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Education / Training Testing a Diana model 23 breakbarrel air rifle: Part 5

Testing a Diana model 23 breakbarrel air rifle: Part 5

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Diana 23

Diana 23 was a find on Gun Broker. The finish is bad but the gun works well.

This report covers:

• An update
• Today — disassembly

An update
I started this report back in September 2013 — 16 months ago. I’d purchased a Diana model 23 breakbarrel rifle off the Gun Broker auction website for $30. With shipping, it came to $50. We discussed cruising Gun Broker for airgun deals yesterday, and this is one that I got.

This rifle is really a Winchester model 423, which is how Winchester had Diana mark all their air rifles (in the 400-series, with the Diana model number being the last 2 digits). Most Winchester air rifles are .22 caliber, but this one came as a .177, which is more appropriate to its small powerplant.

I tested the rifle’s power for you in Part 2, where we discovered that it shoots RWS Hobby pellets at an average velocity of 381 f.p.s. I have no experience with Diana 23s, but I expected to shoot that lightweight pellet in the mid-400s. So, the rifle seemed a little slow to me.

But it did shoot JSB Exact RS domes at an average 452 f.p.s., which is about spot-on what I expected. The powerplant may be okay, and it just doesn’t like Hobbys for some reason. I won’t know the state of the powerplant until I disassemble the rifle.

I did discover that this rifle shoots best when the pellets are seated deep instead of flush. The difference is rather dramatic. And the trigger-pull is a very heavy 7 lbs, which is almost double the rifle’s weight of 3 lbs., 11 oz. Anything that can be done to reduce that will probably help the accuracy.

The stock on this rifle is in really nice shape. After a rubdown with Ballistol, it shines as bright as all my other Dianas. So nothing needs to be done to the wood, and aren’t we all glad for that?

While the bluing is off the metal in a really major way, the part of the spring cylinder that can be seen is still smooth metal. It’s not pitted by any rust. The barrel, however, is deeply pitted on the outside, though bright and shiny with deep rifling inside. I was going to have to take off a lot of metal to get it ready for bluing.

At the 2013 Roanoke airgun show (that is sadly no longer running), collector Larry Hannusch gave me a brand-new Diana 23 barrel for this project. He reads this blog and had the barrel on hand, so this was his donation to the project. That saves me many hours of prep time! Thank you, Larry!

If you want to see how the rifle looks right now, look at Part 1, where I show a number of detailed photos of the outside.

Today — disassembly
Today, I’ll take the rifle apart and see what needs to be done to the action. Before I refinish the parts, I want to get everything in shape for the cold blue that will then be applied.

To disassemble the gun, the barreled action has to come out of the stock. I remove two screws in the forearm and the front triggerguard screw. The action comes out, but not easily. It feels like it’s been in there since manufacture, back in February 1969.

Diana 23 screw loose

Remove the stock screws.

Diana 23 stock off

Once the action is out of the stock, I’m surprised to see all the rust on the spring tube. The stock had been hiding that for years. Now, it’s time to take the action apart. The end cap comes off first.

Diana 23 end cap

The end cap needs to be pulled off the spring tube. Nothing holds it on.

Diana 23 cap off
With the cap off, you can see the rear crosspin that holds the inner tube inside the outer spring tube. The front crosspin must be removed first so the trigger blade and return spring will come out of the rifle — or the inner tube cannot be removed.

Once the cap was off the tube, I put the action into my mainspring compressor and tightened the screw. The inner tube that contains the trigger also bears on the spring guide. It stands proud of the outer tube, and putting some tension on it relaxes all tension on the crosspins.

Diana 23 in compressor
The action is in the compressor, and there’s tension on the inner tube that takes tension off the crosspins.

The 2 crosspins could now be tapped out. The trigger blade swings on the front crosspin, so remove it first. Then, the trigger blade and trigger return spring can be removed from the tube. Until the trigger is out of the gun, the inner tube that holds the mainspring guide cannot be removed from the outer spring tube. This is a different process than the larger Diana rifles, and it’s important that you do things in the right order.

Diana 23 crosspins
The front crosspin on the left is skinnier than the rear crosspin. It comes out first so the trigger blade and return spring can be removed. That frees the inner tube. When the rear pin is out, it will back out of the spring tube under pressure from the mainspring.

Next, the rear crosspin is pushed out. Now, the compressor screw is backed off and the mainspring will relax — pushing the inner tube and spring guide out of the spring tube until they can be removed.

Diana 23 spring out
The mainspring, spring guide and inner tube are out of the spring tube.

With these parts out, I could see this gun was completely dry. There wasn’t a hint of lubrication on any of these parts. Anything the factory had put on in 1969 had dried out by this time.

I checked the fit of the mainspring to the spring guide and found it loose but not overly loose. The other end of the spring fits the inside of the piston rather well, too. So, I won’t be adding buttons or doing anything to tighten these tolerances. I’ll just lubricate the parts with a light lithium grease at assembly. The 23 powerplant is so weak that anything that slows it down would be bad. Also, I think just the lubrication may speed it up a little. And there’s no vibration to speak of, so tightening the tolerances isn’t necessary.

Next, I had to remove the piston; but to do that, the barrel must come off the spring tube. The barrel has a cocking link that is connected to the piston, and there’s no way to disconnect it unless the barrel is apart from the spring tube. So, the next step was to remove the barrel pivot screw.

The end of the pivot bolt is a nut that was stuck on the end of the pivot bolt. I had to make a spanner to engage the two slots in the nut, so it could be loosened from the end of the pivot bolt.

Diana 23 pivot bolt
The barrel pivot bolt looks like a slotted screw. Before it will come out, the nut on the other end must be removed.

Diana 23 pivot nut
The pivot nut has to come off before the pivot bolt can be removed. I cut out a screw driver to make a spanner to fit the slots on the nut.

The nut seized on me at the end of the bolt, and I had to use force to get it off. I ruined the nut, but was able to order a replacement from Chambers Gunmakers in the UK.

Once the pivot bolt was out, the barrel came out of the spring tube forks and the cocking link disengaged from the piston. Now, I was able to slide the piston out of the spring tube. The leather piston seal looks very good. While a replacement is available, I think I’ll continue to use this one. I’d oiled it when I got the gun, so it’s soft and pliable.

Diana 23 piston
The leather piston seal is soft and pliable because it’s been oiled for a couple years. It’s still in good condition. So is the mainspring.

The mainspring is still remarkably straight, so I see no need to replace it, either. But the leather breech seal, which in the Diana 23 is around the air transfer port on the spring tube instead of the rear of the breech, is flattened and gouged. It will have to be replaced. Fortunately, Chambers has a new seal, so I ordered one.

Diana 23 breech seal
This picture doesn’t show it, but there’s a gouge in the seal on the far side of the breech. That cone is what rides over the ball bearing detent that holds the breech shut.

That’s it for this report. The Diana 23 is now completely apart and ready to be worked on. You saw the rust in the photos; and next time, I’ll deal with that. I’ll also remove all the blue and get the metal ready for the cold blue.

I looked at the simple sear and think I’ll just lubricate it and the corresponding piston hook but leave their surfaces alone. They’re very crude; and by stoning, I could remove any hardening they’re supposed to have.

It’s taken a long time getting to this point; but now that we’re here, the rest of the job should go faster.

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.

63 thoughts on “Testing a Diana model 23 breakbarrel air rifle: Part 5”

  1. BB,

    Just out of curiosity, where did the rifle come from? By that, I mean where was the seller located? The amount of rust seems to indicate a rather moist climate that you would find in a coastal state such as Florida.

    Fred DPRoNJ

    • Yes that looks like it was from Florida, I have to keep up and go over
      my guns a few times a week because I get a small patina of rust on
      everything including guitar strings which are only good for about three months.
      I’m about two miles from the Gulf.I found a Diana at a garage sale but it
      wasn’t as bad as the one profiled today I did restore it but mine did not have
      the Winchester Trademark on it.The seller had a German accent so I believe
      he brought it from his country with him.The gun came out fine I use pre treated
      oil patches and so far it seems to prevent the rust that when I first moved down
      here a lot of my guns and other metal objects were starting to rust in about
      a month.

  2. B.B.

    Ah! so you brought out the old girl again Sir. You know I was wondering about this gun & if you had forgotten all about it. It sure is in very poor condition.Do you think it can be fixed. Just looking at it brings back such fond memories & also regrets! Thank you Sir.


    • Errol,

      I have to disagree with you about this little gem being in very poor condition. Cosmetically it is not very pretty, but it appears that it should function quite nicely, most especially after a little polishing and a little lube. Once he replaces the breech seal, the performance will take a little jump up also.

      This is going to end up being a nice little tinkering project and turn into a sweet little plinker. The feral soda cans had best beware.

      • R.R.

        Maybe. But I have never seen so much rust on a gun. Looks like the previous owner hadn’t discovered oil. You are correct about the breech seal. The hole over the transfer port has to be just right for optlmum velocity. I had an original Diana 23 made in Germany. My Dad made his own seals. We shot dead crows at 20m with it.


  3. My first ever rifle, bought for me to entertain me when I was 11 and rather immobile with a broken leg having idly wandered out in front of a Jag XJ6 on my way home from school, starting a life long love of airguns, especially German springers.
    Mine was 177 and rifled with a small scope fitted that adjusted on the rear ring mount rather than internally, I don’t recall the trigger being notably heavy for my youthful fingers so hopefully a good lube tune and clean will drop it, maybe don’t stone it but a nice polish with 00 grade wire wool and a thin smear of Moly, I’ve picked up a couple of smoothbores in 22 since, though haven’t had one for years, grooves for a scope seem to randomly appear and disappear over the years as they do on model 25’s and 27’s

  4. B.B.,

    Very interesting. It’s like opening up one of those time capsules that are put into the corner stones of buildings. Interesting also was your assesment of various parts and finding them to be ok as is,..just clean and re-lube. And the “not stoning the sear” was good as well. I would think that most newbie gunsmiths would do this to refine the trigger smoothness. So much to learn.

    Just curious,…if you were to replace a larger percentage of all the parts with new ones,..would the cost of the parts exceed the finished gun’s worth at some point?

    • Chris,

      It would depend on what you use to measure it’s worth. Since he is preparing to cold blue it, the collector value will be gone.

      As far as replacing the rest of the parts, the only part that might need replacing would be the spring because of how old it is and having been slightly compressed for so many years. You can pick them up for $25 or so.

      The value of this thing will be personal satisfaction. This will be a fun little air rifle to pull out every once in a while just for the shear joy of it.

      • Hi RR,

        You are right about the true value being measures in personal satisfaction.

        Being in my second childhood I have a couple of very nice air guns but I still regularly shoot the Slavia 618 that I got during my first childhood – nice little plinker within its range!

        I have a Crosman 101 pumper that is older than me (was my Father’s) that I will be re-sealing this winter. I was debating whether to leave what’s left of the black paint on the action as is or to refinish the whole gun.


    • Chris, USA,

      If I bought those parts from the UK then yes, they would get out of hand pretty quick. That is one reason I am not replacing the seal or mainspring — aside from the fact they are both in good shape.

      RidgeRunner is correct about the reblue destroying any collector value. But then this gun doesn’t really have any at this point, so I’m not losing anything. And it will be fun, making it look good again.


      • BB,

        Jim Maccari still sells a spring for the Diana 23 / Winchester 423 and I have installed one in my .177 Model 23. It is stiffer than an oem spring and fit the guide tightly, but the velocity stayed about the same. I do have another really beat-up 23 in .22 caliber with a spring from Chambers and I may swap the springs just to see if it helps the larger caliber.

        The 23 is fun to shoot but you have to be careful with the front sight when cocking the rifle – it feels like a knife blade on my knuckle and I have actually cut my finger on it before.

        Interesting series.

        Paul in Liberty County

  5. Poor old thing, I would give that old girl a new spring just out of manners, judging from the piston seal I don’t think she’s been shot much but 46 years is an awful long time and my old one would stick the tail of a pellet in pine a quarter of an inch at 10 yards suggesting around the 5 to 6 ft/lb mark.

  6. BB,

    When you clean that piston up, I would see if I could round off the edges of the end pieces a little bit to reduce the chance of any gouging of the compression tube.

    Speaking of the compression tube, how does it look inside?

  7. B.B.. Another great blog. Indeed. I think we all love taking stuff apart and see what is inside. I wish you or somebody wouold offer Do It Yourself drawings or better yet, an air rifle tube compressor kit . It would be very welcome I believe. e a eFor a person to run around collec ting all the items needed would b

    • Oooops ! For a person to run around collecting all the “right” parts ( quality wood, long threaded rods, etc.)
      Maybe to just offer a D.I.Y assemble package..
      Thanks Tom and Edith..
      Orcutt, CA

      • Pete,

        Spring compressors are a tough nut. Someone makes one, like the B-Square you see in this report, and the internet becomes alive with people telling each other to save their money and build their own. Then the compressor goes off the market and people start offering twice what it once sold for.

        I’ve seen this cycle many times and I don’t know what to do about it. There is a market for mainspring compressors, if someone would just make one and keep making it for about 20 years I think they would get past all the craziness.


        • Thank you, Tom ! I think messing with any spring can be very dangerous and to have clowns step in with thier D.I.Y. ideas is a shame. I would never waste my time trying to find some of these parts to save money even though I have Home Depot, etc. less than ten miles away.
          Best wishes,

      • Hi Pete

        There is nothing much to making a spring compressor. Doesn’t have to be a fancy machined metal affair.

        The first one I made from a piece of Dexion shelving (angle iron with lots of convenient slots and holes in it) and some ½-13 threaded rod.

        The one I use now has a wood base and took about an hour to make from bits and pieces I had in the workshop. It clamps the rifle solidly and has no problem handling that long spring in my FWB124.


        • Hi Vana 2,

          I’m making one too. It looks like the one B.Bs using. I used 12mm thread bars & specially made wood blocks with long bolt embedded in one end to take a one ft length of thread bar with a handle welded on for compressing the spring. Not complete yet. I lock the blocks in place with nuts on each side. Its real strong.


          • Hi Errol,

            I didn’t bother making a handle for mine, just used two nuts tightened against each other to lock them to the threaded rod so I could use a socket wrench for turning the rod.

            Make sure that your spring jig is rigid and the movement is linearly controlled/restrained to keep the spring chamber, spring and threaded rod in alignment while removing or installing a spring.


  8. Well guys I just got the email saying my TX200 has shipped!! 🙂 I was wondering if any of you could weigh in on the “proper” or generally accepted way to break in a gun of this type, I also noticed that H&N offers pellets in several different head sizes, has anyone had their gun(s) show a preference for a particular head size? It looks as though I will have a nice Winters project trying out the various pellets.

    As Alway, THANKS!!! Kevin in CT

  9. Wow, this rifle weighs less than 4 lb. I didn’t realize that there were springers that were so light. Of course its low power. And look at that trigger; a direct acting sear with no other levers in a mechanism. So simple but no wonder the trigger pull is heavier than the gun!
    Neat stuff B.B.! I’ll be particularly interested in seeing how you remove the rust and reapply blueing. I have limited experience doing this; once on a small rust patch 30 yrs ago on my HW50 barrel.

  10. BB- I have a Diana 22 (.177, rifled brass barrel) that is at least as accurate as my Slavia 618. However, it has a very heavy trigger pull. Like you, I have not polished, filed ,or stoned the sear. I was hoping that you would be able to improve the trigger on your 23. Kevin- be careful with naval jelly. When I used it many years ago, it often etched the steel. Ed

    • Ed,

      I’ve used naval jelly on many guns to remove rust and bluing when the intention was to re-blue. Pockets of rust left in pits in the metal are a culprit when re-bluing and naval jelly does the best job of removing these. You just have to watch the reaction and completely rinse off when necessary.

      Polishing/prepping the surface is key for re-bluing and any “etching” done by the naval jelly is minor compared to the shallow or deep pitting that usually is the motivation to re-blue.

      Found a new degreaser to use prior to cold bluing and a new oil to use after cold bluing the last gun I did that I really like.


  11. BB,
    I think you will be surprised how much improvement you see with a new seal and some lube. I have a 23 that I think is prewar because it is labeled Made in Germany but can not find any date on it. It is in better shape than yours and the trigger is about 4.5 lbs and it shoots Hobbies at 510 fps after it burns off a little oil. For the first 50 shots or so after oiling it shoots 535 fps It also has all leather seals and it was nice to see that they are available. I picked mine up at a gun show for $95 mostly for my nephew to shoot when he came over and I really could not find a modern airgun at this price point with anywhere near the quality.

    • Samven,

      Howdy, Sam!

      I think the new breech seal will boost the velocity a lot. The one in there now is flat and gouged. I think the current piston seal is better than a new one because it has expanded to fit the chamber. We shall see.


  12. I want to alert everyone about FedEx and UPS shipping costs. For sometime now it is weight and box size.
    I shipped a Crosman 760 Variant One yesterday and even though the weight was 7.1 pounds (so that is over 7 pounds and shipping weight is 8 pounds) but the box I used to ship the 760 ( with the Butt Stock removed..)
    was 12x12x25 is was shpped as 21 pounds to Oklahoma from California at $39.50 ! USPS Priority would have been about $20. Yes, I had shopped for better cartons but could find anything at Walmart or Staples. U-Line.com has great prices for cartons, but you have to purchase bulk quanities. I used to buy a pallet of 10 4×8 cardboard when I had my FFL ( 22 years..) and fabricate rifle boxes. So, be sure and check Priority mail prices. Remember, their costs are lower because they go to your address everyday.

    • Pete,

      I’m trying to understand what you were charged by fedex to ship the 760. Are you saying that they declared the weight of your package as 21 pounds even though you weighed it as 7.1 lbs and shipped it as 8 lbs?

      Did you pre-print a label? I plugged your package of 12 x 12 x 25 and a weight of 8 lbs. shipped from Oklahoma City, OK 73105 to Sacramento, CA 95814, with $100.00 of insurance and FedEx shipping charges for 4 day delivery standard is $19.87.

      I quit using usps for shipping large packages because their handling is heavy handed, their insurance claim handling is a nightmare and their tracking information stinks. Still like their flat rate service for small stuff.

      I ship many packages everyday and FedEx is still tops in my book.


      • Kevin,thank you very much. I’ll will not tell you of our experiences with FedEx and FedEx home delivery because when we lived the rural life on 40 acres you would not believe what they did, like leave a package on the edge of the road because they would not go up an easement over half a mile, change drivers and not share gate codes, etc., etc, on and on. No, I love USPS because i use their Flat Rate Priority free boxes and cartons I have or of my own construction. You live in an area that has roads and intersections and stop lights, and such things. That said, I examined my UPS Ground bill/tracking receipt and it shows, since i put on my glasses ( my right eye has had a hemorhage) that the total was actually $33.05. That was gound Residentail of $31.03, service options of $0.00 ( no extra insurance.) and fuel of $2.02. Obviously a rural address. The package was 24.00 x 12.00 x 12,00 going from 93455 to 74055. Owasso.OK. Called UPS and they cofirmed the costs were correct.
        I used the same package and packing material as the Cr.760 came in and the USPS postage was $17.76.I pack very, very solidly, stuff does not move.
        Thank you, Kevin, for your posting and email.
        Orcutt,CA 93454

      • Hi Kevin and all, found more information to pass on to everyone. The 7 pound, 1 ounce carton was going from 93455, California to 74055, Oklahoma. The dimensions were 12″x12″x24″. I checked USPS.com Postal Rates and no online price, I would have to go my post office, and the charge is $17.01 for regular mail.
        Now, here is the UPS Billable Weight site:
        Orcutt, California

  13. These 23s, 25s and 27s sure look similar on pictures.

    The 25s and 27s seem to have fully adjustable sights (“Mikrometervisier”) that this one lacks. At least the ones I’ve looked at.

    Some sources seem to suggest that the 25 and 27 are the same rifle but the 27 is supposed to have a more powerful spring.

    Some days ago, I saw a really nice refurbished 25 with new bluing and a light coloured stock treated with oil that looked fantastic. I remembered BB mentioning how much he liked his 27 and almost bought it. Then reason kicked in and told me to rather shoot the ones I have for now 🙂

    • CptKlotz,

      While they do look alike, the 27 and 25 are different guns. The 27 has a longer spring cylinder. I suspect that 25 and 27 are the piston stroke lengths in millimeters.

      There is a 25 that has the ball bearing trigger, just like the 27. That’s the best one to have because the trigger can be adjusted so well. Accuracy-wise I think they are equivalent, but the 27 should have a little more velocity.


  14. I believe I recall this very gun and had it on my watch list. After seeing it torn down I’m really glad I didn’t have the money to buy it. As an ex mechanic I still have the fantasy that everything can be fixed it’s just a matter of how much it’s gonna take and when I see something this collectible at such a low price I wanna jump all over it but have been in over my head too many times. It’s time for me to get something I can just enjoy shooting and not have to work on for a while. Kudos to you for salvaging this nice little plinker! I can’t wait to see how it shoots!


    • Matt,

      Winchester never made any airguns. They buy them from other companies like Diana and, today, Hatsan, with their name on them.

      And the Winchester company that you respect hasn’t existed for many years. It was sold and resold several times, and the name is now owned by a holding company.


      • I have a Win.1000, .177, and it has a walnut stock . Excellent blue, fit and finish It is a winner ! Paid $100 for it. Still breaking it in. Keep shaking my head why it was only $100.

  15. Being bought can spell disaster for companies but sometimes it seems to actually help. As an example from the audio world, JBL (who belong to the Harman Group) are profiting from some rigorous, no-nonsense research and are releasing some amazing products.

    Maybe a similar thing is happening to Walther. The CP88, LGV and LGU seem to be very well-designed products.

    • The Walther LGU, LGV, Terrus and Century are made by Walther “proper”, the same people who make the 10m target rifles and own a controlling interest in Lothar their sister company. The waters have been muddied recently with a lot of European companies allowing distributors rights to their name, whereupon you will find cheap Chinese products further down the range that have absolutely nothing to do with manufacturer on the side, Haenel, and Hammerli etc……you can buy a Hammerli, it’s the AR20 and it’s derivatives, however you can also buy a variety of rifles bearing the name that at best flew over Germany.
      It’s an odd arrangement all round, here in the UK I can buy a BSA PCP, and it’s a BSA, I can also buy a BSA springer that is a GAMO.
      In the opposite way Beeman is a mixed bag and I still bemoan Weihrauch for sullying their name by allowing to be rebranded by them, though understand the marketing…..and Beeman made his name by selling a quality German product…….now look what they sell, rubbish….but the customers are quite deliberately misled into thinking they are getting what the company is famous for.
      God bless Diana and Feinwerkbau for having a bit of pride and confidence
      At least back in the day you were getting a Diana when you bought your Winchester air rifle, buy a Ruger or Remington airgun now and you get China’s, finest.
      Don’t even try to buy a Webley……a Turkish terror, or in the case of their Mk6 a converted airsoft from Taiwan.
      The bottom line is a lot of these manufacturers still exist, you just have to research which models are for real

  16. Glass bead blasting is a very quick and efficient method to clean rusty or corroded metal and does no damage to it. It works well on just about any metal.

    There is a product on the market which was developed by Boeing to prevent rust and corrosion in aircraft. It is called Boeshield T-9. It goes on as a liquid and dries to a thin, soft waxy film.


  17. B.B.

    I believe this rifle is soon to have a meeting with a couple of days in kerosene or WD-40 and then with rough steel wool and grit 800+ and up sandpaper for heavy rusting. I don’t quite trust Naval Jelly for its nature but for some stubborn parts and de-bluing.
    I repaired its close relative some time ago, I mean old series PSRM-2-55. It was in even worse condition, but everything ended up quite fine, re-polished and re-blued it looked like new or even better.


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