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Education / Training Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 1

Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 1

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Chris Moreno is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd AIR gift card. Congratulations!

BSOTW winner Chris Moreno is shown with his first PCP.

This Nelson Lewis combination gun was made in the mid-19th century.

A little more than two years ago, I traveled to Maryland to see Mac and to help him drive back to Texas for the Malvern, Arkansas, airgun show. We visited a friend of ours who was loaning me some vintage photos to scan for articles. While there, we were admitted into his gun room, or as Mac and I refer to it — the Holy of Holies! This guy has collected odd and unusual guns all his life and, just like the Pawn Stars TV show, you never know what you’re going to find. It was there that I found the airgun pogostick repeater that Vince is attempting to make operational.

But there was another gun in his collection that intrigued me, even though I didn’t act on it right away. It was a combination gun made by Nelson Lewis, a well-known gun maker from Troy New York, who made muzzleloading guns from some time in the 1840s until at least the 1880s.

The gun came in its original oak case.

Lewis was a very prolific maker, and his guns still abound today. They’re of fine workmanship but not the absolute top tier. As far as accuracy goes, an N. Lewis gun can hold its own at 40 rods (220 yards) with all but the very finest rifles; and as far as I’m concerned, there are only three in the top rung — Schalk, Warner and Pope. Nelson Lewis belongs on the next rung down with makers like Billinghurst, Perry, Brockway and others of equal fame. His guns are never finished as fine as those of Billinghurst, but they’re equal in accuracy. They were among the first rifles selected for sniper duty in the American Civil War and made confirmed kills at ranges beyond 1,000 yards — surveyed distance.

The other kind of gun Lewis was noted for was the combination gun — with a rifle barrel on one side and a shotgun barrel on the other. That’s the gun I saw in Maryland. What intrigued me wasn’t the quality of the arm, though it’s very fine, but the condition. This gun is still in its original box after 150+ years and is in NRA Antique fine condition. The patchbox contained two round patches of thin linen material, and Lewis was known for sending a sample of the proper patching material with his guns. I can’t prove these patches are original to the gun, but they’re appropriate to it.

When it was new a gun like this cost between $50 and 60, with engraving extra if you wanted it. For that you got the gun in a wooden case, a powder measure and a bullet swage. Lewis made this gun without the use of power tools. He had a local machinist make the parts requiring a lathe, and he made the barrels, locks and triggers. His son stocked the gun in finefigured walnut.

Look at the fine joining of the shotgun and rifle barrels.

Also packed with the gun are the original dies for swaging lead picket bullets for the rifle barrel. And there were two bullets in the box along with everything else.

The swaging dies are also handmade by Lewis.

Picket bullet was the first elongated bullet that was popular. It lasted from about 1840 to 1880.

The box isn’t a presentation type box. It’s entirely functional, as though Mr. Lewis had shipped the gun yesterday and this is how it arrived. It’s designed to hold the gun when it’s broken down by removing one cross key and lifting the barreled action out of the stock. It has a patent breech with hooks that allow quick disassembly, so the gun can be transported safely to the hunting grounds.

Drift out the one key, and the barreled action can be lifted out of the patent breech. Each barrel has a separate hook that locks into the breechplate.

The ramrod appears to be original to the gun, which is quite rare for two reasons. First, this gun was probably made in the 1860s or ’70s. For anything wooden as thin as a hickory ramrod to have survived that long is remarkable. Second — a muzzleloading ramrod undergoes the most strenuous life you can imagine. Modern muzzleloaders almost always have fiberglass ramrods for this reason. Because this ramrod has lasted this long, we can surmise that this gun has been particularly well cared for.

The rifle barrel is .39 caliber and just under 28 inches long. We know that the six-grove rifling is cut with a gain twist because Nelson Lewis refused to cut any other kind of rifling. Because the picket bullet is a conical, it’s heavier than a round ball, making the rifle appropriate for deer and even black bear hunting.

The shotgun barrel is 14 gauge and is probably without a choke, as they were not popular when this gun was made. Also, a blackpowder shotgun will throw a tighter pattern just by the nature of how it functions. What we have is a cylinder bore that’s probably good out to 30-35 yards, depending on the game and shot size.

The gun has two different rear sights. On the tang is a lollipop peep sight that elevates by turning the disk on its threaded post. Halfway up the barrel is a sporting-type rear sight that can be used for a faster hunting situation. Sporting was the 19th century term for hunting.

The front sight has to be seen to be believed! The thin post is steel filed into the shape of a tiny post and bead. It’s thin but strong, because the post is an I-beam with thickness front to rear. The sight is protected by a small steel globe.

Sporting (hunting) sight is adjustable for elevation. It is a semi-buckhorn.

Folding lollipop rear target sight adjusts for elevation by turning on its stem. Windage adjusts by loosening the screw and sliding the peephole sideways.

Front sight post and bead is protected by a small globe. Entire sight can be drifted to either side to correct for windage.

General characteristics
The gun is 44 inches long and weighs 9 lbs. Until I received it, I had never seen it together — but it fits together tightly with a cross key and a hooked or patent breech. Once the gun is together, you can’t tell that it comes apart — it still fits that tightly.

The left barrel is the rifle barrel, and the right is the shotgun. There are no set triggers, but the rifle trigger (rear one) breaks at about 2 lbs. The rifle hammer is somewhat loose, indicating the rifle was used more than the shotgun.

Gun has a deep, crisp maker’s mark, indicating it hasn’t been refinished.

I found an oiled patch at the bottom of the shotgun barrel, which was considered the right way to store a gun in the 19th century. It had dried out and could have caused some rust if it had absorbed moisture from the air, so I removed it with the worm screw on the ramrod. The breech plugs are both removable, making both barrels accessible for cleaning. I plan to do that before long.

Both nipples appear new and would certainly have been replaced over a century and a half of use. If they were original, they would both show signs of pitting from the flame of thousands of percussion caps. One of them has the number 10 on it, so I’m guessing that’s the correct cap size.

In the patch box on the right side of the butt, I found two cloth patches that appear to be the correct size. It will take a lot of experimentation before I discover the right bullet and load for this gun, to say nothing of the shotgun side; but initially I’ll just be examining it for clues to its history!

This is an example of a fine hunting gun in very good condition from the 19th century. It shows lots of use, but the bores are clean and bright, and the action is tight and crisp, except for the hammer that was noted. It’s a wonderful window on the past that’s been preserved exactly as it was in its heyday.

Over the next few months, I’m going to get more familiar with this gun, in preparation to shooting it.

Ballard update
Some of you may be wondering what has become of my Ballard rifle. Well, my great idea of the special Hudson bullet didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. Apparently, I spec’ed the bore diameter a thousandth too large for the mold-maker, and the bullets are too difficult to push into the rifling. I have a bullet seater that’s supposed to work — and does with my smaller Lyman bullets that only go to 0.381 inches — but they don’t fill the bore all the way.

I’m going to try a couple different things to fix this. First, I’m going to shoot the rifle with loaded ammunition, using a 0.379-inch bullet so it’ll chamber and loading the cartridge with black powder to obturate the bullet. I’ll have to wipe the bore after every shot, but that was the way most shooters did it when this rifle was new.

If I get the accuracy I hope for (10 shots in a half-inch at 100 yards and 10 in two inches at 200 yards), I may invest in another hand-made Hudson bullet mold. But the rifle will really have to shine before I’m going to do that.

I’ve also found a place that will fit double-set triggers to my gun without modifying the original parts in any way. The current 7-lb. trigger-pull is one aspect that is keeping me from shooting my best.

I should have an update on shooting the Ballard sometime soon.

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.

79 thoughts on “Nelson Lewis combination gun: Part 1”

  1. Um…I’m not known for being speechless…………but I’m really struggling for words.

    That Nelson Lewis Combination gun would be the envy of museums! The original case?!! The original swaging dies for swaging lead picketts?

    Spectacular comes to mine but that falls woefully short.

    • Kevin,

      More than for anyone else, I wrote this blog for you and for Robert, who both appreciate fine weapons from the past. This gun was a pearl of great price that has affected my gun-buying ability for a long time and will continue to do so for some time to come. But when I first saw it I knew I had to try to get it.

      It is even more fascinating when you hold it in your hands and see the level of workmanship that went into it. It’s amazing that a guy could make something this fine with files and hand-made tools! And, since it still has 90 percent of the original wood finish and 50 percent of the metal finish remaining, you can experience what the original owner did 150 years ago!


      • Hey now,don’t leave me off the list! You know I grew up in Troy New York…..and saw my first combo
        gun at the museum in Albany at age 10.It may well have been a Lewis gun.The whole Hudson river valley was rich with game in the late 19th century.Thank you for sharing this treasure with us BB!

  2. Wow. When you said you had something “special” for Friday, I really had no clue as to what it might be. I am not familiar with the guns of this particular era, however, I can appreciate the workmanship that has gone into this gun. The detail in the front and rear sights are remarkable. The rear “lollipop” peep sight is remarkable in it’s simplicity. When you think of the tools that were available at that time period, it truly makes this gun a work of art. Thank you B.B. for bringing this and your Ballard to our attention. I look forward to more of your finds in the future.

  3. This is a “working” gun. It was meant to look nice, but not to hang on the wall to impress your fellow gentry as so many of the old, embellished firearms were. That is why they have survived for so long and most of the “poor boy” or “barn” guns have not.

    I can only imagine what must be sitting in the quiet corners of your home, waiting for their turn in the limelight. You do not happen to have a Virginia rifle tucked away somewhere, do you?

  4. Morning B.B.,

    What an honor to be entrusted with the custodianship of this magnificent Nelson Lewis combination gun and her accessories. It’s got to be a most humbling feeling also.

    We’re realy looking forward to sharing this experience with you.


  5. BB;
    Thank-you for sharing this remarkable gun with us! I do have to disagree on one thing you wrote regarding the shotgun barrel and black powder loads throwing tighter patterns in cylider bore than modern guns. I have found just the opposite. Modern loads in folded crimped shells ,with plastic shot wads that protect the shot will often throw tighter patterns then the choke indicates. V.M. Starr the late black powder shotgun gunsmith who choked and shot BP shotguns, choked his guns to use simple card wads . You may have to cut your own wads yourself from card stock. Use two over the powder, and one over the shot. That’s what Starr did, and I do this in my guns. If they cannot be seated without undue force they are to big and will raise pressures and cause blown patterns. I also load my shoguns with one measure. Another words volume for volume as to shot and powder . Changing shot size and reducing the charge by 10% though, will sometimes improve patterns. Your BP shotgun barrel on this gun will , like many rifles will pattern best with only one load. Have fun, and keep us up-dated on the Ballard , and this most interesting gun. take care , Robert.

  6. This looks awesome, these rifles looked sooooo good. I don’t want to critic anyones tastes but black rifle, synthetic stocked or wood stocked modern rifles will never have the appeal these old guns have. They have their advantages and some modern guns look good but none have the caracter and class this rifle has.
    I’m not sure I’m using the right terms here, my grammar isn’t always good but my english vocabulary isn’t bad and I’m just out of words for this one.

    I’m just wondering how you could let this thing be shipped…


    • J-F,

      It wasn’t shipped. Mac lives in Maryland. The seller, a close friend, lives in Maryland. Mac drove up to the seller’s house several days before coming to visit us & picked up the gun. Mac caressed, oiled and fondled the gun and brought it to our house in Texas. Talk about special delivery service…. 🙂


      • My bad, I guess that’s what happens when you read a blog on your phone… in bed… just after waking up.
        I didn’t want to wait to read it on the computer because I knew we were in for something special this morning and I misread “The box isn’t a presentation type box. It’s entirely functional, as though Mr. Lewis had shipped the gun yesterday and this is how it arrived” I must have read the “shipped” part and didn’t realise at the moment that poor Mr. Lewis had passed away quite awhile ago.

        And driving from Maryland to Texas for the privilege of fondling and shooting this nice rifle isn’t that bad of a deal 😉


  7. BB: Your welcome. You can cut them from 3/32″ cardboard with a simple punch, that you can make out of tubing yourself. If you need to try different shot sizes , cut up a few modern shells to salvage shot for testing . It sure beats buying a whole bag of shot and then finding out your gun doesn’t like that size.

  8. BB,

    Very interesting gun. Kind of like the German Drilling guns but I have not seen one in a two-barrel side by side before.

    My compliments on your photography – even better than usual today.

    Paul in Liberty County

  9. BB,

    it is a beautiful piece. I look forward to future blogs from you as you uncover this combination rifle/shotguns’ many secrets.

    I’d like to take a brief minute to thank those of you that responded to my plea for help on .22 LR ammo. Last night my ammo that I ordered from MidWest – two boxes of Eley, one RWS and one Wolf – 50 rounds each, arrived. I’ll see this weekend which works best, if at all, in my High Standard. At least, I hope I don’t have problems with the gun but only with the Remington ammo I bought.

    My buddy in NC was laughing at me for going “big bucks” on the ammo. He said I’d probably never see the difference shooting the pistol off-hand and that I should have stayed with CCI (as someone else stated on this blog earlier). I guess he’s right but with my talent level, I can use all the help I can find.

    Pete Z. – very happy to hear you were shooting again and that you are almost done with your treatments. Hope you hang around for a good, long time (as I’m positive you do, too 🙂 !

    Happy Friday and Happy Weekend to all

    Fred DPRoNJ

  10. All I can say is I bet it really tested Mac’s and BB’s friendship for Mac drive to Texas with this rifle rather than the other direction under the Witness Protection Program.

  11. Really nice, BB!! I bet I know which gun you’ll be fondling on the couch in the evenings for some time to come! Thanks for sharing this Nelson with us! Really a well made and interesting gun! Not to mention finding one complete! 🙂 I hope you’ll still find the time to test airguns for us. I know that with this beauty I’d have a tough time not devoting all of my time to it….


  12. That’s quite a piece. I’m surprised you plan to shoot something like this. When it cost $50, I wonder what one of those dollars would be worth today. It’s an ingenious creation, but I must say that it actually moves me towards the notion of gun as “system” which I am not ordinarily fond of. Why combine two such different weapons into a single device? I would think the handling would suffer for both rifle and shotgun. And is there any circumstance in which you would go loaded up with both? Or do you just load up one on any occasion and enjoy saving the cost of a separate firearm? I think my alternative solution would be to have a gunbearer like they have in Tarzan movies for separate arms rather than carrying one combination weapon myself.

    What is the optimum fit of bullet to bore diameter? Should they be exactly the same? Or should the bullet be just a tiny bit larger to catch the rifling better?

    PeteZ, thanks for your explanation about kinetic energy and pressure. I have wondered about when the propelling power of expanding gases finally disappears. No doubt this happens when the propulsive force is equal to the drag force of the rifling (before the expansion of the gases goes to zero). But I suspect that the barrel length for this is considerably longer than what we would find practical.

    As for your point that pellet weight and kinetic energy are different, I can’t resist quoting Fiddler on the Roof.

    Man: Tevye, these two men are saying opposite things. You can’t say they are both right.
    Tevye: You’re right too!

    What I meant was that by keeping pellet velocity subsonic, a heavier pellet allows you to make use of higher kinetic energies that would be lost with a pellet going supersonic that cannot hit its target. So, there’s a practical relation, but I didn’t mean that weight and kinetic energy are the same thing. Which brings me to B.B.’s point. 🙂 Yes, as I recall the grand experiment in pellet velocity, harmonics dominate velocity in determining accuracy in the subsonic realm (although I don’t know that velocity is irrelevant either). But above the speed of sound, velocity does play a factor by making pellets inaccurate. There may have been some velocity tests that I wasn’t paying attention to, and I seem to recall some surprising exceptions. But isn’t it basically true that once you go supersonic, the accuracy drops off?


  13. PeteZ, on the subject of scientific definitions, what do you make of this? What are the applications of momentum and kinetic energy on a target? My guess is that momentum is more important for knocking the target down. Kinetic energy is for releasing the bound energy of structures; in other words tearing through and destroying them. That would explain why bigger bullets are most associated with “knock-down” power. Mass is a more important quantity for momentum than it is for kinetic energy. Then, why the big focus on kinetic energy? In a hunting situation, if you want to kill the animal, you don’t just want to knock down; you want to destroy. And the kinetic energy is more responsible for that.

    On the other hand, there are complications. A big slow-moving bullet will dump more energy into a target as it is moving through up to the optimum situation where the bullet does not even exit. A bullet with higher kinetic energy–hence greater speed–might move so fast that it doesn’t have time to do damage. So, the endless debate between knock-down power versus velocity and big bullets and small bullets may be because two intrinsically different quantities are being compared, but they are also interrelated in a way that is impossible to separate.


    • Matt61,
      On the subject of bullet damage and velocity you may want to check out what Roy Weatherby had to say about it. Hydrostatic shock can cause lots of damage with properly designed bullets.

      • Yes, bullet design is a whole different issue. But it makes sense that the designer of magnum cartridges would have something to say about this. Especially since he wanted to convert the higher kinetic energies he developed into hunting effectiveness.


      • BB,

        Your mention of Billy Dixon reminds me of an encounter I had at Adobe Walls. I lived for several years in Borger, TX (in Hutchinson County), not far from Adobe Walls. Always interested in local history, I drove out for a look.

        I saw the ruins and the bluff that the Comanche was killed on with Dixon’s shot. It was a remarkable distance. I would never have thought Dixon’s Sharps buffalo gun would have been able to do it (this was pre-Quigley).

        The most interesting part of the trip was the conversation I had with an ancient Texan who was poking around the site. This guy had to be well into his nineties. He told me he had been raised on a Comanche Reservation in Oklahoma.

        This guy was born around 1900. The Comanches have a strong tradition of oral history, so the story was still fairly fresh when he learned it.

        Billy Dixon was holed up with Bat Masterson and several other well-known buffalo hunters. The Comanches happened upon them when they, the Comanches, were picking plums from a wild plum thicket along the Canadian River a short walk from the old trading post ( I walked down there, and yes, the plum thicket is still there). The written histories say this was a planned attack, but the Comanche version is that they were picking plums. All I can say is there are plums there.

        Anyway, the buffalo hunters had a large dog with them. While the shooting was going on between the hunters and the Comanches, the dog attempted to help by making attacks of his own. In the course of the battle, the Comanches killed the dog and scalped it. The scalp included the dog’s floppy ears.

        After the battle, this scalp was taken back to the Comanche camp as a war prize. After it dried out, the Comanche children had a good time wearing the scalp with the floppy ears still on it. The old man (who may actually had seen it) compared it to the Mickey Mouse ears worn by kids in the 1950’s.

        I have since read several accounts of the battle that made mention of the brave dog. But I never read anything about the dog’s scalping or the fun the scalp provided later.

        Billy Dixon went on to become the first Sheriff of Hutchinson County.


  14. Matt61,I can offer you an explanation for Mr .Lewis’ seemingly odd barrel pair up.Many parts of the country are like here in the northeast;many close trees and a lot of dense brush.While hunting, for example, whitetail deer,long clear shots don’t really present themselves.Rather you see your prey for quick little snapshots.So when you see ’em you take your best shot and if you miss, then you fire the shotgun with it’s load of small shot.He is on the move and the larger scatter pattern is your only chance to hit ’em.So now you’ve injured the deer and that will slow ’em down and limit his distance and you have a blood trail to follow and you can still get your deer.This is a tactic of a hunter who needs the meat for food.Before the smallshot is thrown the hunter has already descided there is enough daylight for the tracking,fielddressing,and trip home or else the shot is not taken.In the hayday of this rifle game was an integral part of many people’s diet.That’s my supposition-Tin Can Man-

    • Well, that would fly in the face of modern hunting ethics. But if I was trying to survive I don’t know if I would pay any attention.

      Yes, I’ve heard of the buck and ball load. It was made obsolete with the development of the rifled musket but was still used in the Civil War, notably by the Irish Brigade of the Union Army. They were great believers in close action like in their victory at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745 against the British that was based on a series of bayonet charge. As I understand it, the buck and ball load sacrificed long-range effectiveness for extreme short range damage. The users took a lot of damage getting close enough, but if they survived, they were unstoppable. The effect was not unlike canister rounds fired by Civil War artillery (basically grapeshot) or by 37mm guns in WWII which caused banzai charges to “melt away.” I can’t think of a hunting application for loading a single barrel with both shot and a ball.



      • matt61,As I continue to speculate,I believe the hunter felt quite ethically bound to kill with as little suffering as possible and that to him it was a necessary means to get food he really needed.He had no intentions of letting the animal get away or to let it suffer long.Many people today believe that the more instant a kill the better the meat.When you wound an animal it tenses up,and after chasing it around and then finally killing it you end up with tough meat.So killing the animal as soon as possible was important for that reason too.Thank You for batting the ball around with me and I liked the history stuff.-Tin Can Man-

  15. BB,You used some terms I don’t understand.Gain twist…would that mean that the twist rate of the rifling increases as we move from the breach to the muzzle?-Tin Can Man-

      • Colt,Thank You for your response,that is good information.Then in an 18″ barrel with a 1:14 twist ;a pellet no more than gets turned around when it’s outta there (spelling intended).Cheers,Tin Can Man-

    • Tin Can Man,

      Yes, you got it right. The rifling twist rate increases from the breech to the muzzle. When black powder explodes, it does so violently and the pressure is like a hammer-blow to the base of the bullet. It squashes the lead out until it clings tightly to the walls of the bore.

      If the twist rate starts out slowly, it allows the bullet to move forward faster and not strip from the rifling. But as the bullet moves down the bore, the rifling twist speeds up and spins the bullet faster. Once it is held tightly by the rifling, the bullets can be spun faster without risking the lead stripping out.

      So you get a more perfectly formed bullet that is also spun much faster than it can be under conventional constant twist rifling. The result is you can shoot a heavier bullet that will stabilize and not be deformed by the rifling.


  16. BB,Twotalon,So why wouldn’t this twist method be great for airguns?In a future where we know that velocity does not summarily cause innacuracy and we have manufacturers building better tuned rifles and tunable rifles, higher velocities would still have at least a couple of stumbling blocks.One would be (if I understood you correctly BB)the twist rates at the higher velocities strips the lead from the softer pellets and leads the barrel.So if they start off slower and speed up as they move down the barrel maybe they wouldn’t lose the weight and also exit at the preferred spin rate.For the second problem:Robert Beeman said earlier in a preliminary paper that projectiles seemed to act differently at supersonic velocities than at the subsonic,and that round noses seemed to work better.So if the quest for higher velocities in pellet guns reasserts itself maybe the cylinder shapes would rule above the transonic region-like the monster pellet shape.Does this sound feasible?-Tin Can Man-

    • Tin Can Man,

      A gain twist would be a wonderful thing for an air rifle. There’s just one problem. A gain twist can’t be made by any method other than cutting the rifling by hand, and nobody does that anymore, except for a few custom barrel makers. So, unless you are willing to pay $2,000 for a Benjamin Marauder, it’s not going to happen.


    • It beats me if gain twist (cut rifling with progressive twist rate) would help or not with an airgun.
      It might depend a lot on what the final twist rate, muzzle velocity, and pellet design are. Could hurt or help from that standpoint.

      Airguns do not have the brutal pressure spike generated by black powder, so I doubt if there is any stripping going on. I have looked at recovered black powder bullets and saw no evidence of stripping. Same for airgun pellets.

      One thing I had an understanding of a long time ago is that faster twists powder foul a muzzle loader (or any black powder rifle) more. Black powder rifles always foul the worst down by the breech end. Gain twist may have been invented to reduce the fouling at the breech end while still spinning up the bullet before it gets out of the muzzle.


      • TT,

        You are correct that one important contribution of the gain twist is the reduction of fouling in the breech of a black powder arm. In a muzzleloader, that is particularly desirable.

        But a faster twist without unduly stressing the bullet is another important consideration. What I haven’t mentioned is that the rifling that both Schalck and Pope used was ultra-thin, and ultra shallow. It was like today’s micro-grooved rifling, only theirs actually worked a lot better. But it was very easy to strip the bullet because the rifling was so thin. So the gain twist really had advantages for both those makers, who are regarded as the two finest barrel makers that ever lived.


        • B.B.

          That explains a lot. I did not know the rifling design made by those two gun makers. I am used to more conventional width/depth rifling designs. What I am used to takes a bigger bite on the lead.


          • TT,

            Yes, their rifling was unusual and different from any other that has been made. They believed that the less a bullet’s base is distorted, the less it tends to suffer from the blast of gas after leaving the muzzle.


  17. Tin Can Man,
    Somewhere in the last week I was reading about a rifle that was being made with a barrel that was only partially rifled it started out as a smooth bore. I can’t remember the name or where I read it. I suffer a lot anymore from CRS. For Edith that is Can’t Remember Something. I believe it may have been Scandinavian.

    • Edith,

      he means “stuff” – Can’t Remember Stuff. On that topic, I had to do a deposition a few months ago. The plaintiff’s attorney showed me an e-mail and asked, “do you remember getting this e-mail?” “No”, I said.

      “But did you get it?” ” I must have, my name is on it”. “So you remember getting it?” “No. Counselor, my mind is like a hard drive that’s reached capacity. In order to remember something, I have to forget something. As this e-mail came some 6 years ago and I get up to 150 e-mails a day, guess what I don’t remember”.

      Our attorney was not pleased with my response. That is, after everyone stopped laughing.

      Fred DPRoNJ

  18. Tin Can Man and Shaky,
    You are referring to the FX line of air rifles. Their claim is the “smooth twist” bore allows the pellet to achieve higher velocities because of less drag in the barrel. What they do not say and was pointed out is that the manufacture of smooth twist barrels is significantly cheaper. I am really surprised we do not see more of this, especially with springers unless the fact that this method calls for choking the barrel and that can cause issues with this type of power plant.

    I for one think they are on to something to a point. A short distance of travel with no rifling and then a “ramping up” of the rifling once the projectile has achieved a certain velocity is likely to some extent more efficient, but whether it is truly meaningful…

    Now the gain twist to me seems to be the way to go, but I imagine it is cost prohibitive to achieve a quality barrel through mass production with this. Perhaps one day I will get rich and buy a Talon SS and have a barrel with “smooth-gain” twist made for it and see how that works.

    Now that I have had some coffee and rambled a bit, I will get on with my day.

    • RR,

      The smooth twist has problems of its own. It cannot work well if the velocity of the pellet goes too high. If it goes faster than a certain speed, the pellet strips on the rifled section, which is only a couple inches at the end of the barrel.

      Your idea of a smooth gain might be possible, since the smooth twist is ironed in to the barrel from the outside. But cutting the reverse button or whatever it is called would be a hand-done job that would be very expensive, since a regular button has to be made for a single twist that is uniform. I think it could be done, though, and only time will tell whether it is a good idea or not.


    • I have to wonder if that increased velocity thing about the “smooth twist” barrels is valid. Supposedly from less friction.
      With NO rifling, the entire circumfrence of both the head and skirt of the pellet are rubbing the bore. This does not happen with rifled bores. Only the top and a little of the sides of the rifling is in contact with the head and skirt.
      It would not surprise me if the increase in velocity (a few feet pre second at most) were caused by the fit of the pellet skirt. It would seal the bore better than with rifling.
      I have pushed pellets through the bore of PCP, low power and medium power springers, then shot the same kinds of pellets into a tall trash can full of water. Niether the heads or skirts of the pellets EVER filled the rifling grooves. There was ALWAYS an air leak around the pellets in the grooves…even with choked barrels giving the pellet an extra squeeze.
      Some of the megamagnums may blow out a skirt hard enough to seal the grooves. A detonation will do it (plus a lot of other pellet damage thrown in).


  19. Apologies for the flame-bait commentary but…

    It appears the PRCa is at it again… Assembly Bill 2333 would make having a NERF gun in a car while dropping off one’s kid at school a felony.

      • I’ll admit to hyperbole — I was using a notice by the NRA that emphasized that this bill would put guns firing /foam/ projectiles into the forbidden category.

        One of the changes in law that as originally proposed (I’m assuming the NRA alert may not have been on the latest modification) is to change (I hope the mark-up makes it, I’m using underscore for strke-through changes, italics for additions):

        “metallic projectile” to just “projectile”, and the inclusion of “not exceeding 6mm” — which would cover AirSoft (technically, I think it covers spit-wads from a plastic straw — Less than 6mm diameter, powered by air pressure?)

        any instrument that expels a metallic projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, not exceeding 6mm caliber, through the force of air pressure, CO 2gas pressure, or spring action, …

        And talk about confusion:

        16700. (a) As used in this part, “imitation firearm” means any BB device, toy gun, replica of a firearm, or other device that is so substantially similar in coloration and overall
        appearance to an existing firearm

        Okay — in 16700 “any BB device” IS an “imitation firearm”… I believe this is the definition being used for the school grounds… And with the removal of “coloration” even a transparent or brightly colored toy now falls into the category. And given some witnesses who’d call a pair of chalk-board erasers glued together in an L shape a “gun” I wouldn’t trust the “appearance to an existing firearm” to require many details…

        (b) As used in Section 20165, “imitation firearm” does not include
        any of the following:

        (2) A BB device.
        (3) (A) A traditional BB, paintball, or pellet-firing air gun that expels a projectile through the force of compressed air, compressed gas, or mechanical spring action, or any combination thereof.

        but in 20165 “a BB device” is NOT an “imitation firearm” — this is apparently the section specific to sales and transport of such… 3B goes on to list items with blaze orange muzzles per federal spec, and other entries for transparent or brightly monochrome colors…

        Confusing — the amended bill is worded as if the proposed changes in the as-introduced version were already enacted in the law. That is — there is no markup show regarding the removal of “metallic” and the addition of the …6mm clause; they are shown as if that is the current wording of the law. Apparently it only shows changes from the as-introduced version of the bill…

        • Blast; the markup did NOT make it through… Let’s try with deleted and added, and no blockquote

          any instrument that expels a metallic projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, not exceeding 6mm caliber, through the force of air pressure, CO 2gas pressure, or spring action, …


          16700. (a) As used in this part, “imitation firearm” means any BB device, toy gun, replica of a firearm, or other device that is so substantially similar in coloration and overall appearance to an existing firearm

  20. B.B.,

    I know this is an airgun blog and all, but articles like this one, and the ones about your Ballard, are easily some of my favorites! I agree with you completely that the wisdom you gain from these historic pieces can teach us a lot about shooting in general, and airgunning in particular.

    Man, for most of the article, I imagined that you were reporting on a close inspection of the Nelson Lewis as it appeared in your friend’s collection. I should have known that you managed to acquire the thing!

    Wacky Wayne! Between this thing and the Ballard, maybe B.B. will be distracted enough to let that USFT fall into the hands of your ninja infiltrators!


    • Jan,

      What we are finding is that firearms shooters are discovering this blog because I sometimes write about firearms, and when I do, it’s usually about something very odd or specialized that isn’t covered very well on the internet. As a result. the blog articles come up in a lot of Google searches.

      When they come to the blog and realize it’s about airguns rather than firearms, some of them like Kevin look around and then they discover how wonderful airguns are.

      That’s how I can justify the occasional report on a firearm.


    • Jan,

      This is one of my favorite articles that B.B. has ever written too.

      Yes, this is an airgun blog but in my view it’s pearls of wisdom related to shooting any and all guns. I’ve been around guns all my life and I never fail to learn something when I read the daily articles.

      The articles on the Marlin Ballard and this article about the Nelson Lewis combination gun are special since they stir something deep inside me. It’s a combination of many things.

      These guns came from an era when men were expected to shoot well and guns were very important tools. Both the Marlin Ballard and Nelson Lewis were acknowledged for their accuracy and you waited and waited for your opportunity to own one. The amazing craftsmanship done by hand, with tools that were made by the maker integrating years of experience and refinement fascinate me.

      The condition of B.B.’s Ballard and his Nelson Lewis combination gun are perfect to my eyes. These guns were used but well cared for. An indication of a chain of ownership that was very knowledgeable about fine weapons, respected what he owned and knew about their proper care. If either of these models was NIB, unfired, I wouldn’t have the same emotion. I can only imagine the many terrific shots that these guns made in the hands of owners that appreciated their accuracy. The food these guns provided to many tables that undoubtedly grew many Americans into adulthood is also on my mind. Ah, if these guns could talk I would pay to listen.

      Another aspect that is riveting for me is the fact that B.B. bought these guns to shoot. His goal is to strive for legendary accuracy by reviving techniques that have been all but lost to time. If these guns would have been purchased to hang on a wall only serving to amplify the envy of his friends I wouldn’t have much interest.



        I was fortunate to learn early in life that if you were interested in or actually acted upon those things that had little interest from the masses or you acted upon things that were contrary to the masses you would be a winner. Some call this a contrarian attitude but from my simpleton point of few it’s just being in the minority which always makes me comfortable. Do the opposite of the masses and you will be a winner. Tough to do sometimes though.

        When everyone agrees with me, in any social setting or any other context, I immediately question my thinking since it signals a serious error in my thought process.

        The lack of response to my comment brings a smile to my face.


  21. I have an N. Lewis combination rifle that has in the family since it was originally purchased. The front sight was apparently broken sometime while travelling and was replaced with part of a silver dime that was soldered on. The other part of the 1852 dime is in the patch compartment. The weapon no longer fires and one of the hammers sticks but it is in original condition and bears the N. Lewis, maker,Troy NY on the top of the double barrels.

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