powerful, they only exist because they stand on the shoulders of this rifle that paved the way to the first true magnum spring gun status.

Whether you need an R1 or not is entirely up to you, but I don't think it's as essential as it once was. The TX200 is an essential airgun because nothing in the world can do the same job it can, as well as it can. But that's not true of the R1. For power, there are other spring rifles that overshadow this one. For accuracy there are several others that exceed it. But if you want to own a '57 Chevy, then this is the only game in town.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A customer's review of the Makarov CO2 repeating BB pistol

by B.B. Pelletier

Reminder: Pyramyd Air has a spring-gun sale going on right now--and today's the last day! If you've wanted to pick up any of the desirable guns listed there, do it today! See it here.

Blog reader Chris Schaefer wanted to share his experiences with the Umarex Makarov CO2 BB pistol with the rest of our blog readers.

If you'd like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me.

Bloggers must be proficient in the simple html that Blogger software uses, know how to take clear photos and size them for the internet (if their post requires them), and they must use proper English. We'll edit each submission, but we won't work on any submission that contains gross misspellings and/or grammatical errors.

Now, let's get on with Chris' review.

by Christopher Schaefer

As firearm ammunition prices remain high and time and finances limit trips to the range, I began looking at ways to practice at home. The goals: affordability and ease-of-use--easy enough so all my family members could practice with it. I already have a single-stroke Beeman P17 pneumatic pellet gun; and having seen excellent results at the range, I began looking for a repeating BB pistol that I could use for firearm proficiency training (for home defense).

I decided on the Umarex Makarov CO2 pistol replica of a Russian-made Makarov PM from Pyramyd Air. Why did I choose this particular pistol? The search began much in the same way I would go about finding and fitting a firearm. The factors included grip size, ease-of-use and action (revolver vs. semiauto). My wife and I, being of smaller stature, wanted a pistol whose grip would be comfortable. And with the expectations that my children would eventually be trained to use it, the smaller-framed Makarov quickly rose to the top of the list. Since it's a replica of a semiautomatic pistol, it gained points, because I was already competent with firearm semiautos at the range.

The Umarex Makarov BB pistol is small and easy to shoot. Just right for me and my wife.

Home defense was the primary motive for using a BB repeater. The pistol had to be similar to a firearm in weight and size. Additional bonuses would be if the BB pistol could be maintained and cleaned similarly to the firearm it copied, and the Makarov from Umarex is all of those things. The construction is top-notch with solidly built components such as the slide and frame. The drop-free stick magazine is well-made of metal. It loads and slides into the grip with similar action to that of a firearm. The pistol's slide cocks the action, and it can fire in both single-action and double-action modes: a benefit to all the shooters in my family. And the Makarov PM disassembles nearly identically to that of its firearm counterpart. These combined factors sealed the choice in my mind. I could clearly see that this would serve as a wonderful training piece for me, family members and friends of like mind.

The metal stick magazine drops free from the front of the grip.

Still, some questions remained. There were so many other repeating BB pistols on the market with copious features. One particular feature was the blowback action found in other Umarex products as well as the competing models of other manufacturers. If I wanted to experience the recoil of a real firearm, shouldn't I consider blowback? The jury's still out, but I would soon discover that proper grip, trigger control and general practice would weigh in considerably. And what about pellets vs. BBs? From experience I knew that pellets could give better target performance. However, I already owned an airgun for target shooting. While accuracy was still desired in home defense I had set acceptably lower limits for it.

Perhaps you've undergone similar research. Various on-line forums and blogs were exceedingly helpful. And the useful feedback from generous souls sharing their opinions in customer reviews--ice those found at Pyramyd Air--helped immensely. Likewise, Pyramyd Air's blog. All of these opinions and observations helped me decide which repeating BB pistol I would start with.

As the expression goes: the proof is in the pudding. Would the replica Makarov really perform to my requirements? Would it be easy? Would it be affordable? Let's see.

A primary home defense question is, Can you quickly get the pistol into operation? That involves disengaging the safety, bearing on target and accurately squeezing off two or three quick rounds. To put my Makarov to the test, I began with a homemade indoor BB and pellet trap capable of posting 8.5"x11" paper targets. Abundant styles of targets are available online for just the cost of printing!

Shots were taken from a multitude of defensive stationary positions and while moving. Tests were performed at distances between 5 and 20 feet. The 18-round magazine ensures plenty of opportunity to practice without reloading, and the lack of blowback in this particular pistol gives me 90+ decently powered shots. It's definitely an affordable pistol. With the right trap, I'm able to retrieve and re-use many of my BBs. At 20 feet, I'm capable of consistently grouping all shots within a 6.5" diameter target. At closer ranges, I group less than 2 inches. This is the sort of accuracy I'm looking for.

While the front and rear sights are not adjustable on the Makarov, I learned quickly that my particular pistol shot a little high and to the right. While annoying, this is easily compensated for. Also, a factor in the pistol's accuracy is the trigger-pull weight difference between SA and DA modes. Long, spongy creep takes up the first stage, although it's slightly less pronounced in single-action. Both modes have a moderately crisp letoff with little left in the squeeze. This would be my only complaint at this time. Regardless of the creep, in a defensive situation I'm fully capable of engaging the trigger easily and following through with the shot. The grip, however, is an entirely different matter.

The pistol's grip is one piece and plastic-injected molded. The texturing is fair. Because the grip covers the CO2 cartridge, it's designed to easily slide away from the frame. Over time, the grip loosens. As a form of preventative maintenance, a rubber band secures the grip with little interference.

Rubber band keeps the sliding grip anchored when I'm shooting.

Addressing the grip of this pistol is the same as with any handgun. Its smaller stature, for a two-handed grip, presents little challenge for my smaller hands but would offer some difficulty for larger hands. My palm, thumb and index finger quickly find their resting place with plenty of room left for the remaining fingers to support. The pistol's safety, the same location as on the firearm, is easily activated by my thumb. And the slide spring offers reasonable resistance should one wish to rack it prior to firing. The magazine release differs from the real-life Makarov PM; there's a spring-loaded catch at the bottom of the grip. The magazine drops free due to gravity only. A spring-loaded follower in the magazine can be slid and locked down, which makes loading very easy.

For fast shooting with a BB gun, this is a very good result, even from close range.

Disassembly for cleaning or just for training purposes is particularly easy with this pistol. The triggerguard pulls down, hinged at the rear, and the slide can be slid and canted off from the frame guide and barrel. The slide spring then slides off the barrel. Besides that, there's little else the average user would need to perform for disassembly. As another preventative maintenance technique, I always use two small drops of Crosman's Pellgunoil on the tip of every new CO2 cartridge before loading. This ensures proper lubrication.

As a semi-related note, I treat this BB repeater just as I would any firearm. And that extends to where and how it is stored. Since we have small children in the home and because we desire to train them with sound gun-handling skills, I take the needed precautions now so they get in the habit of treating this BB pistol the same as any firearm. Hopefully, that will fully carry over when they begin learning how to use it.

Since owning this BB repeater, I've had much more freedom in practicing various home defense drills. The obvious benefit is that Im practicing safely in my own home. The pistol carries easily, has many different holsters available for it and builds confidence in general firearm handling. But the one surprising aspect to owning and practicing with this BB repeater is discovering that my wife is a natural shot! With the proper care, we hope to get many years of enjoyment from Umarex's Makarov PM repeating BB pistol.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

IZH MP655 BB and pellet pistol - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

There's a great spring gun sale at Pyramyd Air right now through this Thursday. Some very nice guns are on the list. See it here.

I've done a lot of spring guns recently and many of them were vintage, so today I'll get back on track with a product you can buy. It's the new MP 655K CO2 pistol pistol from IZH.This pistol shoots either steel BBs or lead pellets, depending on how you set it up.

Unlike the new air handguns of the recent past, this one is an entirely new model, and one that we're not familiar with. Like many new airguns, this one is a copy of a firearm, though, once again, a model that most of us are not familiar with. It was requested by the Spetsnaz (Similar to, but not exactly the same as American Special Forces. The translation of the name is "Special Purpose.") to replace the Makarov, and it's very different from that pistol. The MR 445 Varjag is a departure in thinking from the traditional Soviet/Russian view of sidearms. Until now, sidearms were considered useless by Russian forces, and all their thought has centered on the rifle or carbine. But this one changes everything.

The MR 445 is a modern tactical sidearm. It's chambered in .40 Smith & Wesson, which represents a huge departure for the Russians or indeed, for any European military or police force. The 9x19mm Luger round (or 9x18 Makarov for the Soviets/Russians) has been so entrenched in the thinking of European forces for the past century that it has been unthinkable for them to consider another round. And, if they did, it was invariably lower-powered, like the 7.65mm that we call the .32 ACP. Big bore handguns were not the thing in Europe throughout the 20th century.

The MR 445 also has a rail mounting system under the slide and in front of the triggerguard to accept tactical flashlights and lasers. So, this is a serious handgun designed for serious use, rather than dead weight on the soldier. It has a 15-round magazine, in a double-stack wide grip. It has a vestigial hammer buried deep within the slide. And the trigger is a strange, solid piece of metal with a crescent cutout for the trigger finger. It's unlike anything I have ever seen.

As sexy as this new firearm is, Baikal, the makers, just released an airgun equivalent called the MP-655K. Powered by CO2, this pistol holds either 100 steel BBs in a reservoir inside the slide or eight lead pellets housed in a circular clip. There's another separate BB storage compartment in the grip. BB gun shooters are going to want to check it out.

I took a new photo of the 655K because it doesn't look exactly like the one on the Pyramyd Air product page. The controls are silver-colored for one thing.

An ambidextrous thumb release on the side of the grip behind the trigger releases the CO2 system and separate BB storage container for servicing. An ambidextrous 1911-style safety switch can be operated one-handed by all shooters. The slide release is extended, but on the left side of the frame only; however, a lefty can easily operate it with his trigger finger.

The slide release is extended back so you can operate it with your thumb (trigger finger for southpaws) and the safety is ambidextrous.

This is a handgun that owners are going to have to study before use. It has so many unique and unusual features and operating quirks that it's going to challenge most shooters to learn its ways in the beginning. The BB reservoir in the grip is just a container that does not feed BBs into the gun. It's simply there as an additional supply of BBs. When you want to actually shoot, BBs are poured into a space in the top of the slide called the BB accumulator. Those BBs move by gravity to the magnetized circular BB clip that accepts them for shooting. To load pellets, you must swap the circular clip inside the pistol's metal slide with a pellet clip. The gun comes with a cleaning rod that's also the clip removal tool. I'll show all of this when I test the velocity in Part 2.

The "magazine" contains both the CO2 cartridge, the gun's valve and a separate BB container. That container does not feed into the gun. BBs must be poured into the real reservoir on top of the slide.

What looks like the barrel in this photo is just a sliding plastic barrel cover. It's made to resemble the barrel of a firearm. It even has fake "rifling" cast into the end. The real barrel is the smaller hole on the bottom.

The frame is synthetic, of course. Since that's the common practice with firearms today, I don't think anyone can complain. If they do, no one will care that much. I see in this month's Shooting Times that Taurus is bringing out a plastic version of their Judge revolver, so plastic is now the material of choice for both airguns and firearms.

The MP-655K's frame is molded with rounded corners to make a "one shape fits all" configuration. Obviously, a lot of thought was given to ergonomics in the design, which is more evidence that they meant this pistol to be used.

The slide, which the owner's manual calls the barrel jacket, moves freely on the frame; but the pistol doesn't have blowback.

The rear sight is fully adjustable and delightfully plain. A square notch in back with a front square post. The steel barrel is rifled with six lands and grooves, so good accuracy should be possible. The action is both single- and double-action, though cocking the hammer is more like pressing a button.

The rear sight is fully adjustable and very nice and conventional.

The hammer is buried deep inside the slide but still accessible for single-action operation.

You must be astonished by the price of this gun, for it sells for three times what a BB pistol should cost. But you have to remember that this gun also shoots lead pellets, so perhaps the best way to think of it is like an Umarex pistol. It remains to be see if the gun is accurate and how well it works and what the shot count from a CO2 cartridge might be, but that's what these tests are for.

I will say this--if IZH has managed to make an accurate pistol and one that functions well, they may have a real winner in the MP-655K.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Bronco from Air Venturi - Part 7

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Air Venturi Bronco.

My best friend, Mac, got his Bronco a week ago and went through a tin of pellets in a day. He was amazed with the accuracy at 25 yards, and he loves the trigger.

Mac owns a Mendoza peep sight that he mounted on his Bronco first thing. Of course, he ran into the too-high thing right away, but not at 25 yards. He'll increase the height of the front post to offset the problem until the front sight spacer becomes available.

Today, I'll look at the Bronco with the new Crosman peep sight mounted. You'll remember that it's the lowest peep sight on the market right now. The sight almost clears the stock on the left side, but not quite. If I were going to keep this sight on this rifle, I would relieve the stock just a bit so the sight could sit flat. As it is, it's canted to the right. That doesn't affect my test, but it means that the windage adjustments will also include a bit of elevation and vice-versa. No owner will like it the way it sits now; but with a relief slot cut in the left side of the stock, it'll look fine.

Crosman peep sight hits the stock on the left side of the gun and sits canted as a result.

Oh, what the heck, I decided to cut the relief myself. I routed it out with a Dremel tool and a rasp. The work was fast and easy and the sight now sits squarely on the receiver. So the test will be legit.

The area to be removed is marked with a Sharpie

Wood has been removed to allow the sight to sit square on the receiver.

The Crosman sight sits so low on the receiver that sighting was a problem for me until I got used to it. Those with slender faces will find it easier to do, I'm sure. Also, the aperture in the sight is large for shooting targets. While that doesn't cost any accuracy, it does require a more careful hold and use because it's easier to get off target with such a large hole. On the plus side, though, the hole admits a lot of light, making it okay for hunting.

Mac reported to me that he loves the trigger. I do, too. At only 30 oz., it's light yet entirely safe. I enjoy the two-bladed action for both stages.

This is what the rifle looks like with the rear sight removed and the peep sight installed.

Let's shoot
Sight-in put me on paper at 10 meters, but the rear sight needed a lot of elevation to get up into the bull. The first I tried were the Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellets. They shot to the right of center but grouped very well.

Five Premier 7.9 lites grouped well at 10 meters. This was the best group in the session.

JSB lites
JSB lites shot almost as well as Premier lites. They load more easily than Premiers and may be smaller in diameter, so they sit deeper in the breech.

JSB 8.4-grain domes did well, too.

A sight adjustment brought the group closer to the center of the bull.

What's the verdict?
The Bronco works well with the new Crosman Peep, but the stock does have to be modified for clearance. It adjusts much than anyone will ever need, but it also has the elevation you need for farther targets. Of all the peep sights currently available, this one is the best I've tested. It makes a good addition to the Bronco, and I believe I'll leave it on the rifle for awhile.

Monday, March 22, 2010

RWS 92 - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Before we start, there's been a lot of chatter about home defense weapons. I advised a .410 shotgun because a woman would be shooting it and she has no experience with guns. A .410 hits with the same velocity as a 12-gauge shotgun, though with far less shot. For defense that doesn't matter, and the .410 has far less recoil, so I think it's ideal. I plan to buy one of these for my house.

The Taurus Circuit Judge is a 5-shot .410 carbine that will be perfect for home defense. Faster than a pump, it's a double-action revolver. Supposed to be out in 2010.

Here are a couple reminders. First is the Facebook event on Tuesday, April 8, at 8 p.m. Eastern. I'll be on the Pyramyd Air Facebook page for an hour to answer questions you send in. To ask questions, you need a Facebook account and you must be a Friend of Pyramyd Air. Register early and don't miss out.

Second, don't forget the Arkansas Airgun Extravaganza, April 30 & May 1. This airgun show is open to the public on Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Six-foot tables are $50 each. Admission is $5. Kids 12 and under get in free with an adult. Dealer setup is on Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Visit the show website here.

Okay, on to today's report.

RWS 92 is a nice little breakbarrel. Based on the Cometa 220.

The RWS 92 was a strange bird. One of those airguns that's difficult to categorize. While they were available, no one, including me, paid much attention to them, but as they were being blown out at the end of their run a few years ago, suddenly people sat up and took notice. And when they did, their remarks were more telling about themselves than about the gun.

One person who happened to get in on Larry's Pawn & Gun blowout sale bought one for $100 and said it wasn't a half-bad gun, despite the high price. Excuse me? High price? Where do you buy a quality breakbarrel these days for under a hundred dollars? Obviously this person was new to airguns and was also probably quite young, because $100 is a fantastic price for a gun of any quality.

And the RWS 92 does have quality. Made by the Spanish firm Cometa, the 92 is a small breakbarrel called the Cometa 220 that resembles a Feinwerkbau 124 in several important ways. It has a ball detent barrel latch, the forearm screws go in on an angle, the trigger feels about the same, and the safety slide looks and operates the same way. Even the stock resembles the FWB 124 sporter stock more than a little. Size-wise, the 92 is a 7/8-scale 124. Overall length is 41-1/4 inches with a 13-3/4-inch length of pull. Barrel length is 17-1/4 inches, and the rifle weighs 5-3/4 lbs. Cocking weight of my example is 24 lbs., just enough to know you are doing something, but not too much to spoil a long day's shooting.

Power is supposed to be in the 700 f.p.s. range with 7.9-grain Premiers. We'll find out what this one does for certain.

The sights are a bit on the strange side. They're fiberoptic, but with a difference. Instead of a fiberoptic plastic tube in front, the entire front sight blade is cast of fiberoptic plastic. The fully adjustable rear sight has a large fiberoptic plastic element that peeks through the rear leaf in the conventional two dots. Vertical adjustment is by a wheel; but for horizontal movement, there's a screw that's loosened and the element slides in either direction.

Entire front sight blade is fiberoptic plastic. It catches the light.

Rear sight contains a huge fiberoptic element.

The beech stock is plain and finished with a medium brown stain. The shape is conventional with a Monte Carlo comb and a vestigial cheekpiece on the left side for right-handers. Except for that, this is a completely ambidextrous rifle.

This is a new rifle to me. I paid it no attention when it was selling and little afterward. But now that I see one in person, I'm persuaded that was a mistake. I like smaller, easy-to-cock and shoot air rifles. With the R7 serving as the poster boy, I guess the Bronco is my idea of a nice rifle. Now that I'm looking at the RWS 92, I see it belongs in the same category.

I see some moly peeking out at the baseblock, so I asked Vince if he tuned the gun. He doesn't remember, but said if there's moly visible he probably tore it down, deburred and cleaned the insides, lubed with moly and set the pivot bolt tension. That should give us an optimum factory tune. Next time, we'll see what that does for us.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A shrine built for a Feinwerkbau 124 - Part 5

by B.B Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Before I start, a couple of reminders. First is the Facebook event on Tuesday, April 8, at 8 p.m. Eastern. I'll be on the Pyramyd Air Facebook page for an hour to answer questions you send in. To ask questions, you need a Facebook account and you must be a Friend of Pyramyd Air. Register early and don't miss out.

Next, don't forget the Arkansas Airgun Extravaganza, April 30 & May 1. This airgun show is open to the public on Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Six-foot tables are $50 each. Admission is $5. Kids 12 and under get in free with an adult. Dealer setup is on Friday, 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Visit the show website here.

The show is filling fast, and it looks like it'll be larger than last year's Little Rock show, which it replaces. I hope you consider attending. I'd sure like to meet as many of you as possible, and I'll be bringing several of my airguns to show and possibly to shoot, including today's rifle.

Also, a word to show-goers. If you're going to attend the show only on Saturday, come before noon. Airgun dealers get antsy toward the end of every show and start packing up early. Unlike gun shows, they're not penalized for this. Get there while the show is still running strong.

Today, I'll tell you what I did to the 124 after discovering that the Mongoose kit wasn't performing up to my expectations. You may recall that it was shooting Crosman 7.9-grain Premiers at an average of 670 f.p.s. I had expected at least 840 f.p.s. Although the firing behavior was very smooth and delightful, I had hoped to break at least 800 f.p.s., so I continued to work on the rifle.

First, I removed the mainspring only and wiped off about 3/4 of the black tar grease. That still left enough to kill all vibration, and the velocity rose to about 700 f.p.s. That's a gain of about 40 f.p.s. It's possible to remove the mainspring without a total disassembly, so it was quick and I did it first to see what gains there would be.

Next, I completely disassembled the rifle and removed all the lubrication from the powerplant. I carefully relubricated it very sparingly, keeping the use of tar confined to the outer coils of the mainspring. That got me to 710-720 f.p.s., which was about as far as the Mongoose kit is going to take me.

I'd treated the Mongoose kit as a drop-in instant power booster, and apparently it's not. It's more of a 1970s-era 124 kit that needs to be coaxed to shoot as fast as possible--just like the factory 124. I discovered something very important about the piston seal. It's domed. With that shape, it'll never produce the absolute fastest velocity since the top of the dome stops it from compressing all the air in the chamber. It may seem like a small thing when you look at it, but this last bit of compressed air is where the big things happen. Maccari has made this seal to cushion the piston blow rather than develop maximum power, so consider that when you order your tuneup kit.

The Mongoose piston seal has a raised, dome-shaped crown. It cannot compress all the air in front of it.

Compare this Surrey 124 seal to the Mongoose seal. See how flat it is on top?

At this point, there were several different directions open to me. One was to start shimming the Mongoose mainspring for extra compression. That would boost power. Another was to abandon the Mongoose seal in favor of a flat one. That would compress the air more thoroughly and give more power.

I took a third step that's not available to any of you. From my years of working on argues, I had other mainsprings available. I selected a stouter one that was shorter but had a spacer top hat on one end. The other end fit the spring guide very tightly because this was an experimental Maccari 124 mainspring. I retained the Mongoose seal for smoothness and assembled the rifle with minimal lubrication. No black tar because the new spring fit much tighter than the Mongoose spring. I used moly grease on everything. I knew I would lose some power with the Mongoose seal, but that was okay for now. All I wanted was a working 124 with decent power.

As I assembled the rifle, I also answered someone's concern about the safety spring. They had heard it is a concern when assembling a 124, but I say as long as your spring compressor is a good one the safety spring is easy to install. Hopefully, the pictures will show you how it's done.

This is the 124 trigger unit with the safety slide and spring removed.

Here's the spring I've been calling the safety spring. It's actually a trigger-return spring, but it presses against the safety slide.

And here's the safety slide on top of the trigger unit. You can see the spring between the trigger unit and this slide. As the trigger unit enters the spring tube, the safety slide is pressed flat and retained. There's really no difficulty installing these parts as long as you use a mainspring compressor.

Following this tune, the rifle is averaging 800 f.p.s. with 7.9-grain Crosman Premiers. While that's not as much as I want, I'm fine with it for the moment. The gun fires quick and doesn't vibrate when it shoots, so the tighter parts are as trouble-free as can be. The velocity varies between 783 f.p.s. and 802 f.p.s. Experience tells me this will tighten, and the average velocity will increase by 10-15 f.p.s. as this tune wears in.

I'd planned to test the rifle for accuracy at this point, but I'm not yet finished with the project. The barrel's gunked up with oil and grease that I don't want to clean out until I'm done tuning.

My plan is to now install a Maccari Old School kit and be done with it. This is the kit I used to install in 124 rifles 15 years ago, and I know I can expect a velocity over 840 f.p.s. with 7.9 Premiers. The best result I ever got is still averaging 880 f.p.s.

Well, this little adventure has turned into quite the saga, hasn't it? I never envisioned spending this much time with this rifle. Now that I have, I've decided what to do with the gun in the future. I'll keep the rifle outside the case and shoot it from time to time. It was silly keeping it tucked away where I got to see it only every couple years. That isn't what this rifle was made for, and I intend getting the full value out of it.

Someone asked me what all this tuning does to the value of the gun. Well, the box only adds value in a non-monetary way. Yes, it's worth more than a rifle by itself, but this is no collectible. It's more of a curiosity. So, I feel the tuning does nothing but enhance the value of the gun. I won't scope this rifle because of the pristine condition, but I will leave it out of the case as a shooter.

In the future, I will chronograph and also shoot for accuracy the vintage Beeman Silver Jet pellets, which--believe it or not, started this whole report in the first place.

On Monday, I'll show you a 124 clone Vince sent to me.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vince's "Impossible Dream"

by B.B. Pelletier

Well, Vince is back with another fantastic tale of gunsmithing, gun renovation and making parts. I'm just a tinkerer compared to Vince's vast talent. I enjoy his guest blogs because I always learn something new. You, too?

If you'd like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me.

Bloggers must be proficient in the simple html that Blogger software uses, know how to take clear photos and size them for the internet (if their post requires them), and they must use proper English. We'll edit each submission, but we won't work on any submission that contains gross misspellings and/or grammatical errors.

Now, let's get on with Vince's "Impossible Dream"

by Vince

Ha ha, I know. Vince is gonna clean up his workbench and maybe even get all his tools sorted out. Yeah. Like that's ever gonna happen. No, what I'm talking about is a task that is so incredibly incredible, so unbelievably unbelievable, and so hopeless hapless that only an absolute FOOL would even THINK about attempting it!

I'm gonna accurrize me a Marksman 1010!

The Marksman 1010 Classic.

I can already hear the guffaws and howls of laughter. And frankly, well, there's a reason for that. After all, the Marksman 1010 is a legend without peer in the field of inaccuracy. When B.B. tested one over 3 years ago, he couldn't stay on the 5"x5" target paper--from 10 feet away. I distinctly remember shooting at some cans with mine one evening and knocking one over... one that happened to be about a foot away from the one I was actually aiming at. At about 12 feet. The trigger-pull weight is generally comparable to, say, a Diana 52 with scope. Not comparable to the Diana's TRIGGER weight, mind you, but to the weight of the WHOLE GUN.

So, why even bother?

Actually, the 1010 had a couple of things going for it, especially the old metal ones. First, is the "cool factor." Let's face it; it was all-metal and full-weight before all-metal and full-weight became popular buzzwords. Nobody was going to ever mistake it for the real 1911 it was modeled after, but the resemblance to a real firearm was unmistakenly there. It had REAL heft to it and could be a very formidable close-quarter weapon (well, if used as a club, anyway). Second, it was and is cheap. Third, it was popular, so they're still available in copious quantities for the aforementioned cheapness.

While I was accurrizing Wacky Wayne's Markham Model D way back when (by fitting a Daisy Avanti 499 barrel to it), I got this crazy idea: Why not use a hunk of the other barrel I bought and see if something could be done for the ol' 1010? So, that's exactly what I did.

And then forgot about it. Better late than never.

Without going into personal details, let's just say that my life started getting rather complicated around the time I played with this thing, and I never really gave it a proper test. Well, things are settling down quite a bit now and I'm in the process of going through all my airguns, deciding what to keep and what to ditch. When I came across my old 1010, I remembered my barrel retrofit and decided to give it a real test before deciding what to do with it.

So, I go to my 15' basement BB range, set up a target, filled up the 1010 with new Daisy BBs and let 're rip. The first group was pretty bad, but I was shooting offhand…and I'm a LOUSY offhand pistol shot. To give it a proper test, the next group was shot from a rested position and gave me (Are you ready?)…ALL SHOTS LANDING ON THE PAPER!

Actually, it did much better than that. It gave me a 5-shot group of slightly under 1.75". For a smoothbore springer with me pulling the 50-lb. trigger isn't all that bad. And coming from a Marksman 1010...well, that group size might literally be 1/10 the size it would have shot as it came from the factory.

5 shots, Daisy BBs, using a rest: 1.75" group

Now I'm in a bit of a pickle. Even though the 1010 is not a serious gun for the serious hobbyist, I AM sorta honor-bound to help out poor, overworked BB with a mediocre guest blog once in a while. It's something that I'm not sure has been tried by anyone else. It did work pretty well, and I do have some interesting results to report. But I've got one problem: I don't really remember how I did it.

Fortunately, for me (and less so for the you guys), I took pictures when I did this conversion. Even more amazing, I was able to find those pictures over a year later. Since this sorta jogs my memory, well, this blog ain't over yet. What I'll do is step through these one by one, in more or less the proper order, and give a running narration of how I remember this coming together.

Step one: Get a grip
The 1010 is a surprisingly complicated air pistol for such a cheap little peashooter. It requires a level of patience all out of proportion to the lowly nature of the gun. So be prepared. Just for reference, this is what the "naked gun" looks like:

Gee, I'd never seen this side of you before.

Step two: Do everything else
The next three pictures are a bit of a cheat. I had never photographed the very first steps, so these are recent. Cock the gun halfway (pull the slide back, but do not return it forward), remove the front screw and loosen the others.

Loosen the circled ones, remove the front one. Please note: the cocking slide oughta be pulled back.

Gently pry the halves of the gun slightly apart at the muzzle. NOTE WHERE THAT LITTLE SPRING IS! You'll need to put it back, and it probably won't cooperate. Once you're familiar with where it goes, spread the gun halves just enough to get out the barrel assembly.

Remember where this puppy goes!

Just enough to get it out.

Now, we have to figure out how to get the old shot tube out. Take a look at the barrel assembly from the front. Obviously it's not coming out that way!

Turn around the barrel assembly and remove that rubber grommet/seal in the back...

...and slide the shot tube out.

If you lay the Daisy 499 shot tube next to the barrel housing, you'll get a general idea of how it needs to go in. The outside diameter of the old tube is 1/4", while the OD of the 499 is 5/16". Except for the very end, where it's VERY conveniently turned down to 1/4" from the factory:

Marksman barrel housing and Daisy 499 shot tube.

Here's where I may have inadvertently taken the long way around. I suspect it would have been easier to turn down the OD of the Daisy tube to 1/4", cut off a hunk of the proper length and just slide it back in the way the old one came out. But, NOOOO! Easy ain't for me. Besides, I don't have a lathe, so I did it the hard way. I drilled out the front of the barrel housing with a 5/16" bit.

Please. Do a better job than I did.

Make sure that the plastic bosses on the underside of the housing are cut away as necessary.

Disembowel where indicated.

If I make it long enough, it'll reach all the way to the target!

The new barrel can be slid in from the front until it's even with the back.

At this point, you'll find that you can just put the breech grommet back, just as with the original shot tube.

Pull the grommet back out. The shot tube length has to be cut down and the muzzle crowned…crowned the KING of cheap BB pistols, that is!

A little needs to be ground off the bottom to clear a screw boss.

Grind where circled.

Slide out the shot tube, smear it with a little epoxy and slide it back in. DON'T GET EPOXY IN THE BARREL! Let it set, reinstall the barrel housing into the pistol frame and…voila! You're done!

Now, your beloved 1010 or 2005 (you know, they've got some nerve naming the horrible 2005 something so close to the excellent 2004!) or whatever should now be transformed into a passable plinker. And by that I mean hitting soda cans pretty reliably at BB-gun ranges. Can't help but think that it might even do better with Avanti Precision BBs, but I don't have any of those.

My biggest regret in all this is failing to document the before and after performances. However, I don't think that's too much of an issue here. As I said before, the 1010 and its derivatives are notoriously horrible in the world of BB pistols--a world that is hardly populated with precision shooting instruments. And, yes, I've got airsoft pistols that will shoot under 1" at 15 feet, but that's not really the point.

As I said before, the 1010 IS a cool looking pistol. How many kids AND adults had been horribly disappointed over the years by it's absolute lack of accuracy? Which just ain't right. So, I guess you could say that this was simply a pursuit of justice. Righting a wrong. Bringing balance to the universe and so on. You could say that, but it'd be a wad of horse manure. I just wanted to see how well it'd work, which I did. And I wound up with a 1010 that shoots almost straight, so I can lift up my head and shout to the world: "I'M LIVIN' THE DREAM, MAN!" The Impossible Dream, that is!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A shrine built for a Feinwerkbau 124 - Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

My enshrined 124.

Today, I'll complete the tune on the FWB 124. A couple people have asked about this gun. What makes it so special? Well, it's lightweight, accurate, easy to cock and shoots like a dream. It's the very rifle AlanL has been searching for but doesn't realize it.

Back in the 1970s, when the FWB first came to the attention of airunners, it was considered one of the most powerful springers available. Together with the BSF S55/60/70 and the Diana 45, it was one of those rare air rifles that would sometimes shoot faster than 800 f.p.s. Today, we wouldn't give it a second look with numbers like that and here is what we would miss. We would miss owning a Mercedes SSK convertible, just because it doesn't go as fast as a Mustang SVO. Nobody would give any thought to the fine coachwork, the burled wood dash or the exotic leather seats. No, they would all be focused on the speedometer and miss one of the finest examples of its kind ever to have been built.

What to expect
With a modern tuneup, like the one I've done here, the 124 should top 840 f.p.s. with Crosman 7.9-grain Premiers. I showed you the tuneup kit yesterday. Today I'll install it along with some lubrication that I always do on a 124. Of course, this is one more reason for owning a chronograph.

Cutting up the old seal
Before I begin, I had some comments that I will now address. First, someone asked me how I cut the thick piston seal to remove it. I mentioned a special knife that I'd like to show you. This tanto-shaped blade comes on a Gerber Crucial multitool that Edith gave me for Christmas. I keep it in my desk drawer and it is one of the handiest multitools I've ever seen. The knife blade is very stout, so it handled this job like a breeze and a few passes over the Warthog got the blade sharp in moments.

A Gerber Crucial multitool has a tanto-shaped blade that was ideal for cutting the old seal into pieces, as shown previously.

Removal of old seal material
The second tip is for Derrick38, who says it can be tough to remove old seal material from a compression chamber. Yes, it can! But I found that the patch removal tool that goes on my Thompson/Center Hawken ramrod is very good at scraping in those tight corners.

The patch removal tool on a Thompson/Center Hawken ramrod is great for picking old seal material out of the crevices of the compression chamber.

Sizing the new seal
The first thing to address is the piston seal. This one fit pretty tight in the spring tube of the rifle, so I decided to remove some material from the edges. There are a lot of ways to do this, and I chose the easiest one because I'm a guy who likes simple. I held the piston with seal in my right hand and a piece of 220-grain sandpaper in my left hand and proceeded to scrub off a tiny bit of the edge of the seal.

This is the way to make the new piston seal a trifle smaller.

You have to know when to stop. I just wanted the new seal to fit in the spring tube with slightly less resistance, which it did after a few minutes of work. Next, I cleaned the inside of the piston with denatured alcohol and Q-tips. It was caked with dried moly or tar that had to be removed. The 124 piston is very heavy for the power the gun develops, so heavy pellets should work pretty well.

Lube the compression chamber walls
I had cleaned out the compression chamber earlier, so now it was time to smear moly grease on the inside walls of the chamber. For that, I use a dowel with a paper towel folded over the end and held on with a rubber band. It allows me to accurately coat the inside of the cylinder.

Moly grease on a paper towel on the end of a dowel is the way to lube the inside of the compression chamber.

Lube the piston
Next, I lubricated the piston before putting it back in the gun. I put a stripe of moly grease around the front with the seal and another around the rear where the piston flares out.

A stripe of moly grease around the piston seal and another one at the rear of the steel piston will keep things slipping along.

The piston can now be inserted back into the spring tube, keeping the cocking slot aligned with the slot in the spring tube. When the front of the piston is in the tube, that's the best time to lubricate the rear of the piston and the piston rod. Shove the piston into the tube with the new mainspring.

A stripe of moly grease around the rear of the steel piston keeps the metal-to-metal contact lubricated.

Install the sliding shoe/cocking link
Once the piston is inside the spring tube, the sliding "shoe" that connects the cocking link to the piston can be lubricated and installed. A wide spot in the spring tube slot accepts this shoe.

The shoe is lubricated with moly grease on both sides and dropped through the wide spot in the spring tube. It rides on a special bearing surface on the piston, so that was also moly-ed before installation.

Lube and install the mainspring
Next it was time to install the new mainspring. Before I did that, the spring got a liberal coating of black tar, the open gear lubricant that deadens vibration. I smear the front half of the spring first, then insert it into the piston and use it to hold the spring so I can lube the rear half.

Caution--here is where I screwed up!
What the picture shows is too much black tar being put on the mainspring. I didn't know that until the job was finished and the gun back together, of course, but I now have a rifle shooting 7.9-grain Premiers at 670 f.p.s. instead of the approximately 840 f.p.s. I expected. I used too much because Jim Maccari said the Mongoose kit I selected was a loose fit and needed tar to calm the vibrations. I hate vibrations, so I went overboard. The fix will be to take the gun apart and remove a lot of the tar I applied.

This is too much black tar. I will have to remove a lot of it.

One thing about fitting a mainspring to a rifle. The tightest end of the spring always goes over the spring guide in the rear.

Lube the baseblock and pivot bolt
The FWB 124 has a baseblock bearing on just the right side. The left side is plain. I smeared moly grease on both sides and also on the pivot bolt before it was inserted.

Moly on both sides of the baseblock and on the pivot bolt will reduce the cocking effort to the minimum.

The trigger unit is now pushed back into the spring tube, keeping tension on the safety spring as you go. When the bolt hole lines up, the bolt is screwed in and the job is just about finished. Just put the action back in the stock and you're done.

Mainspring compressor make this an easy job.

The tuned rifle cocks easily at just 23 lbs. Beeman used to advertise the cocking effort at 18 lbs., but all the 124s (about a dozen) I have tested were around 21-23 lbs. So, we're in the ballpark. Of course, the velocity is low, but I'll take care of that in the next report. I'll also shoot the rifle for accuracy with open sights.

The trigger
The trigger is one thing I never learned to adjust on a 124 and I used to think it was impossible, but I once owned Mrs. Beeman's 124, which I named the Queen B. That trigger broke at less than a pound, so someone knows how to do the job. Just not me.

Irony at work
Of course, the new pliable breech seal was installed and the petrified "new" breech seal I had tried went back into the box with all the other ruined new parts. I find it incredibly ironic that the owner of this fine rifle had wanted to preserve it for all time and it didn't last as well as a similar rifle used every day. I guess man plans and God laughs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A shrine built for a Feinwerkbau 124 - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

My enshrined 124.

Before we start, I have an announcement. I'll be on Facebook answering questions again on April 8th at 8 p.m., Eastern. The last time was during the work day, which may have been inconvenient for many people, so we're giving this time slot a try. Please join me if you're able. I'll be answering airgun questions on Facebook on this Pyramyd Air Facebook page. To see the discussion and ask questions, you must have a free Facebook account.

Today, I'll start the tuneup on this rifle, and I have some very interesting things to show you. I'll get through the disassembly in this installment, and in the next part I'll tune the rifle.

I purchased a Maccari Mongoose tune kit that includes the mainspring and seal. I also bought a new breech seal to replace the new one in the box that had hardened over the years. Finally, I bought some of Jim's Heavy Tar and his moly grease, because I'm getting low on those supplies.

This is the kit and lubes.

Step one in disassembly is to remove the action from the stock. That's two forearm screws and the front triggerguard screw. The moment the action was out, I saw clear evidence that this rifle had received some kind of tuneup in the past. I could see that the mainspring was coated with black tar, a product they didn't even know about in the 1970s when this rifle was new. For a few minutes, I thought maybe I had done it and had forgotten I did, but as the gun came apart I saw proof that I had never been inside.

Once the action is out of the stock, it goes into the mainspring compressor. Blog reader Vince said that he doesn't use a compressor, but the 124 is one of those rifles that really needs it. And here's a big tip. When you adjust the compressor to receive the rifle, leave a lot of adjustment room on the screw that backs off the spring tension. You really need the room there.

The single bolt in front of the trigger blade holds the 124 action together.

Leave lots of room for the mainspring to back up.

I use a heavy cardboard pusher to avoid damaging the rifle's finish.

The trigger assembly and safety slide came out without a problem, as did the mainspring. It was in very good condition; but I've purchased a replacement whose pedigree I know for certain, so I'll replace it anyway.

With the tension off the mainspring, the trigger unit moved almost two inches back. It will need an extra inche to install the new spring.

The trigger unit contains the mainspring guide. The old spring is in pretty good shape. That's the assembly bolt that held the rifle together.

Before the piston will come out, it must be disconnected from the cocking link. For that to happen, the barrel has to come off the action fork. When I pulled off the barrel, I saw no evidence of moly grease on the sides of the baseblock or on the pivot bolt. They were lubricated with a light machine oil. That's a clear indication that I've never been inside this airgun.

The cocking link fits into the cocking shoe that is held captive inside the piston until the barrel is disconnected from the spring tube.

The pivot bolt is the large screw on the right. Take it out and the baseblock separates from the action fork.

With the barrel off, it's possible to slide the cocking link far enough to the rear of the cocking slot that the FWB cocking shoe can be removed. There's a widened spot in the cocking slot just for this.

Now the spring tube is disconnected from the barrel and the piston slides out easily. When I saw this one, I knew the seal was gone. Just look at the picture!

A classic case of a disintegrated piston seal, with the new one for comparison. This happens to FWBs, Walthers and Diana recoilless guns made during the 1970s.

Usually, I can pop out an old 124 seal in a few seconds. This one took an hour. Although the top part had disintegrated, the bottom was still fresh and strong and fought me at every point. I finally had to cut it into four sections to pry one of them out.

Took me an hour to cut the old seal up. Hardest replacement I've ever encountered.

This is the action fork I mentioned earlier.

Okay, with that much disintegration of the seal, there will be lots of seal parts inside the compression chamber, as indeed there were. Use something sharp and pointy to dig them out of the corners, where they will have impacted over time. I used a patch extractor on the ramrod of my Thompson/Center Hawken. Then, I wrapped paper towels around the end of the rod and soaked them in denatured alcohol to clean the compression chamber. There was no moly there--another indicator that I have never been inside this rifle. Clean until all the seal particles are out and the compression chamber sparkles.

All the oil needs to be cleaned off the baseblock and the action forks. They'll get a coat of moly grease when they go back together. The pivot bolt will also get a coat of moly, but I'll describe all that in detail when I tune the rifle.

That's as far as I will go today.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Crosman Silhouette PCP pistol - Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Okay, today would normally be accuracy day for this pistol, and I will shoot it for accuracy, but today is going to serve a double purpose. You see, the Crosman Silhouette PCP pistol is shipped without a rear sight because of all the possibilities customers will have for the airgun. Some may want to use it for silhouette competition, but a lot more are going to have other uses for it. So, no rear sight.

However, Crosman sent me a peep sight to test with the pistol, and therein lies the extra fun in today's report. Because last week when I was struggling to turn a 1980s-rear peep into something I could use with the Bronco, I had on my desk the probable answer to our problem all along. This new Crosman sight that I paid no attention to before now appears to be the very Williams rear sight that one of our readers (I believe it was Randy in VA) suggested we test with the Bronco. So, after today's evaluation, I'll move this sight over to the Bronco and test it there for you.

New Williams peep from Crosman shows a LOT of promise.

Today, we're concentrating on the Crosman Silhouette PCP, which is a single-shot .177 caliber pneumatic target pistol designed for shooting airgun silhouette. The sight elevation had to be cranked way up to clear the bolt handle on the left side, but it was easy to do and worked fine. The the dovetail adjusting screws are run in tight and the dovetail locking screw sucks everything together.

Sight fits the pistol great and adjusts the way I like it--with detents!

This sight has click detents, something my Beeman Sport Aperture doesn't have. That makes adjusting a breeze.

7.9-grain Premiers
Sight-in started at 10 feet and I was on in four shots. Then out to 10 meters, where the elevation was close but the shots were to the right. I shot a group of Crosman 7.9-grain Premiers that looked pretty good, though I knew I could do better. All shooting was rested and I was wearing my bifocals. Since this was with iron sights, I concentrated on the front sight and let the target and aperture go fuzzy. The aperture in this sight is huge, no doubt because this is a pistol. Even so, it seemed to work well.

The 10-meter sight-in target. Group in the white at the right was the first group. Then the sights were adjusted to the left, resulting in the shot at 4 o'clock in the black. More left gave me the group in the center of the bull. Shot low at 6 o'clock is part of that group.

JSB Exacts
Then I switched to JSB Exacts and what a difference! I got the kind of precision usually only gotten with a scope!

Okay, I'm happy with this quarter-inch five-shot group at 10 meters. Five 10.3-grain JSB Exacts.

Five Beeman Kodiaks gave me this group.

A final group of five JSBs.

Firing behavior
When the gun discharges, there's a definite torquing to the right. It happened on every shot and was enough movement to be disconcerting, though the targets don't show anything.

The rough, crude trigger makes me long for something more sophisticated. When I hold on target as with a 10-meter pistol, I don't like a long creepy second stage, but that's what the gun has. Owners should plan to address this issue.

The noise is incredibly low for a PCP. Granted, this isn't a powerful gun, but I was still running it at 500 f.p.s. from the last test and thought it was very quiet. Not as quiet as a 1077, but less than a medium spring rifle.

One of our reraders said that I never say nasty things about airguns. Well, that's true. It's not my style. So, for his benefit I will say that I am about to gush all over this airgun, so stand back, Jack. This is a natural shooter--that rare and precious gun that shoots exactly where you aim every time. I knew that last summer when I shot the prototype Ray Apelles brought to his field target episode with American Airgunner. I still think so.

This sight is a winner, too. I'll mount it on the Bronco, and we'll have a go there. Pyramyd Air stands ready to order this sight for us, and I think it's a good idea.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Bronco from Air Venturi - Part 6

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Air Venturi Bronco.

Before we begin, I have a request from a reader in Iowa. She would like to learn more about airguns and shoot with some clubs in and around Montezuma. Any airgunners who belong to clubs in that location, could you please identify yourselves in the comments to this report, and I'll let her know how to contact you. The sport you shoot isn't that important. It can be field target, silhouette or 10-meter. As long as airguns are involved, she wants to start shooting.

Today, I'm looking at mounting a Mendoza rear aperture sight on a Bronco. This was my original plan for this rifle, but the cost proved too much, so I made it an option. Like all of you, I expect a Mendoza sight to work correctly on a Mendoza rifle, which the Bronco is. The problem with this sight is that it's always too high for the rifles people put it on, and today we'll learn how the Bronco accepts it.

The short of it is that the Mendoza sight does not adjust low enough to shoot at 10 meters with the Bronco. There are many fixes for that, such as lengthening the front sight, but that's not what I'm reporting on today. How sad that a rear aperture sight does not allow adjustment for a distance at which many shooters would like to shoot. I'll speak to Mendoza about this because it's a serious drawback to an otherwise fine product. However, much like the Mythbusters, I have a fallback plan.

The Beeman Sport Aperture sight
It costs more than twice what the Mendoza sight costs, but the Beeman Sport Aperture sight does adjust lower. It isn't currently available, but that's being looked into. The changeover of the Beeman company ownership has left many of their products in a state of limbo that only now is being addressed.

What I'm about to describe may no longer be necessary, because my Beeman sight is at least 20 years old. I note that the one Pyramyd Air sold most recently is already modified in the way I am about to describe.

Having a Beeman sight on hand, I mounted it and started shooting. Once again, though, it was a no-go. While the Beeman sight made by Williams does indeed adjust much lower than the Mendoza, the elevation post slide on the left side of my older sight hits the stock at some point. As I said, the new sights may not have this problem. If your sight does, it leaves you with two options.

Two options
Option one is to cut a clearance slot in the wood stock. Option two is to remove the bottom of the elevation post, which will allow lower adjustments. I chose option two, because this is a problem this sight has on a great many air rifles.

The Beeman Sport Aperture sight hits the top of the stock which limits how low it will adjust.

This is a .17 HM2 rifle a friend made up for me. He mounted the aperture sight and carved out the stock for maximum adjustability. I didn't want to do that with the Bronco's stock.

The bottom portion of the elevation staff is useless to this sight. I decided to whack it off.

It took a Dremel tool cutoff wheel about five minutes to slice off the unwanted bottom of the staff. Then, a few strokes of a file dressed the cut clean.

With the bottom gone, the elevation will adjust much lower. Hopefully, I'll be on target at 10 meters.

Back on the rifle, you can see how much lower the Beeman sight adjusts. Will it be enough?

Back to the range and success at last. The pellets now drill the center of the bull at 10 meters. Anything farther will require elevation, which I have in bucket loads.

The tell-all picture. Top group was with the Mendoza sight adjusted as low as it would go. Next down is the Beeman sight before modification as low as it would go before bottoming out on the Bronco stock. Bottom group is the Beeman sight after being cut off.

So, the outcome of today's report is that the Mendoza rear sight doesn't adjust low enough for the Bronco. The Beeman Sport Aperture doesn't either, but with ten minutes work, it will. I think I would keep this sight on the Bronco because it is quick and easy to use, and I even think it looks better.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Benjamin Trail NP XL1100 - Part 4

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Before I begin today's report, I have some good news. There will be an airgun show in Arkansas at the end of April. Seth Rowland has stepped up and started organizing the show, which will be held in Malvern, Arkansas, a town about 15 miles from the former location. Malvern is located about 1 mile off I-30, so it's easy to get to. Here are the details.

Arkansas Airgun Extravaganza. April 30 & May 1. Open to the public Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Six-foot tables are $50 each. Admission is $5. Kids 12 and under get in free with an adult. Dealer setup Friday 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

See the show map here.

If you are interested in getting a table you had better contact Seth right away, because the number of tables available will be limited. Here's his contact info.

For those who have been reading this blog and always wondered about what an airgun show is like, perhaps this is your chance to find out. Seth is going all-out to attract new dealers to this show, so there should be a greater variety of vintage airguns than has been seen at past shows. I'll be there along with Dennis Quackenbush and Tom Strayhorn, a collector of fine Walther airguns. Were also trying to get new gun dealers to attend, so you may get the opportunity to see some of the guns that you've been wondering about online. Please try to attend this show and bring along some of those airguns you can stand to part with. That's what makes a good show.

Okay, today we'll finish the accuracy test for the Benjamin Trail NP XL1100. Remember, I'm letting you look over my shoulder on this one for the benefit of the newer readers who are not familiar with my way of doing things. Yesterday, we prepared the rifle for this test, so the first thing to do today is a rough sight-in at 10 feet. It took four pellets to get on target, then I was ready to move out to 25 yards. Although my 10-minute sight-in article says to move from 10 feet to 10 yards, I've gotten to the point that I can skip that step and move right to 20-25 yards after the 10-foot adjustment. You have to know the ballistics of the gun being tested and you need to have some confidence in the process, but it does work just that easily.

The artillery hold
The importance of the artillery hold was mentioned in yesterday's report, but I'm repeating it today because it's so important. There's no rifle more difficult to shoot accurately than a breakbarrel springer. They're twitchy and extremely sensitive to how they're held. The worst are the super magnums (like this one) and those that have a long piston stroke--also like this one. I anticipate that hold will be critical.

JSB Exacts
I began with 15.8-grain JSB Exacts. They were among the pellets that I'd predicted would be good in the Trail XL. The first five went into a super group at 25 yards, giving me hope for this pellet.

Five shots with JSB Exacts at 25 yards made this great group, which measures 0.422" between centers of the two widest shots.

This 10-shot group opened up a couple tenths at 25 yards. JSB Exacts at 15.8 grains are good!

JSB Exact Jumbo Heavies
The next pellet I tried was JSB Exact Jumbo Heavies, the new 18.1-grain pellet. They didn't seem to group well at first, but then I learned a powerful truth about this rifle and this pellet.

This is the first 10-shot group I shot with 18.1-grain JSB Exact Jumbo Heavies. It doesn't look too good until you notice the two tighter groups contained within. There are three pellets in the left hole and four in the right. This becomes significant in a moment.

Here's the target that tells the story. It's a 7-shot group. There are three outliers and four in a tight hole at the bottom center. Read on to see what I learned!

Normally, I would have moved on after seeing the first 10-shot group, but now that Kevin has sparked my interest with his suggestion that a barrel needs to become accustomed to the new pellet whenever there's a change of ammunition, I'm shooting more shots per pellet. I didn't see what was happening with this JSB pellet until the final 7-shot group. The hold was so critical that it made all the difference. The tight group at the bottom of the seven-shot group was made with a dead-soft hold. The outliers all were made with some tension in my body at the shot. I could sense the tension and seeing these results as this group happened, because the first 10-shot group had gone the same way. It was almost as though I could wish a pellet out of the group by thinking about being tense!

What this tells me is that the 18-grain JSB Exact is probably among the most accurate pellets in this rifle, but it needs a bucketload of holding technique to do well. Fortunately, for hunters, shooting offhand is exactly what this pellet requires. As long as your offhand hold is dead calm, this pellet should do very well for you.

H&N Baracuda Match
Next, I tried the H&N Baracudas, and yes, these were the match pellets.

Five H&N Baracuda Match pellets went into this 0.414" group at 25 yards. This is performance with a great hunting pellet. Lots of holding technique was used.

I sort of lost it with this group. Holding was so critical, and here you see what can happen when you don't hold dead calm. Ten H&N Baracuda Match at 25 yards. Eight pellets went into a group measuring 0.511" between centers, but the other two outliers are from a loss of concentration.

Crosman Premiers
Crosman Premier pellets normally do very well in guns sold under the Crosman/Benjamin/Sheridan banner, but not this time. The Premiers fit the bore very loosely and were not capable of grouping within three inches at 25 yards. And, when I say Premiers I mean those in the cardboard box, but also those Premiers and Premier hollowpoints sold in tins as well as those sold under the Benjamin name. They all have the same shape and configuration. The cardboard box simply means they are all made on the same die.

The results I got with Premiers were not due to a loss of concentration, and that's something that can take experience to spot. In this case, it wasn't too difficult because of the wild spraying of pellets, but other times it can be closer and more difficult to differentiate.

What's the final tally?
I think the Benjamin Trail XL 1100 is a great hunting spring gun. It packs a lot of value into a nice package with nothing more to buy or exchange. The power wasn't all that was advertised, but any day you can get 24-25 foot-pounds from a breakbarrel springer is a good one. The scope is first-class and the sling is very nice. The sling swivels solve a common problem for hunters, and the Weaver scope base solves another difficult problem that every airgunner has faced.

The trigger leaves something to be desired. Hopefully, this will be an issue they can resolve, because the trigger that's on the NPSS is such a delight to use once it's been properly adjusted. The barrel seems to be first-rate. It's accurate and well-rifled. I'm assuming it's crowned well, because with the shroud in place it cannot be seen.

As far as quiet goes, the Trail XL is a quiet airgun. It's not as quiet as the NPSS, but it's still much quieter than a conventional spring gun. The only dieseling I could detect was a slight smell of burned oil when I shot the Premiers. There was no smoke noticeable during this test and never a detonation.

The bottom line is the Benjamin Trail XL 1100 is a fine new addition to spring-gun hunting. It's too big and difficult to cock to think of general purpose shooting, but just about ideal for the airgun hunter.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Benjamin Trail NP XL1100 - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Today, we'll begin testing the Benjamin Trail NP XL 1100 for accuracy. And we're going to do this differently than usual. Because we have many new readers to this blog, I'm going to explain how I do accuracy testing in greater detail than usual. Sort of a chance for you to look over my shoulder. Hopefully this will help the newer shooters get a grasp of what's involved in airgun accuracy, so this accuracy report will take more than a single report to complete.

Adjust the trigger
As I begin, I think about the gun I'm about to test. What do I know about it? Well, The Benjamin Trail XL 1100 is based on the Crosman Nitro Piston Short Stroke, and I did some testing of that rifle. During that testing, I discovered that the NPSS has a wonderful, adjustable trigger. One of our readers commented just a couple days ago that his accuracy improved after he adjusted his NPSS trigger, so I'm going to adjust the Trail XL trigger right now. According to the blog I wrote on the NPSS trigger, I need to unscrew the one adjustment screw several turns to make stage two light and crisp.

Sad to report that there is very little joy in Mudville today. The trigger on the Benjamin Trail XL 1100 may resemble the one on the NPSS rifle, but it doesn't adjust as well. It does adjust, but the second stage is mushy and imprecise. Not at all what I reported on the NPSS. However, I got it as good as it would go, which was better than when I started. It releases with 5 lbs., 2 oz. of pressure, which sounds like a lot. However, because of how the trigger works, you've subtracted all but the final 2 lbs. by the time you release it.

Clean the barrel
I had my Remington 788 .30-30 out last week and shot some remarkably mediocre 50-yard groups with Remington factory ammo. Factory ammo is usually lacking in accuracy, but a two-inch, five-shot group at 50 yards is a little excessive. Yesterday, I cleaned the barrel and removed a ton of copper fouling. Way more fouling than would have been left by the 20 rounds I fired. So, the rifle was dirty before I started the session. To ensure that I don't make the same mistake with the Benjamin Trail, I'll clean the bore with J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound.

As a recap--I was told about this by Ben Taylor, who is the Ben in Theoben. He told me to clean the bore of my Beeman Crow Magnum with J-B Paste by passing a brass brush loaded with paste through the barrel 20 times in each direction. I'm not normally anal, but after the success I had after cleaning that rifle, I'm saying to count the number of strokes. Twenty times in each direction, starting from the breech, of course. Then remove all the residue and the bore should not only be sparkling clean, it will also be smoothed as though you had shot 500 pellets through it. Don't worry--a brass brush will not harm a steel barrel, and J-B paste is used by benchrest shooters all the time.

Normally, the first 10 passes are extremely tight, then things loosen up. That never happened with this barrel. Pass 20 was as tight as pass four. The first couple passes did loosen up just a little, but at the end of the cleaning I was still pushing hard on the rod to get the brush through the bore.

Check the screws
I do a once around the rifle to check all the stock screws for tightness. Because this rifle has a gas spring, I don't expect the screws to loosen very much, but it's always best to go into a test with everything right.

Mount the scope
We're blessed when we come to mounting the scope because Crosman has put Weaver bases on the rifle, so there will be no mounting problems. The Centerpoint 3-9x40 was almost correctly set in the rings, but not quite. After the two-piece rings were cinched down tight, I loosened the scope caps and rotated the scope tube until the vertical reticle seemed to bisect the receiver tube perfectly. There's nothing square on an airgun, or a firearm, for that matter, so trying to "level" the scope is a completely fruitless affair. There's nothing to level it with. You rotate the scope tube until it looks straight up and down to you. Someone else may disagree, but you're the one who will be shooting the gun, so that's all that matters.

Pick some pellets
Someone asked the other day how I knew which pellets to select for which guns. Well, it's simpler than it might seem. First, I know that a large number of pellets are not going to be the best in almost every airgun, so they seldom get selected. I only pick them when I can't seem to get anything else to work.

The other side is that there are known performers that almost always get picked. JSB Exacts, with the particular weights depending on the gun. This is a powerful springer, which means that it has the same power as a lower-powered PCP, with one important difference. Springers hit the pellet skirt with a heavy blast of air at the start, so the pellet needs thicker-walled skirts to not deform. At 25 foot-pounds, the Benjamin Trail XL is about as hard on pellet skirts as it gets. Think about using .22-caliber Crosman Premiers because they have really tough skirts. Think about using H&N Baracudas because they have a heavy skirt. Think of the heavier JSBs for their heavier skirts. Definitely DO NOT think RWS Superpoints that have ultra-thin skirts made of dead-soft lead. Their skirts would be deformed badly by the powerful air blast from the Nitro Piston.

So, I selected Baracudas (which are the same as Beeman Kodiaks), JSB Exact Jumbo Heavies (which weigh 18.1 grains) and JSB Exacts (which weigh 15.8 grains). Let's see where that gets us.

Use the artillery hold
I've had several readers recently discover the benefits of the artillery hold. That's when the rifle is held as loosely as possible so it can move and vibrate as much as it wants. While it seems counter-intuitive, such a hold will improve your shooting in 98 percent of the situations. Read about it here.

Kevin added something in an answer to a reader question the other day that I need to emphasize more. When you're shooting, align the crosshairs or sights--then close your eyes and relax. Open your eyes again. If the crosshairs moved off the target, the pellet would have moved in the same direction if you'd fired. Learn to settle in so the crosshairs are still on target when you open your eyes. That assists your follow-through, which is what this is all about. It works for firearms, too, though heavy-recoiling guns need a firmer hold than what I've described.

Here's where you and I will go in separate directions. You want to hit the target. I don't care. What I want to see is if the pellets tend to go to the same place. If they do, a sight adjustment may be needed to get them on target, but that's a separate step. I won't be doing anything with this gun other than making groups we can examine. If I were then going to shoot it afterwards, I would care about aligning the sights.

That bothers some people to no end. If they don't see the groups in the center of the bullseye, they think the gun is inaccurate. My brother-in-law feels that way. I can move the groups to where they'll look good with the sights or with Photoshop if I have to. So, hitting the center of the bullseye isn't something I even care about. But you should, because you will be using this gun to hit things. Don't let my testing affect your shooting.

And that's where I'll end it today. I've walked you through preparing to shoot, so next time I'll show you the results of that.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Which chronograph is right for me?

by B.B. Pelletier

This report was suggested by reader G., but a lot of you have been talking about chronographs lately, so perhaps this is timely for everyone.

Don't need no stinking chronograph
When I did the R1 Homebrew series of articles for The Airgun Letter, I needed a chronograph. And as far as I was concerned, that was the first time in my shooting life that I did need one. Up to that point, I considered chronographs to be silly toys that bored shooters used to add spice to their hobby. But when I was faced with the reality of comparing before and after tuning airguns in print, there had to be something more than just my word about how the gun was performing.

The R1 Homebrew articles are what grew into the R1 book that was published in 1995. While attending the Winston-Salem Airgun Expo in 1993, I bought a used F-1 Shooting Chrony for $45. That chrono lasted me about a quarter of the way into the book. I stopped using it when I got spurious velocity readings of 150 f.p.s. slower than should have been the case. The problem was twofold. First, the ancient chronograph I was using had cardboard windows that served as diffuser holders in front of both the start and stop screens. The windows were there to align projectiles over the skyscreens. Tens of thousands of shots had ripped the start screen window to the point that it overhung the start screen lens. I trimmed it back, but if I trimmed it any more the window would have been cut through and would no longer hold the white plastic diffuser, so I allowed some of the cardboard to overhang.

The other problem I had was the distorted shape of the hole through the windows forced me to shoot on a downward slant. That was when I discovered the problem with doing that.

At this point, the decision had already been made to write the R1 book, so Edith and I bit the bullet and bought an Oehler 35P printing chronograph--the gold standard of personal chronographs. That model is no longer available; but if you can use a Windows computer, the Oehler 43 is the same instrument with software to operate on your Windows computer. Several writers use a laptop with their 43, and the printer can be anything the computer hooks up to.

The 35 P was discontinued because the Oehlers were not able to obtain a supply of small printers to go into their chronographs. They are available, but not at wholesale prices in quantities small enough for the Oehler operation. I have more to say about printers later.

For years, I looked down on those who used Shooting Chrony brand chronographs, because the Oehler is such a superior instrument. It has a clock speed of 4 megahertz. At the time, I thought the Chronys were using a 100 kilohertz clock, but that may not be the case. The Oehler also has a second chronograph circuit in the system so you get two readings for every shot. One is a check against the other, and there are warning symbols if the difference is too great.

Then, I decided to write about chronographs. The Oehler 35P was no longer available and besides, does a hobbyist really need that kind of machine? So, I asked Pyramyd Air to send me a Shooting Chrony Alpha chronograph and I reported on it in August 2005. The instrument I tested was quite an improvement over the old Chrony I had used more than a decade before. It set up easily and no longer had the cardboard windows that caused so much trouble. It probably also has a higher clock speed, though I cannot find any confirmation for that.

As I used the Chrony Alpha, I got used to how quick it was to set up. It sits on a table, making it ideal for my office, where the Oehler skyscreens are too high to align with the pellet trap. So convenience got me using the Chrony more and more. Now, I use the Oehler for articles and in the field, but the Chrony for everything else, which is more than 90 percent of my work.

Here's the crucial thing. The Chrony doesn't measure the velocity exactly. Neither does the Oehler. To measure exactly takes more accurate chronographs that are used by laboratories and by weapons testing stations. The skyscreens are separated by many feet distance and they are tailored for exactly what they're testing.

But for the hobbyist, a Shooting Chrony gives a number that can be trusted. It will be accurate within 99.5 percent accuracy. Not more than one deviation in 200. When measuring something traveling 1,000 f.p.s., the error rate is about 5 f.p.s. That is certainly accurate enough for what we do.

Dr. Ken Oehler once told me that the biggest error in any chronograph was the accurate spacing of the skyscreens. They assume a certain separation which is fed into the formula for velocity calculation; and when that is off by as little as one-eighth inch, the readings are wrong. The Shooting Chrony has solved that problem by its design. When the box unfolds, the skyscreens are always separated by the correct amount. That's a big plus, because other chronographs including the Oehler use a dimpled steel bar (conduit armor) to locate the screens.

Then, I did what almost all chronograph owners have done at least once. I shot too low and dented the chronograph case. I told Pyramyd Air about the damage, and they told me to keep the chronograph. I did and have used it ever since. By the way, I also shot up my Oehler skyscreens. I did that while working at AirForce testing the Condor. Same screen got shot--the rear one.

I shot my Alpha Chrony when I got too close to the rear skyscreen. No real harm done, and the instrument still works four years later.

What's the answer?
So, which chronograph is right for you? Well, if you want to check pellet gun velocities, I recommend a Shooting Chrony Alpha, Beta or even the model F1. The more expensive models have memories and can calculate statistics. The cheaper models cost less.

Are other chronographs okay? Absolutely. Shooting Chrony is the best-known brand on the market, but the others work just as well. Shooting Chrony has a rebuild program if you shoot up your chronograph, and that's a nice touch, plus I like the convenience of the box design. But any chronograph is better than no chronograph. Now that I've had one for a long time, I know more about why they're good. I've shown you several examples recently in this blog, and I will continue to do so as we tune the FWB 124, for example.

What about printers?
Printers are less reliable than chronographs. The one on my Oehler has never malfunctioned, but the Shooting Chrony Ballistic Printer has. It sometimes fails to advance the paper, resulting in several readings printing on top of each other. Pyramyd Air has recently experienced the same thing, so it happens but not on a regular basis.

If you buy a printer, be prepared to fiddle with it sometimes. It's great for long strings of shots, but I generally don't use it for short strings. Just make sure the paper advances after every shot.

Do you need a chronograph? Probably not, unless you know why you do. If all you like to do is shoot, you can forget a chronograph. But if you want to know the health of your airgun, a chronograph is a valuable piece of equipment to own.

Monday, March 08, 2010

The Crosman Silhouette PCP pistol - Part 3

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2

Velocity test, part 2
Today, we're going to adjust the power of the Crosman Silhouette PCP pistol. This is a second velocity test for this gun. Before adjusting, I read the owner's manual, which in this case provides a lot of very instructional information about this procedure.

I learned that the fill pressure of the pistol is also adjustable, and the factory sets it at 2,900 psi and not 3,000. While the difference between 2900 and 3000 may seem small to you, look at the shot string I fired in Part 2 and notice that it took at least five shots to get up on the power curve when I filled the gun to 3,000. Son of a gun! Maybe Crosman knows what they're doing, and maybe we should be reading these manuals before shooting the airguns. And, when I say "we," I mean me.

Variable fill pressure
According to the manual, you can adjust the gun to operate on a fill of 2,500 psi, all the way up to a fill of 3,000 psi. This is achieved by adjusting two separate things. The first is the hammer-spring tension and the second is the hammer-stroke length. These work together to control the force of the impact on the valve stem as well as the dwell time that the valve remains open.

Delicate balance
However, as the air pressure inside the reservoir increases, the pressure that closes the valve changes, as well, so that also affects the length of time the valve remains open. What I'm saying is that there is not a straightforward adjustment. It's a balancing act between the fill pressure, the length of the hammer stroke and the tension on the hammer spring. You have to use a chronograph to adjust the gun--ther's no way around it. Without a chronograph, you're just guessing.

Crosman even provides you with a simple chart of the effects of adjusting both adjustments. Cutting to the bottom line, a long hammer stroke and heavy spring tension will boost the required fill pressure as high as it will go and give you the most powerful shots the pistol is capable of. Coincidentally, it will also give the greatest number of powerful shots that can be gotten from the pistol. Since that's all I'm after in today's report, that's what I did. Before I move on to the test, a word to everyone who has an interest in this pistol.

Get to know your airgun
Crosman has given us something rather unique in the Silhouette PCP. They have given us these two adjustments so we can adjust the gun to do exactly what we want to do. That's not common, and we need to take a moment to appreciate it.

When I worked at AirForce Airguns, we used to get questions all the time about what power adjustment wheel setting should someone use to shoot such-and-such a pellet and a velocity of X f.p.s. Well, heck, how should we know? How would anyone know who did not have that individual gun and a chronograph to do the necessary testing? Yet, these same people would get on the forums and trade their favorite power wheel setting back and forth as though they were precious formulae or something.

Here's a partial score: Cleveland 3.

Doesn't tell you very much, does it? Well, the adjustment of the Silhouette PCP is going to be very similar to that. It's an individual thing. Each gun is unique and each responds to adjustment in a slightly different way. If this is a gun you see in your future, plan on getting a chronograph to go with it, or plan on not adjusting the gun.

On to testing
This test will be different than most because I'll be adjusting the gun as I go. Whenever I make a change, I will note it and then continue with the string. I used the Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellet.

For the first shot, I adjusted the gun following Crosman's instructions to the letter. The hammer-spring preload was adjusted to the max, and the stroke was adjusted as long as possible. The gun was filled to 3,000 psi and these shots resulted.


At this point, I realized that the gun wasn't set up to give me what I was after, which was maximum velocity, so something had to change. I turned the hammer-stroke adjustment in, which is contrary to what Crosman says to do.


This was working, so I turned the stroke-adjustment screw in some more.


More in.


More in.


More in.


At this point, I figured the hammer stroke was adjusted as well as it could be. Since the hammer-spring tension was supposed to be at the max, I turned the adjuster off a little.


Then, I put the tension back where it had been.


At this point, I adjusted the stroke back out four turns.


Then, two turns back in.


All the way in (two more turns).


The remaining pressure in the gun was 2,300 psi according to the onboard gauge.


Then, I shot two Crosman High Velocity Super Sonic pellets to see what the maximum velocity would be.


Then, I switched back to Premier lites.

34.........Did not register

That's my report. With Premier lites, I got just over 500 f.p.s. With High Velocity hollowpoints--about 620.

The adjusting is easy but a chronograph is an absolute necessity, and I hope my report demonstrates why.

Friday, March 05, 2010

A shrine built for a Feinwerkbau 124 - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

My enshrined 124.

Before we begin, I have to share a laugh with all of you. This is especially for BG_Farmer, who last week had a discussion with me about unloading a muzzleloader.

I was out at the range yesterday and among the guns I shot was my new Thompson/Center Hawken. Of course, the sights were open post and bead. Shot No. 1 went through the X-ring at 50 yards. So, I loaded ball No. 2 very carefully. And, I put a cap on the nipple only after I was in firing position. Then--nothing! The cap fired but nothing else happened.

I waited for about 30 seconds for a hangfire, and then the truth of it hit me. For the first time in 45 years of shooting muzzleloaders, I had failed to put gunpowder into the rifle! So, my status as the Master Doofus of the Universe is, once again, secure--and I have a ball to get out of my barrel. Fortunately, I was using Triple Seven powder, a replica powder that doesn't attack the bore like black powder.

The first shot from the Hawken muzzleloader went through the X-ring at 50 yards. Shot two is still in the gun.

So, all that talk about how I never had to unload a ball before just went away. BG_Farmer, you may have 12 hours to gather a crowd to mock me.

Now, on to today's report

Well! This report that I thought would be finished today is turning into quite the crowd-pleaser. Just two days ago, we had a comment from a reader named Simon Kenton who remembers his 124 fondly as being a real tack-driver with the vintage Beeman Silver Jet pellets. He stockpiled 5,000 of them and hates to shoot them because they aren't available anymore.

I also remember Silver Jets as the best pellets for the 124 back in the 1970s and '80s. But when I competed in field target with a 124 in the late 1990s, I used the 7.9-grain Crosman Premier, which, at the time, was considered the most accurate pellet in the world. And I'm referring only to the Premiers that come in the brown cardboard box.

So, I'll test this 124 for accuracy with Silver Jets and Premiers, and perhaps even some JSB Exact 8.4-grain domes. Sorry Kevin, but I don't seem to have any Beeman FTS. I have Trophys, but that's all.

Please don't worry about the status of the gun. If something happens, it's only an airgun after all. I'll do everything to protect the exterior finish, but if I have to rebuild the powerplant for any reason, the rifle will only get better as a result. And after I rebuild it, it will last many decades longer than it would have with the original parts. We know that today, but of course it was not known when the 124 was new back in the 1970s.

For the collectors
And I need to clarify a point for all the collectors. I said in the first report that the 124 dated back to 1972, but that isn't entirely accurate. The basic rifle did exist at that time, but in the United States it was called the F-12. In Germany it was called the model 121. The 124 was first called by that designation in the 1974 edition of the Beeman catalog--the ultra-rare second edition. In that catalog, Beeman explains that the 124 is an upgraded version of the F-12 rifle that previously existed. That probably means the 124 designation started some time in 1973. Yes, there are FWB sport rifles marked as model 121, and yes, they were also capable of velocities up to 780 f.p.s. When the exact upgrades were made that differentiated a 124 from a 121, I do not know; but it sounds like a great research project for some day when I'm tired and just feel like reading.

The .22 rifle
To round out the report, there was a .22 caliber version of the same rifle that was marked as the model 127. They were never as popular when the gun was being made, because in those days .177 caliber was king in the United States. Finding a 127 is more difficult than finding a nice 124. However, for some reason, the price is seldom that much higher. The 124 still holds sway over the 127, even today.

The Beeman R5/model 125
Beeman also had a very small number of 124s barreled in .20 caliber and labeled model 125. It was never an official model, but Robert Beeman was very keen on .20 caliber and was seeking at the time to create an R5 rifle for his line. Beeman remembers three or four of these rifles being built by Feinwerkbau. They were not marked with the R5 designation, though that was the plan once production began.

What stopped the project cold was the requirement to purchase .20 caliber barrels 5,000 at a time. Beeman was prepared to order 500 of the R5s, but he wasn't ready to commit to 5,000, so the rifle was never built. Two of the prototypes, marked as "Sport 125 Cal.5/.22" were sold from the Beeman used gun list. The company also advertised the new R5 in their 10th edition catalog; but since there were no guns to sell when that catalog came out, the price was listed as NA. Catalog 10A followed the same year, and the R5 model was removed. Many people who have seen just the 10th edition of the Beeman catalog believe that a Beeman R5 existed, when in fact it never did. Robert Beeman wrote a very detailed description of all that transpired on this project for my magazine, Airgun Revue #3.

Today, I want to show you more of the contents of this sarcophagus. I've already discussed why filling the barrel with common grease is not a good protective measure, so let's look at some other preservation techniques that backfired.

Baggies don't protect
The orignal owner also felt that Beeman Silver Jets were the best pellet for the rifle. Instead of making a single storage compartment for the square cardboard box the Silver Jets came in, he divided 500 pellets into two plastic bags that were tucked into smaller asymmetric compartments. You can see them in small slots on either side (the top and bottom) of the rifle's forearm in the case. Unfortunately, he was unaware that plastic bags are not an effective vapor barrier. Over the years, the acid wood gasses corroded all the lead pellets to the point that they're now covered by a thick coat of white lead oxide powder. These pellets are now useless. I leave them in place as tutorials for whenever I show the rifle.

Beeman Silver Jets came in a square box with a padded styrofoam insert. These pellets are 20-30 years old and not oxidized.

Silver Jets on the left came from the box. The oxidized one on the right came out of one of two baggies inside the gun box.

Another fact the original owner was unaware of is the tendency for the original FWB piston seal material to dry rot. He purchased three spare piston seals that are now, sadly, hardened to the point of uselessness. The plastic bag they're in also did noting to preserve them. That's okay, though, because I would never put an original FWB piston seal back into a rifle anyway. I would use something made from modern synthetics. Feinwerkbau wasn't alone in making this mistake. Diana also used the same flawed material in their target air rifles and pistols of the 1970s, as did Walther.

You don't have to be an expert to see the damage here. The piston seal is dried and cracked from storage. Each of the three seals has two o-rings. The larger one is the breech seal, but I don't know where the smaller one goes. These are still usable.

The rest of the inventory
For those who like to keep score, the box contains these things, besides the rifle and owner's manual:

500 Silver Jet pellets
Beeman deluxe cleaning patches
Can of Birchwood Casey Sheath
Bottle of Beeman Silicone Chamber Oil
Bottle of Beeman Spring Cylinder Oil
Two stainless steel oiling needles
Leather sling
Three-piece sectional cleaning rod
Two .177 brass bore brushes
Beeman Pell Seat
Three piston seals
Three breech seals
One new mainspring
One aluminum trigger blade

None of these products have been used. They are there for "that day" when they are needed.

And, now, the velocity
Or not!

The Crosman Premier pellets refused to come out of the end of the barrel. They went perhaps 7/8 of the way through and stopped. I checked and replaced the breech seal, but no luck. That means the piston seal has finally given up the ghost. The last time I shot this rifle through a chronograph, it registered about 760 f.p.s. with Premier Lites, but that time is past. And the parts in the gun are of no help in fixing the situation.

I left the first part of the blog exactly as I wrote it, so all of this that you are reading has transpired before your eyes. I will now tune the gun with a modern FWB 124 tuneup and then test it for you.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Bronco from Air Venturi - Part 5

by B.B. Pelletier

The entries for Pyramyd Air's February contest are posted on Airgun Arena. Thanks to everyone who participated and congratulations to the winners!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Air Venturi Bronco.

Today, I'll test the Air Venturi Bronco with a better scope. Last time, I used a scope adjusted for 100-yard parallax and the target wasn't too clear. This time, I mounted a Leapers 3-9x40 AO scope with an illuminated reticle. My scope was an older version of this same scope.

Leapers 3-9x40 scope fit the Bronco well.

A delight to shoot
I'd forgotten how comfortable the Bronco is to shoot. Rediscovering that was so pleasurable that I did some additional experiments for you. For starters, I held the rifle like a deer rifle, the way a new airgunner might. The Bronco responded with half-dollar-sized groups at 25 yards. While those look good to new shooters, the rifle is capable of much better accuracy. The tight hold works, but only to a point.

Then, I shot with the rifle rested directly on the bag. Sprayed pellets all over the place, just as you would expect.

I read on one of the forums that someone thought the wrist was too thick for younger shooters. Well, of course it is! If they hold the rifle like a deer rifle, the wrist is way too thick. But that's not the way to hold a breakbarrel springer. You have to pretend you're holding a 1903 Springfield and place your thumb along the wrist rather than over it. Then, the artillery hold will start paying off.

This is the wrong way to hold a spring rifle. Get that thumb off the wrist.

This is the proper way to rest the thumb on a spring rifle wrist.

The bottom line is the Bronco likes a light artillery hold the best.

Premier Lites
The Crosman Premier 7.9-grain pellet grouped acceptably well at 25 yards, though I did feel that a repeatable light hold was crucial to good accuracy. Fail to hold it that way, and pellets stray from the group.

Ten Premiers at 25 yards with the proper "dead" hold technique.

Ten Premiers at 25 yards. Seven with the proper "dead" hold technique and three with the thumb rested over the wrist. The scope was adjusted from the first group.

I also tried a bucket load of other pellets, searching for one that was more tolerable of the hold than Premier Lites. I tried Premier heavies, Gamo Match, Air Arms domes, JSB Exact domes in the 8.4-grain weight and Gamo Master Points. Like last time, the JSBs showed some promise, though the Premier lites clearly beat them in 10-shot groups. Then, I found what I was looking for.

Years ago, I owned a .458 Winchester Magnum rifle (an elephant rifle) for which I handloaded. My load was so soft that it hardly recoiled, yet it always sent the 550-grain lead bullet to the same place. It was a delight to shoot. Most Hakim air rifles will do the same thing with RWS Superpoints. Well, I found what the Bronco likes.

Beeman Kodiaks, which are also H&N Baracudas, need very little in the way of an artillery hold, yet they seem to go to the same place every time. They're no more accurate than Premier Lites, but they sure are easier to shoot in this rifle! They're my top pick for pellets, now that I've tested them.

Ten Kodiaks with a sloppy artillery hold. They all seem to want to go to the same place.

The next test will be with a Mendoza peep sight mounted. This will be as much a test of that specific sight as of the Bronco.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Chronograph tips

by B.B. Pelletier

I've probably said these things before, but they're fundamental and bear repeating. With more of you starting to use chronographs, you need to be aware of some of the basic operational tips for the equipment.

Before we go any farther, know that I'm limiting my remarks to the Shooting Chrony-type of chronograph that uses an incandescent or natural light (sunlight) source. There are various chronographs that use infrared light sources and these notes do not necessarily apply.

Lighting outdoors
Outdoors you want an even source of light, with an overcast sky being the best. The worst is direct sunlight falling on the skyscreens. That condition is what the diffusers are for, so use them. A day where clouds are being blown all around is a tough day to chronograph outdoors.

Lighting indoors
Fluorescent lighting does not work with a chronograph. A fluorescent light flickers at speeds imperceptible to the human eye (most of the time), but the sensitive skyscreen will be set off. When that happens, you'll get spurious readings, errors and half-readings. That can be a big problem, now that many households are converting from incandescent lighting to fluorescent. You may have to kill all the lights in the room to get the chronograph to work.

Mercury vapor lights found in warehouses and workshops can also be problematic. Whenever your chronograph starts firing on its own, you probably have a lighting problem.

Direct light sources are another way around indoor lighting problems. There are commercial skyscreen lights you can buy or you can make a light bar of your own with parts bought at a hardware store. A much simpler way, if you shoot in a room that has a ceiling painted a solid light color, is to reflect a bright light off the ceiling and let the skyscreens look at that light. This is how I do it in my office, which has a 10-foot ceiling. I use a photo light, but you can use a 500-watt halogen work light shined upward.

Chronograph tips
Here's the big one. Keep the muzzle of your gun at least a foot back from the starting skyscreen. This is especially true when testing the powerful super magnums, such as the new Benjamin Trail NP XL1100 I tested for you on Monday. In fact, it was while testing that rifle that the idea for this report was born. I held the muzzle of the gun too close to the start screen a couple times and got several shots that measured 300 f.p.s. slower than they should have. That's not the gun acting up. That's the chronograph operator's fault.

If we had a super-fast video camera filming the muzzle of a spring gun, you would be able to see a ball of pressurized air that comes out of the gun ahead of the pellet. If the pellet travels at 900 f.p.s., this ball of air goes about 1100 f.p.s. for a couple inches. If the muzzle is held too close, the skyscreen senses the ball of compressed air and starts the clock. Once the clock has been started the pellet has no effect on it anymore. Of course, the pellet passing over the stop screen stops the clock and now you have a longer interval on the clock than the pellet really should have registered. More time equals a slower pellet transit time, hence the readings are slower than they should have been. Just by backing the muzzle up 12 inches from the start screen, you take care of 100 percent of this problem with all spring guns. Maybe with some powerful pneumatics like the Condor you should back up 18 inches. And certainly with a big bore I would back up 4-5 feet. The pressurized air will still be seen by the skyscreen, but by backing up you allow the pellet/bullet to trip the sensor first.

Tip #2--stay level
Both skyscreens look in the same direction. If the chronograph is flat on a table, both skyscreens should look directly upward so they are set up to calculate the passage of a pellet that flies perpendicular to their line of sight.

If you angle a shot through the line of the skyscreens, the time it takes to trip them will be longer that it would have been if they went through at a perfect perpendicular angle. That's because an angled line through two planes is always longer than one that passes through perpendicular.

The slanted line through the top chronograph is a longer path, resulting is lower indicated velocities. The bottom chronograph shows how the rifle should be fired.

Maybe the explanation is difficult to follow, but look at the drawings. I can slow down any gun by slanting the line of the pellet through the skyscreens. Try it yourself and you'll see what I mean.

Tip #3--clean those skyscreens
If your chrono has any age to it, your skyscreen shields are dirty. Those are the clear plastic "lenses" that cover and protect the real sensors. Use a Q-tip to clean them, and your numbers will be easier to obtain.

Tip #4--watch your angle
As well as watching the up/down angle through the screens, you also need to be careful of the sideways angle. You will get an "Error 2" message when you miss screen two, which is the most common error you'll see, because the start screen (screen 1) is closer to the gun and harder to miss.

Well, those are some things to think about when you use your chronograph next time. They're wonderful instruments that respond best if a little care is used during their operation.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

A shrine built for a Feinwerkbau 124 - Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Before I start today's blog, I want to let you know that Pyramyd Air has slashed the price of the Hammerli Pneuma…by almost 30%! It's dropped from $495.95 to $349.95. This is a huge deal and a great way to enter the PCP arena without spending a fortune. I don't know how long the price will stay at that level, so don't hesitate if this is a gun you've been eyeing. Now, on to today's blog.

When I lived in Maryland, I had many friends who were airgun enthusiasts. We not only met at the local airguns shows, one of which we ran in Damascus in August each year, but we also competed in field target matches and 10-meter pistol matches throughout the year. One day, while waiting for my group to shoot in a match down in Rockville, a friend showed me something he had just acquired. It was a long wooden case that any gun owner would know had to contain a gun.

When he opened the case I saw a sight that quickened my heart. Inside was a like-new FWB 124 and accessories, all in like-new condition. I had to own this rifle, so I immediately set about building an acceptable trade for it. Fortunately, the man who owned it is a good friend and went relatively easy on me, though he didn't have to. I wanted this gun so bad I would have given almost anything to own it. I still probably gave too much for it, but there really are no equivalents to compare to.

This FWB 124 was enshrined for all time by its former owner. If you look carefully, you can see that there are three padded projections in the box lid that press down on the rifle when the lid is closed. These projections prevent the gun from moving.

One thing my friend made me promise is that I would document the rifle so everybody could share in the experience he and I had when we looked in the case. I had no problem with that request, for indeed, that was part of the reason I wanted the gun--to be able to research it and discover just what it was. When I got it home, I immediately set to the task.

I examined every accessory inside the case, as well as the case itself. It was custom-built of pine for this rifle and all the items inside. The wood was of cabinet quality, which is to say clear and free from knots. But it was nothing special or out of the ordinary. The larger pieces were made from plywood. You'll notice that the compartments are asymetric.

The wood was painted a flat brown and fitted with utilitarian hinges and clasps to hold it closed. The man I got the gun from had removed the center clasp and replaced it with a carry handle, which was a nickel-plated drawer handle, so the box now does not close as tightly as the maker had intended, but it's easier to carry. Obviously, the maker had not envisioned transporting the gun as much as simply storing it, which was a big clue as to what was going on. All eight corners of the box are reinforced with brass edge protectors. The workmanship of the build is top-quality.

The rifle was very early. I could tell that by the older-style black plastic trigger that was offered only in the 1970s, and by the address of the Beeman company stamped on the gun. San Anselmo was their very first address, when the Beemans were operating out of their home.

The San Anselmo address on this 124 marks it as sold from the original location of Beeman Precision Airguns.

When I examined the contents of the box, I was struck by their age. These items had been purchased from the Beeman Precision Airguns company back at the start of their existence! They bore the image of Boswell Bear, something that went away very early in the life of the company. I knew these labels because I had been a Beeman customer almost from the start in 1973, but I had not seen labels like these for two decades! Clearly, this gun and its accessories were very old, yet they looked like they were brand new.

Boswell Bear was on the earliest labels. This one has a San Rafael address.

I contacted Robert Beeman about the San Anselmo address on the gun and the Boswell Bear labels. He told me these were the very first labels his company ever used.

However, there were also some anomalies among the things in the box. When the FWB 124 first came out in about 1972, it had a plastic trigger blade. Oh, how the airgunners of the time complained about that! Why would a top-quality maker like Feinwerkbau put a cheap plastic trigger on any gun they would make? They complained throughout the decade of the '70s. About 1980, the company finally brought out an aluminum trigger blade. First, the guns came out with it installed, and then several years later it was offered as a replacement part that Beeman sold as a retrofit.

The aluminum trigger blade was made to replace the earlier plastic blade. This one is a retrofit part but was never installed.

So, there was an aluminum trigger blade in the box with this rifle that had to have been added years after the box was built. Obviously, this set was a work in progress. No attempt had been made to update the trigger in the rifle, since the original plastic trigger was (and still is) in the gun. And I know from experience with many other 124s that the plastic trigger will not break in normal use, so why did the owner buy the aluminum blade?

Canopic jars
When Egyptians mummified a body, some of the organs were removed and placed in canopic jars, each with its own separate guardian. There were no jars inside the gun box, but there were separate sections that housed fresh vitals for a renewal of the powerplant. A new replacement mainspring was housed on a rod set into the box lid and no fewer than three fresh piston seals were in a special compartment of the box, where they awaited the day of renewal.

When I was a kid, I played cops 'n' robbers a lot. The imaginary gun I used never ran out of bullets. It was becoming clear to me that the original owner of this 124 wanted the same thing from his gun--a spring gun that never failed. He stockpiled the parts that he knew would wear out over time. When they wore out--presumably from use--their replacements were on hand to keep the show rolling. Only--this rifle was never used!

Plugged up
Unlike my cops 'n' robbers weapon, a well-used right hand with a two-finger barrel that fired tens of thousands of times, the owner of this 124 never fired a single shot with it. He couldn't have, for the barrel was completely plugged with grease!

When I went to chronograph the rifle to ascertain the state of tune, I was surprised to find the bore completely obstructed. A patch pushed by a cleaning rod pushed out many inches of petroleum grease, the common kind used for general lubrication. It took some time to clean out all this worthless grease, and I was adamant to do it before the barrel was ruined. What the first owner did not understand was that plain grease is not a good preservative. Over the years, it dries out and hardens. It then allows moisture to enter and collect against the metal and the barrel would have rusted slowly from the inside out.

Cosmoline is a military preservative that's often used on guns put into long-term storage. It provides a moisture barrier for a period of time, though it, too, has a definite period of useful life beyond which it offers no protection. While it resembles regular grease, it's not the same thing at all, and grease is not an acceptable substitute fort it. You're far better off with a clean bore lightly coated with oil, the way the military tells you to store firearms. But the grease in this gun was a big clue about what was happening.

He may have shot the rifle a few times, but the finish on the barrel near the muzzle wears quickly from handling and this one is still like new. So, not many shots (if any) were ever fired. I've also shot it a few times, but I don't take it out that much, either.

The status of the gun
The rifle was like new in unfired condition when I got it. The bore was plugged with grease. The rifle was surrounded with the parts needed to keep it operating for over 20 years of hard use, yet it had seemingly never been used. It looked like the original owner had cherished this rifle without ever actually using it. He entombed it in what he had hoped was a very protective cocoon to guarantee its survival into the future, and yet it was a future that didn't include him.

I obtained the gun just after the new century began. The first owner had passed away, which is how the man I bought the gun from got it. So, this gun, which was preserved for all time, had now outlived its first owner--it's creator, if you consider the whole package.

In our next look, I'll show you other strange things in the box and will chronograph the rifle for you.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Benjamin Trail NP XL1100 - Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

Well, the replacement Benjamin Trail NP XL1100 I now have is up to spec. And it doesn't cock easily, like I said last week. It cocks with 47 lb.. of effort. Now, that's on the low side of heavy, and if the power is anywhere near the claimed 30 foot-pounds, then this is still a great hunting rifle, but by no means should it be thought of as a plinker.

I want to warn you new airgunners about something. Some new shooters will read the specs only and pick the cheapest, most powerful air rifle they can find. Then they get it and are overwhelmed by the size and the effort required to cock the rifle. I see the same thing in the world of firearms, where someone buys an S&W .500 Magnum and then resells it after only 6 shots. They never imagined the tremendous recoil such a gun generates. New England Firearms (NEF) chambers their little Handi-Rifle for the S&W .500 magnum and that's another one I see for sale all the time, along with a lot of Marlin Guide Guns in .45-70.

Folks, the Benjamin Trail XL 1100 is a large air rifle that takes a lot of effort to cock. Buy it for hunting--not as a general-purpose plinking rifle. I don't know how much plainer I can make it.

Shooting behavior
The rifle lunges forward with the shot, just like any super magnum air rifle. Thankfully, it has a Weaver base, so scope mounting shouldn't be a problem. The noise still seems very low, especially given the power.

And it dieseled with every shot during this test. Please understand the terminology I'm using. Dieseling is present in all powerful spring guns on every shot. It is NOT the loud explosion you hear with the shot. That is called a detonation. The Benjamin Trail did not detonate even once during this test. We expect a gun like this to diesel, and it does. It also exhausts a lot of smoke because it is new. That should diminish in a couple hundred shots.

The trigger-pull is long because I haven't yet adjusted it. Once adjusted, it should be very short and crisp. I'll adjust it and report the results to you.

Crosman Premiers
The standard test pellet for this rifle must be the .22-caliber Crosman Premier. At 14.3 grains, a Premier must travel at 972 f.p.s. to develop 30 foot-pounds. In the test rifle, Premiers averaged 882 f.p.s., which is a muzzle energy of 24.71 foot-pounds. The spread went from 864 f.p.s. to 901 f.p.s., so a total spread of 37 f.p.s. That may stabilize a little as the rifle breaks in.

RWS Hobbys
Spring-piston airguns usually perform best with lighter pellets, so I tested the 11.9-grain RWS Hobby pellet next. The average velocity was 940 f.p.s., which works out to a muzzle energy of 23.35 foot-pounds. The spread went from 928 f.p.s. to 948 f.p.s., so a tighter spread of just 20 f.p.s. This result was a surprise. I expected energy to rise with Hobbys, so perhaps the rifle likes heavier pellets.

JSB Exact Jumbo Heavys
Finally, I tried JSB Exact Jumbo Heavys. At 18.1 grains, they're an ideal weight for long-range shooting and hunting. They averaged 783 f.p.s., with a spread from 777 to 792--at 15 f.p.s., it was the tightest of the session. The average muzzle energy worked out to 24.65 foot-pounds, or very close to the Premiers.

So, this test rifle develops nowhere near 30 foot-pounds of power, or even the 26 foot-pound lower limit I was offering as an acceptable margin of error. This is a 25 foot-pound airgun at best.

Setting the claim aside, 25 foot-pounds is respectable for a breakbarrel springer. Because this is a gas-spring gun, hunters should love it. And the price is extremely low for all that you get. Don't take it off your list for missing the claim, just know what to expect so you won't be disappointed.

Other Benjamin Trail XL 1100s may exhibit greater energy than this test rifle, so I wouldn't be surprised to see some hot ones making as much as 27 foot-pounds. And the test gun may speed up a bit as it breaks in. I will check it after the accuracy test to see if there's any trend in that direction.