by B.B. Pelletier

Haenel Model 1 is a pre-WWII breakbarrel of good quality. Despite the size of this photo, the rifle is on the small side.

Several of you were aware of my transaction a few weeks back (Feb 21) when I bought this breakbarrel spring-air rifle that was listed on the Yellow Forum classified ads. I had gone to the ads to confirm the URL before posting it in an answer to one of the comments on this blog and saw this rifle at the top of the listings. It had been up all of 16 minutes when I first saw it. Here’s what I saw.

For Sale Haenel Model 1 .22 (lots of pics)
This gun is very clean and has been converted to a JM red Apex main seal, honed cylinder, and synthetic O-ring breach seal. I don’t have a chrony, so don’t ask. The beach stock has been refinished with aniline dye and JM Royal London oil. I’m asking $120 shipped to the lower 48, and the gun will be shipped with the action separated from the stock, in form-fitted rigid foam, then double-boxed. I’m on the BOI. Please check me out. If you don’t like it, I’ll buy it back. First committed E-mail gets it.

The 20 photos (he did say there were a lot of them) showed a vintage spring-piston breakbarrel air rifle with a barrel lock lever. I owned a Haenel Model III breakbarrel years ago, so I knew these guns are made with pre-World War II craftsmanship. Nothing like them is made today.

Things that impressed me about this ad and gun were the number of photos the seller was showing. He was obviously proud of the work he had done on this rifle. I was also impressed by his price of only $120 for the rifle, including shipping! I would expect to pay that price or more if I found this gun on a table at an airgun show.

The tuneup work done to the gun was similarly impressive–not because I knew the seller’s work, which at the time I did not–but because he was able to tell me so much detail. He clearly knew this air rifle well and was aware of all its faults and features. And he was willing to buy it back if I didn’t like it. The BOI he refers to is the Board of Inquiry, a feature of the Network 54 classified ads, where the buyers can tell of their experiences while dealing with this person.

It took me less than one minute to make up my mind to buy the gun, so I posted a “Sold” message on the forum. Within an hour, the first blog reader responded by mentioning that he had also seen the ad and wondered whether it was worth the asking price. Guys, this is where experience pays a dividend. This rifle was so clearly worth the asking price that I made a nearly impulsive buy, and that’s uncharacteristic for me. Could it all have been a scam? Could I have lost everything? Of course! In fact, only a short time later one of our readers, the Big Bore Addict, had a misfortunate transaction while selling something on the same forum.

Let me draw a comparison for you that will help you better understand the value of this rifle–I consider this rifle to be equivalent in build quality to the Diana model 27. Oh, it’s smaller and less powerful than a 27 and I’m not saying it should be priced the same; but in terms of how well-made it is, it’s just as good. So when someone offers one at a reasonable price with all the work this seller was offering, I considered it a no-brainer. Get it, test it and if for some reason you don’t like it, sell it for what you paid for it. How can you go wrong with a deal like that?

Diana 27 on top shows just how small the Haenel Model 1 is. It’s more the size of a diminutive Diana Model 23, which is the top of their youth line from that era.

The seller got back with me quickly, and we clinched the deal. He sent the gun the next business day, and I sent the money his way. I explained to him that I wanted the gun to test it for you, and it turned out he has read this blog. He knew who I was and what I wanted to do, so he sent me more information about the gun. Here’s what he wrote me:

I bought the gun as a basket case off one of the auction sites. It was plum-colored patina, and someone had carved some initials into the stock. I think I paid around $40 including shipping. 

I enjoy the challenge of restoring what was at one time, a fine piece of engineering. When I got the gun, I did my usual tear-down and assessment. In this one, the leather seal was (as usual) embedded with nails, and beyond repair. 

As I was cleaning and degreasing the main tube, I noticed that most of the patina was coming off with just Simple Green and a scotchbrite. So I kept at it for a while, and got down to pretty decent metal with no pits and some of the original bluing left. 

With a $40 gun, you’re allowed to take some chances, so I wiped it down with Birchwood Casey Superblue, and it sprang right back. This one is by far the best home metal refinish I’ve ever done, and it was purely luck. After the re-blue, I used Minwax paste wax instead of oil, and it made it look almost new. 

I stripped and sanded the stock, and refinished it with a water-based aniline dye and Maccari’s Royal London oil. It turned out quite pretty. 

Since the main seal was irreparable, I decided to fit a synthetic. I had a JM Apex that was close in size, so I spun it down to fit, made an adapter out of a conical plumbing washer, and slapped it in. This all happened late last summer. 

I was unable to go to Roanoke [last] year, so I sent the gun with a friend, and told him to sell it for whatever he could get. Well, nobody bit, so it came back home with my friend. I just got it back from him today. 

It was still shooting very low and slow in my basement, which is only 7 yds.  But after he left, I opened it up again, and determined that the main seal was a good fit. So I looked at what else might be a problem. I had read that leather seal guns rely on a mirror polish in the compression tube, and sometimes suffer when converted to synthetic. So I used a brake cylinder hone and scratched it up a bit. That may or may not have helped. But what did really did help was replacing the leather breach seal with an O-ring. 

The rifle now shoots well and seals well. No more low and slow.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a chrony, so I can’t offer any good data. But it now punches clean holes in a beer can, where before it was making big rips, so it’s definitely shooting much faster. It’s still no powerhouse, but it never was, even when new. 

It’s a fun little gun, and I think you’ll enjoy it. I look forward to reading about it.

Interesting about the breech seal, eh? Just the thing we’ve been learning about recently, thanks to Vince and all his rebuilding knowledge.

I’m surprised about the lack of interest at Roanoke. All I can say is that I didn’t see this gun there. If I had, I think I would have bought it. And I know a couple others like my buddy Mac or Randy in VA who would also have been interested. No matter, though, because the gun is now mine.

However there is one last thing to tell you before I dive into the test. The seller of this rifle, who I will now call Jim, is a very careful worker. By that I mean a perfectionist. And not the kind who has to tell you all the time that he’s a perfectionist–no sir! I’m talking about the real deal.

Pack your bags!
Jim told me the gun would be very well-packed when he shipped it to me. That’s like saying the Mona Lisa is a famous painting! There are satellites going to Mars that aren’t packed as well as this rifle was when Jim sent it to me. In fact, the packing is worthy of its own blog report, but not by me. So, Jim, if you are willing, I’d like you to tell everyone how you pack an air rifle for shipment. I feel like a hobo who ships airguns in wet blankets after seeing your work.

However, I won’t keep you all waiting for Jim’s writeup. Let me describe what I saw when I opened the box.

In this instance, a picture is not worth a thousand words, because it doesn’t convey all the extra care that went into the packaging of the rifle. This is the dense foam block that held the two parts of the airgun during shipment. Missing from this picture are the many small pieces of foam that were wedged against the parts to hold them still. Also not shown are the nylon bags used to protect the finish.

The action and stock were separated and each was nestled (cocooned is a better term) in a fitted slot of dense rigid foam. Both the stock and the metal action were sleeved inside a heavy nylon stocking to protect the finish from any rubbing on the foam–though the fit of their compartments was so tight that any movement was impossible under normal circumstances.

The three screws that attached the stock to the action were sunk into the foam. Everything was labeled, so I knew what to do first and which side was supposed to be up. And every part was covered by wide clear tape, so any movement was arrested by the tape. There were foam inserts to prevent the slightest movement of any of the parts, and both sides of the foam were backed by cardboard for cushioning. There were cut lines around all the parts to separate them easily at their destination.

In short, the box was prepared for a short ride with a crash-test dummy. If they gave awards for packing airguns, this one would have won an Oscar! And it was the perfect set of credentials for a gun that had been worked on by the same fastidious airgunner. I knew after unpacking the box that I had just won a lottery for internet vintage airgun buyers.

And that’s my story for today. It’s possible for all you boys and girls in Keokuk, Iowa, and Gillette, Wyoming, to participate in the vintage airgun game at the same level as anyone else. All you need is an internet connection and some basic knowledge about what you want. Great buys don’t come up every day, but as someone wiser than me once said, you’ll probably see a once-in-a-lifetime buy about every year to 18 months.