Lookalike airguns: Part One

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

History of airguns

This report covers:

What is a lookalike?
A typical lookalike
Colt held back
They got better
Military or civilian?
I could go on

Today we begin a series on lookalike airguns. I don’t know exactly how long this could be, but I suspect it could be large. I also know that this subject is a favorite for many of you.

What is a lookalike?

A lookalike airgun is one that resembles an iconic firearm. It gives the owner the chance to experience the feeling of ownership and operation while remaining in the safer, less litigious world of airguns.

A typical lookalike

In a moment I will discuss the difference between a military lookalike and a purely civilian one, but let’s begin with a look at a gun that exists in both camps — the iconic Colt Single Action Army revolver! The SAA, as it is called, was brought out by Colt as the next step in revolvers from their famous black powder cap and ball handguns. While it wasn’t the last in the line, the Colt 1860 Army is perhaps the best example of an evolved single-action cap and ball revolver. It certainly is the best example of a Colt revolver from that time.

1860 Army
Colt’s 1860 Army revolver was highly advanced for a cap and ball black powder handgun.

When Smith & Wesson patented the revolver cylinder that was through-bored (open all the way through the cylinder) in the 1850s, they allowed the use of cartridge ammunition for the first time. Their first firearm on that patent was the model 1 that was initially chambered for .22 rimfire. It came to market in 1857 — just in time for the American Civil War. The cartridge it was chambered for was just called a .22 rimfire, but as that cartridge line evolved in the latter 1800s, it became known as the .22 short.

S&W mod 1
Smith & Wesson’s model 1 came out in 1857 and lasted until 1882. It was chambered for what we now call the .22 short cartridge.

The model 1 was very popular as a backup gun by Northern troops in the Civil War. It didn’t have much power — perhaps 25 foot-pounds or so, but it was better than nothing.

Colt held back

The bored-through cylinder was patented by a former Colt employee, Rollin White. Why he didn’t try to sell the idea to Colt first we may never know, and maybe he did. Smith & Wesson pounced on it and paid White a royalty of 25 cents per gun, which was a huge sum for the day. But they also agreed he would defend the patent and doing that eventually ruined him, financially.

Colt couldn’t make cartridge revolvers as a result of the S&W patent, so they made variations on their 1860 model until the patent on the bored-through cylinder ran out in 1872. Then they brought out their ubiquitous 1873 SAA that is still in production by many manufacturers today.

Colt SAA
Colt Single Action Army. This one was a gift to BB from the readers of this blog, following his 3.5-month hospital stay in 2010. It was not made by Colt, but it is a very accurate copy of that firearm and is chambered in .45 Colt. Reader Kevin was the focal point for this gift!

If you grew up in the 1950s and the early ’60s like BB, you watched westerns on television. Two of my cats were named Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, after two western stars of the time. Their real names were Leonard Franklin Slye and Frances Octavia Smith.

I idolized all things cowboy and so when Crosman brought out the .22-caliber  SA-6 (single action six) pellet revolver in 1959, I bought one with my paper route money. 

Crosman SA-6
Crosman-SA-6.

I didn’t have a holster for that revolver and, since holsters cost money, I carried the SA-6 in my right front pants pocket — a practice that was common in my day and also one that I do not recommend. I loved that .22 caliber pellet pistol. One day while “hunting” in the woods around the Cuyahoga River in Stow, Ohio, a rabbit jumped out of the weeds and frightened me. When my “cool” returned several seconds later I calmly drew my pellet pistol and fanned off 6 quick shots into the weeds where the rabbit had gone 5 seconds before, earning the nickname, “Fanner 50” from my friend who was with me. For readers less than 60 years old, a Fanner 50 was a very popular cap gun of the day.

They got better

So the SA-6 was an early attempt at a lookalike SAA. The CO2 cartridge hid beneath the barrel, covered by a black plastic sheath that camouflaged it very well. But things would get better.

In the late 1990s I was at the home of Wulf Pflaumer’s sister in Maryland. Wulf is one of the two founders of Umarex. We were discussing the lever action rifle he was about to bring out and I told him that a realistic SAA would also be a hit. He told me they wanted to make one but the revolver’s grip frame was too short to allow a 12-gram CO2 cartridge to fit inside. I told him to try the Colt 1860 Army grip frame. It is 1/2-inch longer and the outlaw, Dakota, at Frontier Village amusement park where I worked in college had put one on his SAA because the SAA grip was too short for him. The 1860 grip frame fit a 12-gram cartridge perfectly and almost no one notices the difference. The rest is history.

A couple years later Umarex brought out the Colt SAA in both pellet and BB gun versions and they have now produced almost every variation of that firearm except for some reason the 4-3/4-inch barrel version that many shooters have asked for. Bat Masterson carried a 4-3/4-inch SAA, as did many gunfighters, because it cleared the holster quicker and was therefore faster to draw.

Umarex SAA
The first Umarex SAA was very realistic, as have been all that followed.

Military or civilian?

I said I would return to this topic. The Colt SAA we have been discussing is both. It was first purchased by the military, but civilian sales soon surged past what the military bought. The SAA is so ergonomic that, until the German P08 Luger pistol came around, it was the long pole in the tent. And it’s still one of the most desired, and most recognized handguns of all time.

There are things about military firearms that make them attractive to shooters. Strength, design and robustness are all main factors, but history trumps everything. No one who has ever held and fired an M1 Garand would think of it as an attractive weapon, but Japan, who was an enemy of the US during WW II, thought enough of it to create 250 close copies for study. Called the Type 4 rifle (and sometimes the type 5), it was homage to the American rifle that so dominated our military campaigns in the latter half of the war.

That addresses why we have military lookalike airguns, though I probably have more than one more report to do on just them, but what about civilian firearm lookalikes? Are there any of them? There certainly are. I won’t get into them deeply this late in today’s report, but for starters, don’t forget the Crosman 38C and 38T revolvers.

And this I will also say, though I call them civilian firearms, the military buys oneseys and twoseys of just about anything. Just because Sergeant So-And-So carried one on the flight line at Da Nang doesn’t make it a military firearm. I’m talking about firearms the military officially adopted — not something Private Ryan carried in his combat boot.

38-T
Crosman’s 38-T from the 1970s was a replica of S&W’s purely civilian (and law enforcement) revolvers.

I could go on

And I plan to. The world of airgun lookalike/replica guns is both a hot topic at any time and red-hot today. Even though this report is in the history section, we are still living in the heyday of lookalike airguns.


Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 7

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 2 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 3 Bore size versus performance
Part 4 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 5 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 6 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges

This report covers:

  • Bullets
  • Ton to the rescue
  • Sheathe the mold handles
  • Change gloves
  • Hotter lead pot temp for soft lead bullets
  • Better bullets
  • 38-grain bullets
  • Flashing
  • 25-grain bullets
  • Summary

Now that we know how to get positive ignition with a reloaded rimfire cartridge, it’s time to reload some more and get to testing.  In Part 6 we learned that both the primer powder that I bought commercially from Sharpshooter and the powder I removed from toy caps were successful to prime .22 rimfire cartridges, when used according to the directions that came from Sharpshooter. It’s time to move on and load more cartridges to test.

Bullets

If you recall, I was disappointed by the bullets I cast the first time around. The little mold I got from Sharpshooter is all-aluminum and also too small. The aluminum handles heat up so hot I cannot hold them, so I was casting from a relatively cold bullet mold last time. That’s never good. It was 300 to 400 degrees, which is too hot to hold and too cold to cast well.

On top of that I used up all the barely acceptable bullets when I reloaded the 28 unsuccessful cartridges. So I had to cast more bullets and they had to be better.

Ton to the rescue

Ton Jones was reading my report and called me over to AirForce. He gave me a pair of Ton Jones barbecue gloves to hold the hot handles of the bullet mold. What a great gift! Thank you, Ton!

Jones gloves
Ton Jones gave me a pair of his famous barbecue gloves to help me hold the small bullet mold.

Ton told me the amount of time and at what heat these gloves will work. They are effective for temperatures of up to 900 degrees F for 10 seconds, but at the estimated 400-degree heat of the mold handles they work for several minutes.

Sheathe the mold handles

Besides the gloves I decided to sheathe the mold handles with wood. My neighbor Denny had made a nice pair of wooden handle covers that I tried fastening with electrician’s tape last time. The tape melted from the heat, so it was ineffective, but these wood handles are now held to the mold handles by two bolts with nuts on each side. Some reader suggested to use epoxy, but there is no commercial epoxy including muffler cement that can withstand the intense heat for as long as it is needed.

mold handles
The wood handles Denny made are held on the aluminum mold handles with two bolts on each handle.

Using the wooden handles and the gloves I was able to get the mold up to a good casting temperature and cast enough bullets of both sizes for a really good test. The bolts that hold the wooden handles on do transmit the temperature, but the gloves allow me to hold the mold better. I hold the handles toward the rear where the bolts are not located, though I do come in contact with them. 

Change gloves

I found I only need one glove on my left hand, so the other one sits around until I need it. Every few minutes the glove I’m using gets too warm and I switch with the idle glove. This allows for an unlimited time of casting.

Hotter lead pot temp for soft lead bullets

I also discovered this time that I needed to set my Lyman lead furnace hotter because I was casting softer lead that has less tin. Pure lead flows at a higher temperature than lead alloyed with tin and antimony. There was some of each of those metals in the pot, but less than if I was casting bullets for a large caliber firearm pistol. As a note to myself I set the pot at 7.5 on the scale instead of the usual 6.5 for the harder alloys. And the bullets that came from the mold remained shiny, which indicates they were formed at a good casting temperature.

Better bullets

The worst of the bullets I retained from this casting session are better than the best bullets from the first cast. There are still some problems, but they look mold-related and are unlikely to improve.

38-grain bullets

Here are some of the 40 or so 38-grain round-nose bullets that I kept after inspection.

38-grain
The 38-grain round-nosed bullets cast cleaner this time.

38-grain flashing
Some 38-grain bullets had flashing that has to be removed before they can be used.

Flashing

The flashing occurs because the mold halves don’t come together tightly and the sprue plate doesn’t fit the top of the mold tightly. That is a function of the mold. A better mold would not have those problems, but the bullets I get from this mold are suitable for the current project. If I was going to cast thousands of bullets it would be worth spending the money on a better custom mold.

25-grain bullets

The first time I cast bullets the smaller pointed 25-grain bullets fell easily from the mold and the longer 38-grain bullets were harder to get out. This time that was reversed. I believe the hotter mold was the principal reason for this.

I did get about the same number of keeper bullets in the smaller size this time. But some of them also had some flashing on them. I will clean that off before loading the bullets, but I plan to use all of the keepers, or as many as possible.

25-grain flashing
Most of the 25-grain bullets have a little flashing on their base, but these two were the worst.

25-graion tweezers
The 25-grain bullets came from the mold cleaner than the 38-grain bullets. One of them is held in the cross-locking reverse tweezers I mentioned recently.

Summary

This casting session went better because I was better prepared for it. I am also better prepared to load the next set of cartridges for testing because of the experience I have gained from recent testing The next test will be the velocity of both types of bullets with smokeless powder and with Pyrodex, using both kinds of priming compound.

After that I will shoot the cartridges for accuracy, but I’m looking to pare down all the test variables, to keep this testing manageable. I think I will wait to see the results of the velocity test before I load for the accuracy test.


Mondial Oklahoma spring-piston pistol: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Oklahoma
The Mondial Oklahoma pistol.

Part 1

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Further tie-ins to the Roger CO2 pistol
  • Choose one
  • Performance
  • RWS Hobby
  • Air Arms Falcons
  • RWS R10 Match Pistol
  • Loose breech
  • Discharge sound
  • Accuracy?
  • Summary

 Today I test the velocity of the Mondial Oklahoma air pistol we have started looking at. I was hoping so much that another owner would comment that he had a pistol with a rifled barrel because this one is smoothbore for sure. But no one has come forward yet. And no, the rifling hasn’t worn out of this one. This is a breakbarrel spring-piston air pistol that was made to sell at a low price, but as I noted in Part One, a lot of thought went into its design.

Further tie-ins to the Roger CO2 pistol

Reader Pacoinohio asked for more information about the tie-in between the Oklahoma and the Daisy 100. I have information that comes from two different sources and goes in two different directions. First, while researching Mondial I learned that they also made the Roger CO2 pistol that looks something like the Daisy 100. Many years ago an advanced Daisy collector at an airgun show showed me his Roger pistol in the box that he felt was extremely rare. He also told me that Daisy bought the plans for the Roger and that was what the Daisy 100 was based on. They are not exactly the same and I doubt that many parts interchange, if any, but any designer finds his work easier if he has something to go on. I think that was essentially what happened, if any of it is true.

The other direction I will come from is that I wrote the largest report that has ever been written on the .22 rimfire firearms made by the Wamo corporation. It was published in one of the Airgun Revue magazines. This company is known as Wham-O today and we know them for their Hula Hoops, Superballs and Frisbees. But Wamo also made at least three different .22 rimfire guns, though they claim they never did. The most popular one they made was called the Wamo Powermaster. It was a .22 long rifle single shot that ejected the empty cartridge case and the bolt remained back for loading.

Years ago Dennis Quackenbush, who many of you know as the builder of big bore airguns, told me that he can convert the Daisy 100 into a Powermaster. Yesterday morning Dennis told me that to him it appears that Daisy purchased the Powermaster design and tooling from Wamo and turned it into their model 100 CO2 pistol. That’s why Dennis says it is so easy to turn a 100 into a Powermaster. He says that because he sees little design details in the Daisy 100 that come from the Powermaster and are unnecessary for the air pistol, so it looks to him like Daisy used the Wamo tooling to make their airgun.

Powermaster 100
Here are the Wamo Powermaster (top) and Daisy 100 for comparison. Photo courtesy Dennis Quackenbush.

Roger
And here is a Roger. I have to say, it doesn’t look much like the Daisy.

Choose one

That’s two different stories of the relationship between the Daisy 100, the Wamo Powermaster and the Roger air pistol. You decide. I’ve told you all that I know.

Performance

So, how does the pistol I am testing perform? According to the Blue Book of Airguns I should expect about 200 f.p.s. I oiled the piston seal and the breech seal days before this test so this one will do as well as it possibly can. Let’s see.

RWS Hobby

First to be tested was the RWS Hobby wadcutter. They fit the breech very tight and wouldn’t even sit flush.

Hobby
That’s as deep as the RWS Hobby would go into the Oklahoma breech with finger pressure.

I knew when I saw how tight Hobbys were that they needed to be seated deep, so the head and skirt would be sized down by the barrel. Just for fun I shot one Hobby seated like you see in the picture. It went out at 175 f.p.s. Ten more when seated deep with a ballpoint pen averaged 244 f.p.s. That’s a gain of 69 f.p.s. from just deep seating. The low for the string was 231. The high was 253, so the difference was 22 f.p.s.

I’m guessing other pellets that are light but not so large as Hobbys will be faster. Let’s see.

Air Arms Falcons

At 7.33-grains the Falcons are heavier than the Hobbys, but they are also smaller, so there is less resistance. I deep-seated them, too.

Falcons averaged 236 f.p.s. over 10 shots. The velocity ranged from a low of 223 to a high of 246, so a 22 f.p.s. spread. Let’s try one more pellet.

RWS R10 Match Pistol

The RWS R10 Match Pistol pellet weighs 7 grains like the Hobby, but it fits the breech almost as well as the Falcon. It’s just a little tighter. Ten of them averaged 254 f.p.s. in this Oklahoma. The low was 251 and the high was 257, so the spread was 6 f.p.s. That’s not only very good, it’s also considerably faster than the Blue Book said, so I assume this pistol is performing well.

Loose breech

I noticed while shooting that the breech on the pistol is loose. However, it is the strangest loose breech I have ever seen. It’s loose when the pistol is cocked but not when it isn’t, which means when the piston is forward it’s somehow affecting the tightness of the breech.

Discharge sound

I tested the sound at discharge with the audiometer app on my smart phone. It’s very quiet when it fires.

discharge Oklahoma

Accuracy?

I don’t have very high hopes for this pistol to be accurate. The inexpensive construction plus the smooth barrel are two reasons why.

I think I will start my accuracy test at 20 feet, rather than 10 meters. And I will look for pellets that fit the breech loosely, or at least not overly tight. I really have no idea of what to expect with this one, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

Summary

The Oklahoma air pistol is an airgun I have long wanted to examine and test. Now I’m getting to. I hope you are finding this as fascinating as I am.


Oh, the insanity!

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • The inspiration
  • What does this mean to you?
  • What’s next?
  • Remember!
  • A message to wives
  • Summary

Today’s report is inspired by the current climate. Be glad you’re an airgunner!

The inspiration

Many of you are aware of this. Reader Kevin tracked an online auction on eBay in which an FWB 124 sold for $1,246 just a few days ago. Guys — that is insane! That’s at least twice what a pristine 124 should sell for. And this one was the Sport model — not the Deluxe!

At the same time the 124 was selling I was watching a Diana model 25 in nice condition that should have fetched  $150 to 175 at the most. It hammered down at $251.50. That’s Diana 27 territory!

Okay, prices do rise all the time, but I think there is a different dynamic happening here. I believe the firearm shooters have hit the wall, as far as the lack of ammo goes and they are coming into airguns in a big way. They still want to shoot and airguns are the only game in town. 

To guys who think nothing of spending $1,500 on an AR15, and then dressing it with another thousand in accessories a thousand-dollar air rifle is chump change. And they want the best. So when they make the transition to airguns and learn that everybody is talking about the FWB 124 and the vintage Dianas, that’s what they want. 

They didn’t get into reloading soon enough, so they really have to come to airguns if they want to continue to shoot. And they are here! Many will go away, if and when firearms ammo becomes available again, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. So our ranks have just tripled? Quintupled? Increased by a googol?

What does this mean to you?

It means that the customer base in the airgun marketplace has enlarged greatly. It may also mean that the day of the price-point PCP (PPP) might be over. Watch the market over the next 6-8 months and see if the sub $300 PCP goes away. It will be replaced by the $400 PCP and so on.

Many of you will blame greedy retailers, but that’s shortsighted. The manufacturers of these airguns have been holding the line down on costs so they make virtually nothing on the PPP. They will be glad to boost their wholesale prices to start earning a profit for perhaps the first time on these airguns that, until now, have simply been loss leaders to get people into the market. Retailers will have to pass this along and you know the rest.

So — if you own one of these about-to-become-desirable airguns — hold on to it! That is, if you still want to shoot. And THINK!

What’s next?

Once they get their airgun what’s the next thing these new airgunners are going to want? That’s right — pellets. They can read just as well as you or I, so what kind of pellets are they going to want? I won’t even mention the brands, but you all know what they are. Yes, they are produced by the pallet load, but these new airgunners are going to want to buy them by the sea-land container. You and I have been buying them by the pallet for many years and guess what — the pellet manufacturers can’t expand their capacity the way every couch commando thinks when he waves his hand! Making pellets is just as costly and involved as making airguns!

The pellet manufacturers are going to watch all of this market activity and wonder whether it’s just a temporary spike or a phenomenon that will last. They are already in profit. Do they really want to bet the ranch that if they expand to double the capacity and then the market dies off they will be left holding the mortgage on production capacity that has no return? If they wait, they believe the future will be easier to predict.

If pellets could be made as easily as videos now can, there would be hundreds of new pellet manufacturers, and three or four of them would really be good! But it doesn’t work that way. Making pellets requires an investment in terms of money, specialized equipment, plant space, workforce and distribution channels. You can’t sell pellets through You Tube. Pellets have to pass through physical retail channels to get to the customer. You learned that fact some time back, when you noticed that your local discount store was unwilling to carry anything beyond five different tins of sinker larvae and, because of their corporate policies, not even in the caliber you shoot!

Since you are reading this blog you are aware of Pyramyd Air — the largest airgun retailer in the United States and perhaps in the world. Well, guess what? This same internet we are now using is well-known to the tidal wave of firearms shooters that are coming into airguns, and all they need to do is research who’s good and who’s not. That will bring them right here with all of us. Some of them already read this blog and they have friends!

Remember!

Remember the nearly worldwide shortage of toilet paper almost a year ago? There really was no shortage, but countless people were frightened into buying way more than they needed and the shelves were bare for months. The shelves are already bare of firearms ammunition and here we sit, content in our little world of airguns, where we shoot whenever and almost wherever we want. Sooner or later…

A message to wives

Wives, I am called The Great Enabler because I “talk” your guys into getting things I think they want. You know this and you are wise to watch over the checkbook, because for most of us there is not enough money to have all we desire.

But here is the deal. I will tell the truth about the guns and products I test. I don’t have an axe to grind and I assure you — I get nothing more when sales go up! Lots of airguns I test are not recommended. I don’t condemn them, but I do show the test results to let everyone make up their own mind.

However, when I find a real winner, I tell it like it is. For example, Until recently the Sig Sauer Corporation made an air rifle they called the ASP20. It was the FWB 124 of this millennium. Sadly this rifle is no longer being made. If your man got one you may have wondered the wisdom of it at the time, but now he has something of high quality that he can shoot. He will need some pellets, but with that rifle and a good scope, that’s about it.

So, watch me carefully, but when I get out my pompoms please know there is a reason.

Summary

Guys, our little quiet hobby is growing up. The times have conspired to propel us onto the center stage of the shooting sports. Know this and act accordingly.


Lapping scope rings

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Definition of lapping?
  • Scope ring alignment
  • Potential misalignment problems
  • The holes in the scope rings don’t line up
  • The inside of the scope rings are out of round or not finished smooth
  • Lapping scope rings
  • Check scope ring alignment
  • How are scope rings lapped?
  • Finish the job
  • Want to do it?
  • The big deal
  • Summary

This report comes by request of Pyramyd Air. It’s a subject that is not that familiar to airgunners for reasons I will explain at the end.

Definition of lapping?

Lapping is the polishing of surfaces to knock down the high spots and even-out the surface. I have addressed lapping the inner surface of a rifled barrel in the past, though I haven’t gone into it in depth. Today will be the first time I have addressed lapping scope rings.

Scope ring alignment

Scope rings are supposed to align with each other so the thin scope tube is held tight by the rings without any undue pressure resulting from misalignment. If the scope tube is perfectly round and also perfectly true (in a straight line along its entire outer surface), the holes in the scope rings need to be the same. If they are not true and also in alignment with each other, they will put uneven pressure on the scope tube when the rings are tightened.

Potential misalignment problems

There is a long list of potential scope ring misalignment issues. I will address a couple of the biggest ones.

The holes in the scope rings don’t line up

This happens more with 2-piece scope rings because their positioning on the gun is independent of each other. We presume the makers of one-piece rings take care to align them during manufacture. But two-piece rings can be out of alignment because of the scope bases they are mounted on. They can be off side to side and even up and down. It only takes a small alignment offset to create a problem.

The inside of the scope rings are out of round or not finished smooth

Cheap scope rings can have burrs and rough edges inside them that causes the scope to not fit the ring tightly. On really cheap rings it is even possible for the hole in the ring to not be round. Some are so bad they are not worth trying to fix.

Lapping scope rings

For these reasons and more many shooters have lapped the inside of their scope rings. Lapping corrects most of these problem, though if the base the rings are mounted on is the problem, lapping may not be enough. Some gunsmiths fail to take the care required to attach the scope bases to the rifle and create a problem that costs a lot more money and effort to be expended. This is far more common with firearms than airguns these days because most air rifles come with scope bases already machined into their receivers or scope tubes. 

Check scope ring alignment

To lap a set of scope rings you first mount the rings to the rifle. Then use a special pair of alignment tools that are the same diameter as the rings and taper to a point. When they are mounted in each ring with their points together, they either prove the scope ring holes are aligned or they show the misalignment.

scope ring align
Scope ring alignment tools.

ring misaligned
This is what a misaligned set of rings looks like when the tools are mounted.

If you don’t have these alignment tools you can use the lapping bar, though it will not tell you as much. A lapping bar of the same inner diameter as the rings is set in the lower ring halves. The bar looks like a scope tube. If this bar just drops into the lower rings you can proceed, but if the bar will not drop into the lower halves of the rings you must investigate why. This is where the alignment tools really pay off. 

You may discover that there is a fundamental problem that prevents proceeding. Or you could just stick the scope in the rings and try to mash it down into place by tightening the top ring caps. I have seen that done and it usually results in a dented scope tube, if not a broken scope.

How are scope rings lapped?

Scope ring lapping is grinding the inside of the scope rings to fit the outside of the scope tube. Let’s assume the lapping bar did fit down in the rings as it’s supposed to. Step one is to remove any material from inside the ring so the lapping bar can contact the ring directly. Some rings have non-slip pads inside and they must be removed.

The lapping bar is then coated with lapping compound, which is a fine grinding paste. Put the ring caps on over the lapping bar and snug them down, but not so tight that the bar can’t be moved. Now the lapping bar is both rotated and worked back and forth just a little to remove the high places on the inside of the rings. As you rotate and work the bar around, tighten the cap screws every so often, so you get an even lap. Lapping should go very quickly, but that does depend on the material from which the rings are made. Aluminum will lap much faster than steel. As you lap if you remove the bar and clean the rings you’ll see the high places that are being worn away.

Finish the job

Remove the lapping rod and clean off all the compound from the rings. Clean the lapping bar too. Then replace any material you may have removed from the rings before lapping if you really want to. A lapped set of rings will grip a scope much better, so the material may not even be necessary

Want to do it?

Lapping compound is sold in many places and is easy to find. Make sure it’s for the material your rings are made from.

A complete lapping kit can be purchased at several places online. One for both one-inch rings and 30mm rings will run about $75 and up. It includes both the alignment tools and the lapping bars in both ring sizes.

The big deal

Okay — if the rifle is an airgun and IF you buy quality rings, they probably don’t need to be lapped. Today’s scope bases and scope rings on and for airguns are very high quality. Lapping is more for the firearm user who uses two-piece rings and had to have two scope bases installed on his rifle by a gunsmith. There are so many variables there that lapping is still a viable option. But with a good set of airgun rings on a modern air rifle, lapping should be a thing of the past.

Summary

Scope lapping will never go away as long as gunsmiths attach ring bases after the gun is made. This happens a lot with older military arms. Modern firearm should come with bases that are in alignment, and the use of the Mil Std. 1913 Picatinney rail system has all but eliminated scope base issues. Combine that with a set of quality rings and the need to lap all but disappears.


Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 6

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 2 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 3 Bore size versus performance
Part 4 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 5 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges

This report covers:

  • The test
  • Failed to fire
  • Strike anywhere matches
  • The verdict?
  • Can REAL strike anywhere matches be purchased?
  • Toy caps
  • Grind up the powder
  • Pack the powder
  • Again with the commercial priming powder
  • The test
  • Summary

Today we test the first batch of reloaded .22 rimfire cartridges. There is a lot to tell so let’s get right to it.

The test

I used a heavy steel bullet trap for today’s test. I needed that because I was shooting across my chronograph in my office. From Part 5 I had 28 cartridges loaded and ready to go.

Failed to fire

The first cartridge failed to fire, so I loaded a second one — and so on until I reached the end of my loaded rounds. They didn’t work. So what went wrong? I will have more to say on that in a bit. Now let’s look at something different.

rimfire case unfired
It wasn’t that I didn’t try! This case was fired originally and then twice after reloading.

Strike anywhere matches

I had planned to try strike anywhere matches because several videos on You Tube say they can be made into priming compound. Reader Siraniko from the Philippines told us that strike anywhere matches have been removed from the shelves in his nation. Fortunately we still have them in the US and I was able to buy three boxes at the grocery store.

You’re supposed to cut off the lighter colored tips of the matches and grind them into a powder. So I cut the tips off a dozen matches and stuck them between two pieces of paper so I could grind them safely. Remember, you are making priming compound that goes off when hit. You don’t want to set it off while you are grinding it!

strike anywhere matches
I bought strike anywhere matches at the grocery store.

When I had ground the match tips into a powder I took some of the powder out to the garage and put it on the steel jaws of my vise. Then I hit it with a hammer. Nothing. I hit it again, and again. Nada.

Then I tried lighting these “strike anywhere” matches on things other than the matchbox strip. Nothing. They wouldn’t even ignite when struck on a nail file!

The verdict?

The verdict is, American strike anywhere matches are a lie. I then learned that only recently was the compound of the match tips sold in the US changed to make them only ignite when struck on the side of the matchbox. So the Philippines has openly outlawed strike anywhere matches and the US has allowed manufacturers to lie about them. The ones I have are even hard to ignite when rubbed on the strip on their box! These that I have were made in Chile, and, to my enduring gratitude, the box assured me they were made with wood from well-managed forests. Imagine my joy!

Can REAL strike anywhere matches be purchased?

Yes, it is possible to buy real Ohio Blue Tip strike anywhere matches on eBay. They are selling for around $15 a box, which makes no sense to my current project. Not only would it take many hours to produce enough priming powder for 50 cartridges, that many matches would also cost over $50!

Toy caps

The other material that’s widely advertised for making rimfire priming compound is the powder that’s found in toy caps. It makes little difference what kind of caps you use because the powder inside all of them is very sensitive. But the paper roll caps require a lot more work to extract enough powder for a cartridge than the ring caps — because there is more compound in each chamber of a ring cap than there is in those little bumps on roll caps.

I ordered some ring caps to try this for myself. The cap chambers are each covered with white paper that proved easy to remove. I used a sharp dental pick and, after the white paper was off and I could see the hard pellet of cap powder inside, I used the pick to break it up so I could dump it out.

Though I was gentle as a safecracker, the first cap exploded with half the powder still inside. Okay — gotta go slower! The “explosion” was only with half the powder and it was just a quiet flareup.

Then I got the powder out of the next six chambers (there are 8 caps on a ring). The last cap blew up with all the powder and it was louder and hotter than the first one. Ouch! I say ouch, but I am also pleased that I have finally found something that I know works.

caps
The first cap blew up with half its powder, so you’re looking at about 2.5 caps of powder. The powder is hard inside the cap chambers and comes out in chunks that must be broken up.

cap powder
Each cap chamber has its powder in a cake at the bottom. The cake is always void on one side, as seen here.

I noticed that every cap chamber had a cake of hard powder at the bottom. All the cakes had a void on one side so I tried to get the dental pick underneath and pry out the entire cake. That’s what blew up the 8th cap! So pressure alone sets off this stuff. That’s good to know.

Grind up the powder

As you can see, the cap powder comes out in large chunks. To get the powder under the rim of the cartridge it must be ground up fine. Well, there’s a dilemma! How do you grind up powder that explodes from shock or pressure? Kinda like juggling nitroglycerin!

I took the powder from 6.5 caps and put it in a pile. Then I folded paper over it and used the smooth head of a hammer to gently grind the powder. This was done by turning the hammer from side to side — GENTLY! My neighbor, Denny, watched me do this and I think he thought I wasn’t really grinding at all, but the big chunks did break down into a powder.

grind powder
Fold the paper over the cap powder and SLOWLY grind the chunks to powder by a light side-to-side (circular) motion.

Pack the powder

The power is poured through the funnel into the cartridge case and one drop of acetone is dropped on it. The acetone turns the fine powder into a slurry that can then be pushed into the rim all around the cartridge. The instructions say to wait 5 minutes after dropping the acetone in before pushing it into the rim. That is what I didn’t do the first time I loaded the 28 cartridges. I immediately started to push the priming powder into the rim, thinking that acetone dries very quickly here in Texas.

This time I waited 4-5 minutes before pushing the powder under the rim. I figured this step might have been the one that caused all my first cartridges to fail.

I carefully packed the cap powder into the rim of the first case and it went very well. In fact almost all the powder went into the rim, which was a problem the first time I loaded 28 cartridges. 

But the second time I packed the priming powder it detonated and the fire from 6 caps worth of powder shot out the cartridge case I was holding in my left hand. It was loud and hot. I have no doubt that if there had been gunpowder inside it would also have ignited. The flame also lasted longer than when the individual caps blew up — perhaps 100-200 milliseconds. Double ouch!

So I cleaned that case once more and pried out the powder from 6 more toy caps, ground it and packed it — even more carefully this time. I now had two cartridges primed with toy cap powder. They were set aside to dry completely overnight.

Again with the commercial priming powder

I also tried the commercial priming compound a second time. I read the instructions once again and carefully mixed the four powders (see Part 4 for a detailed description). This time, though, I added a step that I hadn’t done before. When the powder was mixed I took a third of a small scoop that is the recommended charge for one cartridge out to my garage and dumped it on top of my steel vise jaws. Then I hit the pile of powder with a hammer and it did explode. Now I know for certain that this powder does work. Because of how I rushed into reloading the cartridges I didn’t know that for certain the first time around.

Then I loaded this priming compound into two more cleaned cartridge cases and waited the same 4-5 minutes for the acetone to dry before packing the compound under the rim. I wanted to make sure I was doing everything exactly as the instructions said. These two cartridges were also set aside to thoroughly dry overnight.

The test

Rather than blundering ahead like I did in Part 5, I decided to test the four primed cartridges I had just made. So the next day I dumped one large scoop of Pyrodex replica black powder into each case. Then I packed a piece of paper towel down tight against the powder. Pyrodex ignites as easily as black powder, so, if the priming was successful this time, I just made 4 blank cartridges. Two are with the powder from toy caps and two are with the commercial priming powder.

Pyrodex
Pyrodex is a replica black powder that burns just as easily. Pyrodex P is equivalent to FFFG powder which is pistol powder.

Well ???

Well, it worked! Perfectly! All four cartridges fired as planned. I now know that the priming powder I bought works when the instructions are followed to the letter. I also know that toy caps make a good rimfire priming compound — though they must be handled with kid gloves.

I tried to post a video of two of the four cartridges firing on my You Tube channel but it was declined several times by You Tube with no precise explanation other than it was a “bad request.” According to what I see I may have to upload it a different way. I will look into the matter further.

I now know that the powder from 6 ring caps is enough to prime a .22 long rifle cartridge. I also know that the 1/3 of the small scoop of commercial priming powder is right, too. The “secret” seems to be waiting the 4-5 minutes for the acetone to partially dry after adding it to the priming compound before you push it into the rim of the cartridge. I used a wooden “strike anywhere” match stick to push in the last priming compound from the toy cap, because they had been set off by pushing with the small end of the metal cartridge case rim cleaner that the reloading kit suggested.

Summary

I am taking my time doing this research and documenting every step in the process. Those You Tube videos that show reloading rimfire cartridges gloss over everything and make it look like it is a 5-minute exercise, when it is really many hours of trial and error with a few mistakes along the way. I’m certainly making many of the mistakes. But the goal is and always has been to determine if it is possible and worthwhile to reload .22 rimfire ammunition. I now believe that its possible, but I’m quite a ways from knowing whether it is worthwhile.

Just to keep you completely informed I am also looking into reloading .32 rimfire and .41 rimfire. Those cartridges are no longer made and there are some wonderful firearms that shoot them. I will report on both those cartridges, but first I want to run the .22 long rifle cartridge to ground.

I think I need to cast some more bullets for these cartridges and the next time I need to cast good bullets. It may take us some time, but I want to know how to do this right.


Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges: Part 5

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 2 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges
Part 3 Bore size versus performance
Part 4 Reloading .22 rimfire cartridges

This report covers:

  • Why reload rimfire?
  • The real reason for shooting .22 rimfire
  • No ammo!
  • Loading the primed case
  • The bullets
  • The powder
  • Static electricity
  • Insert the bullet
  • Crimping the bullet
  • Try the cartridge fit
  • Experience grows
  • Summary

Today we will complete the reloading of the 28 .22 long rifle cartridges we have now primed. Reader GunFun1 says he’s been waiting for this one and so have I. Lotsa pix and lotsa talk. Let’s go!

Just as a reminder, this series was inspired by reader Yogi, who asked about reloading rimfire cartridges several months ago. As I have done for the 26 years I’ve been writing about airguns, I puffed up my chest and was about to bellow, “Rimfire cartridges cannot be reloaded.” However, in an uncharacteristically intelligent move, I went online, just to be sure. Lo and behold, not only can rimfire cartridges be reloaded, people have been doing so almost from the inception of the first .22-caliber rimfire cartridge by Smith & Wesson in 1856.

Why reload rimfire?

As airgunners we might ask why anyone would feel the need to reload .22 rimfire. We now have pellet rifles that produce over 100 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle and pellet rifles passed rimfires for accuracy out to 50 yards many years ago. The only drawback a good pellet rifle has is actually one of its biggest benefits — diabolo pellets don’t carry nearly as far as bullets. But the .22 long rifle cartridge we are talking about reloading is usually restricted to shots of less than 100 yards, and in the limits of that domain it only surpasses the accurate and powerful pellet rifle between about 50 and 100 yards.

The real reason for shooting .22 rimfire

The real reason for shooting .22 rimfire is the size of the support tail. A good rimfire rifle and 500 cartridges can be carried easily. An equally good pellet rifle can weigh almost the same as the firearm and, while 500 pellets are certainly lighter than a brick of long rifle cartridges, it doesn’t end there. Spring-piston guns and CO2 guns are not competitive in this arena. Only precharged pneumatics can play, because of their power and accuracy. That means there also has to be a means of refilling them. A hand pump is the lightest and most convenient way to replenish high-pressure air over the long haul, with a small carbon fiber buddy bottle coming next — because it only holds limited air.

A hunter can put a box of 50 rimfire cartridges in his pocket and be out for an entire day. An airgunner might get 20 good shots from a powerful AirForce Condor or an AirForce Escape and then he has to top off. While 20 shots are probably all he needs for hunting, the small box of 50 long rifle cartridges is dwarfed by the salami-sized buddy bottle. I can understand why a nice .22 rimfire is still respected so much. There is just one problem.

No ammo!

It’s very hard to find .22 long rifle cartridges in the United States right now. That won’t change with the new administration, either. If anything, it will get worse. So reloading rimfire that we once thought impossible and then, when we learned it could be done, we wondered why anyone would go to the trouble, has taken on a whole new perspective. You may be sitting on a few bricks of long rifle cartridges and if so, good for you. But don’t expect to replace them easily any time soon. The only rounds I found for sale are selling at 56 cents EACH! At that price a box of 50 rounds costs $23 and you can add a zero for a 500-round brick. So, if you want to shoot a lot, this may be the best and most affordable way real soon.

Loading the primed case

To load a primed case you must do two things — put in a charge of gunpowder and load a bullet. The instruction sheet sent by Sharp Shooter, the company that made the reloading tools, gave several gunpowders that might be used. One of them was Hogden’s Pyrodex P — a replica black powder that’s equivalent to FFFG, which is pistol powder. While most smokeless gun powder is currently unavailable, Pyrodex is still being sold and I bought a pound of it for this series. But as a replica black powder Pyrodex produces a lot of smoke and I didn’t want to stink up my office. So I used Bullseye gunpowder that I had plenty of. When you see how little was used you will appreciate that I can get about 7,750 cartridges from one pound of powder.

The bullets

The other thing you do is push a bullet into the cartridge case and crimp it. That proved to be a problem. The bases of all the 38-grain bullets I had cast had flashing on their bottoms. It had to be removed before the bullet would slide into the case. I used a combination of my fingernail and a small pen knife to do this.

flashing
All the 38-grain bullets had flashing (arrow) around their base that had to be removed. This wrinkled bullet will be used to test velocity. I don’t usually accept bullets that are malformed like this but I still have to get the bullet mold working correctly.

Most of the 25-grain bullets had very little flashing on their bases. One, though, had a lot and it all had to be removed before the bullet could be loaded

flashing 25-grain
This 25-grain bullet is also unacceptable and will only be used to test velocity. All that flashing at the base had to be removed.

It took longer to prepare the bullets than to fill the case with powder, so the bullet was the first thing I did and then I loaded the powder. I loaded one cartridge at a time. My first cartridge probably took me five minutes to complete, but by the end of the session I was loading each round in about a minute and a half, give or take.

The powder

To verify the accuracy of the powder scoop I used a digital powder scale that’s made for measuring gunpowder. The same scoop I used for the priming powder was used to scoop out the Bullseye, that was in the same shot glass I used to mix the four priming powders (see Part 4). The small scoop picked up 0.6-grains of Bullseye, and the large scoop picked up 0.9 grains.

scale
The large scoop that came with the rimfire reloading kit measured 0.9-grains of Bullseye gunpowder consistently.

I scooped and measured many scoops of powder and it was consistently 0.9-grains — never more. One time it was 0.8-grains and then crept up to 0.9-grains, so I felt the charge was on the lower end of 0.9-grains. I became confident that the scoop was always picking up the same amount of powder. So I stopped measuring and started reloading.

powder measure
The large scoop consistently gathered 0.9 grains of Bullseye powder.

powder cartridge
Here we are looking down inside the cartridge after powder has been put in. It fills about the bottom third of the case. But of course the bullet will take up some space inside, as well. With smokeless gunpowder the case doesn’t have to be full for safety reasons like it does with black powder.

Static electricity

The gunpowder has some static electricity and some of it sticks to the inside of the plastic funnel after the cartridge is loaded. I used a brass cleaning rod swab holder to push the stray flakes down into the spout of the funnel when tapping the side with a finger wasn’t enough.

powder funnel
Static electricity held a few flakes of gunpowder to the side of the funnel. They were pushed into the spout by a brass fixture.

Insert the bullet

Now the bullet can be inserted into the case. If the bullet base was cleaned of flashing it goes right in and stops at the right place — hopefully. The first 38-grain bullet I loaded didn’t go into the case far enough and was crimped in the wrong place. But I learned from that and didn’t make that mistake again with that bullet.

bullet case
The bullet has been put into the case.

Crimping the bullet

The last step in reloading is to crimp the case mouth into the side of the bullet, to hold it steady. The bullet mold that came with the reloading tools has a case crimper built into it. It is sized for long rifle cases, which means it will also work with longs but not with shorts. However a short case can be crimped if you come in from the other side (which is the top) of the crimping tool.

cartridge crimping tool
The cartridge is put into the crimping tool and the case mouth is crimped to the bullet.

On the first cartridge I discovered that it takes a little fiddling to get the cartridge into the crimping tool correctly.  The first one I tried was put in too deep and I almost crimped the rim of the cartridge! That could have set the cartridge off! But I played with it and got the cartridge in correctly.

cartridge in tool base
This is how deep the cartridge fits into the crimper.

cartridge in tool bullet
This is how far the 38-grain bullet sticks out when the case is loaded into the crimping too correctly. The shorter 25-grain bullet sits deep inside the tool and doesn’t stick out like this

When the cartridge is all the way inside the crimping tool, squeeze the handles hard and the crimp is made. It doesn’t look that deep, but it really does hold the bullet tight in the case.

cartridge crimped
The crimp at the top of the case mouth holds the bullet tight.

Try the cartridge fit

After reloading the first cartridge I tried inserting it into the chamber of the rifle I plan to test it in. The cartridge with the 38-grain bullet went about halfway into the chamber. I was able to close the bolt all the way on that cartridge but when I opened it again, the bullet was pulled out of the case and remained stuck in the barrel.

cartridge halfway
The cartridge with the 38-grain bullet went this far into the rifle’s chamber before it stopped. The bolt shoved it in all the way.

bullet pulled
When I opened the bolt to extract the cartridge, the bullet remained in the barrel.

I pushed the bullet out of the barrel with a .22 cleaning rod and reloaded it into the cartridge, but first all the powder had to be removed and refilled.

When I loaded the 25-grain bullet into a cartridge and crimped it, it went deeper into the chamber, but not all the way. I didn’t force this one into the chamber with the bolt. When the cartridge was removed the bullet remained in the case. I believe the crimping step is making the case out-of-round just enough to affect it this way.

Experience grows

As I reloaded the cases I got faster and better at it. By the time I loaded the five 38-grain bullets for the accuracy test and the 25-grain bullets as well, I was under a minute and a half loading a cartridge.

This is the first time I have ever done this, so there was a lot to learn. But now that I’ve done it, I know what to expect and things will go more smoothly. 

If you add together all the time it took to cast the bullets (Part 2), mix the priming powder and prime the cases (Part 4) then load the cartridges (today), I probably spent about six hours loading 28 long rifle cartridges. Don’t think that’s how long it takes, though. I was doing many other things like taking pictures, plus learning how this all works. I think my estimate of 1.5 minutes per loaded cartridge (starting with a primed case) could be tripled and you’d have a rough estimate of the time it takes to cast and sort the bullets, prime the cases and load the cartridges. A box of 50 cartridges would take 225 minutes (at 4.5 minutes per cartridge, total), which is 3 hours 45 minutes.

38-grain-cartridge
A 38-grain cartridge.

25-grain-cartridges
These are the nine 25-grain bullet cartridges I loaded for the velocity test. The arrow points to one whose bullet is seated too deep.

Summary

Three months ago I didn’t even know it was possible to reload .22 rimfire cartridges. Now I am finishing Part 5 of a series on doing it, and my first 28 cartridges are loaded! Most definitely there is a long road ahead for me as I refine each aspect of what I’ve reported so far. But this is something I’m interested in learning and, from what you have told me, you are too.

I know this is a blog about airguns and that the .22 rimfire cartridge certainly does not qualify, but in these perilous times when ammunition is difficult to find, shooters need all the help they can get. Many are either not yet informed that pellet rifles have come as far as they have (shooting one-inch groups at 100 yards and killing whitetail deer at 200 yards with one shot) and it’s my job to inform them.

Others are not yet ready to give up their beloved rimfires simply because ammunition is not available. They may know a lot about airguns and may even own several, but they still love their rimfires. Well, bless their hearts! Perhaps I can help them as we all learn about this fascinating niche in the shooting sports together.