Posts Tagged ‘airgun design’
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Today, I just have to address all the discussions in the comments we’ve been having regarding the cost of production (of airguns) and why some companies can or cannot build certain guns. Let me begin with the Benjamin Discovery, whose story is a wonderful lesson of what’s possible.
History of the Benjamin Discovery
In 2006, Crosman held a conference with all the airgun writers. The four of us (Stop laughing! I’m telling the truth, here!) were flown to upstate New York and initially presented with Crosman’s corporate goals and objectives. We were then shown things that were soon to be launched. Finally, they asked us to tell them what we thought airgunners wanted. We sat in what they call their War Room (a boardroom with many of their products on the walls) and told them things we thought they should make — or at least consider making.
As we were telling them our thoughts, an idea began forming in my brain. Crosman could build a PCP! And the way I imagined it, they could build it cheap enough that it could retail for for under $200 at that time. But I knew my idea wasn’t fully developed yet, and also that it was an order of magnitude greater than the ideas we were discussing in the room.
I kept quiet about this idea in the meeting, but later I privately asked the advice of one of Crosman’s trusted contractors — a person I had known for many years and whose honesty I trusted. I told him that I had a world-beater idea and asked whether Crosman was an honorable company, or would they take my idea and shut me out of all that followed? He told me they were very honorable, but they were also businessmen — so I should at least have a non-disclosure agreement in place before any talking started. I later learned that it is Crosman policy to always have such an agreement in place before they talk to anyone — as it is with all honest companies.
Months passed as I started initial discussions with the company. Finally, when the non-disclosure agreement was in place and they thought I might be on to something, they brought me back to make my full presentation. I won’t bore you with the Powerpoint presentation, but that’s exactly how I did it. My idea broke down to the following points:
1. A PCP gun to sell for under $200 could be made from one of their existing CO2 guns.
2. It should be sold with a hand pump, a tin of pellets and full instructions.
3. The price of the set should be under $300.
4. MOST IMPORTANTLY: It should operate on 1,800 psi air pressure.
Now, I have to give the credit for the low air pressure operation to Tim McMurray and Larry Durham because they’re the ones who made it work in the USFT. I knew it would work because I owned a USFT rifle that was working on 1,600 psi and getting 950 f.p.s. with .177 Beeman Kodiaks.
I knew that older airgunners would resist the need to fill the rifle from a hand pump, so the lower operating air pressure was key to its success. Pumping to 1,800 psi is easy. When you pass 2,300 psi, it starts getting difficult.
Crosman listened to the presentation, and I think they were surprised by how passionate I was about the packaging of the gun, the low air pressure and some other things that didn’t deal directly with the actual gun. I guess they thought I would come in and try to tell them how to build an airgun, but I knew they already knew how to do that very well. What I was telling them was how it had to work, and how it had to be presented to the marketplace. I don’t guess too many people from off the street come to them that way.
CEO Ken D’Arcy then leveled with me. He told me they had tried to get into PCP guns years before. He was surprised when I then told him why that venture hadn’t worked. It was before he came to Crosman, but not before I started writing about airguns. They tried marketing British-made Logun rifles, and it backfired. Buyers knew where the guns were made; and instead of buying them from Crosman, they were buying them directly from the UK to save money. But more than that — and this is the real reason it failed — Crosman knew NOTHING about PCP guns, and everyone knew it. So, when support (parts, maintenance, operating information) was needed, how good would it be? That was the real problem that killed the Crosman/Logun deal.
By making a PCP right there in their New York plant, they would be forced to get their hands dirty and learn all the intricacies of precharged pneumatics…and that would make them a better company in turn. That fact, plus my complete marketing plan, was why this project would succeed where the other one had failed — or at least that’s what I believed.
They brought me back a couple weeks later, and I was prepared to demonstrate my idea to them. I’d made a pigtail air hose adapter with a built-in regulator that dropped 3,000 psi pressure from a scuba tank to 800 psi. It was set up to connect with their AT392T pellet rifle reservoir and turn it into a PCP right on the spot. The AS392T used 88-gram AirSource tanks, which my adapter mimicked. But Crosman had gone me one better. Ed Schultz, their production manager and also a real airgun enthusiast, had prototyped two 2260 rifles with stronger air reservoirs and special valves to run on 2,000 psi air. He built them both (one in .177 and the other in .22) in about one week and had astounded himself and the entire Crosman management team by producing decent shot strings and great velocities! The .177 got close to 1,000 f.p.s. with lead pellets, and the .22 was just under 800 f.p.s.
This is all that remains of my demonstration hose and regulator for the Benjamin AS392T rifle. I sold the regulator, yoke and AirSource adapter at an airgun show years ago. The black end attaches to an AirSource port.
Before I could unpack my kludgy air hose, Ed burst into the room with one of his prototypes and several spreadsheets showing the performance he was getting. Everyone there — Ken D’Arcy, Bob Hampton (Crosman’s marketing VP at the time) and Ed Schultz — knew they were going to build this gun before I arrived.
The second meeting evolved into this: Should we really build this basic gun, or should we add a better trigger, shrouded barrel and better barrel?
I argued that they should build the basic rifle first. I wanted to call it the Benjamin 8020, because it represented 80 percent of the features of a European PCP for 20 percent of the money. I also wanted to put my name on the gun; because if they were going to really build it the way we were talking, I knew it was going to be a success.
I was pleased that Ed had selected the 2260 as the prototype instead of the AS392T that I’d recommended. It was far easier to modify, plus it was a cheaper base gun and had everything I wanted in this project.
I told them if they would just stick to the basic gun, it would get their production capability spun up and still be simple enough that it wouldn’t give them any insurmountable manufacturing problems. Then, Ken D’Arcy asked me the million-dollar question. Did I seriously believe that if they built this gun the way we were now envisioning it, could they sell 1,000 units in the first year?
When he asked me that, things got very serious because I was putting my reputation on the line. So, I gave him an answer couched with stipulations. IF they built it this way, and IF they packaged it the way I’d specified, and IF they marketed it the way we’d discussed and IF they held the retail price point to not more than such-and-such, then I said I thought they could sell TWO thousand rifles in the first year.
This all happened in February. They worked on the gun all that year. I worked with them testing prototypes, drafting the owner’s manual and on the website animations that showed how to fill the gun. I had wanted to make a short DVD of a teenaged girl filling the rifle with the hand pump, so we could silence all those old guys who say pumping airguns is for the birds and too hard, but we settled for an animation.
The rifle was launched at the next year’s SHOT Show, and it really did surprise the marketplace. Naturally, Cabela’s and Wal-Mart didn’t understand it — but hard-core airgunners did, and they gave it a try. They started talking among themselves, and the rest is history. I have no way of knowing the exact number of rifles that sold in the first year, but it was more than my prediction of 2,000 guns.
The object here is that Crosman was in the right frame of mind to enter the PCP market when I took my idea to them. My idea wasn’t for a gun — it was for a package and a presentation that I knew the U.S. airgun market was ready to receive. In our discussions, I told them that if they did this project the way we discussed, and if they followed it with their upgraded gun a year later (the rifle that became the Benjamin Marauder), they would own the PCP market within 5 years. Ken D’Arcy and Bob Hampton both left Crosman in the years that followed; but before they left, they agreed that this project was a complete success.
What made it a success was the commitment that Crosman gave to the project. Had they faltered or had they had a steering committee overseeing the project, making useless contributions that derailed the effort, it could have gone the other way just as easily. Had the marketing department decided at some point that the Discovery was a cash cow and they needed $25 more profit from it, they could have destroyed all that we’d worked to build. But they didn’t. They stayed the course, and today they’re in the catbird seat as one of the power players in the precharged pneumatic airgun world.
As crazy as this is going to sound, we also discussed turning the Crosman Challenger 10-meter rifle from a CO2 gun to a PCP at the same time we were talking about the Discovery project. Ed Schultz even confided in me that they were going to be interested in big bores at some point, so when Lloyd Sikes showed me his radical new valve….Well, that’s another story.
People are the biggest impediment to success in any industry — or anywhere else, for that matter. You can have a wonderful, successful and powerful company; but if their marketing manager has other interests and if he’s the one traveling to China to make the selections and talk to the factory, you’re only going to get products that are as good as he asks for. If he doesn’t know the market, you’re going to get garbage because he can’t tell the difference. Would you go to a 5-star restaurant and let a 4-year-old order for you? NO! Mommy or daddy need to reel in the child and take control. In fact, 4-year-olds probably don’t belong in 5-star restaurants. And by the same reasoning, people who’ve just graduated from business school don’t belong on management steering committees that select the key features for a new airgun.
Another problem — and a solution
Managers who don’t know their market are another huge problem. That marketing manager who goes to China and brings back the wrong airguns is acting in good faith. He may not be an airgunner or even a shooter (though he certainly should be!), but he makes his selections based on what he sees in the marketplace.
Speed sells and everyone knows it. I’ll not deny that it really does sell. But — and this is key to understanding how this all works — WHO does it sell to? Does it sell to the 24-year-old kid with his ball cap on backwards and his baggy drawers hanging too low? Because if that’s who you’re watching — he’s not your main customer. His shallow pockets have holes in the bottoms and he has the attention span of a fruit fly. If you’re going to sell to him, everything has to be below a certain price point and has to be named something exotic — something like Extreme, or some jumble of numbers and letters. XZ7 or Zombie Revenge are a couple good model names for this guy.
On the other hand, the people who regularly spend hundreds of dollars a year on their hobby are the ones you want to please. They are the ones who will keep buying from you when the rest of the market goes slack. But what if you already have a pretty good handle on those people? Where do you get more people just like them? I’ll tell you.
When I started writing about airguns in 1994, there weren’t over 10,000 serious airgunners in the United States. When I started Airgun Illustrated magazine in 2003, we estimated there were 15,000 to 45,000 serious airgunners.
Today, I would estimate there are no less than 50,000 and probably closer to 100,000 serious airgunnners in this country. And I’m not including the youth shooters on teams in this number, because they don’t buy airguns, for the most part.
However, there were over 5 MILLION serious firearms shooters back in 1994 — and today I would not be surprised if that number was three times as much! NRA membership surpassed 4 million recently and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it top 5 million very soon.
So, I’ll ask again: Where can you get new airgun customers who like to shoot and are willing to spend money to do it?
Now, what do you think might attract a firearm shooter to buy an airgun? And I’m not taking about a Daisy Red Ryder for the grandkids. Please don’t try to answer this with a single answer because that’s what all those failed marketing managers are doing.
The reasons people want to shoot airguns today, or should want to, are numerous and complex. A 21-year-old woman in Oregon who wants to get her concealed carry permit has one reason for wanting an airgun (training), and a 73-year-old man in Maine who is living on a fixed income has another (economy). David “Hawke” Hunter in Lubbock wants to drop prairie dogs without endangering the nearby oilfield workers, but Sally Primrose lives in a two-bedroom condo in Pasadena and wants to shoot targets indoors without alarming her next-door neighbor, with whom she shares a common wall. NASA wants to remove woodpeckers from the sides of launch vehicles where they’re damaging the insulation (a true story), while the city of Spokane wants to eradicate pigeons under nets they throw over trees on downtown streets at 3 a.m. to keep from alarming the residents (also a true story).
Folks, the marketplace has burst wide open, and buyers with money are looking for what “They ought to make.” It’s necessary to reach out to these customers and inform them that there are airguns that can put 10 pellets into an inch at 100 yards, serve as a good training tool for a sidearm or drop a wild hog humanely.
Two things need to happen. The makers need to make the kinds of airguns shooters want to buy, and then they need to inform the shooters that such guns do exist. We need to do better on both accounts.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Maheen Na is this week’s Big Shot of the Week on Pyramyd Air’s facebook page.
Blog reader J-F suggested this blog, and other readers chimed in with their approval. Since this is a topic that I’ve been quietly studying for more than a decade, I welcomed the opportunity to talk about it today.
The thing that got me started wondering about this topic was a tuneup kit for the Beeman R1/HW 80 made by Ivan Hancock. Called the Mag 80 Laza kit, it took my R1 to almost 23 foot-pounds of muzzle energy, yet when it fired it felt like a 10 foot-pound gun. There was no recoil, no vibration — no sensation of power. It’s what I call a balanced tune because it masked the power in the ultra-smooth behavior. That rifle also had Hancock’s Venom Mach II trigger, which is highly refined and based on the Rekord, so the trigger was perfect, as well.
The Mag 80 Laza kit tune required 50 lbs. of cocking effort, plus the rifle is very large and heavy. From those perspectives, it was not ideal. But in all other respects, it was a dream to shoot. That started me wondering what makes a great spring-piston air rifle.
I’ve noticed that power does affect the performance of a spring gun, but it isn’t a linear relationship. There are plenty of weak Chinese springers that will testify to that fact! What I’ve noticed is that the likelihood of good performance diminishes rapidly as power increases. To put it simply, it’s much easier to make a 6 foot-pound spring gun that performs well than it is to make one that produces 20 foot-pounds. But that’s NOT a guarantee that 6 foot-pound guns are all good or that 20 foot-pound guns are all bad. My Whiscombe generates very close to 30 foot-pounds in .25 caliber and is still very smooth.
Vibration is one killer of great performance. I have an HW 55SF, a target rifle made without the barrel lock common to most HW 55s. It’s really just an HW 50 with HW 55 markings, but it’s a recognized model. And as soft as it shoots, it buzzes. That is very disturbing — to have a super-accurate, easy-cocking target rifle that feels like a bottle of mad wasps when it fires.
And, yet, the aforementioned Beeman R1 with the Mag 80 Laza kit and triple the power was super-smooth. Go figure!
The point I’m trying to make is that vibration ruins a shooter’s impression of the gun — no matter how accurate it may be. And, as the power increases, so does the likelihood of vibration because the parts are all under greater stress. While low power is not a guarantee of good performance, a lot of power does make smoothness that much harder to achieve.
But power has another bad aspect: Recoil! I have an HW 55 CM that does not vibrate, but it has a jarring thump when it fires. Maybe that IS a kind of vibration, but it’s felt in the face as a slap delivered through the cheekpiece of the stock. My Beeman R1 with the Mag 80 Laza kit did not recoil as much as this puny little HW 55. Once again — go figure!
Mac has entrusted me to tune his HW 55 Tyrolean that he says is near coil-bound. I can do that by simply shortening the mainspring, but guess what? The cupped cheekpiece on the Tyrolean stock will knock his teeth out! He doesn’t know that because he owns several other Tyrolean spring rifles that all shoot very nice, but what he hasn’t considered is that all of them have the sledge anti-recoil system installed in the stock. That isolates the shooter from the recoil that would slap him in the face with every shot.
Lastly, I have a Beeman R8 that’s been tuned to just more than the power of an HW 55. That rifle has a Tyrolean stock, as well, but all the right things were done to eliminate vibration and recoil, and it’s a sheer dream to shoot.
My Beeman R8 has a Tyrolean stock, but the powerplant is tuned so well that you don’t notice any vibration or recoil.
When we consider power in a spring rifle, we need to understand what it does to the shooting behavior. Yes, there are powerful spring rifles that do shoot smoothly, but they didn’t happen as a happy accident during manufacture! They had to be engineered very carefully from the start to eliminate excess vibration and recoil.
I could have lumped cocking effort with power because it does relate, but I wanted to address it separately — as a way of comparing how the right cocking effort contributes to your enjoyment of a spring gun. I guess the poster child for good cocking effort has to be the Diana 27. It cocks so easily that you want to shoot the rifle all day long. Then, when you do shoot it — if it’s has been tuned properly, which is nothing more than a good lubrication for a model 27 — it neither vibrates nor recoils. That will put a smile on your face every time! Add in a properly adjusted trigger, and the Diana model 27 may well be the most pleasant spring rifle in the world. But others are nice, too.
The FWB 124 cocks very easily for the power. Its firing behavior is both buzzy and has some recoil, but that can be tuned out. A properly tuned and adjusted FWB 124 is a dream to shoot.
The Air Venturi Bronco is another winner. I selected the action after shooting the original Bronco (RM-10 made by Mendoza), which was a youth-sized rifle with a horrible Euro-modern stock. The cocking effort was/is light, the trigger is light and positive, and the vibration is at a minimum. There’s a little recoil, but I’m guessing there doesn’t need to be. The Bronco is very close to an ideal spring rifle.
Blog reader Duskwight is building a dual-opposed piston spring rifle that’s based on the Whiscombe rifle, in concept. The design is entirely his own, but he wondered if gas springs might make a significant difference. I can tell him they will because gas springs do eliminate a lot of the spurious vibration that goes with the spring-piston powerplant. As smooth as my Whiscombe is, it still vibrates a little when fired. I’m betting the “Duskcombe” is going to be entirely neutral when it fires.
So, a gas spring is good for canceling vibration. Does that mean it’s also the best solution for a spring-piston rifle? Yes and no because a gas spring changes the cocking effort no matter how hard or easy it is to cock. A metal spring increases in effort as the spring compresses. It’s easy in the beginning when the mechanical advantage is low and harder toward the end when the mechanical advantage is high. But a gas spring has the same resistance throughout the entire cocking stroke. Even a light gas spring starts out hard at first. Therefore, I don’t think that a gas spring should be used on the ideal air rifle…unless a superior cocking linkage can be found to correct the gas spring’s problem.
Size and weight
I have a Walther LGV Olympia target rifle that’s a breakbarrel springer. The cocking effort is about 15 pounds, which makes it a winner. And the rifle neither vibrates nor does it recoil. It’s a target rifle, so you know it’s accurate. Even the trigger is about perfect. It’s the perfect spring gun, right? Wrong! The Walther LGV Olympia is very large. At 10.5 lbs., it’s also quite heavy. You wouldn’t want to lug it around all day no matter how much fun it is to shoot. Size does matter; and in this case, smaller and lighter wins the day for a general purpose airgun.
The Walther LGV Olympia target rifle has just about everything you want in a spring gun, but the package is too large and heavy for general use.
Once more, the Diana 27 comes to the forefront. It’s not just light at just over 6 lbs., it’s also sized right. The forearm and pistol grip are both slim enough to almost be called dainty…but not quite. The BSF 55 was small and light and had a great trigger. But it was somewhat hard to cock, where the FWB 124 with the same power was much easier to cock. But it was also heavier, so there was a tradeoff.
When all is said and done, the Diana 27 may be the best air rifle ever made.
Remember the topic
Everything in this report is resolved by the right PCP. But the title says we’re talking about spring guns, so that doesn’t count.
How hard is it to make a great springer?
To be great, in my opinion, the gun must:
– be light
– have a slender and well-shaped stock
– be easy to cock
– not have any vibration
– be relatively free from recoil
– have a great trigger
– be accurate
Getting all of that in one package is a daunting challenge. And it isn’t as straightforward as you think it should be, either. You take a “perfect” gun to a well-run airgun factory and ask them to produce it, and they’ll get it wrong every time. They will first take your perfect gun apart and analyze it. Then, they’ll try to match what they see, component by component, to their manufacturing processes. I’ll give you a couple examples.
Your gun has a trigger with contact surfaces that are polished to a mirror finish and hardened to Rockwell 66C. Company A is examining the rifle and uses a CNC mill to make their trigger parts, and they can get a good finish but not one as good as what’s on the trigger you have given them. To do that would require a $35,000 investment in new machinery and tooling. But worse than that, they would have to slow down production to get your level of finish, so each trigger they make would cost about $29 instead of the $17 it cost in the rifle you gave them.
Company B is another reputable airgun maker who looks at your rifle. They don’t like to finish steel parts by hand, preferring instead to tumble them in a graduated set of vibratory tumblers that progressively put a satin luster on the metal before bluing. They don’t employ any hand polishers, nor do they have the machinery needed for polishing the parts. They tell you what they can do, but it falls short of your expectations.
And so it goes. Company after company can make most of what you want, but not everything. This is one reason people cash in their retirement plans and start their own companies to “do it right!” Sometimes, it works and a Weatherby is born. But usually it results in a failed attempt to make something so simple that they wondered why nobody was doing it before they came along. Then they got educated — at a great cost.
I think I know how to make a single good air rifle. Making them in volume is the real trick!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
I’m on the road to Roanoke, Virginia, today, so this report was written in advance. You veteran readers please continue to help the newer readers, because I don’t see the comments until I stop for the evening. Thanks!
The American public was shocked to discover in the 1970s that an Oldsmobile car had a Pontiac (or Chevrolet) engine. There was at least one lawsuit over it, and General Motors had to rename all their corporate components with generic titles as a result. But it wasn’t the first time one product borrowed heavily from another and it was about to become the established norm.
I remember being oh, so bitter when Crosman bought the Benjamin Air Rifle Company and soon renamed the new division Benjamin Sheridan, without so much as a hyphen between the names. Benjamin had bought out Sheridan the decade before, but they kept all the models and even the manufacturing sites separate; but when Crosman bought Benjamin, everything went into a corporate blender.
In firearms, you buy either a South Gate Weatherby, a German Weatherby or one made in Japan. Never mind that the Japanese-made guns were at least the equals of and perhaps better than those made in Deutschland (and that will start an argument in most gun circles), nothing made by Miroku could possibly equal the quality of a rifle from Voere! What?
Okay, okay, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll make a big list of all the model names and match them to the real models and manufacturers. Let’s see — a Winchester 427 is a Diana 27. A Hy Score 807 is also a Diana 27 [Hey, this is easy!]. A Hy Score 801 is a Pieper — wait a minute. It could also be a Diana, depending on when it was made. Oh, well, a Blue Streak is always a Sheridan. A Super Streak is a Benjamin Sheridan. WAIT A MINUTE! This is starting to get complex.
There’s a sequence in the movie Rainman where the autistic character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman tries to actually solve the Abbott and Costello routine of “who’s on first.” It’s both humorous and sad at the same time. Well, I’m sorry to say, there are some airgunners doing the same thing with airgun models. I cite discussions we’ve had on this blog about the various pedigrees of the HW50 over the past few years and rest my case.
Why do they do it?
Let me illustrate why manufacturers reuse various parts and even whole guns, rather than being original all the time. When I took the idea for what eventually became the Benjamin Discovery to Crosman in 2006, I did so with one of their existing models in hand. It was not the 2260 that eventually did become the Discovery. My idea was based on the Benjamin AS392T. Because I was able to cobble together an external tank, hose and coupling that connected to the AS392T intake — where the 88-gram CO2 cartridge normally fit to a regulated source of high-pressure air. I did it that way because, as a hobbyist, that was the easiest way I could think of to demo my idea.
But all I had to do was present the concept of operating a PCP air rifle at 2000 psi instead of 3000 psi, and Ed Schultz cobbled together two working prototypes from 2260s — a .177 and a .22 — proving to himself and to the rest of Crosman that I wasn’t crazy. You really could run a powerful PCP on 2000 psi air and still get good performance. He built and tested those two rifles in less than a week! For him, it was easier to modify the 2260, plus it retailed for one-third the cost of the AS392T. It was both cheaper to work with as a prototype and also cheaper to modify into the final PCP we were designing.
As many existing 2260 parts as possible went into the Discovery because they were already in production. For each one that was included, there was no startup tooling cost, no engineering cost and the life cycle of that part was already well-established. That kept the development cost of the Discovery down to a reasonable level.
Was there more work to do after that to complete the Benjamin Discovery? Heck, yes, there was. A lot more. I’m going to go out on a limb and estimate they put no less than $50,000 into the development of that rifle before it was ready for market.
What hobby builders fail to take into account is that during development a company may prototype a part many times, looking not only for the ultimate in performance but also in the cost to manufacture and the life-cycle cost. A hobby builder may make a valve body out of brass, not caring that the raw material (brass bar) cost $7 before the work begins. A manufacturer contemplating making 10,000 of the same valve will spend considerable effort looking for a lower-cost alternative material. Every dollar they put into a gun adds four dollars to the retail price.
Now, let’s contrast the Discovery investment with the one that was required to turn the Benjamin Rogue from a concept into a production gun. The Rogue needed a new valve, new trigger, new receiver, new feed system — new everything. I would not be surprised to learn that Crosman poured 10 to 15 times as much into the development of the Rogue, and they’re still working on it. It was a huge risk compared to the Discovery because they had to design everything from scratch.
Why this is so hard to understand
People just cannot comprehend that manufacturing something as simple as a precharged air rifle is anything but easy. They see a talented amateur build one gun or even a half-dozen — and immediately, they think a manufacturer could do the same thing on a larger scale. It’s so simple, they think. Just do what he’s doing, only do more of it. What they don’t realize is that the amateur has spent 10 times more of his time building the one gun than anyone would be willing to actually pay. How many of you would buy a PCP that sold for $4,000? That’s what it would cost if the amateur builder were willing to charge all his time to the project. But he doesn’t, of course, and so the only cost we ever see is the $350 for supplies, materials and parts he had to buy. And we grouse about that!
Crosman has to build the same gun for $125 — materials and labor — to be able to retail it for $500, because on top of their cost to build they must add money for advertising and several different wholesale price levels for their various customers who also have to make money. So, when the hobbyist buys a Lothar Walther barrel for $90 and puts it on his one gun, that’s $90 added to his bottom line. When Crosman does the same thing, they negotiate a better price of $72 for the same barrel because they buy a 1,000 at a time, but they have to add an extra $205 to the retail price of the gun to pay for it. So, to them, a Green Mountain barrel that costs $30 and is accurate is a much better deal than a Lothar Walther barrel costing $72.
If they can use the same $50,000 worth of injection molds to make the stocks for three different rifles in their catalog instead of only one, that’s much better, too, because those molds get amortized over three line items and a lot more production. If half of their pneumatics use the same diameter seamless tubing for their air reservoirs, they can save a lot because they have to stock fewer unique materials to build guns, plus they can buy more of each type of material, thereby enabling them to negotiate a better price.
Now, I’m gonna shock many of you. According to some sources, the U.S. sent men to the moon and got them safely back over 40 years ago. They used the Saturn V booster rocket to launch the lunar payload into orbit. But we used up all those rockets, and they were expendable. We don’t have any more. To make a long story short, we don’t have a booster rocket today that can do what we were able to do 40 years ago. The scientists among our readers can correct me on this, but I believe it’s correct to say that we have lost some of the manufacturing ability to produce an essential component of the space program. That’s not to say we can’t build even better rockets today or that we have lost all the knowledge that came with the Saturn V program — just that we haven’t kept up with the technology as well as we might have. If I’m right, then there are things that can be built during one period of time and then never again replicated.
You aren’t going to like this!
When the Glock 17 pistol first came out, the media went into histrionics about “plastic guns” that could not be detected by X-ray. Shooters rebelled against them, at first. Then, as economics plus the reliable performance of the synthetic guns became established, more and more institutions and then the general public embraced the technology. Now, hold on to your seats.
There is a “thing” called a 3-D printer. Imagine a device the size of your kitchen refrigerator, only when you program it correctly it fashions parts from plastic goo. In the beginning, we stood around these things and watched them work. They spit out brittle plastic parts that were sufficient to see the shape and size of a design created in CAD software. Then, the plastic material got better and we were able to use the parts for prototypes. Now, the goo is good enough that some real usable parts can be made this way. These machines don’t work fast enough for high-rate production, yet, but they’re money-savers when you compare what you have to pay a 25-year-old CAD programmer against what a 50-year-old model maker costs.
The next step could be high-rate production and testing directly from paperless “drawings.” And, perhaps some time in my lifetime, we’ll say to a machine, “Tea, Earl Grey” and a hot cup of a potable beverage will materialize.
But, as these things come to pass, guess what? Airguns aren’t going to be made of wood and steel any longer. And the economy of sharing platforms (meaning actions, reservoirs, triggers, barrels and sights) among several different models will become more and more the norm. I guess my advice is to get used to it — or go vintage, like so many of us already have.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
In almost every field of mature consumer technology, there’s a sense that the science and achievement have gone as far as they possibly can. The days of innovation are over and, from this time forth, all new models will be repaints and reskins of what’s gone before. So it is with airguns.
So the question must be asked, “Is this all there is for airguns?”
Today, I’m going to try to hopefully restore your faith that airgun technology still has new frontiers to be explored. There are still new things yet to come; we haven’t opened the last of our presents, yet. In fact, in my opinion, there’s more that lies ahead of us than all that’s happened so far.
I periodically give new ideas to several companies just to gauge how quick they are to grasp the possibilities. Often, they give lip-service to ideas that sound like they want to advance the technology; but in over 95 percent of the cases, my ideas remain unexplored. In the few cases that do get developed, over half veer sharply off-course during development and end up as hopeless failures. In terms of what’s possible, I think there are a thousand acres of fertile land lying before us and, at present, we only have a hoe — or at best a rototiller — to work the soil.
Some folks may think we’ve gone as far as we can go with springers because we’ve hit the maximum velocity barrier. They think that nothing is left for airgun companies, short of reskinning existing models and coming up with new buzzword names and bizzare camo paint patterns for the stocks! But they’re missing the boat. No one yet has built a spring rifle that is easy to cock, yet produces over 20 foot-pounds. I’m talking about a rifle that cocks with 20 lbs. of force, and delivers a medium-weight .22-caliber pellet out the spout at 850 f.p.s.
Can it be done? Of course! I’ve even given the concept of how to do it to one company, where it’s currently lying on the floor, getting trampled by engineers who are busy designing great new ways to encapsulate 30 foot-pounds into ever less-expensive envelopes.
How about a spring gun that can put 10 pellets into a dime at 30 yards? We know that’s possible because there are several such rifles already in existence. The FWB 124 is one, and the TX200 is another. But the bulk of the new models coming out today are hard-pressed to keep 10 shots inside an inch-and-a-half at that distance. We’ve explored the very way to make a rifle shoot that well here in this blog, yet we keep getting new spring guns that are designed as exercise machines, rather than for shooting. If you want to know how to make a spring gun more accurate, refer to this blog report.
Surely, we’ve seen the ultimate in PCP possibilities? The answer is “Yes,” if by ultimate we mean finding out how much the market is willing to bear in terms of cost. But there are places the PCP technology has yet to go. How inexpensive can a gun of reasonable quality be? Can we make a PCP that can sell for $150 and still return a reasonable profit? I think it’s possible. Maybe not under the existing manufacturing paradigm; but if a new process of building was created at the same time as the design, then, yes, I think it could be done.
But, the marketeers all shrink from such thoughts. Where’s the profit in a low-cost air rifle? A century ago, a man asked the same thing about automobiles. He took the average price for an entry-level car from over $800 to under $400 inside of 15 years. In the process, he created the world’s first vertically integrated manufacturing plant and also put humanity on wheels. I’m speaking of Ford, of course. I understand he was able to make a few dollars along the way.
Leapers will bring out a scope with an internal bubble level in a few months. That’s an idea that’s been bubbling along for years, pun intended. Such scopes were hand-made in the 1990s and Sun Optics makes them today, but their models don’t achieve their rated magnifying levels. Leapers has worked on this idea for several years, and they’re close to bringing a quality optic to market. The bubble level will end the problem of canting, which is extremely important to accuracy for airgunners.
Are we finished with optics? Never! There are still so many things to be done. Where is that great air pistol scope, for example? And where’s that scope base that makes mounting a scope easy? Benjamin uses Weaver bases on many of their springers, which is a step in the right direction. We need more of that.
When Leapers made the drooper mount bases for Diana rifles, they solved a decades-long problem for airgunners. However, they did even more than that. They focused Diana’s attention on the problem and the need to end the drooping barrel problem. If airgun barrels didn’t droop, drooper mounts wouldn’t be required. The Diana 350 Magnum proves that it’s possible to make breakbarrels that don’t droop.
What about a simple, foolproof scope-mounting system? Where’s that? When the market supports people paying money to have their scopes mounted by someone else, you know there’s room for improvement.
There’s plenty of room in the world of open sights for improvement. For starters, how about a muzzlebrake that incorporates a front sight post, or even a selection of front sight elements that can be folded out of sight and stored when you want to mount a scope? Wouldn’t that be welcomed by a lot of shooters?
While the technology has advanced in so many areas, the one place it has actually gone in retrograde is the trigger. There were better triggers in the 1880s than exist today. We still rely on the simple sear with a small contact area, when there’s a universe of mechanical possibilities yet to be explored. An over-center geometry that collapses when pushed past center is just one way to build a reliable adjustable trigger. And people make so much of triggers that I’m certain there would be a small but profitable market for a single-set or double-set trigger as an upgrade on certain premium airguns.
Chiappa figured out that if the barrel of their Rhino revolver was lower, the perceived muzzle jump would be less. We need air pistols that do the same.
Hunting is growing fast these days, and everyone who goes afield knows the value of a sling. There’s certainly a market for a easy-to-use sling swivel attachment that could be conveniently installed on an air rifle. Mossberg had them in the 1940s, but nobody ever looks to the past to find the things we need now.
Things to avoid
While thinking of the things we need, there are some things that must be avoided….
More power in spring guns
The horsepower race among smallbore spring-piston airguns has painted several companies into the corner. They can’t find enough adjectives to describe their next new magnum gun. What they fail to realize is that the parade has already passed by the power race. The max velocity possible is well-known and now shooters are looking for a gun with adequate power that can also hit what they shoot at. I’ll agree that the uneducated buyers don’t understand this yet, but the moment they get saddled with a jackhammer that takes 50 lbs. to cock and removes their fillings when it fires…they will. They’ll also leave airgunning, never to return!
Higher fill pressure
The usefulness of higher fill pressures has peaked and gone past the optimum, into the weeds of excessive pressure that offers no benefit. We thought that 3,000 psi was necessary until Tim McMurray and Crosman showed us different with the USFT and Benjamin Discovery rifles, respectively. Going higher than 3,000 psi is the marketing kiss of death, because nothing in this nation supports such pressure.
Scopes of higher magnification
I used to shoot field target, and we thought the higher-powered scopes were necessary for success. We thought that because we wanted to be able to see blades of grass at 55 yards, so we could focus on them and be able to determine range. When the magnification passed 40x, the scopes started getting darker because the optics inside couldn’t support that great power. And we were unwilling to pay the $2,000 required to buy the kind of optics that could. Instead of chasing magnification or objective lens size, what the optics companies need to do is come up with an erector tube that doesn’t float when it gets too high or right in its adjustment.
These are just a few of my thoughts. I think there has never been greater opportunity for new airguns than right now. There’s an established base of educated shooters who understand airguns well enough to accept a good new gun and make it profitable for the builder. In that respect, we’re much better off than we were a decade ago. But are the airgun makers in the same position? Only time will tell.