One of my favourite childhood friends was a magnetic genius named Nick who I'd often go up to stay with in London. He built wonderful rockets and dams and was rumoured to know the secret formula for gunpowder. One of the great draws of making the journey to see him was the knowledge that we'd probably be left to our own devices, cause plenty of mischief and get to knock about with his uncle's spring rifle. Even in the the mid-nineties this unfortunate gun already looked ancient and could well have been a pre-war Webley or BSA. I apologise now to the purists among you because we didn't treat it with anything near the respect it deserved.
Discovering that it was woefully underpowered for any meaningful plinking, we took to feeding it yew berries, muzzle loaded and rammed down the barrel with an old coat-hanger (I'm sorry, I did warn you!). We then dressed a scarecrow in cricket whites and spent a very merry afternoon permanently staining them with shotgun blasts of broken husk, plant matter and scarlet dye; enormous fun but not that popular with his mother.
I suppose that we we're just about young enough not to know any better, but this is just one of many spring powered horror stories in a catalogue of wrongs caused by a simple lack of understanding. Springers really do suffer some serious abuse and the internet is amok with differing opinions on how to set them up and “improve” their performance. Spring rifles are relatively inexpensive and quite easy to strip down so most people of a practical persuasion will probably have tinkered with one at some stage in their shooting career.
Whilst I'm not mechanically minded myself, I've had both of my hunting Weihrauchs tuned and fettled so that they cycle very smoothly and put out the optimum power for legal hunting. Note that I say optimum not highest. There's a persistent myth that faster is better and that the more velocity your pellet has then the more effective it is; this is simply not true.
If your ambition is to shoot accurately, then the goal should be ballistic balance not raw power. In the UK our imported rifles are actually tuned down to comply with the law and whilst my German springers performed well from the box, they weren't optimised for the UK legal limit of 12/ft lbs; the springs were slightly too long and they benefited greatly form a little work. My 97K has now settled down at around 780fps with Air Arms Diablo Fields (.177). It's smooth to shoot, has minimal recoil and is an excellent hunting tool out to 40 yards and very occasionally beyond.
However, all spring gun lovers seem infatuated by the quest for more power and whilst the thirst for velocity is a great human virtue this hunger for power can be a problem for the humble springer. One popular way to achieve this with a spring rifle is though “dieseling”. Dieseling occurs when oil seeps into the compression chamber and causes a detonation that effectively supercharges your spring rifle into a firearm making it capable of velocities of around 2000fps. I think that most of us would agree that on the face of it this sounds like a lot of fun but the reality is less amusing.
If you're thinking of dieseling your springer then please refer to the below conversation that I had with my boyhood alter ego:
Will dieseling make us more accurate?
No, the opposite.
Will it reduce recoil?
No. It will make it much worse.
Will it be noisier for neighbours and quarry?
Not if they enjoy a sonic boom every now and then.
Will it improve penetration?
a.) You'll struggle to hit what your aiming at.
b.) Penetration is irrelevant for target shooters and nowhere near as important as energy transfer (stopping power) for hunters. Over penetration actually reduces tissue damage in the wound channel the reduction in accuracy makes you far more likely to wound. Not a good thing.
Will it increase range?
Yes. Best let the neighbours know.
Will it flatten the trajectory?
Yes, but the increase in recoil will be a problem. Remember a springer recoils twice (forward and backward) and should not be controlled. This motion will become wildly exaggerated and your accuracy will suffer.
Oh come off it! It'll be great fun!
Of course, if you're shooting a barn door at five paces and you don't care about damaging the seals on your rifle and hurting yourself!
Is it dangerous?
Only as dangerous as a rimfire round. Unless it detonates, re-cocks itself and then blows apart in your hands (rare but possible).
“Oh!" I hear you cry “You're so up tight on this stuff...”
Well, maybe you're right but bigger isn't always better. It may be louder and more impressive, but does it get the job done? There's really only one situation where you'll need a high velocity air rifle and that's when you're shooting a large calibre like .25 or .30. If you want your .177 rifle to put out 1200fps, and kick like impatient triplets then perhaps ask yourself why?
When you diesel your springer you're creating a tremendous amount of force in a mechanical system that was never engineered or designed to withstand it. It's a bit like the sinking submarine that dives beyond its test depth. Eventually the rivets will blow and the structure will collapse. If you want to be three inches from an untested compression chamber as it breaks the speed of sound then good luck to you. I'll be in that bunker dialling 999. Over-powering a springer is a bit like putting a turbo charged V8 in a mini and then expecting it to drive straight;. Great fun for the garden but not so good for the mid-week commute.
Springers are mechanically simple and notoriously low maintenance and that's part of their appeal. Unless you can hear your main spring grating and the noise of the firing cycle increasing then your cylinder is probably well greased and the internals are likely in good order. You'll know a problem when you hear it and the rifle will become harder to cock. The odd spot of oil on rivets and hinges won't hurt but as far oiling goes less is more.
Air guns don't normally suffer from barrel fouling and unless your pellets have been living in your pocket for the last twelve years they're unlikely to be dirty enough to cause a problem. In general, the force of compressed air leaving the barrel will be enough to banish any stray bits of fluff along with your pellet and most air rifle barrels will never even need to be cleaned. The only exception to this rule is with high powered, big bore air guns which have the energy to scrape off some of the pellet before it leaves the muzzle.
Brass or bronze barrels will probably not need cleaning and whatever you do avoid the bore brush! Air gun barrels are too soft to withstand this kind of bore cleaning, they just don't need it and you could permanently damage the rifling. The only time you need to clean your barrel is when you notice a significant change in performance and as this could be caused by very cold weather, new ammunition or faulty piston seals and mainsprings so check these elements out first before reaching for the cleaning kit.
I've met many people who never clean their barrels and I've met many that do. Air rifles certainly don't need the kind of barrel maintenance required of a firearm or shotgun and the prevailing opinion seems to be that it's not generally necessary. Some target shooters say that lead particles inside the barrel can begin to affect their groups, so they'll pull through every 250 shots or so. These accomplished shooters are working to minimise variables and maximise whatever tiny advantages they can over their competitors and although I don't personally see the point, I can understand how it may increase one's confidence to know that every variable has been eliminated. For my own part, the day that I'm able to blame my fluffed shots on barrel residue will be a happy one indeed.
Strip down plan/ method
If you're like me and you burn any instructions as soon as you open the box, you may find that stripping your air gun is a tad more complex than you'd anticipated. I'd imagine that many readers enjoy taking things apart and re-assembling them but if you're the sort of person that normally ends up with a pair of mystery screws and an itching head then perhaps a short pause is in order before you reach for the toolkit.
Take a look online for your rifle schematics and check if there are any known issues with your particular rifle. Like cars, some are known to be quite fiddly to work on. With all springers you'll need a well mounted vice and a mainspring compressor that will control the tension of the mainspring as you work on the gun. If this sounds like a bit of a nightmare, then maybe ask somebody more experienced to do it for you and buy them a four pack in return.
Technically not firing at all as no combustion is involved but cocking and shooting without a pellet in the breech is generally bad practice and not to be encouraged. It's less of an issue with modern, synthetically sealed guns but definitely a bad idea with older rifles whose leather seals may not be as resilient to the unexpected changes in internal pressure.
The mis-information net
At some point we've all been caught in its pixelated fibres. The internet is both a blessing and a curse. You type in a straightforward question in search of a simple answer and you're bombarded with opinion masquerading as fact and a very objective mindset is often required to sort the wheat from the chaff. A simple search will yield hundreds videos of people committing all manner of crimes against springers, ranging from double-shotting pellets and BBs to producing supersonic velocities and sonic detonations. These are, at the very least, damaging to the rifle but can also be dangerous for the shooter.
Keep it tight
Spring guns have bi-directional recoil. That's why we love them right? Whilst this recoil is part of the fun and the challenge of shooting a springer, the resulting vibrations have a pronounced physical effect on anything that the action is connected to. This could be the scope, the stock screws or a front sight and I always make a point of checking things over with an allen key and a screwdriver every 1,000 pellets or so.
The trigger guard screws on all of my Weihrauchs benefit from regular check ups (even Achilles had his flaws) and I've been astonished in the past at how much a loose screw can interfere with the performance of the rifle and cause random flyers. When you give your unloaded rifle a shake, everything should fit snugly and sound nice and tight. If not, then reach for the toolbox. Try to use the correct size screwdriver for the screw head as the metal is often softer then you'd think.
Spring rifles are great fun, but like all creations of character they have their foibles and are often misunderstood. Springers benefit greatly from being treated with a little care and respect and when properly maintained will continue to deliver consistent performance long after their rifled peers have fallen foul or ground to a halt. So, be kind to that springer. One day it could belong to your grandson and you wouldn't want it muzzle-loaded with fruit...