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Giffard Carbonic Gas CO2 rifle: Part One

Giffard
Giffard carbonic gas (CO2) rifle.

This report covers:

  • Giffard
  • Quality!
  • Rifle?
  • Calibers
  • Description
  • Adjustable power
  • Condition
  • How THEY thought of it
  • More
  • My sister

Today we begin looking at my new/old 8mm Giffard CO2 rifle. It was probably made sometime around 1875.

Giffard

The Giffard rifle was invented by Frenchman, Paul Giffard, whose brother, Henri, conducted the world’s first powered flight in a dirigible airship on December 21, 1852. I believe to honor that distinction, Giffard rifles often have engraved balloons on their receivers and impressed into their gutta percha buttplates.

Giffard receiver
Giffard receiver with balloon engraving.


Giffard buttplate with balloon
The balloon is impressed into the buttplate. Note the clocked screws that are in line with the bore.

Giffard invented and patented a front-pump air-powered rifle in 1864 and he patented this gas rifle in 1873. This one bears serial number 3138 which probably puts its manufacture in the mid 1870s. I have seen French-built Giffards with serial number up to the low 9000s.

In the 1890s Giffard opened the Giffard Gun and Ordnance Company in London to make the same rifle. Later they made an updated design that lacked an exposed hammer. That one also has a safety that the hammer types don’t have.

Quality!

I haven’t told you about the rifle yet, but first I must tell you — this air rifle (really a gas rifle) exudes quality! The five exposed screwheads are all clocked — thin screw slots aligned with the bore. The other end of one stock screw that shows through on the top side of the grip iron is also engraved to look like it is a clocked screw.

The engraving on the receiver is both substantial and unique. I doubt that two were ever engraved alike. The wood in the buttstock runs from plain to exceptional figured walnut with flat diamond checkering that’s bordered with three lines.

The maker of the rifle being examined is Manufacture Francais d’Armes et Cycles de St. Etienne On the barrel the words St. Etienne are engraved and filled with gold. I have seen other Giffards with more letters in the same place that are gold filled.

Giffard gold
The letters on the barrel that say St Etienne are gold-filled.

Rifle?

We tend to call anything with a long barrel a rifle, as in the Red Ryder air rifle, when a smoothbore is technically not a rifle but a gun. The Giffard came in both smoothbore and rifled versions and the one we are looking at today is rifled. The twist is slow, as it has only to stabilize a lead ball and it turns to the left, not the right. In other words, counter-clockwise or anti-clockwise as our British friends would say.

Calibers

The Giffard came in 4.5 mm, 6 mm and 8 mm. The one we are looking at today is 8 mm. In my extremely limited experience (I have seen only about 50 of these in my life) the 6 mm seems to be the most common, closely followed by the 8 mm. The 4.5 mm is one I have seen the least.

Giffards were also made as shotguns. Those have a different type of bolt and they use a pre-loaded tubular paper 8 mm shot cartridge. Their sights differ from those found on the rifle, as well.

The Giffard rifles or long guns are primarily ball shooters This one is an 8 mm rifle which is .32-caliber. On CO2 the 8s seem to get around 50-55 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, but there is a somewhat popular modern air tank and valve conversion that can handle air. That one gets just over 100 foot-pounds in 8 mm.

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Description

The rifle is 41-1/2-inches long. The barrel is 25 inches, which gives the CO2 time to expand. The pull is 13-1/2-inches, but the straight wrist makes it feel more like 15. The rifle weighs 5 pounds 5 ounces. And plastic? Don’t got no stinkin’ plastic because it wasn’t invented yet.                                        

The rifle is loaded through a tap that’s built into the end of the bolt. Instead of a traditional rotary loading tap that’s difficult to machine, this approach seems easier and more straightforward. To load lift the bolt handle straight up to just past 90 degrees and the loading tap is exposed.

Giffard bolt closed
Bolt closed. See the ridged wheel? That’s for power adjustment.

Giffard bolt open
To load, rotate the bolt open. The loading tap is in the nose of the bolt.

Sights

The front sight is a post and bead. The rear sight is adjustable for both windage (I think) and elevation.

Giffard rear sight
Rear sight adjusts in both directions — I think. Note the shim under the sight to tighten it in its dovetail.

Adjustable power

Yep, in the 1870s Giffard knew how to put adjustable power on his rifles and pistols. It’s a simple system, but given the floating hammer that whacks open the valve yet doesn’t remain all the way forward to press against the valve, it works. It adjusts from the outside of the gun, too. Giffard was a genius! I pointed out the adjustment wheel in the closed bolt picture above.

To ready the rifle for firing, once it’s loaded, you cock the hammer. It seems strange today but 150 years ago that seemed natural. There is no half cock notch. Just pull the hammer back until you hear a click and you’re ready to shoot.

Condition

The rifle we are examining has plain straight-grained walnut wood. The metal surfaces have rusted in the past. That’s been cleaned so no finish remains on the rifle and there are some pits. There is light surface rust over much of the metal now that I need to address with Ballistol and 0000 steel wool.

The bore seems relatively good and does seem to have an inch or more of freebore at the muzzle.  Freebore is an enlarged, unrifled section of barrel that was meant to protect the accuracy of a rifle by keeping the muzzle’s rifling safe from damage. You don’t see it being done today but at the time this rifle was made it was popular.

How THEY thought of it

This is what inspired yesterday’s report. In 2022 we see the Giffard as a quirky low-powered big bore airgun. In its day it was considered as a possible replacement for gun powder, which is why Colt paid one million dollars (actually 200,000 British Pounds Sterling) for the rights to the patent. That’s right, they did. And in those days that was a lot of money! Giffard claimed he could make a gun that fired 200 bullets a minute and the media of the day ran with it. Colt had missed out on the bored-through cylinder in the 1850s and had to wait for the S&W patent to run out to launch their Single Action Army revolver, so they didn’t want to miss out on this one.

The gun’s advertising claimed great power, a lot less noise and no smoke. Remember, these were the days of black powder.

But the truth was, the power was low and there was no real military application for Giffard’s patent. So the guns vanished from the market shortly before the 20th century and CO2 took another half century to return to the marketplace.

More

There is a lot more coming on just the rifle’s description — before we get to the testing. I don’t want to mention any of it now, but the novel features of this rifle abound. 

My sister

Remember that I am in Tulsa with my sister who is having a heart valve repaired today and this will be the last report for this week. Next Monday I should be back with you in my regular form.

91 thoughts on “Giffard Carbonic Gas CO2 rifle: Part One”

      • BB

        Both your sister and you have lots of folks praying for a wonderful outcome, speedy recovery and safe trip. Count me in too.
        I think I saw some Giffards at the Hickory show and a familiar reader had his eye candy workin.

        Update: Yep, I see he has already confirmed it earlier.

        Deck

  1. “Remember that I am in Tulsa with my sister who is having a heart valve repaired today”
    Yes, B.B., I remember, and I’m still praying for her. I know you’ll be busy, with a lot on your mind, but I echo the sentiment of Bill; if you get a second, perhaps you could drop a comment in on this report to the effect of:
    “Sis is A-OK!’ That’s what I’m praying for . πŸ™‚
    Blessings to you, and her,
    dave

  2. BB
    A heart valve repair? That calls for more than one prayer.
    I have recently signed on with a Vascular Surgeon to monitor restrictions in my brain and carotid arteries. He assured me that there have been tremendous achievements made in that line of treatment.
    Nice to know that the barrel will give the ‘CO2’ time to expand πŸ™‚ Where is it inserted?
    Ok, my mistake. talking two different airguns here.

    • Bob,

      Ha, ha! Yes, this surgery is serious, but it has been advanced quite far.

      To compound things my sister fell and broke her wrist last week, so her right hand it in a semi-cast. BB is being her right arm today.

      As for the Giffard, that tube under the barrel holds the gas. That will be addressed in the next part.

      BB

  3. BB,

    Praying for your safe travel, your sister’s successful procedure and subsequent recovery, and for the steady hand of the catheter team.

    I don’t suppose that this Giffard can be refilled with dry ice?

    Siraniko

    • Siraniko, BB, and anyone who ever wants to do this,
      I just did this for my new Condor. with the CO2 adaptor. I picked up some tanks at the local Big5, 12 and 20 ounce, and some dry ice at the supermarket, rather than find a CO2 fill place. It turns out one doesn’t simply fill the bottle up completely, as CO2 acts funny under pressure around where the liquid is turning into gas, and so a complete fill is dangerous; see the attached chart. A “100% fill” is 7/18 ounce of dry ice per cubic inch of bottle volume. After measuring the volumes of the 12 and 20 ounce bottles and finding the “20” oz actually held 25.5 fl.oz., or 46 cu.in. and the “12” oz actually displaces 17 fl.oz., and doing some math, and cursing non-SI measuring systems like ounces and cubic inches, I figured that a “100% fill” for the 12 ounce bottle was actually 12 ounces (!) but that the 20 ounce bottle should only be filled to 18 ounces. So with that, a kitchen food scale, a funnel, a hammer and an old rag to powder the dry ice, I filled the bottles to spec’, capped with the valves and when they warmed up and defrosted, they… didn’t blow up! Gun runs just fine on them. Note it took a pipe wrench on the bottle (wrap with tape) to get the valves off in the first place, which seemed kinda dumb as the fittings have rubber o-rings that don’t need max torque to seal. Must be to discourage such home-refilling.
      Don’t try this at home, kids,
      Mike

      • That’s interesting. So under pressure, the dry ice doesn’t sublimate, it will be liquid CO2 inside the tank? You probably needed some gloves for handling the dry ice and needed to work quickly to keeping the small pieces from sublimating. Did the dry ice create a lot of fog? Your work area probably looked pretty spooky!

        • Roamin,
          Yes, dry ice sublimates at room temperature and pressure because at that temperature there isn’t enough pressure to make it go to liquid state first, just like regular water ice will sublimate directly to vapor when the temperature is below freezing. Under enough pressure dry ice will go to liquid (and under a LOT of pressure, it would stay solid). The attached Wikipedia graph shows the the pressure, temperature and state of matter relationship.
          Some dry ice is lost during handling and filling the tanks, but maybe only 20%. It was a warm afternoon and the dry ice was handled mostly by the rag I wrapped it with while pulverizing it, but yes, I’d recommend at least light gloves. Dry ice freezes fingers slow enough to feel the frostbite coming on, not like, say, liquid nitrogen where by the time you feel it, you’re already bit. There wasn’t any fog, but the room was well ventilated. Always ventilate dry ice; don’t get in a closed space with it, like in a car with the windows up and the A/C on “recirc”, as it could put you to sleep for good. (I wonder how many carbon monoxide suffocations were actually caused by carbon dioxide or at least a mix of both.) The bottles did get quite frosty for a couple hours until all the dry ice inside warmed and turned to liquid.
          -Mike

  4. Thanks Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier) for reviewing the Giffard gun! I have always wondered what they’re about. Today’s instalment has whetted my appetite for more details and especially, what it’s like to shoot. I feel a wanting-one tingle… πŸ™‚

  5. BB,

    We pray all will be well.

    AAAOOOOOH! You knew what kind of reaction to this you were going to get from me! After you are done with this review, that Giffard really needs to come visit RidgeRunner’s Home For Wayward Airguns!

    I saw two (three?) of those Giffard rifles at the NC Airgun Show. Mike Reames had one that was in superb shape. Alas, I had not the money for such. It did find a new home. One I saw had a target hook butt plate. It was missing the rear sight, which seems to be a common issue.

    It is really not that unusual for a Giffard or two to show up at an airgun show. There was a fellow that used to come to the Roanoke show that had a Giffard pistol. What a beautiful thing it was.

  6. B.B.

    What a cool “oldie but goodie”! I love how inventive the designer was.

    -Y

    PS My dentist once used gutta percha to temporarily fill a cavity that I had.
    PPS wishing your sister much success on her operation.

  7. Father God, You said in Your Word, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
    Many such are praying here (not that we are righteous on our own, but through the blood of Your Son) for B’B”s sister. Through doctors, through medicine, and through the direct healing hand of your Holy Spirit, we humbly ask that she come through this surgery successfully and see a full and complete recovery. Amen.

  8. Amen! FM been prayin’!

    Interesting and nice rifle-gun you have there, B.B. If not mistaken, believe that’s what Gary Cooper, playing Alvin York, called his β€˜03 Springfield – or was it a Model β€˜17? – when it was issued to him – a fine β€œrifle-gun.”

    • Fawlty Manuel,
      “Sergeant York,” the highest grossing film of 1941 is a true classic; and the scenes of the shooting contests make it a “must see” for anyone who shoots (either firearms or airguns)….great stuff! πŸ™‚

      “York is decorated and hailed as a national hero, but desires to return home. He rejects commercial offers that would make him wealthy, explaining that he could not take money for doing his duty.” *
      (* from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergeant_York_(film))
      It’s always nice to see humility.
      Blessings to you,
      dave

  9. The Giffards are such cool airguns. I am not a serious collector and just cannot justify buying one. A few years ago a guy on the Yellow Forum attached a low pressure regulated tank to a Gifford and had a lot of fun shooting it. I drooled over that gun.

    God Bless the upcoming surgery.
    David Enoch

  10. Everyone,

    My sister got through the procedure well and is out of trouble. The procedure lasted 25 minutes, start to finish, and the hospital called me four times in the waiting room to keep me updated.

    Thank you for all your prayers,

    BB

  11. B.B.,

    So glad to hear that your sister is past the procedure and has started on the road to her new life chapter.
    Get some well deserved rest and treat yourself to a bit of self-care; you deserve it.

    God is Great,

    shootski

  12. Question for Dragonfly Mk2 owners: Is it okay to remove the rear sight from its dovetail? I seem to remember one reader saying it caused the barrel to wobble. This sight is in the way of my scope of choice unless I use a riser mount.

    Deck

    • Decksniper,
      I have the the Mk1, but it looks like the sight is the same. if you tap/drift the sight part off the dovetail on the barrel band part, you’ll leave the band secured and the barrel won’t flop any more than usual.
      Best,
      Mike

      • B.M.
        That last part about the barrel not “flop”ping “more than usual”,,, is not particularly reassuring to those of us considering the purchase. I had not heard about the flopping issue.
        Ed

        • Sorry to imply that flopping was bad. The Mk1 has a “floating” style barrel attachment where it is secure at the breech and the barrel band a little ways toward the muzzle, but the muzzle end is not fixed and can move with the forces of each shot. This isn’t supposed to be bad for accuracy, and may even be good as the movement should be the same with each shot, and the muzzle isn’t affected by whatever it would be secured to, like the end of the air tube/pump handle. The new Mk2 has another barrel band as part of the front sight assembly, that secures the barrel to the end of the pump tube. Apparently securing it doesn’t hurt the accuracy any, as BB’s shooting demonstrates. Either way the gun shoots well. I actually tried hot-gluing my Mk1 front sight to the end of the pump tube and while it changed the point of impact, the accuracy was the same.
          Mike

  13. God be praised everything turned out well with your sister, B.B.; FM felt in his ‘lil bones things would go right. Hope she will enjoy many years of good health and life quality. Wish that for all of us!

  14. Just got back from a few days in Cold Country – Michigan; thankfully we missed snow. FM is a Snow Wimp.

    Since this blog post is about an unusual vintage airgun, thought to share a fun discovery made during the trip. At an antiques store found a wonderful little volume, a first-hand account of the Spanish-American War by an artist-soldier, Charles Johnson Post, titled β€œThe Little War of Private Post.” He describes two unusual guns/gun platforms, the Rough Riders’ β€œdynamite gun” and the USS Vesuvius with its dynamite cannon. B.B previously wrote about this ship.

    Essentially these were all PCPs – BIG ones – which fired dynamite β€œshells.” Not very effective except perhaps in scaring the enemy, but hats off to the designer for trying to harness the power of compressed air.

    β€œ…the Rough Riders’ dynamite gun was completely self-contained and on wheels, with a trail and spade. It had two barrels, upper and lower. The lower was larger and into its breech one thrust a blank cartridge. When this cartridge was fired it pushed a piston, the piston compressed air, the air was released by a valve behind the dynamite projectile in the upper barrel, and the dynamite winged on its way up to a mile or so.” -Charles Johnson Post

    • FM,

      Thanks for the little bit of history. I have read a good little bit about the various “dynamite” guns. It is really quite fascinating, most especially how many there were and how they were employed. I had read of the Rough Riders using one in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. This is the first “firsthand” account I have heard of that describes the use of one of these. Now I wish to see and read that book.

      • It is a good read. Knew nothing about the author, who was an excellent writer and illustrator. My paternal grandpa and two of his brothers were caught up in that conflict – they were on the losing side but fortunately they made it unscathed. Grandpa had flat feet and not considered fit for the infantry so they assigned him to a gun battery in Cabana Fort, part of the Morro Castle complex in Havana harbor. His two brothers saw a little action; they were on a troop train which was derailed by the Cuban rebels but they were not injured. Grandad did not fire a single cannon shot in action. Maybe he did in training.

        And, by the way, FM is a fan of TR – were he to be around to run for president, he’d have my vote. Bully that! πŸ™‚

  15. Hi All,
    In the brief absence of BB’s Blog, if anyone is jonesing for some online airgun titillation, Teds Holdover has uploaded a new video on Youtube a few days ago (just search the name), where he makes progress? on a local farm pest bird problem, and helps fatten up the barnyard cats for the winter. It is hard for me living in suburbia to truly appreciate both how such birds can be problematic (Oh, a birdie! Here, have some of my croissant!), and given the countless numbers plaguing farmland that one person could actually put a dent in the population; so this video bends my brain in both directions. Incredible shooting.
    -Mike

    • Mike,

      Been following Ted’s channel for years. Seems that he’s always into interesting stuff.

      On my property (Ontario, Canada) grackles are the main pest but the local farms have problems with pigeons and starlings as well. The numbers are nothing like I’ve seen in the videos from south of the border though.

      Ever watched videos from South Africa? I follow the AirTac Hunting channel and they have a huge bird problem (sparrows, starlings, pigeons) with hundreds to thousands in a flock. A target rich environment for sure though a lot of the shots are at longer ranges – mostly 80 to 150 meters with slugs.

      Hank

  16. I once read a newspaper article from that period. It claimed that this type of gun would end all wars, as any tyrant would be quickly assassinated by the people wielding silent fast shooting gas guns.

  17. I used today’s becalmed weather to make a precision comparison of several bolt action, spring powered airguns. I shot each gun, rested on a stuffed bag, 10 times per paper target, 10 metres away.

    The resulting group sizes were different to what I expected..
    In decreasing precision / increasing group sizes:
    Vz.35, pre WorldWar II military style rifle, 4,46mm (.176″) lead bbs, best group: 20,5mm (.807″)
    Vz.47, post WorldWar II military style rifle, 4,46mm (.176″) lead bbs, best group: 27,6mm (1.087″)
    VSR-10, TokyoMarui made smoothbore airsoft gun, 5,95mm (.234″) plastic bbs, best group: 35,3mm (1.39″)
    Haenel 310, shooting gallery air rifle, 4,4mm (.173″) lead bbs, best group: 40mm (1.575″)
    Diana 30 neo, shooting gallery air rifle, 4,4mm (.173″) copper plated lead bbs, best group: 62,6mm (2.465″), (I shot this one a couple of days ago under the exact same conditions, which gave me the idea for today’s testing)

    Sadly, my Feinwerkbau 275 stopped working after just a couple of shots (it therefore didn’t make the list). I reluctantly will have to add it to my growing bunch of broken / to be fixed airguns.
    I didn’t expect the airsoft gun to perform so well (it’s placed it in the middle).
    The oldest airguns seem to be the best.

    You know that expression that involves a pinch of salt? Well, here’s my disclaimer:
    It’s amazing how much I can wobble an airgun that I am not holding but that is rested on a stationary base. Also, my eyesight is interesting/challenging in that it gives me a continuously varying sight picture.

    So please, I offer my comparison comment not for your interest but for your entertainment… πŸ™‚

    • hihihi,

      Looks rather green compared to Hank’s range.
      “Also, my eyesight is interesting/challenging in that it gives me a continuously varying sight picture.” If I may ask do you have similar eyesight issues when doing other things as well? If not one of the first things to check is your breathing. If you hold your breath or reduce the volume of your breathing by much one of the firs places it will manifest is in your visual acuity. So check on your breathing and ensure you don’t reduce it all that much and only for very brief periods of time to get the shot off.
      You might even do deep breathing between groups just NO hyperventilating.
      Give it a try and see if it helps.

      shootski

      • Really? I wonder what bit could possibly be of interest when elaborated on – is it: ‘What to do with broken airguns’ ? πŸ™‚

        Nice to see you back here Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)!
        If I may, how was your experience, oh, and by what name may we refer to your sister please? I am aware of asking rather personal questions and kinda expect them politely ignored, which is ok. πŸ™‚

        • hi3,

          My sister’s name is Nan. She is doing as well as can be expected. The operation was a success and I took he home yesterday.

          Nan has led an interesting life. She was a Playboy bunny when she was young and later in life she graduated from bible college and became an ordained minister. Those are two things you don’t often hear about the same person.

          BB

  18. Bob,

    My sister is as well as can be expected. Thanks for asking.

    I’m back home and getting back to being myself again.

    This trip opened my eyes to a lot of things I needed to think about. It will change me in some ways, I am sure.

    BB

    • Tom
      We are all, I am certain I can speak for everyone, happy that Nan and yourself are home and well, all things considered.
      She must have a great personality, if I am allowed to comment.
      By the way I call my wife Nan, from Athina, but I never thought that I would hear this “name” regarding another person, especially one some thousands miles away!!! Life and God certainly have their way.
      My best wishes for your family once more.

    • B.B.,

      BB said “This trip opened my eyes to a lot of things I needed to think about. It will change me in some ways, I am sure.”

      Sounds like an off topic blog to me as no one get out of here alive. Also it is not really about how many years there are in your life as how much life is in your years.

      On the 16th of November one of my nephews lost his wife to cancer she was only 40 after a 2 year fight the cancer took her from us. But she had a great life and did great work saving children without homes to find a safe and healthy home. They are going to rename the place after her, a great honor for sure.

      Said all that to say this enjoy and live every minute.

      Mike

        • Ed,

          No room to reply to your “No doubt, Mike. I’m not afraid to go,,, but I would like it not to be all that soon.”

          Indeed later is better than soon, I do not fear death but as the age advances I more fear losing the ability to do simple things like walking and seeing, the things that able bodied folks take for granted, I just hope that these abilities remain strong till i shuffle off this mortal coil.

          Mike

          • Mike

            I felt much the same until Nov. 2004 when I fell and became paralyzed below T-10. I revised my views concerning walking. I have little doubt that should I somehow become blind, I will further revise them.

            I never gave myself much credit for the ability to adapt,,, but adapt I did. That ability is within everyone’s reach. They simply need the incentive,,,, and the will.

            Ed

        • Ed,

          Adapt and survive, That is all we can hope to do. The wife is unable to walk and vision is a problem I provide support and it is a lot of work. At least for now I can cover her issues. Glad you seem to be covering your issues. Never easy dealing with physical issues.

          Mike

      • Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier) I wonder whether your Giffard would work with other gasses too?

        In that video, the miniature gun’s gas cylinder was filled from an airsoft canister. That made me think of other propellants.

        I guess, CO2 has more energy and therefore would outperform propane or butane. What are your thoughts please?

        • hihihi,
          Not B.B. but of the other gases Helium makes the most sense because of the small size of the molecule compared to your Butane or Propane as well as the concern that they are not inert and potentially extremely reactive. Maximum working pressure is something the fabricator would need to do tests to determine. 1/3 the failure pressure is common to build in enough fill error, age, and fill-empty cycle “work” degradation.

          But large molecules flow very slowly and kill performance small molecules have a much easier time creating leaks.

          shootski

    • Thanks Airman of the Board. What an amazing little replica airgun. And it functions!

      Though they’re probably (&hopefully) worth their price, it is still high enough to help me resist the urge to own one (or more). πŸ™‚

    • That’s amazing! And accurate to minute of miniature bottle, too. I WONDER…on a relative scale, is it more or less accurate than the original? ;o)

      Funny, I have barely time to shoot the airguns I have, this fellow builds working mini replicas of the airguns I never knew existed. This video made me smile! Thanks!

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