Beeman P1/HW 45 air pistol: Part 1
by B.B. Pelletier
Announcement: Daisy is celebrating its 125th anniversary this June. They’re holding a special event at the Daisy Airgun Museum June 3-4. Make reservations to attend by calling 479-986-6873. Daisy will issue a special commemorative, limited-edition gun that will be available only to people who are registered for this event in advance (by May 13).
I’ve written about the Beeman P1/HW 45 air pistol several times in the past, but never in the current three-part format we use today. The last report we did was by a customer, way back in 2007. It’s definitely time for an update. This time I’ll do a thorough three-part report.
The gun I’m now testing for you has been in my possession since it was new in 1996. I tuned it once within the first year of ownership, and I modified the trigger for a report in The Airgun Letter. I also resized the Teflon piston seal by dry-firing the gun a couple times, which is the factory-recommended way to do it. So, the gun I am testing isn’t fresh from the box. It’s had many years of occasional service, though I bet fewer than 5,000 total shots have been fired from it. In my job, I shoot airguns all the time, and I just don’t get to my classics very often. This test will be enlightening for all of us. Also, you’ll get to see how the pistol stands up to the test of time.
Some of you may be upset that I’m not testing a brand-new pistol, but look at the opportunity testing this old one offers us. You get to see how one of these pistols holds up. The model goes all the way back to 1983, so it’s a veteran, just like the Beeman R1 rifle.
The Beeman P1 is also known as the Weihrauch HW 45. Pyramyd Air still stocks the P1, however the HW 45 is no longer stocked. It’s a single-shot spring-piston gun that cocks via an overlever arrangement. Like a Webley Hurricane, the top of the P1 lifts up in the rear and pivots forward on a hinge located at the front of the gun. Unlike the Webley, there are two distinct stops for the sear and each produces different power. The first stop limits the piston stroke and gives low power. It’s just as hard to cock to this point as it is to go all the way to high power, but the shorter piston stroke guarantees slower muzzle velocities.
I always cock to high power because it’s no harder to do so. It has become a habit and I don’t find anything that low power does better than high.
High power comes at the second sear stop, when the topstrap is swung as far forward as possible. I will test both power levels for you in Part 2 so you won’t have to wonder about the velocity specs much longer.
An anti-beartrap device prevents early closure of the topstrap, but it also means that the pistol cannot be uncocked. If you cock it, you must shoot it.
The pistol is built on a frame that resembles a Colt 1911 pistol more than a little. Grip panels made for the 1911 fit the P1 just fine and vice-versa. The current pistol is sold with walnut grip panels in a classic diamond pattern, but you can install anything that fits on a 1911 or 1911A1.
While the grip frame resembles the 1911, the part that rises above the frame is considerably larger than the firearm. It has to be to contain the spring cylinder that powers the gun. There’s no denying the Desert Eagle size, though it comes without the weight of the magnum gun (I’m refering to the firearm, because the airgun is very light). In fact, at 40 oz., the P1 is not much heavier than an unloaded M1911A1 that it mimics — and loaded, the firearm is heavier.
Beeman P1 dwarfs the 1911 firearm below, though the grip frames of both guns are the same size. The Beeman has to be larger on top to hide the spring cylinder. Notice that my vintage P1 has grips with the old Beeman company logo in them. When loaded, the pistol on the bottom is the heavier gun.
The trigger is adjustable for the length of the first stage and also for the pull weight. Before I modified my trigger, I had adjusted it to break glass-crisp at about 30 oz. After the modification, it breaks at 11 oz. and is just as crisp. In my opinion, the factory trigger will serve you fine with adjustment. All the trigger lacks that many firearm 1911s have is an overtravel adjustment.
The safety is located on the grip frame behind the trigger and it’s ambidextrous. Thankfully, it’s not automatic. In fact, the P1 is completely ambidextrous because the latch to unlock the topstrap is disguised as the hammer. Pull down and back and the topstrap pops up. Just this action cocks the trigger, so if you want to practice dry-firing you can do so without cocking the pistol. Just release the topstrap each time to reset the trigger and you’ll be good to go.
Beeman always advertised 600 f.p.s. for the .177 caliber on high power. My pistol got close to that speed when brand new, but an early lube tune took away 40 f.p.s. The last time I tested it, it averaged 559 f.p.s for Hobbys. Curiously, Weihrauch claims the HW 45 does 560 f.p.s. in .177, so my pistol is close to their specification, as of the last test I did. For our velocity tests, we’ll try some alloy pellets and see what the P1’s full potential for speed really is.
A Beeman P1 is not an easy air pistol to cock. It takes a technique, and you have to learn how to position your hands to cock the gun. It isn’t what I would describe as a plinking gun by any definition. And even stopping at low power uses almost the same amount of energy. After 50 shots, you will be feeling it. I’ll try to measure the cocking effort for you during the velocity testing.
A look behind the curtain at the spring cylinder. Here, the twin cocking links have dragged the piston to full mainspring compression. This powerplant works backwards of a spring rifle. The piston travels to the rear when the trigger is pulled.
As you would expect, the rear sight is fully adjustable in this pistol. In fact, it’s controlled by precision detents, so you know exactly what you’re doing when adjusting it. It’s very similar to the adjustable sights found on Smith & Wesson revolvers, so you’ll need a small flat-bladed screwdriver to adjust it.
The pistol is made in .177, .20 and .22 calibers. Both the .177 and .20 caliber models have the dual power levels, but the .22 has just high power to avoid sticking a pellet in the barrel. The .177 is by far the most popular caliber and the one you most often find for sale used. Speaking of that, I noticed at the recent Malvern, Arkansas, airgun show that a nice used P1 will be priced at something over $300. They definitely hold their value.
Perfect for training
One aspect of the P1 that’s unique to the pistol is its value as a trainer for all 1911-type firearms. You have to employ the same hold as with the firearm to get the airgun to shoot. At 33 feet it should be easy for a good shooter to hold all shots inside an inch, and the pistol is capable of much better. When you’re really hot, the P1 can hold all its shots inside the 9-ring of a 10-meter target, which is about the size of Roosevelt’s head on a dime.
Is it worth the price?
Normally, I would try to answer this question after the final report, but years of experience as a P1 owner have already provided the answer. If you’re infatuated with accurate air pistols and if you value build quality above all, then yes, the P1 is well worth the asking price. If a new one seems beyond your reach, consider buying one used. They’re rugged enough to pass on to generations unborn, so think of it as a long-term investment.
Stay tuned for the power report that’s next.