by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

I’m going to the Roanoke airgun show this week. I’ll be on the road starting Wednesday morning, and I’m asking you veteran readers to help the new readers with their questions, as I’ll have less time on the road to devote to the blog. My wife, Edith, will more closely monitor the blog comments and jump in whenever she can.

I’ve also selected a special gun to report this week — the Diana model 23. I did all the photography and testing before leaving, so I’ll be able to write the report while I’m on the road.

The model 23 is the largest youth rifle Diana made after the war, but that’s still very small. When you see one in person, it isn’t very impressive; but when you examine it in detail the way I have, you begin to appreciate all that Diana put into this gun. The size may not be there, but the quality certainly is.

My late friend, Mac, loved airguns like these. He used to buy them, fix them up if they needed it and give them to young kids with their parents’ permission. It was his way of perpetuating the sport. I never used to give these small airguns a second glance before I saw them through Mac’s eyes. So I guess this report is a sort of memorial to him.

About a month ago, I was prowling though the Gun Broker website and happened upon a listing for a Winchester model 432 air rifle for $30 with no reserve. There were only a couple days left on the listing, yet there were no bids on the gun. A look at the photos told me why.

Diana 23
Not as pretty as I would like. This Diana 23 has led a hard life.

The finish was mostly gone from the gun! But I read the description and looked more closely at the detail shots and realized this might be a project gun that somebody abandoned. The seller said it was still smooth and powerful, despite the loss of blue. Had the owner simply stripped off the old blue in hopes of refinishing it?

A word about Winchester airguns
The name Winchester is magic in the gun community. Real Winchester firearms do command good prices, and they always command attention. But Winchester never made an airgun. The Diana-series air rifles made for Winchester are all numbered in the 400-series, and this is a model 423, which translates to a Diana 23. Winchester had about as much to do with the making of this airgun as any of you! So, in the grand scheme of things, the Winchester name on an airgun should mean nothing.

Except, it sometimes does! Firearms owners who are unfamiliar with the Winchester/Diana relationship of the 1960s and ’70s sometimes place a high value on these guns, regardless of the fact they’re neither rare nor made any better than any other Dianas from the same timeframe.

Diana 23 Winchester markings
The mottled blue hides the Winchester name. The model number is at the right.

The listing noted the great loss of blue and also said there were no cracks in the wooden stock. The pictures were detailed and not flattering. Therefore, I made the assessment that the dealer was honest.

For just $30 ($50, total, with shipping) I thought this rifle was worth a gamble. Even if it was trash, the parts were worth that much since it can always be rebuilt. I took a risk, made a bid and won it!

A week later, a large box arrived through the U.S. Postal Service and inside was my new air rifle, well-packed in bubble wrap and peanuts. After unwrapping it, the first thing I did was drop 10 drops of silicone oil down the air transfer hole and work the piston up and down until I heard the leather seal squishing. That told me it was pliable. Then, I loaded the rifle and took the first shot — keeping the muzzle over a box to prevent the oil droplets from hitting the table.

The rifle did seem to have all the power it was supposed to. Next, I examined the entire gun thoroughly, looking for defects. I found none. I’d given it a quick once-over before firing it, of course, but this examination was longer and slower.

The date stamp on the left side of the spring tube told me the rifle had been made in February 1969, making it an early one with the Winchester name.

Diana 23 date stamp
The date stamp of 02 69 means the date of manufacture is February 1969.

The rifle
The Diana 23 is either a small adult rifle or a fully-developed youth model. The model 22 that’s farther down the price scale has a brass liner barrel with a sheet metal outer jacket, so the 23 is the smallest model with the full features of an adult gun.

This model came in both rifled and smoothbore versions. It was made from 1951 to 1982, according to the Blue Book of Airguns, and came in both .177 and .22 calibers. Mine is a .177 that curiously does not have the European caliber designation of 4.5mm anywhere on the gun.

Diana 23 caliber marking
The only caliber marking is .177.

The rifle is 35.50 inches long with a 14.50-inch barrel. The length of pull is 13 inches even, which is a quarter of an inch longer than the Air Venturi Bronco pull. The rifle weighs 3 lbs., 11 oz.

The stock is beech wood and cut from a thin slab, so the rounded shape is more in your mind than in reality. But the edges are all nicely rounded to promote the look of a fuller stock. The stain is medium brown and even. There are no spots of wood filler like Chinese rifles often have, but the rubber anti-skid button found on the models 25 and 27 is missing from the bottom of the butt.

The trigger is a direct-contact type, and there’s no adjustment. It’s 2-stage, and the second stage breaks very crisply — much more so than I was expecting from a rifle in this class.

The sights are a fixed, tapered blade at the front (called a Korn sight in Germany) and a rear leaf that’s adjustable only for elevation. Both the front and rear sights can be drifted in their dovetails for small windage corrections.

Diana 23 front sight
Front sight is a tapered blade.

Diana 23 rear sight
Rear sight is a leaf that adjusts for elevation.

I was pleased to discover that the seller was correct about the condition. The metal is mostly smooth, despite the appearance. Only the barrel has any roughness to it. I wonder if I could refinish the whole gun with Blue Wonder cold blue?

A little gem
As I examined the rifle, I began to see Mac’s fascination with it. In every way, it’s a perfect little 3/4 replica of a Diana 27. It’s beautiful in that respect. After wiping down the stock with Ballistol, I was surprised to find the wood is in 95 percent condition! It’s as nice as the stocks on all my other Dianas! Only the metal parts need refinishing to make this little gun a bright new penny, again.

I think I’m going to have fun with this one.