Posts Tagged ‘lead shot’

How BBs are made

by B.B. Pelletier

This report was requested by blog reader Wulfraed in one of his comments.

For the benefit of those who shoot airsoft guns, the BB I am addressing today is the steel BB that historical BB guns shoot — not the 6mm plastic ball that Asian-made airsoft guns started using in the 1970s.

Brief history
The first BB used in an air rifle was BB-sized lead shot used by shotgunners. In the day when it was popular (the 1880s), shot was sold in bags in hardware stores and came in various numerical and letter sizes, including sizes B, BB and BBB. BB shot was supposed to be 0.180 inches in diameter and weigh more than nine grains.

At the turn of the 20th century, Daisy reduced the size of what they always called air rifle shot to a lead ball 0.175 inches in diameter. That saved them lead and also went faster because it was a lighter ball.

In the 1920s Daisy discovered that some boys in Minneapolis were using steel ball bearings that they were salvaging from a reject pile behind the American Ball Company. They checked the sizes of the balls they wanted to shoot by dropping them through the bores of their shot tubes. If they passed through, they were fired. If they stuck, well, a huge influx of stuck steel balls in shots tubes was what got Daisy’s attention in the first place.

Long story short, Daisy bought American Ball and started making their own steel air rifle shot. It was sized 0.171-0.173 inches, nominally. They had to change the size and design of their shot tubes to accommodate the new shot, and some time late in the 1920s BB began rebounding from hard targets with great force — something the soft lead balls had not done. This started the mothers of American warning against shooting your eye out.

Wulfraed’s question
So, how do they make a perfectly round sphere of steel? You can’t afford to cast steel into balls, nor can you afford to forge or swage the balls — again, because of economy.

So, how is it done? Pretty simply when you understand how it works.

Ever roll a piece of clay into a ball? You hold it between your palms and rotate each hand in the opposite direction. Has anyone not done this as a child?

So, short of being Superman, how do you roll a piece of steel into a ball? Well, it helps to have hands of steel, and that’s exactly how they do it.

The first step is to get a piece of steel that’s close to the right size, which means the same mass as the ball (BB) you wish to make. An easy way to do this is to take a spool of steel wire and cut it into precise chunks, then feed them between two hardened steel plates that have spiral grooves cut in their mating faces. Each plate is several feel across.


Each large spool of steel wire weighs about a ton (2,000 lbs.). These are fed into a precision wire cutter that slices off exact chunks the right size to make one steel BB. You can see by the amount of wire on hand that they intend making millions!

This wire-slicing process is called heading; and if it isn’t done precisely, the finished BB may be spherical, but have one or more small flat spots in its surface. This defect comes from improper heading and is very difficult to sort out during the manufacturing process.


This BB with a flat spot from a header error made it all the way through the manufacturing process. This used to be very common but is seen less often today.


BB on the left with three lead balls of different sizes. Copper-colored lead ball is plated with a thin coating of copper. Ball at right is .22-caliber size.

The plates are smooth on their surfaces, except for the spiral grooves. The chunks fall into the grooves as the two plates rotate in opposite directions — like your hands rolling a piece of clay into a ball. The spiral grooves catch the sharp edges of the cut steel pieces and roll them around as the plates turn. Once the pieces fall into a spiral, they cannot get back out, so they remain in the groove, tumbling and rolling around.

The spirals also become more shallow as they spiral in the plates, so the balls can’t stop tumbling and rolling, and they cannot back out. As the steel plates turn, the balls are forced in the same direction, which makes them smaller and rounder as they go. In the end, most of them roll into near-perfect spheres — just like the clay balls you rolled in your hands.

I would like to show you these steel plates; but this part of the BB-making process is considered proprietary, and I was not allowed to photograph it.

These balls are not yet BBs. But back to this rolling process a minute. The manufacturer feeds thousands of chunks of steel each hour into each set of plates they have working, and when the chunks are rolled into near-perfect balls, they then drop out of the plates. Some kinds of imperfect balls will also drop out, but they’ll be caught later on.

So, thousands of round balls per hour come from each set of rotating steel plates. The balls that exit each set of plates are carried by conveyor to a metal-plating machine where they receive a very thin coating of rust-inhibiting metal. As raw steel balls, they would start to rust almost immediately; but when uniformly plated with copper or zinc, the steel is sealed from the air and the BBs can last for years without oxidizing.

Once they’re plated, they’re sorted by several processes. One process rolls them down a spiral channel where the smooth BBs pick up speed and roll up on the sides of the channel from centrifugal force — much like a bobsled going downhill, while those that have some rough spots roll slower and more bumpily, staying in the center of the slide where they eventually drop through holes and are eliminated. What passes this test are finished BBs.

They may be graded by size at this point, by passing over holes of different sizes and then being sent to different places for packaging into different products. If any are too small or too large, or if they have any flashing or other imperfections, they’ll usually be caught in this last test.

Start to finish, the process takes some time, measured in hours because of queing and transit time. The actual manufacturing time is much less. Crosman runs three shifts a day and cranks out 4 million finished BBs every 24 hours.

Daisy used to make its BBs this way, or by a process that was very similar, but they have now moved the manufacture of their BBs offshore. They receive 55-gallon drums of finished BBs from their foreign manufacturer, which they then sort before packaging. Their BBs are extremely uniform, so the process works regardless of where the BBs are made.

A tale of two Daisy 25 BB guns

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Rick Ruth is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd Air gift card! Congratulations!

Rick’s shooting his Crosman Quest spring-piston breakbarrel rifle. Since this photo was taken, Rick says he’s replaced it with an RWS 34 springer and says it’s a much better gun.

Today, Vince takes us through a test between a vintage Daisy No. 25 pump-action BB gun and its modern equivalent. In his usual distinctive way, Vince shows us how much has changed through the years, as well as what’s remained the same.

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

Now, take it away, Vince!

The Daisy 25 pump BB gun, despite the endeavors of the popular-but-technically-flawed movie, A Christmas Story, remains in many ways the iconic Daisy. In my mind, it’s forever thus enshrined. I can still remember one sitting in my uncle’s basement gun cabinet — and that somehow, in comparison, my cousin’s Red Ryder and my own Daisy model 1894 looked distinctly toy-ish. Maybe it was the wooden pump handle and way the really long cocking arm blended into the front of the triggerguard. Perhaps it was the duck hunting scene pictured on the action. WOW — you could hunt DUCKS with that thing!

I never got to try out that particular gun, and it wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I finally got my hands on a used No. 25 from Gunbroker — which was promptly returned to the seller. “Good working order” is not an accurate description when the shot tube is missing.

The NEXT one I got was a plastic-stocked gun from the mid-50s, I think, and I FINALLY got to shoot one. It was all over the place. And I mean ALL OVER THE PLACE. Accuracy was poor, even by BB gun standards. Off it went to its next appreciative owner.

A short time later, I was meandering through a local sporting goods store and saw — GASP! — a brand new No. 25 on the shelf. The price was under $40, so I bit.

I got it home, and even though the gun followed the design of the No. 25 rather faithfully, somehow it didn’t quite seem right. Don’t know if was the Chinese paint, the Chinese metalwork, the Chinese wood or the Chinese plastic trigger with safety or just the fact that it said “MADE IN CHINA” on the gun. But it didn’t seem to be a real No. 25; and, even though it didn’t shoot badly, it never seemed much different than a contemporary Red Ryder.

So this latest version of the venerable No. 25 went quickly back to sitting on a shelf. A while later, however, ANOTHER No. 25 came into my hands. This one was a very early one, this — an Alpha to compliment the Omega I already had. Well, not QUITE the Alpha, but darned close – manufacturing details seem to place this gun between 1916 and 1924.

Gee. Now I’ve got a pair of No. 25 BB guns at the extreme ends of the manufacturing spectrum, their births being separated by something like 90 years and 12,000 miles. It sure sounds like a comparison test has been decreed by the Fates, and far be it from me to oppose those irresistible cosmic forces.


Two Daisy No. 25 BB guns. The new one in front looks longer because of the camera’s perspective. They’re the same length.

What is it with the Chinese and that orange-colored wood? They’re virtually identical in length at 37 inches. Oddly enough, the newer one is heaviest at 3.50 lbs., with the old one coming in 7 oz. lighter. That extra length in the cocking arm has something to do with it. The old one is blued, while the newer one is painted.

Given their disparity in origin there are going to be some detail differences. A couple show up in the top rear view of the actions.


Top view of both actions shows the differences in the sights and their placement. The newer gun (bottom) also has a backstrap that the vintage gun lacks.

The old one has a ramp-adjutable rear sight that sits a bit further away from the shooter’s eye, which makes it easier to focus. The new one is screw-adjustable, and it flips to present either a notch or a peep sight to the shooter. Another obvious addition is the additional strap extanding from the rear of the action to the top of the stock’s pistol grip. I imagine Daisy had some cracking issues to handle. [Editor's note: This strap was added to the 1930 version of the gun that was just prior to the engraved 1936 version. Once added, Daisy never removed the strap again, despite there being 20 years before plastic stocks replaced wooden ones.]


The pump handle on top is on the original short-throw pump linkage that’s held to the barrel by a steel clamp. The linkage on the new model is anchored by a spot-weld.

Speaking of handles
The handle on the newer gun is further forward. This was done when they lengthened the cocking arm (in the 1920s, I believe) to reduce cocking effort. On our examples, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference. Other detail differences include the mounting of the front pump handle guide and the shape of the fixed front sight.

Although I’m not planning to do a teardown as part of this writeup, I can show you the shot tubes, since they’re regularly removed anyway. The shot tubes are the true barrels of the No. 25. They screw into the outer sheetmetal housing that most people refer to as the barrel.


The shot tubes look somewhat different, but actually can be interchanged.

They load the same and work the same, but obviously are made a bit differently and certainly don’t look interchangeable — there’s a cast metal breech base on the newer one.

Finally, we can see what the plain actions looked like before Daisy started decorating them. Details in the triggerguard and trigger construction are pretty obvious, especially the addition of that ungainly safety on the newer one.


The right side of the two actions shows an interesting comparison. The newer trigger (bottom) is certainly the feature that stands out the most.

Let’s start shooting
OK, tour’s over. If I’m gonna shoot these things, I need to shoot something through them — and they do have different appetites. The old one is strictly for lead shot only. If I load it, steel shot will probably come out the other end — but the feed and holding mechanism relies on the softness of the lead, and using steel shot will likely booger things up. Specifically, this rifle was made for the old .175″ air rifle shot that Daisy used to market.

Key phrase being “used to.” Daisy doesn’t make it anymore, and it was suggested to me that the closest thing we have today seems to be Beeman Perfect Rounds, which just happen to measure .0.175″ across. Picking food for the modern one is easy — it’s a Daisy, so it gets Daisy zinc-plated BBs. Tom has found them to be the better ones these days, and I’m generally finding the same thing myself.

I’m using the normal 15 foot BB-gun distance, and firing three groups of 5 shots each:


Two sets of groups — the vintage 25 on the left and the new gun on the right. Vintage gun groups measure 1.41 inches, 1.41 inches and 1 inch. New gun groups measure 0.70 inches, 1.28 inches and 1.38 inches.

Not too much difference, really, other than the lead BB’s are easier to score. In fact, it’s the newer gun that averages slightly better. That’s a bit of a surprise, as the older gun certainly shows a nicer sight picture to my eye because the rear leaf is further away — and I really think that the Beeman Perfect Rounds are more uniform than Daisy BBs. For these reasons, I would have expected more consistent grouping from grandpa.

One nice thing about the newer Daisy is the way the rear sight flips from a leaf to a peep. Will that tighten the groups?


Shooting the new gun with the peep sight instead of the rear notch didn’t improve the groups. They measure 1.05 inches, 1.60 inches and 1.45 inches.

The peep sight doesn’t really make things better. In fact, they’re slightly worse than the groups shot with the rear notch sight. The notch is the best to use for me.

Now, let’s skip back to those lead BBs in the older gun. As I said, I was expecting them to be more accurate. Heck, they sure oughta be, given their price. And how much more expensive are they? I have no idea, because they seem to be discontinued. They ARE available direct from H&N, however — but they’re $16 per 500. Crazy indeed, because you can still buy .22LR ammo for that price. [Editor's note: Gamo .177-caliber round lead balls are still available for a lot less than the H&N balls.]

This leaves me with one more thing I gotta try. Let’s say you have a vintage 25 just like I have, and you want to shoot it with some sort of frequency. Or you let your grandson try it, who then lets the can of round lead balls slip out of his hand and empties your 3-cents-a-shot ammo into the grass. There’s no doubt about it — if you’re gonna use a BB gun the way BB guns were intended to be used, you’re gonna go broke unless you have stock in the lead forming industry. So, why not just use steel BB’s?

As Tom explained it, the old shot tubes have a “pinch” in the tube near the breech that would keep the shot from rolling out when the muzzle is pointed down. If we switched to steel ammo, it would probably work for a while, but eventually we’d run the risk of that pinch being worn down. Do we REALLY want to risk an irreplaceable part on an antique BB gun, just so we can temporarily save a few bucks on BBs?

But there’s another solution, because neither Daisy nor the Chinese really have a vested interest in altering things just for the heck of it. Obviously, the shot tube assemblies from each gun LOOKS different, and some construction details have changed. But what happens when you actually try to screw the tube from the newest gun into the old one?


It may look odd, but using the new shot tube on the vintage No. 25 allows you to use cheap steel BBs.

You get what’s called “a perfect fit.” Yup…100 years apart in design, and not even the 7/16″ National Coarse thread at the bottom of the tube has changed. Time to see how this works.


Three groups with the vintage gun using the new shot tube and steel BBs. Groups are sized 1.55 inches, 0.90 inches and 1.20 inches.

As you can see, it’s slightly worse than the newer gun with this same tube, but so close as to be virtually identical. And it’s still slightly better than the original tube with Beeman ammo. Best of all, the gun fed and fired flawlessly.

I did a chrony comparison of these guns and found that that the early model seems to have lost some of its zing. Shooting it with the lead balls gave me the following numbers:

Shot..Vel.
…1….219
…2….216
…3….219
…4….216
…5….212
…6….214
…7….212
…8….210
…9….206
…10..200

The new one (shooting much lighter steel BBs) is better, but still under the advertised velocity of 350 fps:

Shot..Vel.
…1….319
…2….301
…3….319
…4….315
…5….318
…6….311
…7….310
…8….314
…9….320
…10..317

So, exageration is hardly unique to air rifle manufacturers! Lastly I tried the old gun with the new shot tube:

Shot Vel.
…1….304
…2….301
…3….302
…4….294
…5….304
…6….302
…7….297
…8….299
…9….299
…10..294

In both strings with the old gun, we see a very definite downward curve in velocity the more it’s shot. Not sure why that is; and given the gun’s age, I’m not entirely surprised. Could be the seal or the spring — but it matters little, as it won’t be seeing too much use.

So, there you have it. The old gun, firing precision ammunition a gazillion times more expensive than cheap BBs is no more accurate than a new one. The old gun, with an old spring and an old seal, might not have the power of the new one. The old gun can be updated with new parts to shoot cheap BBs, but it won’t shoot much different from a new one when you do that.

From all this, you can draw your own conclusions. It’d be easy to say “Wow! Home run for Daisy!” and pat them on the back for bringing this model back to life. And, from a cursory glance at the innards, it’s obvious that this really IS a genuine Model 25, with an internal design substantially unchanged in almost a century. If shootin’ fun is what you’re after, this one gives away nothing to the vintage model.

But is there more to it than that? For me, I can say that it’s pretty obvious that the new gun has certainly succumbed to some serious homogenization. Compared to, say, a contemporary Red Ryder, there’s just no personality to differentiate it…not even a cosmetic one, really. The metalwork, the cheesy wood finish (cheddar, specifically) and price are all in the same ballpark. Couldn’t they stain the wood a nice, dark brown? Or up the power a bit? Or SOMETHING? I know there has to be a lot of commonality among products like this, but come on — whatever happened to the virtues of “diversity”?

But this is getting a bit off-topic. The new Model 25 is a decent BB gun, and functionally gives away nothing to the old one. If you can get past the compromises that seem to be imposed by the current manufacturing climate, there’s no reason not to enjoy it.

[Editor's note: One thing strikes me about the velocities Vince got. The vintage Daisy No. 25 seems to be performing like it's lacking oil. Or at least that's how an old gun behaves when it needs to be oiled. No doubt, it's a bit tired after all those years, but Vince: Did you oil the gun before testing?]

Projectile weight

by B.B. Pelletier

Update on Tom/B.B.: Tom’s condition continues to improve, and some milestones the doctors have set have been reached and even surpassed. Since Saturday, he’s been all smiles and has perked up quite a bit because his best friend, Mac, has arrived for a week’s stay. He’ll be testing guns and providing velocity and accuracy data, which B.B. will use to write blogs over the next few weeks. Since Mac is a heck of a great shot, we should be seeing some really good targets and groups.

Today’s blog is based on the various comments to the previous blogs about Pellet variation and Mass production.

AlanL has previously commented that light pellets might be more efficient and was wondering about things like drag. He specifically mentioned using aluminum for pellets. I thought I would take today and do a short report on some projectile weight changes that have been made and had major impacts over the years.


Daisy’s BBs didn’t always look like this, they weren’t always this size and they weren’t always made of steel.

The first caliber BB gun was actually shotgun shot-size BB. That’s supposed to be a round lead ball 0.180 inches in diameter. Early BB guns shot this because the shot was readily available, and owners didn’t have to make any special provisions to get it. Every hardware store carried shotgun shot.

When the 20th century dawned, the Daisy company decided to lighten their lead shot, so they down-sized it to 0.175 inches. This reduced the amount of lead that went into each projectile. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but the savings are great when you’re selling millions and billions of shot. The benefits were that the new shot flew faster in given guns. Of course, being smaller, it didn’t work in the older guns; so different size shot tubes for Daisy’s private-branded Air Rifle Shot had to be fabricated for new guns.

Fast-forwarding to the 1920s, Daisy began to get returns of their BB guns with shot stuck in the tubes. When they looked at the problem, most of these were coming from the Minneapolis area. They went there and discovered that kids were going to the scrap piles behind the American Ball Company and picking out round steel balls that would fit in their BB guns. They gauged the shot by dropping it down the muzzle to see if it stuck in the shot tube. This new type of shot worked well, but it wasn’t suited for the shot tube, which was designed for lead. Daisy saw another savings opportunity, though, and they contracted with American Ball to produce Bullseye Air Rifle Shot. We’re now into the 1930s, and Daisy guns are shooting what we see today — traditional steel BBs. They went even faster than the older lead shot, but they didn’t shoot quite as true. The shot size was now nominally 0.173 inches. Daisy was able to reduce the power of the springs in their guns, making them easier to cock and producing an overall better product.

World War II
WWII caused shortages of materials that halted production of BB guns for the duration. When the war was over, critical supplies — such as steel plate — were still in shortage and hard to come by. So, the BB gun industry took several years to ramp up into production. Since steel was such a critical item, Daisy experimented with aluminum shot. This is where today’s story plays out, AlanL. Aluminum shot was very, very fast and had absolutely no accuracy whatsoever. Daisy had discovered the threshold beyond which you cannot lighten the projectile. So, they went back to steel, and we’ve been there ever since.

Airsoft
For more proof that lightweight projectiles are less accurate, you only need to look at the world of airsoft. An airsoft BB of 0.12 grams is often selected for smaller, less expensive airsoft guns because it flies very fast. But, when put in a potentially more accurate gun, they cannot be controlled and usually fly erratically. Airsoft snipers have learned this and understand the importance of balancing the weight of the ammo with the gun.

Pellet weights
You’ll notice that there are some optimum pellet weights. If you look at what’s available for sale, you’ll find that many of the pellets are clustered within a central weight range. When you go too heavy, they become clumsy and inaccurate. When you go too light, they become erratic and inaccurate. For long-range shooting, you want a heavier projectile and a more powerful powerplant that’s suited to that projectile weight.

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