How much polish…?

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Is it worth the effort?
  • Ray Apelles
  • Sucked in
  • What was done
  • The point
  • Wasting time with the best of them
  • Time isn’t for sale
  • Get real
  • Treasure hunting

…to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse?

Is it worth the effort?

Yesterday’s report inspired this one. In testing the BSA Meteor Mark I, I discovered more about myself than I did about the airgun. When that happens I pay attention, because you can never know too much about yourself.

I discovered that when all is said and done, I don’t like investing time and effort in something that was dredged up from the muck, just to prove a point. Because, what am I proving? That spending a lot of time and money can make any airgun a good one? Or, am I just proving that I am an eccentric?

This isn’t something I have known all along. I spent many years doing stupid things — chasing rainbows and unicorns. I guess we all have to do that to learn what matters in life.

Ray Apelles

I remember my introduction to Ray and Hans Apelles — the son/father team of field target champions. When I first met them they were taking cheap Chinese spring guns apart to see how they worked and what might be done to improve them. I was writing “The Airgun Letter” and remember that I disliked those cheap spring guns quite a lot. Of course Ray hit me with the old saw, “But they are real wood and metal, and look how cheap they are!” As if cheap was a quality to admire.

Sucked in

Still, I allowed myself to get sucked in and we developed a custom Chinese spring gun together. Taking a TS 45 sidelever that cost me $20-30, we transformed it into an adequate shooter that probably only cost 3-4 times what the equivalent gun sold for new. Read those two previous reports to see what I’m talking about., And, by the way, that was back when I wasn’t telling people who I really was, so the world thought B.B. Pelletier and Tom Gaylord were two different people.

What was done

To summarize, we reduced the transfer port diameter, tuned and deburred the action, lubed the trigger (even X-rayed the gun to see how it operated!) and installed a Lothar Walther barrel to turn a cheap Chinese air rifle into something rivaling a CZ 630. Dennis Quackenbush got involved at the point the barrel needed changing, and he even buffed and re-blued the rifle for me. So there was maybe $500 invested (when all the the time is taken into account) to build an $80-100 air rifle.

The point

My point is, lots of things may be possible but many of them aren’t worth the effort. Sailors get bored on long voyages and one common thing they do to pass the time is file monel nuts (nickel alloy nuts used in saltwater applications) into rings. One sailor decided he was going to be different, so he bought a cheap ring and filed it into a monel nut! That’s the kind of thinking that spends a man-month of time to upgrade a poor design.

Wasting time with the best of them

When I was in ROTC in college I once spent about 5 hours in the cadet lounge spit-shining a pair of new combat boots without using any polish — just saliva and a lot of rubbing with an old teeshirt! I was also cutting several classes I hated, so the time was well-spent, but still!

Time isn’t for sale

Time is the one thing money can’t buy. We each get a fixed amount of it to do whatever we will, and then time is up. When there are air rifles in the world like the Diana 27, the Beeman R8 (old-style HW 50S), the HW 30S the CZ 634 and the TX200 Mark III, why would anyone waste time with an airgun that doesn’t deliver?

Get real

Okay, I know everybody can’t find a Diana 27 or an R8. That’s why I get so excited when I find a rifle like the Umarex Embark . It’s accurate, easy to shoot and affordable. That’s what I always wanted the Air Venturi Bronco to be — an affordable accurate air rifle. And it was for as long as it was in production. I’m always on the lookout for others that meet these specifications — easy to shoot, accurate and affordable.

I would put the Tech Force M8 in that group, except it doesn’t have open sights. I like to have open sights on the more affordable rifles because often their buyers don’t have the extra money for a scope.

Treasure hunting

So, instead of spending my time trying to buff up dirt clods, I spend it turning over rocks to see what’s underneath. As an example, that Lov 21 pistol. If it turns out to be a winner, there are still a lot of unsold new-old-stock guns in the system all over the world. The time spent finding one is multiplied when I find a winner we didn’t know about. That’s better than filing monel nuts, one at a time.

48 thoughts on “How much polish…?

  1. BB,

    LOL! I have one of those projects right now! I have my Webley/Hatsan Tomahawk. It actually shoots real nice, but has a pretty harsh firing cycle. I want to see if I can calm it down a bit.

    I think many do subconsciously chase after the “winners”. That is how some end up with a closet full that they never shoot. This is beside the “collectors” who live by the mantra that “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” I myself constantly fight the urge to buy various inexpensive air rifles hoping to find the “diamond in the ruff”.

    As an aside, my father used a small lathe to make rings out of monel nuts. I still have one of them.


    • RR,

      I am really anxious to see what you can do with the Tomahawk. It would be really nice if it was just a simple case of too much spring,.. fixed with a simple chop job and no loss in fps. But,.. once inside,… what else could be done? 😉 Yup,… this article has me written all over it! 🙂


    • RR,

      I thought of you and your Tomahawk when I wrote this piece. I remember testing the Tomahawk. It was a beautiful airgun that missed the mark for accuracy. I was disappointed, because it could have been a world-beater.

      And people wonder why companies go out of business. One reason is they make products that nobody in the company would want, because nobody in that company is interested in what they are making. Without that passion, a company’s time is limited.

      I have even seen airgun companies where any person who was passionate about the product got fired, because those in control couldn’t tolerate that attitude. Those are the companies where the Abilene Paradox in in full force. That’s people saying one thing publicly and the opposite in private.

      B.B.


  2. Very nice article,.. as many of your non-gun specific articles always are.

    I think that tinkerers, armchair engineers and people who love to tear things apart to see what makes them tick,.. will all have a predisposition to falling into this trap. That would me,… my whole life.

    Things can often be “tweaked” a bit with little time and effort,.. with good payoffs in performance. In that case, it is worth it. The one thing I have learned,.. (know when,.. to say when.)

    The other thing I have learned,.. and with the internet it’s all the more easy,…. is (do your homework.)

    Finally,.. whatever it is,.. (buy the best that you can afford.) Is it better to have 5 of something that you are really not happy with?,.. or instead,.. have 1 really nice something that you are thrilled with? Yup,.. you may have to hold off and save, but it will usually be worth it.

    Good Day all,….. Chris


  3. BB,

    When time is money (as it is when I work for clients) then I do completely agree with you. The easiest way out is usually the best. And that in general means that you buy the best. If there is no money then you buy secondhand the best. If that has to be repaired you know that the repaired item will deliver.

    But for learning the upgrade of a hopeless basket case can be quite illuminating. First, when I am not restricted by the price of the item I can change it way beyond its original design. When the whole thing ends up in the dustbin, it is no great loss. Secondly, I have leaned more by thinking about poorly designed parts than by well designed ones. The well designed I tend to take for granted. It is when I have seen the poor designs I can appreciate the thought and material choices which has gone in a good design.

    Only, I do it once with something. I will not upgrade the horrible trigger or sights of my BSA Meteor, but when I will give it to some youngster (these things are really dirt cheap here) and when he ask me to help him upgrade I will do that provided he is doing the work and I may comment. (Always the best position in my opinion).

    For myself I will repair the Walther LP 55 which has broken its spring yesterday (because of a completely detoriated piston seal). To bring out the best in a good rifle is in itself satisfying and the repair of a well designed object is general much simpler that a poor designed one.

    Which bring me to the closing question of the day: How do I recognize that an older gun piston seal is going bad? From reading the blog I gather that I can chrony it. But this gun delivered until right before the final breakdown. Only the last five shots it became slower. On opening the gun I saw that the outer part of the plastic seal was detached from the rest and had blocked the spring tube probably causing the older spring to break.

    I am not looking for the scientific way of knowing, but more the gut feeling about it. What is the moment when you handle a gun and you think: I have to look at that one, it is nor feeling right.

    Regards,

    August.


  4. G’day BB.
    Is it really worth it?
    I bought a Magneto Speed V3 to test shotgun pellet velocities.
    Over a 3 hour test on different velocity cartridges with lead pellets and hand loads I could not find a cartridge to break the sound barrier.
    So I am sticking with my claimed 1150 fps which recorded around 910 fps. The velocities are consistent but do not agree with claimed velocities.
    Is there anyone here who have tried the Magneto Speed and has a standard chronograph to compare air rifle pellets velocities or bullets between machines?
    Cheers Bob


    • Bob,

      I saw one of those at the SHOT Show several years ago. I didn’t notice how it was reading, but they were using an air rifle to test it. It was one of the Korean ones — a Sumatra, I think.

      The odd thing is, the darn thing is made less than 150 miles from where I live, and I have never tested one!

      B.B.


      • B.B.,

        A bit off subject, but I’m intrigued by the various, usually pretty old, chronometers that are quite large so that they can be used downrange. Last week I watched an online video in which one is used to measure the velocity downrange and then calculate the retained energy of pellets of different weights and or different shapes, including the H&N Piledriver. It was interesting to see how much variation there was in energy retention among the different pellets, especially those of different shapes but similar weight.

        Michael



  5. I just always look for something better out of a product. And it also kind of personalizes the gun to my liking.

    And on the other hand some things just cost way to much time and money wise.

    I think after messing with enough of something you finally learn what to start with and not what to start with. Learned that messing with the old muscle cars. Some cars had all kinds of parts available and others not. That makes it more difficult to end up with the rest you want for sure.

    But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop messing with things to try to make improvements in the way it performs. It’s just the way I’m programmed. 🙂


  6. Interesting blog, made me think about my perspective on these things.

    Come to the conclusion that I would happily spend time/money on any project that is interesting/challenging just for the learning experience and the satisfaction of doing it.

    I’m a compulsive tinkerer and make a lot things for my hobbies just because it satisfies my habit 🙂

    Current project is converting a car-jack into a bench-rest. I already have a rest but you see, I found this jack and have a piece of bed frame, a couple of appliance levelers and some other bits… just looks like it needs to be put together into a new rest. 🙂

    Hank



  7. Hi BB,
    Luckily, I learn a lot of lessons by watching others. I bought my carbon fiber tank before I bought my first PCP so that I wouldn’t be temped to buy a pump that would be shortly replaced. I have seen so many people pour tons of money into projects that will never be worth what they have into it. You often see people sell projects that they have invested $500 into for less than $200. Spending a lot of money on a lesser product to try to make it into a product “as good” as a more expensive product seldom works. This lesson is to buy a gun, tool, or car for what it is, not what it is possible to turn it into. That doesn’t mean that I don’t buy cheap things sometimes. I buy a lot of Harbor Freight tools if they will do what I need them to do. I buy some cheap airguns such as a P12 to try a Bullpup at less than half the cost of name brand Bullpup. But in thee cases, I realize what I am buying and not expecting miracles.
    Of course, there are a lot of exceptions. I buy tired quality springers knowing that they will need some work, but at least the good bones are there. Generally, that is what is important. If you are going to take on a “project” at least make sure it has good bones and that there is an easily available path to restoration. Also be aware of what it will cost to bring something back to life and make a good decision.

    David Enoch



      • BB,
        I sometimes look at the Crosman Forum. Those guys are the most innovative guys I know of. It is amazing what those guys can do to a $60 2240.

        Several times I have had to catch myself to keep me from buying a Discovery. I don’ think any amount of work on it will make it into a S200. And, the S200 isn’t that much more.

        David Enoch



  8. August, the Walther LP 55 you mentioned, could that be a complete original target air rifle? Thank you BB for a more interesting blog! Also to the the RR for mentioning the diamond in the ruff? I also have stumbled onto a few diamonds in the ruff! That I could NOT turn down! Semper Fi!


  9. B.B., good stuff here…for a good long while, I was restoring old shotguns, bread and butter guns from the 1920s through the 1950s. My favorite was an old single-shot 20 gauge I called “The Black Sheep Shotgun,” as some gent said his uncle, the “Black Sheep” of the family, had kept the whole family fed during the Great Depression with it. I put a ton of time into restoring such things, until on day when my wife asked me to calculate how much I was making on these projects…it worked out to about $1.50 per hour; when she found that out, the Mrs. re-prioritized my time! 🙂


  10. There is a joy in making a Harley Sportster brake better and run smoother than it ever would from the factory, OK, if smoothness, handling and braking were a priority, then maybe you should have bought a Yamaha MT09, it is, wihout argument a better motorcycle, there is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing it doesn’t do better, and vastly so…..and yet people will spend many times their initial asking price, which is broadly similar, making it perform a little closer to the Yamaha, and there’s a booming aftermarket industry that supports this.It’s utterly illogical, of course…….but can’t be so easily discounted, Is the Harley Sportster a bad motorcycle?, yes, by any modern standard it’s terrible, almost anything of a similar price point made by almost anyone else is dynamically better, heck last 1200 Sporty I took out I couldn’t keep up with a Burgman 400 scooter on a country road, and I do track days!, but, we like to tinker, we like to modify, we like to build a relationship and the Good Ole Sporty is the fiddlers dream, I own a Vintage PRS copy guitar, that I bought for £40 from an online ad, and I’ve put £150 of custom parts in it, it’s now a great guitar, is it better than buying a £190 secondhand guitar?, probably not, and I doubt I could sell it for £110. BUT……I like it more, not because it’s better, but because I’ve invested time.
    Where cheap guns differ, marginally, is with the end result, you measure a good gun in millimetre groups at measured distance, all else is utter waffle, if it’s ugly as hell, kicks like a mule and has a trigger like a rusty gate latch, if it gives you a quarter inch ten pellet group at 60 yards it’s a good gun, period. If it has an oil finished stock, a blue finish you can swim in and a trigger like snapping the proverbial glass rod, but scatters pellets like a sawn off Russian shotgun, it’s a bad gun, again, period.
    So, you have to start with a level of performance, then you can modify in the details from there, my HW77 is tuned to a buttery smoothness, and shoots as accurately as a TX200 easily, it also has cost me more than a TX to get there, am I a fool?, possibly, would I change the way I’ve done things if I could go back……no



    • Dom…great stuff here…brought a smile to my face. =)

      “I like it more, not because it’s better, but because I’ve invested time.”
      Yes; that is exactly how I feel about the many things that somehow got me to invest time in them. =D


  11. B.B. great blog! I always enjoy reading anything that causes me to spend a little time in introspection, whether in book, pamphlet, or the spacers in a box of shredded wheat.

    Two things came to mind: realizing I’m quite similar to Gunfun1 in that I feel this need to tinker, and the oft repeated mantra in motorcycle pubs that “it’s the journey, not the destination”. Of course, I’ll never have the expertise of Gunfun, and have in the past, destroyed rather than improved the object of my unintended malice. That being said, and being nudged by this blog, I now believe I will never buy a TX2000 MkIII. The reason being that I wouldn’t dare tinker with it and quite frankly, after proving to myself that I could indeed stack pellets at 25 yards while experiencing a sublime action, I would only get bored after a while.

    On the flip side, I just had to buy one of the much maligned Chinese B3’s for around $50 on Amazon, and I’m having a blast! Light-weight and easy to handle, it’s a perfect match for a Bug Buster which makes it surprisingly accurate.

    It’s actually great practice since the trigger is so bad and there are absolutely no safeties; all safety rules MUST be adhered to. Yes, I fully expect it to break somehow in the foreseeable future. That would most likely be the cocking underlever or the trigger. I learned that lesson when I reactivated my interest in air guns. I bought a Beeman Sportsman RS1 from a local sports store and was enjoying it immensely, that is until the direct sear trigger started to slip and eventually failed to hold alltogether.

    Lessons learned: Know what you’re getting into if you buy a gun with a direct sear trigger. Despite years of building up a good name, once Beeman sold his name, that brand can and will sell crap.

    Larry in Algona


    • Larry
      It’s very hard for me to not mess with something. And I mean very hard.

      That’s like what I did over the weekend. It was simple but told me what I needed to know. And I kept fighting myself not to which made it even worse. I put that darn scope on my HW30s I recently got. I have shot for the longest time with scopes. And when I was a kid it was mostly opposite. I shot without scopes. So it’s always been in me to get back to that. Well the HW30s definitely helped me finally to get there. Yes no scope on that gun.

      And what I guess I’m trying to say is do exactly like you just did. Get the gun you want and have fun with it. If it not performing like you want. Well at that point change it around or go to something else.

      And maybe to you it sounds like expertise about me. But trust me. I messed some things up in my time trying to get the results I want. Well not some things. Alot of things. I think I would rather call them exsperiances not expertise.

      But the main thing is have fun with what you have and enjoy it. If it’s not making you happy. Well you know what I mean. Make some kind of change. 🙂


      • Gunfun1

        I tried to talk you into scoping your new HW30s a few days ago. You can remove it anytime you want and take satisfaction in knowing what she is capable of.

        Decksniper


        • Decksniper
          Yep I know you did. It’s just that I know how dependant I have become on scopes.

          So the HW30s was going to be the ice breaker. I wanted to keep the scope off of it figuring once it got on there it would be there to stay.

          But it came back off and I’m glad I did. And I may try a dot sight on it in the future too. To me that’s more related to a open sight than a scope. It’s the magnification of the scope and the different things that the magnification amplify’s that I want to stay away from on this gun.

          And I got enough other guns with scopes that will keep me occupied if I don’t scope the 30. 🙂


  12. I guess I’m one of those people that would buy a cheap ring and file it into a monel nut. All of my air rifles except the Diana 34 have had extensive work done on them. I think it expresses your individuality and lets your personality become part of the gun. Besides what else do I have to do? Watch another episode of CSI? barf.. I swear my two favorite weapons are the Ruger 10/22 and Crosman 2240, they are a never ending project that can never be completed. Cottage industries are built relying on people like me who always have take them apart and put them back together in a different configuration.




    • Docteur Ralph
      Oh and hey. Talk to Hiveseeker. He’s got some Crosman custom shop guns. He’s done some guest blog in the past.

      He got some interesting shooting results and chrony results at that. That’s what I was referring to the other day about transfer port size and barrels with the custom shop guns.

      Maybe him or BB can give a link here of some of the guest blogs he done.


  13. B.B.,

    The new Pyramyd Air catalog showed up today, and as I browsed through it my interest was appropriately enough captured by your article “Why own a chronograph?” I’ve spent a lot of time slinging lead over mine, and I found part of your concluding paragraph quite refreshing: “A chronograph isn’t a gauge for having fun. Fun comes from shooting an airgun that’s right in all ways.” Evaluating and tweaking an airgun can be a lot of work. Thanks for keeping it all in perspective!



  14. Docteur Ralph,

    Catalogs are no longer what they once were. Now they are just teasers to get you the web sight. There is a lot to be said for being able to overlook a hard copy of something and just mulling things over and wishing. Not to mention being able to hand someone a catalog to possibly get them interested.

    Sadly,.. those days are quickly fading into the misty past.


  15. BB
    This blog reminds me of the post I entered for Grandpa Dan. You get what you pay for, and can afford.
    I too like GF1 thrive on problems that require a lot of analytical work and being an A&P mechanic was my perfect job. Extremely challenging and rewarding. For example, A friend storing his old van here found it would no longer start. No gas getting to the carburetor so he changed the in tank electric fuel pump …no fix and eventually he gave up looking for the problem. I trouble shot the problem and solved it without doing anything.
    The gas in his carburetor float bowls evaporated. The fuel pump only worked when the ignition switch was in ‘Start’ position or there was sufficient oil pressure from a running engine. Pouring gas down the intake would not let it run long enough to develop oil pressure…. Evidently he left off a hot wire to the fuel pump when he reinstalled the battery cables. Result, the pump failed to work and fill the float bowls in the start position. Old school mechanical fuel pumps on the engine block may have clouded his thoughts?

    Modifying airguns in itself can be a challenging and rewarding experience. The results don’t always have to be totally successful or cost efficient. It’s the challenge and some guns are obviously more accommodating to modifications and have blogs devoted to them. Fun project guns that offer good results.

    As I said before, “What do I want the gun for?, should always be the first question, closely followed by, “And how much can I afford”. Then comes the homework to decide which airgun fills the bill the best.

    Lately though I enjoy solving problems in my head and less doing the work to solve them. I have many unfinished projects and too many other interests to devote time to so I don’t spend too much time on airguns. My old age financial success has made spending money on things ‘I want’ instead of things I need, or can afford, almost another hobby. I look at it as turning cash into hard assets that can be fun to have and redeemed for cash some day. Not always for a profit, Other money is used for that.
    If you are well off, spending what many consider outrageous amounts of money on things may only be a pleasant pass time. It’s all relative to where you stand in life.
    In my early years buying something I can afford and trying to make it into something I really wanted was for all practical purposes a way of life ! I still have a mid engine Kit Car instead of a GT40, unfinished as it may be !

    But as BB has implied here, some airguns are just not worth the trouble and would take way too much money and effort to turn a sows ear into a silk purse. Airgun restoration is another subject. A ‘Tune up’ is one thing, replacing everything inside is probably foolish or a tinkerers fun project. …. It’s all relative !


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