Webley Senior straight grip air pistol: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

A history of airguns

Webley Senior straight grip
Webley Senior straight grip air pistol.

This report covers:

  • Design
  • Piston ring
  • Power
  • Sights
  • Trigger
  • Quirky

Today we start looking at a Webley Senior straight grip air pistol. This model was made from 1930 to 1935, according to the Blue Book of Airguns, 11th edition. There were two versions — a first version that has a trigger adjustment screw sticking out the front of the triggerguard and the second version, which is the one I have. I bought the pistol at a small gun show in Kentucky in the 1970s, when I was assigned to Fort Knox. I paid $75, which was considered a lot at the time, but I owned the first edition of the Airgun Digest and I knew what this pistol was. It’s worth a lot more today.

The pistol is all steel except for the black plastic grip panels. The steel is polished and blued similar to a firearm of the time, which makes the value of Webley pistols recognizable to even firearms buffs who have no knowledge of airguns. It just looks and feels like quality! My gun has about 50 percent original bluing remaining, and it’s peppered by rust that’s been stabilized by frequent wipes with a rag coated with Ballistol.

I had already owned two Webley Premier pistols prior to this purchase, so I knew the brand and the basic pistol pretty well. The Premiers (not the later Premier Mark II that had some aluminum parts) were actually a better, more refined version of the Senior and were the last of the all-steel Webley pistols.

This pistol stimulated a desire in me to own more Webley air pistols. I had to pass on one as a kid because it cost $29.95 and my paper route money wasn’t enough. I bought a Crosman Single Action 6 instead. But I knew the Webley was the gun I wanted. That happened around 1959 or so, and the gun I passed on was a slant grip Senior that still looks very cool.

Webley Senior slant grip
Webley Senior slant grip.

The slant grip Senior was made between 1935 and 1964, with time out for World War II. It was replaced by the Premier model I just mentioned.

Design

All of these Webley pistols share a similar powerplant. The mainspring is cocked by raising the rear of the barrel and rotating it forward. It looks and feels clumsy at first, but once you become familiar with it, you’ll never forget how.

Webley Senior cocked
Once you learn to cock a Webley pistol, you never forget how.

The breech is held shut by a spring-loaded latch that rides over the top of the barrel and forces it down into a groove at the breech. It looks crude, but it works very well — certainly much better than the cammed bolt that’s found on the Mark II Service rifle.

When you cock the gun, press the bottom of the barrel latch forward with your right thumb (sorry, boys, Webley didn’t think about southpaws) and raise the rear of the barrel. Then flip your left hand over so your thumb is down by the cocking link and all your fingers are under the barrel. Rotate your left hand forward and up until the sear catches the piston.

When the pistol fires the piston comes straight back, which is the reverse of the direction most spring pistons travel. On the straight grip model the powerplant sits high in your hand and you do feel a little backwards recoil, similar to a .22 rimfire. The slant grip models cancel this feeling a lot more because of their ergonomic grip shape.

Piston ring

Another interesting quirk of the older Webley pistols is that many models used a single piston ring for compression, rather than a seal mounted on the crown of the piston. It looks and works exactly like a piston ring in an internal combustion engine and it normally lasts a lot longer than a conventional seal — even one made of leather. I have no way to prove it, but the ring in my 1933-35-era pistol appears original. Replacements are still available from vendors in the United Kingdom, and as I told you, I did order one for my Mark II Service air rifle a couple weeks ago.

Power

When I bought my Senior it seemed a little anemic, so I ordered a new mainspring and breech seal. When I replaced them I also lubricated the new mainspring and the piston with lithium grease. The power of the gun is low enough that lithium seems like a good match. Not only does it lubricate, it also dampens vibration a little. The Webley is very simple and straightforward to work on, so I plan to show you the insides in this report.

Webley Senior breech seal
The breech is sealed by a fiber seal (arrow) that has a brass tube in its center to keep the airway open.

Sights

The Senior has adjustable sights, but they are the crude kind found in the 1930s. The front sight is machined into the front barrel band that also serves as the cocking pivot. The rear sight is a two-part sliding arrangement that’s held fast by a single screw passing through both parts. Any adjustment is a by-guess-and-by-golly arrangement.

Webley Senior rear sight
The rear sight consists of two plates that slide together, giving you adjustments in both directions. It’s simple, but it works. Hard to get it exactly right, though!

Trigger

While my Senior’s trigger doesn’t adjust, I have to tell you it is one of the finest handgun triggers (outside of 10-meter target triggers) I have ever used. I’m sure Webley intended it to be single-stage, but a little slop in the linkage after 81 years has given it a false first stage. Then the pull is incredibly smooth, though not that light. You can feel the sear parts sliding against each other with absolutely zero creep (starts and stops due to binding). I will measure the pull weight during the velocity test.

Quirky

If you like quirky, and from the stats I know a lot of you do, then this is the air pistol for you. It looks like its owner should be riding a pennyfarthing and wearing a bowler!

48 thoughts on “Webley Senior straight grip air pistol: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Webley Senior straight grip air pistol: Part 1 | Airguns: Air Rifles and Pistols

  2. Sure nice to see a report of a real steel Webley. I am hoping there are enough similarities between this pistol and my modern Turkish made Tempest, that I will gain a little more knowledge of the spring action system. Thank you.
    Harvey


    • Harvey,

      All of the Webley pistols with maybe the exception of the Alecto operate the same and are built almost identical. After BB finishes this report you should be able to tear your Tempest down and put it back together with no problems.


  3. B.B.,

    “like quirky”,…. yup, that be me. First look and I was thinking,… how does that thing even cock? Then, further down the report, I was like holy cow! Very cool. Looking forward to seeing the insides on the next report. Looks wise, I am with you and like the slant grip version better. Besides being more ergonomic, it looks cooler.

    Had to laugh at the paper route. Been there, done that and remember having to “budget” the meager earnings as a kid. My brother and I split the route of small town of 500’ish. Did it all on 20″ bikes, unless it was bad weather,.. then Dad would run us around in whatever car the family had at the time. We actually collected the money and had to make change. There was customer cards that we would punch to verify payment. I think that was the first of many “kid” jobs.

    Would that fall into the (break barrel) category or would that be considered and (over lever)?

    Chris


    • Hi Chris,
      It cocks like my modern Webley Tempest. Pyramyd Air calls it a over lever . It is a fun gun to shoot and different then anything else I have.
      Best wishes
      Harvey


    • Chris,

      Yes, this is a breakbarrel pistol. It’s the pivoting of the barrel that defines the type. The Whiscombe JW75 is a breakbarrel, even though it cocks via an underlever.

      No, I don’t think I would call this an overlever, since the barrel is the lever. It’s just a breakbarrel.

      B.B.


  4. BB,

    When I was in the third grade my father gave me a Mark I that he had rendered non-firing to play with. I did not know anything about airguns as a kid. It was played with and eventually discarded.

    That is one airgun I would indeed like to “collect”.




    • Hi Weihrauch70,
      My Tempest has a bent Webley Stirrup lock . For a few months I had Trail NP pistol with the barrel extender to help cocking. I got the bright “?” idea to use a piece of 1/2″ pvc pipe as a cocking aid for the tempest. BAD IDEA ! On one of my unsuccessful attempts, just before full cock, the pipe slipped off the barrel and the thing come crashing down on my closed stirrup lock, bending it so bad it was unusable untill
      straightened back up. I then learned to MAN up and cock the thing like a real guy .
      Harvey


      • Hi K7uqshooter,
        Yes I see what you mean ouch !!!
        Hopefully your fingers were clear when it happened !
        I bought my first tempest when I was 13-14 way back in the 80s but I was still able to cock it even at that age. It’s a question of technique really & it takes a bit of practice to get it right but once you master it you’ll never forget (just like riding a bike)
        For me (a right-handed-shooter) I grip the pistol as usual in my right hand keeping my index finger outside the trigger guard and turning my left hand UPSIDE DOWN placing my thumb print (as a Pivot) on top of the barrel just behind the foresight blade while using my remaining fingers to hook under & grip the barrel keeping the thumb in the same place as a pivot pull the barrel in an arch all the way until you hear the click. And that’s it ! Simple really but hard if you get it wrong. Hope this helps πŸ™‚


        • Hello Weihrauch70,
          I basically use the same approach to cocking the little beast. Mine is a .22 . If possible , I use my right thigh as a support point, the finger placement very similar to yours. With all the failures of the pot metal action pistols I have had, the Tempest is a welcome change.
          Thank you
          Harvey


  5. BB,
    The Senior slant grip seems to have a similar grip and trigger alignment as the 1911 and the Ruger Mark 1 series of .22 semi-automatic pistols. Both are very comfortable and easy to shoot
    . I’m anxious to see the insides of this one. The backward stroke of the piston is intriguing.
    Bruce


    • BBB and the group. The slant angle of the grip on my Tempest appears to be identical to my Crosman 2240.
      Placing the pistols side by side they look very similar , discounting the bolt action of the 2240 . Very comfortable grip angle.
      Harvey



  6. B.B.,

    These early Webleys are gorgeous in a Brutalist and form-follows-function sort of way, so much so that if I had the chance to buy one at a decent price, I would even put up with the right-handed “stirrup lock.”

    A thought: might the angled grip of the later version tame much of the backward recoil of the pistol?

    Michael


  7. I see that I’ve got my trigger terminology wrong. I was critical of what I called a “creepy” trigger on my CZ. But what I meant is that where the trigger should be still after initial slack, it has some movement. There is a little creep within that movement, but I wish there was no movement at all.

    Gunfun1, yes dirt clods make great targets. One other advantage is that they seldom appear by themselves, so it’s easy to say that whatever dirt clod was hit was the one you were aiming for…

    Punchin Holes, I didn’t notice anything about ruffling feathers, but as long as you bring it up, this is a chance for me to deliver one of my favorite quotes from Mr. Spock: “You are proceeding on a false assumption. I have no ego to bruise.” He he. Thanks for your thoughts about the AR and AK. I will say that the AR must be one of the biggest puzzles in the history of firearms design that I have not figured out. One thing that’s certain is that the gun can shoot and is probably the most accurate semiauto of all time that can be on a level with bolt-actions. The puzzle for me is that the AR in its current form not only has almost nothing to do with its original conception but in some ways is the complete opposite. It seems to have originally been designed as a spray gun for automatic fire. You know when they set the original twist rate for 1:14 that accuracy was not a big priority. In fact, one reason the twist rate was tightened up to 1:9 is that in Arctic temperatures, the accuracy was completely unacceptable. Now the AR is known for its accuracy. It was also originally designed as a .308 but has become famous for its 5.56 caliber. It was originally issued as a gun that did not need cleaning, and now it is known for its high maintenance. Truly it has made one of the biggest evolutions of any gun design in its 50 years of operation. Whether this reflects the fundamental greatness of the design or whether this is a case of extensive band-aiding is something I have not yet figured out. One other observation, I’ll make is that whatever the AR is now it is just short of the great gun that it could have been. On the subject of compromises there is an ongoing debate about whether this gun should have a piston or not. It turns out that Eugene Stoner himself made a piston design for the gun in the AR-18 that, by all accounts, was a terrific balance of accuracy and reliability. But largely because of circumstances, that design has disappeared and now enormous time and money has been spent on recreating this old invention.

    Anyway, if the AR can evolve beyond its original design parameters, why not the AK? It is my suspicion that it’s mud gun character is not the full potential of the gun but just one of its aspects that served a need at a particular historical moment. One of these needs is production in very primitive circumstances which explains some of the poor quality construction. As for the notion that the gun was designed for stupid, peasant soldiers, I’ve never been entirely convinced of that. For one thing, peasants are not stupid, just uneducated. In the millions of peasant soldiers who have served, there have probably been some real geniuses and everything in between. Also important what is meant by education. One conclusion I draw from studying martial arts is that when people are out to hurt others or protect themselves they get very ingenious, and I’m sure that the Russian peasant soldiers were no exception.

    As for the education of the American military, I know that some individuals are enormously advanced. I have no end of admiration of the pilots and the maintenance men who support them. And I can only marvel at people like the Air Force combat air controllers who can coordinate air strikes with complex ground combat. On the other hand, I don’t know that this generalizes to all front line soldiers. The Gomer Pyle stereotype goes way back. When my Dad was in the Army in the 1960s he said that there was a new recruit who couldn’t tell time and bought a watch from the PX that he wore upside down. And at one camp, the recruits’ idea of a good time was to watch a clerk type out forms at high speed. “Look at him go.” Whether the education of the troops has improved in the time since, I don’t know. I’ve also been a little suspect of the complication of the AR design as a sign of intelligence and education. I thought the goal of these attributes was simplicity as in Mark Twain’s line: “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter sentence.”

    Anyway, with respect to the AK, I agree with your concept of compromise and wonder if the balance couldn’t be shifted slightly away from reliability towards accuracy to get an optimum. The heavy barrel wouldn’t be for a heavier bullet but to prevent heating which I suspect may have caused my fliers in otherwise good groups. Otherwise, the blue-printing of the action shouldn’t change the function that much. I, obviously, am not going to do any of this, so my task will be to see what accuracy I can squeeze out of my gun. I suspect much of the future work will lie in improving the offhand performance and seeing what can be done with my reflex sight. I found that reticles that are blurry indoors are quite sharp in daylight and very cool to look at.

    Matt61



    • Matt61
      Hi, For interesting reading try “the Gun.”. It’s complete story of the AK-47 with a big section on the M16. The early M16’s repeated failure in Viet Nam cost a lot of lives. The early twist rate was deliberate. The idea was that the bullet would be unstable and tumble when it hit someone. Terrible wounds but within the Geneva Convention and we Made it a selling point for the gun.
      The idea of deliberately tumbling bullets wasn’t new. In the UK The .38 with a 200 grain lead bullet replaced the .455. The .38’s bullet was too long/heavy for the rifling to stabelize and would tumble. People who don’t understand this have laughed at the Brits for replacing the 455 with a 38 but it worked. The Brits kept their mouths shut about the tumbling. However when the Geneva convention was agreed to they had to jacket the bullets which changed everything. In the US there used to be a 200 grain bullet available in 38 special called the Super Police. Not a bad idea but it went out when 9mm became popular.
      Fido3030


  8. Quite a popular pistol here in the UK for ferreting with nets, as a close quarter despatch tool, I had an eighties Tempest and a Hurricane
    Neither really lived up to expectations in either power or accuracy but were very strongly made



      • πŸ™‚
        You find a rabbit warren you need to clear in the middle of the day, clear the brush away and use small nets and pegs over the burrows, then you put a polecat ferret down one of the burrows and the occupants bolt into the nets, you can also do wide netting with dogs….usually Lurchers, but ferreting always seemed neater to me


        • Dom,

          Thank you,…. of course you through in some new ones in your reply. I think I got it though,…. Cover holes with net, send down the ferret, out come the bunnies,. blast, blast! πŸ˜‰ ….rabbit stew….

          A gal friend had some ferrets. Cool little critters,.. but smell a bit though. Very playful. A young raccoon makes a cool pet too,… they will play with cats and dogs pretty well. About a year in, they get a bit frisky and nippy and have their minds on a mate.

          Thanks again,…. Chris


          • Ferrets are a nice pet, but their habit of urinating in their paws and rubbing it on themselves can make them a touch difficult to keep smelling wholesome, the females have to be spayed, they die unless they breed
            A Lurcher is a non pedigree hunting dog….classically a greyhound crossed with a deerhound, though smaller whippet based varieties have been bred, normally with a Bedlington terrier or similar



            • Dom,…. πŸ˜‰

              Yea,…. maybe just a “tad”. πŸ˜‰ Not up on the hounds,… but you seem very well versed on the topic. Lurcher, Deer Hound, whippet, Bedlington, etc. The spell check did not like those for the most part. I enjoy the language difference. Makes me think and learn. “Ya’all” started it,…. after all. πŸ™‚ We just made it a bit more direct, while decidedly less refined.


  9. Matt 61 — look up Crosman 101 part 3, post 138. I tried to reply to your E mail, but my pc would not deliver the message. It is strange, you can E mail me,but I cannot E mail you my reply. Ed


  10. B.B.,

    Have you see, “Air Guns”, by Eldon G. Wolff? Here is a copy of it. You can read online but looking at the Download Options you can download the book in one or more of the file types available.

    https://archive.org/details/Airguns

    With a bit of digging/searching we may find at least a few things. Here is one other I found after doing a search for “air gun” from the main page.

    https://archive.org/details/Air_Gunner_January_2016

    Other search criteria will likely turn up other things: video, text, audio. Searching for “air rifle” brought up other possibilities.

    “Marksmanship Training” brings up a number of military videos and some others.

    Mainly, I wanted to mention the “Air Guns” book.

    In other news; I found a few of my keepsakes:
    Volume 1 Number 1 of Beeman’s “Airgun Journal” in which there is a article about vintage Crosmans, namely the Models 100 through 104.

    Airgun News from January 15, 1979.

    Two Air Rifle Monthly issues.

    Summer Edition of the 1987 Airgun News and Report, a magazine published here in Texas.

    I am so delighted.

    ~ken


  11. off topic– I have just stopped laughing ( 15 min. straight.) I found and read one of the best April fool airgun stories written by Robert Beeman. ( American Air gunner Magazine, July- Sept 1995.) It is entitled “biotechnical cleaning of air guns”. It describes the use of flesh eating beetles and also oil eating bacteria to clean air guns. BB– can you put this article on our blog for those who cant find it on the internet ?I found it by accident while researching articles re the Beeman R7 and the HW 30s. Ed


  12. BB,

    Pennyfarthling in the last paragraph – I had to look that one up. Nice visual image.

    Hmmm… Didn’t the penny-farthing predate the Webley Senior by about 50 years?

    I enjoy reading about these old guns. The only problem is that every time you write about one of them I want one of them.

    Jim



    • I especially liked the last part where a top officer fro S/R contacted them. Imagine if this was done at this day and age they would probably be hit by a patent lawsuit and be in court before the company came to its senses.


  13. Pingback: Webley Senior straight grip air pistol: Part 2 | Airguns: Air Rifles and Pistols

  14. Hey BB,

    guess what I just bought at my 25 Yard Bullseye competition last night? $25 and it’s missing the screws at the barrel end. Not sure what else is wrong. Yet. Thought you’d get a kick out of this. Already bookmarked the 2009 article on disassembly!

    Fred


  15. Hey BB,

    I know you’re just sitting around doing nothing waiting for me to respond so here’s a bit more info. The pistol, I would say, is 90% or better. Bluing is immaculate with wear showing only at the barrel link pin, the bottom rear of the receiver where one’s palm fits, the barrel latch toggle and the receiver handle strap. Under the grips, there was very minor rust which was easily removed with WD40 (my Ballistol along with the rest of my supplies has been put in storage as I’m in the process of selling my house here in NJ and had to remove “non-acceptable” items). The only numbers on the gun are the batch number 274 – located under the left grip on the receiver and the front of the spring tube. No letters or markings by the trigger.

    I ordered the barrel joint screw and screw keeper from John Knipps Int’l and asked if he had any idea when the date of manufacture was based on the batch number, a wide trigger and a knurled barrel. He estimated 1958 to 64. I pretty much knew the slant handled “Senior” was a post WW II manufacture from the wide trigger and knurled barrel (no trigger adjustment screw). So now we wait. Those two screws are 10 pounds not including postage!

    Fred still from DPRoNJ



      • The screws arrived the other day and were installed. The gun apparently hasn’t been cocked for ages as it was devilishly difficult. I have treated it to some lithium grease (on the spring and piston parts through the cocking slot) and some silicone oil by the seal. Cocking effort is still pretty high but now the gun moves easier and the sear catches without problem. However, I have packed away all my pellets and other shooting supplies so rather than dig through the storage room I’ve rented, I had to go out and buy a cheap tin of pellets. I’ll shoot it today but my chrony is also packed away so I’m afraid I won’t be able to tell the condition the seals are in.

        Fred DPRoNJ



          • Eureka! Shooting the pistol from roughly 25′ at a target, it sounds very healthy. I say this suggestively based on the time lag from pulling the trigger to the sound of the pellet hitting the metal backstop of the pellet trap. It’s not as fast as, say, my S&W 41 CO2 pistol but well faster than when the CO2 cartridge has run out of liquid and is just pumping out gas.

            A couple of thoughts on the design of this collectible – the rear sight is extremely difficult to get dialed in for elevation. Also, I can see why the barrel pivot screw and it’s keeper were missing. The barrel swings in a counter clockwise direction to cock. That barrel link puts extreme force on the pivot screw and is able to turn it counter clockwise as well. After a dozen shots, in which the cocking effort got progressively easier (hooray!), both the pivot screw and keeper screw had loosened up. I removed them, degreased them and applied blue Locktite. We’ll see if that does the trick.

            BB, would you be interested in viewing photos of the gun? I could send you and everyone else a link. I only offer this to satisfy your’s and anyone else’s curiosity you might have about the condition of the gun.

            Fred

            Fred


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