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Basic Airgun Maintenance

Maintaining Airguns

There are so many different systems and designs today that it’s best to always check the manufacturer’s advice on cleaning, lubrication, and maintenance of your air gun. But there are a few specific recommendations that can be made.

Spring Guns

Let’s begin with a little history.A lot of really bad advice has been distributed on spring gun maintenance, much of it originating from a major distributor of airguns. This company had the buyers of its guns pouring tons of uneccesary lubricants down barrels at $10-20 for a few grams of commonly available materials.

Back in the 1960s, when the typical spring air gun used a leather washer to seal the piston, it was necessary to regularly add oil to the cylinder to saturate the leather and keep it supple. Some of the oil would burn with every shot, and some would be sprayed out, requiring replenishment.

The leading airgun writer of the time, Ladd Fanta, popularized the use of silicone oils as a replacement for the hydrocarbon oils used before that time. He also developed the technioque of using Dri-Slide to wash out the existing lube and leave a trace of molybdinum disulfide in the chamber.

Robert Law, who was the only importer of a range of quality airguns at the time, marketed these products and also helped distribute information on care and tuning of spring airguns. In the 1970s, Robert Beeman entered the airgun business, and through a combination of aggressive marketing and exclusive dealerships with Law’s major suppliers, became the major importer of airguns into the US. Some say he also put Robert Law out of business; that’s not for me to say, although there’s been a good deal of contention and taffy distributed on both sides of this issue.

Beeman also began to aggressively market cleaning and lubrication products. Now by the time Beeman entered the market, leather piston seals were increasingly being replaced by synthetic seals, which don’t absorb lube and don’t need continual replenishment. But Beeman continued to recommended that all the guns he sold have their barrels washed with his private-branded version of Dri-Slide and be regularly dosed with silicone oil- a treatment designed for old leather piston seal guns.
Luckily a number of individual tuners and independant importers were beginning to emerge in the US market in the 1980s, and they started telling owners the truth- that a properly lubricated spring gun is probably good for 10 years of regular shooting with no internal lubrication at all! All that’s needed is an occasional wipe down with a cloth lightly dampened with a good polarized oil, like Birchwood Casey “Sheath”. (Beeman also sold an identical oil curiously labeled as “Non-polarizing Oil”).

Some guns, like the HW guns Beeman sold under their name, can benifit from a simple tuning, which involves cleaning any existing lube from the cylinder, replacing it with a tiny amount of a silicone/moly paste (like Jim Maccari’s “tar”) and adding a little silicone grease to the spring. But many guns, like those from Air Arms, don’t need any attention at all unless you plan to do custom tuning for competition.

So if you have a spring air gun, ignore the “advice” to squirt silicone oil down the barrel every 500 pellets. Just give it the occasional wipe of Sheath, and after 10-20 years you can send it out for a stripdown and cleaning/lube, or do it yourself. You should clean the barrel from time to time to prevent excessive leading and maintain accuracy. I prefer a pull-though, non-metallic cleaning rod to prevent any wear at the muzzle. A number of the airgun vendors offer good barrel cleaning solvents. Just make sure you thoroughly dry the barrel before shooting the gun to avoid detonation of the residual oil in the gun. (Competitors have more complex cleaning and lubing rituals, some of which I may add in a later section)

CO2 Guns

This section applies mainly to the numerous inexpensive Crosman and Benjamin guns powered by a disposable CO2 “powerlet”; owners of expensive bulk load target and hunting guns should consult the manufacturer’s recommendations.First, do not apply any lubricants to the gun’s seals except for Crosman CO2 gun oil!. Adding other oils will cause the O-rings to expand and result in a non-functional gun. Crosman’s red-tinted oil is designed expressly for use in these guns. Most of these guns have very few steel parts (they’re mainly zinc alloys) and don’t require much attention to prevent rust. You don’t need to lube the barrel as the tiny amount of oil in Crosman Powerlets keeps the barrel clean and oiled, though you might want to pull a brush and patch through occasionally.

Precharged Pneumatics

These vary so much that it’s best to simply follow the maker’s recommendations.