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The RWS/Diana Model 34, part 1

The Diana 34 has been one of the most popular European spring-piston air rifles of the past 40 or 50 years. It’s often been touted as a sort of entry-level “magnum” gun, that is, one capable of generating over 12 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. I’ve owned around 30 or 40 quality airguns- that is, modern pellet firing guns with rifled steel barrels- but I’ve never owned a Diana Model 34, or any Diana spring-piston gun. That changed recently when I purchased a new Model 34 in .22 caliber.

There were three reasons for this purchase. First, I was looking for a lightweight break barrel gun for use afield. Something more powerful than my R7/HW30, and lighter and handier than my TX200 and ProSport. Second, I didn’t own any airguns in .22, and last, I was curious about the performance of this very popular gun. Did its performance justify its popularity? It arrived today and I spent a few hours getting some initial impressions.

It’s not terribly different in appearance or construction from the typical German break barrel air rifles of the 1970s, when I first became interested in what were then called “Adult Air Rifles.” About the only concession to modern technology is the increased use of plastic parts, and the light-pipe open sights.

The sights are very visible, but the shape of the stock makes it impossible for me to get good sight alignment, and the front sight makes it impossible to grip the end of the barrel to get good cocking leverage. I removed the rear sight- I’ll put some short Allen screws in the screw holes to fill them- and removed the front sight blade and hood, leaving the plastic sleeve in place as a muzzle protector. (I’ll eventually replace that with a steel or aluminum “muzzle brake” cocking handle to protect the muzzle and get a bit more cocking leverage. )

To replace the open sights I installed a 2.5×20 Barska scope I happened to have on hand. (It was previously used on a break-barrel .357 Magnum carbine I owned some years ago that I had built up as a woods gun.) The front lens element on this scope appears to be held between two threaded rings, so it should hold up well to spring piston gun recoil.

Cocking this gun generated a lot of noise from the spring, and the first few shots from this gun produced a significant amount of smoke and the smell of burning oil, something that put me in mind of the guns I bought back in the 70s and 80s. Newer and more modern guns, like my TX 200 and Pro Sport, and my Theoben, shot quietly and smoothly from the day they arrived. No smoke, either. Shooting the 34 is a trip back to the 70s or 80s, when it was assumed that the first thing you needed to do with any spring gun was to give it a proper tune-up. Strip it down, remove the excess lube, polish and de-burr the cylinder, etc.

After zeroing it in, in my basement 10m range, I shot a 5-shot test group:

As you can see from the vertical shot dispersion the gun was still dieseling. I suspect it’ll settle down some as the excess oil burns off, but what it really needs is a better spring, a spring guide to quiet it and reduce internal friction and wear, and maybe an improved piston seal. I’ve often heard that the gun is over-sprung, and that going to a weaker spring can actually improve velocity as well as accuracy. I’ll probably rebuild it this winter, when I’m stuck indoors, using a Jim Maccari or Vortek kit. I’ve had good experience with both. My TX 200 was purchased direct from Maccari back when he was tuning rifles, and I installed a Vortek kit in my R7/HW 30 several years ago. Both are very smooth, quiet, and accurate shooters.

Plastic trigger guard and possible replacement

Other plans are to replace the plastic trigger guard with a metal one (I have what I believe is an HW or possibly FWB on hand that looks as if it’ll fit) and if possible, find a better stock for it. Back in the 90s Maccari was making excellent unfinished custom stocks at very reasonable prices, and I purchased one for my HW77. Today all I’ve been able to find are complete custom stocks for over $1,000, which is overkill for a $300 rifle. It could also use a scope with higher magnification. 2.5x is fine for deer at 40 yards, but rodents are much tinier targets.

I’ve only put around three dozen pellets of various types through it, and while it’s still noisy and rough shooting it has quieted down somewhat. I may try adding some heavy silicone grease to the spring and see if that quiets things a bit.

The Umarex TR50 (and HDR 50)

Umarex TR50

Umarex has a line of paintball-type guns they call “T4E” or “Training for Engagement.” The line includes .43, .50, and .68 caliber CO2 guns intended for law enforcement and military training, firing rubber balls, chalk-filled “dust balls,” and paintballs. Two are also available in higher power versions for use as non-lethal defensive weapons in countries that prohibit the use of weapons for that purpose.

Not long ago I purchased their TR50, a CO2 powered revolver that uses 12gram CO2 cartridges and replaceable cassettes, each of which can hold 6 rounds. It has a nominal muzzle energy of 7 joules, which translates to about 6 foot pounds. The HDR is the self-defense version, which produces 11 joules, or around 8 foot-pounds, of muzzle energy. It’s not available in the US but, curiously, can be purchased in the UK and some European countries. I’m not particularly interested in the TR50 as a self-defense weapon, although loaded with rubber or pepper balls I think it would be a good defense against aggressive dogs while bicycling or hiking.


One interesting feature of the TR50 is how the CO2 loads. 12gram cylinders are loaded in the grip, after which a plug is screwed in, but this doesn’t pierce the cartridge. To do that, the user has to give the plug a sharp rap with the palm or a nearby firm surface, the idea being that the gun can be loaded and ready for use with the risk of gas leaking out. (An Allen wrench is provided to help seat the plug, though after a few loading cycles it becomes easier to tighten the plug by hand.) Once pressurized, a metal peg pops up above the grip, giving both a visual and tactile indication that the gun is ready to shoot.

TR50 cylinder loaded with rubber balls

The TR50 and HDR are much more popular in Europe than in the US, largely because there aren’t very many legal self-defense options available in many countries. The result is a number of products designed to improve the terminal effectiveness of the gun- better projectiles, longer barrels, and molds for making your own projectiles. The simplest way to improve power downrange is via heavier projectiles, which do a better job of extracting the energy available in each shot. You can buy hard plastic balls with a steel center, balls made from rubber mixes with powdered iron, and molds to make your own projectiles. It was this last option that most interested me, but high shipping costs make this an unattractive option, as they almost double the price from around $40-50 to $80-90.

What I’ve decided to do instead is to make my own molds, either from a chunk of aluminum or from a piece of UHMW polyethylene I have on hand. European experimenters typically make their projectiles from hot melt glue, which has several advantages: It’s hard enough to hold its shape when fired, soft enough to not damage the gun and barrel, and cools and hardens rapidly, which speeds up the production of multiple rounds. I do intend to try that, but I’m also considering paraffin wax, silicone caulk, and other materials. More on that after I get around to making the molds.

While I’m not planning on using this as a defensive weapon, I did install a rail-mounted flashlight I received for review:

Looks totally tacticool, doesn’t it? This inexpensive light uses CR123A lithium batteries and produces a very bright and wide illuminated region. It might actually be a good tool for investigating noises in the backyard after dark- especially when loaded with a full cylinder of pepper balls.




What Happened to Crosman Premier Pellets?

Old 10.5gr Premier on the left, new one on the right

Crosman has been bringing out a lot of exciting and innovative guns in recent years, but I’ve been hearing complaints about their pellets. The bulk-packed Premier 7.9 and 10.5s have long been my go-to pellets for FT and hunting, and recently, thinking I was down it only half a box, I ordered a new box of the 10.5s.

What I received was downright depressing, starting with the box they were packed in. It was made of cheaper, lighter weight cardboard, it leaked pellets, and the familiar die number stamps was missing from the back. The pellets themselves were nice and shiny, but each one had a distinct mold line running around it, and the surfaces were much rougher than that of my old pellets. Inside the box I found lead flashing, distorted pellets, and other signs of poor quality control.

Has Crosman given upon producing quality pellets? Have they outsourced these to China? I don’t know. Luckily I discovered two full boxes of both the 10.5s and the 7.9s, which should last me quite a while. But unless something changes at Crosman, after those run out I’m switching to JSB.

The Predom Lucznik Wz. 1970 Air Pistol

 

I was reading through one of the many airgun forums I drop into sporadically when someone mentioned that Apex Gun Parts had a few more Polish military air pistols back in stock. I didn’t know that there was a Polish military air pistol, but immediately clicked over to Apex’s site to see what they had.  It was a reasonably priced (around $100) pistol with a curious resemblance to the Walther LP-53, a classic German air pistol of the 1960s and 70s.


 

If you’re old enough, you may remember this classic image from the Sean Connery era:

That’s an LP-53 that Connery is holding, and the story of why he’s holding an air pistol, and not the Walther PPK described in the Fleming novels, is an amusing one. It seems someone forgot to arrange for the pistol needed for the photo shoot, and someone on the crew said no problem, I’ve got a Walther, ran home, and came back with his Walther LP-53. This image made it into the poster for From Russia With Love.

The LP-53 was an interesting and popular pistol, available in a basic model and also in a more refined target model, with better sights. It was popular enough that the Poles took notice, and made their own clone at the government owned Predom Lucznik firearms plant, primarily for use in military training. (There are actually several different civilian and military versions with different model numbers- I’ve seen some marked Wz. 70).

Let’s take a closer look.

The sights are a bit crude in manufacture, as it the entire gun, when compared to the Walther, but fully adjustable and easy to use.  As with the Walther, it’s a spring pistol gun with a novel design- the spring, piston, and cylinder are contained entirely within the grip. There’s a threaded cap at the base of the grip that allows for easy disassembly and rebuilding.

Like its Walther predecessor, the Wz. 1970 (which means “Model 1970”) is a spring air gun with an interesting break-barrel cocking system. The trigger guard is actually the cocking lever, as shown above, and compresses the piston and spring contained in the handgrip. It’s an old enough design that the piston and  breech seals are made of leather, as you can see here:

 

Incidentally, the design of this cocking system is not original with Walther, but goes back to the Lincoln Jeffries pistol of the early 20thC:

 

A few test shots with the gun suggested that the piston seal was worn out or at least dried out. The gun is supposed to chronoograph at around 380fps with 7gr pellets, but the long delay between trigger pull and the sound of the pellet hitting the trap indicated the gun wasn’t putting out anything near that velocity.

Rather than disassembling the gun- it would have been a bit pointless as I don’t have a replacement seal- I decided to try adding a fair amount of silicone oil to the chamber. Modern synthetic piston guns shouldn’t be lubricated as all between rebuilds, but leather sealed guns needed to have the seals kept very wet, with regular reapplication of oil to replace what gets shot out. Luckily I had a bottle of 1970s vintage silicone oil on hand.

Using an improvised pipette I dropped perhaps .2-..3 mililiter directly into the chamber, worked the cocking lever a few time, and then left it to sit for a few minutes so that the oil would be absorbed by the leather piston seal. The improvement was immediate and obvious, with trigger pulls being immediately followed by a satisfying thwack! of pellet hitting metal.

About that trigger: It’s probably the worst airgun trigger I’ve ever encountered. There’s a sear adjustment screw but I’m cautious about turning it too far, based on experience with other airguns. ( I once spent several hours  replacing the trigger adjustment screw in my Alfa Proj match pistol after I unscrewed it just a bit too far.)  Even with it backed off to minimal safe sear engagement, it’s still a scratchy, unpredictable, release. Shooting behavior is rough, too; the unusual vertically recoiling piston means that there’s a lot of up and down movement before the pellet leaves the barrel. This is one pistol that requires a strong grip to shoot accurately.

Here’s my test target- a standard ISSF air pistol target, shot two handed at 10m:

My first shot went far to the left so I dialed a few clicks of correction in .The next four you can see strung vertically in the 5 and 6 ring. Another few clicks, and a little more experience with the trigger, and I put two shots in the black, still shooting two handed. Then I put the pistol down, picked up my Feinwerkbau LP100 and shot that 10-X one handed, just to remind myself that I still knew how to shoot 😉

The following day I tried shooting it offhand, as if it were a match pistol, using the same target. I’ve outlined the shots here in blue Sharpie:

It’s hard to see, but one of my shots was in the 9 ring, just above the shot I made with my FWB 1000. Interestingly, I didn’t shoot it that much better two handed. I’m going to keep practicing and see if I can find a way to get better groups. I may also try shooting it from some sort of rest to see what it’s capable of.

As you might guess, cocking is a bit difficult, as the short barrel doesn’t provide a lot of leverage unless you place your hand at the very end of the barrel. That’s where the sight is, of course, which doesn’t make for comfortable cocking either. With the Walther LP53 the makers thoughtfully provided a cocking aid as seen in the Walther illustration below:


 

This cocking aid consisted of a trimmed-down wooden ball with a recess cut in to clear the sight, and a rod that was inserted into the barrel. The last inch and a half of barrel were counterbored to the rod wouldn’t damage the rifling, and this feature is complied on the Polish pistol too, though I haven’t yet seen any evidence of a cocking aid being supplied by Lucznik. I’ll probably make something similar this winter.

It’s crude, difficult to shoot, and not terribly accurate. I like it.