by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
The four smallbore calibers are .177, .20 (5mm), .22 and .25. But have there ever been others?
Yes, there have been other smallbore calibers. Crosman produced their galley air rifles in the 1940s in .21 caliber. I don’t know if anyone knows exactly why they chose that caliber; but given the immediate post-World War II timeframe, I would bet they did it to corner the market. In other words, you had to buy your pellets (in this case round balls) from them because nothing else would fit these guns.
They also made the same guns in .22 caliber, and those are the more popular examples today. And a great number of .21-caliber rifles have been converted to .22 caliber in the half century that’s passed.
Quackenbush (Henry Marcus, not Dennis) also made a .20-1/2-caliber pellet gun for which he supplied pellets. Same reason, I’m sure.
Of course, there was the .118-caliber BB gun made by Daisy, Wamo and the several Sharpshooter catapult gun makers (about 5 in all). We refer to those guns as .12 caliber, but they’re really a whisker less. They mostly shot No. 6 birdshot, but Daisy actually produced copper-plated steel BBs, as well.
A few years ago, there was an abortive attempt at making a .14-caliber pellet rifle. It happened at the same time that the .14-caliber rimfire round was being explored, and I feel confident that the pellet gun maker was hoping to ride the coattails of the rimfire development for the barrels. I didn’t hear a lot about this one; but the claims were higher velocity, flatter trajectory and (hopefully) lower cost for the pellets once the millions of dollars of development cost had been paid to create the small pellets to begin with. People never seem to take that into account when dreaming up these schemes!
What the world needs is an accurate BB gun
That was the ongoing theme of my misspent youth. And the logic is completely sound. You see, a BB is very inexpensive, so little boys can buy lots more of them than pellets that cost a small fortune. Rimfire ammo we allowed out parents, uncles and grandfathers to purchase because that took paper money rather than coins.
But BB guns weren’t very accurate — at least the ones we owned weren’t. But somewhere in the world there were accurate BB guns. In Germany, there was a special Diana model 30 gallery gun that shot steel balls so uniform they might be considered ball bearings. Those guns were accurate! They also had counters on them that tallied the number of shots fired, because they were used by shooting gallery operators who charged the public by the shot.
A Diana model 30 was priced at $1,000 in the U.S. in the 1970s. It didn’t cost that much in Germany, but that was what one costs over here. And the ammo? Well, forget it because the gun violated the entire reason for an accurate BB gun. It wasn’t cheap!
Then there was the VZ 35 bolt-action rifle that was a pre-war training rifle. They were hard to come by in the U.S. and didn’t shoot BBs…they shot 4.4mm lead balls. However, in the 1990s, Compasseco imported a bundle of VZ47 airguns that were a post-WWII production of the same gun. They were just as accurate as the earlier rifles, if not as well-finished. But they cost $250, and who in their right mind would pay $250 for a BB gun?
Then there was the Mars 110 and 115 trainer, the Anschütz 275 and the Haenel 310 — all of which were accurate lead ball shooters. The Haenel sold used in the U.S. at $59 at one time.
Finally, there’s the Daisy Avanti Champion 499 BB gun, also known as The world’s most accurate BB gun. Surely, that would qualify as what we want?
Well, yes, except that one only shoots 250 f.p.s. and it’s a single-shot. What we want is something very powerful, and it has to be a repeater. Besides, the 499 sells for $126, so it’s not cheap.
Let me get this straight. You want a Fender Starocaster guitar for $250 — right?
Well, only if it’s not made in China.
What you want is a time machine because the things you want only exist in the past!
Why are air pistols so weak?
What I want is a powerful air pistol so I can go hunting in the woods and not have to lug a heavy rifle around all day. Why doesn’t someone make a powerful air pistol?
AirForce Airguns makes the TalonP air pistol. It generates over 50 foot-pounds of muzzle energy and can keep 10 shots in six-tenths of an inch at 50 yards. How about that?
First of all, the TalonP is too big. You can’t put it in your pocket like you can a real pistol. Second — it costs $411. Come on! What we want is a gun like the 1377, only one that has some serious power, is a repeater and costs under $150.
I’m going to defer to you readers to tell this person why what he wants is impossible.
Have you ever tried using a primer to power a pellet?
This great idea pops up about every 5-10 years. I even tested one called the Convert-a-Pell, which failed miserably. The velocity ranged from 250 to over 600 f.p.s., and the accuracy through the .22 rimfire liner they supplied was on the order of 2.5 inches at 10 feet!
But there have been many others. Mendoza made guns that used a small blank cartridge to propel pellets and/or BBs. I tested one and found it also failed miserably to do anything other than make lots of noise.
David Pedersoli has a pellet gun that uses a 209 shotgun primer to push the pellet, but I know nothing more about it. Pedersoli has a good reputation for making fine firearms, but I don’t hold out a lot of hope for this one.
There is also a company caller PrimeGun making a BB gun that uses a 209 primer. They claim “hypersonic velocity,” which is what I always want from my round-ball shooters [sarcasm alert]. They talk a lot about the advantages their guns have over conventional airguns, but they never once mention the extreme difficulty of obtaining shotgun primers in the current market when reloading supplies are limited.
So, the answer is, “Yes,” I have tested primer-powered pellet and BB guns and found them to be poor substitutes for real airguns.
The bottom line is that the laws of the physical world have to be obeyed, no matter how much people may want them repealed. And the laws of economic possibility must also be observed. If they weren’t, we could all drive Ferraris and live in mansions.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Nelson Lewis combination gun is both a rifle and a shotgun.
It’s been a while since I last wrote about this gun. Blog reader Kevin asked if I was going to write anything more and I answered yes, but what I did not tell him or any of you was that in October of last year I blew up the gun.
Blew it up?
That’s not entirely accurate. What happened is the nipple that accepts the percussion cap was blown out of the barrel and right past my face. When it went, it sheared off the hammer lug that connects the exposed hammer to the sear. I never found the nipple, but the hammer was lying on the shooting bench next to the gun. When my shooting buddy, Otho, asked me if I was okay (he was standing behind me, having a premonition that something bad was about to occur), I answered, “NO” for the first time in my life. Usually, guys will say everything is okay right after they’ve sliced off their thumbs with a circular saw, but this event was so startling that I wasn’t really sure what my condition was. “No” just popped out.
Okay, get ready to criticize and tell me what I did wrong because I haven’t got a clue. Do you remember me telling you that airgunner Mike Reams can make swages to make conical bullets of almost any caliber? I learned that at the 2012 Roanoke airgun show. And do you remember that I wanted him to make a set for the Nelson Lewis gun? Well, what I did this day on the range was called a “proof of concept” test. I loaded a conical bullet in the rifle — partly to confirm the diameter requirements for Mike and partly just to see if the gain twist rifling really would stabilize a conical. But the only conical bullet I had was a 250-grain lead bullet for my 38-55 Ballard, which coincidently has almost the identical size bore as the Nelson Lewis rifle.
I’d been shooting a patched .375-caliber swaged round ball in the rifle up to this point. That ball weighed 80 grains. So, 250 grains would be heavier — about 3 times heavier. What I did was load a proof load into my 160-year-old gun and shoot it. Nothing wrong there, right?
When the gun fired, it recoiled more than usual (no kidding!), but that wasn’t what I noticed. I noticed a jet of fire about a foot long coming out of the nipple hole that had been so recently vacated. Then there was the verbal exchange between me and Otho, and then he cautiously walked around to my front and looked at my head — mostly to see if it was all there.
I’d been wearing shooting glasses, which I always do whenever I shoot a black powder arm (and after this event, when I shoot anything else, too), so my eyes were fine; but above my right eye was a large patch of black powder that embedded itself in my skin. I looked like the “murdering coward Tom Chaney” from the movie True Grit, who coincidentally had a black powder Henry rifle blow up on him. The powder had to be picked out of the skin with tweezers over the next few weeks and there is still some of it in there today, more than 4 months later. But I was okay.
My Nelson Lewis gun, on the other hand, was broken. And, as far as I know, Nelson Lewis doesn’t work on his guns anymore, having been deceased for the past 135 years or so. What was I going to do?
Otho to the rescue
Now you need to know something about my buddy, Otho. He’s a retired Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanic who has worked on turbine engines and airframes since Vietnam. One of his skills (he has skills — and people like me need to know other people with skills) is welding. And I don’t mean trailer-hitch welding, either. I mean the ability to — well, let me tell you what he once did. His father stored a Gen-1 Colt Single Action Army revolver improperly, and it rusted badly. Rusted as in deep pits all over one side of the gun. So, over the course of a year, Otho spot-welded each and every pit, then worked it down with a file until it was flush with the rest of the metal. When it was perfect, and by perfect I mean perfect, he had the gun re-case-hardened so that today it looks new. All the factory lettering was preserved so you cannot tell that any work was ever done. Or at least I cannot tell, and I know Gen-1 Colt SAAs.
Both these Colt revolvers were stored together and rusted equally. Otho welded every rust pit and refinished the Single Action Army on top. This is a master at work!
So, Otho looked at the sheared hammer lug on the Nelson Lewis gun and says he thinks he can fix it. He thinks he can weld the hammer lug back up and file it to fit the hammer. This news sounds wonderful, coming as it does on the heels of the gun’s destruction. Let me show you what is involved.
The nipple is gone. All the threads are, too.
The hammer was sheared off at the lock plate. The other end of that square lug is the rifle’s sear.
The hammer was sheared off the lock as neatly as if it had been properly removed.
The flip side of the hammer shows the lug that was sheared.
See the part with the leg sticking out? That’s the sear. It also has the lug that the hammer used to be connected to — or at least it is supposed to.
I disassembled the lock and looked at the sear carefully. Surely, it was made in two pieces because how did Lewis put a square lug on a complex sear otherwise? You know what? He cast the part in one piece. Out of steel. In 1850! They wouldn’t have automobiles for half a century and here was this gunsmith in upstate New York making complex parts from cast steel! I thought Bill Ruger invented the casting of gun parts. (Just kidding. Please don’t hit me with comments. I am aware that the lost wax casting process is very ancient.) But seriously, did you know that gunsmiths in 1850 were casting parts from steel? That’s not the paradigm I’ve been given to believe.
And one thing was certain because of how the part was initially produced. It would either have to be welded or made entirely new. Otho’s plan now sounded very good.
In November, I gave him the lock pieces and he began to study them. His task wasn’t just to weld the lug, but also to maintain the correct orientation so the hammer would fire a percussion cap again. And that brought up the other thing — there was no nipple for the cap. It was blown off the gun and never found. And the threads in the hole where it was were completely stripped. Otho had an idea about that. Use a Heli-Coil. When I balked, he told me that a Heli-Coil is approved by the FAA for threading stripped holes. And the FAA is about as anal as they can be when it comes to parts’ integrity and safety. So, I guessed it was okay.
He began welding small amounts at a time. Welding and welding, and then filing when he got close to the right dimensions. Then it was weld and file, weld and file. This went on until January. I think he finished the job while I was at the SHOT Show. Then he told me about his worry. He had been worried that the sear metal might vaporize as he welded, but that hadn’t happened. So the steel was good. Now he was concerned that all the heat from welding had taken all the hardness out of the part.
He took the part to a knife-maker friend of ours to have it Rockwell tested. But the part was too odd-shaped and small to fit in this guy’s tester. So, he drew a file across it and made a guess what kind of steel it was based on the date of manufacture and how it took the file. Then, he hardened it in his kiln until it was hard as glass. Next, Otho did a complex series of tempering heats that drew the hardness down to approximately Rockwell 38, which the knife-maker guessed was the hardness of the original part. Do you think this is too much guesswork? How do you think Nelson Lewis did it in 1850? He heated it on his forge until it glowed brightly enough, then quenched it in whatever oil he had (possibly sperm whale?), then he drew the temper the same way.
The hammer lug (the square projection standing up in this picture) has been restored to the sear. No, the lug isn’t perfectly square. It’s shaped exactly like the hole in the hammer. The hole for the hammer screw was even drilled off-center and threaded exactly like the original.
The proof of the pudding
Otho installed the Heli-Coil and a new nipple I gave him, then the both of us reassembled the rifle. He was very concerned about the hammer, so I test-fired just a percussion cap in my garage and everything was fine.
I went to the range to test the rifle with a full charge of powder and a correct bullet. First, I shot off another cap, to clear the path in the nipple. Then, I loaded about 20 grains of powder and tamped just a wad on top. That was fired okay, so now it was time to load the rifle for real.
I loaded the rifle the same way I’d loaded it before — with a patched round ball ahead of about 20 grains of 3F black powder. I tied a 10-foot cord to the trigger and carefully cocked the hammer. I pulled the trigger with the rifle sitting in the rest and it fired without incident.
This shot was posed. I was 3 feet farther back when I fired the gun for real.
Once I knew the gun was safe, I shot it like I had before the accident.
Once the gun passed the test and I knew it was safe to shoot again, I settled down and shot a quick 5-shot group at 50 yards. It shot to the same point as before the accident and grouped about the same.
Five shots at 50 yards made this group. It’s in the same place and the same size as before.
How does the gun look now?
I’m sure you’re curious how the gun looks after this trauma. The fact is, apart from a small dent in the top of the pistol grip where the hammer spur hit the wood, you can’t tell anything ever happened. I thank the Lord for my safety, and I thank Otho for being so skilled. I’m so fortunate to have my gun back and whole again.
There is no moral to this story. And I hope you readers are all smart enough to not need to learn anything from my misfortune.
I will continue to shoot the rifle, but not a lot. I think, given the circumstances, this rifle has done enough for me. It deserves a rest and, except for an occasional day or two, that’s what I intend to give it.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
This Diana 25 smoothbore was made during World War II.
Oh, the things we think we know — how they vanish when we test! Today, we’re going to look at the Diana model 25 smoothbore that Vince sent me. You may remember in the last report that I was pondering when this airgun might have been made. Well, Kevin told me to look on the bottom of the butt, as the date stamp used to be there. Indeed it was! This airgun was produced in June of 1940, during the first part of World War II.
The manufacture date of the gun is stamped in small numbers on the bottom of the wooden butt.
The curiosity of a smoothbore is the extent to which the rifled barrel affects performance of the gun. I should have two identical airguns to test — one rifled and the other a smoothbore, but even then there would be subtle differences in their individual performance. I think it’s safe enough just to say what I expect from such a gun and then see what I get.
I would think a Diana 25 in good condition would give a muzzle velocity of around 625-650 with lightweight lead pellets. Remember — this is a .177. The last model 25 I tested was a Winchester 425 that was a rifled .22-caliber gun. That one gave an average velocity of 440 f.p.s. with 11.7-grain Hobbys, which I thought was a little slow. I expected about 525-550 from it with that pellet.
Preparation: Oiling the leather piston seal
To prepare for this test, I oiled the leather piston seal with about 10 drops of 3-IN-ONE oil. I just stood the gun on its butt and dropped the oil down the muzzle. By leaving it standing that way for a couple weeks while I was at the SHOT Show, the oil ran down into the compression chamber and soaked into the leather piston seal. I also oiled the leather breech seal at the same time so it would be pliable for this test. And I note that the gun now smells of burnt oil when it shoots, so everything was successful. We can be sure that the gun is performing up to the limit of its capability.
You may remember that Vince tuned this gun before he sent it. The mainspring inside was one he cut down from another rifle, so it isn’t exactly what the Diana had in it from the factory. But he took the spring from the harmonica gun that we suspect used to be a Diana model 27, so the dimensions of the spring are probably pretty close to original. We can guess and conjecture all day long, but a better way is to just shoot the gun and see what it does.
For the first pellet, I chose the 7-grain RWS Hobby. It’s a lead pellet that’s both lightweight and also a bit large, so it fits a lot of airguns very well. Since the gun was so well oiled, I actually shot three strings of 10, rather than my usual single string. The reason for this will soon be obvious.
The first string ranged from a low of 593 to a high of 627 f.p.s. The gun started in the 620s and progressively dropped in velocity as more shots were fired. That tells me it’s burning off some lubricant; and from the smell, I knew that it was.
The average for the first string was 609 f.p.s., but I believe that is too high. I think the dieseling caused by the excess oil boosted the velocity a lot. Immediately after the first string, I shot a second one.
I expected the second string to be slower and less variable, and I was right on both accounts. The average velocity for string 2 was 598 f.p.s., and the velocity ranged from 593 to 613 f.p.s. At the average velocity, the Hobbys produced 5.56 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. I don’t think the gun has settled down completely at this point, and I expect to see the average drop a few more feet per second as the gun continues to shoot. But there was still one more thing I needed to test.
I’d been seating the pellets flush with just my finger to this point. What would happen if I seated them deep with the Air Venturi Pellet Pen and PelSet? This time the average dropped to 594 f.p.s. and the range went from 584 to 621 f.p.s. What I make of that is that the pellet pen and deep-seating has little to no effect on the velocity of this rifle with a Hobby pellet. I think breech seating will be good, but I’m not going to leave it at that. I’ll also try shooting a group with the most accurate pellet seated deep, to compare to flush-seating.
Hobbys fit the breech tight and just a little of the skirt stuck out of the barrel. I expected them to increase in velocity with deep seating, but I guess this gun needs the extra resistance to generate all the power. It’s right on the cusp because deep-seating produces almost the same velocity, but the variability is greater; so I don’t think deep-seating is worth the extra effort.
The second pellet I tried was the heavyweight Beeman Kodiak. At 10.65 grains, the Kodiak is way too heavy for this gun. But that’s why I wanted to try it. I expect I’ll also try it for accuracy because who knows what it’ll do in this smoothbore?
After a couple shots that obviously dieseled, the Kodiak settled down to shoot in the mid 400s. The average was 461 f.p.s., and the range went from 443 to 470 f.p.s. At the average velocity, the Kodiak produces 5.03 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
Just for fun, I also tried deep-seating Kodiaks that fit the breech very loose. This time the result was more positive. The average velocity dropped to 448 f.p.s., but the range tightened to between 439 and 455 f.p.s. That’s just 16 f.p.s., compared to the 27 f.p.s. spread for flush-seated pellets. I guess I’ll also try deep-seating Kodiaks in the accuracy test.
JSB Exact RS
The 7.3-grain JSB Exact RS dome was the last pellet I tested in the gun. These fit the breech even looser than the Kodiaks, but they gave an average 517 f.p.s. velocity with the tightest spread of the test. The low was 512 and the high was 525 f.p.s., so only 13 f.p.s. between the top and bottom. At the average velocity, this pellet produces 4.33 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle.
Naturally, I tried deep-seating the RS pellet, as well. And to my surprise, the consistency grew even tighter as the average velocity decreased. The average was 504 f.p.s., but the spread went from 500 to 511 f.p.s., for an 11 f.p.s. difference. I guess I’ll deep-seat all the pellets during the accuracy test, as well.
The Diana 25 cocks like many vintage breakbarrel springers. It begins easy, then stacks toward the end. The max effort required is 19 lbs., which makes this a youth airgun in my book.
The trigger is two-stage, and stage two is reasonably crisp. The first-stage pull is 1 lb., 8 oz., and stage two breaks at 5 lbs., 11 oz. It isn’t a target trigger in any respect, but it’s crisp enough that I know I can do good work with it.
Impressions so far
I’m finding that this smoothbore is, in fact, very similar to the rifled version of the Diana 25. The size, fit, trigger and feel of the gun give no indication that the bore is smooth. But this gun was made in 1940; and as such, has several differences from the Dianas of the 1970s that I’m used to. For starters, the sights are simpler, and there’s no rear base for a peep sight. Then, there’s the simpler trigger that cannot be adjusted.
I have to admit I’m very curious about how this gun is going to perform on target. I know it can’t be as accurate as a rifle, but I find myself hoping that it’s close. We shall see.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Announcement: Pyramyd Air has changed their Big Shot of the Week to the Big Shot of the Month, and the reward has been upped from $50 to $100. Guy Roush is this month’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Month on their airgun facebook page. He’ll receive a $100 Pyramyd Air gift card. Congratulations!
Guy Roush is the Big Shot of the Month on Pyramyd Air’s facebook page.
This Diana model 25 smoothbore is an old airgun!
This report comes to you courtesy of Vince, who sent me this Diana 25 to test for you. While I just recently tested a .22-caliber Diana 25, this one is quite different. It’s a .177-caliber smoothbore gun, and I think it’ll be the very first smoothbore pellet gun that I’ve tested since this blog began in 2005. There have been plenty of combination guns that shot both BBs and pellets, but to my recollection, they all had rifled barrels.
How pellets are stabilized
Diabolo pellets are so-named for their wasp waist and flared tail, which is hollow. They’re named after a juggling apparatus called a diabolo that a juggler works with a string. The wasp waist and hollow tail create lots of aerodynamic drag that both slows the pellet down and also keeps its weighted nose pointed forward. Because of how much the shape of the pellet affects its stability in flight, the question often arises whether the rifling in the barrel that spins the pellet is necessary.
I often see comments asking how much I think the presence of rifling affects the accuracy of such and such a gun, and I never know what to say. My best guess is that at close range, say 10 meters, a smoothbore is okay; but as the distance to the target increases, the smoothbore quickly falls behind the gun with the rifled barrel. Now, I have the means to actually test that, and we can all see for real!
The origins of this airgun
Vince acquired this gun recently, and I don’t think it was represented to him as a smoothbore. I think he even asked me if it was a smoothbore, and I told him to look for the word glatt somewhere on the barrel, as that would be the term they would use. Well, guess what? There are no words on the barrel of this gun, so what do I know? I think the early manufacture of this gun is the reason why things like being unrifled were left off.
In fact, other than the Diana logo and model number on the spring tube, there are no marks of any kind on this gun. There’s no serial number, of course, but that’s common for guns this old. But this gun goes even farther than most. Not even the caliber is marked, so I guess buyers either had to get that from the hang tag, or perhaps this gun was originally sold in Germany at a time when .22-caliber pellets were not common. I went over the entire barreled action with a tactical flashlight and a magnifying hood looking for other marks. It doesn’t even say Made in Germany, which leads me to think it wasn’t made for export.
This model is also a much earlier gun than the 1970s-era Winchester 425 (Diana 25) that I tested for you recently. Looking in the Blue Book of Airguns, 10th edition, I would say this is either a model 25 Improved that was produced 1933-1940 and 1950-1985, or it’s an even earlier model 25A. If I had to guess, I would put it in the earlier group for the lack of country of origin and caliber markings, plus the strange configuration of the breech (which I’ll show in a moment). It’s definitely a leather-seal gun with a direct-sear trigger. This will be the first direct-sear model 25 or 27 Diana I’ve ever tested, so I’m curious how well the trigger works. Naturally, it isn’t adjustable.
The trigger on this rifle is old-school, with direct-sear contact.
What model is it?
I know it’s a Diana model 25, but that can be any of three different airguns. And here is a puzzlement. The overall length of the gun is 38.375 inches. That’s close to the 38.5-inch Blue Book-listed length of the earlier model 25A that was made from 1925-1934. The model 25 Improved is supposed to have a length of 39.7 inches, which is too much of a difference from the gun I’m testing. But the earlier gun is supposed to have a walnut stock, according to the Blue Book, and this one definitely has a beech stock. So, I’m thinking this might be an earlier gun and that the Blue Book might have overlooked the beech stock possibility.
Perhaps, the strange shape of the breech is a clue about which model it is. Instead of a conventional straight-cut breech with parallel sides, the action forks have strange-looking scalloped cuts on both sides of the baseblock — and they really stand out.
Here you can see the rather strange, scalloped breech shape. The rear sight adjusts for elevation, only.
As little as this gun is, it might look cheap at first glance, but all you have to do is break open the 15.4-inch barrel one time to feel the bank-vault quality that’s built into the locking detent. While the price was undoubtedly modest at the time, this is no cheap airgun. The beech stock is very slim, yet the pull is an adult 13.25 inches, making the gun pleasant to shoot for older children and adults, alike.
Vince went through the gun and tuned it before sending it to me, so I can’t comment on how the original powerplant might have felt. He installed the mainspring from the harmonica gun I reported on several years ago. A couple coils were cut to make it fit, and now the rifle cocks with great ease.
I’ve shot the gun several times just to familiarize myself with the operation. It shoots with the same authority that a more recent model 25 has. The buzzing is very low, which I must attribute to Vince, since I can see his work through the cocking slot. I imagine the original gun was probably a little buzzier.
The front sight is a tapered post that’s dovetailed to the barrel. The rear sight is leaf-type sight that’s adjustable for elevation only. It’s also dovetailed to the barrel.
The front sight is a tall, tapered post.
My plan is to test this gun exactly like I would test any airgun. I’ll check the velocity next, and then the accuracy in Part 3. If I can find an accurate pellet when I test at 10 meters, I might do a fourth test from 25 yards. Everything will be done with iron sights, as there’s no convenient way to mount a scope on the gun. But I think I proved with the El Gamo 68 that I can shoot iron sights at 25 yards.
Once the gun has been baselined for accuracy, I plan to use it as a testbed for other tests with diabolo pellets. Finally, we’ll have a basis for comparison, rather than just guessing what might happen. Between this airgun and the Twist rate test, we should wind up with a pretty good idea of what rifling is doing for diabolo pellets.
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Falke 90 underlever rifle is a German spring-piston gun from the early 1950s.
Cometa Fusion .22 update
Before I begin, I want to update you on the Cometa Fusion Premier Star report that I’m doing. The fifth accuracy test failed because the scope moved — again! Kevin sent me a special base that people on the internet were having success with, but alas, it did not stay put on the rifle I’m testing.
The vertical scope stop pin on this base is 0.137 inches in diameter, and the stop pin hole on the rifle is 0.111 inches; so, the stop pin cannot enter the hole. As I’ve said many times in the past — no amount of clamping pressure, alone, is enough to hold a scope base from moving, except when BKL mounts of the correct size are used. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of them with enough droop to compensate for this rifle.
I do, however, think this mount base will work because it does have the amount of droop that I need for the rifle. When I come home from the SHOT Show, my plan is to grind the base pin thinner so it will fit into the hole. If that doesn’t work, I don’t know what I can do that I haven’t already tried. Remember, I’m doing this because I believe the rifle is accurate and would be a wonderful value if I can just get the scope to stay put.
On to the Falke
I started this report on the Falke 90 because I hadn’t really shot it that much since getting it in 2010. Vince fixed it for me, and Mac did the accuracy test. I got the rifle back from Mac, but there wasn’t anything to do that hadn’t been done. So, this year I had the stock restored, and that was a huge project for Doug Phillips at DAMAGEDWOODSTOCKS. Then, I thought I would test the rifle as though I’d just bought it because, essentially, that’s what happened!
I learned in Part 2 that the velocity and stability of the rifle were affected by the depth the pellet was seated into the loading tap. And the Falke’s tap is a small one, compared to other taps I’ve used, so the seating depth is more variable in this rifle with most pellets. Most pellets fall into the tap and stop at different depths, and often they aren’t in far enough to close the tap without damaging the pellet. That will become important in this test.
The first pellet I tried is the one that I always shoot in Hakim rifles, which are very similar to this one. It’s the 14.5-grain RWS Superpoint. I expected to get the same performance from this rifle as I got from more than a dozen Hakims over the years. Alas, that didn’t happen. The tighter loading tap on the Falke meant I had to seat the pellets manually to clear the tap, and the results at 10 meters, rested, were not that good. Ten shots made a group that measures 1.124 inches between centers. As you can see, it’s an open group with scattered hits that tend toward the vertical.
JSB Exact 15.9-grain
I won’t even show a target for the JSB Exact 15.9-grain domes because the pellets went all over the place. I didn’t even finish the group.
Next, I tried RWS Superdomes, but they weren’t much better than Superpoints. They did give a smaller group, at 0.861 inches between centers, but that’s only good by comparison. I’m looking for better accuracy from this Falke because I think it’s there. Oh, yeah, also because Mac got much better accuracy in his test!
The iron sights are fighting me
At this point in the test, I had to admit the iron sights on the rifle were working against me. I simply could not adjust them high enough to get the pellets centered in the bull at 10 meters. I remember that Mac used a red dot sight he mounted to the rifle, and I may need to do the same to get the groups I’m looking for. That will have to be another test because this one was already taking a lot of time and I wasn’t finished.
What did Mac do?
When Mac tested the rifle he found that the obsolete 5.6mm Eley Wasp pellet shot best. In fact, it wasn’t close. He got a group with Superdomes like I did, though he shot from 15 yards rather than 11 (which is 10 meters). So, the next pellet I tried was the Eley Wasp.
Eley Wasps are much larger than other .22-caliber pellets, so imagine my surprise when the first one fell deep enough into the tap to not require seating. After that, though, I seated every pellet to the bottom of the tap. Perhaps this is why Mac was telling me to do this! I didn’t appreciate it during the velocity test, when deep seating made the velocities more variable; but in the accuracy test, look what happened! Nine of the 10 pellets went into an almost single hole that measures 0.695 inches between centers. And the 10th shot is way low. It opens the group to 1.029 inches. Want to guess that this is the first shot that wasn’t seated deeply? I don’t know if it is, because I didn’t look at the target before I completed it. I only saw this when I went downrange to retrieve the target for photography and measuring…but I think it is.
Nine in 0.695 inches, and one below opens it to 1.029 inches. I don’t know, but I’m guessing the one I didn’t seat deeply was the stray shot.
What have I learned so far?
The Falke is certainly a different air rifle, and it doesn’t turn out to be what I thought it would be. I like the feel of Hakim rifles better than this one. They seem to shoot smoother, and their triggers are easier to adjust. Still, I don’t think I’ve completely mastered the Falke 90 yet.
This reminds me very much of a .22-caliber BSF Bavaria S54 taploader I used to own. It had a huge diopter rear sight, yet couldn’t hold a candle to a plain old Diana 27 for accuracy. Just because a rifle is a rare and vintage gun is no guarantee that it will also be a smooth and accurate shooter.
I do think that I need to try the Falke again, and this time with a dot sight mounted. And I’ll deep-seat Eley Wasps from the start and not worry about whether or not there are other good pellets.
This is a learning experience — that’s for sure!
by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier
Brett Latimer is the Big Shot of the Week on Pyramyd Air’s facebook page.
Today’s report was influenced by blog reader Kevin, who suggested that I use some of the old articles I’ve written in the past. Well, I’m always open to something that makes my life easier, plus I’ve had access to some of the most unusual airguns in the world over the years. So, today, we’ll take a look at one of them.
I wrote this article in 1999, and I’m not changing anything in it — apart from making some corrections to spelling, grammar and punctuation. It was originally published in Airgun Revue 4.
Someone said they wanted to see how Tom wrote in the old days. Well, here we go!
Erma’s ELG 10 was a single-shot underlever spring gun, though it looked like a western repeater.
There are never enough models to satisfy the curiosity of collectors of very finely made airguns. They struggle along, first discovering 10-meter guns, then German sporting models and finally coming to rest with the finer British guns like the Webley Mark III or the BSA Improved Model D underlever. And that’s where many believe the road ends. Unless they want to branch out into tinplate and cast iron toy guns, they think they’ve seen it all. But they have not yet turned over all the rocks. Not until they own an Erma ELG 10 will their collections be complete.
To look at it, the Erma is a curiosity. You find yourself looking for the plastic parts or where to put the CO2 powerlet. Your eye tells you the gun is solidly built, but your doubting airgunner’s mind tells you it can’t be as nice as it seems. It looks too much like a Daisy model 1894. You keep waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under you, and it never is. The ELG 10 is exactly what it looks like — an extremely high-grade spring air rifle built from all wood and metal, in the best Winchester tradition. In fact, the Winchesters of today should be made so well!
The gun came to the United States in the late 1970s through the Beeman company, where they were sold for a short time. Their retail price of over $300 was what killed them, coming as it did at a time when R1 rifles sold for the same money. The ELG 10 is a low-powered plinking rifle, and few people were willing to shell out big bucks to buy something that couldn’t even keep up with a Diana model 27. Never mind the fact that they produced the same power as the FWB 300 target rifle, which was selling for twice as much. The Erma simply looked too much like a toy; and until you hold one in your hands and realize what it is, there’s no sale.
There was an article in American Airgunner in 1991 about the Erma that spawned some desire for the gun. After that, people were placing ads to buy one in Airgun Ads and elsewhere. I even had the strategy of watching the Gun List ads for Erma firearms, hoping that one would mistakenly pop up. It’s a habit I haven’t shaken to this day.
My first ELG 10 came from Airgun Ads, and I paid plenty for it — $550, as I recall. It came with a Beeman box and was in pristine cosmetic condition, but the power seemed low. The gun was shooting lightweight Hobby pellets only in the low 400s. Knowing that Erma is not primarily an airgun maker, I reasoned that the gun might well have leather seals; so, I lubricated mine with Beeman’s Chamber Oil and saw the velocity jump up to the mid-600s…where it belonged. Despite what the article in American Airgunner said about the gun growing tired over time, all it usually takes to rejuvenate one is a little oil on the seal. I still don’t know if the seal is leather or not, but the gun responds to oil as though it is.
As luck would have it, after paying so much for that first one, I stumbled across a SECOND Erma just two weeks later. This one was in a local gun store, where they were asking $175. I bought it, figuring I could average the cost of the two guns and realize two good bargains. It, too, was shooting in the 400s until a shot of chamber oil fixed things.
Although the rifle is short, at just 37.75 inches, it’s a handful. It weighs six full pounds, and never does your hand touch anything except wood and metal. It’s as accurate at 10 meters as a Diana model 27, which validates the integral scope rails machined into the top of the receiver. Although the iron sights are quite nice, the Erma is the perfect gun on which to mount a small scope, like Beeman’s SS3 or SS1.
Firing behavior is a quick forward jump with a small but noticeable spring vibration. It comes at the end of a 6 lb., 12 oz. trigger-pull that’s crisp but definitely not light. Part of that extra weight is safety engineering, no doubt, because this rifle is loaded with it.
The gun is cocked by swinging the finger lever all the way forward. Although it looks like a lever-action firearm, the cocking lever is really much longer than just the finger lever because it has to provide some mechanical advantage.
The finger lever is part of a longer underlever that retracts a sliding compression chamber, opening the way for loading the breech.
This is not a gun you hold up to your shoulder and just flick the lever with one hand. No, indeed. You dismount it and work the lever with one hand while restraining the rifle with the other hand and your leg. Not that it is hard to cock, for it isn’t. It cocks with about the same 17 lbs. of effort as the FWB 124 breakbarrel rifle, but it’s not a job for one hand, alone.
As the gun is cocked, the sliding compression chamber retracts, just like on a TX 200 or HW 77. As it retracts, a clicking ratchet catches the chamber at intervals, so there is little possibility of an accident should your cocking hand slip.
When the chamber is all the way to the rear, there’s access to the rear of the barrel for a pellet to be inserted. It’s a tight fit, but elevating the muzzle helps you balance the pellet on your thumb until you make contact with the barrel. All the while, the sliding chamber is retained by an anti-beartrap mechanism to keep you from chopping off your digits.
The compression chamber is retracted, leaving lots of room to load the gun. The slot at the bottom is for clearance for the cocking linkage.
The cocking cycle is completed by returning the lever to the starting position. To shoot, upward pressure must be maintained on the finger lever, just like so many lever-action firearms. There’s also a safety behind the receiver, profiled to look something like the hammer on a firearm. It’s not automatic, but you can put it on at any time. The way it functions is very strange. Instead of blocking or disconnecting the trigger, it simply pushes a steel bar straight down through the bottom tang, where it props the finger lever from being squeezed closed. Thus, they use one safety device to force engagement of a second device. It works fine, which says a lot for the Erma engineers’ confidence in their design.
So, the gun is bristling with safeties! That means you cannot decock it. Once cocked, a pellet must be fired. Also, it means that a slot had to be cut in the bottom of the outer receiver to allow for travel of the link that connects the sliding compression chamber to the cocking lever. Unfortunately, the slot looks exactly like the ones in the cheap Chinese sidelevers that were formed from stamped sheet metal stock. Nothing on the ELG is cheap, but this one feature does give that impression.
The manual safety looks a little like the hammer. All it does is block the lever from closing completely — so the gun cannot fire.
The gun is cocked and the safety is off.
Push down on the safety button and the safety is on.
Another very neat feature of the gun is the full-length cleaning rod that’s stored in the “magazine” tube under the barrel. Simply unscrew the cap of the tube, located under the muzzle, and the rod can be dumped out. A cloth mop for the end of the rod serves to wedge it inside the tube without rattling. Of course, there’s no need to clean the bore of the gun for any reason, but it is a nice touch just the same.
The cleaning rod lives in the tube under the barrel. The cleaning mop keeps the barrel from rattling.
The iron sights are simple but effective. The rear is a notch with a sliding elevator, and the front is a hooded square post. It’s no problem to get on target at the ranges this gun is made for — say 5 to 25 yards. Windage adjustments are possible by drifting the rear sight in its dovetail. As we indicated, most people will probably mount a short scope or just use the sights the way they come from the factory because part of the gun’s charm is its fast handling and “plinkability.”
The rear sight is a simple elevator for elevation. Windage comes from drifting the sight in its dovetail.
The butt and forearm are made from beech, stained a dark red on all the guns I’ve seen. They fit as well as any firearm wood made after WWII. The buttplate is blued metal, reminiscent of Winchesters from decades ago.
Throughout this article, the word metal has been used without further explanation. The gun is not entirely made of steel. That would add at least a pound of weight, if not more, and it isn’t necessary. The receiver is made from tough aircraft-spec aluminum, while the functional parts and the barrel are made of high-grade steel. Everything is finished the same, so there is no way of telling what’s what unless you go over the whole thing with a magnet.
The Erma ELG 10 is going nowhere but up in price. Even in Europe, where more were sold, it was never a mainstream airgun. So, sitting around waiting for the market to go flat is a hopeless cause. If you want one, better get it now because it will only cost more later.
RETURN TO THE PRESENT
That article was interesting for me, as I hope it was for all of you. I want to thank Kevin for putting me onto this idea. Edith did it when I was sick, but I just never thought it could work in anything except an emergency. But since I don’t own an Erma ELG 10 any more, I guess this is as close as I will get to one, so we might as well enjoy it for what it is.
Regarding my prediction on the price continuing to rise in the future, it actually did keep increasing until around 2008. When the economy stalled, the prices for vintage airguns like this one all took a dive. Only in recent years have they shown any signs of increasing again, and I would have to say that the price is pretty well where it was in 1999 — around $550-650, depending on condition and if it has a box.
Resurrecting this old article was fun, and I think we’ll do it again as several of you have requested.