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.

Build a Custom Airgun

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.