BSA Airsporter Mark I: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

BSA Airsporter
The BSA Airsporter Mark I is an all-time classic.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Sleeper?
  • How to date your BSA
  • Condition
  • The rifle
  • Stock
  • Trigger
  • Wood
  • Rust
  • Firing behavior

A few weeks ago I landed several great airguns on the Gun Broken auction website. One was that Mauser 300SL target rifle that we aren’t done with yet and another was the BSF S20 pistol I’m looking at now. The third one was a BSA Airsporter. It’s an taploading underlever whose lever is concealed in the forearm, so it looks much sleeker. I’m sure when it first hit the market in 1948 that it sent shockwaves around the world. In fact Falke copied the action for their famous model 80 and 90 rifles, and Anschütz did the same when they made the sporting rifle that later became the Egyptian Hakim. They all started with the Airsporter Mark I.

BSA Airsporter lever down
The cocking lever extends down from the forearm.

Sleeper?

According to the Blue Book, Volume 11, an Airsporter Mark I in 100 percent condition (like new) is worth $300. I will pay that for every one you bring me in that condition. I’ve never seen them go for that little in the U.S., and I’ve yet to see one that was better than about 85 percent. This rifle commands respect — especially the Mark Is and IIs. The later Marks do sell reasonably, but it’s the first two that people really want. So imagine my delight to discover that the Airsporter I had won in the auction was a Mark I. The seller could have doubled his bids if he had known to explain that in his description.

How to date your BSA

This rifle came in both .177 and .22 calibers, and the one I got is a .22. You can tell which Mark you have by the serial number. Here is a table to look that up. My rifle serial number has the prefix “G” which pegs it as a .22 caliber Airsporter made between 1948 and 1954. The 6-digit serial numbers tells me mine is a later gun in that range.

Condition

My rifle has about 80 percent original blue with some wearing of the black annodized aluminum (or should I say aluminium?) receiver. My stock has about 85 percent original factory finish on the beech wood, which looks cheap, but it’s one of the best-finished original Airsporters I have seen. Most of them have no finish left, and the wood has been waxed to a soft patina. They look much better that way, but in the condition mine is in it is definitely more collectible.

Mine came with a cheap scope. No — it’s not another of those scarce BSA scopes that came on my Meteor Mark I. It’s a cheap Dianawerk 4×20 tube that, in 1950, was probably all the rage. My rifle also has the original open sights that adjust in both directions. After the problem with the Meteor, that was a blessing! The front sight should have the same pressed metal hood that the Meteor has, but this one is missing. I will shoot the rifle with the scope first before I get to the open sights, because it was clamped down tight and might actually be on after all these years.

BSA Airsporter rear sight
Rear sight adjusts for both windage and elevation.

W.H.B. Smith reviewed the BSA Airsporter and concluded it would never be sold in the U.S. because the quality that went into the gun was so high that it would have meant a retail price of about $55 in 1957. This was just after Sheridan had learned their lesson that the Supergrade priced at $56.50 was too much for Americans. The few Airsporters that did enter the U.S. did so through returning servicemen, exports into Canada and a host of similar small doors.

The rifle

The Airsporter is a medium-sized air rifle, measuring 44 inches overall with an 18-3/4-inch barrel. The length of pull is 13-3/4-inches. The rifle weighs 8 lbs. In its day the size and weight would have shocked American sportsmen who were used to much lighter Benjamins and Sheridans. But today it seems to be sized like an average airgun. How the times have changed!

According to Smith, I should get velocities of around 550 f.p.s., but of course that would be with 1950s pellets. I imagine today’s pellets can be coaxed just a little faster. We shall see.

Stock

The stock on my Mark I is plain-Jane. Earlier Mark I stocks had raised panels on either side of the forearm with finger grooves running down their centers, but my stock is much plainer. The forearm is square-sectioned and feels clunky in my hands. I’ve felt those older stocks and they are much warmer and more comfortable to the touch.

Trigger

The Airsporter trigger has two screws for adjustment. I will check them out and see what they do, if anything. The trigger blade is very wide and will feel good when I shoot for accuracy.

BSA Airsporter trigger
Trigger has two adjustment screws.

Wood

The finish on the wood stock is thin and chipping off. there are numerous scratches that show up vividly because when the wood is scratched, it turns very bright.

Rust

I have gone over my rifle with a tactical flashlight and I see some surface rust speckles in some hidden areas, so I think I’m going to remove the stock and clean the entire outside of the metal with steel wool and Ballistol. The steel wool won’t harm the blue and the Ballistol will stabilize the rusted areas. It might do the wood some good, too. I’ll experiment.

Firing behavior

When I got the rifle the cocking was stiff and jerky. It was as if the piston seal was hanging up inside the compression chamber. I filled the loading tap with silicone chamber oil then closed it and let the rifle sit for a day on its butt. The oil ran back into the compression chamber and softened the leather piston seal. I also put some Tune in a Tube grease through the cocking slot to cancel a buzzy mainspring. The rifle now shoots calm and steady with a puff of smoke that tells me the piston seal is still oiled.

That’s it for now. Just know we have another classic air rifle to test!

NOTE from the author — This is not a Mark I Airsporter. It’s a Mark IV. The serial number is not G, it’s GI, but the lettering they used looks like the number one. Thanks to reader Dom for spotting my mistake. I will change the title in Part 2

72 thoughts on “BSA Airsporter Mark I: Part 1

  1. B.B.

    I was off grid for a good while and then spent some time catching up on your posts and the comments. Wow you seem to be doing good after what you have been through lately. Even with your sight not what it used to be you are still right on target. I have really enjoyed your reports on the vintage guns you have picked up this last year.

    Thanks for going above and beyond what most folks would do, but as others have said, be sure to take time for yourself and don’t over do it.

    Don


  2. That’s no Mk1 stock, the foreend is much more curved and sleeker on the inception model and normally walnut. The stocks are all interchangeable and that looks like a Mk1/2/3 piece of timber



    • Dom,

      Comparing the two I agree that they appear very different. The stock may have been replaced and the rear sight too. In the picture you posted I cannot appreciate though how that rear sight functioned or is that just the post remaining?

      Siraniko



  3. No, that is the complete, driftable rear sight, the mk2 had a similar arrangement but with interchangeable inserts. Both had leather piston seals which changed to the o’ring arrangement sometime during the mk3 run


  4. BB,

    Off subject warning!

    Now you have gone and done it. I was all set to put a $450 Hawke scope on top of my HM1000X and now I may have to go with a $250 Leapers. I have used a bubble level scope before and they are the way to go for long range shooting.


  5. B.B.,

    Very nice. I always enjoy seeing a tap loader if for nothing more than the unique mechanics of it. I was surprised that you mentioned steel wool to go after the stock and the steel. I would have never guessed that, as it would seem too abrasive,…… but then again,…. I know little about refinishing/restoration/preservation when it comes to air guns.

    Chris


    • Chris,

      0000 steel wool (AKA “Steel Fur”) is very fine. Saturated with Ballistol and used with a light touch is great for cleaning up metal-work.

      I will often use a wad of 0000 to apply my oil-based finish to my stocks. The 0000 is great for flowing-on a very thin layer of finish and doesn’t leave any lint like cloth can do.

      Hank


      • Vana2,

        Thank you for that insight. I will keep that in mind should I run across a rusty critter. Supposed to be nice today (low 70’s and sunny) so looking to get out and shoot some today. I have not done paper in awhile so I am thinking 70 and 100 with the M-rod and then some 30 with the other 2. Better do it while I can.


      • Hank

        Thanks for this info. I was already wondering if BB was using the wool dry or wet. This may open up a whole new project for me to undertake with some oldies I have. I expect some collectors are rolling their eyes at the thought of doing anything at all to century old firearms. I will look for comments from readers. I do have some guns I have already “ruined” by sanding the stocks 50+ years ago when I did not know any better. I will tip toe into 0000 wool and Ballistol on at least one of them.
        I only recently got some Ballistol. This stuff is slicker than most oils and stays slicker longer. Unlike some who object to the odor, I detected no significant smell. You can even keep it on a clothes closet shelf.

        Decksniper


        • Decksniper,

          I am not one to worry about collector’s or resale value as when I decide on a rifle I tend to keep it forever 🙂

          If you are refinishing an old stock I suggest that you remove the all old finish so that the whole stock is to the same “clean-wood” state. Different wood-grains absorb finish to different depths and will influence the quality final finish so you need to watch that. Also, be sure that any spots that have absorbed lubricating oil are thoroughly cleaned ( alcohol or naphtha ) as they will give trouble later it they are not really clean.

          I recommend sandpaper (grits as required) and a Styrofoam sanding-block to prepare the surface followed by raising the grains and finishing with 000 then 0000 steel wool. Sandpaper “scratches” the wood off where as steelwool “slices” the fibers off. Many “dings” and scratches an be steamed out and deep gouges can be filled – sawdust and thin CA works quite well. Fix screw-holes to tighten them up, clean/refresh and checkering.

          You have to watch working with steelwool as it has a tendency to remove the softer wood and leave the grain raised – which is a nice effect if you want that.

          I have started using a “wipe-on” Polyurethane ( https://www.minwax.ca/wood-products/interior-clear-protective-finishes/minwax-wipeon-poly ) with some nice results. I always mask the checkering with green “painters tape” (and remove it when applying the last two coats) to stop the details from being filled in. It takes many thin coats to fill the grain but then it doesn’t shrink the way thicker products do when they are finally completely dry (months later!).

          I am working on a maple/walnut stock for my FWB124 at the moment. Should be to the finishing stage in a week or two – its always cool to watch the grain “pop” when the finish is first applied.

          Have fun with your refinishing! Hope this helps.

          Hank


          • Vana2,

            I agree with you about collector’s or resale value. I’m not buying anything that I can’t use or modify however I want.

            some idiot paid $35.7 million for a 1957 ferrari
            http://www.cnbc.com/2016/02/08/buyer-of-357-million-ferrari-revealed-sources.html

            meanwhile you can buy 270 units of the 2017 Maseratti GranTurismo Sport for the same amount and by every objective standard (and I would say subjectively too) it is a better car 😉
            http://www.maseratiusa.com/maserati/us/en/models/granturismo


          • Hank

            Much obliged for taking the time to describe in detail proper ways to enhance stocks. Years ago I bought a new C stock for my 03 Springfield. I sanded it until it was glass smooth and applied by hand a linseed oil finish. It looks the same today as it did 50 years ago. I still have the stock that came with the rifle in its original state. The rifle is a high numbered beauty double heat treated in 1943 and in near NRA mint condition. I gave it and the original stock to my son last Christmas.

            I too am a gun hoarder. I have never sold or traded a gun. I have them all except those given to my son and teen age grandchildren.

            Decksniper


            • Decksniper,

              Would you please adopt me? I am housebroken and potty-trained and I don’t shed. I do get on the furniture all the time, but my nails are very short and I don’t do any damage.

              I don’t have papers, other than the ones on the floor at night.

              B.B.


            • My pleasure Decksniper! Glad to help.

              Know what you mean about linseed-oil finishes. Decades ago I made a French Burl Walnut stock for a friends’ Father as a “wall hanger” – the wood was absolutely gorgeous and the linseed gave it a very deep glow.

              Later, I found out that the walnut blank had cost $700!!!! And that was back when $25 would feed a family of 4 for a week and gas was 25 cents a gallon! Good I didn’t know that a head of time – would have been too nervous to work on the wood!

              Snowing heavily here (Ontario, Canada) so I am in my workshop, making a mess and working on my new stock 🙂

              Cheers,
              Hank


  6. The sights/cylinder/trigger, all wrong, the Mk1/2 had no provision for a telescopic sight
    I’m not the worlds foremost expert on these things mind, but I have never seen any mk1/2 Airsporter without the finger grooved stock


    • The main difference between the Mk1 and 2 is that the tap opens on cocking with the Mk1
      Which does leave this serial number as a bit of an anomaly
      My money is on a Mk3, transitional if it has a leather seal




      • The Mk1 and most of the Mk2’s had the pop up tap, pressed steel triggers etc, the mk1 had a tapered barrel whilst the Mk2 was straight, some late MK2’s had some very small scope grooves (special mounts required).
        Mk4 had the adjustable metal trigger (without grooves) and metal sights, in many ways the best scope ready Airsporter, I’m pretty certain that’s what this is


  7. With the right pellets (RWS pointed again) it should produce 10-11fpe and an inch group at 25 yards, and will produce 12-13 fpe if you spend 20 minutes stroking it (very easy, round file required) the O’ring (and I’ll bet this has one), has to be spot on, wrong grades and sizes really upset the power output. If its even slightly worn or soft then 8-9fpe is the order of the day.
    The power is more likely to go DOWN with the undersized modern pellets, though accuracy and consistency is likely to rise. These rifles used to like Eley Wasp back in the day, they are still made but the quality is too poor now, I think the dies have worn and the new producer haven’t bothered repairing anything


  8. That Diana sight is around 1970 too, the sixties Diana tubes were a 3×20 that adjusted via the (sprung!) mounting, I’m pretty sure Diana didn’t make a scope prior to the 60’s,





  9. BB

    That was a pretty bold move, buying a rifle from the Gun Broken website. Whenever I buy from there, the danged things don’t work!

    Cool rifle though. I’m looking forward to the rest of this series.





  10. B.B.
    This is a cool gun to be sure; I love the lines of it.
    However, I do have one dumb question for you, “what’s up with this British tap-loader thing?”
    With a break barrel I have access to the breech, and I can seat my pellets.
    With an under-lever like my old HW97, I have access to the breech, and can seat my pellets.
    Even with a bolt action, like my old Sheridan, I have breech access.
    But with a tap-loader…no breech access…it kind of goes against me engineering sensibilities.
    Was it too hard to build a TX200 or HW97 type system so they came up with the tap loader idea?
    All that notwithstanding, this is still a cool-looking gun; I’ll be curious to see the power and accuracy.
    Thanks for all you do for the airgun community!
    take care & God bless,
    dave


  11. Pingback: BSA Airsporter Mark I: Part 1 | Airguns: Air Rifles and Pistols

  12. Try copper wool with your Ballistol instead of steel wool. It’s softer than the steel /bluing, but harder than the iron oxide. Scrape heavy rust with a pre-1982 (genuine copper) penny…and Ballistol, of course.



  13. The Mercury has the same trigger and breech unit as an airsporter, and the same piston and spring, it was later though so always had the o’ring piston
    However, its a case of the later the better with the Mercury as early ones had the Meteor style breech pin and the later ones had a screw.
    Tend to be a shade more powerful and accurate too



  14. It is good to see that Dom has put you right on the Airsporter BB. The MK1 trigger block also followed the contour of the cylinder whereas the post MK1 had a small section straight side. The early MK1 front sight was a transverse dovetali set into the ramp that was either sweated on or slipped and pinned onto a stepped down section.
    I have only ever seen one steel example of MK3 rear sights, all the others are the cheap plastic rubbish, so take care of that one if it is plastic; that type are not readily available AFAIK.
    The loading tap of your example may well be parallel not tapered (gas-cock like) as the early MK’s are.

    Truly, for a quiet air rifle you do not need that ‘Tune in a Tube’ BB. Like all grease, it just attracts crap into the workings and creates more fun when pulling down for maintenance or curiosity.
    ATB


  15. That’s not a Mk1 I think BB. The stock is more like a Mk 3 or 4, and the barrel does not have the correct tapering form. The Mk1 sights are flip up. I think you have a later rifle here. I fear you may find the same difference as between the Meteor 1 and the later model you tested, I.e. earlier gun is better quality and probably shoots better too.


  16. Bb,
    I pray that you don’t have to disassembly this rifle! I have the most modern model of the Supersport the RB2 that I have been trying to takedown for months. The aluminum trigger block screws into the steel compression tube and it looks like they are bonded. The rear end is soaking in penetrating oil with no signs of releasing after months. My next step is a co2 fire extinguisher and a propane torch. It is such a beautiful rifle that it would be a shame to ruin itassume your rifle is attached the same?


  17. BB, is it inadvisable to mount a scope on a break barrel springer? In a forum , a person told me it is most stupid thing to do as money is wasted and one can never get pellets on aim point. Another said scopes are mismatch on break barrels, and iron sights that move along with the barrel can only provide reasonable accuracy. I don’t own a scope yet, but I am working hard to save up & get a decent one for my break barrels. Do you suggest I buy one when I save enough?


    • Riki,

      It mainly comes down to the quality of the scope being mounted. Springers whether break barrel, side lever or under lever put stresses on a scope that a firearm do not and have made a reputation for breaking scopes. Current scopes for the main part can take the punishment, but I will have to stress that the scope you purchase be of good quality. Be aware that there exists a lot of cheap knock offs made in China that are sold without the tight Quality Control that accompanies originals. Like you my springer right now is used with the stock iron sights. I too am saving up for a scope but at the range I am using which is 25 meters maximum I would settle for diopter/peep sights.

      Siraniko


    • Riki,

      Like anything it depends on the gun and on the scope. Those “experts” are probably playing with trash guns and trash scopes, and in their case, yes, I would not do it. But I have a Beeman R8 that is scoped and it is my most accurate pellet rifle at short ranges.

      B.B.


  18. BB, my gun produces 1/3 inch group at 50 feet or 15.5 m, and 2.5-3 inch group at 45 yards with open sights. Is this good enough for buying a scope? The rifle is a Indian copy of Berman r9/hw95.
    I know how painful trash equipment are, I once thought of giving up air gunning as the first air rifle was so bad. When I bought a “expensive” gun, I never looked back. Lesson learnt for a life time.



    • Riki,

      A scope should help you shoot better. 45 yards is pushing it for open sights (in my opinion). Do you have access to name brand air guns and scopes? In other words, can you buy them?,… if you wanted to? I think you said that you were in India and I did not know if you had import restrictions, fees taxes, etc. that would drive up the cost,….. even if you can get them. If you can, the UTG/Leapers line of scopes is good and a good price as well. You can see the other brands B.B. has reviewed as well right here on the site on the archives section under “optics”.


  19. BB, I think I will get one, I shoot all the way from 15 to 35 yards regularly , but more than that, I want to see and shoot with a scope, it will be a great new experience.
    Chris, you are damn right there are import restrictions.
    Anything related to guns is restricted, even if it were a black PVC pipe attached to the front end of a triangular piece of wood. We pay twice the amount to get things in without a glitch. I pay INR 3000 for a tin of jsb exacts, around US $30. Though few Indian air rifles are good, most pellets are like the ones BB shows , the ones that were shot in 1960s.


    • Riki,

      I admire your perseverance in such challenging circumstances! It will be nice to put those cross-hairs on target and see the target clearly all at the same time. Be sure to ask if you have any questions on mounting and set up. Chris


    • Riki,

      I should mention that one trick to make a (cheap) scope work at closer ranges is to turn the front lens. You should see threads inside and some notches on a ring that the lens attaches to. I had a 10-20$ scope, very cheap,… and the picture was good at 40+ yards,… but was awful at shorter ranges. Turning the lens made it work great at closer distances like 8-14 yards. This would be for scopes (without) a side adjust or front adjust objective (front) lens.

      I would be hesitant to try it on a scope filled with any gas. I just thought I would mention it since you have limited selection readily available. It may be a good alternative way to scope your gun and use what you have available.

      As you probably already know, it is not good to run the elevation knob too far up. Don’t be afraid to shim the scope at the rear ring,…. on the bottom only. A piece of soda bottle will work. One of my favorites is to cut up a tooth paste tube that is like soft metal. Try it without shims first,…. but if you find that you are running the elevation knob too far up to get on target,… then some shimming in the rear will help you there.

      Good luck and keep us posted. Chris


  20. OK, I’m about three years behind, but at the end of Beeman HW 70A air pistol: Part 4 you indicate there’s a part 5 to come, but I can’t find it. Did it ever happen?

    Motorman
    St. Louis, MO


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