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Education / Training Methuselah – Part 3: The end is in sight! Rebuilding a Markham BB gun

Methuselah – Part 3: The end is in sight! Rebuilding a Markham BB gun

by B.B. Pelletier

Before we begin, I will be out of town today and tomorrow, so I’m asking you veterans to watch the comments for me. I’ll start answering when I return this weekend.

Guest blogger
Vince rebuilt a Markham gun for Wayne, another blog reader, and here’s the third part of that project. If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me.

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

by Vince

Part 1
Part 2

The Markham Wayne sent me (Dee-Dee) had one major cosmetic and functional flaw that would be a bit difficult to take care of–a busted rear sight. What’s so hard about that? As I alluded to earlier, the Markham–despite it’s genesis in the long ago (or perhaps because of it)–wasn’t exactly a model of exotic construction or advanced engineering. It was made to be cheap, and part of the cheapness extended to the rear sight. By this time, it was out of sight–literally broken off, and I could only guess what it looked like. The only clue was a small square hole in the top of the receiver, where it looks like a tab was punched out. More than likely that tab had been bent upward and formed into a crude, non-adjustable sight.

The missing rear sight left this hole.

I needed to do SOMETHING to aim with, at least temporarily, so I could evaluate how the gun was shooting as I worked on the innards and on the barrel. I cut a 1/4″ strip of .020 sheet steel, formed it into an “L” and stuck it in through the hole. When the rear spring retainer was slid into place, it held nice and tight.

I used a temporary rear sight while working on the powerplant.

I used a cutoff disk on a Dremel to make the notch, and–as I suspected–the fact that it was so close to the shooter’s eye made the tiny notch look huge.

After I got the gun working well enough and adapted the Daisy 499 shot tube, I knew I needed to put something better on there. Since Wayne is old enough to be, uh, my older brother, I figured that his eyes weren’t much better than mine for seeing things close up. That meant that I ought to put the sight a couple inches further forward than the original. And since the gun now has more accuracy than an ordinary BB gun, I wanted to make something adjustable. Lastly, of course, it could not involve any kind of significant modification to the gun itself.

I sort of formed in my mind a picture of what I wanted to make and just started working off my mental drawing. I was going to need some thin steel stock, preferably some sort of spring steel. It didn’t have to be a high grade by any stretch, but something that could flex a bit without taking a set.

I found my answer in a cheap dollar-store Chinese-made putty knife. I forgot to snap a picture of what it looked like before it sacrificed itself, but this is the piece of metal I cut out of the blade.

Raw material is cut from putty knife.

I heated one end of the metal strip so I could bend it up to form the sight leaf, and I drilled a small hole about 1/2″ back from it for the elevation adjuster.

Raw material has been shaped and drilled.

I was concerned about the bend. Apparently, the metal wasn’t quite hot enough when I bent it, and it started to crack. Because of this, I flowed some brazing material into the corner to strengthen it.

In order to make a threaded hole for the adjusting screw, I placed a 10-32 nut over the hole I just drilled, held it in place with a machine screw and soldered it to the blade. I had to grind the plating off the sides of the nut before the solder would stick to it.

Bend was brazed for strength, and nut was soldered in place. Screw is just to hold nut during soldering.

Since the other end of the sight is going to anchor through the existing sight hole, it has to get narrowed to a bit under a 1/4″, and I started to smooth out the rest of the rough-cut edges. The narrow tongue on the end was bent over after applying PLENTY of heat and eventually got hammered flat.

Sight base is sized to pass through square hole.

Bend was made with plenty of heat to avoid more cracking.

Bend is hammered flat.

Since the adjuster screw is going to bear against the top of the tube it has to be made out of nylon so it doesn’t damage the metal or the finish. I cut a section from a 10-32 nylon machine screw and cut a slot at one end.

Nylon screw is made into adjustment screw.

There isn’t a lot of room to play with–the front sight is very low. With the higher velocity from the Daisy shot tube, it’s going to be easy to have the gun shoot too high. I have to make the rear sight pretty low, and that’s why there’s no head on the adjuster screw. It would have blocked the low notch. I put the tongue into the rear sight cutout and tapped it forward, which pretty much completes the basic installation. I cleaned it up, painted it and remounted it on the gun.

Rear sight base slipped into square hole and tapped forward to tighten.

Sight is removed and painted black.

New rear sight is mounted on the gun.

Note that I had put a bit of a curve into the metal–this was to make sure that the sight blade went all the way down when the adjuster was screwed out all the way.

I took it out for some 5-yard shootin’ and found that the rear leaf is still too high. It needs about another 1/8″ taken off the height, which requires the adjuster to be shortened as well. That means the sight has only about .25″ of vertical travel, which translates into a POI shift of about 3″ at 15 feet. According to my rough calculations, this should give Wayne enough elevation adjustment to keep him on target out to about 15 yards or so, which is well past normal BB-gunning distance.

Windage adjustment is a lot simpler. The sight can be bent slightly to the left or right. While crude, this shouldn’t be an issue simply because windage isn’t something that should need constant readjustment. There isn’t as great a variety of BBs available as pellets, and I don’t think there’s going to be much difference in POI between Crosman, Daisy or Avanti BBs–especially in the horizontal plane. Once the sight is positioned properly, the only thing that needs changing is the elevation.

And how does it work? Well, the sight is still blurry to my eyes–but it’s a blurry notch, not a blurry blur. It’s a lot easier to see, but the same doesn’t hold true for the very thin front blade. Frankly, the gun shoots about the same for me as it did before (which is still pretty good). From the standpoint of workmanship, I really wish it had come out better than it did, but Wayne will have to be the final judge of that.

This ends my association with Dee-Dee. By the time you read this, she’s gone back to her owner, where she’ll probably get used from time to time. Working on something that was old enough to have been bought by my great-grandfather for my grandfather got me thinking about a couple of things.

For one, the point comes to mind is that things–even simple things–that are the creative products of the human mind will in some small way bear the faint imprint of those who designed and built them. I guess that’s what makes archeology so interesting. If the things happen to be machines that were intended to do something, then just sitting on display probably wasn’t what they were intended to do. I’m an engineer by trade, and I’ve been a mechanic. If something I’ve designed and/or built is still being used–even sporadically–way longer than I ever intended, well that just sort of tickles me. While a number of collectors might shudder at the thought of a relic like Dee-Dee actually being used, I can’t help but think that doing so serves as a better tribute to those responsible for its existence. Even if it gets shot only once in a while, well, there just seems something inherently right about that.

And that leads to the second point. The world we live in, with all its travails, is indeed a playground of sorts–with tons of stuff to discover and zillions of things to make. Fun and games are certainly part of the intended order of existence, and something like this lets us play, in a sense, with those who went before. Just as one boy might offer to let another try out his slingshot, I can almost imagine the first kid to own this thing reaching across the chasm of 100 years, holding the Markham out to us and saying “Here! You wanna try it?” And in another sense, a toy BB gun is more right than any number of more important and more serious contrivances, for it involves not only thought and effort and technology, but it also involves simple, unadulterated fun. Children understand the importance of this, but the wizened old adults sometimes forget.

I hope Wayne has fun with Dee-Dee. That’s what she was meant for, and having good fun is truly a wonderful thing.

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.

30 thoughts on “Methuselah – Part 3: The end is in sight! Rebuilding a Markham BB gun”

  1. Vince,

    Thanks for letting us tag along on your visit to the past and trip to the present.

    Very well navigated considering that you didn’t have a map. I never cease to be impressed by your abilities.


  2. Vince,
    The sight you made is similar to the one on my old Red Ryder, so I think you hit the nail on the head as far as keeping with the theme. It would have also been OK just to make a fixed sight, but I can tell that would have eaten at you:). Regarding the repurposing of a Harbor Freight tool: are you sure you don’t have family down this way:)?

  3. Vince,

    Well Done!!

    I most enjoy your attachment to Dee Dee.. Helping her become available to the world of shooters again, is a blessing.. I like the sight you made, it fits the rifle in lots of ways..

    I love the vision you gave us of Dee Dee's desire to be used again.. and she will!!

    I'm glad your so able to adjust to the different makers.. and broken parts of any kind..

    The "Game"..

    Boy, are we getting a pile of cool guns here.. The rifle range members are liking the idea of setting up different kinds of guns at each lane.. everything from these real old 150 to 250fps vintage parlor guns at 10 and 15 feet on paper.. to spring & CO2 pistols..

    then how about a DAQ Outlaw Brigand .375 caliber big bore air rifle by Dennis Quackenbush on a strong spinner at 65 yards..

    then back to a 250fps parlor gun or 499 champion..

    then the 12 ft. lb. USFT doing 25 shots in 20 min. bench rest at 25yards..

    then the P70 field target lane..

    then the HW 100 or AAs410 cleaning a row of shotgun shells at 40 yards…

    Maybe it takes 3 hours to do the run.. and your score is kept against all others who have done the course..

    The guns need to be as flexible as possible as far as fit goes.. but part of the challenge is the ability to adapt to a new gun.. and ones knowledge of a different guns..
    Of course, hee, hee, it's not a bad thing that one would want to do the course over and over to get better at the different guns.. or to compare them..

    Someday, there might be 100 lanes each with a different guns… You could see all these different guns in a museum, (maybe not, because there will be the newest to the oldest)… but where are they set up for you to shoot.. and compare your score against everybody else's. …

    This will take a long time to set up.. but that's the fun part.. as we add new rides so to speak, the best score to that point in the game will still be in contest…

    What do ya think folks??

    Wacky Wayne,
    Ashland Air Rifle Range

  4. Wayne,

    The evolution of your collection and your range has been a thrill to read about.

    Is there a short lesson in gun safety with rules posted for the inexperienced visitors?

    I hope you consider advertising your airgun range as a possible destination for boy scout & girl scout field trips, boy's & girls clubs afternoon outings, birthday party alternative, etc. I can't think of a better way for our youth to be introduced to the sport.


  5. Wayne,You’ve designed an AMUSEMENT park in the truest sense of the word!!!I cannot wait to get a moment to fly out there!I must confess there’s little else I dream of doing…Thanks for that! Vince,great blog,great execution,and very entertaining time-travel…FrankB

  6. Vince,
    I meant you showed the kind of ingenuity and thrift that is appreciated here and apparently sometimes not appreciated elsewhere. No offense intended — quite the opposite. I’ve seen many projects online of similar magnitude where they would have spent $40 for spring steel stock and designed it on a computer, then sent it off for milling. Most of my projects are not done that way:).

  7. Kevin,this is in response to your disdain for Burris and B-square rings for lack of precision.first off,thanks for the heads up,you saved me a lot of money!Secondly,I would suggest looking at Millet rings for vertical plane adjustability.horizontal adjustment would still be done with shims,but millet rings are well made and Ive had success with my project.{making use of a difficult Shepherd scope too valuable to abandon} Frank B word verification :inxesse

  8. Frank B,

    Thanks. I’m aware of the millet rings but never used them since they aren’t adjustable for windage. My only motivation for adjustables was to keep from touching windage after optically centering a scope.

    I had the best experience with the sportsmatch adjustables. The only drawback for me was the height. The above average height I’m sure would be a plus on some guns.


  9. Wayne,

    I think Kevin makes a good point about gun safety, and as a related one, there will need to be some means of instruction for how each particular gun functions. Otherwise you will get unsafe behavior and a lot of wear and tear on the guns. On my rifle team in high school, the standard rifle for those who didn’t purchase their own was an old Winchester 52. Now, I read how these guns are great prizes, but ours looked terrible from years of kids handling them. And then there is B.B.’s incredible story of some kid throwing his customized R1 to the concrete in a fit of frustration. Protect your collection.


  10. Kevin & Matt61,

    For sure there will be someone there as the person moves through.. helping with set-up/adjustments and watching for safety and abuse issues!! (I remember a story about a rifle being tossed because of recoil!!)…
    There would be history lessons to tell as well..

    Frank B. – don't leave yet!! It's still cookin in my brain.. It's going to be awhile there.. Of course your welcome to come play FT and stuff..

    BTW.. current additions to the collection:
    BSA club http://www.gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewItem.asp?Item=122959659

    and from, Tinh Nguyen, his Daystate CR97 .177 FT rifle with air stripper shroud… This one is so super nice.. what a beautiful field target stock and knee stand.. adjustable cheek rest and butthook.. fits like a glove.. and one hole 3 shot groups 20 yards indoors last night.. off bench off course:)

    Ashland Air Rifle Range

  11. BG_Farmer, even though Wayne appears to be a multi-zillionaire for some reason I can’t help but trying to do stuff on the cheap. It’s a trait I probably inherited from my bricklayer grandfather.

    That’s why, for example, when he wanted a peep sight mounted on an 1970’s Diana 27 I spent hours carving apart the old sight, making a spacer block to fit between the clamp and the hood, brazing it back together, cleaning it up and painting it. Of course, I could’ve gotten him a model 34 front sight that was already the right height for about $45.

  12. B.B.
    awesome entry-very simple & creative

    I have a question on when to use grease and when to use oil? I can use your recommendation on the lubrication of revolver triggers. Sorry- i'm off topic

  13. Kevin,
    I have had excellent results using both Burris Deluxe and Millett Angle-Loc rings. These are both steel rings and superior to aluminum in all respects. The Millett rings are indeed adjustable for windage and also have small annular rings milled into the inside of the ring to grip the scope tightly. This is an outstanding feature for powerful springers.
    Millett Angle-Loc Windage adjustable P/N TP00005 (smooth, high). Also comes in medium height and matt finish. Jon F.

  14. Vince,

    “Appears” is the key word..
    I’m hardly a thousandair.. just got a popular product for the moment.. and using most of the positive cash flow for growth of production of that product.. but I get a little to play with, and most goes to air guns and now fire arms too.. I’m just passionate about stuff when I like it.. so it seems like a lot.. cause I like these air guns a lot.. anyway..

    It’s real fun having you guys to bounce ideas off.. mucho thanko

    Wacky Wayne
    Ashland Air Rifle Range

  15. Wayne,
    Don’t shatter the illusion. We need to get some (other?) insanely wealthy tycoon to join the fray and take the pressure off you. He can log on as SugarDaddy:).

    Seriously, I’ve had more fun watching your shooting interests develop than I would have if I tried/owned all those things myself. Success couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy and you seem to enjoy it to the fullest.

  16. Vince…..
    Although I am not particularly interested in the particular gun that you are working on…….
    I have to say that I am impressed by your talent at improvising repairs on what would otherwise be a basket case.
    Keep up the good work.


  17. Vince – GREAT blog. I especially enjoyed your comments about time travel, etc. My air gun 'collection' started with my son giving me a Christmas gift and has gone on from there. Every time I shoot any of my airguns and now firearms (another gift from my son) there is more going on than just the shooting – family and friends and other relationships are all developing. I'd like to think that 50 or 100 years from now maybe a new Vince will work on my guns for a new Wayne.

    Wayne – I really think you need to open sleeping rooms or a Bed & Breakfast – make it a complete destination spot for air (and other) gunners. Sounds great to me!

    Al Pellet

  18. Josh, the couple of DA revolvers I worked on really seemed to like a little moly paste (not moly grease) on all the sliding, pivoting, and rubbing parts. Better than grease, the moly in the paste tends to burnish into the metal and provide longer-lasting lubrication than just grease alone.

    I’ve seen a few suggestions – pertaining specifically to airguns – that moly should be kept away from triggers because it can make them unsafe. I never thought this was sound advice – if a trigger becomes unsafe because of some moly paste this means that the trigger geometry is screwed up, plain and simple. A trigger should not be relying on friction between metal surfaces to keep it engaged!

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