Slavia 618 breakbarrel air rifle: Part 2

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Slavia 618
Slavia 618.

Part 1

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • Before the test
  • RWS Basic
  • How does it shoot?
  • Crosman Premier Light
  • Discussion 1
  • Re-test with the “new” seal
  • Basic test 2
  • Premier Light test 2
  • Discussion 2
  • Cocking effort and trigger pull
  • Summary

Today I test the velocity of the Slavia 618. You will recall that I have two of these rifles and one seems to be performing well. That’s the one I’ll test. The other rifle I will rebuild, but we will look at that in a separate report some time in the future.

Before the test

This rifle has a leather breech seal which is indicative of a leather piston seal, as well. So I dropped about 5 drops of Crosman Pellgunoil down the barrel and stood the rifle on its butt for a few days to let the oil run down into the compression chamber and soak into the leather. It also soaks into the breech seal as it passes, softening it up so it can do the job it was designed to do. That should get the rifle into the best possible condition for a velocity test.

Slavia 618 old breech seal
The old leather breech seal was dead flat. I oiled it but shot the rifle with it in place.

RWS Basic

The first pellet I tested was the 7-grain RWS Basic wadcutter. They averaged 410 f.p.s. from this rifle. The spread went from a low of 395 to a high of 427, so a difference of 32 f.p.s. At the average velocity this pellet developed 2.61 foot-pounds at the muzzle. As ugly as it looks, it is a shooter!

How does it shoot?

The rifle shoots calmly without vibration. It’s rather pleasant to shoot, actually. It’s light and quick and the trigger feels decently crisp. It cocks with a light pull on the barrel and when the sear catches its crisp and positive.

Crosman Premier Light

Now it was time to test the rifle with a heavier pellet. I selected the 7.9-grain Crosman Premier Light for this. Premier Lights averaged 392 f.p.s. with a 70 f.p.s. spread from 361 to 411 f.p.s. That’s pretty crazy! At the average velocity this pellet generated 2.7 foot-pounds at the muzzle.

Discussion 1

This 618 is performing well for its age. But that flat breech seal had me wondering if there was more performance that was being robbed by loss of compressed air.  So I did an old spring-gunner’s trick. I removed the leather seal.

Slavia 618 breech seal out
The old leather seal has been removed from the 618’s breech.

Slavia 618 leather breech seal
The leather seal is pretty decrepit!

And here is the trick. Leather seals can look horrible and still be made to do a good job of sealing the breech. I put two paper shims under the seal, flipped it over so the face that was exposed was more uniform and reinstalled it. Now the seal is more uniform and stands taller.

Slavia 618 shimmed breech seal
The inverted and shimmed breech seal now stands taller and is more uniform.

Re-test with the “new” seal

I felt it would be good to test the 618 again with the new seal, now that it was taller and more uniform.  I will test with the same two pellets.

Basic test 2

This time RWS Basic pellets averaged 433 f.p.s. — a gain of 23 f.p.s. The spread this time went from 429 to 440 — a difference of 11 f.p.s. That compares to the spread of 32 f.p.s in the first test. At the average velocity this pellet now produces 2.91 foot-pounds. Refreshing the breech seal has increased velocity and cut the variation by two thirds. I’d call that a result!

Premier Light test 2

Premier lights averaged 405 f.p.s. this time. That’s a gain of 13 f.p.s. The spread went from 383 to 415 f.p.s. — a difference of 32 f.p.s. That compares favorably to the 70 f.p.s. difference in the first test, though I will say that the Premier pellet does not seem suited for this air rifle, no matter how well it shoots. Premiers now develop 2.88 foot-pounds at the muzzle.

Discussion 2

My point in doing all of this is that this Slavia 618 seems to be in fine shape for an accuracy test. No, it’s not recently rebuilt, but it out-performs other 618s that have been. That is what a little oil can do for a leather piston seal. I have seen leather seals that could have been as much as a century old revived by oiling. I have also seen them crumble into a pile of dust from dry rot, so their past does play a big part in whether or not they can be brought back.

Of course the seal trick is just that — a trick. The breech seal should be replaced before long.

The rear sight on this rifle is the one that was bent to the left. I will swap it for the rear sight on the other rifle that seems to be okay. And then I will conduct the accuracy test.

Cocking effort and trigger pull

This 618 requires 12 pounds to cock it. That’s light enough for small children. The single-stage trigger pull on this rifle measures 3 lbs. 5 oz. While that doesn’t sound that light, the break is clean and crisp and I find it delightful.

Summary

We have a good one here. It wants to shoot lightweight pure lead pellets and I bet it can shoot them well. We shall see!


Slavia 618 breakbarrel air rifle: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Slavia 618
Slavia 618.

History of airguns

This report covers:

  • History
  • Research
  • Model variations
  • What is the Slavia 618?
  • Comparisons
  • Stock
  • Summary

Some of you may have been hoping for Part 2 of the Beeman R10 rifle report today. Well, Part 2 will be the strip-down and installation of the Vortek tuning kit, and I need a couple days to do the work and take the pictures, as well as the writing. So today I’m starting my report on the Slavia 618 breakbarrel pellet rifle.

History

Guess what? Almost nobody knows the history of this air rifle. It has a lot of fans, but nobody seems to know much about it.

The Blue Book of Airguns says it was made in the 1970s — period. But they say the same thing about the Slavia 622. Well, I received one of those as a gift in about 1961 or ’62, so that’s obviously not right.

My rifle from the early 1960s was labeled PIC, for Precise Imports Company. They were one of the U.S. importers of Slavia airguns. Considering when I got mine I believe the 618 and 622 had to have been made in the 1950s. The 1970s as an ending date I don’t dispute.

No doubt there is someone who lives close to the Czech Republic that was formerly Czechoslovakia where the arsenal that made the air rifle is located. It was made at Ceska zbrojovka in Brno. I apologize for not having the correct diacritical glyphs on the cyrillic letters in the names.

Research

I researched a lot of expired auctions to gather any information I could find on this model. I see that around 2010 these air rifles were bringing $20-35. Today most hover at the $75-100 range, with shipping raising that even higher.

Model variations

I bought one 618 off Ebay that was supposed to be in good working order. It is, except the rear sight is bent to one side from what looks like a fall. I was going to leave it alone and just test the rifle, but then a second one popped up for less money. This one was advertised as complete but needing seals. That was also an accurate description, though it needs a little more than just seals. It feels like it is gunked up inside and at least needs a good cleaning. We’ll know more when I open it up.

I will say that the both the wood and metal finishes are poor on both my rifles. The shellac is apparently not long-lasting and the metal rusts easily. Many of the 618s look like this.

I can test the first rifle for velocity, at least. I’m expecting it to be in the low 300s with lightweight pellets. I found velocities from 312 f.p.s. for a tired one shooting Crosman Premier Light pellets to 390 for the same rifle after a rebuild.

What is the Slavia 618?

The Slavia 618 is a small youth-sized breakbarrel air rifle. Several weeks ago when I tested the Diana 23, a similar youth-sized air rifle, a couple readers mentioned how much they enjoy their 618s. That’s why I got these two rifles to test, study and rebuild. I have been hearing about the 618 from readers for many years and decided it was time I investigated for myself. Side-by-side the Diana 23 and the Slavia 618 are very similar. The Diana is a little longer overall, at 35-7/8-inches versus 35-1/4-inches for the 618.

As far as I can tell, the 618 only came in .177 caliber. It was the 622 that was a .22 (only). One reference mentioned that some 618s were rifled and others were not, but I can’t really prove that. Both of mine appear to be rifled.

One of my 618s weighs 3 lbs. 6 oz. Because of the wood stock and one other difference I will tell you about, there will be small weight differences, but all 618s are lightweight.

When I looked at both my rifles I discovered several difference between them. These are differences that would come over a longer production cycle, which is why I think the Blue Book dates of the 1970s fall short. I am assuming that over time the design of a product will be changed to make it less costly to produce. With that assumption in mind, I have labeled one of my rifles as older than the other. Let me explain why.

Comparisons

The rifle I’m calling older has a thicker barrel. It measures 0.502-inches or 12.75mm in diameter at the muzzle. The newer rifle measures 0.468-inches or 11.89mm at the same place. The front sight on the older rifle is a blade sitting in a dovetail. The front sight on the newer rifle is a plain round pin. Since dovetails are more difficult to cut, I think that first one has to be older.

Slavia 618 nuzzles
The muzzle on the right is on what I am calling the older rifle. It’s larger than the muzzle on the left.

Slavia 618 older sight
The front sight on the older rifle is a raised post that’s dovetailed into the barrel.

Slavia 618 newer sight
The front sight on the newer rifle is just a plain round post.

The rear sights on both rifles appear identical, but the sight on the older rifle is spot-welded in two places to the dovetail that slots into the barrel and on the newer rifle it’s welded to the dovetail in just one place. The sight with the single weld is also the one that’s bent, and, looking down from the top it appears the weld may have weakened when it allowed the bend. I plan to try to tap it back straight, but I won’t be surprised if that weld shears off in the process. That sight leaf is also bent upward, so some of the elevation adjustment has been lost.

Slavia 618 bent sight
The rear sight on the newer rifle has a single weld and has been bent to the left.

Slavia 618 straight sight
The older rifle rear sight is straight and has two welds.

Both of my rifles have a leather breech seal, which leads me to believe they both have leather piston seals, as well. In my research I discovered that the 618 also came with an o-ring breech seal and a synthetic piston seal. I bought a synthetic breech and piston seal while awaiting the arrival of both rifles, but now I don’t know that it can be used in either one. Fortunately leather seals should be easy to fabricate.

I also bought two new mainsprings that both rifles probably need. We will see when we open them up.

Neither of my two rifles have a serial number. Some 618s do and others don’t On the 618s that have them, the serial number is stamped into the flat left side of the base block that holds the barrel. I saw serial numbers as high as 150,000+ when I researched the rifle. The serial number may have been required for certain countries to import the rifle, or CZ may have started putting numbers on all its air rifles at some point. Either way it does suggest, along with the leather seals, that my two rifles are older examples.

I saw one other interesting thing in my research. Many of the 618s I saw had two screws at the pivot joint. One was the pivot bolt and the other was a locking screw on the main bolt’s periphery. Both of my rifles have just a single pivot bolt. The other side of the bolt screws into a threaded nut that has two spanner holes for anchoring it when disassembling the rifle.

Slavia 618 two base blocks
As you can see, there is no serial number on either base block. And the pivot bolts have no locking screw. The rear sight on the upper rifle is bent up.

Both my rifles have the model name, number and country of origin stamped into the top rear of the spring tube. These markings run perpendicular to the axis of the spring tube. There are other 618s that have the same markings running along the spring tube’s axis, and in several places I found references to that variation being older.

Slavia 618 writing
Both my rifles have writing that’s perpendicular to the axis of the spring tube.

Both spring tubes on my rifles are plain, but I did find a 618 on the internet that had a short set of grooves at the rear of the tube. They were less than two inches long. The person doing the review thought they were there for mounting a scope but I’m pretty sure they are there for a peep sight.

The compression chamber is made by swaging a solid steel block into the end of a hollow steel tube. The transfer port has been drilled through this block, so once it’s held in by the swages, a spring tube is born.

Stock

All the 618s I found, including the two I own, have a one-piece beechwood stock with finger grooves on both sides of the forearm. I did see one 618 with a custom-made walnut stock and of course our own reader, Vana, made a stock for his 618 out of firewood that he described in a 6-part report.

The buttstock has fine ridges over the central half of the wooden buttplate. The pull is 13-1/2-inches.

Summary

What we have with these two Slavia 618s is the potential for a lot of fun. You readers seem to have created another fan!


Diana 23: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Dioana 23
Diana 23.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • A stripper
  • The rifle
  • Two versions of the later rifle
  • Trigger
  • Breech seal and locking detent
  • Sights
  • Cocking
  • What is it good for?
  • Summary

This report should be titled, “By any other name” because the airgun I’m writing about doesn’t say Diana anywhere. It says Gecado, Mod. 23. I know it is a Diana because I have paid attention to Diana air rifles for the past four decades, or so. They can also be named Hy Score, Winchester, Peerless, Original, Milbro, RWS, Geco (of which Gecado is a derivative) and Beeman. And I bet there are more names I haven’t mentioned.

Dioana 23 markings
These are the principal markings on the rifle. There is no serial number, caliber or date of manufacture.

A stripper

Decades ago a new car that was basic and was priced as low as that model would go was called a stripper. Well, the Diana 23 is the stripper of Diana pellet rifles. In the photograph above the rifle appears to be the same size as a Diana 27, but when you see them together the difference becomes obvious.

Dioana 23 with 27
When compared to the Diana 27 (bottom) the Diana 23 looks tiny.

Diana 23 Germany
This is the only other marking on the rifle. There’s no date of manufacture.

The rifle

The Diana 23 I am reviewing is in .177 caliber and has a rifled barrel. They also came in .22 caliber and in both calibers smoothbore barrels do exist.

The rifle I’m testing is 36 inches long and has a 14.25-inch rifled barrel. The pull is 13 inches exactly. The rifle weighs 3 lbs. 11 oz. which puts it solidly in the youth air rifle class. Yet as diminutive as it is, I find that older men are attracted to it far more than kids. My late friend Mac had several of them and loved them dearly, including a .22 that absolutely fascinated him. He thought of them as the model trains of the airgun world — sort of like I feel about the Sharpshooter pistol that’s powered by rubber bands.

There are two different models of Diana 23s. One was produced from about 1927 to 1940 and the other one was made from 1951 to 1983. The gun I am looking at is the later model.

Two versions of the later rifle

The 1951 to 1983 model 23 also breaks down to two different versions. The first one has a thinner slab wood beech stock with finger grooves on the forearm. That is the one we are looking at. The later version has thicker wood, no finger grooves, pressed checkering a slightly raised cheekpiece and different front and rear sights that may be plastic. I have the earlier version, but unfortunately I do not know when the model switch was made.

I think the model I have is the most desirable because it is slim and lightweight. It makes no pretence of being anything more than a basic air rifle.

Trigger

The trigger is two-stage and not adjustable. It is a direct sear that holds the piston in place until the moment of release, yet the trigger pull is very satisfactory.

Breech seal and locking detent

The Diana 23 breech differs from the larger vintage Diana rifles that start with the model 25. Instead of the breech seal being around the rear of the barrel, it is a leather seal attached to the end of the spring tube around the air transfer port. The rear of the barrel is solid metal that presses against the seal when the barrel is closed.

Diana 23 breech seal
You are looking down into the air transfer port behind the barrel. The leather seal is around it rather than around the breech. The silver bump on the left is where the ball-bearing breech lock engages.

Diana 23 breech
The actual breech has no seal. Don’t be fooled by the discoloration. Diana used the same ball-bearing detent from their larger rifles to lock the breech closed during firing.

Sights

The front sight is a tapered post. The rear sight is a V-notch at the end of a leaf. A sliding elevator works on a stepped ramp to raise and lower the notch. As simple as it appears, you get crisp detents as the elevator slides up and down the ramp and there is even tiny pointers on both sides of the elevator to tell you where you are. So, as inexpensive as this model is, Diana still put a lot of thought into it.

Diana 23 rear sight
The rear sight is simple yet effective.

Cocking

The mainspring is weak, so cocking a Diana 23 is very easy. I am guessing it will register under 10 lbs. when I test it in Part 2.

I looked through the cocking slot of the stock and saw that the mainspring was very dry, so I took the barreled action out of the stock and oiled the mainspring with some bicycle chain oil. This rifle doesn’t buzz when fired which is good because as weak as it is, this would not be the mainspring to put anything thick on.

Diana 23 spring
The mainspring was dry, and in this view some of the coils appear to have collapsed.

With the action out of the stock I used the opportunity to go over all the metal parts with Ballistol and to look for a date of manufacture. No other marks were seen anywhere — including on the inside of the stock.

What is it good for?

You might ask what a weak little pellet rifle like this is good for. I would turn that around and ask you how well your 6-year-old granddaughter does with the Beeman R7 you bought for her? The Diana 23 belongs to a class of diminutive pellet rifles that have no modern equivalents. 

I like the R7 as well as anyone, but it isn’t made for wee teeny folk like this Diana 23 is. There is an entire class of small air rifle that isn’t being made anymore. Even rifles like the Ruger Explorer that come close are still larger, heavier and harder to cock.

Summary

This will be a quick look at an air rifle most of you will never own. There are others like this one that I will never get to, so enjoy this look while you can.


Diana 35: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Diana 35
Diana 35 pellet rifle.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Older 35
  • What was the 35?
  • Soup-up
  • The spring isn’t the thing
  • Back to the Diana 35
  • This Diana 35
  • Trigger
  • What to do?
  • Summary

Today begins a long report on the Diana 35 air rifle. If you just found this blog, here is how we came to this point. Several months ago I tuned a Winchester model 427 (really a Diana 27) breakbarrel air rifle for reader Michael. That 9-part report is pretty thorough and worth a read. At the end I told everyone that Michael’s rifle is now the smoothest spring-piston air rifle I have ever experienced and I thought it would be nice to acquire the larger Diana 35 and tune it for smoothness. That would give me an adult-sized breakbarrel that was as perfect as can be — or at least I think so.

One of our readers, Carel from the Netherlands, contacted me, telling me he had a nice Diana 35 he would sell me and after a short conversation I bought it. I also bought his Diana 26 that I had never heard of and a Diana 27S that I also never heard of. I have already reviewed the Diana 26 and the 27S is still to come. But this Diana 35 is the gun that I really wanted to examine and tune.

Older 35

Carel’s Diana turned out to be a lot older than the one that I once owned. It has a finger groove along both sides of the thinner rounded forearm instead of checkering on a thicker squared-off forearm. That’s the European influence, rather than the more westernized forearm that came later. If you own a Blue Book, this rifle is something like the rifle that’s shown in the book, with one major difference. The rear sight on this rifle is unlike any I have ever seen. I’m going to show you several pictures rather than try to describe it — except to say there are no plastic parts anywhere on this sight. It is 100 percent steel!

Diana 35 rear sight 1
The rear sight on this Diana 35 is one I have never seen before. The notch is protected by steel ears.

Diana 35 rear sight top
Looking down on the top of the rear sight you can see how different it is. The elevation wheel is polished and blued steel!

Diana 35 rear sight back
And this is what it looks like from the shooter’s perspective.

The front sight is a hooded post that’s fixed. The post is tapered, but it fits into the rear notch well, and, because the notch is so small, it should prove easy to sight well. We shall see!

What was the 35?

The Diana 35 was the older brother of the Diana 27. It was produced from 1953 through 1964, when it was revised into a modernized version that lasted through 1987. So, that’s 1953-1964 for the first run, of which there are several variations and 1965-1987 for the rifle that most Americans will know. It was supposed to be larger, heavier and more powerful than the model 27. It is both larger and heavier without a doubt, but the power, while greater, isn’t that much greater. It’s not enough to justify the difference in size and weight — at least in my opinion. And the additional cocking effort is a real put-off.

Diana 35 and 27
The Diana 35 (top) isn’t much longer than the Diana 27, but the thicker stock makes it feel larger.

Soup-up

Back in the 1970s when the 35 was being made the “velocity wars” were just getting started and airgunners around the world were starting to learn how to modify their guns for more speed. Everybody “knew” that adding a more powerful mainspring was the way to increase velocity and we all suffered through a learning curve that lasted several decades. Feinwerkbau taught us all that a long piston stroke was the best way to get higher velocity, but that didn’t stop each of us from learning the lesson the hard way.

I was one of the ones who learned and I did so with the Diana 35. But I was late to the party, because experienced airgunsmiths already knew about longer piston strokes and the Diana 34 was silently revolutionizing the world of breakbarrels. Meanwhile, I was building a rifle that cocked like the bow of Hercules, yet didn’t increase in velocity.

The spring isn’t the thing

I will cut to the chase and tell you that I once owned another air rifle that was based on the Beeman R1, yet was 25 percent larger and heavier, yet did not increase the velocity one iota! I wrote about it in a report titled, Steel Dreams. That rifle taught me a lot about airgun power and where it comes from. I now know that it isn’t just the mainspring or the diameter of the piston.

Back to the Diana 35

Now let’s get back to the Diana 35. The 35 never delivered the power we expected it to, but the Diana 34 that followed it (1984-present) was everything the 35 wasn’t. It had the power, though at first it was quite raw and uncivilized. Over the years Diana has refined the powerplant until today the 34 is quite refined.

But I already own a 34, and it’s a very nice one that I have tuned quite well. I don’t want another gun like that. What I want is a vintage 35 that’s as sweet to shoot as a Diana 27, though in a slightly bigger package.

This Diana 35

This rifle is 43.5-inches long overall, with a barrel that’s just under 19 inches. the pull measures 13.5 inches, which is identical to the pull of a Diana 27. The stock is thicker than a Diana 27 stock, though this particular rifle has a stock that’s thinner than the stock Diana switched to in the 1980s. The buttplate is black plastic with horizontal ridges to prevent slippage. It works — sort of — though a soft rubber butt plate would be better until it hardened over time.

This rifle weighs 6 lbs. 15 oz. That’s about a pound more than the 27. It’s still a lightweight air rifle by today’s standards, but not so light that it feels insubstantial.

The rifle is nearly 100 percent wood and steel. Excluding the buttplate, I don’t think there is another piece of synthetic on the outside of the gun.

Trigger

The trigger is the classic ball-bearing trigger. On a 35 the trigger has one additional spring guide that I will show you when the time comes, but other than that the parts are quite similar, if not all interchangeable (most are) — due to the difference in the spring tube diameters between the 27 and 35.

What to do?

So I now have the rifle. It came to me with a breech seal that’s in need of replacement. Carel told me all about it before I bought the rifle and, knowing that T.W. Chambers carries the parts I need, I ordered them.

Diana 35 breech seal
This leather breech seal is shot!

I have shown uncharacteristic restraint by not firing a single shot from the rifle until that breech seal is replaced. I now have the new synthetic breech seal I need, plus a new mainspring. It should put 7-grain .177 pellets out at around 650 f.p.s., if everything is in order. If not, I will strip it and replace the mainspring but only lubricate it sparingly. That way we can see what a new Diana 35 should shoot like before I get into tuning it the way I want. That assumes the piston seal is okay, which we won’t know until we look at it.

I won’t overwhelm you with back-to-back reports on this rifle like I did with Michael’s Diana 27 or the RWS Diana 45 I tuned a couple years ago. Not everyone is as enamored with these vintage breakbarrels as I am, so there will be other old airguns mixed in to keep everyone happy. But I wanted to get this rifle started, now that the parts are on hand.

Summary

We are about to embark on another journey to tune yet another vintage Diana spring-piston air rifle. Yippie!


Old Blue and White

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Daisy 110
Daisy’s model 110 Rocket Command BB gun.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • The deal
  • What is it?
  • Earlier model 26
  • Blue Book of Airguns
  • Trigger
  • Stock
  • Description
  • Sights
  • Comparison to the 27
  • Summary

Sputnik

When I was a kid in the 1950s, western movies where the big thing. We saw them in the theaters and we also saw westerns on TV. This trend continued into the 1960s, but another trend overlaid it and eventually eclipsed it. In October of 1957 the Soviet union launched the first man-made satellite into orbit. Most people know Sputnik. Technologically it was both crude and incredibly advanced. But what it did to society far eclipsed anything that it did for science!

Sputnik ushered in the space age. Until then only scientists and nerds knew anything about rockets and space travel. After then, space was all that anyone could talk about.

My first BB gun

I have written in the past about my first BB gun being a Wamo cap-firing gun. And it was. But my first real BB gun was a Daisy. I bought a used Daisy Number 25 pump gun from my sister’s boyfriend. That one lasted only a few days and then lost power. I didn’t have anyone to ask, so I thought I would try to fix the gun myself. And that is a story of its own!

Get a Red Ryder

After that I saved my paper route money and vowed to buy a new gun this time. And I did. I wanted a Red Ryder, but the only place I knew to buy BB guns was Eddie’s convenience store that was a couple blocks from my house. They always had a cardboard display rack full of BB guns — until I had the money to buy one! Then all they had was a blue and white gun that was called the Daisy model 110 Rocket Command gun. Little did I know what was going on behind the marketing scenes at Daisy!

Gender-appropriate BB guns

Daisy was trying to get girls interested in BB guns. Of course some already were but Daisy saw the ten times bigger market of all the girly-girls who surely would want a BB gun if only they didn’t all look so boyish.

Remember those westerns I mentioned? Boys had Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry to idolize. Girls had no choice at all. It was Annie Oakley or nothing. Forget that Annie was born and raised in Ohio. Put her in a western outfit worn by actress Gail Davis (AKA Betty Jean Grayson) and she’s a star!

Gail Davis
Gail Davis starred as Annie Oakley, a woman sharpshooter who was world-famous at the turn of the 20th century.

Daisy didn’t hesitate to make a special Annie Oakley BB gun. It was colorful and stood apart from run-of-the-mill BB guns. It didn’t meet with success, though, and today is a super-rare find, with the smoke-producing toy gun version of the same gun being far more common. But I have examined a real Annie Oakley BB gun, so I know they do exist.

That gun came out in 1959 on the coattails of Sputnik, so Daisy quickly made a few changes to the paint and produced the model 110 Rocket Command gun. That was the only serious BB gun that was available when I went to the store to buy my first new gun. At least I thought it was serious. Okay, I thought it looked fruity, but if Daisy said it was a Rocket Command gun, then that’s what it was — right?

Daisy 110 receiver
Yep! There was a rocket painted on each side of the receiver to let us know this was the Rocket Gun.

The gun also came with a thin blue cloth sling that clipped to the bottom of the butt and in front of the forearm. It’s wasn’t very sturdy and I think I have only seen one in recent times.

A girl’s gun!

Apparently not. My next-door neighbor, Duane, saw it and started laughing immediately. “You bought a girl’s gun!” he said, derisively.

I certainly didn’t intend to, but I had to admit that if you looked past the silver paint on the sides of the receiver, my new gun did indeed look like a girl’s BB gun! As a result, it never saw the light of day after that. And, except for a Slavia pellet rifle I was gifted a few years later and a Daisy model 200 CO2 pistol that was a serious leaker, that was my last airgun until the day I bought a Diana model 10 target pistol in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, during my 4-year tour in Germany.

The 110

The 110 wasn’t a different BB gun. It was just the paint and the color of the plastic stock and forearm that distinguished it. The blue paint is a color Daisy referred to as “toy blue.” They played around with it on different BB guns over the years. I learned that from an advanced Daisy collector at an airgun show, where I saw two BB guns that weren’t supposed to exist.

The following two BB guns are not mainstream models. They were apparently made just because someone wanted to.

Daisy blue 25
Here’s a Number 25 you’ll never see unless you see this one. It’s toy blue in a white plastic stock that’s starting to yellow with age.

Daisy blue Targeteer
This blue and white Daisy Targeteer was never a cataloged gun. It apparently was made on a whim. The plastic grips have started to turn yellow with age.

The 110 took a scope

Notice the two open holes on the right side of the 110’s receiver! As I recall, they came to you with rubber grommets in the holes, but they are for mounting a scope. There was even a set that included the scope.

The faults of the 110

Early Daisy BB guns that have plastic stocks and forearms suffer the same fate over time. The plastic warps with heat and cannot be straightened again. They also develop cracks from people just looking at them. And where they are joined at the seams the plastic often comes apart. Daisy eventually got the plastic formula right and made stocks that last a long time, but those early ones (1952-1960) had some problems.

The white plastic stock and forearm, on the 110 suffers an additional degradation. The plastic turns from white to yellow with time. I think two things are at work here. First, the sun will turn a stock yellow in a matter of weeks. It will also promote warpage. Second, I believe some household oils will get into the plastic and yellow it. Either way, a 110 with a straight stock that’s still white is a rarity today.

Value

You can find a discolored 110 shooter for $100 and sometimes even less. They often sell for a bargain at auctions where they are not recognized as collectibles. A pristine gun with all the blue paint intact and a white stock that’s straight is a different matter. It’s a question how much money you have and how much you want the gun.

Other recent collectibles

If you know what to look for there are a number of highly collectible BB guns that are relatively recent. As a teaser, I’ll tell you about the all-brass Daisy 179. The 179 is a catapult BB launcher that’s mostly made of plastic, except for a few special guns that were made from solid brass. Some say they are salesman’s samples; others call them favors for Daisy executives. Whatever they are, there are up to 25 179s that are made from solid brass and painted to look like plastic guns. They work as they should and reportedly fetch thousands of dollars when they change hands.

Summary

The Daisy model 110 Rocket Command BB gun was an experiment in marketing. I think my story isn’t too far outside the norm.


BSF S54 Match rifle: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

BSF S54
BSF S54 target rifle.

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • BSF
  • The S54
  • Trigger
  • Three variations of the S54
  • Two calibers
  • Hang tag
  • Underlever cocking
  • Loading tap
  • Summary

I’m starting a report on the BSF S54 target rifle today. I reviewed this rifle 4 years ago, but I want to look at it more thoroughly this time.

BSF

Bayerische Sportwaffen Fabrik (Bavarian Sporting Weapons Manufacturer) or BSF, as it was known, operated for several decades, both before and after World War II. They were based in Erlangen, Germany, a suburb of Nuremberg. The guns they made were approximately equivalent in quality to Dianas, though in some respects like power they were ahead for a few years. It was BSF that first broke the 800 f.p.s. barrier with their model S55/S60/S70 breakbarrel. I group those models because they were all the same except for their stocks — kind of like the S54 we are looking at today.

They remained at the forefront of the airgun horsepower races throughout the late 1970s and into the early ’80s until the Beeman R1 buried the field. Then, in the late 1980s, they quietly left the market. I have reported on their models 55, 70, and even on the S54 in the past, but that was before the historical airgun section began.

I have often marveled at the irony of me discovering precision adult airguns while living in Erlangen, Germany, from 1974 to the end of 1977. I bought a Diana model 10 target pistol (in Rothenberg ob der Tauber) and started my fascination with airguns while living in the same town where BSF was headquartered! However, in a most ironic turn of fate, I hadn’t a clue they were there until many years after I had returned to the United States. Oh, the humanity!

The S54

The S54 was the flagship rifle from BSF. It wasn’t their most powerful, but it was certainly their fanciest! It’s 45.5 inches long with a 19-inch barrel. The pull is 13.75-inches, which is very long for a target rifle. And, the big gun weighs 8 lbs. 12 oz. The stock is round and full in all its dimensions. You know you’re holding something when this one is in your hands!

Trigger

There are many interesting things I want to tell you about BSF airguns, and I guess I will begin with their triggers that are a novel approach to manufacturing cost controls in the 1950s. They used plates stamped from sheetmetal and riveted together in a block in place of machined parts. As long as the stampings were precise, the product was good. They weren’t the only airgun company doing this, though. It was a popular way of avoiding costly machining operations.

BSF S54 triggerThis trigger is from a BSF S70, but it is the same as the trigger on the S54. Four stamped plates riveted together take the place of one machined piece of steel.

Rekord trigger
The Rekord trigger has a machined piston release (arrows). It’s a more flexible trigger than the one found in BSF rifles, but it costs much more to build.

One problem with BSF triggers is they get lighter as they wear in. This apparently never stops because I have had triggers so light that the guns fired on their own without touching the trigger blade. That means the sear is slowly slipping while the gun is cocked. Dr. Beeman cautioned tuners to not use moly on triggers, and, in the case of BSF triggers, I must agree.

Three variations of the S54

Before I get to the next difference about the S54 you need to know that there are three variations of the same model. The basic rifle is called the Standard and is recognized by its plain wood stock that may be walnut and has a European finger groove running along both sides of the forearm. It has no checkering or cheekpiece and the comb is straight. The sights are sporting sights like you see on my rifle at the top of this report. I will talk about them more in a future report. The rest of the barreled action is identical to that of the other two variations.

BSF S54 Standard
The BSF S54 Standard was a plain-Jane sporter.

The second variation is called the Bayern, which means Bavaria in German. Its walnut stock is hand-checkered at the pistol grip and on both sides of the forearm. The comb is straight and there is a Bavarian-style raised cheekpiece on the left side of the butt. The sights are the same sporting sights as those seen above. This would be the deluxe version of the sporting model.

S54 Bayern
The BSF S54 Bayern was the deluxe variation of the sporting rifle.

The third variation is called the S54Match. That’s the gun I am testing for you. It has a walnut stock with a raised cheekpiece on the left side of the butt and a Monte Carlo comb. The pistol grip and forearm are both hand-checkered and on the forearm the area covered by checkering is larger than on the Bayern. That may have varied over the years, as I have seen Bayerns with the same amount of checkering as this rifle has, and that includes the one just pictured. The pistol grip of the Match rifle is rounded on the bottom. The butt plate is aluminum, where the other two have plastic plates.

The most outstanding feature of the Match model, however, is its diopter rear sight. I had a diopter on my other S54. It had a large rear disk that was about 2 inches in diameter. But there is another diopter that has an exceptionally large disk. It is perhaps 3 or more inches in diameter. That one attracts attention from all shooters. I once had a guy tell me he paid as much for that sight as he did for his entire rifle. My Match rifle is missing its diopter sight, so I’m on the hunt for one.

BSF S54 sight
The Match S54 came with this aperture sight.

The Blue Book of Airguns says that the Bayern model came with the rear aperture sight, but I haven’t seen any BSF literature to support that. It was probably an option and perhaps some retail company catalog showed it that way, but BSF literature puts the target sight on the Match model, only.

The Blue Book also lists a Deluxe model that has the identical features of the Match gun shown here. But I will show you proof that BSF just referred to this as the Match model. I don’t know where the Deluxe model comes in, as I have never seen any original BSF literature referring to it. It may have been something that happened near the end of the run in the mid-1980s.

Two calibers

Here’s another strange fact. The S54 Match was produced in both .177 (4.5mm) and .22 (5.5mm). Given the timeframe of production —1950 to the end of the company in the late 1980s — .22 caliber was common here in the U.S., but in Europe it was never as popular as .177, and was certainly never used for a target gun! Oh, there was a Webley Osprey target model in .22 caliber, but like the S54, it wasn’t a serious competition model. The first S54 I owned was an S54 Match in .22 caliber. The one shown here is a .177.

Hang tag

Here is my proof that BSF calls this model the Match and not a Deluxe. I have the original hang tag that’s serial-numbered to this gun! That’s rarer than the big diopter sight!

BSF S54 hang tag front
My rifle came with the original hang tag.

BSF S54 hang tag serial
The hang tag is serial-numbered to my rifle. Notice it is called an S54 Match.

Underlever cocking

You can see from the first picture that the S54 is an underlever rifle. Its underlever is formed from a thick piece of sheet steel that appears machined until you examine it closely. It’s actually folded into a long round rod. That does save weight over a solid steel rod — a lot, in fact. The handle of the lever is knurled around its circumference and is spring-loaded. To cock the rifle you pull back on the handle to release it from a fixed ball catch in front. The rifle then cocks like any other underlever.

BSF S54 underlever
When its cocked the underlever comes down this far.

Loading tap

There is no safety nor any anti beartrap device, so hang onto that underlever all the while its down. However, your fingers won’t be in any danger when you load because the S54 has a loading tap. It doesn’t open automatically when the rifle is cocked like many taps do. It must be opened manually to load a pellet. Once open simply drop a pellet into the tap nose-first then pull the lever back to rotate it closed. The rifle is then loaded.

BSF S54 loading tap
Drop a pellet nose-first into the loading tap, then rotate the tap closed to load the rifle.

Serious target rifles don’t use loading taps. When a gun with a tap fires, the pellet is blown into the rifling by the force of the air coming from the compression chamber through the tap. That’s not conducive to accuracy, so target rifles don’t usually use one. The Haenel models 311, 312 and 550 all have taps, but they are not considered to be serious 10-meter target rifles.

Summary

There is a lot more to tell but I will weave the rest into the future reports. This big BSF S54 is a real wonder in the airgun world. As reader RidgeRunner would tell you, the quality simply exudes from the gun. The last time I tested it I promised to shoot it with an optical sight, so when we get to that point it will receive the UTG Micro Reflex dot sight that Pyramyd Air now carries.

I make no promises but I’m thinking about a possible tuneup. This one has a little vibration and way too much velocity, so I may just look inside.


Tuning Michael’s Winchester 427: Part 1

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Diana 27
Michael’s Winchester 427 is a Diana model 27 by another name. The rifle pictured is my Hy Score 807/Diana 27

A history of airguns

This report covers:

  • Michael’s Diana 27
  • Out of the box
  • Flat breech seal
  • No baseline test
  • Onward Through The Fog
  • Remove the action from the stock
  • Action into the compressor
  • Remove the piston
  • Disassembly complete
  • List of jobs
  • Summary

Michael’s Diana 27

Some time back, reader Michael mentioned some problems he was having with his new/old Winchester 427, which is a Diana 27 by another name. I offered to tune it for him because it’s been some time since I have been inside a 27. There are many new readers who are not aware of this wonderful air rifle, and I thought it was time they learned about it.

Diana made the model 27 for a great many years after WW II, and they made them for a number of other companies, as well. The guns were made in both .177 and .22, but Winchester and Hy Score only ordered them in .22 caliber, so a 427 and an 807 are always .22.

Out of the box

When I unpacked the gun it looked pretty good, so I gave it a thorough once-over. The metal was lightly speckled with surface rust, but it wasn’t too bad. The rear sight was missing its rear mounting screw, which allowed it to move side to side and also up and down, and the spring that keeps tension on the rear sight leaf is not installed properly. There is a spring stuffed inside the sight, but it isn’t in the right place and it doesn’t look like the correct spring. Also the windage adjustment screw that should be fastened to the sight by a small circlip is wired in place, instead.

The barrel pivot bolt should have a locking screw to hold it in place. Also the rubber bumper that goes on the butt to keep the rifle from slipping on the floor is missing.

Diana 27 rear sight
The rear sight is missing the back anchor screw (arrow) and a spring that goes up front is not mounted correctly. The barrel pivot locking screw is also missing (arrow).

Flat breech seal

The last thing I’ll note is the breech seal. On this rifle it’s quite flat and lifeless. It seems to be a synthetic seal and I will probably replace it with a leather seal that is longer-lasting and seals better.

Diana 27 breech seal
The breech seal is very flat and lifeless.

No baseline test

I had hoped to baseline the velocity of the rifle today before I started the work, but it detonated on the first shot and I decided not to. It vibrated and sounded like a dry-fire, which I will guess is mostly due to a large loss of air at the breech. I don’t want to shoot it in this condition.

Going inside

If you want to learn to rebuild spring piston airguns, this one isn’t the place to start. The trigger is quite complex until you understand how it works. When you do understand that the rifle becomes simple to work on. You will need a mainspring compressor for this gun.

Remove the action from the stock

The first step is to remove the barreled action from the stock. That’s two stock screws on the forearm and the forward triggerguard screw. Once the action is out, the sheetmetal end cap slides off and the rifle is ready for the compressor.

Action into the compressor

Now the action goes into the compressor and comes apart. The trigger parts are first to leave the spring tube.

Diana 27 end cap off
With the end cap off you can see the second cross pin that holds the action together. You can also see some of the 48-year-old oil that has hardened into varnish and is holding things together.

Diana 27 compressor ready
The action is ready to go into the compressor. When it does, the compressor will press on the inner trigger cage (two arrows) until the tension on the two pins is released. They will practically fall out of the gun at that point.

Diana 27 coming apart
The two pins have been pushed out and the tension of the compressor is relaxing. The black tube with the small coiled spring on top is the inner trigger cage. It’s where the ball bearings live.

Diana 27 tension off
Here, with all the tension off the mainspring, you see both the inner and outer cages of the trigger. The outer cage (silver) presses the balls back into the inner cage. When the gun is cocked, they are pushed into the groove at the base of the piston rod to grab the piston at the rear of its travel.

With the trigger parts out the mainspring and spring guide come next.

Diana 27 spring out
The mainspring and guide will slide out. This one is bone dry! You can also see the outer trigger cage (silver) and the inner cage (black) with one of the balls still inside. The outer cage has ramps on the inside that push the balls through the inner cage and into the groove at the base of the piston. The small coiled spring moves the outer cage when the trigger blade releases it, allowing the balls to move out of the groove in the piston rod base.

Diana 27 trigger parts
These are the key parts to the Diana ball bearing trigger. There are other external parts like the trigger blade, but these are the parts that make the trigger work so well.

Remove the piston

 

 

The next step is to remove the piston, but it is held captive by the cocking linkage, so the barrel has to come out of the action fork. The pivot bolt is removed for this. Now, the Diana has two asymmetrical washers — one on either side of the base block that holds the barrel breech. Make sure you get the order of these correct for when it’s assembly time. The dished washer goes on the left side, and what looks like a flat washer until you remove it, goes on the right.

Diana 27 barrel apart
When the barrel comes out of the action fork the washers can be see on each side. The cocking link will also disengage from the piston, so it can be removed.

The piston will slide out the rear of the spring tube now. You will have to pull the trigger to get the piston past it.

This piston was horribly rusty! It’s the worst I have seen. The inside of the spring tube is also rusty. That will have to be dealt with!

Diana 27 piston out
The piston is the rustiest one I have ever seen!

Disassembly complete

This is as far as we need to go, but I need to do something about that rust! I put the piston into a container and poured in Kroil (penetrating oil) to soak into the piston seal screw for a week or so. I need to say something to you now. Some people use WD-40 as a penetrating oil. It works okay on car parts but isn’t so good on the smaller parts that are found in an airgun. It dries and leaves a yellow varnish on everything it touches. So, don’t use it for jobs like these.

Diana 27 piston marinating
The piston seal is marinating in Kroil for a while. This box has a top to keep the oil from evaporating.

I also put Ballistol liberally on both the barrel and spring tube, where they will marinate for a week or more. And I hosed down the inside of the spring tube with it, as well. In a week or so I hope to tackle all that rust with steel wool, and the Ballistol should have loosened it.

List of jobs

There are a lot of little jobs in this overhaul. Michael sent a new mainspring and piston seal with the gun.

Remove the rust
The parts like the piston and compression chamber need to be cleaned, inside and out.

Remove the old piston seal
The seal is held on with a screw that hasn’t been moved in 48 years. With the rust that’s on the other parts we know this screw is rusted tight.

Install new mainspring and piston seal

Make and install new leather breech seal

Replace pivot bolt locking screw

Repair rear sight
Get a new screw for the rear base of the sight and install the spring so the sight leaf doesn’t flop. Replace the small circlip on the windage screw if I can find the right one.

Lubricate rifle
The new piston seal needs to be soaked in oil for several days before installation. I will use Tune in a Tube (TIAT) grease on the mainspring as well as the spring guide and piston rod — sparingly because this isn’t a powerful gun. I will also used it in the trigger assembly to hold the balls in place while I assemble the rifle. The cocking link will get moly where it connects to the piston and also on the pivot bolt and both side of both washers.

Summary

This overhaul will be more involved than I have done in the past on a 27 because there are a number of things to address. Cleaning the parts will be a major task, but once that is done this will be a Diana 27 once again.