Design an airgun

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Air gun?
  • What about pneumatics?
  • Can you build a spring-piston gun?
  • Keep it honest
  • Contest?

This report will be different than usual. Today I’m challenging you to design an airgun that we readers can build!

I’m guessing it will be a BB gun, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m guessing it will be a smoothbore, but again, it doesn’t have to be.

Air gun?

When I say build an airgun, it doesn’t have to work with compressed air. The Daisy 179 pistol is considered an airgun, but in reality it is a catapult gun.

Daisy 179
Daisy’s 179 is really a catapult gun.

The Hodges gun of the early 1800s is also a catapult gun, and a powerful one at that. It is said to have been capable of killing medium-sized game such as feral hogs.

Hodges gun
The Hodges catapult gun launched large .40+ caliber lead balls.

And there are slingshot “rifles” being sold on eBay right now. Unfortunately they are made in China, so they won’t see many sales in the US. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build one yourself. There are videos on You Tube about just that.

What about pneumatics?

 Can you build one of them? In the 1990s, when he was learning about airguns, Gary Barnes experimented with low-pressure pneumatics. He discovered that pressures as low as 30 psi were enough to drive large projectiles pretty fast — certainly over 100 f.p.s. Those kind of pressures are easily generated with bicycle pumps and they will push a heavy projectile pretty fast. They weren’t controlled by conventional triggers, but that was just a detail to be worked out.

He even built a multi-pump that ran on lower pressure — certainly no more than 50-60 psi. It reminded me of a slide trombone, and the lesson was — it isn’t air pressure that pushes projectiles, so much as air volume! The pressure was low but the volume was high, so the push was long and gentle.

Can you build a spring-piston gun?

Reader Duskwight from Moscow designed and built his Duskcomb (SP?) rifle — his version of a Whiscomb, where two pistons come together to compress the air. You get a powerful springer with zero recoil. From his reports we know that he invested thousands of dollars in his project — probably more than enough to buy a genuine Whiscomb. But he really wanted to do it and to his credit he saw it through to the end. What was better, he reported the results to us on this blog. As I recall, his rifle weighed more than he wanted, but I believe that it worked.

I don’t expect anyone to go that far, but a simpler spring-piston airgun could be made.

How about starting with a wooden popper toy? They build pressure as the parts are brought together, and I’m sure many of you have played with them.

popper toy
Come on — I know many of you have played with one of these.

The Quackenbush Lightning is a spring-piston airgun that uses a rubber band on the outside of the barrel to pull the sliding compression chamber against the breech to compress air.

Quiackenbush Lightning
Quackenbush Lightning uses rubber bands to pull a sliding compression chamber against a barrel to compress air.

Keep it honest

While we will allow catapults, I think we will draw the line at percussion caps and primers. They are explosives that turn our airgun into a firearm. Let’s see if we can avoid that.

Contest?

I would like to turn this into a contest. The winner would be the niftiest design that the most people could build. I’ll look around for something I can award as a prize. I would also like to test your gun, so it’s got to be real.

Go to it, guys! You don’t have to submit an idea today. How about shooting for the end of September?


Sharpshooter pistol resurrection: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Sharpshooter pistols
The Bulls Eye pistol (left) came first. Manufacture started in 1924 in Rawlins, Wyoming. The smaller Sharpshooter pistols at the right were made in Rawlins until sometime in World War II and then manufacture moved to La Jolla, California in 1946.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Learned a lot!
  • Velocity
  • Three guns to test
  • Plain Blue pistol from La Jolla
  • Black DeLuxe pistol from Rawlins
  • Curses! — foiled by eBay
  • Summary

Here we go! This is probably the final installment of this series that started several weeks ago when the grand nephew of John Beckwith, George, sent me some carriers for Sharpshooter pistols that his grand uncle had given him. With one of them I was able to resurrect a Sharpshooter pistol I have owned for many years. Its plastic carrier broke and the gun has been silent for a long time, but thanks to George it’s up and running again!

Learned a lot!

While researching this series I learned a lot about these curious pistols. I finally read several of the manuals I have and learned things about maintaining the gun that I never knew. As a result I hope to see impressive performance today in my velocity tests. Let’s start there.

Velocity

Because they are powered by rubber bands these pistols get faster as stronger bands and more bands are added. But only to a point. Beyond that they start slowing down again as additional bands are added. Additional bands are difficult to attach, and they make the pistol harder to cock and the trigger harder to pull.

But in this series I learned that I should be oiling the carrier rails, both top and bottom, and greasing the pistol and bands with Vaseline Petroleum Jelly. When I did that the pistol started shooting number 6 shot through copier paper at 10 feet. So it’s obviously going faster! Today I learn how much faster.

Three guns to test

I have selected three of my 4 Sharpshooter pistols to test for you. I will describe each one and tell you about the rubber bands they have. First up is the plain blue (black) pistol that was probably sold by either Berry Brow Enterprises or Golden key Enterprises — the last two major retailers of the pistols. I am not sure that the manufacturing didn’t remain in California with John Beckwith, because there is no proof that either of those two companies ever made a gun.

This pistol is as plain as it gets. It has no grip panels — just the pressed steel of the gun that looks like grips to hold onto. This is the pistol that needed a carrier, and it went in easily. For a rubber band I used a thicker band that I got at my church. It’s both thicker and shorter, but not as wide, so I figured it would be a magnum band. We shall see!

Plain pistol
The plain pistol is as sparse as the title implies. Absolutely no finish work was done to the metal before bluing. This one has the donated carrier.

magnum band
The rubber band on this pistol is thicker and shorter than what is supposed to be there. The pistol cocks harder and I think it will shoot faster.

This pistol was also missing its front sight. I made a replacement from a small rubber pad that I had on hand. It fits well, does the job and the pistol is quite accurate with it.

front sight
I cut a small piece of a rubber pad to use as a front sight. It does the job well.

This “magnum” pistol shoots at 100 f.p.s. I told you these guns weren’t that fast. The stronger the rubber band the harder they are to cock and the harder the trigger pull becomes. This one with this rubber band has a single-stage trigger that breaks at 1 lb. 11 oz. The break is reasonably crisp.

Plain blue pistol from La Jolla

When John Beckwith made the Sharpshooter, he put more into them than either of the final two  retailers. His plain blue pistol has unfinished wooden grip panels and is a much more attractive pistol. It also cocks and fires much smoother.

I put a smaller rubber band on this pistol because I made it a birthday gift for my buddy, Otho. He has arthritis in his hands and I wanted to make his easier to cock, which it is. 

La Jolla pistol
The plain blue pistol from La Jolla is much prettier than the other one.

This pistol fired at 62 f.p.s. Yes, that’s slow but it’s what the smaller rubber band gets you.

The trigger pull was 2 lbs. 4 oz, which surprised me. Maybe the carrier has something to do with it because that is what the sear grabs when the gun is cocked.

Black DeLuxe pistol from Rawlins

This is the pistol with the French writing on it and its box. That places its manufacture in the mid-30s. This is my smoothest Sharpshooter pistol and I have it strung with a heavy-duty postal rubber band. Unfortunately those bands are old and they break in a few shots. But I have new ones coming.

Rawlins pistol
This Rawlins-made Black DeLuxe pistol is the nicest in my small collection.

I couldn’t record a velocity with this pistol. The skyscreens just wouldn’t trigger. But given how easily it cocks I believe it lies somewhere in between the two pistols I did chronograph — maybe 80 f.p.s. or so.

The trigger on this one breaks at 2 lbs. 3 oz. It feels lighter than the trigger on the first gun, but the test device doesn’t lie.

Curses! — foiled by eBay

I had hoped to acquire a rare Sharpshooter with a long grip, but the eBay auction was cancelled before it ended. I planned to show that pistol to you and test it and then get it back to George from whom it was stolen years ago. Unfortunately unscrupulous eBay sellers are selling their auction items and ending the auction early. Too bad for this one, because he had no idea of how high I was willing to go!

Summary

I have told you a large part of the story of the Sharpshooter rubber band pistol. There are more bits and pieces, but we have hit most of the high spot s in this series.

My thanks to George for sending me the carrier. It prompted this series and made me a lot smarter about this odd little pistol series.

Final note — I did email the Bug-A-Salt people and told them the Sharpshooter pistol would make an idea product for them. I gave them the links to these reports. I don’t know what their manufacturing capability is, but if they are able to make things this would be a natural for them!


Sharpshooter pistol resurrection: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Sharpshooter pistols
The Bulls Eye pistol (left) came first. Manufacture started in 1924 in Rawlins, Wyoming. The smaller Sharpshooter pistols at the right were made in Rawlins until sometime in World War II and then manufacture moved to La Jolla, California in 1946.

Part 1

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Cleanup
  • Companies that made and sold Sharpshooter pistols
  • Odd guns
  • Accuracy
  • Adjustable sights
  • Hard to get groups
  • Summary

Cleanup

Today I take a turn from my usual format. This is Day 2 where I normally report velocity, but instead of that I’m going to begin with accuracy. The reason for doing that is because when the pistol is adjusted for accuracy the velocity is affected.

Sharpshooter adjust rail
This screw pulls the two halves of the sheet metal together, pushing the front of the guide rail upward. That tightens the fit of the carrier on the rail — affecting both accuracy and velocity.

Bulls Eye rail
The earlier Bulls Eye gun rail was not adjustable. It was welded in place.

However, before I get to that I have some things to clear up. First, I said the plastic carriers/slides/launchers were introduced sometime after the 1960s. From what I have since learned, plastic carriers may have been installed in some La Jolla guns.

At sometime in the past I said that Sharpshooter pistols were made by five different companies. That all depends on what is meant by the verb “made.” Let’s look at the manufacturing history of these pistols.

Companies that made and sold Sharpshooter pistols

1924 – sometime in WW II — Dr. Bunten, the inventor, Bulls Eye Pistol Mfg. Co., Rawlins, Wyoming.

1946 – 1963 — John O. Beckwith, Bulls Eye Mfg. Corp, La Jolla, CA

Berry Brow Enterprises 1960?, Line Lexington, PA — they owned the rights but may not have made the parts of the guns. They announced restart of manufacture in American Rifleman in May of 1963.

Golden Key Enterprises, Sherman Oaks (and Van Nuys), CA — 1971-1980. Guns with plastic carriers.

1970 -’80s? — Doc Carlson bought the last 600 pistols from Golden Key. These can have odd boxes that measure 6 by 8 inches, for the original boxes were exhausted.

1980s — John Beckwith — about 100 Nickel Deluxe pistols were assembled from parts found in his brother Bud Beckwith’s garage after he passed away. They were given as gifts and sold. Probably with cast metal carriers.

Odd guns

I discovered two odd guns while researching this subject. One seems to be a change in manufacturing, as it has a one-inch longer grip. It is a nickel deluxe gun. The grips are what is extended – not the frame of stamped steel. A 2-ounce lead weight sits between the grip panels at the bottom. This was thought to be a one-off, but I may have located a production sample to show you.

Sharpshooter long grip
This Sharpshooter pistol with a long grip may have been a limited production item.

The other odd gun is a Bulls Eye pistol with a 6-ounce sheet of lead wrapped under the front of the pistol to add weight. This was done by Bud Beckwith on a single gun and was never manufactured. But it leads me to suspect that Bud Beckwith is also responsible for the Sharpshooter grip extension mentioned before.

Bulls Eye lead wrap
This Bulls Eye pistol has 6 ounces of lead wrapped around its bottom.

Accuracy

It took me long enough to get to it but now let’s look at Sharpshooter accuracy. The guns are amazingly accurate at short range. I wanted to play around with adjusting the tension on the rails to get the best accuracy possible. But after a morning of doing it I now suspect this is something that takes days and even longer. I will surprise you by telling you that Dr. Brunten tested each and every pistol he made before boxing it for sale. That’s the kind of stuff some shooters mistakenly believe all gun manufacturers do, but it is exceedingly rare. After he sold the company to John Beckwith he paid a visit to the La Jolla works to see if they were maintaining his standards. He found they employed a young man with one leg to test their guns and he was hitting strings tied to light chains around the room where he was sitting!

Dean Fletcher proved the gun is accurate enough to hit houseflies when he wrote the article for Airgun Revue, but that wasn’t the first time that was done. The first time was in 1925 on the inside of a vendor tent at Camp Perry, the site of the U.S. National Matches, where Major (later Major General) Julian S, Hatcher shot flies that landed on the inside of the tent canvas. Later, M.D. “Bud” Waite, former technical editor of the American Rifleman magazine and author of Trapdoor Springfield also shot flies, along with several world champion and Olympic Champion pistol shots. If you shot pistols in the 1920s, you owned a Bulls Eye or a Sharpshooter.

Adjustable sights

As inexpensive as these guns are, you don’t expect them to have adjustable sights, but they do. The front sight blade is also the stopper that holds the shot inside the 58-shot tubular magazine on top of the pistol. A modification made in the 1930s puts a bump on the bottom of the blade so you can adjust elevation.

Sharpshooter front sight
The front sight blade slides into the upper channel that holds the number 6 shot. The bump on the bottom of the blade is to control elevation.
Or, flip it over and you have a very low front blade.

Sharpshooter front sight low
Here the front sight blade is set as low as it will go unless it is flipped over.

The rear sight slides side to side. When you see how it’s made you have to praise the genius that thought up such a thing!

Sharpshooter rear sight
Metal tabs folded over the rear sight allow it to slide from side to side.

Hard to get groups

I wanted to show you some groups today, as well as to be able to compare group sizes based on my rail adjustments. But the Sharpshooter just doesn’t have the punch to pierce paper. I even made a target out of aluminum foil, but all most shots did was push it out of the way without piercing the foil.

ShaRPSHOOTER FOIL TARGET
All this target did was make noise and dance around when hit. The shot left no record of where it hit.

I then made a spinner box, using the spinners that came in the box with a gun. But if you miss a spinner, where did the shot go?

Sharpshooter spinners
These spinners came in a Sharpshooter box. They work well, but if you miss, where did it go?

Finally I stretched aluminum foil over a plastic food container and held it tight with a rubber band. It’s perfect for this work and I now have a permanent target in my office. No shot ever escapes and I have a great record of all shots.

foil trap
Aluminum foil stretched over a food container and held with a rubber band worked the best.

foil group
The black dot is the size of the trime, whose diameter is 14mm. There are 15 shots from three different pistols in this group. Yes, there is one at the top of the black dot from the Bulls Eye pistol. Shot at 7 feet.

The manufacturing machinery was never updated after Beckwith initially sold it. So, either La Jolla or nothing appears on all the guns made thereafter. The machinery was hauled off to the dump from the back yard of a relative in later years.

Summary

I hope this series is as interesting to you as it is to me. There is more to come.


Sharpshooter pistol resurrection: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Sharpshooter pistols
The Bulls Eye pistol (left) came first. Manufacture started in 1924 in Rawlins, Wyoming. The smaller Sharpshooter pistols at the right were made in Rawlins until sometime during World War II, and then manufacture moved to La Jolla, California in 1946.

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • New parts!
  • My Sharpshooters
  • Unmarked guns
  • What the launcher does
  • How accurate?
  • John O. Beckwith
  • A full report
  • Launchers/slides/carriers are available
  • Summary

New parts!

A month ago I was contacted by reader George, whose great uncle, John Beckwith, produced the Sharpshooter pistols in La Jolla, California. George had read my Part 1 of the Sharpshooter report that was published in September of 2018 and he noticed what I said in one of the captions.

metal Sharpshooter launcher
The sliding launcher is what flings the shot from the pistol. The older Sharpshooters have metal launchers like this one that last for decades. This one is about 76 years old and still works fine. That flat metal piece on the right is the sear that also opens the in-line magazine to allow one shot to fall into the launcher when it is pushed up by the launcher.

 plastic Sharpshooter launcher
The metal launcher was replaced by a plastic one like this sometime after the 1960s. It cannot take the strain of constant use and will fail with time. I have had two plastic launchers fail. When they fail there are no replacement parts.

What I said in the caption of the second picture is true — there are no replacement parts for Sharpshooter rubber band pistols, but George wrote and told me he had several of the metal launchers — Would I be interested in one? His great uncle had given him several. I said yes, because the plastic launcher (I call them launchers and George calls them slides. I found out that the company called them carriers) in one of my newer guns had broken.

My Sharpshooters

I bought two Sharpshooter pistols in San Jose, California in 1968 or so. I was cutting class at San Jose State — a regular thing for me — and wandering through the downtown shops when I spotted them high on a shelf in a hardware store. They couldn’t have cost more than $3.00 each because I didn’t have a lot of money then. But just looking at the box I imagined they were at least 20 years old — though unbeknownst to me at the time they were still being produced from leftover parts until the 1980s.

I have a better-looking nickel-plated gun that’s in a box and is still in good shape, but I shot the cheaper-looking blued steel gun until its plastic launcher failed. Of course the one without the launcher doesn’t work anymore. That is, it didn’t work until George contacted me. It turns out the metal launcher/slide/carrier his uncle gave him fits into the gun the same as the plastic one did.

Sharpshooter carrier
The zinc carrier George sent me fits the cheaper Sharpshooter pistol fine!

Unmarked guns

Not every Sharpshooter made in La Jolla is marked with the name of the town. But there is a way to identify if it was made there. John Beckwith improved the design of the Sharpshooter by putting a forward protruding bump or hook on the rubber band anchors at the front of the gun to hold the bands more securely. If you see that hook it’s a La Jolla gun, regardless of the markings.

Sharpshooter La Jolla hook
My blued gun has the “La Jolla hook.” That’s the forward protrusion on the rubber band anchor. That screw is for adjusting the rail tension to get the best accuracy and velocity from the pistol.

I want to tell you all about the history of the Bulls Eye Pistol Company of Box 485 Rawlins, Wyoming, and the Bulls Eye Manufacturing Corporation of La Jolla, California, but today I will focus just on the launcher. In my opinion that single piece is what makes the whole concept work.

What the launcher does

The launcher, which in the guns that date back to 1924 is made of zinc, fits inside the gun on two steel rails. Like the plastic part that replaced it, zinc is a low friction material that wears in when in moving contact with steel parts.

launcher cross section
In this graphic drawn by Dean Fletcher, you can see how the shot climbs in its seat when the gun fires. That is a key to the accuracy. And yes, the sear does come down from the top rather than up from the bottom.

The action of the sear being pushed up to grab the launcher opens the internal magazine, allowing one number 6 birdshot to drop out of the linear magazine on top of the gun into the launcher. The muzzle must be elevated for this to work, but that’s the common way most shooters will hold the gun to cock it anyway. When the gun is fired the rubber bands fling the launcher forward. That pushes the birdshot up and into its seat. It is always launched from the same place in the launcher, which is the secret of its accuracy.

The launcher stops moving forward abruptly, sending the shot on its way. It works like a slingshot but is very consistent.

How accurate?

Besides playing with them in the 1960s I didn’t really do anything with Sharpshooter pistols until the late 1990s. I was attending the Roanoke airgun show and it got boring on a Saturday afternoon. My buddy Mac and I had a couple tables there. I had a complete Sharpshooter pistol kit out on my table for sale for $100. It was a kit that has everything — including the original sales receipt from 1942!

Sharpshooter sales receipt
The sales receipt from 1942!

So I took the pistol from its box and fitted a rubber band. Then I poured some number 6 birdshot into the magazine — everything was in the box with that gun! Mac had an empty styrofoam coffee cup sitting on a chair next to him and I shot it from about 10 feet away. The cup moved a little and the shot made a small sound when it hit. Mac was intrigued. Since the pistol made no firing sound he didn’t know where the shot had come from. I shot the cup several more times before he caught on. But I was amazed that the gun could be so accurate. So we put the cup out at 12 feet and both of us continued to hit it.

Sharpshooter accuracy

I decided to not sell that gun and today I’m glad I did. There was one on Ebay yesterday with a Buy Now price of $350 and, although it was beautiful, it wasn’t as complete as mine. It is gone today.

John O. Beckwith

I wasn’t aware until researching this report that John O. Beckwith, George’s great uncle, bought the rights to the Bulls Eye Pistol from its inventor, Dr. C. L Bunten. He moved the manufacture from Rawlins Wyoming to La Jolla, California in 1946 or ’47. He bought all the tooling to make the guns and moved it south on his own, with the help of his brother Bud. 

A full report

Dean Fletcher wrote a complete report on the Bulls Eye and Sharpshooter pistols for Airgun Review number 2. But in researching material for today’s report I discovered many things I didn’t know before. So this will be a very thorough report on this intriguing little gun.

Launchers/slides/carriers are available

George asked me to tell you that he still has some launchers/slides/carriers available. If anyone needs one, please contact me and I will put you in touch with him.

Summary

I find the genius of these guns fascinating! Not only are they repeaters, they even have adjustable sights! Of course that is in the material yet to come.

And by the way, I need a front sight for my pistol that has the new carrier. If anyone has a parts gun and want to sell it, please let me know.

I’m sorry that this report seems a little disjointed, but there is a lot of information to get across. I plan to do a full and thorough test of the guns, but I won’t string them all together. So this could take some time to finish.


Johnson Indoor Target Gun: Part 5

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Johnson Indoor Target Gun
The Johnson Indoor Target Gun is a catapult BB gun that was made in the late 1940s for youth target practice.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • The test
  • First shot
  • Second shot
  • Adjusted down again
  • Rubber band broke
  • Now for a group
  • Proof of the pudding
  • Summary

Well, all the work we did was to get to this point. Today I shoot the Johnson Indoor Target Gun for accuracy.

The test

I shot at a target about 10 feet away. I was seated and used the UTG Monopod as a rest.

Since these BBs are only moving 126-129 f.p.s., or so, I used an aluminum foil target like the one I made for the Sharpshooter catapult gun test. We know slow-moving balls will penetrate aluminum foil readily. The target was backed by a cardboard box that stopped every BB, and then sent them back at me. More work is required on the backstop to catch the BBs successfully.

I only used a single type of BB for this test. There could be a difference in accuracy, I suppose, but it seems to me that catapults are far more forgiving of what they shoot. So, I chose Air Venturi Steel BBs.

I shot only 5 shots instead of 10. When you see the target you’ll understand why. The aim point was at 6 o’clock on the dot drawn on the foil. Let’s get started.

First shot

The first shot went high, so I took a picture of the target to show you. Fortunately the Johnson has adjustable sights.

Johnson first shot
The first shot (long arrow) hit considerably above the aim point (short arrow).

Johnson sight
The rear sight adjusts for elevation. Unscrew the knurled disk and slide it up and down. The first shot was with the sight set on the top line (blue arrow). For shot two the sight was set as seen here. Shot three was with the sight set on the red arrow line.

Second shot

Shot two was to the right and not that much lower than shot one. I could see the rear sight needed to be lowered a lot! That’s why I showed all the sight settings in the picture above.

second shot
As you can see, shot two moved to the right but not down by much.

Adjusted down again

This time I really dropped the sight. And it paid off with a shot through the dot I was aiming at! The picture is really dark, so I lightened it.

bullseye
Nailed it on shot three.

Rubber band broke

On this shot the rubber band broke, so I had to make a new one. I don’t think it affected the accuracy of the shot, however, and the shots that follow will confirm that.

Because of all the work I had done in the previous tests I knew exactly how to replace the rubber band. It only took five minutes before I had the gun back up and running.

Now for a group

Since the last shot was on target, I decided to just shoot 4 more shots without changing anything. Even though the rubber band had to be replaced, it had no affect on the sights. The gun was still sighted-in.

Four more shots went downrange. Shot 3 was a called pull to the left. When I was done I had a tight little group to show. Five shots had gone into a group measuring just 0.358-inches between centers. Sure, it was only shot at a distance of 10 feet, but that’s the nature of this gun.

group
Five BBs went into a group measuring 0.358-inches at 10 feel. Shot number three was a called pull to the left.

Proof of the pudding

Shooting this gun isn’t exactly resting. It’s a lot like shooting a flintlock. I wasn’t going to shoot another group, but I thought if I shot one more BB at a fresh target that might satisfy everyone. I figured it would sail though the bullseye. Wrong!

This time I aimed carefully and did not pull the shot, but the BB missed the bull altogether. The scale of the dime shows how close it was, so I think this shot represents the true accuracy of the gun.

last shot
The last shot missed the aim point. A fly would not have been hit. Still, I think this represents the accuracy potential of the Johnson — at least this one!

Summary

I think this Johnson is accurate enough for what it is. It’s not a 10-meter target rifle — heck, it isn’t a rifle at all! In its day it was essentially a toy.

This series has taught me a lot more about the Johnson than I ever knew. Now that I have tested it I know how to fix the rubber band so the gun performs as it should.

All the research I did on the Theraband Gold, plus watching the Slingshot Channel, plus looking at those Chinese “slingshot rifles” that are modern versions of Hodges gun, I am now interested in building a powerful catapult gun from scratch. If I do, I will take pictures and write it up for you.


Johnson Indoor Target Gun: Part 4

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Johnson Indoor Target Gun
The Johnson Indoor Target Gun is a catapult BB gun that was made in the late 1940s for youth target practice.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Research
  • Cutting trouble
  • Sloppy cutting
  • It worked — sort of
  • What to do?
  • Experiment over?
  • Too much power
  • Summary

Today I will try a different kind of rubber in the Johnson Indoor Target Gun. Several readers who are more knowledgeable than me about slingshots recommended I try Theraband Gold. It is one of the types of elastic that’s favored by catapult users and makers around the world. I watched a You Tube video of the Slingshot Channel titled, The BIGGEST slingshot EVER. The builder uses Theraband Gold to launch a bowling ball into a Mercedes car repeatedly, destroying it.

Research

I bought 6 feet of Thereband gold rubber on Ebay, a rotary cutter to make clean cuts and a cutting mat for this project. I used the data from Part 3 of this report as my starting point, simply because there was nothing else to use. Maybe someone has done what I am about to do before, but I have never seen it in print.

materials for Johnson gun
The rotary cutter is to cut the Theraband material cleanly.

Cutting trouble

Right off I noticed that the cutter had a mind of its own. I should have used a seamstress’s plastic cutting guide, but I have already spent a lot of money and I wanted to get on with this test. I needed it quick and dirty and that’s how I got it.

Theraband ready for shooting
Here is the band I made to shoot. As you can see, I got sloppy in the cutting. I will explain why in the text.

Sloppy cutting

Once I figured out that I wasn’t going to cut the band straight, I gave up and cut it freehand. I wasn’t looking for a final solution. All I wanted was to see if this was even possible. So any band I made would not be used in a final test. I just wanted to see if this worked.

It worked — sort of

Well, it worked, and then again, it didn’t, I installed the band and shot the gun but it was extremely weak. Cocking was normal and the launcher caught the band when it went forward, but I didn’t bother to chronograph the shot because it was way below what we have seen. As a guess it was in the 50-60 f.p.s. range.

Johnson launcher
The band has to fit inside the groove in the launcher (arrow) or it won’t work.

What to do?

Well one band wasn’t going to do anything, so I wondered about multiple bands. They would be more powerful, but there would be a problem. The rubber band has to fit into the groove that’s in the launcher in order for the gun to work. Surgical rubber tubing is great because it fits into the groove very well when it’s stretched, but a flat band like the Theraband has to be stretched very thin to fit in. If it’s not all the way in, it can slip out on firing or even when the gun is just cocked and left alone.

 

Nevertheless, I wanted to know, so I cut three bands of equal length and made a loop at each end of all three.

Johnson gun three bands
I cut three bands of equal length from the Theraband material.

Johnson gun three bands looped
I then made a loop at each end of the three bands.

The bands are uneven, but all I want is to see whether this approach even works. The bands went into the top cover of the gun, but they slopped over the anchors and when I cocked the gun, they didn’t all fit into the cocking groove on the launcher. It was a disaster!

Then I took the three bands apart and used the two smaller bands together in the same way. This worked — sort of. I could cock the gun, but when I shot it, the bands popped out of the launcher groove and the shot was weak. It registered 86 f.p.s. Okay, that doesn’t work.

Experiment over?

I thought this was the end of it and I could install another surgical tube and be done with it, so I did. Since I knew the tube had to start out 7 inches long, there was no wasted time. The velocity was 127 f.p.s. which is very close to the best velocity I got in the Part 3 test.

I thought this experiment was over. But that evening I thought about it some more and I wondered whether twisting the flat Theraband might be a solution. It’s flat to begin with, and if I twist it many times would it roll into a cylinder that might work better?

I used the widest of the three bands I had cut before — the band I had removed when I tried two bands. As you can see, a wide band can be twisted thin.

Johnson gun band twisted
After anchoring one side of the band I rolled it to one side, twisting it into a cylinder.

It worked! This time the band loaded into the launcher’s groove and also allowed the gun to be cocked. The velocity was 129 f.p.s., which is as fast as I have shot so far. That is a good place to stop. I have no doubt that a higher velocity can be reached. I think 160 f.p.s. or even a little more might be possible, though I doubt 200 f.p.s. can be broken. I even cut a wider piece of Theraband Gold to test whether a special shape of rubber might help.

Johnson gun custom band
I cut this band and even started installing it.

Too much power

At this point it dawned on me that the Johnson wasn’t designed for great power. So what if I can boost the velocity by a few f.p.s.? If it breaks the gun in the process I will have lost everything. As far as I’m concerned, I have tested this as far as I plan to go. Surgical tubing is still the easiest material to use and starting with a 7-inch length gives just enough on each end to make the loops.

Summary

I will transition from velocity testing to accuracy next. The Johnson was touted as being able to hit flies at 16 feet. Let’s see about that!


Johnson Indoor Target Gun: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

  • Johnson Indoor Target Gun
    The Johnson Indoor Target Gun is a catapult BB gun that was made in the late 1940s for youth target practice.

Part 1

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Operation
  • Cocking
  • Trigger
  • Serendipity
  • Pat is not pending
  • Adjustable sights
  • Repeater
  • Summary

I was going to write about something else today, but the response to Friday’s report convinced me to stick with the Johnson. Several of you said that you enjoyed the detailed photos. Today I will tell you about how the gun is constructed and how it operates, plus some special features. Grab your coffee cup and let’s go!

Operation

The Johnson gun is a catapult gun, and in Part one I showed you the broken surgical tubing in my new gun. Now, take a look at a gun with tubing in working condition.

Johnson rubber working
This is how the rubber is supposed to look when it’s properly installed. The ends of this surgical tubing are held together with small cable ties. We are looking at the inside of the top cover of the gun.

Now allow me to show you how access is gained to that rubber. The top is pulled up out of the way for easy access. To release it the two spring steel “ears” in the front of the gun are spread apart and the top is raised.

Johnson top closed
This picture shows the top closed. The two spring steel “ears” on either side of the top are what hold it in place. The front sight is a post on a wheel that can be turned to move the post from side to side.

Johnson top open
Here, the top has been pulled up out of the way. Lotsa surface rust on this older gun, no? This is not the one I’m writing about.

Johnson top up
The top is flipped up. The rubber you saw before is in the top (blue arrow) and the launcher is at the rear of the bottom section (yellow arrow).

Cocking

To cock the gun and load the launcher, the launcher is pushed forward by the cocking device until the rubber band drops into the launcher’s slot. You can feel it. Then the cocking device ears are squeezed together, driving the steel hooks into the launcher’s slot and the whole thing is pulled back until the sear catches the launcher. That you can both hear and feel.

Johnson launcher
When the launcher is pushed forward, the rubber pops into the slot cut for it (yellow arrow).

Johnson sear
The launcher is caught and held by the sear until the trigger releases it.

Johnson cocked
In this image, the cocking mechanism has pulled the launcher back into battery, just like in the previous picture. The rubber is not connected to the launcher in this image. If the top was down, one BB would have dropped into the launcher through that hole you see here. All that remains is to pull the trigger.

Johnson broken hook
One hook has broken off this cocking device, on my older Johnson gun, making it impossible for this mechanism to cock the gun.

Trigger

The single-stage trigger isn’t adjustable, but it is light and easy to pull. The pull is quite long and there is no hint before the release.

Serendipity

When that hook broke it was a blessing in disguise, because it forced me to discover a different way to cock any Johnson gun that is much easier on the mechanism. That broken hook meant that the cocking device could no longer pull the launcher back to cock and load the gun. I thought about it a long while until it dawned on me that a ramrod will do the same thing. Use the cocking device to push the launcher forward and grab the rubber, then push the launcher back with the ramrod until the sear catches it. Not only is this a way to continue to use a Johnson that has broken, if you cock your gun this way all the time it won’t break to begin with. Right there is the one “secret” about operating this gun that’s worth what you paid for this whole blog.

Pat is not pending

Larry Hannusch once wrote that the greatest airgun designer of all time must have been named Pat Pending, because you see his name on so many airguns. Like the mythical German town of Ausfahrt that is the biggest city in the world (all over Germany every Autobahn exit leads there), Pat Pending was ubiquitous.

Johnson Pat Pending
Every Johnson gun I have seen says Pats. Pending on its side. I wonder if any patents were ever issued?

Adjustable sights

Both sights on the Johnson are adjustable. You have already seen that the front post is on a wheel that can be turned to move the post side to side.

The rear sight adjusts for elevation by sliding it up and down a vertical post. Loosen the peep to slide the sight on the post. There are no detents for this, but there are index marks on the left side of the post. You pretty much guess where it should be and tighten it there.

Johnson rear sight
Rear sight peephole slides up and down.

Repeater

The Johnson gun is a repeater, with the BBs in a channel in the top section. Slide the spring-loaded follower forward and lock it out of the way, then drop the BBs into a hole at the front of the top cover. When released, the follower pushes them back and when the launcher moves into the cocked position it opens a loading port, allowing a single BB to fall into the launcher. In this respect it is exactly the same as a Sharpshooter pistol. You don’t have to think about this when you cock the gun. As long as BBs are in the magazine, one will load.

Johnson magazine
BBs are pushed back to load by the magazine follower.

Summary

That’s a good look at the design of the gun and also how it operates. The next thing I want to do is repair the rubber, so we can conduct some velocity tests.