The Crosman 1400 Pumpmaster: an American classic–Part 1
Just a reminder that B.B.’s still on his hunt and may not be available to answer questions til Thursday. A lot depends on internet connectivity at the hunt site. Thanks to the many blog regulars who’ve been pinch-hitting for B.B.
by B.B. Pelletier
The 1400 is a small, sleek pneumatic rifle that really packs a punch
If you’re a fan of multi-pump pneumatic rifles, you probably know about the Crosman 1400 Pumpmaster. If not, come along and take a look at this fine American classic air rifle from Crosman’s golden age.
The 1400 was the last in a series of rifles that began with the 120 model in the mid-1950s. The 120 was the outgrowth of the even earlier Town & Country Junior rifles, which were a replacement for the original Town & Country guns developed at the start of that decade. But that’s as far back as it goes, for the pump rifles immediately before that were the 100-series that dated back to 1924 and the start of the Crosman Company’s involvement in airguns. Those models have very little in common with these later guns.
The 120 was a non-descript underlever pump that gained some small fame when W.H.B. Smith reported on an experiment in which a pressure gauge was brazed into a 120 to ascertain how high the pressure would rise when the rifle was pumped. The experiment was inconclusive, though, when it was realized that the addition of the gauge increased the storage capacity so much that the pressure was affected grossly by the extra volume.
Other than that, the 120 was never a very successful or even exciting model for Crosman. It was replaced by the newer model 140, which had an exciting new blow-off valve, which ended the possibility of pressure-locked valves. Until that time, a pneumatic that was over-pumped could not be fired, as their internal pressure held the valve stem closed against the strike of the hammer. Owners either had to wait until the internal pressure leaked off and the gun could be fired (which could take weeks), or they had to partially disassemble the gun and strike the valve stem with great force to manually exhaust some of the excess pressure.
The 140 ended this problem by having a valve that blows open violently when outside pressure is released by the trigger. Instead of having to be knocked open by a hammer, this valve is held shut by the trigger! It sounds easy to envision, but the details required to make it work took a lot of engineering.
One quirk of the blow-off valve design is that the trigger becomes progressively harder to pull as internal pressure builds. No doubt there’s a way to fix this, but it hasn’t come to market, yet, to my knowledge. The Japanese have refined the blow-off trigger to the greatest extent in their Sharp Ace Target rifles. They’re very good, but not quite perfect.
The loading trough is simple, but just a bit crowded for longer pellets.
The 140 went through a series of modifications while it was in production, eventually morphing into the 1400 Pumpmaster around 1972. The new rifle began life with a sliding cover over the pellet loading trough in the receiver (you don’t have to cock this rifle–the action of pressurizing does it), but the final version had a more conventional bolt. It seems strange not having to cock a gun to shoot it, but 1400 owners quickly become accustomed to it.
Unfortunately, there IS a fly in the ointment! Because this gun doesn’t require cocking–it’s ALWAYS cocked! If owners keep one pump of air in their guns to keep the valve sealed against airborne contamination (almost every manufacturer recommends doing this), then their rifles will always be ready to fire! The 10 commandments of gun safety take on new meaning when you realized this gun is always ready to shoot.
Although it resembles the 160’s adjustable trigger, the 1400 is far simpler.
Accidents are known to occur with this trigger arrangement. I have had my gun fire when putting the first pump of air into it. Another man was lucky that his rifle wasn’t loaded, because he examined his empty barrel from the muzzle end when his rifle had three pumps of air in the reservoir. It fired in his face! So, the sear CAN slip on these rifles, and shooters need to be aware of their special and unusual functioning.
Although the safety considerations above might frighten away prospective owners, they really shouldn’t. Properly handled, the Crosman 1400 is no less safe than any other model; you just have to know what you’re doing when you handle it.
Like most Crosman guns of the period, the sights adjust for windage by means of an oval slot and screws.
The sights have always been crude on this family of air rifles. The set on my rifle are a plastic post front and a simple leaf rear with a plastic notched elevator. Windage adjustment is made by sliding the rear leaf sideways, then clamping it down with a screw in an oblong hole. Accuracy, which is quite good, would undoubtedly increase by several orders of magnitude with more sophisticated sights.
The old Crosman “ashcan” pellets were marginal. Today’s Crosman Premier (on the right) is considered to be one of the finest long-range pellets made.
I use 14.3-grain Crosman Premier pellets oiled liberally with FP-10 lubricant in my 1400. They seem to be about ideal for the rifle, although they weren’t around when the gun was new. My rifle was one of the last to be made in the early 1980s, when Crosman pellets were still the soft lead “ashcans” that deformed in your fingers. All of Crosman’s “golden age” airguns benefited from the better pellets of the 1990s.
Next time, I’ll share velocities and more.