the first Daisy

Most airgun fans know the story of Daisy: Plymouth Windmill Company owner Clarence Hamilton designs an air rifle to give away as a premium, and ends up selling BB guns instead of windmills. Plymouth board member (and later company president) Cass Hough remarks, on seeing the gun demonstrated, “Boy, that’s a daisy!” and six years later the comany changes its name to the Daisy Manufacturing Company. There had been many airguns prior to the Daisy, but none so simple yet so efficient. The Daisy sold for less than a dollar, whereas most airguns were much more expensive.

Daisys were so cheap that every boy could own one- and soon pretty much every boy wanted one. Those first guns were a great stepping stone to a boy’s first .22, and were powerful enought back then that they could actually take some small game.

original daisy patent

Pictured above is Hamilton’s original patents, and it’s interesting to note that it has all the elements of the modern air rifle. There’s a piston, a mainspring, a spring guide, leather piston seal, transfer port- it’s all there. Add a modern synthetic seal in place of the leather seal and you have a modern gun.

In fact, there’s something rather novel I have never seen in a modern air rifle- a cocking lever that’s recessed into the buttstock. Very slick.

Pneumatic Shotguns

Gamo ViperHave you seen the new Gamo Viper pneumatic shotgun? It’s an interesting new development, and as far as I can tell, the first spring-air, breakbarrel shotgun ever made. Essentially it’s a smoothbore .22 rifle that can fire small shot capsules filled with #9 shot. Power is fairly high; specs call for a velocity of 1200fps with shot, and 750 with a .22 pellet. Assuming lightweight pellets, that calls for a conservative estimate of muzzle energy in the neighborhood of 19 foot-pounds. At about $200 it’s not a bad deal.

While the Viper is unique in its design, there have been a number of air shotguns in the past, ranging from the Korean madeYeehwha pump pneumatic shotgun to the well known Crosman Trapmaster 1100 (of which I owned two at various times.) The Yeehwha was made for Korean farmers as an inexpensive non-firearm that could be used for hunting and pest elimination. It required something like 100 pumps to build up power in the resevoir, after which you could take a few shots before adding another dozen or so pumps to recharge it. I’ve long wanted one, but never came across an example. I think Rober Law was the only one to sell them in this country.

The 1100 was designed strictly for popping plastic “pigeons”, although some were modified for higher power. It was a heavy, impressive looking weapon, styled (and named) after the classic Remington 1100 automatic, itself long a favorite of trapshooters. Tim MacMurray (and others) modified a number for bulk feed and higher power, and many hunters fired .38 caliber round balls and slugs through them, getting muzzle energies as high as 100 ft-lbs, if I can believe one owner.critter gitter

There’s one other air shotgun I’d love to have an example of, although they’re as rare as hens’ teeth. It’s called the Daisy Critter Gitter, and it was orginally marketed to farmers as a varmint gun for killing mice and pigeons and other pests. The gun was a modified Daisy CO2 200 BB pistol with a wide barrel that fired a .38 caliber cardboard shell filled with small shot.

It was discontinued by Daisy after only a short time on the market, for what reason I’m not sure. Some said the BATF didn’t like it, and others have claimed that Daisy was worried about violating various state hunting laws. Whatever the case, they’re quite rare and real collector’s items.

It does occur to me, though, that a very effective gun along the same lines could be made out of any paintball gun- even a cheap $20 one- if you didn’t mind muzzle loading. All you’d need to do is make the shotshells and wads and you’d have something as or more powerful than the Daisy. Shells could be rolled from paper and glue, or gummed brown paper packaging tape. 38 caliber wads can be found at a well-stocked muzzle-loading shop, or punched from cardboard. If you try this, drop me a line and let me know how it worked.

Round Balls?

I was just reading a column by a well-known airgun writer regarding the use of round balls in airguns. He fired a variety of .177 round balls into soap and compared the penetration of the balls with pellets fired from the same guns. Next, he did an accuracy test, and found that the round balls were only slightly less accurate than the pellets. His conclusion? Round balls may be better for hunting than pellets at close ranges.

What struck me was the conditions of his test. Rather than comparing the balls with a modern, high-quality pellet like a Crosman Premier, he used unspecified “Chinese Pellets” and Beeman Silver Jets. Chinese pellets, with the exception of a very few match pellets, are not, for the most part, known for their quality control. And the Silver Jet was designed for very low powered pump pneumatic guns- not the 12 foot-pound TX-200 he fired it from. If you wanted to do an accuracy test, you’d want to use appropriate pellets. And then he does his test groups shooting offhand, from a standing position- not something you’d want to do if you were comparing inherent accuracy, as the shooter’s movements will swamp any pellet differences.

Unsurprisingly, his accuracy tests show dreadful results with both round ball and with pellets. His web page shows groups of between an inch and two inches with a scoped rifle at 14 yards! That’s between 10 and 15 minutes of angle. With my TX-200 I’d expect to put 5 pellet groups into one ragged hole at that range, from a sitting position. At 14 yards, a Daisy 499B groups better, shooting steel BBs out of an unrifled barrel. For whatever reason, he set up the test in a way that masked whatever differences there were between the balls and pellets. A meaningful test would have compared the balls and pellets at ranges up to at least 40 yards, with the gun fired from a padded rest.

As for penetration: Looking at the soap bars, the round pellets penetrate perhaps 10% further than the standard pellets- a negligible amount, and one you’d expect simply because the pellets don’t deform as much on impact as do the thin, hollow pellets. For that reason they are also more likely to ricochet on hitting a hard surface instead of splattering.

Basically there’s no reason to use lead balls except in those few repeating guns designed to take them. They’re not as accurate as well-designed pellets, they don’t seal as well in high powered guns, they don’t cut paper targets as well as a wadcutter, and they don’t transfer energy as well as a deforming pellet.

Cardew revisited… again.

I wrote about this a while ago, but it seems there’s still a lot of this nonsense out there. I just found this on another air gun site:

“Sporting” spring airguns need to combust. “Match” spring guns generally do not. Match air rifles usually yield less than 6 foot pounds of muzzle energy. Adult sporting spring rifles are intended to yield just under the UK FAC 12 foot pound limit, or non-FAC guns generally in the 20 to 30 foot pound class. They all burn oil. Sporting spring guns are tuned for power; Match guns are not. Match spring guns generally work in the “pop gun” phase (re: Cardew) and are not designed to burn any oil whatsoever. That is why Match guns often use steel piston rings that exclude oil from the air chamber.

Exactly when the oils combust depends upon the volatility of the lubricant, it’s mix ratio with the air available and the pressure and temperature exerted upon it. If that sounds a little like a Diesel engine, it is, but with one major difference: the oils in the spring gun are meant to burn, NOT detonate! “Dieselling” in a spring gun is horrifically obvious; the gun fires with the noise of a firearm and sometimes with the smoke of a flintlock! Detonation in a spring gun is to be avoided at all costs; it can cause serious damage to the piston head, spring, and integrity of the gun and may be dangerous for the person holding same! The oil should combust in the transfer port or the breech; if it ignites in the air chamber, detonation may result.

Now that contains at least two pieces of nonsense, and maybe more. At a minimum, it’s horribly out of date. No one shoots spring guns in serious competition anymore. Even beginners are using low-cost single-stroke pneumatics that cost less than the cheapest spring match pistols. And no one is using a combustable oil in their airgun.

Secondly, the author has a common misunderstanding of the term “detonation”. There’s never any detonation in a spring gun- or in a diesel engine. Detonation refers to a condition in which a blast wave moves supersonically through a medium. That happens in high explosives, but not in airguns or internal combustion engines.

Last, modern spring air guns use very small amounst of lubricants that are compounded from ingredients that do not burn at airgun temperatures- usually silicone paste and molybninum disulfide. A properly lubricated modern spring gun can be fired regularly for years without needing any lubrication- this would certainly not be true if the gun were burning a bit with every shot.

The guns in Cardew’s day used leather seals that had to be replenished regularly with oil, as the oil migrated out of the leather, was sprayed into the compustion chamber, and yes, some of it burned. Traditional Daisy BB guns still need regular oiling to keep up their power. Cardew’s experiments claimed to show that this combustion was responsible for a large part of the energy developed. I don’t think it’s a matter of burning oil so much as it is a matter of needing a lot of oil to swell up the leather seal. When airgunners started putting silicone oil into their guns- which doesn’t burn- there were no reports of guns suddenly losing energy.

Unfortunately there’s stil a ton of outmoded or just plain wrong advice still out there, based on repeating old advice, or justy plain ignorance. Take this example from a commercial site:

Oiling the spring chamber and the piston is done only once in a while, about every 300 to 1,000 shots with 2 drops of a synthetic oil (high flash cylinder oil)

I can just see trusting beginners dropping Mobile 1 down their barrels after shooting a tin of pellets and wondering where all the smoke is coming from, and why the gun doesn’t shoot right anymore. And then there’s this:

An airgun is a quirky weapon. Even although it is classified as an airgun, most high powered pellet guns are actually firearms due to the explosion of oils in their chambers that may contribute up to 45% of total power…

The Cardews only claimed 30%; where did this guy get his numbers? I can see someone eventually claiming that 200% of the energy comes from burning oil.

I still see that almost every airgun dealer sells silicone oil and “oiling needles” designed to squirt this stuff into the compression chamber. Unless you actually own an old airgun with leather seals, don’t go near this stuff. And don’t try to lube a modern airgun from the transfer port. The only way to lubricate a modern, synthetic sealed spring gun is to disassemble it, and put a light coat of a proper synthetic lube- like Jim Maccari’s silicone-moly tar- directly on the piston. Anything else is a waste of money and possibly harmful to your gun.