by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Dioana 23
Diana 23.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • A stripper
  • The rifle
  • Two versions of the later rifle
  • Trigger
  • Breech seal and locking detent
  • Sights
  • Cocking
  • What is it good for?
  • Summary

This report should be titled, “By any other name” because the airgun I’m writing about doesn’t say Diana anywhere. It says Gecado, Mod. 23. I know it is a Diana because I have paid attention to Diana air rifles for the past four decades, or so. They can also be named Hy Score, Winchester, Peerless, Original, Milbro, RWS, Geco (of which Gecado is a derivative) and Beeman. And I bet there are more names I haven’t mentioned.

Dioana 23 markings
These are the principal markings on the rifle. There is no serial number, caliber or date of manufacture.

A stripper

Decades ago a new car that was basic and was priced as low as that model would go was called a stripper. Well, the Diana 23 is the stripper of Diana pellet rifles. In the photograph above the rifle appears to be the same size as a Diana 27, but when you see them together the difference becomes obvious.

Dioana 23 with 27
When compared to the Diana 27 (bottom) the Diana 23 looks tiny.

Diana 23 Germany
This is the only other marking on the rifle. There’s no date of manufacture.

The rifle

The Diana 23 I am reviewing is in .177 caliber and has a rifled barrel. They also came in .22 caliber and in both calibers smoothbore barrels do exist.

The rifle I’m testing is 36 inches long and has a 14.25-inch rifled barrel. The pull is 13 inches exactly. The rifle weighs 3 lbs. 11 oz. which puts it solidly in the youth air rifle class. Yet as diminutive as it is, I find that older men are attracted to it far more than kids. My late friend Mac had several of them and loved them dearly, including a .22 that absolutely fascinated him. He thought of them as the model trains of the airgun world β€” sort of like I feel about the Sharpshooter pistol that’s powered by rubber bands.

There are two different models of Diana 23s. One was produced from about 1927 to 1940 and the other one was made from 1951 to 1983. The gun I am looking at is the later model.

Two versions of the later rifle

The 1951 to 1983 model 23 also breaks down to two different versions. The first one has a thinner slab wood beech stock with finger grooves on the forearm. That is the one we are looking at. The later version has thicker wood, no finger grooves, pressed checkering a slightly raised cheekpiece and different front and rear sights that may be plastic. I have the earlier version, but unfortunately I do not know when the model switch was made.

I think the model I have is the most desirable because it is slim and lightweight. It makes no pretence of being anything more than a basic air rifle.

Trigger

The trigger is two-stage and not adjustable. It is a direct sear that holds the piston in place until the moment of release, yet the trigger pull is very satisfactory.

Build a Custom Airgun

Breech seal and locking detent

The Diana 23 breech differs from the larger vintage Diana rifles that start with the model 25. Instead of the breech seal being around the rear of the barrel, it is a leather seal attached to the end of the spring tube around the air transfer port. The rear of the barrel is solid metal that presses against the seal when the barrel is closed.

Diana 23 breech seal
You are looking down into the air transfer port behind the barrel. The leather seal is around it rather than around the breech. The silver bump on the left is where the ball-bearing breech lock engages.

Diana 23 breech
The actual breech has no seal. Don’t be fooled by the discoloration. Diana used the same ball-bearing detent from their larger rifles to lock the breech closed during firing.

Sights

The front sight is a tapered post. The rear sight is a V-notch at the end of a leaf. A sliding elevator works on a stepped ramp to raise and lower the notch. As simple as it appears, you get crisp detents as the elevator slides up and down the ramp and there is even tiny pointers on both sides of the elevator to tell you where you are. So, as inexpensive as this model is, Diana still put a lot of thought into it.

Diana 23 rear sight
The rear sight is simple yet effective.

Cocking

The mainspring is weak, so cocking a Diana 23 is very easy. I am guessing it will register under 10 lbs. when I test it in Part 2.

I looked through the cocking slot of the stock and saw that the mainspring was very dry, so I took the barreled action out of the stock and oiled the mainspring with some bicycle chain oil. This rifle doesn’t buzz when fired which is good because as weak as it is, this would not be the mainspring to put anything thick on.

Diana 23 spring
The mainspring was dry, and in this view some of the coils appear to have collapsed.

With the action out of the stock I used the opportunity to go over all the metal parts with Ballistol and to look for a date of manufacture. No other marks were seen anywhere β€” including on the inside of the stock.

What is it good for?

You might ask what a weak little pellet rifle like this is good for. I would turn that around and ask you how well your 6-year-old granddaughter does with the Beeman R7 you bought for her? The Diana 23 belongs to a class of diminutive pellet rifles that have no modern equivalents. 

I like the R7 as well as anyone, but it isn’t made for wee teeny folk like this Diana 23 is. There is an entire class of small air rifle that isn’t being made anymore. Even rifles like the Ruger Explorer that come close are still larger, heavier and harder to cock.

Summary

This will be a quick look at an air rifle most of you will never own. There are others like this one that I will never get to, so enjoy this look while you can.