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Education / Training Air canes! Part 2

Air canes! Part 2

by B.B. Pelletier

There’s a lot of interest in tuning a spring-piston air rifle, so I’ll start a series on that next week. I’ll intersperse other topics so everybody has something to read. I’ll also show you how to make a few special tools that are necessary to do this work. I hope this will help everyone visualize what’s inside those spring guns!

Today, I’ll finish the air cane discussion. There wasn’t a lot of interest in this topic, but I’d wager if you ever saw a cane firing, you’d become interested!

“It’s a pity they aren’t made anymore!”
One reader said that. But air canes HAVE been made in modern times. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, Beeman sold a cane made by British maker Harper. It was .25 caliber, which probably detracted from its success. Canes of old were big bore and impressive! Gary Barnes made a .272 caliber 12-shot full-auto cane around the year 2000. It’s on page 96 of the Blue Book of Airguns and is valued at $6,000. When it fires, the entire magazine dumps in less than a second, and you can’t hear the individual shots.

They probably were used for self-defense!
This is another myth. To make a cane ready to shoot takes a lot of time. And, you’d never carry one cocked and loaded! So, self-defense is a role they are not suited for. I believe, along with most advanced collectors, that the very fact they exist at all is their main attraction. They are science experiments you can use to amaze your friends – just like the air rifle carried by Meriwether Lewis on his famous exploration in 1803/1806.

Some unusual models!
In part one, we saw a straight cane, but a more unusual model is the bent cane. Just as the name suggests, these canes have an artistic bend in their reservoirs. They are scarcer than straight canes and command more money. Some bent canes also come cased with additional fowling buttstocks that look like rifle butts. These sets are valued much higher than the bent canes by themselves.

Bent cane on top, ball flask cane below.

Above the bent canes in value come the shillelagh models. They are straight canes with spots of weld on the outside to look like Irish blackthorn branches. They are exquisitely made and can bring as much as $3,000 to $4,000 for a good one. Unfortunately, only a real cane collector knows their true worth. I’ve seen gun dealers asking as much as $9,000 for them because they think they are unique. That’s like saying a Checker Marathon is unique. It is if you’ve never seen one, I suppose.

The top o’ the line!
The finest air canes are cased and engraved in deep bas relief. They are mounted with gold fittings and have every accessory they came with, including the original instructions. Many of these guns are fire-blued as only tradesmen in the 19th century knew how to do it. They start at $20,000 and go upward.

Ball reservoir is removed to reveal the breech of the barrel (though this cane is a muzzleloader) and the firing valve inside the brass reservoir.

The Mona Lisa of air canes
There aren’t many known examples of ball-flask air canes, and a beautiful one was on display at the Little Rock airgun expo this year. It was made close to the end of the ball-flask era, which was around 1800. We know that from the design of the lock and flask. It is a shillelagh design with a difference. Instead of welded spots on a steel cane, this one has been expertly fitted into a genuine blackthorn casing that runs the full length of the cane. Carving blackthorn is equivalent to filing titanium.

A blackthorn branch was hollowed out to serve as the outer covering of the rare ball-flask air cane.

I hope my brief report has stimulated some interest in this fascinating niche within the airgunning world.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

41 thoughts on “Air canes! Part 2”

  1. B.B.,

    I wonder how much these canes cost when they where made in the 19th cetnury; a nice little toy for a nobleman.

    Aeons ago you made some posts about bulkfilling CO2 – today I have seen small dryice-pellets. Is it possible to fill tanks with solid CO2?
    Just take off the valve, put tank on a balance, fill these white beads in, screw in the valve and let it warm to room temperature.

    Has anybody ever tried somthing like that? There seems to be no drawback and I have unlimited acces to dry ice.

    Which problems have been overlooked by me? Maybe moisture, remaining air, icefissure or overpressure?


  2. Markus,

    Air canes sold for today’s equivalent of $200 and up. Mostly up.

    Dry ice guns have been made. They work as you would expect.

    Careful not to put too much into the reservoir, unless you have a burst disk in the system.


  3. Ok BB,
    at first I didnt think much of the air canes, but now I want one. Exactly how how much psi were they atchieving? If I had that much pocket change I would buy one, but they are really expesive. Its amazing that an old fasion kick butt air rifle is running in the price range as Winchester Pre 64’s.

  4. i went to ecahange the cz 631 yesterday, and you’ll never guess what happened. as i asked for another one, the clerk warned me not to buy one- they had sold a few dozen, and most of them came back! cz, shipping out a bad batch? that is disappointing, as i liked the rifle alot.
    instead, i replaced it (more or less) with a diana model 20. the internet dosent seem to have alot of information on it, and it dosent seem widely available. is it an rws gun? i have yet to perform a serious accuracy test, but it seems adequate. the rear sight is plastic. yuck. the trigger is stamped steel, not a solid chunk like the 631. and its much shorter, so the cocking effort is increased. the trigger pull is mushy, but predictable. and it was well lubed, unlike the cz. so well lubed that some was visible clinging to the sides of the bag. wow. everything but the piston. i preceded to put a tiny drop , not bigger than 1/5 of a bb, of pellgunoil into the transfer port. it stopped sqeaking. but even this seems too much. the megablok test showed the wadcutters went completely thru it! the 631 could only penetrate one side, and seriously damage the other. the reason?
    they say they are the same fps, but the diana dieseled heavily. the shot released a plume of smoke , an awful stench, and a very small burn mark on the mega blok. is this considered detonation? something else i dont like is the way the breech looked. rusty metal fragments adorned the block surrounding the bore. hopefully this isnt for all diana’s. and, the final thing that i dislike- no safety! it seems like it was intended for target shooting, in which case i can accept it, but i was becoming very fond of the automatic safty of the cz. the breech lock was nice, too. but it isnt all bad. the mainspring is much less twangy, and it feels more like a firearm when the piston completes its cycle. harsher, but personally i like it.

    i also bought the two p50s while i was there. the batteries are costly. i spent a total of $40 on the recharable types. but i suppose i shouldnt be complaining, with airsource users paying some $7 a tank. the motor is whiny, but if you fire enough rounds it is less audiable. if you ignore the aeg-ish sounds, the firing cycle is nice. it makes a content pop each time the trigger is pulled. while the slide looks nice as it jumps backwards, it dosent contribute to recoil. for recoil, the inner piston has more effect. but its not incedibly fast to fire. it can only keep up to a certain pace. any faster, and every other pull is cut off, reducing the rate of fire by half. i have two, so i dont mind. like the marui G18 ebb, it uses a banana magazine and the batteries are housed in the very bottom of the grip.
    if you grip it tightly, it will give slightly and sqeak, like the cheap cap guns you encounter in dollar stores. it is reletively well balenced, though, and heavier than most cap guns. the power is half of powerful airsoft guns, but even that is enough to make me flinch at 5 metres. that is enough power for me. while in terms of realism i don tlike the clear plastic, it means i can grab a few friends and head to the field for some airsofting without the threat of anti-gun nuts calling the police. so far, i like the p50s. the only problem, is that sometimes the gearbox malfunctions under pulling the trigger too fast. it will jam midcycle. this is easily alleviated by pushing the slide forward slightly and pulling the trigger.
    one last note, the crosman .12g bbs i bought look like good quality to me. the seam line is mostly smoothed out and the plastic protrusions are also very unnoticable. a box of 5000 was about $12.

    something else i found on my trip to the dollar store (looking for plastic targets) was a different kind of airsoft gun, designed for extreme close range shooting (1m>). it has a miniturized version fo a piston, connected directly to a feed mechanism. when you pull the trigger back, it mechanism opens, like a paintball gun. then the trigger releases the piston, driving the feed mechanism forward, and propelling the bb at horribly slow speeds. and accuracy.

    i hope that was of some use. i guess from now on i’ll label myself as “dm20”

  5. dm20,

    The RWS 20 is a Chinese copy of the Weihrauch rifle that Beeman calls the R9. Confused?

    RWS USA, who imported Diana airguns for many years, sold their distributing rights to RUAG a couple of years ago. RUAG, a Swiss firm, made some changes in the RWS airgun line, one of them being the recent addition of this rifle.

    Your rifle is known on the world market as the B20, so look under that name and you’ll find a lot of information. I have tested them and they are really pretty well made – extremely well-made compared to guns like the Chinese B3-1.

    Incidently, RUAG recently sold their U.S. distribution rights to UMAREX USA, who has moved the sales of airguns and RWS ammunition to Ft. Smith, Arkansas. They are just now up and running and I know they plan on putting a lot of emphasis into the airgun line.

    Let us know how your new rifle turns out.


  6. sav300,

    Vintage air canes operate in the 500-700 psi region. That level of pressure is easily achieved with a vintage hand pump – though not without some effort.

    A working air cane that has a modern valve face (Delrin instead of horn) and can operate on CO2 will bring $650-800 among saavy airgunners today. I sold one that worked for $650 four years ago, and I sold a non-working but more complete cane for $500. Cased canes start at around $1,200 and go up fast. I’ve seen them selling for $35,000 when they were complete and gorgeous.

    A cane that was presented to a Captain who served (and survived) in the Charge of the Light Brigade sold recently for around $5,000. It was made of Damascus twist metal and inscribed with his name, rank, the particulars of his part in the Charge and the date of presentation.

    If you want a working cane with the insert rifled barrel, be prepared to spend $1,500 and be happy if it’s less. Add a vintage pump and it will cost another $800 to 1,200, because pumps are harder to find.


  7. Don’t think for a minute that these types of posts don’t stir interest. Just not alot to say about something I mostly know nothing about. I enjoyed both, as always.

  8. I agree with Turtle, I think this is one of the more…addicting sites to go to. I think it’s because of the spread of topics, as opposed to just one area.
    Back on topic, I got to use a relativly new air cane only once, it was a kick to shoot. I came away wanting one, but I have yet to figure out where I would ever use one, let alone justify it to my wife. just one of those things, I guess…

  9. I know this is off topic for this blog. But I have a question about a new gun I just received. It’s a beeman gh 950. I paid 269 for it and it is the most unaccurate pellet gun I have ever shot. I have experiance with other spring air rifles one chinese one and another model 48 RWS so I know how to shoot one. Has anyone else ever had one else had any problems with this gun? And does anyone have any feedback on why my gun shoots 5-8 inch groups at 15-20 yards. I tried crow mags and beeman domed pellets in it allready. I checked the scope and the parralax is okay. Thanks for any advice. I’m thinking about sending the damn thing back and getting an airforce condor.

  10. Great post as usual B.B.

    I was wondering about the whole spring tuning thing your going to do. (Can’t wait by the way) I was just wondering, I have a new cf-x on the way, will the fact that it is underlever instead of break-barrel cause a problem? Keep up the good work.

  11. baldtrucker,

    There is no off-topic in this blog. I write what I like and you ask what you want. No rules – just right!

    Now to your problem. First off, stop using Beeman Crow Magnums! They are less accurate in most airguns and apparently very bad in yours. Since you didn’t mention the model of domed pellet I can’t comment on it, but if it’s a Field and Target Special, it should be a good one – but not the best.

    I suspect several things. First is the scope. Is it adjusted out near the end of its travel? Is the elevation knob up almost as far as it will go? That could easily cause the problems you’re having. The solution will be a different set of scope mounts. Let me know if this is the problem.

    Next let’s check your shooting technique. The GH950 is a Spanish breakbarrel that is very sensitive to hold. The RWS 48 you mentioned isn’t as sensitive. You have to hold the rifle rested on the flat of your open palm. Never grasp the stock. Hold it as loosely as possible so it can recoil as much as it wants to when fired. Don’t hold it tight to your shoulder and don’t grasp the pistol grip tightly. A loose hold will shrink your group size by 50 percent, at least. In your case, though, it will probably shrink by several hundred percent.

    Never rest your rifle on anything but the flat of your open hand. Resting on sandbags will enlarge the groups.

    The best pellets to try are JSB Exact domed pellets. They are accurate in nearly all air rifles.

    Give this stuff a try and let me know how it goes.


  12. mr-lama,

    I will add a few segments to the tuning series to tell people how to deal with underlevers, sidelevers and most of the common methods of disassembly. It won’t be step-by-step instructions, but if you are clever enough to do the job in the first place, you will know what to do for your rifle.


  13. The scope on my gh 950 appears to be on straight but when i look through it the crosshairs look a little to the left instead of lined up with the barrel. Could this be a problem?

  14. baldtrucker,

    The vertical line of the crosshairs should be perfectly centered with the compression tube. Was the scope sent to you already mounted? If so, you need to loosen the cap screws and rotate the scope to align the vertical retical with the center of the compression/spring tube.

    If, however, the entire reticle is off to the left, as your message indicates, the scope is broken. No modern scope can do that unless the erector tube inside is broken. Send the gun back if that is the problem.


  15. B.B.
    I was thinking of getting a quality target pistol used for informal target practice at home. I have in mind a single pump pneumatic, single shot pistol such as izh 46 or beeman P3, or the Gamo compact. My price range is under $300 for the pistol alone. What are your suggestions? Do you have another pistol to recommend other than the ones I mentioned above? Which one would you recommend based on accuracy, reliability, and one that lasts a long time without having to worry about repairs or anything, or if it does need repairs later on, one that is very easy to repair.


  16. The three guns you mentioned are all very accurate, though the IZH will shoot circles around a Beeman P3.

    I’d say read the reports on all three and choose the one you like.

    NO single stroke is very repairable. They aren’t made that way. Well cared-for, they will all three last for decades. My 46 is about 10 years old and still going strong.


  17. bb,
    i have some free time the next few weekends, and was wondering where i could go to shoot a few birds. i live in edmonton, alberta, and i have no idea where to look. i know of a chunk of land a friend of mine owns, but it is a two hour drive, and he dosent visit it often. also, after i did a search for the b20, i found most were made by xisco/BAM. the box mine came in said it was made in germany, and came with a diana tag on the trigger guard. it dosent _LOOK_ nearly as good as the xisco, like the rusty metal fragments i told you about, and the largely unfinished breech. this, and the fact there are no scope stops. yup, the xisco seems much better.
    and the trigger is still mushy. will it get better soon, from your experiences? oh, how i miss my cz.

  18. B.B., its scopestop guy, i was just wondering if the hunter 1250 is now discontinued. in a earlier comment you mentioned that the hunter extreme is identical in performance to the 1250. and since the 1250 is becoming increasingly hard to find it made me wonder if it was no longer being produced. i hope you can enlighten me thank!

  19. B.B.

    What’s the difference between the Beeman P3 and the HW 40PCA? The two guns looks exactly identical to each other, and both are made in germany. The Beeman one costs almost $50 more. Pyramidair told me you pay extra just for the Beeman name, but the two are identical. Can you clarify on this?


  20. forgot to mention, the breach seal is rock hard and nearly flush with the steel block, and the rear sight, well, its interesting. if you look at the front end of a stapler, you notice a button you can puch up, which pushes on the square, which can be rotated. my rear sight does the same thing, with 4 different sights. two are “u” shaped, one smaller and one larger for different lighting conditions, and two square shaped, once again with two different sizes. i can wait for your next springer post, but even after a luberal drop of pellgunoil, the sqeaking/buzzing/noise has only gotten louder.

  21. BB:

    What an utterly fascinating and enjoyable post on air canes! I’d never heard of or even imagined such a thing. Thanks so much for having done a two parter on them.
    Very entertaining and informative.


    • Hi Guys

      I had the chance to shoot an air cane back in the late 1970’s in the UK on the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds in the county of Suffolk the backstop was a former railway embankment and you do need a good backstop as the .38 balls went straight through a 1 inch plank of pine with no trouble at 25 yards.
      Back then there was a publication called Air gun world in the UK and a company I think from memory situated in Peterborough used to advertise in that magazine for testing seals and safety testing air canes.
      The one I shot had been tested and was charged very quickly use a co2 cylinder the cane was skrewed in half and attached to the cylinder with10 shots from 1 charge, to load the weapon after charging at the breach forward of the gas chamber was a brass slide that opened to allow a lead round ball to be placed into the chamber the next stage was to insert an alan key into a small hole to release a button that becomes the trigger.
      Making sure that the brass muzzle protector was removed it is ready to shoot.
      The handle is placed on the cheek bone just under the eye, a small v is cut in the cane handle and a very small bead at the muzzle its a very long sight line and a very accurate rifled weapon I would think the ballistics would be close to a .38 [but with no recoil] special sadly here in Australia we can not own such things but I do get to handle them on my frequent visits to the UK, I have a life long friend over there who now has six in his collection but we wont let me shoot them just in case they get broken.


      • Brian,

        Welcome to the blog! You have posted a comment on a report that is 8 years old. No one other than me will ever see it. You don’t have to stay on-topic, so come to our current page and talk to over 100.000 airgunners there.



  22. I’ll bet it was a sight to see BB. I’m going to guess the price tag was even more a sight to see. 🙂
    I’ve been intrigued by sword canes since I was stationed in England. Wish I’d picked one up. The simple fact of someone making a air cane is just mind blowing to me.
    This blog is so informative in so many ways. I personnally can not thank you enough for all the posts.


  23. Rabbitt,

    When I sold my two canes five years ago they brought about $600 each. Nothing special about them except they both worked. A nice cased cane then was bringing $2,000. Today a nice cased cane probably prings $4,000 and up.


  24. Hi my name is Carl I was looking for information on my grandfathers cane gun it is straight and unscrews in the middle when you unscrew it it has the name J BLISSETT & SON at the bottom part LONDON could you help me I would like to know more about it and how can I fire it it has a slide on top that looks like a bullet thank you for any information you can give me do I need a pump. Where do I get ammo….

  25. Hi guys, new on this blog, just was given an air gun cane can't figure out how it holds air. We know the cane requires a pump.. Would like to know where we could find one.. Any ideas? Also is the air stored in the top part of the cane or in an area below the barrel in the lower part of the cane?

    Would really like a brief summary of how the cane is charged with air and how we would find a pump.

    Best regards,


  26. Hi guys, new on this blog, just was given an air gun cane can't figure out how it holds air. We know the cane requires a pump.. Would like to know where we could find one.. Any ideas? Also is the air stored in the top part of the cane or in an area below the barrel in the lower part of the cane?

    Would really like a brief summary of how the cane is charged with air and how we would find a pump.

    Best regards,


  27. MG,

    The air is stored in the top part of the cane, usually. There is a valve inside that lets the air enter but not escape. The pump forces it is, then the valve seals the reservoir.

    Dennis Quackenbush makes pumps for vintage air canes. Visit his website at quackenbushairguns.com

    Some people convert their canes to run on CO2, since the pressures are similar to those developed by the vintage pumps. You can talk to Dennis about the possibility of that work.

    Please contact me in the future on the current blog


    You don't have to stay on topic here. Just come in and ask your questions.

    If you can put some photos of your cane up on the internet on a photo site, I will look at it and may be able to tell you more.


  28. I’ve heard about these many times but never any real information. Til now!
    I’ve been having to use a cane for over 6 months now with no end in sight.
    I may just have to build one!


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