The Benjamin front-pump pistol – Part 3
by B.B. Pelletier
To maintain a Benjamin pump gun–first and foremost–keep a pump of air in the reservoir at all times! What this does is keep both inlet and exhaust valves shut tight against the internal pressure, thus preventing the entry of airborne dirt particles. Just look at any wooden surface that hasn’t been dusted for a month to see how much stuff is floating around. Now, compound what you see by many years of accumulation, and you’ll get a picture of what happens when the valves are left open.
Don’t worry about the seals going bad from air pressure in the gun. That’s just what they need. It’s the lack of pressure that makes them fail. I’ve encountered guns that have been under pressure for decades, and they still held perfectly. On the other hand, find a gun that isn’t pressurized and chances are it will have to be rebuilt before it will hold again.
Other than that, there are just a few simple steps to remember to keep your air pistol in top working order. One is–never clean the barrel! Benjamin barrels are made from brass and they aren’t that hard. Cleaning them simply promotes damage to the bore. There can be no accumulation of gunpowder residue to worry about, like there would be in a .22 rimfire, so there’s nothing to remove. The small amount of anti-oxidant compound they get from pellets passing through (the black stuff) is scraped out with each new pellet. They don’t lead up as long as you use the right ammunition and don’t clean the barrel, so what’s left to clean? Yet, for some strange reason, people love to run patches through their airguns.
The same people who won’t look twice at their .22 rimfires after a day at the range will scrub the bore of their Benjamin until it shines. And shine it will, as the brass is worn down to nothing and accuracy goes south in a handbasket. Benjamin specifically warned against cleaning the barrels of their rifled guns in the Benjamin Beacon, a company bulletin; unfortunately, they didn’t put that warning into the instruction sheets for the early guns. Still, take a hint and don’t clean!
Wipe the outside of the gun after handling with a clean rag that has a little silicone oil on it. A little means not very much. Do this to protect all the finish your gun came with, except the black may continue to flake off due to poor factory application procedures. That’s variable from gun to gun, and there’s nothing that will prevent a poor job from flaking, not even putting it in a case and never handling it.
Speaking of cases, don’t ever store any gun in a soft case, or in a hard case that contains a foam liner. These soft materials attract and retain moisture and will rust or corrode your guns as certainly as death and taxes. The only cases that are safe for gun storage are the ones made for that purpose, and even then you probably shouldn’t do it. Many a fine cased Colt pistol has rusted on one side from contact with the inside of its case.
Also, never store guns in anything made from leather, such as a holster. The solutions used to tan and preserve leather can destroy fragile finishes quickly, especially in humid climates.
What about oiling the leather pump head seal? It certainly needs some lubrication to maintain a seal, but too much oil can destroy the gun as certainly as not oiling it at all. What a dilemma!
Benjamin experienced so many difficulties with owners over-oiling their guns and returning them for repairs that they finally stamped the words, “air hole-don’t oil” next to the air intake hole. Our example was made before that was put on, but you will see it on a good many later guns.
The instruction sheet they send out with the gun tells the owner to remove the front barrel band and either smear some petroleum jelly on the leather pump head seal or make a new leather seal if the old one is beyond repair. This procedure works well, but don’t do it just out of curiosity. Your gun should really need this oiling before you undertake the disassembly of anything.
Benjamin used what they termed “Neo-prene” as packings in their valves prior to WWII. Neoprene is relatively oil-proof, but the pre-war buildup of the military meant material shortages. Therefore, they couldn’t always get what they wanted. So, they reserved the right to substitute another suitable material, and they would not be able to guarantee its resistance to oil. So, no oiling!
Where do you find these guns today? Well, they show up pretty often at regular gun shows, where they can be priced from reasonable to ridiculous. If the dealer isn’t familiar with the gun, he’ll usually over-value it because it looks like more quality than he’s used to in an airgun.
A pistol in similar condition to the one shown in Part 1 should sell for $75 to $90 in working condition. A box would add another $10-$20 to that; and anything special, like one of the Benjamin home shooting kits, might double the price. A Benjamin-marked leather holster is a nice addition, as well, but price it as a separate item and not as part of any particular gun. I’ve seen really nice holsters go for about $50, and even the semi-ratty ones bring at least $20.
Most often, you’ll find a pistol that’s been worn down to the brass and isn’t holding air. I would try to get one in that condition for no more than $30 because it will cost at least another $20 to get it repaired. Rifles seem to command about the same money as pistols or just a bit more.