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Air Guns Giffard Carbonic Gas CO2 rifle: Part Two

Giffard Carbonic Gas CO2 rifle: Part Two

Giffard
Giffard carbonic gas (CO2) rifle.

Part 1

This report covers:

  • Resume description
  • The Giffard problem
  • To fill
  • Ooops!
  • At the shot
  • Adjustable trigger
  • Barrel comes off
  • Summary

Today we will complete our initial examination of the Giffard Carbonic Gas CO2 rifle. In the comments to Part 1 reader Airman of the Board linked to a short You Tube video of a miniature Giffard, and that video is so incredibly good that I’m making it a part of today’s report. You’ll see exactly how the rifle works, and much of what I’m showing today can be seen. The miniature is not 100 percent exact, but it’s close enough and it allows you to see the operation of the rifle.

Just a word on the operation. The builder fills his gun with some kind of airsoft gas instead of CO2. It could be green gas whose pressure is around 115 psi. Compare that to CO2 that’s 850 psi at 70 degrees F and you’ll see the difference.

It’s a shame no one builds a Giffard today, because it is a study in gas valves, reservoirs and how the hammer communicates with the valve. The video shows this very well, which is why I want you to watch it if you can.

Resume description

The question I was asked more than any other was how is the rifle filled. I thought it was obvious, but apparently not. The long steel tube under the barrel that serves as the forearm is where the CO2 is stored. That tube is unscrewed from the action for filling. And that tube also brings up a problem that I consider the kiss of death for the Giffard system.

Giffard steel tube
The steel gas reservoir is removed by simply unscrewing it from the receiver.

The Giffard problem

The big problem with the Giffard was that the owners had to send their empty tanks somewhere to be refilled. In my opinion, that was what killed the rifle. Even though the nation of France is slightly smaller than the state of Texas, people didn’t have cars in the 1870s, so sending in a tank meant either weeks without one or it necessitated buying an extra tank to cover the down time. The tanks are serial numbered like the rifles and most tanks numbers differ from the rifles they are on, for this reason. And they cost eight pounds, which was forty dollars at the time and incredibly expensive

I mention France because that was the country of the Giffard’s origin. But most of central Europe and the United Kingdom were its principal markets, and that region covers a territory more like the size of the United States. Even with multiple refill stations, it’s still a problem. Just ask Winsel who failed in 1950 from the same thing. Or Crosman whose model 197 10-ounce gas cylinder eventually gave way to the 12-gram CO2 powerlet.

Giffard Crosman 197 gas cylinder
Crosman 197 gas cylinder below and a paintball tank above.

To fill

To fill the removable Giffard tank with CO2 you need an adaptor. I would have made one to adapt to a 20-lb. CO2 tank, which is how I fill many bulk CO2 guns, but when I got the rifle it came with an adaptor that connects to a Crosman 197 10-ounce bulk CO2 tank.  Or at least that’s what I thought.

Ooops!

It turns out the threads in the adaptor do not fit the external threads on a 10-ounce Crosman tank. BB will have to do some work to fill his rifle.

Giffard  Adaptor
The Giffard fill adaptor no el-fitto the Crosman tank. The holes and shank are right, but the threads are off.

Build a Custom Airgun

At the shot

What opens the tank at the shot is a steel pin inside the receiver. This pin is driven by the hammer — not directly but via a linkage. The video shows this quite well. The CO2 valve lives inside the removable Giffard tank. The pin inside the receiver is not spring-loaded but the hammer drives it forward and the closing of the valve shuts it. There is a return spring inside the valve in the gas tank but the force of the CO2 gas inside the tank is what shuts it.

Adjustable trigger

The trigger is a direct sear type, where the trigger blade is what releases the sear to release the hammer. The trigger adjustment simply increases and decreases the contact area of the trigger and sear, and as such you want the sear to always have enough of a shelf for safety. That means you don’t want a light trigger. Remember — this is a big bore airgun. It may not be that powerful, but it could severely injure or even kill you if it misfired.

Giffard  trigger
The Giffard trigger is a direct sear with an adjustment for contact area. Don’t make it too light.

Barrel comes off

Yes the barrel also comes off. It simply unscrews from the receiver, though the rear sight must be removed to clear the steel pin that opens the valve. However, I don’t know if the bolt must also be replaced when the barrel is exchanged, for the hole in the bolt nose would not be correct for any other size ball — especially when going from 8mm to 4.5mm.

Summary

I have read other things about the Giffard in my research but they didn’t prove out. Things like the power adjustment wheel could be screwed out to act as a safety. I have checked that and don’t think it’s possible.

The gun will require a little tinkering on my part to charge it, and perhaps more than a little if it needs seals. But the design is so straightforward that I believe I can get it to work. I may even work up a high pressure air reservoir for the rifle.

This is going to be a fun series.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

84 thoughts on “Giffard Carbonic Gas CO2 rifle: Part Two”

  1. BB,

    That sales model worked for the Kodak Brownie though.

    During the 70s when CO2 refill was very few and far between, especially in the provinces, starving hunters would get the dry ice from the ice cream vendors from the end of the day and crush it to fill their CO2 rifles. They wouldn’t fill to maximum since they only needed a few shots to supplement their diet.

    Siraniko

    PS Repeated paragraph below the picture of section The Giffard problem “It’s a shame no one builds a Giffard today, because it is a study in gas valves, reservoirs and how the hammer communicates with the valve. The video shows this very well, which is why I want you to watch it if you can.” Previously stated as last paragraph in section This report covers.

    • Siraniko,

      That is really quite resourceful. It would be very difficult to fill this cylinder with dry ice, but you might put it in another container and fill this with the CO2 as the dry ice “melted”. I can think of a couple of ways to do such.

      • RR,
        If I read that right, you might be interested in my reply in the last Giffard blog post:
        /blog/2022/11/giffard-carbonic-gas-co2-rifle-part-one/
        Scroll down to the pretty charts!
        Happy Black Friday,
        Mike

        • Berserkeley Mike, I am reminded to thank you for your contribution to a subject that, in all honesty, I don’t fully understand, yet find very interesting (it’s the, dry ice versus pressure thing). 🙂

  2. B.B.
    I am so glad that you explained how the gun was filled. For awhile the only solution that I could think of was fill the tank with baking soda and vinegar. If you needed more shots you just needed to shake the rifle….lol

    -Y

    • Yogi,

      As a kid, I had a small toy rocket the operated on that very principle. Oh, how I wish I had that rocket today. Of course, these days it would be considered too dangerous for children to play with such things. Most adults these days would probably hurt themselves with it.

        • BB,

          I had a look see, but the one I had you put the stuff in the launcher base and the rocket was a pointy thing with a rubber tip that shot into the air when you pressed on the trigger bar on the side of the launch base. “You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”

          • Recall my dad bought this model, it was called the Alpha 1 – it came with small containers of yeast, if memory still works. They looked like miniature Morton Salt shakers. You mixed the yeast with water to fuel the rocket; don’t remember if another kind of “fuel” had to be added as well, like baking soda – seem to remember it flew pretty far on a charge. At least to a 9-10 year-old it seemed pretty far.

      • As a kid I had a model “rocket” car. Plastic body, foam wheels and a metal pressure vessel mounted aft. One would fill the “engine” with Freon until it reached equilibrium then it would self release . Can you imagine such a thing being sold today ? This toy came from Sears and Roebuck.

        • SSC
          We have certainly “lawyered” ourselves out of a great many things that kids would think fun (some kid like adults, too). Even freon,., which was thought of for many years as useful and harmless,, but then someone noticed the holes in the ozone layer.

          My guess is that, eventually, rubber bands will meet a similar fate. But never fear,, children are eminently resourceful. If there is a new way to get hurt,, they WILL find it.

          Ed

          • Hehe edlee, yes you are SO right in many ways. With kids, of course they will. Rubber bands? Hmm…

            …I’ve yet to find out why rubber mulch is not allowed here in France! 🙂

  3. BB,

    I too wish someone would build the Giffard rifles and pistols these days, most especially if they built them to the same standards as these old gals. Like my 1906 BSA, it would be very expensive to do such, but to have something that could be passed down through generations would indeed be worth it.

    I look forward to your further blogs on this, most especially any rebuilding you might have to do. Any seals it has may need to be replaced, as I am sure these have either dried out and are in desperate need of lubrication or have crumbled away to dust long ago. Very likely they were leather or natural rubber. With patience, you should be able to find something that will work great.

    Maybe this series will inspire some manufacturer to once again revive these models, though I doubt such. It would likely be in the realm of one of the “boutique” airgun shops and those with the knowledge to do such are either too old, the production cost would be too high or the numbers that would sell would be too low for many of those to bother. If you dare, you can ask Dennis Quakenbush about the Amaranth. I know; I have.

    P.S.: When you are done with this series, this old gal really, really needs to live out her days at RRHFWA.

        • The whole Foxfire series is an interesting read of how people used to live when the had to be pretty well self sufficient.

          Book 1 has a detailed section (amongst other things) on “moonshining and other affairs of plain living”. My son and I made a (working) scale model of a still for a school science project using the book. There are complete recipes and instructions as well if you are curious 😉

        • RR

          I think you would appreciate this book: “The Gunsmith’s Manual”. It was first published in 1883 and is useful both if you want to actually build your own muzzle loader from scratch or just enjoy peeking into history. From what I have read of your comments, here,, I think you would like it.
          You can get it from Amazon for about $15 and I have. It gave me answers to questions I never thought to ask.
          Ed

  4. Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier), how did you come by this Giffard rifle?

    Personally, here in France, pictures of it have caught my eye several times.
    I very much look forward to reading if and how you get it to shoot.

    Maybe I’ll find the answer to whether it can be made to work on the little 12 gram CO2 bottles? 🙂

  5. BB-

    I too would like to see a new Giffard hit the market. I agree it is too ‘niche market’ to be profitable to make finished guns. However, maybe we could take a page from muzzleloading’s heyday of kit guns. With the wonders of CAD/CAM, the metal bits could be produced quite efficiently and since we would be dealing with low CO2 pressures there is no need for high end alloys and such. Give the purchaser a choice of stock wood- highly figured walnut, pallet wood birch or beech ala Weihrauch or Diana, or laminate. For the CO2 cylinder, an off the shelf Daisy 888/887 unit would be about right. Offer an accessory machined sleeve to mimic the look of the original. Also offer an ‘assembled kit’ version for some extra coin in the maker’s pocket and to ensure a functional product. A win-win for both buyer and seller. A nicely finished kit gun is entirely dependent upon the consumer’s skills and talent, but this could also open up a secondary market of assembler/finishers.

  6. Tom and Everyone,

    My wife and I were so busy cooking yesterday, I hadn’t the chance to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving, in addition to other things, I am grateful for all my friends here on this blog. Thank you. It is very good to be back.

    Michael

  7. Hey B.B.,
    I want to give a shout of thanks to “Airman of the Board,” for linking this video in the comments, and another shout of thanks to you for including it in today’s report…what a neat miniature! And it’s so cool that it actually shoots! 🙂
    Blessings to you,
    dave

  8. B.B., et al.,

    I am glad you liked the video. As I am sure some of you have discovered, other videos by the same craftsman are equally worthy of watching.

    I am excited to see how you make out with your Giffard rifle. It is an attractive and interesting piece that I will enjoy learning about as your report unfolds.

    I am an amateur machinist at best, but reach out if you can not source an adaptor to fill the Giffard and perhaps (no guarantee, but anything is possible) I can make you one on my little lathe.

    Regards,
    Airman

  9. Ok, I’ve put my wallet where my mouth is and paid for an 8mm Giffard rifle with which to follow Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)’s example/advice/instructions/etc. . As long as I get it to shoot I’ll be happy!

    Then I should be able to dial the power back to be legal (20 Joules/ 14.75 foot pounds maximum here in France). I wonder what pleasure I’ll be able to derive of it’s ownership as a, no doubt, rather short range CO2 rifle.., 🙂

    • hihihi,

      Wow, that’s a commitment!

      I once was allowed to drive a friend’s 1960s Porsche around the block a few times. Afterwards I told him, quite honestly, “Man, I’d love to have one of those.” He replied, “Buy one. They come up every now and then.” I then said, less honestly, “I’ll give that a thought.”

      You actually gave it more than a thought and took the plunge!

      Michael

      • Michael, what a surprise that my purchase of a CO2 rifle has reminded you of a 1960 Porsche!

        In turn, your comment reminded me of Réalmont, a village not far from here, where once a year the whole place becomes a market, ie all the roads are filled with stands and tables, and areas for bigger items like vehicles. Almost everything you could imagine is there, even cattle!
        Well, the noise and smell of a few working steam engines caught my attention. And there, beside them, I saw my first Porsche Diesel. It had once been scarlet red which, over the years, had faded to a dull chestnut brown but the little Porsche still had it’s face which looked up at me, begging for a new home. But I resisted temptation, because we already have a tractor. 🙂

      • Mike in Atl, thanks.

        If we learn about easy ways to re-energise the Giffard, without having to send it’s cylinder away, then that might reverse “…the kiss of death..”. I hope that those who’ve found their solutions will help to educate us here.

        CO2 in various forms, including as dry ice, maybe even helium and, of course, air may all prove to be capable propellants, but, I think, only the easiest to apply system can revive the popularity of a Giffard gun. 🙂

  10. I dismantled my Giffard today and discovered a lot of crud.

    I also discovered that the barrel unscrewed from the receiver, with the rear sight only just clearing the valve pusher pin, ie no need to remove the sight (I took a picture after about a half turn to show the small gap).

    And finally, when I took my 8 mm calibre barrel out of the receiver, I saw in it’s rear end, an 8 mm hole on top. If they’re all the same, then I imagine that, for example a 4,5 mm calibre barrel, will have a 4,5 mm diameter hole on top, permitting only lead balls of that calibre to pass into the barrel.
    Therefore, to change the barrel might be as simple as to screw out one barrel and screw in the new. 🙂

        • Roamin Greco, yes it does look big and yet, it’s no larger than the gun’s calibre (8mm or 0.315″ in my case). Rather than the diameter, I think it’s the distance from cylinder to lead ball that gives the CO2 a large volume to expand in. I found a schematic of a Giffard pistol and edited it to show what I mean… 🙂

    • What?
      They’re in the long box, underneath your drawer for your spare Giffard CO2 cylinders, of course! 🙂

      What a surprise Roamin Greco, I thought only Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier) would see this late comment.

      And I think you’re right about the (un-) likelihood of having different barrels to swap. Except maybe some tinkerers with access to a lathe, might be tempted to experiment with different barrels. Or something… 🙂

      For me, removing the barrel was a tremendous help in cleaning it and cleaning the channels inside the receiver block!

      • Hihihi, I have an app called Feedly that subscribes to the blog’s RSS feeds so I see every post in chronological order, no matter what particular blog entry they are posting in.

        And yes, there are definitely machinists and tinkerers on this blog who would get a rifled barrel blank and turn it down to the correct size and add threads in order to make a new barrel.. Heck, a gunsmith may be able to do it, too.

        • Ah Roamin Greco, I like the sound of that. 🙂

          Shame we have to resort to external help to follow the latest comments. I wonder how much interesting content I have missed!

          The most common workaround advice I have come across is, to only ever post a comment below the current / latest blog, if one wishes to elicit any response.
          Which is nuts!

          (So I tried the Feedly application, but gave up because I didn’t understand anything. Never mind…)

          • If you want the best chance for comment to be seen, it’s true you must post to the current blog. But many people find old blogs through searches and make comments on old blogs.

            Regarding Feedly, try tapping the plus sign (+) to add content, then search for “pyramydair.com” and “daily air gun blog by pyramydair.com.” see what you find.

            As for off topic comments, there is always Google advanced search limited to a single site: pyramydair.com/blog

  11. Once I had received my Giffard rifle, I remembered that it was supposed to have an adjustable trigger, the adjuster for which was a little screw head in front of it.
    Well, mine appeared to have two tiny holes angled to either side in front of the trigger. How clever, I thought, for making it easily accessible without any unsightly trigger guard holes.
    Anyway, when I failed to see the expected slot for a small screwdriver blade inside either of these two holes, I thought, oh well, I’ll see what’s what when I give that a good clean up later, when I take the gun apart… 🙂

    • And finally, just the trigger with it’s adjustment bolt inserted.

      Those little holes, one of which is visible here, are the means by which to rotate the trigger adjusting bolt, not, as I first thought, tiny little access holes to some tiny little adjusters, doh! 🙂

      So, by inserting a thin pin into one of those and levering the bolt head, rotates it into the trigger, or out.
      Screwing the adjusting bolt out of the trigger, lessens sear contact.

  12. I have now disassembled my Giffard rifle and the CO2 cylinder, but only after modifying my tools.
    ———-
    To fit the gun’s screw heads I filed one of my flat bladed screwdriver bits to a knife-like thinness.
    ———-
    To get at the valve inside the cylinder, I filed a spanner thinner to match the width of the flats of the cylinder cap. And then I opened the 27 mm jaw a fraction to fit those flats tightly.

    Also, I made sure to grip the cylinder between blocks of wood, while applying sledge hammer shocks to the spanner. 🙂

    • The amount of violent persuasion required did surprise me but, finally, I did manage to beat the cylinder! 🙂
      A bang and a creak and the cylinder cap began to rotate.
      Pictured are the valve components as they came out…

    • Here I’m trying to show how the valve parts line up when inside the cylinder.

      The fat black washer that broke like brittle plastic, was glued back together with superglue for plastics. I suspect, about 130’odd years ago that washer might’ve been rubbery soft. 🙂

    • Thanks Benji-Don. I think Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)’s Giffard looks to be in even better condition.
      But I want to have more than just a wall hanger to look at… 🙂

      Today I tried a couple of lead round balls that I have for my muzzleloaders.
      Hornady 32 Cal .315″ only just drop through the opening into the breech and make about a quarter roll forward where they then stop. Pictured is one of those balls in the breech of my Giffard.

      • Then I tried what I got out of my Lee #00 Buckshot mold: 0.33″ diameter, 54 grains lead round balls.
        I had to give one of those a little push to make it pop into the barrel loading port, after which I unscrewed the barrel and used my ramrod to see if there would be any rifling marks. I couldn’t detect any after the Hornady ball had been pushed through, but this time there were clear markings.

        I strongly expect the Lee mold has produced the more accurate ammunition.
        Gotta find a way of getting CO2 into the cylinder and then wake the Giffard up properly! 🙂

        • hihihi,
          I don’t know if the co2 will have enough pressure for the 00 buckshot. I think you will have to shoot to find out which ball will be better.

          Can you put some dry ice in the tube and then assemble it. You need to study first if the pressure of solid dry ice going to gas is higher than liquid CO2 going to gas. I use to know but can’t remember. The solid dry ice wil go to gas and then need enough pressure to go back to liquid. I will try to research the pressure for CO2 gas to liquid.
          Don

      • hihihi,
        If you stay well below 31 deg Centigrade it should go to a liquid from my reading. But I don’t know for sure so check it out.
        If you really want to shoot it I would have a machinist make an adapter so that a regulated h p a cylinder can be screwed on the tube. See the link below. I have a picture of a converted co2 gun I will look for.

        /product/av-3000psi-13ci-tank-valve-1100psi-set?a=7882

        P.S. I just remembered Berserkeley Mike covered the dry ice topic very well in Part 1 of this blog. Guess my memory is not getting any better.

          • Thanks Benji-Don for your comments and valuable information!

            Yes, I remember Siraniko suggesting dry ice and then reading Berserkeley Mike’s informative pressure concerns regarding dry-, liquid- and gaseous Co2.
            Dry ice seems to me a solution that requires great care and full understanding of the risks involved.
            But there must be an easier way to revive a Giffard rifle. I hope… 🙂

            Besides, and personally, I have some challenges here in France, in that my French is poor (!), I don’t know anyone, whether an individual or a business with a lathe, capable of manufacturing an adapter, I failed to find anything in the local hardware store that could work as an adapter (all the wrong threads) and none of the Supermarkets appear to sell dry ice, which I can only obtain (expensively) by online purchase and then have it posted to me, which carries a high risk of being an empty container by the time I receive it.

            Maybe Airman of the Board’s offer of help might come into play or something… I dunno.

            Anyway, I’m awaiting (with high hopes) Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)’s next instalment, ie “Giffard Carbonic Gas CO2 rifle: Part Three”. 🙂

            PS I read about a so-called Buxton Conversion Cylinder that was supposed to permit high pressure air to be used in an otherwise unaltered Giffard rifle (resulting in high speed projectiles and exceptional accuracy).
            But there doesn’t seem to be any trace of it now, let alone of it ever having been commercially available.

              • jabberwalky,

                sorry, no.
                The idea sounded so promising and yet it seems to have died, shame.

                ———
                My latest:
                I used dry ice which easily let me shoot, however, the seal disintegrated.

                When I was gifted a 3D printer, I thought, hurrah, I’ll make all sorts now, including my own thick washers. But, erm, there are computers involved and programming and incomprehensibles and… life’s too short! 🙁

                Then there was this engineering company here in France that I was recommended. I emailed for help, but most French don’t do emails, so, of course, no reply.

                I have not given up, not completely but consider my Giffard journey to be on pause until I get a proper seal for the CO2 cartridge, you know, one that doesn’t leak. 🙂

                If, one day, I succeed, I intend to share that in a comment. If not, well, I hope you or whoever, will… 🙂

                ———
                Please, what Giffard rifle have you got?

    • Ok, so I managed to get some CO2 into my Giffard cylinder (more on that, maybe at a later date). As feared, it leaked. 🙁

      So I experimented with various seals. Rubber O-rings, stacked up to be proud of/higher than the metal opening/tube inside of the cylinder cap appeared to seal. But after one brief opening of the valve/one shot, an O-ring got squashed into the aperture that was meant for the push pin (hammer driven) and so that was the end of that. 🙁

      I drove to the local hardware store to find a replacement washer of the same size as the original and came home with a large soft (silicone?) washer for the bottom of a toilet cistern. I trimmed it to size, tried it, and had the same result as with the O-ring. 🙁

      Then I shaped an old stiffish rubbery washer (that I found in my garage), tried that as a valve seal in the cylinder and, hurrah! I got to shoot more than once. 🙂
      Before, it too, squished itself in the way of the valve opener (hammer driven push pin). 🙁

      I have trimmed this seal thinner and also chamfered the edge toward the opening and am shooting again. 🙂

      However, I am aware that the material is still too soft and more experimenting is required…

  13. I have a 12 gram Co2 filler adapter I bought from a man in the USA, with postage it was $75 US. It fits but the seals on my cylinder are bad. I think the soda stream bottle is a better solution I’m seeing if he can make the adapter for that now.
    He also refurbishes the cylinders using polyethylene seals he cuts on a lathe. I believe he charges around $100 to refurbish a cylinder. He told me they are tough to get apart because the maker used some sort of resin on the threads like Victorian lock tight. Which you need to heat up when you go to disassemble the cylinder in order to soften the resin and make it come apart easier.

    Attached is a photo of the adapter I got

    • jabberwalky,

      how very interesting!
      Would you help me buy some of those polyethylene seals please?
      For me that’s the last piece to complete my jigsaw! 🙂

      ————
      Now I understand the massive shock necessary to get the CO2 cylinder thread cracked, and, of course, this also necessitated an equally powerful grip on the cylinder tube itself. 🙁
      If I had new seals, it wouldn’t matter, but I wonder whether the temperature required to soften the old thread lock also damages the old plastic seal?

      You did well with your fill adapter. I have yet to try mine but if it works it’ll have been well worth the just over $130. 🙂
      Would you mind trying to upload that picture of your adapter again please – I failed to see it on my ipad. Thanks 🙂

      ———
      for your interest, pictured below is my fill adapter…

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