Don Robinson BSA Airsporter: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Don Robinson Airsporter right
UK maker Don Robinson made this beautiful BSA Airsporter — a trademark of his work on airguns!

This report covers:

• It caught my eye!
• The rifle
• Prolific maker
• The tune
• Not a tackdriver?

If you’ve been a reader of this blog for several months, you’ve probably read about the 2014 Ft. Worth airgun show that was held back in September. It was a wonderful event for a number of different reasons, one of which was the large number of exotic, collectible airguns that showed up. I told you about that show in a 2-part report, and I tried to cover as much as I could; but there was a lot that didn’t get reported because of a lack of space. I did not mention today’s airgun in those reports, but I did include it in my feature article for the November color issue of Shotgun News. But if you don’t read that magazine, what you’re about to see today will be brand new.

It caught my eye!
As I was walking the aisles of the show, I glanced down and saw a stunning rifle on Ron Robinson’s table. At first I didn’t know what it was, but several visual cues soon informed me this was a custom air rifle made by UK maker Don Robinson. I know — Ron Robinson was selling a Don Robinson airgun! What are the odds?

I’d only seen one other Don Robinson airgun before. That one is in the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. That rifle is a Feinwerkbau 124 that was made in 1989 for the Prince of Wales, who donated it to the National Firearms Museum in appreciation for the U.S. assistance with private firearms donations for the defense of the British Isles in the early years of World War II. I remember looking at that air rifle in awe about 15 years ago, thinking, “So that’s what an air rifle built for a prince looks like!” I never suspected I would ever have the opportunity to own anything like it for myself.

And, yet, here it was on a table at an airgun show! While this rifle isn’t quite as over-the-top as Prince Charles’ 124, which can be seen here, it’s still gorgeous; and something about the style of carving on the presentation-grade walnut stock told me it came from the same hand.

Most amazing of all was the fact that this rifle had a price tag! It was in-play! So, I did what all of us do. I picked up the tag and glanced at the number. If it was more than what remained on my mortgage, I would at least have a good story to tell — but it wasn’t. In fact, it was a very reasonable number, and the tag said the price had just been reduced. Glory be! All I had to do was sell several airguns, and I could own this treasure.

Alas — that never happened at the show. While this was a great day for buying, the selling side came a bit short for me. I bet that’s happened to some of you, as well?

At any rate, the show closed and Ron went home with his rifle. But I didn’t let it slide. I started a dialogue with him that ultimately resulted in my obtaining the airgun many weeks later. Now I have it and, of course, I want to share it with you.

The rifle
The base rifle is a BSA Airsporter that’s similar to the Airsporter Stutzen I reviewed for you back in July and August. Only this one is just an Airsporter — not the stutzen model that has wood running out to the muzzle. In fact, this rifle resembles the Air Arms Pro-Sport, though the BSA Airsporter was the original rifle that Air Arms, Falke and Anschütz copied.

The rifle is an Airsporter 5 Mark III produced in 1985-86 according to the date code in the serial number. The serial number is low, so I think it was made in 1985. The BSA numbering system is somewhat confusing because they use marks and plain numbers for some guns and just marks for other guns. I found that out when I looked at the BSA Meteor. You need a table to sort things out, and I was fortunate to find one online.

In all other ways, this rifle started life as a conventional Airsporter, whose lineage dates back to the late 1940s. That was the clay that maker Don Robinson used to create the rifle you now see. It weighs 8 lbs., 7 oz. with a Hawke EV Airmax 3-9X40 scope mounted. The pistol grip and forearm are both slender, allowing the rifle to sink into my hands. It’s a feeling I like very much and is the antithesis of the blocky 2×4 profiles of some guns made today.

The barrel is approximately 17.5 inches from the loading tap to the muzzle, but you have to subtract a 1.16-inch backbore that BSA put at the muzzle so they could drill the front sight screw and not contact the rifling. Speaking of the sights, they’re missing from the rifle, which is fine, because it was made to be scoped. But there are open holes in the barrel where the screws went. There should be blind screws in these holes to finish the job. I don’t know if the rifle left Robinson’s shop without them or if an owner removed them for some reason and they were separated from the gun.

The pull is 13-5/8 inches from the trigger to the back of the thick black recoil pad on the butt. That’s normally too short for me, but I find that the ultra-high cheekpiece compensates nicely. My eye comes up to the scope quite naturally, and the rifle feels very correct just as it is.

The trigger is 2-stage and is adjusted so light and crisp that I fired the rifle just to experience it. I plan to leave it right where it is. And there’s no pesky safety — manual or automatic — anywhere on the rifle. The presence of a loading tap that can be turned 90 degrees to the transfer port any time you want the rifle to be safe precludes any need for this additional function.

This Airsporter has a new stock made of presentation-grade walnut with an ebony forearm tip. The wood is extensively carved and checkered, which those who are woodworkers will know is no small task because of the high figure and tight grain of the wood. Even the ebony forearm tip has been checkered and lightly carved!

Don Robinson Airsporter left butt
I call it “eye chocolate.” To me, this looks good enough to eat!

Don Robinson Airsporter left grip
Robinson checkers with both conventional bordered patterns and skip-line patterns.

Don Robinson Airsporter left forearm
Checkering continues up the forearm. And, yes, the metal is engraved!

Don Robinson Airsporter tap
Even the screw heads are checkered!

Don Robinson Airsporter nameplate
The nameplate leaves no doubt as to the maker. Oddly, the screw slots are not clocked. Classic British gunmaking convention dictates they should all align with the bore.

Don Robinson Airsporter right butt
The sharp undercut high-rollover cheekpiece can be seen here. From any angle, this rifle is a masterpiece!

Prolific maker
Don Robinson is a prolific maker who has made airguns for royalty, U.S. presidents and other notables. He also makes high-end rifles and shotguns for sporting use. Airguns are just one of the many areas he works in. Visit his website to see more.

He calls himself a master stockmaker, and a tour of his website will reveal that is no exaggeration. I don’t know where the metalwork is done, but it is not uncommon for different jobs like this to be given to others who each specialize in their own skill areas. Which brings us to the rifle’s tune.

The tune
When I picked up the rifle from Ron, he told me that it originally was not shooting as smooth as he liked. He said it wasn’t really bad, but it just didn’t appeal to his tastes. He said it felt like it was shooting dry. So he gave the rifle to airgunsmith Dave Slade and asked for his Master Tune. When he got the rifle back, he was very pleased with the way it shot.

I’ve only experienced the rifle with Slade’s tune, which I can tell you is spot-on. It shoots as good as it looks! I’m especially fond of the 2-stage trigger. It’s adjusted to break light and crisp. I’ll report the details in Parts 2 and 3.

Not a tackdriver?
Before we closed the deal, Ron wanted me to understand this rifle is not really a tackdriver. He said it shoots okay, but I guess he knew the scrutiny I put most airguns under, trying to get them to put five shots through a wedding ring at 40 yards. That’s true with most rifles, but not with this one. This one is like bringing a supermodel home and having your mother ask you whether or not she can cook. Heck, mom, I don’t even know if she eats!

But that won’t stop me from trying to get the very best accuracy in Part 3. Maybe I’ll find that one pellet that turns everything around! For watchers of the TV sitcom, Everybody Love Raymond, even Ray’s wife, Deborah, could make lemon chicken!

In this instance, it isn’t about the accuracy. I already have air rifles that are accurate. I wanted this one just to admire the artistry of the work in close proximity — that supermodel thing. I may get my fill of this beautiful rifle after awhile and let her go live somewhere else. But for a time, she’s mine to admire. I hope you’ll join me.

Don Robinson Airsporter left

 

85 thoughts on “Don Robinson BSA Airsporter: Part 1


  1. That is beautiful. Having that much care and effort cut into it must make it glow in your hand like E.T.s finger. Tom, serious question.. can you do a “Best fruit 2 shoot” test? The titles just for aesthetics of course, you could throw a couple vegetables in there.


  2. BB
    That’s some fancy do’n there. I keep thinking to myself how long did it take to do all that work.

    And that’s a gun that will make you sick if you nick it. Do you hold it?



  3. G’day BB,
    Very nice…a keeper!
    A bit of help if possible. I want to mount a Pulsar Nite scope on my FX Monsoon. The rotary magazine stands about .9″ above the 3/8″ (11mm) dovetail rail. The scope has a flat base and a 1/2″ (14mm) dove tail rails base.
    I thought if I used a BLK 167 riser mount 3/8′ to 3/8″ on the bottom and a BLK 456 3/8″ to 1/2″ on top of the first this should work.
    This should give me around 1/2″ clearance of the magazine with the scope bottom. A bit high perhaps but is there a better method of attachment?
    Cheers Bob


    • Hey Bob,

      A right interesting issue you have there with that magazine sticking up like that. Here are my thoughts on it.

      I would take two of these and stack them in front of the magazine.

      https://www.pyramydair.com/s/a/BKL_3_8_or_11mm_Tri_Mount_Dovetail_Riser_Mount_1_625_Long_Black/2880

      Then behind the magazine, assuming the rail is long enough, I would stack two of these.

      https://www.pyramydair.com/s/a/BKL_3_8_or_11mm_Tri_Mount_Dovetail_Riser_Mount_4_Long_Black/2877

      If you have enough room on the front, I would also use these longer ones there.

      If I am not mistaken, that scope has Weaver/Picatinny mounts built in, so then I would bridge between with one of these.

      https://www.pyramydair.com/s/a/Hawke_Sport_Optics_9mm_11mm_Dovetail_to_Weaver_Rail_7_2/5065

      This gives you the mounting you need, helps to make it all a bit more rigid by bridging the BKLs together and also gives you adjustment for droop/trajectory compensation.

      Yes, it makes it pretty tall, but with that magazine the way it is, you don’t have much choice.


      • G’day RidgeRunner
        All good!
        I purchased BLK 167 and 566 mounts and found I only needed the 566 as the Pulsar comes with its own bolt on Weaver. The magazine clears all well.
        I shot it today and the usual one hole groups at 25 yards appeared. This scope can be used day and night unlike some others.
        Range and clarity fantastic at night before mounting today and will try tonight at a paper target and let you know.
        Cheers Bob



        • I have at times considered night vision, but with the cost of such and the temptation to get into things I should not, I have not done such in the past.

          I may have to reconsider now though. I have just purchased a nice DSLR camera and if I can find the proper adapter, I think one of these would make a very nice versatile lens.


          • G’day BB and RidgeRunner
            A black night with storm clouds and no moon. My target box invisible in the blackness. Another one hole group at 25 yards using this scope!
            No life is not back to normal as I can shoot 24hrs a day.
            As you probably know this can also take movies…so you have to convince the Boss it is good for the whole family and your not being selfish.
            Cheers Bob


            • LOL! Yeah right, that’s the ticket! She’ll jump right on that!

              I’m afraid that if I want another expensive toy, I will have to sell some of my other toys to pay for it. That is how my airgun hobby has been working. I buy, sell and trade up to what I want.

              That is also how I picked up a new camera. I sold some stuff we did not need anymore and bought it and a new tablet for the Boss. I guess I will have to take a look around and see what else I can do without.



  4. Very beautiful indeed. Manufacturing such a stock would cost several thousand dollars, if you could find a craftsman with the ability to make such a woodwork! By the way, the large oval untouched area on the right side of the stock is intentionally left blank to be filled in with a customized engraving later, usually with a picture that tells a personal hunting story of the owner.


  5. I have alerted the authorities that a significant piece of British sporting history has been kidnapped by the colonials
    Expect the SAS to be rapelling off your porch in the near future


  6. In all seriousness, the Airsporter (and I’ve owned a few) was never that accurate, expect 30mm at 30 yards and around 10ft/lbs, and that’s with “proper” .22 pellets, not 5.5mm
    It’s sister rifle, sharing a lot of it’s internals was the BSA Mercury break barrel, and, all things being equal was both more accurate and generally more powerful, given the piston, stroke, spring etc etc were shared parts the tap system was probably the culprit
    All that said, my old ‘sporters took plenty of rats and the odd 25 yard rabbit back in the day…..though when I finally bought an HW35, the increase in accuracy was noticeable
    As an aside, both the Airsporter and Mercury could have their stroke increased by a quarter inch with little more than a round file which helps quite a bit with power



  7. Wow! What a beauty!

    I was really thrown at the beginning of this post: I read your Shotgun News article a couple of hours ago!

    I’m really looking forward to the next entry, even if it will take awhile before we finish off that accuracy testing.

    Congratulations on your newest beauty queen, BB!

    Out of curiosity, have you told Edith yet?


    • Ojay,

      I could not get Edith to look at this rifle at the show. I sent her over to Ron’s table, but he was very busy with buyers and she never saw it.

      I think the first time she really looked at it was when she proofed this blog yesterday!

      B.B.


  8. BB,

    That is not the kind of woman you bring home for mom to meet! I don’t think I would like to own it, but I sure would like to fondle it some. That is indeed some sweet eye candy you have there.

    For my own personal taste, It has way too much carving and checkering. I would not want to hide any of that absolutely gorgeous chunk of wood! That is some breathtaking walnut!

    Now I have a question. Is that cheek rest a separate chunk of wood or a lamination or is it part of the rest of the stock? He has several examples where he has done both.

    As far as to whether it can shoot, who cares. That is not what this thing is for. However, after this tune I will bet BB can squeeze the best out of this one to the point that it will be acceptable.

    “So what if she can’t cook Mom, that’s not why I am dating her.”


    • RR,

      Well, now I don’t know! I just assumed the cheekpiece was an outgrowth of the stock wood. And if it is a separate piece he has matched the grain very well!

      It’s still too early to be bumping around but I will examine it later today.

      B.B.


  9. B.B.

    Nicely done, imperfections give it a feeling of real hand work.
    Guess one day I must learn some fancy checkering myself, as for most time I either use just pitting or smooth surface. Rarely – “German recipe” – burn pitting and then some quartz sand on epoxy, but that’s too much job even for a stubborn guy like me.

    Mk.2 is starting to get shape in blueprints. What I have now is complete powerplant and synchro unit. I won’t copy JW’s loading system and change it for a simpler “turn and pull” bolt-type.

    duskwight



      • B.B.

        It’s actually nothing too fancy for now – just some blue wireframes on a grey background. Wait till I get some metal parts and then it’s going to be a real show 😉
        It’s not something new, conceptwise, but it’s much refined and “cleaned” stuff that is based on previous experience. So far I’m working mostly on simplifying for production and “loosing” weight.

        duskwight



          • Reb

            Carbon steel (but stainless will do), inner dia. 28 mm, 3 mm walls (or thicker, it will be centered and lathed down to 2 mm anyway), honed or polished inner surface, 1000 mm length (to have some extra). If you have one and think you can get it here – I’d really appreciate it and call it The Reb Pipe 😉

            duskwight



  10. I’ll have to start keeping an eye out for one of these older BSA’s.It doesn’t have to be fancy. I kinda like that 1906 that Ridgerunner keeps in my mind for it’s simplistic styling so this one makes ’em 3 fer 3 in my book


  11. Interesting choice of an action for Don Robinson’s work. As usual he picked a wonderful exhibition grade of walnut for the dress.

    Sure is nice to buy things from Ron Robinson since he’s not only an accomplished shooter but an honest man.

    kevin


    • Kevin,

      I could not agree more about dealing with Ron Robinson. He is always so helpful and informative in his dealings. I hope he has 4 tables at the 2015 Texas airgun show (we are dropping Fort Worth from the name next year). I plan on bringing money next year!

      B.B.

      B.B.


      • B.B.,

        Yes, If Ron tells you the gun is a “tackdriver” you can believe it. Not all airgun sellers know what a tackdriver really is!

        Glad to hear you’re taking gobs of money to the 2015 Texas airgun show. Just wanted to point out that the Texas airgun show is just shortly before my birthday…………..:-)


      • I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the name-change, I was looking forward to one a little closer than 1.5 hours drive. Ya’ll might as well be stoppin’ ’em @ the border. I wonder how shoppin’ the Rio Grande Valley would pan out?

        Reb


  12. BB,
    Beautiful rifle. The next time you write an article about this rifle again, could you please post a belly shot of that rifle, I love to see the wood carving on the belly too?


  13. Very nice. It’s a little over the top for my tastes but everyone can appreciate the handwork and craftsmanship that went into it. If anyone can get it to shoot, BB can. Perhaps RWS Superpoints?

    Mike


  14. B.B.,
    Ok…. Now I get glass gun cases. This would put smile on my face everytime I walked by. Ron’s website brought back a wonderful memory of the first time I ever fired a shotgun. In his rifle section are a rolling block with a red silvers buttpad above a baker with a broken stock. Grandfathers parker 12 ga side by side with a red silvers butt pad. Got stored in a closet up at the family farm with a propane fired hot air furnace on the other side of the wall, problem was there was a make-up air vent in the back wall of the closet and the stockcracked at the wrist.
    I was about eight, stayed at the grandparents farm for a month or two in the summers, found a couple of boxes of shotshells and turned the house upside down til I found them. i am blessed that none of my grand kids are as rotten as I was. Snuck that shotgun out and got that blue jay that always followed me around the woods scolding me. 10 or 12 feet above me in the tree, gold bead on target, squeeze… Oh the awesum ear-ringing booming fire and then a gentle snow of blue feathers and the instant regret.
    There’s a blog there on proper gun storage.


  15. Pax Guns were making the British 5.6mm pellets until a few months ago under the “Defiant” name, however H&N have bought their tooling and fled to Germany with it so I don’t anticipate the design being carried on
    Which is a shame as a lot of guns remain barreled in the calibre,
    Some local dealers to me have vast stocks of the “Champion” 22 pellets fron yesteryear which should aquit themselves fairly well, and there’s at least one proprietry pellet sizer around for giving certain brands a bit of a squash with.


  16. B.B.

    I’ve been following your blog for the past month or so, i must have read more than i did in my entire education! Reason is I’m planning to get back into air rifle shooting, which brings me immense satisfaction. I struggled with the choice of going pcp or Springer, A LOT! finally bought a Diana mod. 52 with the T06 trigger, went the Springer way for the joy it brings me when i shoot a tight group, i feel i achieved something when i do it. And you know what; i love it! So thank you so much for all the info you give us, which led me to a great rifle. I do have one question though, can i use a utg mount and a scope on it, or will it break every scope i use? Being a magnum and all? And if i can would you recommend a particular brand and model?thx


    • George,

      Welcome to the blog.

      The Diana 52 is a very smooth-shooting air rifle that won’t break any modern scope unless there is a manufacturing problem. You have a real smoothie, which I bet comes as surprise to you!

      Actually, the 52 is smooth compared to the real magnums of today. The big Gamos and Hatsans will slap you pretty hard when they fire. Your 52 is healthy, but not a scope breaker.

      And the UTG mounts and scopes are ideal for the 52. But Diana did change the tops of all their guns recently which made the scope base that UTG makes no longer fit properly. I would call Pyramyd Air to ask if the mounts I want will fit the gun I have.

      B.B.


  17. B.B.

    I never shot a magnum before, so I’d have to take your word for it, but you’re absolutely right it doesn’t slap you in the face, lol. I already found a utg mount for the T06, it comes with two screw holes on the top that go in the dovetail for additional anti slip and the front metal lip is less pronounced than before. Can’t wait to scope it and have some long distance fun! Thx.


  18. Quite a work of art. Hopefully the firing behavior will be good if not the accuracy.

    I just heard from Leapers who will replace my 8 year old UTG 4X32 AO scope no questions asked. These people are awesome. I had one other exchange with them before, and they were just as professional and helpful as this time. What a welcome relief from the surly gun dealers I’ve encountered. B.B.’s rave reviews of the Leapers products have been borne out every time.

    Matt61





  19. Amazing! Thanks for sharing, B.B.

    If it isn’t a great shooter, perhaps you’ve found a corollary to Whelen’s “only accurate rifles…” This one’s pretty danged interesting either way, though maybe only for a short time if it doesn’t shoot.

    -Jan



  20. As far as I know, Don Robinson sends the metalwork out to Don Blocksidge, an artisan of truly massive ability and probably the last “hammer and chisel” engraver of his quality in the world, he specialises in firearms, air rifles and motorcycles and has attained legendary status, if you like this gun, google him.


  21. It’s as well to just put “Don Blocksidge Air Rifle” into Google’s image search as his web site is the polar opposite to Don Robinsons
    I’ve got to say, my brain doesn’t even comprehend how he gets the turnout he does by using hammer and chisel, and the secretive old bugger seems to be next to immortal, his work was famous when I was a kid


  22. Great article BB.

    I am presently redoing a BSA Mercury MK2 ( 1974-78 ) and seeing that both these rifles have the same power plant…I do look forward to the rest of the reviews.

    I hope there is a word ( with pictures) of dissembling and tuning the trigger.

    Regards,


    • BBS,

      Welcome to the blog.

      I’m not planning on disassembling this rifle. It’s shooting so well that I would be afraid of ruining a good thing. I’m sorry about that, because I know you were looking forward to it. Maybe someone else online has done a report of a teardown?

      I will photograph the trigger adjustments for you, but I plan to leave them where they are for the same reasons. This rifle is shooting so well that it would be a shame to ruin it.

      B.B.


  23. Fair enough. And thanks BB.

    There has been a fair amount of interest on Mercury’s / Airsporters lately but not much information on the triggers. The Mercury Mk2 has a single stage trigger and I intend to swap it for a 2 stage ; hence the interest.

    BBS.


    • BBS,

      Believe me, I do understand. There has been very little written about BSA spring guns, in general, and nothing that I can find on Airsporters. I hope it’s out there — I just don’t know where to look.

      Maybe if I find a cheap Airsporter somewhere I can remedy the situation.

      B.B.



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