by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Hammerli 100
Hammerli model 100 free pistol.

A history of airguns

  • Hammerli or Haemmerli?
  • Hammerli 100
  • What’s free about it?
  • Martini action
  • The side lever
  • Trigger
  • Special grips

Hammerli or Haemmerli?

Before we dive in to today’s report, a word about the spelling I have used. It is incorrect. The correct spelling of the Swiss firm uses an umlaut (two small dots) over the letter a (Γ€). Since the English alphabet doesn’t have umlauts, in our language the letter e follows the a — sometimes kerned closely to it. The umlaut sounds like a diphthong (aha! caught you napping in English class, didn’t we?) that most native English-speakers have difficulty pronouncing. The letter e forces our way of saying it as close as English speakers can normally come to the correct German pronunciation. That’s okay, though — most Germans cannot pronounce Connecticut, and Brits all get aluminum wrong. And, this discussion is superfluous, since almost all American shooters pronounce it Hammerelli, anyway.

Hammerli 100

Today’s pistol is a single shot .22 rimfire target pistol that’s used in world cup competition and in the Olympics. Nearly all Hammerli’s are chambered for .22 long rifle cartridges, but a few were chambered for .22 extra long — an obsolete rimfire cartridge that was longer than a long rifle and a little more powerful in the 19th century, when the cartridges were loaded with black powder. Production of that cartridge ceased in 1935, making anything chambered for it a collectible rather than a shooter.

The first free pistol Hammerli made was the model 33. Actually, the model 100 we are examining today is the same gun. The company changed hands and the model number was changed at that time. This model is widely considered to be the Holy Grail of all free pistols.

The gun has London 1948 and Helsinki 1952, plus the Olympic rings inscribed on the right side of the action. Hammerli swept the podium both years. And, in 1956, American Huelet (Joe) Benner won the only U.S. Olympic gold medal ever in free pistol with a Hammerli 100.

Hammerli 100 inscriptions
At the 1948 Olympics in London, Hammerli 100 free pistols swept the Olympic podium. They did it again in Helsinki in 1952.

What’s free about it?

It’s called a free pistol. So why do they cost over $1,000, and often over $2,000? There’s nothing free about that! The word free refers to the design parameters of the pistol. The pistol must be held in one hand, only, and no other body part may touch it while shooting. The design of the grips is unrestricted, other than they cannot extend back beyond the hand. They can wrap around your hand and hold you so securely that you have to shake hands with the pistol to get into the grip. The sights must be non-optical and lasers are not permitted. Other than that, these guns are fairly free from restrictions.

The barrel length is unrestricted. The barrel on my pistol is 11-1/8-inches long and is octagonal. They did come in other lengths, but each length has a different weight associated with it and a different balance. The weight of the gun is unrestricted. This is a pistol built for just one purpose — shooting the highest score in a 60-shot offhand match at 50 meters in two hours. Compared to a free pistol a 10-meter air pistol has a greater number of restrictions that limit the design.

Martini action

The Hammerli has a Martini action, which is generically called a falling block. The breech block is pivoted at the rear and drops in the front to allow a single cartridge to be loaded. But the lever for the block is not the one I thought. On the left side of the action is a lever that moves down to do something, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the breech block or with cocking the gun.

Hammerli 100 action
The Martini action tips down in front to gain access to the breech. You can see the pivot pin on the right side of the picture. The breech open like this is the normal condition for the pistol — the striker is then uncocked and the breech is open and exposed for examination.

The action remains open (breech block down so you can see into the breech) when the gun is uncocked. A lever beneath the grip is pushed back to raise the breech block and cock the striker. If you want to uncock the action, this lever has a locking tab built into its back. Restrain the main lever and push the locking tab forward and the breech block will lower under the striker spring tension. Once the block is all the way down, push on the back of the locking tab (towards the muzzle) and the extractor slides back, removing the cartridge from the chamber.

Hammerli 100 lever
Pull this lever back (to the left) to close the breech block and cock the striker. Push forward on the tab (arrow) to unlock the lever and uncock the action. Push the lever all the way forward to move the cartridge extractor.

Hammerli 100 extractor
When the lever is pushed forward, the extractor moves back.

There is no ejector. The empty cartridge is removed from the action by hand and the pistol may be reloaded or left with the breech block down, which is a safe condition. It can then be laid on the shooting table where the range officer can easily see that it is unloaded and safe.

The side lever

The lever on the left side of the action cocks or sets the trigger. You can load the pistol and cock the striker by moving the lever at the bottom of the grip to the rear, but even then (cocked and loaded) the gun will not fire until this lever is pushed down. The trigger must be cocked or set by pushing down on the lever until a small click is heard. I say “set” because that is what the process reminds me of — the setting of a single- or double-set trigger. This is also how the pistol is dry-fired.

When the pistol first arrived I fiddled with this lever, trying to discover what it did. I discovered the breech block lever pretty quick, but even when the breech was closed and the action obviously cocked the gun would not fire. Also, I couldn’t make the gun go into a dry-fire mode, and free pistol shooters do as much dry-firing as 10-meter air pistol shooters — at least 5 shots dry for every shot with a live round.

Then I tried pushed the side lever down with a little force. Voila — the trigger clicked and was set. Setting it and leaving the breech block open is for dry firing. When you want to fire the gun, load a cartridge and close the breech. Then set the trigger and the gun will fire. Not only is this setup fantastically safe and ergonomic, it is designed to work with the gun gripped in the right hand for shooting. Did they make them for lefties? I don’t really know. If they did, they are probably extremely rare.

Hammerli 100 side lever
This is the lever that I thought was used to cock the gun. It’s actually used to set the trigger. Push the lever down until you hear a soft click.

Trigger

The single-stage trigger is adjustable to break from 30 grams to 150 grams, if my research is correct. The trigger on my pistol is currently set at 60 grams, which is about as light as most fine European 5-lever double-set triggers. Don’t think of the double-set triggers on Kentucky rifles. They are coarse by comparison. This trigger is in a class by itself. In fact, it would be too light for me to operate safely if not for another brilliant innovation.

No doubt you have noticed that the trigger has a small screw in the center of the blade. I have wondered about this screw for over a half-century. Why is it there? Do you just press on the screw or is the rest of the blade involved? Now that I own the pistol I finally understand this design. Not all Hammerli free pistols have a trigger like mine, and of those that do, not all of them have the special grips that go with it.

Hammerli 100 trigger
The trigger has an adjustable screw in the center of the blade. Notice that the wood of the right grip panel extends past the rear of the triggerguard almost as far as the trigger. This is intentional, and its purpose is described in the text.

Special grips

Yes, I said special grips. They have more wood on the right panel where the trigger finger goes. They make the finger contact the trigger at its tip. And the finger doesn’t contact the trigger blade. It contacts just the head of the small screw. You can feel the trigger this way but not apply much force. After dry-firing the pistol a few dozen times I learned that this is intentional and gives me extremely fine control over the trigger. Not all Hammerli 100s have the screw in the trigger blade, and fewer still have a grip like this. This was made for a shooter who wanted the last word in trigger control.

Hammerli 100 trigger finger
The right grip places just the tip of the trigger finger against the head of the screw in the blade. The control you get from this arrangement has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

There is no trigger stop, but with this grip you don’t need one. The trigger stops at the release point. It’s difficult to explain, but this trigger is much superior to the trigger on a 10-meter air pistol.

Summary

I have read all I can find on the Hammerli 100 pistol in every resource available to me. I have put more factual information about the gun and how it works in this one report than I have been able to find in all those other sources. I have heard of German books on target pistols and free pistols that probably have everything you see here and a lot more, but I haven’t examined them yet.

There is much more to cover on just the overall characteristics of the pistol, so Part 2 will be a continuation of the description.