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Whiscombe’s Dual Piston System


Spring air guns are rugged, reliable, and simple to maintain, but they do have a disadvantage compared to pneumatic guns- as they get more powerful, they get heavier, and larger.  More powerful guns require larger, heavier springs, and heavier pistons- which means more recoil and higher stresses. Spring strength has to be increased not just to propel the pellet, but to move the combined mass of itself and the piston quickly enough to keep lock time reasonably short. There’s a point at which the mass of the combined spring and piston simply makes a gun unwieldy.  It’s difficult to make a spring gun with a power much beyond 22 foot-pounds. But John Whiscombe, one of the true wizards in airgun design, came up with a very clever way of overcoming many of these limitations.

Back in 1987, Whiscombe reasoned that by using two springs, and two pistons, he could increase the power of an airgun without overstressing the parts. And by having the pistons move in opposite directions, recoil would cancel out! Result: A spring air rifle that could achieve muzzle energies of over 30 foot-pounds with zero recoil. The dual-piston system was not original- RWS/Diana used it in the 6G target pistol- but making both pistons active was original. Like the Diana system, the Whitcombe system requires careful adjustment and synchronization to get the pistons moving at exactly the same time. A bit off one way or another and you get a huge loss in efficieny and the recoil returns as well.

About the same time Whiscombe was developing his dual-piston system, Dave Theobald and Ben Taylor of Theoben came up with another, simpler system: Replacing the spring with a cylinder of pressuring gas. Low mass, no metal fatigue, and no overstressed springs. The result was a simple system capable of over 30 foot-pounds without the complexity of Whiscombe’s system.

But even as Theoben’s rifles gained traction in the marketplace, Whiscombe continued making his unique guns. Not only do they have the advantage of zero recoil, but for many airgunners, there’s the simple pleasure of owning a precise, hand-made example of the airgun maker’s art- and owning a rare gun made entirely by hand, and in very limited numbers. If you’re interested in obtaining one of these handmade beauties, you can read more about Whiscombe’s guns here.


  1. Fred L. Minker wrote:

    The widow of a close freind has asked me to sell her husbands air rifle, a Whiscombe Model JW 75, for her. I have a gun shop so selling any kind of gun is no problem but the Whiscombe appears to be a rare individual with a limited clientele and I am not sure how to find interested parties. Any suggestions would be helpfull.
    Thank you.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm | Permalink
  2. mje wrote:

    That gun is worth between $3,500 and $4,000, depending on condition and market. Best place to sell it is the Yellow Forum Airgun Classifieds:

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Joseph Tousignant wrote:

    Having recently purchased the aforementioned Whiscombe JW-75 rifle from Fred Minker on the GunBroker site, i can say it is a very finely made and tuned air rifle indeed.

    Fred and his wife were a pleasure to deal with, and Fred was more than accomodating in helping me to gain some incite into specific facts on the rifle’s history.

    For those who might be interested here is a post i made once i recieved the rifle.

    You are correct in that an air rifle with substantial power levels comes at a weighted “price”. These are no lightweights, and mine weighs in at about 10 1/2 pounds with the Leupold 3X9 E.F.R. scope and mounts on top.

    We have concluded that Fred’s friend, the original “owner” who purchased it back in 1996 thru a gun store in Washington State, thought so much of the rifle that he kept it thru to the very end of his life!

    I suspect i will do the same…….

    Joe T

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  4. mje wrote:

    Thanks for a great postscript to my post, Joe.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink
  5. NA wrote:

    Are these still being made?

    Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink
  6. PTE wrote:

    sounds awefully similar to the slingshot system daystate uses in their guns if I’m not mistaken

    Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  7. jeff rice wrote:

    jw 80 mk2 .20 cal.hold sensitive like my heavy gamo’s ah work out n third pull n lever. i take time when shot n it like all my guns. i wish i knew how 2 adjust match trigger. i think the guy ask n mr. whiscombe ‘did i get all the options?’the stock has tiger stripes from 1 end 2 the other. if it was ah women we’d never get outa bed.

    Tuesday, September 18, 2018 at 1:48 am | Permalink
  8. justjeffpls wrote:

    My whiscombe jw 80 mk2 .20 caliber serial 003 accorde n to john his self was the 3rd 80 he made. until the cocking lever messed up gun wasn’t adjusted because i didn’t shoot enough r had ah handle n where i could find info hots system r trigger adjustment. love this’d take $15,000 2 show others what it’s worth 2 me n airgun world

    Sunday, October 14, 2018 at 4:43 am | Permalink

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