Charles F. LeFever — BB gun genius

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • In the beginning
  • Moses goes to the mountain
  • Historic trivia
  • Pump gun a big deal
  • Cast iron versus folded metal
  • Water pistol
  • Number 40 Military model
  • No protoptypes for Fred!
  • He quit — 19 different times!

In the beginning

I mentioned Charles F. “Fred” LeFever in an answer to a comment the other day and it dawned on me that this is a man I really should address in this history segment. Fred, as he was known, wrote a letter to Daisy in 1911, telling them about a pump-action BB gun he had just invented that he thought they should see. They were very busy when the letter arrived and answered him curtly, saying that if Daisy was interested they would contact Mr. LeFever sometime in the future about seeing the gun. You have to appreciate that they got letters and cold calls like this all the time and were hardened to the reality that most of those contacts were bogus.

LeFever contacted them again and told them they weren’t the only BB gun manufacturer in the country and they had better act promptly or he would go somewhere else. What probably caught the attention of Daisy management was the fact that Mr. LeFever was the grandson of the founder of the LeFever Arms Company — a prestigious maker of fine shotguns.

Moses goes to the mountain

So the president of Daisy, E.C. Hough, traveled to St. Louis to see the BB gun Mr. LeFever talked about. He liked it enough to invite LeFever back to Michigan and Daisy bought the design. LeFever stayed on to help them get the gun into production, which they did in 1913 and the Daisy number 25 was born.

Winchester’s model 12 pump shotgun had just hit the market and was the talk of the town. It looked so sleek and modern. And now Daisy would have its own sleek pump gun for the sons of model 12 owners.

Daisy Number 25
Four early Daisy number 25 pump guns. Top, first model from 1913/14. This is the only one that has the old soldered-patch pump tube. Second down, second model from 1916 that has the new welded pump tube. Third down, third model with longer pump lever and smaller head on takedown screw. Bottom, 1930? model with case-hardened pump mechanism.

The first pump gun was produced in late 1913 and was promoted by the Happy Daisy Boy, Rockford Reame. Reame’s son came forth several years ago, giving Daisy numerous promotional photos of his father that had not been seen since the early part of the 20th century. I spoke to him in a telephone interview, and — get this — he lives less than 25 miles from Pyramyd Air!

Happy Daisy boy
Daisy’s Happy Daisy Boy, Rockford Reame, promotes the Number 25 pump gun for the 1914 retail season.

Historic trivia

For those who want to be in the know, that picture wasn’t taken with a Number 25 in the boy’s hands. He was originally photographed holding a more conventional Daisy Model B, and the photographer put the pump gun into his hands. It’s hard to see the work on the low resolution image here, but I have the high resolution image that shows the touchup work on his hands.

Happy Daisy Boy original
This is the original picture that was retouched to make the ad shown above. Notice they fixed his fly at the same time.

Pump gun a big deal

Daisy was reasonably pleased with the gun they got from LeFever. So much so that they hired him as a permanent employee and he reported only to the president. His shop was closed to most management and employees and he set his own hours. Who says enlightened management is a new invention? Daisy knew they had the golden goose in LeFever and they bent over backwards to keep him happy. He retired in 1953, which means he was there for 41 years. And the Number 25 pump gun was their most popular model ever, according to the Blue Book of Airguns. More that 20 million of them were made. Whether that remains true today, I don’t know, because an awful lot of Red Ryders are sold every year. Of course the Number 25 is also still being made.

Cast iron versus folded metal

The pump gun was his masterpiece and entree into a successful 4-decade career with Daisy, but Fred was not a one-trick pony. He was, as I said to one blog reader, the John Moses Browning of the BB gun world. And he came along at the start of the folded metal era.

Until the early 20th century, BB guns were made with cast iron frames. In fact, with no small irony, the Daisy 20th Century gun exists in both cast iron and folded metal variations — as it spanned the two eras. Folded metal, or sheet metal as it is also called, was a new innovation that simplified production and lowered costs. It was just as strong as cast iron and in some cases stronger, though it was both lighter and less costly to produce. I am sure the word among little boys of the time was that they missed the passing of the old cast iron guns, just as we rail against plastic pistols and metal injection molded parts today.

But folded metal guns were faster and easier to prototype because no heavy casting was required. A man like LeFever could work quietly in his shop with a press break and a vise and fashion almost anything from sheet steel stock.

Water pistol

The same year Daisy was laboring to ready the production line for the Number 25 LeFever showed Hough another new idea of his. It looked like a .32 automatic pistol, but when Hough pulled the trigger as instructed, a stream of water shot across the room and the Daisy Model 8 water pistol was born.

Daisy number 25 water pistol
An all-metal water pistol seems strange today, but when they were introduced in 1914 they were well-received.

Daisy didn’t stop at just one model of water pistol. When they saw how well-received the Model 8 was, they quickly produced other variations of it — including a brightly lithographed comic book variation that shot liquid helium (and water!) to instantly freeze your adversary.

A sheet metal squirt gun may seem strange to all of us who grew up with plastic guns, and the truth be told, plastic has many advantages over folded metal. It doesn’t rust and it costs far less to produce, once the initial high cost of the molds are paid for. But in 1914 when the Model 8 came out, the only squirt guns that existed were cast iron guns that had rubber squeeze bulbs in their grips. They worked well, but the way they operated wasn’t realistic. The Daisy Model 8 was a huge leap forward in realism, and started several decades of sales of multiple folded metal water gun models. World War II and the rise of injection molded plastics spelled the end to a long and successful commercial run.

Number 40 Military model

Another of Fred’s early coups was the famous No. 40 military model that came out during World War I. At the time BB guns were selling for $1 to $3, with the Number 25 commanding the highest price. But Daisy management thought the No. 40, “Looked like it was worth $5,” so that was the price they slapped on it. Imagine a Benjamin Marauder priced at $900 instead of $500, with no change except a different stock! Yet the No. 40 was well-received, at least by customers affluent enough to afford one. It lasted until 1932 when the general tide of commerce in the Great Depression killed anything that wasn’t already slashed to the bone.

No prototypes for Fred!

LeFever had another trait he shared with Browning. He could see his guns and build them without resorting to engineering drawings or specifications. He just bent the metal parts and assembled them. Of course drawings and specifications had to be created before the guns could be produced, but Fred let others do that work.

He quit — 19 different times!

Fred was an irascible cuss. He kept to himself and didn’t think much of senior management. If you weren’t a BB gun guy, you didn’t stand very high in his estimation. A year after he started work he padlocked the door to his shop to keep out the riffraff. Only Fred and the president had a key to get in. later in his career he softened a bit and was friendly with the employees who had been with the company a long time, but he didn’t suffer fools.

And he quit the firm 19 times over the course of his employment. According the Louis Cass Hough, the grandson of the founder and also a president of the company, LeFever always quit over questions of quality. Remember the blog on the difficulties of production? It turns out Fred could bend metal by hand very fast to create whatever he wanted to make, but it took Daisy’s production engineers far longer to fashion the jigs and fixtures needed to create the same parts on a mass production basis. Just as an example, they labored a year making the tooling to produce the Number 25.

Fred LeFever was an influential gun designer at Daisy. Point to almost any BB gun made between 1912 and 1953 and his hand was upon it. I’m not talking about the reskinnings, renamings and experiments with different colors on guns — those were all driven by marketing. I’m referring to the genuine different models of BB guns that Daisy produced.

Fred retired voluntarily when he eyesight degraded to the point he could no longer keep up. He passed away in March of 1961, leaving a legacy of work that is still with us today.


H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BBs: Part 5

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Smart Shot BBs
H&N Excite Smart Shot BBs are the first lead BBs in 90 years.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

This report covers:

  • Forced-feed magazine
  • The test
  • Umarex BBs
  • Daisy BBs
  • Smart Shot BBs
  • Daisy BB
  • Conclusions
  • What do I test next?

Today I am shooting the H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BB in a Daisy number 25 pump BB gun that has a 50-shot forced-feed magazine. The gun I am using was made in Plymouth, Michigan between the years 1952 and 1958, which can be determined by the electrostatic paint instead of bluing on the metal and the plastic buttstock and pump handle. This gun is in 95 percent condition and would be 98 percent except the butt has a slight curve at the back that’s characteristic of the soft plastic Daisy used in those days. It probably stood on its butt in a warm closet for 30 years before I bought it at a flea market in the early 1990s. I doubt it was ever shot before I bought it. It’s so nice that I seldom shoot it, but today I wanted a gun that’s as close as I can come to the current Daisy 25 that Pyramyd Air sells.

Forced-feed magazine

This BB gun has a 50-shot forced feed magazine with a spring-powered follower that pushes the BBs down to the breech. There is a lot less chance this gun will fail to fire a BB than if the magazine were a gravity-fed model — like the Haenel 100 pistol we looked at on Monday. But there was some concern that the follower would put so much pressure on the lead BBs that they would deform and fail to feed. That is one of the things I am testing for you today.

The test

I shot seated at 5 meters with the gun rested on the UTG Monopod. That monopod is fast becoming an essential part of my testing equipment — like the MTM shooting bench and my Shooting Chrony Alpha Master chronograph.

I used the peep sight leaf on the gun’s rear sight assembly. The leaf that has both sight elements is loose and cannot be tightened, so I pulled it back into position before each shot — not unlike resetting a Unertl rifle scope that has an anti-recoil slide built into the mount. The peep hole is small, but with a 500-watt lamp illuminating the target it was easy to use. And it is far more precise than the open notch that’s also available on this sight.

Smart Shot BBs Daisy rear sight
The no. 25’s rear sight has both a peep and an open notch. The leaf is as upright as it will go and it flops around. So I pulled it into position before each shot.

Umarex BBs

First I loaded 10 Umarex BBs into the magazine and started the test. Umarex BBs have shown themselves to be as accurate as other premium brands in tests with other BB guns, so why not with the 25?

Ten Umarex BBs made a 1.283-inch group at 5 meters. While it’s not exactly tight, it’s about what I expected this airgun to do.

Smart Shot BBs Daisy 25 Umarex BB target
Ten Umarex BBs made this group that measures 1.283-inches between centers at 5 meters.

Smart Shot BBs

I thought we were off to a good start, so I loaded 10 Smart Shot BBs next. The follower did not damage them in any way. It might be possible to make one or more Smart Shot BB deform if you pull the follower all the way up and then release it and let it slam down on a few BBs at the bottom of the column, but loading them normally doesn’t do anything it shouldn’t.

The first shot fired two BBs at the same time. This is a problem some forced-feed magazines have if the tolerance at the breech is slightly oversized and the BBs are on the small side. The fix has always been to get a new magazine, because these things are a non-maintainable assembly once they are manufactured. My gun is collectible, so I’m not going to do anything about it. If I shot the gun more I would restrict my shooting to whatever brand of BB didn’t double feed. There were no more double feeds in this session.

Ten Smart Shot BBs landed in a group that measures 1.932-inches between centers. It was the largest group of the test, so the Smart Shot BBs are not right for this number 25 — at least not with this shot tube/magazine installed.

Smart Shot BBs Daisy 25 Smart Shot BB target
Ten Smart Shot lead BBs made this 1.932-inch group at 5 meters. The first 2 shots came out at the same time and the arrow points to both impacts on the target.

Daisy BB

For the final BB I used Daisy’s Premium Grade BBs. These are the market standard for premium steel BBs. But in this number 25 they did not work well at all. There were at least two double feeds in this string. I lost count, but I knew I was firing blanks by shot number 9 for sure. So this BB isn’t right in this gun.

Ten Daisy BBs went into 1.763-inches at 5 meters. Even if they didn’t double feed, that’s far enough back from the Umarex BBs to not use them.

Smart Shot BBs Daisy 25 Umarex BB target
Ten Daisy Premium BBs made this 1.763-inch group at 5 meters. Don’t overlook the hole at the upper right.

Conclusions

First I conclude there is no danger of deforming the Smart Shot BBs in a spring-loaded magazine. As long as you exercise reasonable care when loading, they load like any other BB.

Next I see that this old number 25 has a shot tube with loose tolerances. I have 6-8 other shot tubes available for this gun if I really wanted to shoot it, so this is not a problem for me. I would just install one of them and shoot the gun and then return the correct shot tube when I was done.

Finally, being on the small side I see that the Smart Shot BBs may be less accurate in some BB guns. Of course they are really made for their additional safety margin, so accuracy is secondary. Safety is their primary function and we saw how dramatically different they behave when fired against hard targets in part 3 of this report.

What do I test next?

I have already tested quite a few things with the Smart Shot BBs. By no means am I finished, but here is what I have left to do — test them in a powerful pneumatic that has a rifled barrel like a Daisy 880 and test them in a semiautomatic BB gun like a Makarov Ultra, to see whether they feed through the magazine like they should. Beyond that, are there any other tests I should conduct?


Beeman R1 supertune: Part 3

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Beeman R1
Beeman R1 Supermagnum air rifle.

Part1
Part2

This report covers:

  • New tune more accurate?
  • A nondescript scope
  • Various holds
  • The R1 wants to shoot!
  • Air Arms domes
  • RWS Superdomes
  • H&N Baracuda Match
  • The rifle’s feel
  • Where are we?

Today I start testing my tuned Beeman R1. The R1 has always been a twitchy spring rifle for me. I have gotten some good groups and I have also failed miserably. The rifle is not at fault, because it can stack pellets on top of one another — at least at 25 yards. But it is super sensitive to small variations in the hold. In fact, this R1 I am testing for you is the one that inspired the artillery hold, two decades ago.

New tune more accurate?

Is the rifle easier to shoot accurately, now that it has been tuned? No so far. It’s still very sensitive to slight variations in the hold, as I learned in this session.

I used today’s test to get used to the rifle once again. You will see from past reports that I haven’t shot this air rifle very much in the past 10 years. One of the last times I tried it on targets was at the end of a 13-part report I did back in 2006. I was still shooting 5-shot groups back then and my results in Part 13 aren’t anything to shout about. So my work is cut out for me.

A nondescript scope

Just to get started I mounted a nondescript 4-12X40 scope on the rifle. I mounted it because it fit the only rings I had for the airgun. I need to get some 1-inch and 30mm scope rings to upgrade this scope before we go too much farther, but this nameless scope was good enough for a first try.

Various holds

My first question was how to hold the rifle. Did the tune change what it likes? Seemingly not, as I found it responded to my off hand resting under the cocking slot about halfway up the forearm. I tried several holds, including shooting directly off a sandbag. All of that took about 30 shots and 3 different pellets.

The R1 wants to shoot!

I will shoot at 25 yards today. The R1 should be able to hold its own at that distance.

With every pellet I tried the rifle would stack several pellets in the same hole, then toss the next one an inch or more away. The direction of spread was mostly vertical, but there was some sideways dispersion, as well. Most of my 10-shot groups look horrible. But as I refined the hold, I started to get consistency.

Air Arms domes

The first pellets that started to settle down for me were the Air Arms Field domes. Ten went into 0.923 inches at 25 yards, which isn’t that good. However, compared to what the gun had done up to this point it was encouraging.

 

Beeman R1 Air Arms target
Ten Air Arms domes went into 0.923-inches at 25 yards. I’m starting to get a handle on the rifle.

RWS Superdomes

Next I tried some RWS Superdomes. I didn’t remember them being that good in the past, but they are a premium pellet, so what the heck. To my surprise, Superdomes were the least twitchy in the R1. They did make the powerplant buzz a bit, though. But they seem to want to shoot straight in this rifle. Ten of them went into 0.695-inches at 25 yards. This group is more open than I would like at 25 yards, but for this rifle it is significant improvement. It turned out to be the tightest group of this session.

Beeman R1 RWS Superdome target
Ten RWS Superdomes went into 0.695-inches at 25 yards. This was the best group of this session.

H&N Baracuda Match

The last pellet I was successful with in this session was the H&N Baracuda Match. I knew from past experience that my R1 favors this pellet. The group I got was the largest of the 3 I’m reporting, but witjhin it are 7 shots that went into 0.414-inches. That was the level of accuracy I was hoping for!

Two of the three pellets that landed outside that main group were from shots that I knew were not held right. I wasn’t completely relaxed. Unfortunately, the pellet that went farthest from the main group was from a shot I thought was perfect. So there is still some learning to do.

Beeman R1 H&N baracuda Match target
Ten H&N Baracuda Match pellets made this 1.05-inch group at 25 yards. Seven of those pellets are in 0.414-inches. That’s the sort of accuracy I expected. Two of the three pellets that aren’t in the group were from shots that I know were held wrong, but the lowest shot (arrow) was held perfectly.

The rifle’s feel

I have to comment on how much I enjoy this new tune. The rifle now cocks butter-smooth and the lockup with the trigger is instantaneous. In the past I had to pull the barrel past the point of cocking to make sure things were latched, but it all works now.

The trigger is set too heavy for me. I am used to a lighter release.

I can actually feel a difference in the way some pellets shoot. Some are very smooth while others have a bit of harshness.

I got to shoot the rifle a lot during this test — over 70 shots in all. That was the first time I really got to feel the action as it now works.

I really like how positive the safety is. A Weihrauch factory safety can be pretty vague, but this one is very positive and crisp.

Where are we?

We are not finished with the R1 at 25 yards yet. I won’t be satisfied until I have a scope of my choosing mounted. Also, while this test taught me which pellets to use and how the rifle likes to be held, I believe some refinement can be made. Until, that happens, I will not advance to 50 yards.

I will lighten the trigger for the next test. The next test will be at 25 yards with a new scope, the two pellets that did best today (H&N Baracuda Match and RWS Superdomes) and a lighter trigger.


Air Arms S410 TDR precharged pneumatic pellet rifle: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Air Arms TDR rifle
Both side of the Air Arms S410 TDR.

Part 1

This report covers:

  • Equipment malfunction
  • Why a pump?
  • A different test
  • Loading and cocking
  • No double feeds
  • High power
  • The end of the power curve
  • Low power
  • Medium power
  • Trigger pull
  • Butt adjustment
  • Observations so far

Today we test the velocity of the .22 caliber Air Arms S410 TDR Classic. Because it has a power adjuster, we will look at power on the high, medium and low settings. We will also look at the shot count, how easy the magazine is the load, the trigger setting and generally how the rifle functions.

Equipment malfunction

In Part 1 I said I would test this rifle out at the range because of the loud report, but an equipment malfunction plus the weather caused me to change my plans. The malfunction was my Hill pump that has been reliable until now. When I hooked it up to the TDR out at the range it failed to operate. That’s probably because I don’t use it very often and these things need to be exercised or they will seize up. I will continue to exercise it and hopefully get it running again.

Fortunately I hadn’t returned the Air Venturi G6 hand pump to Pyramyd Air yet, so when I returned home I unpacked it and put it into operation. This is the only hand pump I have that works at present, so I think I will buy it from Pyramyd Air. It’s the only hand pump that comes with the parts to overhaul it in the box with the new pump.

Why a pump?

Why am I using a hand pump for this rifle? Why not just fill it from my carbon fiber tank like every other PCP I shoot? Well, Air Arms puts a proprietary fill adapter on their PCP guns. It mates to nothing else. The threads are 1/8-inch BSP, so it will attach to almost all hoses, but nobody makes an adapter to go from the Air Arms adapter to an industry standard Foster quick disconnect adapter. So my CF tank won’t connect. I am not going to take my CF tank hose apart because I use it on so many other airguns, so another way to fill had to be found. Hence the pump.

If you want to see a picture of the fill adapter for the TDR, go to Part 1. It is shown next to the place on the rifle it must be installed.

A different test

My normal velocity test is shooting 3 different pellets to see their velocities. But when a rifle has adjustable power the test becomes more complex. So this test will be different. I selected just one pellet for today’s test — the JSB Exact Jumbo 15.89-grain dome. I will shoot that pellet on high power, low power and medium power. I will also get a shot count on high power and either low or medium power — whichever makes the most sense. That will entail a lot of shooting and should tell us what we want to know about the rifle. Let’s begin.

Loading and cocking

The 10-round magazine is advanced by the rifle’s action mechanically. There is no spring to be wound up or set. Therefore, loading the magazine is as simple as dropping a pellet into each chamber and advancing the rotary clip inside the magazine to the next chamber. There is nothing you need to hold or restrain.

The loaded magazine slides into the rifle’s receiver from the left side. The only precaution to take is to make sure the bolt is completely retracted and out of the way.

No double feeds

The bolt is stiff and hard to cock. I think it will break in as the rifle is used, but for this test I had to watch it or it wouldn’t cock all the way. It does advance the magazine to the next pellet though. If this happens, you can feed a second pellet into the breech. To prevent that just remove the magazine and cock the rifle. Then insert the magazine and everything will be fine. I had to do this one time, but the rifle never fed more than one pellet throughout the test.  Toward the end of the test after 80 shots had been fired I was getting used to cocking it and it did seem easier.

High power

I filled the rifle to 200 bar, which is 2900 psi. That’s the maximum fill pressure recommended by the manufacturer. Then I started shooting. The first 10 shots averaged 838 f.p.s. The low was 827 f.p.s. and the high was 853 f.p.s. That’s a 26 f.p.s. spread. At the average velocity this pellet generated 24.78 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle.

The second 10 shots averaged 868 f.p.s. The low was 857 f.p.s. and the high was 873 f.p.s. So the spread for this string was 16 f.p.s. At the average velocity the pellet produced 26.69 foot pounds of energy.

The third 10-shot string averaged 848 f.p.s. with a low of 825 f.p.s. and a high of 865 f.p.s. The spread for this string was 40 f.p.s. and the muzzle energy for the average velocity is 25.38 foot-pounds.

This third string was in decline for nearly all shots. It was clear to me the rifle was coming down off the power curve. So I say there are a total of 30 good shots on a fill when the gun is set to high power. The total spread for those 30 shots runs from a low of 825 f.p.s. to a high of 873 f.p.s.. That’s 48 f.p.s., which seems a little excessive.

If we limit the rifle to just the first 2 magazines we get a spread that runs from 827 f.p.s. to 873 f.p.s. That’s still a total of 46 f.p.s. over the 20 shots, so we might as well include the third magazine. I will shoot the rifle at 50 yards and see what these velocity swings do to the point of impact.

After 30 high-power shots the gauge on the rifle said there was 145 bar of pressure remaining. That’s 2,103 psi.

The end of the power curve

I knew from looking at the velocities of the third magazine that the TDR was at the end of its useful shots on high power, but for the benefit of the newer airgunners I did fire an additional 10 shots — just to see what happened. Here are those shots in succession.

Shot……………Velocity f.p.s.
31………………….819
32………………….814
33………………….810
34………………….804
35………………….798
36………………….789
37………………….785
38………………….777
39………………….776
40…………………760

I’m not going to factor these shots into the calculations because they are clearly off the power curve. I just wanted to show them so you could see that the rifle really does have just 30 shots on high power.

Low power

After shooting 40 shots the rifle was sitting at 110 bar (1,595 psi). It took 94 pump strokes from the G6 hand pump to get back to 200 bar. Then the power was adjusted to the lowest setting and I shot 10 shots. They averaged 390 f.p.s. with a low of 385 f.p.s. and a high of 394 f.p.s. So the spread was 9 f.p.s. on low power. The average velocity is generating 5.37 foot-pounds at the muzzle. But nobody is going to buy the TDR to shoot this slow. This led to the decision to advance the power setting to medium and try another 10 shots.

Before I move on, though, consider this. You now know the range of velocity/power the TDR will give you. It should be possible to find several sweet spots within that range.

Air Arms TDR rifle power setting
This is where I set the power for medium.

Medium power

All I did to set the power to medium is turn the power knob until the indicator on the left side of the receiver was centered in its range. A session at the range is needed to confirm that this is where the gun wants to be. I had already shot 10 shots on low power when I started this session, and the gun was not topped off after those shots.

The first 10 shots on medium power (but the second 10 after filling the gun) averaged 761 f.p.s. They ranged from a low of 756 f.p.s. to a high of 767 f.p.s. — so the spread was 11 f.p.s. That’s considerably less than the spread of the first 10 pellets on high power. At the average velocity these pellets generated 20.44 foot-pounds at the muzzle.

The second string of 10 shots averaged 760 f.p.s. — just one foot per second slower than the first 10. The range went from a low of 755 f.p.s to a high of 766 f.p.s. That’s also 11 f.p.s. total spread. If we combine the two strings, the total spread is just 12 f.p.s. That’s almost one-quarter the spread of the first two strings on high power (46 f.p.s.). At the average velocity this string put out 20.38 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.

The third string, however, fell off the power curve. These were shots 31 through 40, because of the initial 10 low power shots. Here is the string.

Shot……………Velocity f.p.s.
1………………….754
2………………….745
3………………….751
4………………….739
5………………….740
6………………….733
7………………….734
8………………….734
9………………….729
10………………..728

As you can see, the velocity dropoff isn’t as severe in this fourth string as it was in the fourth string on high power, and it also doesn’t start with the first shot. Nevertheless, there does seem to be about the same 30 good shots at medium power as there are at high power. These shots are a lot more stable, though, and perhaps that stability will show up in the 50 yard accuracy test.

Trigger pull

As it came from the factory the test rifle had a 2-stage trigger that broke at 1 lb. 13 oz. The second stage was crisp without any creep so I left those adjustments alone. All I adjusted was the weight of the trigger pull. When I finished it broke at 1 lb. 5 oz. That’s light enough for me. The pull weight was uniform, shot to shot, which makes this an easy trigger to get used to.

Butt adjustment

While I was at it, I adjusted the rubber buttpad as low as it would go, to bring the cheekpiece up higher. It still lacks about an inch of reach for me in the offhand position (the scope is too high), but it will be pretty good off a sandbag, when I am leaning forward.

Observations so far

The TDR has all the power it’s advertised to have, but it’s much stabler on a lower setting. The shot count is higher than I expected, but it doesn’t seem to increase by a significant amount as the power is adjusted down — at least to the medium point. Thirty shots per fill are what you can count on from the medium to high-power settings.

The trigger is light and crisp. The trigger adjustments work very well.

The butt attaches and detaches quite fast. Once attached, the rifle is rock-solid. I look forward to trying the rifle at 50 yards.


Haenel model 100 BB pistol: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Haenel history
  • Haenel 100
  • Not a BB pistol?
  • Odd way of cocking
  • Nickel finish
  • Crude sights
  • Shot tube
  • Functioning
  • The future

Haenel history

Of the many European airgun manufacturers, only a few like Walther, Feinwerkbau and Diana are well-known to American airgunners. Other makers like Falke of Germany and Peiper of Belgium produced airguns in quantity, but they escaped our notice. The greatest of these makers was perhaps the Haenel company that was founded by Carl Gottleib Haenel in 1840. By the 1930s, Haenel was producing many models of air rifles that would become collector favorites a half-century later in the U.S. I have reviewed a few of these rifles for you already. There was the Haenel 310 bolt action target rifle that shoots 4.4mm lead balls. That one came into the U.S. after the Wall fell in 1989. The East German Stasi used them as youth trainers and when the Germans took over they sold them as surplus.

Then there was the Haenel 303-8 Super that was a breakbarrel made into a target rifle. I found it to be reasonably accurate and fun to shoot. It reminded me a lot of the Haenel 311 bolt action target rifle that I also reviewed for you. That one is a very accurate and capable target rifle, though not quite in the world class category.

I also took a quick look at Haenel’s model iii-284 breakbarrel rifle. That one was a pre-war model that was in the Diana 27 class for power. I also looked at the Haenel model 1 — another older breakbarrel with some curious features not found on other airguns on similar price.

I have covered Haenel air rifles pretty well over the years. The one model I would like to test someday is a Haenel model 312 target rifle. This sidelever spring gun is even more of a target rifle than the 311. I have seen them at airgun shows but I never had the money when I saw one. Another Haenel I have owned 2 of and never reported is the model 28 pistol — the one people think was a trainer for the Luger. I sold my last one about a year ago, but when I get another one I plan to report on it for you.

Haenel 100

Today, though my report is on the Haenel 100 — a very odd BB pistol whose major claim to fame in my book is the fact that one was found in the quarters of a German submarine captain when his boat was captured in WW II. He was apparently shooting targets with it in those cramped quarters!

Haenel BB pistol
The Haenel 100 BB pistol is a pre-war 50-shot repeater.

Not a BB pistol?

The model 100 was made from 1932-1940, according to the Blue Book of Airguns. And I am so glad I looked it up, because I always through this was a true BB pistol. It turns out the model 100 and the models 50 and 51, which are simpler versions of the gun, all use 4.4mm lead balls instead of smaller steel BBs. Fortunately I laid in a big supply of that shot when I acquired my 310 rifle years ago. I buy more whenever I see it for sale at airgun shows.

I guess it isn’t really correct to call the 100 a BB pistol, since it really isn’t made to shoot conventional steel BBs. I will continue to refer to it that way, though, because that’s how most people will know it.

Odd way of cocking

The pistol cocks in an odd way. Actually all Haenel air pistols cock in odd ways. This one has a ring under the bottom of the grip. You grab the one-piece wooden grip in one hand and pull the ring away from it with the other hand. The ring is on the end of a weird lever system that retracts the cocking piece. That compresses the mainspring. You have to see it to believe it!

Haenel BB pistol cocked 1
Pull the ring back from the grip and this happens.

Haenel BB pistol cocked 2
Return the ring and the cocking piece stays back until the gun is fired.

The models 50 and 51 have a cocking piece at the back, but no lever is connected. You just pull the cocking piece back to cock the gun. But the 100’s spring is much stronger and this would be difficult to do.

Nickel finish

The 100 came with either a blued or a nickeled finish. I have never seen a blued gun, though I have only seen 20 or less model 100s in total. They are not that common in this country. I’m guessing the blued gun may be even harder to find than the nickeled one.

My gun retains about 87 percent of the bright nickel. The plating has flaked off in a couple places and rust has started, so I wiped the gun with Ballistol to stabilize the rust. The beechwood grip is a single piece that has metal Haenel eschtchons on both sides. It is held to the frame by two steel pins and the wood has cracked around the rear pin. Looking at how it’s made, I suspect this crack is common to this model.

Haenel BB pistol grip
The one-piece wood grip is pinned to the frame. The crack around the rear pin is on both sides of the grip and seems to be there because the wood grain is straight and weak at that point.

Crude sights

The sights are very crude and are probably silver-soldered to the spring tube. No adjustment is possible and they aren’t easy to see. I can appreciate why the submarine captain shot at such close range! I will, too.

Haenel BB pistol sights
The sights are very crude and not adjustable. They are attached to the barrel jacket.

Shot tube

The gun has a conventional shot tube that feeds by gravity. It resembles a Daisy shot tube, except the length is shorter. When the tube is rotated it opens a hole on top of the barrel jacket where lead balls can be loaded one at a time. The idea of a speedloader was still a half-century away when this gun was new… The gun is rated to hold 50 balls. I never tested that and I don’t plan to.

Haenel BB pistol shot tube
The shot tube looks like one from a Daisy, just shorter.

Haenel BB pistol top
BBs feed through the hole on the left. The shot tube rotates out of the way, opening the hole.

This is an older airgun that has some quirks. The first quirk is it’s very hard to cock. I oiled the mechanism and the cocking hinge points, but it still takes a strong adult to cock it. I oiled the plunger (piston) seal because it is undoubtedly leather. I stood the pistol on its butt to let the oil soak into the leather for a day before any shooting was attempted. Who knows how long it’s been since the seal was oiled last?

A second quirk is the trigger doesn’t always set itself when the gun is cocked. Probably a spring is broken or missing, but the gun is too nice to mess with. I know how to set the trigger every time, so I just do it.

Finally the pistol doesn’t always feed a ball. I grew up with that problem in Daisy BB guns that use gravity feed, so I’m used to it. There is a way of holding the pistol when it is cocked so it will feed more reliably, and that’s just part of getting used to the gun.

Functioning

The gun has a very heavy trigger pull that I don’t have the right instrument to measure. I’ll guess it’s around 15-18 lbs., or so. I’m not going to take it apart, but if I did I would find a direct-acting sear that has very little opportunity for improvement. That’s how all similar guns of the same period were made.

It recoils when it fires. And the lead ball smacks the cardboard target backstop with the authority of a ball traveling 200-250 f.p.s. That’s what I would expect from a BB pistol of this age and make. We will find out next time for certain because I plan to test the gun for you — both for velocity and accuracy.

The future

So far I have only done one other test report about a specific airgun in this history section. That was on the Parris Kadet 500 BB gun. Now I think it’s time to expand on that. With a few of the basics out of the way, we can focus on a specific model, now and then. The test I do won’t be as long or detailed as a test report for a new airgun, but it will cover velocity and accuracy if I am able. I won’t run Part 2 next — I’ll give you a breather for those who aren’t as interested in this gun. But for everybody — including me — we’re going to find out how these things shoot!


Mass production and interchangeable parts

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

    • But wait, there’s more
    • Final finishing
    • A gun maker who could not make a gun
    • Airguns?
    • Specialized parts can hurt you
    • Tooling, technology and schedules
    • It’s not as easy as it sounds

If you think interchangeable parts came from Eli Whitney, the way the U.S. history books tell us, you are mistaken. He did perform a demonstration in 1801, assembling one of his muskets from a seemingly random pile of parts — something that had never been done before. He did it, but he cheated. The parts in the pile were marked beforehand to assure they all went together. So — the idea of interchangeable parts may have come from Whitney, but the first practical application of the idea on a mass scale came 50 years later when Samuel Colt created the modern production line. He may have been inspired by Frenchman, Honore LeBlanc, who suggested that firearms ought to be made from standardized parts, but never went beyond the talking stage. Colt invented the production line that required complete interchangeability of parts to succeed.

French 1822 pistol

This French model 1822 percussion pistol was made in 1826. Although there are hundreds of 1822 pistols that look just like it, their parts do not interchange. The parts of each pistol are fitted by hand.

But wait, there’s more

In fact there is a whole lot more. In the early 1800s when Whitney was active, people talked about “good steel.” In the 1850s when Colt started producing hundreds of thousands of identical items that were comprised of millions of parts, they had to have a more refined knowledge of the metallurgy involved. “Good steel” wasn’t enough to keep the factories running. Before too many more years passed the steel alloys became standardized to the point that engineers could rely on repeatable performance from parts that were made to a specification. Engineering handbooks were written. Schools were able to teach new engineers how to calculate the performance of an item before it was made, and that knowledge rippled over into manufacturing. By the end of the 19th century, the production world had a good handle on interchangeable parts. Or did they?

Final finishing

The term final finishing is the enemy of controlled costs. Once an item has been made it still may require more work before it achieves the final goal. People who have never worked in production jobs imagine that finished parts roll off the line, one after another, ready to be used. For some parts there can be a whole list of additional steps that are needed before they are ready for the market. And, would you believe that some things simply cannot be made at all?

A gun maker who could not make a gun

As recently as World War II there was a firearms manufacturer who was unable to produce a single gun for the U.S. military that could meet specifications. The manufacturer was Irwin Pederson — the same gun maker who in World War I designed a way to turn a 1903 Springfield bolt action rifle into a semiautomatic assault rifle 20 years before Hitler’s engineers delevoped the Sturmgewehr.

The top-secret Pederson Device arrived in Europe too late for the war and was never issued. The devices were destroyed after the war and their classification kept them from public knowledge for several more decades. Pederson was a respected gun maker. But this same Pederson failed to produce even one M1 Carbine that could pass government acceptance testing.

Pederson’s failure was due to an outdated method of production. The factory moved carbine receivers from one manufacturing fixture to another as they performed the dozens of steps needed to complete the part. They used fixture pins to position the receiver in each different fixture, and these pins needed a small tolerance in order to fit into their aligning holes. This small tolerance caused a cumulative error in tolerances to creep into the part as it was made — condemning every receiver they produced.

Their contract was finally terminated and General Motors, who was already the largest producer of the Carbine, took over the plant and the guns and parts that were in-process. They finished the few thousand Pederson Carbines that were in a near-finished state before they started stamping their own Saginaw Steering Gear division name on the guns.

I could go on and tell other stories about things that couldn’t be produced. Harley Davidson has a history rich with anecdotes on how not to run a manufacturing operation. But they finally learned their lessons and managed to survive and even thrive in the modern production world, so there is a happy ending to that story.

Motorola almost went out of business because they couldn’t get out of their own corporate way to make anything. They went from being a premier producer of television sets to a company that couldn’t compete in pocket pagers in only a couple decades. They had to reinvent themselves to stay in the game, and in the process gave the world the Six Sigma program.

Airguns?

People ask what this has to do with airguns. Only everything. For starters, airguns are not made in the same quantities as M1 Carbines. Six million Carbines were made by 10 different prime contractors in just 38 months. Few airgun models have ever reached that production number, and those few that did took decades to do so. Even today, airguns are low- to moderate-rate production items. So airgun manufacturers have to learn how to build at low rates and still keep the quality up and costs down.

If you’re going to make a few tens of thousands of airguns, you probably buy your barrels from someone else. If you make them in-house, you do so with affordable production processes and machinery — not the latest and greatest.

But if you are Remington Arms and make hundreds of thousands of different firearms each year, you invest in hammer-forging rifling machines that cost three-quarters of a million dollars each, and you have dozens of them. Then — to keep those machines busy and help amortize their ownership costs, you start shopping for barrel-making contracts wherever you can find them.

Specialized parts can hurt you

Let’s say you want to build a spring-piston airgun that’s never been built before. You have made a prototype and it performs better than anything you ever shot. Now you have raised some capital and you want to use it to manufacture your airgun.

Your airgun uses a 27.5mm ID spring tube that allows it to accomplish everything you desire. There’s just one problem. You made the spring tube for your prototype gun from bar stock. That’s too wasteful, expensive and too time-intensive for manufacture. You need to use seamless hydraulic tubing for the spring tubes of the production guns.

Seamless hydraulic tubing doesn’t come in internal diameters of 27.5mm (I’m making this up, so don’t run to McMaster Carr to prove me wrong). You can buy 26.75mm ID tubing and ream it out, but if you do the wall thickness with be too thin. Or you can buy aerospace tubing in 26.75mm ID and ream it because it’s made from better steel and also has thicker walls. But there is a problem. Aerospace tubing costs 4 times as much as standard tubing. If you use it your gun will cost too much to produce.

Instead, you decide to enlarge the powerplant parts and use 28mm ID tubing, which is readily available. However, the minute your new gun comes to market it’s panned by a dozen internet critics who all say it’s too fat. “The rifle he showed me at the Texas airgun show was perfect. Why did he have to go and screw it up?” Until you have worked through a materials sourcing problem like this a dozen times, you will find it difficult to answer that question.

You see — it’s easy to make one of anything. You just work on it until you have it exactly the way you want it and you’re done. Time is no factor.

Making a million of something can also be relatively straightforward, if not exactly easy. As long as you know how. But to make just a thousand or even ten thousand of the same thing — that can be the kiss of death!

Tooling, technology and schedules

Most of us think about production the way it was done back in the 1950s — machines doing just one operation that was straightforward and relatively simple. They did it fast and, when their operators were used to the pace, they could make many parts rapidly — or seemingly so.

Some of us are aware of modern computer controlled machines that do everything at the same time, or in rapid succession. The parts never have to be moved and they transform from raw materials to finished parts before our eyes. But what only a few people realize is — that’s just the beginning. Following the shaping of the part there can be:

heat treatment
tumbling or blast cabinet
final finishing
anodizing
bluing
plating
testing
sorting
cleaning
packaging and so on…

Manufacturing is a whole lot more than just time spent on a machine. And, once you appreciate that consider this — some of these other processes require scheduling because they are done somewhere else by somebody else.

Maybe the company that does your anodizing charges you a setup fee for every batch of parts they anodize. So you don’t take them until you have enough parts built up to make the setup charge minimal for each part. Or maybe you can’t plate some parts until they are heat-treated.

One company does your heat-treatment and a different company does the plating. So you have to time your production schedule to dovetail into the schedules of both the other companies. A part that only takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete can really take up to 6 weeks because of the scheduling. These are the things that are hidden from public view when we talk about production.

It’s not as easy as it sounds

The making of interchangeable parts has been mastered over the last 165 years, but that doesn’t guarantee that all the parts made today will interchange. Sloppy tolerances, inferior materials, dull tools and poor quality control are just a few of the obstacles to be overcome. Automation has changed how we make things in a major way, but not every company is fully automated. And not every manufacturing process can be done by a machine.

When the production numbers are low there is less capital available to purchase even what automation that does exist. So, the making of airguns and airgun parts is a symphony of mechanization and hand operations, each selected to optimize the business situation and produce a viable product.


H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BBs: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Smart Shot BBs
H&N Excite Smart Shot BBs are the first lead BBs in 90 years.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

This report covers:

  • Today’s test
  • Baseline testing
  • The test
  • Daisy BBs
  • Smart Shot BBs
  • BBs fell out
  • Avanti Precision Ground Shot
  • Conclusions
  • What’s next?

Today’s test

Today’s test will be shooting the H&N Excite Smart Shot copper-plated lead BB in a Daisy Avanti Champion 499 — the world’s most accurate BB gun. There were concerns that this lead BB wouldn’t function in a 499 because of the gun’s magnetic BB seat in the breech. The fear was these BBs would just roll out the barrel if the barrel was depressed below level.

Baseline testing

I thought about shooting only 5 shots at each target because I knew the BBs were all going to go to the same place. In the end, though, convention won and I shot 10 shots per target. The distance was 5 meters and I rested the gun on a UTG monopod.

I will note that BB targets are difficult to measure. Undoubtedly all the groups I am about to report are larger than I am saying, but I’m getting as close as I can. Round BBs moving at low velocity tear indistinct holes through a target no matter what it is made of or what you back it with.

Daisy BBs

The first BBs I shot were Daisy’s Premium Grade BBs. I did that because I normally need a few shots to settle down, and I didn’t want to jeopardize the results of the best BBs. Ten BBs made a group that measures 0.259-inches between centers. The group is slightly left of center, but it’s so close that no sight adjustments were made.

Smart Shot BBs 499 target 1
Ten Daisy Premium grade BBs went into 0.259-inches at 5 meters.

That’s a good start. I didn’t expect to shoot that well on the first group. Since I was shooting good, I put the Smart Shot BBs next.

Smart Shot BBs

Ten Smart Shot BBs went into 0.30-inches at 5 meters. The shots landed lower on the target than the steel BBs, and we know that is because of their extra weight.

Smart Shot BBs 499 target 2
Ten Air Venturi Smart Shot BBs went into 0.30-inches at 5 meters.

BBs fell out

Two Smart Shot BBs rolled out of the barrel during this session. When the muzzle lowered so the barrel was below level, they couldn’t be held in the gun. Obviously, being lead, they can’t be held by the magnetic shot seat in the breech of the 499, and this seems important to the operation of this model. It remains to be seen whether they will work in other BB guns, so I will try that next. I don’t recommend using Smart Shot BBs in a 499.

Avanti Precision Ground Shot

The last BB I tested was the Avanti Precision Ground Shot BB that is made especially for the 499. This is the BB that is used in the Daisy BB gun championships each year. Theoretically, these should be more accurate that the other two I tested.

I say theoretically because on this day I put 10 Precision Ground Shot into 0.417-inches. Not only is this the largest group of the test, it is significantly larger than either of the other two groups. It should not have gone this way, but it did.

Smart Shot BBs 499 target 3
Ten Avanti Precision Ground Shot went into 0.417-inches at 5 meters.

Conclusions

First, it’s obvious that in guns that rely on a magnetic seat to hold the BB the Smart Shot isn’t the right BB to use. They will work, but only when the barrel is held level or when the muzzle is elevated.

Next, it seems I didn’t shoot as well on the last string as I should have. That’s all on me and not the gun. The 499 is capable of much smaller groups than I got.

However, because I didn’t do my very best, we know that the Smart Shot BB got a good test. It wasn’t favored over another BB and I wasn’t shooting my best, yet it managed to come in a close second to the winning BB. That tells me the Smart Shot BB is accurate. Despite the challenge of keeping the muzzle elevated, I was able to do pretty good with the Smart Shot — even on a day when I wasn’t shooting my best!

What’s next?

I plan to try the Smart Shot BB in a Daisy No. 25 pump gun next. I may even try it in a Crosman M1 Carbine at the same time. That will tell us something about how this BB works in magazines.