by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Hammerli 100
Hammerli model 100 free pistol.

A history of airguns

Part 1

  • Limited grip adjustment
  • Clean from the breech
  • Schnable
  • The front sight removes
  • Weight
  • Carrying case
  • Summary

Today I will continue to describe the Hammerli model 100 free pistol. I’ll start with those grips that are perhaps the most flamboyant-looking pistol grips ever designed. They command attention, like the tail fins on a 1959 Cadillac.

If you study the evolution of the free pistol you’ll go back to the 19th century and see target pistols from Europe that were derived from target rifles. They had things like double set triggers and grips that were ergonomic for their day — though they don’t look so today. The grips looked like saw handles that came back over the top of the web of the palm. But beyond that, there wasn’t much more custom fitting. And the barrels were too long. They must have been frightfully muzzle-heavy! In target shooting some muzzle-heaviness is appreciated for the stability it affords, but too much is hard to hold up.

As time passed the target pistols became more ergonomic, but until just after WW II they were still in the development stage. The last iteration they went through had them looking like magazine-fed semiautomatic pistols, though they were all single shots. Then in the 1940s came the Hammerli model 33. As far as I have determined, it was the first pistol that looked like what we now call a free pistol. It was sleek, balanced and had the sexiest looking grip ever seen on a handgun. As you learned in Part 1, the model 33 was redesignated as the model 100 after Hammerli changed hands. So, you are looking at that gun right now.

While the grip appears to grab the hand tightly and fit perfectly, it doesn’t do so as the gun comes from the factory. The basic shape is there and with a lot of rasping, sandpaper and wood putty it can be made to fit like your favorite slippers. Years of testing and shooting different Morini and Morini-styled target grips have made me very critical when it comes to the fit of target grips. And the model 100 is just not quite there. What do they say? “It’s close, but no cigar.”

If I were going to compete with this pistol I would go to work on the grips and make them fit me. But I won’t deface a collectible gun for a few times of pleasure at the local range. Fifty years from now when I’m no longer even a memory this model 100 will still be around, giving joy to someone. I don’t want to be the Bubba who hosed-up the grips. I don’t plan on engraving my social security number on the frame, either!

Limited grip adjustment

I’m used to modern 10-meter pistol grips. A 10-meter target pistol grip adjusts in several ways to make the hold perfect for the shooter. The rake (up/down angle of the grip relative to the barrel) can be changed, as can the left/right twist. The grip can also cast off or on from the centerline, like the castor and camber of your car’s tires. When adjusted correctly the grip can force a shooter’s wrist to lock in position, giving additional stability to the hold. The palm shelf can slide up until the hand is tightly compressed into the trigger-finger groove. All of that can be available in a modern world-class 10-meter target air pistol

Hammerli 100 grip adjustment
Loosen the single screw in the palm shelf and slide the shelf up or down to adjust the size of the grip for your hand.

The Hammerli 100 grip has a sliding palm shelf, and that is the extent of the adjustment options. If the grip angle doesn’t fit perfectly (it doesn’t) then either get the sandpaper and wood putty or live with it. I will live with it. I could use a lot more rake on the grip angle, so my wrist would lock in place, but that isn’t an option. I see modern free pistol grips that do offer that — even the Russian TOZ 35 that copies the Hammerli in many other ways has adjustable rake.

The only advantage this grip affords is it makes the trigger finger touch the screw head in the trigger blade ever-so-lightly. That gives perfect control over a light trigger pull. Other than that, give me a Morini grip every time!

Clean from the breech

One thing I didn’t spot for a while is a hole at the back of the grip that lines up with the barrel. This makes it possible to clean the barrel from the breech!

The Martini action sits low in the grip and upon first examination I thought I would have to clean through the muzzle — an unforgivable act for a target pistol. You want to do everything possible to preserve the integrity of that crown, plus the rifling at the muzzle, so when the bullet exits there is even gas pressure all around the base. Wearing the rifling on one side would allow a jet of gas to escape early, putting pressure on one side of the bullet and possibly causing it to flutter in flight. The manufacturer has gone to great lengths to prevent that from happening, and the shooter needs to care for his pistol to protect that critical interface.

Hammerli 100 cleaning hole in grip
An access hole at the back of the grip provides a straight line to the breech for proper cleaning.

Hammerli 100 crown
This is what you are protecting. Only in this enlargement can you see the thin chamfer at the crown. This is why we always clean from the breech when possible.

Schnabel

Under the category of style, please note that this pistol has a forearm. Other than a few specialized guns like the Thompson Center Contender, few handguns have wooden forearms. Not only is there a forearm on the 100, it has a schnabel on the end! That’s the sort of styling you see on a fine firearm of the 1950s. Target guns today look like they were designed by the builders of catamarans.

Hammerli 100 schnabel
Though it does nothing to help accuracy, the schnabel is a touch of 1950’s class.

Front sight removes

A small lever that protrudes forward of the front sight gives the indication that the sight blade is removable. That allows the shooter to fit the sight post that has a width of his or her personal preference. They can match that to the width of the rear sight notch that’s also an adjustable option.

Hammerli 100 front sight
Push that spring-loaded lever down and the front sight blade can be removed. This allows for many width options.

Hammerli 100 rear sight
The rear sight has two different notches. The plate is held by two screws from the front No doubt other sight plates with different notches were offered..

Weight

My pistol weighs 1,240 grams, which is 2 lbs. 11-5/8 oz. That’s about right for the 1950s, but on the heavy side for 2016. Most target shooters today want a pistol that weighs under 1,100 grams.

The balance is ever-so-slightly biased toward the muzzle. I could use more weight at the muzzle and I am sure optional weights were available for this model, though I have never seen them. Today’s free pistols come with optional weights riding on adjustable outriggers. They allow the shooter to distribute the weight over a very broad range. In the 1950s it was more of a case of this is what you get — either change it yourself or live with it.

This is a large pistol. It’s about 16-1/2-inches long overall. Long barrels make all free pistols long. They need the distance between the sights for the greatest amount of precision they can wring from the design. Long barrels are no more accurate than short barrels, but the longer the sight radius (distance between front and rear sights) the greater the aiming precision, which generates smaller errors when they are slightly off.

Carrying case

No doubt when the gun was new it came in a case of some kind. The case was probably wooden and padded, with additional compartments for all the tools needed to accompany the pistol to every match. But no wooden case came with my pistol. It did come with a case of sorts, however.

Hammerli 100 case
The pistol came with a leather carrying case I didn’t know existed. It’s perfect for transporting the gun!

The listing on Gun Broker said it was a holster, but free pistols never go in holsters. They aren’t that kind of gun. The leather pouch that came with my pistol fits it perfectly and is a carrying case.

When I saw it online I thought it was something somebody cobbled together for their own gun. But after examination I strongly believe this case is commercial and must have been available in the aftermarket when the pistol was new, which means the decade of the 1950s.

It is constructed of thin pigskin leather that fits this pistol perfectly. A strap goes over the shoulder for carrying and a loop at the bottom could accept a thin belt, which is why the seller might have thought it was a holster. I think that loop is for hanging the case on a peg when not in use. There is a pouch sewn into the bottom of the case that holds a box of 50 rounds of ammunition. And there is a long tube of leather on the front of the case for a cleaning rod. Beside the shoulder strap, there is a stout leather carrying handle sewn at the top of the case.

I can find no maker’s mark anywhere on the leather — outside or in. I even examined all the hardware and can find no identifying marks. The uniformity of the stitching tells me this is a professional job, so I think it’s commercial, though I have never seen another like it.

Summary

That completes the description of the free pistol. I will do a velocity test next, followed by one or more accuracy tests. I think you’re going to see a lot of this pistol in my writing from now on.