B.B. looks at gas springs
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
• What to call them
• Can gas be a spring?
• Confusion reigned supreme
• We bought one
• Meet Ben Taylor
• It worked!
• Ft. Worth airgun show
What to call them
Today, I want to tell you about the saga I had when I got into gas-spring airguns. Let’s start with the name. Some folks call them gas struts, while others call them gas rams. Some, like Crosman and Gamo, use trademarked names like Nitro Piston and Inert Gas Technology to name their gas springs. But the industry that makes the units calls them gas springs.
They’re called struts when used in assemblies, like the MacPherson strut in a car’s suspension or the suspension strut on an airplane’s landing gear. I don’t know where the term “ram” comes from, but I’m sure there’s a reason people use it.
Can gas be a spring?
Boy, does this terminology ever throw some people! They cannot accept the idea of gas being a spring, because they know that the gas has to be contained inside something before it can work in that manner. So they object to calling these units “springs.”
A gas-spring unit is a cylinder-like device with two halves that slide in and out. Inside the spring, compressed air or sometimes another gas such as nitrogen is permanently contained. When the two halves slide together, they compress the gas inside and raise the pressure. That causes the two halves to spring apart with force. Inexpensive gas springs are used in many places where coiled steel springs used to be. They’re cheaper to make and can last far longer without degrading — depending on how they’re made.
When I started writing about airguns in 1994, gas springs were just coming into the picture. Theoben, an airgun company in the United Kingdom, was an early leader in the field of gas-spring airguns. There was also a factory in Argentina making them, though their distribution base was smaller. I didn’t find out about them until the late ’90s.
Theoben was founded by co-owners, Dave THEObald and BEN Taylor. I mention that because of what happened to me later, when Ben Taylor talked to me at the SHOT Show.
Confusion reigned supreme
In the early days, the British airgun magazines were loaded with articles about Theobens! Americans were importing them privately at first, then Air Rifle Specialists out of New York state began importing them. Davis Schwesinger was the owner of that company. A few years later, the Beeman company stepped in with their Crow Magnum, which was a Theoben Eliminator in a slightly different stock. After that, Theobens were in the U.S. to stay.
I was writing about airguns by this time, so I chanced to encounter these guns from time to time. My first encounter was not with the powerful Eliminator/Crow Magnum, but with the lowest-powered Theoben ever made, the thoroughly delightful Fenman. Someone had one and allowed me to shoot it at a silhouette shoot in Virginia. I was amazed at how accurate the little rifle was. I was hitting rams at 45 yards offhand, which is way beyond my normal ability. But the rifle was accurate, lightweight, attractive and easy to cock for a gas-spring gun. I say it that way because, even though it produced just 12 foot-pounds, the Fenman cocked with about 40 lbs. of effort. That was mostly due to its short barrel. If you’re interested in my experiences with a Fenman you can read about it here.
We bought one
I decided that I needed to get on the gas spring bandwagon if I was going to write about airguns with any authority. So, Edith and I bought a brand-new Beeman Crow Magnum in .25 caliber. I bought the Beeman because of the name. I figured they would back up the gun no matter what happened. I bought the .25-caliber only because they didn’t offer one in .26. I wanted the biggest, baddest spring-piston air rifle in the world, and the Crow Magnum/Eliminator was it at the time. Well, yes, there was also the equally powerful handmade Whiscombe, but they were out of my price range at the time.
We bought a Beeman Crow Magnum in .25 caliber to test it. What we found was not popular!
I began testing the rifle for my Airgun Letter, and that was when the ship hit the sand! I was getting results that nobody else talked about, and my experiences were far different from those in print. For starters, I decided to shoot the big rifle 1,000 times to break it in. I shot at paper targets 10 meters away and fired 50 shots at each bull. Fifty were all the shots I could fire in one session, using both arms to cock the 60-lb. breakbarrel. And my groups were about two inches in diameter! Two inches at 10 meters! Oh, boy, did that ever get people talking!
Folks immediately started saying that I was doing things wrong and that surely this big rifle couldn’t be that difficult to cock. The Beeman company called and told me to let some of the air out of the gas spring, because Theobens had that ability and I had purchased the optional pump. So, I did. I let out enough air pressure to drop the cocking effort to 46 lbs., and the power stayed almost where it had been. It was easier to cock but still inaccurate.
Theoben guns had a screw that covered the access to their gas springs.
Remove the screw and attach a hand pump to fill the gas spring. A narrow rod pressed in on the Schraeder valve to release pressure.
I had a visit from a Theoben owner who owned several of the guns. He came to my house, and we both shot our .25-caliber rifles at 10 meters, getting one-inch 5-shot groups! That made it real and no amount of talking could change it. Then, he told me that .25 was not the best caliber for the rifle. If I wanted it to shoot accurately, I needed to get a .20 caliber. Another reader of my newsletter loaned me his Eliminator that he said had been filled with pure nitrogen to reduce the cocking effort; but when I measured it, it still came to 45 lbs. And, it was no more accurate than my rifle.
I contacted Davis Schwesinger of Air Rifle Specialists, and he swapped my .25 barrel for a .20. While he had my gun, he went through it and found that my piston seal was okay. He said he did that because too many Theoben owners had over-pressurized their gas springs and burned up their piston seals. I reported all of this in The Airgun Letter, and the hate mail poured in! I kept trying to shoot good groups with the new .20-caliber barrel. While it was better than the .25, it was still unacceptable.
This Theoben Eliminator seal was melted from the heat of excessive compression, caused by over-pressurizing the gas-piston unit. Davis Schwesinger replaced this seal (and many others) for customers who didn’t understand they were hurting their guns. This is not a seal from my rifle.
Meet Ben Taylor
Then, I went to the SHOT Show and met Ben Taylor. In fact, he sought me out. He told me that my experiences with his rifles were normal, and that the airgunning world had a distorted view of gas-spring technology. He first told me to clean my barrel. In those days I didn’t believe in cleaning airgun barrels, but Taylor told me to use J-B Non-Embedding Bore Cleaning Compound on a brass or bronze bore brush and to run it fully through the barrel 20 times in both directions. Does that sound familiar?
He also told me to shoot Crosman Premier pellets in my .20-caliber rifle and to lubricate them with a mixture he called Whiscombe Honey. He told me to make it with a mixture of STP Engine Oil Treatment (the real thick stuff) and a good gun oil such as Hoppes. Use equal parts of both by volume and stir them thoroughly. I mixed up a batch that I still use to this day. He told me that John Whiscombe had discovered this mixture worked great in his powerful rifles and that Theoben recommended it.
Taylor also cautioned me to not over-pressurize the gas spring in my gun. Of course, I already knew this, but he told me this was the No. 1 problem his guns had. Owners looking for the last foot per second were over-pressurizing their springs and actually reducing the power the guns put out! He said they refused to believe that more was not better. Those who didn’t own a chronograph were ruining their airguns. There’s a maximum pressure for the gas piston and going above it does not increase the piston’s speed. He said these owners turned their airguns into slide hammers that beat themselves apart to no advantage.
I talked with Taylor for about a half hour. The man was completely honest with me, which was refreshing after the tidal wave of propaganda I’d been getting. I returned home, cleaned my barrel, set the gas spring at 45 lbs. and proceeded to shoot the first one-inch group ever at 40 yards. What do you know — the darned thing actually works when you do it right!
Since that time, I’ve shot dozens of different gas-spring airguns. RWS USA imported some that Theoben made especially for them, and I found them to be delightful when used correctly. Tom Gore of Vortek started manufacturing gas springs for various models of Weihrauchs, and I got to test them before anyone. I still have one of his units he made for my R1; and after 15 years, it still works like new.
The best modern gas-spring guns I have tested were the Gamo Whisper with a Vortek gas spring installed by Air Venturi. That gun cocked easily and had virtually no movement or vibration! It was a dream! But it didn’t last long in the market.
Crosman signed a deal with Vortek that got them into the gas-spring business. One of their early guns was called the Benjamin Legacy. I still have mine. It’s a .22 breakbarrel that produces just over 12 foot-pounds and has all the attributes I want to see in a breakbarrel rifle. It’s easy to cock and very accurate. There’s almost no recoil and zero vibration! They also produced a Benjamin Trail Reduced Velocity for a short time, but very few were ever sold. People want power!
Alas, I’m in the minority for wanting spring guns that are reasonable. Most shooters want raw power, which is where we are today. Companies are giving people what they think they want at the expense of hard cocking, poor accuracy and painful vibration. And that — my friends — is why I like the new Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 so much.
The Crosman management team that runs the company today wasn’t around during all those years of gas-spring growing pains when things didn’t work as advertised. Yet, miraculously, one of their young engineers has discovered how to make a gas spring rifle that has the benefits of the best of them, and still produces credible power. Not uncanny power, but usable power in an accurate rifle.
If you’re new to airgunning, you may still have to experience some of these hard lessons yourself. Sometimes, that’s the only way to learn. You want the ultimate in power, and you assume that the accuracy will come right along with it. Only after you’ve been slapped around a while and then shoot a real smooth airgun will you appreciate the difference that a good, smooth gun can make.
Here’s the last thing I’ll say on this subject. I’ve seen people switch hundreds of times to using good airguns, and each time it’s wonderful. An airgunner who has been pursuing the power trail finally shoots a well-tuned spring rifle that’s easy to cock and dead calm. That experience blows him away, and a new airgunner is born! I enjoy watching this happen, and I hope that it happens to all of you some day.
Ft. Worth airgun show
The Texas airgun show is on Saturday, September 6.
All the registration information and hotel information is on the flier, plus the show hours and costs. The 4-H Club will cater food and drinks.
This show is stacking up to be the largest airgun show ever held! We already have the following vendors coming:
The following companies say they will try to attend:
Neal Stepp (International Shooters Service)
Besides these major dealers, American Airgunner television will have a film crew at the show and host Rossi Morreale has been invited. Steve Criner, star of television’s Dog Soldier and also appearing on American Airgunner, will attend. We’ve invited big bore hunter Eric Henderson and Jim Chapman, who writes for Predator Extreme magazine, and many other airgun personalities. AirForce Airguns is trying to bring Ton Jones of television’s Auction Hunters to the show, if his schedule permits. Ton is the guy who created the idea for the AirForce Escape survival rifle, as you will remember.
The gun club holding the event has several of their members bringing airguns to sell on a combined club table. These guys have been asking for this show for the past two years and should bring out some interesting old guns for the first time.
The following door prizes and raffle prizes have been donated:
Air Venturi Bronco
Hatsan AT44-10 Long QE
Walther LGV Master Ultra
Other prizes and giveaways not yet determined will be given out at this show.
I expect a very large turnout for this show. I anticipate new private dealers with airguns that haven’t been seen at other shows, and I know there will be some gun dealers who will be bringing their airguns to sell.
Even better, the crowd at this show will not just be the usual people who attend airgun shows. Yes, many of them will be there and even have tables, but I expect to see hundreds of airgunners who have never been to an airgun show before. Because there will be both vintage guns and brand new guns for sale at the same show, they’ll see the best airgun show ever.
The gun club will be active that day, so there will also be firearms on the ranges. Therefore, the club is allowing firearms to be displayed at the show. Naturally, all firearms and airguns must be unloaded when indoors and must be tied to prevent operation. No dry-firing will be permitted indoors.
Besides the show, the club is giving us two ranges for airguns to be tested and demonstrated. These are located approximately 50 yards from the buildings that house the show. Chapman and Henderson will host a big bore range and demonstrate the guns to the public.
You may have thought about attending an airgun show or even having a table at a show. This is the show to attend! It happens in just a single day and will be exciting, fast-paced and full of surprises.
Tables are now filling fast. If you want one, don’t delay. Send your reservation check today!