Swedish Excellent: Part 1
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
My Swedish Excellent CII rifle is a multi-pump pneumatic.
This report covers:
- Update on the Hammerli trainer
- The gun
- Barrel and breech
- Preparing to fire
- What’s next?
Update on the Hammerli trainer
Before I get into today’s report I want to give you an update on the Hammerli trainer for the Swiss K31 rifle. I am having trouble getting it to work after disassembly and cleaning. There is a small ball bearing that connects the trainer’s sear with the piston, and that ball has to be assembled in exactly the correct fashion (I believe) before the gun will remain cocked and fire. It has to travel in two raceways — one on the sear bar and the other on the piston, and there are holes it must be forced through at critical times in order to provide clearance for the parts to move against each other. My gun buddy, Otho, looked at it with me, and after two hours of working with it he decided that the man who invented such a complex system was probably on the verge of insanity.
I will keep on working with it and I have confidence that I will eventually get it working again. Until then we will look at other historic airguns — starting with today’s topic rifle, the Swedish Excellent.
The Excellent is an airgun about which I know very little. What I do know comes from the Blue Book of Airguns, 11th edition. That material was provided by American airgun collector Ingvar Alm, who is a lexicon of information about the Excellent.
Their first airgun was patented in 1904, so they are almost as old as the Benjamin Air Rifle Company. In 1908 they patented a CO2 airgun. They also made an odd top lever spring-piston rifle for a brief time in the early 1920s, as well as a triggerguard-lever rifle.
They also made three versions of breakbarrel springers. The first one was made from 1933 to 1949 and the second and third were more robust guns made from 1949-1959.
Their pre WWII production is estimated at 8,000 rifles. They actually made 3.500 rifles during the war, from 1943 – 1945. From 1945-1970 they produced as many as 25,000 rifles.
They also made pistols. One was a spring piston model, sold as the Model 1950. It shot .177 lead pellets and had its mainspring concentric with the barrel. It was made from 1950 to 1959. The Phantom BB pistol was a 10-shot smoothbore repeater was made from 1953 to 1959. The Blue Book notes that a design flaw in this gun resulted in very few surviving.
Starting in 1941 Excellent marked its models number as Roman numerals. Our test gun is a CII, which was made from 1946 to 1966. It came as both a rifle, which is the gun I have and as a carbine, designated by a K after the model number.
The Swedish Excellent I am testing for you today is a CII, probably made in the 1950s, though there is no way to be certain. The gun has very few markings on it. It is a single-shot multi-pump pneumatic with a mechanism American airgunners are not familiar with, so I will describe it in detail as this report advances.
The gun is lightweight. It weighs just 4 lbs. 10 oz, though it is so slender and compact that it feels like more. The overall length is 38.25-inches and the pull is 13.25-inches. The gun is 100 percent wood and metal. The design will seem odd to most U.S. airgunners, as will several of the operational processes.
Barrel and breech
The barrel is 22.5-inches long, which is great for velocity in a pneumatic. The breech will seem similar to those owners of Remington rolling block rifles, as the breech is pivoted to swing to the left for loading. There is no detent on the breechblock — just push it to the left and the breech is exposed.
Swung to the side, the breechblock opens the breech for loading a lead ball.
The barrel is rifled with what the Blue Book listing calls “Paragon” rifling. Generically, this type of rifling is called polygonal rifling. It doesn’t have the sharp edges of conventional land-and-groove rifling and is supposed to deform the bullet less.
But get this — the entire barrel is not rifled. The rifling, which can be seen from looking down the muzzle appears to begin close to the muzzle, not unlike the Smooth Twist barrels found on FX airguns today. The combination of polygonal rifling and a long smoothbore section of the barrel means higher velocity can be achieved for the bullet with lower air pressure.
And the rifling in my rifle is not polygonal, as described in the Blue Book. It is conventional cut rifling with conventional lands and grooves. It just doesn’t start until about 5 inches from the muzzle. I know this because in some early testing I fired an H&N .22 caliber copper-plated lead ball through the gun and it stopped where the rifling began. When I pushed it out of the barrel I saw the impression of the rifling, that I will now show you.
The impressions of rifling lands are unmistakeable on this engraved ball.
Speaking of bullets, let’s discuss what this strange rifle shoots. It shoots 5.4mm lead balls, though they are not as uncommon as that may sound. When I recently acquired this particular rifle, it came with a tin of Excellent 5.4mm Silver bullets. They are round lead balls. If you are a veteran reader you have read many times that bullets were all round balls until the middle of the 19th century. We only call them balls today to differentiate them from conical bullets.
These balls are made for the Excellent.
I measured these balls and found them to measure 0.213- to 0.2135-inches in diameter. Then I measured some .22-caliber Lobo lead balls from Argentina. They measure 0.214- to 0.2145-inches in diameter. One-thousandth of an inch is close enough to use the Lobo balls in this rifle. They may even be more accurate. The H&N balls that measure 0.217-0.217-inches are too large.
Preparing to fire
To fire the rifle the action is first cocked by pressing forward on the button at the rear of the action. It takes some real force to cock the sear! I normally don’t report cocking efforts for multi pumps, but on this rifle a force of 32 lbs. is needed. That has to come from your thumb, so it’s magnified by the small area. It reminds me of the Gat pistol in this respect.
To cock the action push that button in with 32 lbs. of force!!!
Once the rifle is cocked, it can be pumped. To pump the gun the wooden pump handle is pulled out, away from the action. Compression happens on the return stroke. I was told that the action can withstand up to 10 pumps, but the former owner said he usually only pumped it 4-6 times. Given the age of this gun and my unfamiliarity with the mechanism, I plan to follow that advice.
When the gun has been pumped, swing the breech open, insert a ball and close the breech again. The rifle is now ready to fire.
The sights are open and simple, but not without some nice features. The front sight is a squared-off post that tapers ever-so-slightly as it rises. It sits in a dovetail and can be drifted side to side for some horizontal correction.
The front sight is plain.
The rear sight is a flat leaf that has been bent at the rear and has a rounded cut for the rear notch. It isn’t dovetailed into the barrel. Instead the base is bent at a sharp angle and slid into a horizontal cut made in the barrel. It is deeply staked on both sides of the cut, but it should be possible to drift the sight. There is a screw in the center of the rear sight for elevation. Both sights are simple, but you can see that some thought has gone into their design.
Rear sight is simple but cleverly designed.
The CII stock appears to be beech. The butt has a steel plate fastened to it by two screws, in the way things were done back in the 1940s and ’50s. The pump handle seems to be made from a different species of wood, maybe oak or elm? It might need that to stand up to use because it is so small and thin.
The breech and some parts like the button that’s pushed to cock the gun are brass, that has been nickel plated. The rest of the metal parts on the outside of the gun appear to be steel.
Except for the buttplate, the bluing on this rifle is deep, even and nearly all there. The butt seems to have next to no finish remaining.
Swedish Excellents are not common in the U.S. Therefore, I have little data to go on to tell you a value. I do know that a CII like mine sold for $625 on an auction website, and at the Findlay airgun show I was offered one that was not working for $350. That should give you a rough idea of the value.
I plan to test the CII for you just as I do all airguns. I won’t stress the mechanism by over-pumping, but in Part 2 I will give it a thorough test.