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That little silver bottle

CO2 cartridge
Twelve gram CO2 cartridge.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • History of CO2 in airguns
  • History of the CO2 cartridge
  • The bottlecap cartridge
  • Welded cartridges are reliable
  • Big deal!
  • Bigger bottles
  • Can we use high-pressure air?
  • Summary

Today we will look at something that has powered airguns longer than breakbarrel pellet rifles have been in existence — CO2, and more specifically, CO2 cartridges.

History of CO2 in airguns

We know that Paul Giffard first produced air rifles and smoothbore guns in 1873 that were powered by carbonic gas, which is what CO2 was called back then. Obviously he was experimenting with the gas as a power source many years before that. So CO2 as a power source for guns probably goes back to the early 1860s, if not before. Why would Colt pay Giffard today’s equivalent of a million dollars for the rights to use his system if it wasn’t successful at that time?

Giffard
Giffard rifle from the 1870s uses CO2 in a removable tank.

The Giffard used a removable tank that held gas for many shots. But that tank had to be returned to the factory to be refilled, and that was probably what killed the company. The same business plan has killed other CO2 gun companies since then.

Reader Cloud9 has resealed my Giffard and I will be reviewing it for you soon. But today we want to look at a different type of CO2 gun — one that uses disposable cartridges. We’ll start with a common one — the 12-gram cartridge.

History of the CO2 cartridge

To the best of my knowledge the Benjamin Air Rifle company first used CO2 cartridges. Not CO2 gas — that was Giffard. CO2 CARTRIDGES. They began selling them in 1950, when the smoothbore model 250 BB gun first came out. All of Benjamin’s early gas guns used an 8-gram CO2 cartridge that was borrowed from the seltzer bottle that was used to make carbonated water. They were called Sparklets when they were used and sold under the Benjamin name.

At the time they were the only game in town. You either used them, used a bulk-fill gas gun that a couple companies like Crosman made or you did without. Since CO2 wasn’t that well known, despite 75 years of being on the market, it didn’t matter. But in 1956 that changed when Crosman brought out the model 150 (.22 caliber ) and 157 (.177 caliber) pistols that used 12-gram CO2 cartridges. With 12 grams you get more gas for more shots. The projectile doesn’t go faster regardless of how much gas the gun has. It’s like the gas in a car. Put more in the car and it doesn’t go any faster — just farther.

Crosman still calls them Powerlets, and in the past they said they said they contained 12.5 grams of liquid, which they did back in the day. Today 12 grams is all you encounter. So 12-gram and 12.5-gram — same, same.

The bottlecap cartridge

When Crosman started filling their own proprietary CO2 cartridges someone else had patented the welded cartridge seal and either Crosman didn’t want to pay the fee to license that technology or it wasn’t for sale at the time — so they used a “bottlecap” to seal their cartridges. A large percentage of cartridges with this seal leaked, giving rise to the fact that CO2 is hard to contain.

Crosman 150 first CO2 box
Here is the thousand-word picture. This box was made for sale in the 1970s. Notice the cartridge still has the crimped bottlecap closure that leaked so often. Also note the writing on the box says this cartridge holds 12 grams of CO2.

Crosman 150 second CO2 box
This box of Powerlets from the 1960s says the cartridges hold 12.5 grams of CO2. These are also sealed with bottlecaps.

Welded cartridges are reliable

Once the welded sealing patent expired Crosman was able to start making the kind of cartridges shown at the top of this report. They don’t leak, but an entire generation of airgunners remember the bottlecaps from the ’50s and ’60s. Even today, these guys think that CO2 cartridges leak. Many of us know better, but leaking and CO2 were synonymous.

Hunting Guide

Big deal!

 I should tell you all this. I visited Crosman’s plant in New York state several times and toured their factory. The smallest items they produced — BBs and CO2 cartridges — required the largest machines to make. As I recall both lines were machines 40 feet long and 10-12 feet high! And the CO2 line had a huge tank of liquid CO2 outside the building (for safety in case of an explosion?), so that line was even longer than it looked inside. For reasons of propriety I was forbidden to photograph either line.

Bigger bottles

Of course we have the larger CO2 containers — the 88-91 gram ones. They are also disposable and so large that they drive a frugal airgunner crazy when it comes time to throw one away. I have several empty ones just sitting around in case I ever need to take a picture of one. Yet the picture I show below was borrowed from the Pyramyd AIR website. It’s just hard to throw away such a large, useful-looking thing! Hoot mon!

90-gram cartridge
Larger CO2 cartridges come in 88-91-gram capacities.

And for THOSE there is an adaptor to allow removal from the gun, in case you finish shooting and there is still gas in the cartridge. It’s not compatible with all guns that use the big cartridges, so check before you buy.

90 adaptor
This adaptor works to allow you to shut off the flow of CO2 gas on some guns that use the large cartridges.

Can we use high-pressure air?

This question always comes up. Switching from CO2 to high(er) pressure air — 1,000 to 1,200 psi — will boost the velocity of any airgun by around 20 percent. Who doesn’t want that?

Going back to the Giffard, there is a conversion cylinder made that allows that. It boosts the gun’s muzzle energy from about 55 foot-pounds to over 100. But what about the smaller cartridges? Is there an adaptor for them?

Years ago I bought a UK “conversion kit” that allowed the use of high pressure air in a gun made to take 12-gram cartridges. It didn’t work. Save your money, because it simply does not work. Yes, a bulk-fill gun like a Giffard can sometimes be converted to use high pressure air, but only when the entire valve is inside the screw-on tank. When high-pressure air has to work with a conventional CO2 valve it should work if the air pressure is low enough, but I don’t know of one.

Summary

The CO2 cartridge has a long and rich history in the airgun world. Today was a refresher course for all of us on where we have been and what we have done.

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.

41 thoughts on “That little silver bottle”

  1. B.B.

    Interesting, I had always assumed that the rise of sofa fountains, and their use of CO2, ushered in the “cartridge” era. When I was a kid, it was 80%+ of all airgun pistols. I could never figure out what to do with the empties if I shot a lot.

    Maybe it is time to revisit the Hämmerli 850 AirMagnum CO2 ?

    -Yogi

    • Yogi,
      I was sad to find out they quit making the 850 in 22 cal. The 850 was a big deal, very accurate and had a big following. There were custom parts all over the web for it. I guess it’s not as popular as it once was. Sad to me. I might be the minority, but I like C02 myself.

      Doc

  2. “Reader Cloud9 has resealed my Giffard and I will be reviewing it for you soon.”
    BB,
    I’m looking forward to that review, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. 😉
    That is one neat looking airgun! What caliber is it?
    And thank you for the tutorial on CO2.
    I’ve only ever owned a few CO2 airguns, but I do find them fascinating.
    Blessings to you,
    dave

  3. Today’s blog makes me want to brag a little about the Tau Brno 7 I bought recently for 160€, as Ian enabled me. Suddenly I was not that terrible a shot with pistols. Now the empty space in the case, where the small bulk fill bottle was, is filled up with CO2 cartridges. What a gun!
    Thank you all for your understanding.

    • No worries, Bill.

      B.B. enabled me into a Crosman Mark I, and Ian helped me reseal it, which turned out to be a fun and gratifying project. Now I have 8 or 9 Mark I’s and Mark II’s–I have lost count! They are reserved as gifts for those showing an interest in learning to shoot a pistol.

      • And I found a great deal on co2 cartridges on sale in a 500 unit case, with a sale discount, and free shipping, they were less than $0.50 per cartridge. But if you research the blog, you will find out how to put together a refillable CO2 bulk fill tank from a fire extinguisher.

  4. Hey All,
    Here are some impressive CO2 numbers: a few months ago I picked up an Airforce Condor with all the 24″ barrels and a CO2 adaptor. I measured 22.4 ft# with a 22.9 grain .25 pellet flying at 664 fps, and 17.7 ft# with a 15.9 grain .22 pellet moving at 709 fps, both at 72F tank temperature. A .177 6.8 grain pellet cooked along at 854 fps for 11 ft#, at 62F, with the tank almost full. The power wheel on the gun seems to do little but tank temperature and % fill affect the power more, and all in all, plenty of oomph! I’m guessing it uses at least half a gram of CO2 per shot though; good thing those paintball bottles hold so much.
    Cheers,
    Mike

    • Mike,
      Thanks for that info. Nice to know one can run on C02. I like C02 but forget to search out guns like that. It’s neat a bottle of C02 can get so many good shots.

      Doc

  5. BB! I want that Giffard! I know, I have to wait for the estate sale. 🙁

    I myself am not much for CO2 airguns. That little silver bottle is such a bother to fool with for me. They do allow for making of smaller airguns such as the replica pistols, but as many know I have no desire for those. I have seen where the 8-gram bottle CO2 airguns are making a comeback. They are used in the compact models. I could possibly work with bulk fill, maybe. I have considered it.

    At various airgun shows I have seen Giffard pistols. They, along with most of Giffard’s air rifles are works of art. There is one that is for sale on some auction site right now I believe. It is in real sad shape at an outrageous price. As much as I want one, he can keep it.

        • RR and RG
          Looking at that gorgeous Giffard I couldn’t help but think how easily a modern reproduction could be made. It should absolutely be quality made but this is easy with today’s sources. Turkish walnut stock is dead cheap and the tank could just accommodate either two 12 grams or one 88 gram powerlet. It just needs marketing potential. On the other hand I can’t see why companies like Colt and Remington don’t make quality reproduction of their 1858, 1860. If the Russians did the MP 654 K CO2 version one would think that your country would be equally successful in making a CO2 version of these old historic guns. As far as marketing is concerned I believe there are many fans of the western culture, not only in USA but round the world, who could afford and buy a quality/steel version of those iconic revolvers.

  6. We had a lot of discussion about CO2 cartridges, with pictures, in the M1 Carbine Part 2 Blog back in 2019 when the bottle cap design was not working well in its mag. If anyone is interested or does not remember. The bottle cap type was too wide to fit and seal properly. Even the clean looking bottle cap design.

  7. Tom,

    An excellent report!

    I plink and shoot paper only, so when I don’t mind single-shot shooting, low-powered springers are great. It has a calming effect on me on a lazy afternoon in my backyard. But if I desire something more rapid-fire, CO2 is ideal. CO2 air rifles and pistols, especially since the advent of blowback models, is, both literally and figuratively, a blast. And once I learned to gradually adjust my POA as the CO2 gun cooled, that stopped being a downside.

    The other downside of CO2 are the same things that make it possible, those little silver bottles. I have come to prefer them over the big bottles and a while back purchased an adapter. I was held back for a time by the thought of spending so much money for so few shots. But when I saw the economy of buying 500 of them from Pyramyd AIR, with the free shipping and a sale day discount, as I recall they same to about 1/3 of a cent per shot. That allowed me to stop thinking about the cost and just shoot.

    Then I discovered the wonderful CO2 air pistols and rifles Crosman made in the 1950s through 1970s. They are in my opinion the zenith of airgunning. Just keep the seals lubricated by applying Pellgunoil (or detergent-free motor oil) to the tip of each Powerlet as well as learning which pellets feed most reliably (almost always shallow domes or wadcutters). The absence of blowback makes for usually a doubling of the number of shots per Powerlet.

    I need to get back to my lately neglected Crosman 166 (aka Hahn Super BB Repeater), 400, 500, and 622 as well as my Walther/Umarex Lever Action and western replica revolvers. That reminds me that while the few Crosman western revolvers in my collection lack the detailed realism of the Umarex ones, they all shoot at least as well, usually better, than the Umarex models.

    Again, this is a great report.

    Michael

    • Michael,
      I, to, appreciate those little silver bottles.
      It’s fun to pretend to be in the old West with my Umarex NRA Peacemaker.
      And I really enjoy shooting my vintage Crosman 357.
      Old CO2 guns are cool. 😉
      Blessings to you,
      dave
      P.S. I sent you a test email last night (to ensure it got the right Michael).
      If you get it, you can email me back your address; thank you. 🙂

        • Michael, both emails are in my “sent” box; I just don’t know what’s up with email.
          But I recall that BB did have trouble sending me a direct email.
          You can try texting me on my phone: 1-478-298-9882
          I’m sorry this is so much harder than it should be. 🙂

          • Dave,

            For some reason your e-mails might be going into folks’ spam folders, which was the case with me. You might try to look up the issue in gmail’s FAQ or Help sections. (Although such “Help” sections have not once helped me in the almost 30 years I’ve been using the internet.)

            Michael

    • Michael,

      Memorial Day was a week ago, and D-Day was yesterday. This is a good time of year to pull the CO2 powered WWII era replicas for a shooting session. I’ve been shooting my Walther P38 BB pistol for the last several days, and I also got the Mauser M712 and blowback Parabellum P08 to shoot. Great Fun!

        • FM,

          I also have both the MP40 and the Thompson M1A1. Since I only shoot in the basement, I don’t shoot them full auto lest I miss the target and have a “fire-storm” of BBs ricocheting off the walls and flying around the basement.

          While I like the Walther P38 BB pistol, I really would welcome a chance to buy an updated version that has the CO2 and BBs contained in a separate magazine.

          • cstoehr, you really brought back some memories with your mention of your Walther P38 BB pistol.
            When I was a little kid, we took a family road trip to visit one of my Dad’s friends; he had a really nice 3/4-scale Walther P38 toy pistol; this was over 50 years ago, so it was all metal with brown phenolic resin grips with the steel insert for a lanyard. I was all of 6 years old; and the guy (who could see how much I loved it) told me, “Hey, you really like that? You can have it.” I don’t recall where it disappeared to over the years; but on the day I got it, I thought it was just the coolest thing ever…thanks for the memories. 🙂

  8. BB

    Was Gifford involved with the carbonic cannon? Dad had one in the 1940’s. Made a wonderful racket when she shot. Have not seen one since then but they are still around I think.

    Deck

    • BB

      Yep, dad called it a carbide cannon not carbonic after thinking about it.

      Thanks, I’m enjoying this report. I got to drool over a Gifford or two at the Newton show in October.

      Deck

  9. BB, dibs in the Giffard if you sell it off! That gun has always fascinated me. When I first saw the compressed air mod on the Yellow Forum it put the Giffard on my bucket list.

    David Enoch

  10. B.B.

    I purchased and tested a couple of CO2 adapters designed to work on the Sig Sauer MCX / MPX rifles. The short one in the picture is the 88 g / 90 g CO2 adapter. The long one in the picture is a 1 x 12 g CO2 cartridge adapter. The Teflon tape on the long adapter was added by me before use. The 1 x 12 g adapter gave me about 60 shots when shooting indoors in my basement at a temperature between 65 and 70 degrees F.

    I tested the 88 g / 90 g adapter over four shooting sessions on an Umarex 88 g CO2 cylinder. The CO2 cylinder with adapter was removed from the MCX at the end of each shooting session. A small hiss of escaping gas was briefly heard when installing and removing the CO2. With the adapter installed, I got a total shot count of 186 out of the Umarex 88 g CO2. Using the 88 g CO2 without the adapter produced a shot count of about 260.

    These after-market adapters are readily available through the Amazon.com Marketplace.

  11. When I was 12 I wanted a Dasiy C02 200 pistol. But, my Dad didn’t want to have to buy me the C02 cartridges. I’m sure he knew I would have used a lot of them! So, I wound up with a Marksman BB Pistol. I still have it, still works!

    Mike

    • Mike,

      A little searching finds that the Daisy co2 200 is out there if you still want one to fill your 12 year old wish, good luck and yes I also have a Marksman BB pistol that still works.

      Mike

    • Mike,
      I have a couple. One works (or it did the last time I shot it) and one don’t. They are neat pistols that reminds me what I think is a Colt 22lr. The trouble is, no one repairs them that I know of (I’ve searched some time back trying to have mine repaired). So if you buy one make sure it is working, unless you just want one to have an to hold.

      Doc

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