How smart are you now?

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

The history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Old joke
  • The answers
  • Summary

You read this blog and you learn things — or at least you say you do. You tell me the historical articles are the best, because they teach you all about how airguns developed.

Old joke

To appreciate this joke you need to know something about domestic rabbits. They eat processed food that’s been compressed into little pellets, and when they eliminate it, the stuff that comes out also looks like pellets.

So the joke goes like this. One guy gives the other some rabbit pellets (the bad kind) and tells him they are smart pills. The second guy eats one and says, “These taste like poop!” To which the first guy responds, “See? You’re smarter, already!”

Now, let’s see if you’re smarter for reading this blog. Here we go.

1. At a gun show a guy tells you his breakbarrel rifle was shooting 1400 f.p.s., but he cut 10 inches off the 16-inch barrel to reduce friction and tuned it so it’s now doing 1700 f.p.s. What do you say?

2. A guy tells you he shoots .22 caliber pellets in his Smith & Wesson revolver that’s a .22 long rifle. He uses percussion caps in special brass shells he made on his home lathe to launch the pellets and he gets 2-inch groups at 25 yards. What do you think?

3. A friend wants to modify his new precharged rifle for hunting. He wants to cut the barrel down from 19 inches to 10 inches and shorten the reservoir tube to make the gun 30 inches long, overall. That will make it easier to handle in the woods. He asks you how he can also increase the velocity of this gun from 1100 f.p.s. to 1300 f.p.s. with the heavy pellets he wants to use.

4. A fellow at the gun club wants to invent a new kind of airgun, and has come to you for advice. This gun will have a screw ram on the end of the CO2 reservoir that he tells you is for boosting the pressure of the CO2 by reducing the volume inside the reservoir. Just turn the screw in and the volume is reduced. He wants to know if he reduces the volume inside the reservoir by 25 percent, how much will the gas pressure increase?

5. A followup question from the same guy — If he can boost the CO2 gas pressure by 25 percent, how much faster will his gun shoot?

6. A guy you know is fascinated by the Hodges catapult gun. He read somewhere that it could launch heavy lead balls at 350-400 f.p.s. If he builds a much stronger gun that’s similar to the Hodges but can accept many more elastic bands, how many bands do you think he’ll need to get his gun up to 800 f.p.s.?

7. A local gun store heard that you are an airgunner and they called to ask you a question. Their gunsmith wants to make adapters for .17 Hornet rifles that allow them to shoot .177 pellets using the power of small pistol primers. The adapter would look just like a .17 Hornet cartridge, only it would have a pellet in the end where the bullet normally goes. He reckons it would be a good cartridge to use on squirrels when he’s out hunting coyotes. They want you to come in and chat with the gunsmith, to help him figure this out. They’ll buy you a steak dinner for your trouble.

8. You spot an old breakbarrel on a table at a flea market. You don’t recognize the model, but the wood looks like dark walnut and the metal is all blued, much of which has worn off from use. One clue to the age is the fact that the buttstock ends at the back of the action. There is no forearm on this gun. It’s a .177, but it’s only marked 4.5mm and the letters D.R.P. There were other words on the gun but it looks like they have been polished off. The seller tells you he used to shoot it when he was younger, but it lost most of its power and he stopped shooting it about 10 years ago. What can you tell me about this air rifle?

old air rifle
What is this old air rifle?

9. The seller wants $25 for the rifle. Is it worth that? Should you buy it?

10. You see a small metal pistol in a glass case in a curio shop. It’s marked $10. There are threads in the bottom of the grip. The shop owner tells you she thinks the threads are to attach a water hose to the pistol. She thinks it came from a carnival game where people shot water into a clown’s mouth to make a monkey climb a ladder. The person whose monkey reached the top of the ladder first won a small prize.

old pistol
You see this old pistol in a case. What is it?

screw threads
Because of the screw threads at the bottom of the grip, the owner thinks the gun was attached to a water hose in some kind of carnival game.

The answers

Here is where we find out what you have learned about airguns. You may find you know more than you thought. If you want to test yourself, try to answer all the questions before reading this.

1. At a gun show a guy tells you his breakbarrel rifle was shooting 1400 f.p.s., but he cut 10 inches off the 16-inch barrel to reduce friction and tuned it so it’s now doing 1700 f.p.s. What do you say?

You don’t say it aloud, but this guy is lying. No spring piston airgun has ever shot 1700 f.p.s. Maybe someone saw a chronograph error and believed the number, or maybe they had a powerful fuel-air explosion inside their spring gun’s compression chamber. That turns the gun into a firearm, so it no longer qualities as an airgun. Airguns do not shoot this fast.

Next — how the heck is he cocking this gun? If the barrel is only 6-inches long the cocking effort must be several hundreds of pounds! Does he address that at all, or is he ignorant of the physics involved? Any gun that starts out shooting 1400 f.p.s. (which is probably also an exaggeration) already cocks with a lot of effort.

Finally — ask him what he did to tune the rifle. Compare what he says with what you have learned from reading this blog. I bet he misses a step or two (or ten!).

2. A guy tells you he shoots .22 caliber pellets in his .22 long rifle Smith & Wesson revolver. He uses percussion caps in special brass shells he made on his home lathe to launch the pellets and he gets 2-inch groups at 25 yards. What do you think?

Ahh — the dream of all who are new to airgunning. They wonder what a percussion cap or primer would do when it pushes a pellet.

What they ought to do is wonder how airgun barrels differ from firearm barrels. They are not the same size at all. A .22 pellet rifle barrel is not the same as a .22 rimfire barrel. Heck — .22 rimfire barrels are’n even the same size as .22 centerfire barrels!

I think he is confusing the 25 yards he says he is shooting with 25 inches. He might be able to hold them his pellets in 2 inches at that distance.

3. A friend tells you he wants to modify his new .22-caliber precharged rifle for hunting. He wants to cut the barrel down from 19 inches to 10 inches and also to shorten the reservoir tube to make the gun 30 inches long, overall. That will make it easier to handle in the woods. He asks you how he can also increase the velocity of this gun from 1100 f.p.s. to 1300 f.p.s. with the heavy pellets he wants to use.

Sure, cut that barrel off and see what it does! For starters, it will reduce the velocity by more than half. But here is the real flaw in this guy’s logic. First he tells you what he is going to do, then he asks you to agree that he will be able to get a certain velocity from the shorter gun with certain pellets. If you talk to him long enough you will probably discover that he doesn’t even own a precharged rifle yet. He’s just sitting in his easy chair, designing universes he would like to inhabit. If you tell him it will work, he’ll buy the rifle, screw it up and blame you for the results. “You told me it would work !”

4. A fellow at the gun club wants to invent a new kind of airgun, and has come to you for advice. This gun will have a screw ram on the end of the CO2 reservoir that he tells you is for boosting the pressure of the CO2 by reducing the volume inside the reservoir. He wants to know if he can reduce the volume inside the reservoir by 25 percent, how much will the pressure increase?

This is the old, “If I put more gas in the tank, how much faster will my car go? argument. First let’s address the science. CO2 pressure isn’t achieved by compression. It’s achieved by the temperature of the gas. You can reduce the internal volume of a CO2 tank by 50 percent and not raise the pressure. All that will happen is that more CO2 gas will condense into liquid. When you get past 90 percent liquid in a reservoir you have what is known as a bomb. There is nowhere inside the reservoir for the gas to go if the temperature rises. A rise of just a few degrees can multiply the internal pressure many times over.

The CO2 gas pressure inside a 12-gram cartridge is the same as the pressure inside a 500-cubic foot tank when both are at the same temperature.

5. A followup question from the same guy — If he can boost the CO2 gas pressure by 25 percent, how much faster will his gun shoot?

CO2 expands slower than compressed air. So the maximum barrel length for best velocity is not nearly as long as it would be for a barrel using compressed air. This fellow would do himself a favor to learn more about CO2, as it behaves in airguns, before embarking on this project.

6. A guy you know is fascinated by the Hodges catapult gun. He read somewhere that it could launch heavy lead balls at 350-400 f.p.s. If he builds a much stronger gun that’s similar to the Hodges but one that can accept many more elastic bands, how many bands do you think he’ll need to get his gun up to 800 f.p.s.?

The catapult gun is fascinating. I wrote a report about catapult guns that explains how springs have to be optimized for the task they do. Read that.

Elastic bands all have spring rates — the rate at which they contract after being stretched. Adding more bands doesn’t affect this rate. More bands may launch heavier balls, but they won’t do it any faster.

7. A local gun store heard that you are an airgunner and they called to ask you a question. Their gunsmith wants to make adapters for .17 Hornet rifles that allow them to shoot .177 pellets using the power of small pistol primers. The adapter would look just like a .17 Hornet cartridge, only it would have a pellet in the end where the bullet normally goes. He reckons it would be a good cartridge to use on squirrels when he’s out hunting coyotes. They want you to come in and chat with the gunsmith, to help him figure this out. They’ll buy you a steak dinner for your trouble.

Another Michelangelo in the making! Read the answer to number 2. This is the same problem in reverse. A .17 Hornet bullet measures 0.172-inches in diameter. How well do you think a .177 pellet will do in that barrel? A little tight?

Also why can’t he just shoot the squirrels with the .17 Hornet? What — is that now an elephant gun? Maybe he just wants a good safety range, since he will be shooting into the trees. Tell him to get a real air rifle. Try to get the steak dinner before you spill the beans, though!

8. You spot an old breakbarrel on a table at a flea market. You don’t recognize the model, but the wood looks like dark walnut and the metal is all blued, much of which has worn off from use. One clue to the age is the fact that the buttstock ends at the back of the action. There is no forearm on this gun. It’s a .177, but it’s only marked 4.5mm and with the letters D.R.P. There were other words on the gun but it looks like they have been polished off. The seller tells you he used to shoot it when he was younger, but it lost most of its power and he stopped shooting it about 10 years ago. What can you tell me about this air rifle?

I hope you got this one. The buttstock is one clue that tells you this is probably a pre WW 2 gun. But D.R.P. cinches it, since that stands for Deutsches Reichspatent. I think you will only find that stamped on airguns made before the end of the second world war. The 4.5mm marking without the .177 caliber is another clue that this gun was probably made for German use.

Being that old the piston seals are undoubtedly leather. The breech seal will be leather as well, and you can see that. The power loss was probably due to the seal drying out, and as long as the gun hasn’t been abused, it should come back to life with an infusion of oil down the transfer port.

9. The seller wants $25 for the rifle. Is it worth that? Should you buy it?

It’s worth all of $25 and more. Until we hold the actual gun in hand it’s difficult to say how much, but $25 is a no-brainer.

Buy it if you want it. But don’t buy it if you don’t plan to do something with it. Ask RidgeRunner about this. He anguished a long time at an airgun show over an old gun like this that cost a lot more than $25. He did buy it and I believe he is very happy with his decision.

10. You see a small metal pistol in a glass case in a curio shop. It’s marked $10. There are threads in the bottom of the grip. The shop owner tells you she thinks the threads are to attach a water hose to the pistol. She thinks it came from a contest-type of carnival game where people shot water into a clown’s mouth to make a monkey climb a ladder. The person whose monkey reached the top of the ladder first won a small prize.

This is a true story. My wife, Edith, did exactly this at a local flea market. and was told the water pistol story She offered $5 and the dealer gladly took it. Today that 1872 Haviland & Gunn BB pistol gun sells for around $800-1200.

apart
When I disassembled Edith’s purchase, I discovered it was really an antique spring-piston airgun.

Summary

Today has been a test to determine where you are on your journey with airguns. The more things you spotted, the better you understand airguns, in general. Don’t be discouraged if you didn’t get them all. This hobby is large and diverse, and you can spend a lifetime learning things. In my opinion, it’s time well spent.

38 thoughts on “How smart are you now?

  1. How smart are you guys now?
    “”””””Hypothetical sitiation”””””” :
    – you are reading an airgun review on an airgun blog. That blog is sponsored by a big airgun retailer called The Pyramid Is The Limit. The writer of that blog is called Best But Pleasant. At the end of the article he summarises:
    ” the blueing is acceptable, the build quality is good, accuracy is very good for such a powerful spinger. The only problem I have is its trigger. Its too heavy, has a lot of creep in the second stage and its let off is unpredictable.
    But I expect the trigger will smooth out when it had a couple of thousand shots trough it”

    So, how smart are you?



      • Oh no!!! Thats not the case at all.

        Its about reading between the lines, when a rifle has been reviewed.
        The summarise ment:
        “I will not bite directly the hand that feeds me. If youre happy with a rifle that will not shoot accurate cos of its lausy trigger, and you accept a 50% chance you hit what you aim at……
        Then by all means. ….buy the rifle”

        My point was, have the readers learned reading between the lines?


  2. Last sentence of the first paragraph to the answer to question number 4. “A rise of jusy a fre degrees can multiply the internal pressure many times over.” Should read “A rise of just a few degrees can multiply the internal pressure many times over.”

    Nice article. When I first started reading it I thought to myself, “Oh, no this should have been for the weekend.” I was relieved to find the answers at the end of the article. Fortunately the answers were not printed upside down.



  3. Forgot to say above – I was expecting number 10 to be one of those arcade-type CO2 guns you’ve talked about from early last century.

    Really enjoyed this post!

    Jim M.


  4. I would try real hard not to literally snatch that air rifle off of the table at the flea market. That air rifle is likely a Haenal (I think that is how it is spelled). It is a copy of the BSA.

    And yes, I very much enjoy shooting my 1906 BSA on a regular basis.



      • Things like the back of the compression tube was gouged because someone was firing it without any lubrication and the rear of the piston gouged into it or that the screw that holds the piston seal on the end had broken off and had to be drilled out and retapped. It also left a very nice imprint of the screw head in the end of the compression chamber.

        Despite the damages, it was relatively easy to fix because there was amble high quality steel everywhere.

        I shoot it more than all the rest combined.



  5. B.B.,

    You know I love the history reports. Well, I love these too!

    The absolute first thing to pop into my head on a few of the above: “modify [a] new .22-caliber precharged rifle for hunting.” It is already designed for hunting! OK, you want a carbine length? 1st, sell your current air rifle. 2nd, buy a .22 (or .25) PCP that comes from the factory as a carbine. A lesson I’ve learned is that if you want to tinker, get a cheap airgun just for tinkering, but if you want a serious and expensive airgun, learn about airguns, decide what design best serves your intended purpose, and then find one for sale that is what you want pretty much out of the box. He should buy an AirForce Talon or ExcapeUL in .22.

    As for the $25 prewar German springer, it is obviously either worth a lot or a heckuva lot. Even as a parts gun it is worth more than $25.

    As for the Haviland & Gunn BB pistol, if I saw one of those for cheap, I’d snatch it, because even though I wouldn’t remember its name, I’d remember seeing photos of it on airgun websites again and again. Besides, it is obviously old, well-made, all-metal, in good condition, and heavy for its size. Those are signals that something is worth more than just a few bucks, a rule pickers go by whenever they find something cheap that they cannot identify.

    Michael


  6. BB,

    I found your 01/30/2009, Fun at the Flea Market, blog on the Haviland & Gunn BB pistol. Great story. After reading that blog, I’m still not sure how the H&G pistol worked. If understood correctly, you pulled down on the rod sticking out of the end of the butt. It must have been very difficult to cock.

    I found this blog a few months ago. After reading some of the old blogs, I started visiting the local flea markets and junk shops. I have yet to find any air gun at them but I’ll keep looking. Maybe I’ll get as lucky as Reb did at the Texas Airgun Show.

    Jim



  7. How smart am I? Wish I was smart enough to make on of these…

    After reading today’s blog my lunch-time surfing brought me to Steve Culver’s video “Building of the Freedom’s Steel™, Damascus Pistol”. Pretty impressive stuff!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3VLJCW65rM

    I have often admired the patterns in the metal of Damascus knives and gun barrels but was only distantly aware of the process of making Damascus steel.

    If you like intricate work this video is well worth watching. Oh to have the shop tools and the skill to make stuff like this!

    Hank



  8. BB,
    Did you ever do a blog on the Smith and Wesson 77 a?it’s a multi pump right I never heard about till I saw one on American airguns classifieds. They say you can pump it 20 times. Do you know anything about the pumping effort, how good the trigger is?


  9. I feel utterly clueless right now and will need time to digest these. It would be interesting to put a scoring scale like you see in newspaper quizzes: < 3, noob; 3-5, blog reader; 5-7 airgunner; all correct, Godfather of Airguns. Maybe, it's good that there is no scale…

    Matt61


  10. Hi folks,

    I knew the answer to some of them, guessed correctly a few times and got some of them wrong.

    I guess that means I must have learned at least some things since reading this blog. Given that shooting is not my only hobby (but it *is* my newest) I suppose that’s ok 🙂

    Stephan


  11. Here are my answers (from before reading BB’s answers. When I saw that he gave answers, I stopped reading until I listed my answers, except for #10 – I wanted to know what that gun was):
    1) BS
    2) BS, followed by “Show me, I’m from Missouri.” (I’m not but it makes a great come back line.)
    3) Why would you want to destroy a PCP? Don’t believe it’s practical. You would have to completely change out the reservoir to accept a much, much higher pressure then have to find a compressor that fills that high. Good luck on that one. The one at the dive shop can pump up to 5,000 PSI and he paid $25,000 for it 10 years or so ago.
    4) I don’t know enough about CO2 to answer but I don’t believe it’s possible or safe to do so. I thought that liquid CO2 was about 900 PSI. Can that be changed?
    5) See #4
    6) You are sadly misinformed. I know nothing about a Hodges catapult gun.
    7) Steak dinner first! Then, I don’t believe that it will work. A pellet is .177; google says a 17 hornet is .172 in diameter. I don’t believe that the .177 pellet would fit. Why would you want to do it (purpose) anyway?
    8) Time to buy a Blue Book. Don’t know anything about the gun but it sounds interesting.
    9) Automatic counter of “Will you take $10?” but would probably buy for the $25 and hope that Mrs. Qwerty doesn’t beat me over the head with it.
    10) I have no idea what it is but would probably offer $2 or $3 for it because it looks cool (and hope that I don’t get beat over the head with it).

    Jim



      • BB:

        Everybody loves to tinker, I guess. I’ve seen experimental 10,000 PSI scuba tanks with the idea to get more cubic feet for longer bottom time. Just not practical. I can see someone trying to make a 10,000 PSI PCP that would probably weigh about 150 pounds.

        Jim


  12. B.B.

    The only one I got without thinking too much was the steak dinner. I do have my priorities.

    I am a sucker for old guns so anything that looks interesting and doesn’t cost much is going home.

    The ones on the CO2 really got me thinking until I figured out how dangerous it would be to increase the pressure by 25%. Even with that I could not help but play with the ideal gas equations. Enough said it would be very unsafe.

    The first and third ones on modifications seem to come up once in a while. I like your theory if its working don’t change it. Even though I do a lot of testing I try to make it nondestructive so I can change things back when it doesn’t work. If its not working I study many resources before I start any destructive changes.

    I mentioned previously in this blog that my Daughter and I built a catapult air gun to shoot ping pong balls for her science class in high school. I had so much fun in that class. I think a combination catapult and air gun has some benefits for the DIY folks. The simple spring and lever of the catapult supplying the energy and the piston and barrel of the air gun giving the accuracy.

    Thanks for helping to get some of the cobwebs out of my head and teaching about air guns at the same time. Good Stuff.

    Benji-Don


  13. I got a few!
    Question: Has anyone ever put a battery operated and regulated heater in a CO2 rifle tube to keep the CO2 at a constant temperature, say 70 degrees even in cold weather?
    Question: has anyone else used an inexpensive peak reading sound level meter (Radio Shack) to track when the CO2 pressure starts to drop?
    Question: I use a pellet for first shot while hunting and pop in a lead round ball if a subsequent shot is needed. Can a RB hurt a pellet gun?
    Thank you!!


    • Fido3030,

      Welcome to the blog.

      I don’t know if a heater has been attached to a CO2 gun, but I knew a guy who wrapped his with electrically heated sox.

      As for the sound meter idea, I can usually hear with my ears when the pressure starts dropping. The crack becomes a louder, lower bellow or boom.

      A round lead ball will not hurt a pellet gun.

      B.B.


  14. BB

    This was an excellent blog, as always. I think it may have functioned best as a Friday blog, and perhaps with more questions and no answers given until the comments. But what do I know? I’m not the Godfather of airguns.

    One question I really think you should have asked, “a Thermos keeps hot drinks hot, and cold drinks cold. How do it know?”


  15. BB,

    I really enjoyed today’s blog, although I didn’t get them all right (I couldn’t identify the mystery springer, although I wouldn’t pass it up for $25).

    My last $25 airgun was a non-operating Daisy Model 25. For a total investment of $90, I was able to learn how to fix these things and wound up with a functioning 1960 Daisy.

    I was able to identify Edith’s $5 pistol, but only because I recognized it from the story you did about it.

    My knowledge about firearm history and development is about where my knowledge about airguns was ten years ago. Today I bought a new scope for my Henry .22 and had to return it because the scope rings would not hold tight to my dovetail. It was a scope for centerfire rifles with a 100yd. parallax setting. I replaced it with a .22 rimfire scope with a 50yd. parallax setting. And it fit my dovetail. In my ignorance, I thought all rifle dovetails would be the same width.

    I owe a great deal of what I know about airguns to this blog. Thanks.

    Les


  16. At the range, a mate that loves springers tells you he’s uncomfortable being dependent on scopes’ warranties. Trying to, at least, enhance the scopes’ lifespan, he already has a good regular one piece mount, the DM 60 and the Diana ZR mount, all in 1”. As he couldn’t found any – comprehensive and objective – evidences, he asks your opinion about a comparison test he has thought to answer his ‘very first’ basic question: – if we have a ‘100’ recoil at the scope when using the regular mount, what would be the recoil’s – fractions – that would actually remain with each of these 2 dampa mounts?
    By now, although he’s aware about other questions – repeatability? durability? – he’s challenged about what he calls ‘the still mysterious real dampening factor’. Also, he’s not worrying about the ‘all directions’ recoils and vibrations, but the longitudinal recoils’ effects to the scope.
    Instead using a scope, he’s thinking to fill a 10” long PVC pipe 1” OD with some lead pieces to have a “similar” scope weight. To screw an 8” vertical and flexible thin rod to the pipe with a piece of lead at the top end. With a squared paper at one side of the rifle and his camera, or phone, filming at the other side, he thinks the simple proportion of the movements’ ranges when shooting at each of the 3 scenarios (mounts) could be the answer for the recoils’ fractions..
    Another mate suggests what should be an easier way: – instead the vertical rod, etc., just download an accelerometer app to the phone, and attach it to the pipe. Shoot some rounds for each scenario, get the maximum and minimum accelerations at the longitudinal axis, and you’ll see the real proportions of these forward and backward recoils.

    Do you want to help with this challenge?

    If we could get an objective and reliable review about the, at least approximated, dampening factor these mounts actually provide, I honestly think it would be valuable to all spring air gunners.

    Marcos



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