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Thread: Victorian Air Cane Restomod

  1. #1
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    Victorian Air Cane Restomod

    Here's something that I acquired a while back, it took me some time to play with it as I needed to make an adapter for a new chamber and it's only recently that I was able to cut non-standard threads on the lathe. I bought this one without any accessories and with an air reservoir that was in a poor state, with corrosion visible internally and a few crush marks too. For that reason an adapter was made to enable a 9oz CO2 bottle to be used as a reservoir.

    Here's a little video overview including some action shots

    Here is the cane assembled along with the adapter and bottle:



    The separation between chamber and barrel is roughly at the center and is marked by the middle part of the painted "bamboo" finish which is rather well done.



    Here's what's inside the barrel section, there is a lock mechanism connected to an outer tube into which a rifled brass liner is inserted. The rifling appears to be pressed rather than cut, and an odd choice to even rifle it in the first place given that these were mostly used with round balls and there wasn't really a way to aim it with any precision.



    Close-up of the lock mechanism and adapter. I could not find any maker's marks anywhere, however the design is typical of the air canes made and sold by James Townsend of Birmingham est. 1845.

    I would be much obliged if anyone had any further information on this particular model.



    Here is a diagram roughly to scale of the lock, the crank is rotated clockwise to cock the mechanism until it is caught by the trigger.

    When the trigger is pressed, the crank is released and is rotated quickly anti-clockwise by the main spring, striking the hammer which transfers the movement to the firing pin that opens the valve.



    Detail of the internals of the valve, of note is the original animal horn seal that just needed a little polishing and sealed perfectly.

    The adapter was machined from C12L14 steel.



    Valve assembly put together and the other end of the adapter with a male 5/8-18 UNF thread to fit the paintball bottle



    Detail of the connecting faces of barrel and chamber assembly. Note that there is some damage to the firing pin housing that would allow some air to escape while firing and probably interferes with the proper striking of the valve, however I made no attempt to repair it.



    Filling adapter, cocking key and some Hornady 32 cal (0.310" diameter) lead ammunition

    In terms of performance, during initial testing I was rather disappointed.

    Above 850 psi or so the valve simply won't open, below that it's extremely sensitive to how much the barrel assembly is screwed into the valve body.

    If it's tightened as far as it can go (not too much or it opens the valve), then it will give a short sharp burst of air and the ball comes out with very little velocity, and won't even pierce the bottom of a soup can.

    If on the other hand a 1mm gap or so is left between the two faces, the valve is blown wide open and it virtually empties the reservoir.

    You can see this happen in the slow motion video where the first can is picked up by the airflow and yeeted at full hilt downrange.

    The problem turned out to be that the valve stem is actually proud of the base of the thread, this was the reason it leaked if the barrel assembly was fully tightened. I figured that after more than a century the seal had deformed allowing it to come to rest further than it was supposed to.

    I made a new valve stem with a Delrin seal to rectify the issue, here it is next to the old one:



    Installed in the valve body you can see that it's slightly recessed at rest:



    I did some testing and what a difference, completely different animal!

    Pumped it to 1000 psi just to see what it would do and while the valve opened, it took a few shots before it even pushed the ball out of the barrel.

    When I eventually got it to fire I ran some shots over the chrono and it was laughable:

    76 fps - 0.6 ft lbs

    130 fps - 1.7 ft lbs

    156 fps - 2.4 ft lbs

    Took it down to 600 psi and the results were very different:

    634 fps - 39.8 ft lbs

    623 fps - 39.4 ft lbs

    616 fps - 37.6 ft lbs

    602 fps - 35.9 ft lbs

    Those are some impressive figures for a device of this vintage.

    I'm tempted to go a little further and make a balanced valve so it can be used at higher pressures...

  2. #2
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    Thank you for going to the trouble and detail here, the photos and drawing make it easy to follow, even for mear morcels like me

  3. #3
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    Excellent restoration, thank you.
    Vintage Airguns Gallery
    ..Above link posted with permission from Gareth W-B
    In British slang an anorak is a person who has a very strong interest in niche subjects.

  4. #4
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    Just to add, the OP is not based in the UK.

    Excellent thread.

    Dave
    Smell my cheese

  5. #5
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    I am friends on FB with a guy who plays with Giffards, "there built for shooting not wall hangers" again not based in the UK but once it's been re sealed there good to go and still very impressive....

  6. #6
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    Thanks gents!

    Quote Originally Posted by Unframed Dave View Post
    Just to add, the OP is not based in the UK.
    Yes I should have specified.

    Quote Originally Posted by AC all day View Post
    "there built for shooting not wall hangers"
    I have to say that if it was complete with pump, accessories and case I would have been more reticent to dismantle and shoot it, but as it is this example is perfect to tinker with.

  7. #7
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    Some progress, I gave the balanced valve a go and was able to raise firing pressure to 1100 psi.

    Video of some initial testing with this setup

    Best velocity recorded was 774 fps for 59.3 ft lbs, around 50% more than the maximum for the conventional valve.

    I was a little conservative with the diameter of the balanced portion, I was worried that if it was too close to the seat then it might have problems sealing.

    In that regard I've probably erred too much on the side of caution with 7mm, and can afford to go a little higher...

    More to follow, I will post more details of the valve once I've optimized it further.

  8. #8
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    awesome thread.. very interesting on the valve/lock mech too.
    I'm currently looking for: crosman pumper spares (1322/1377/2289), a 2250/2260 main tube & valve, 25mm scope mounts to suit a 13mm BSA maxgrip, any thin drinking straw barrels (any cal), and any cheap, interesting, knackered project guns. Thanks, JB.

  9. #9
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    Thanks!

    Some balanced valve development:



    Balanced valve V1 and housing compared to the improved poppet and original housing.

    Note the groove at the head of the valve to allow air to vent into the balanced portion.

    The head diameter is also reduced to 6mm from 8mm for better flow.



    Balanced valve V2 with a larger bore balanced portion to decrease the seating bias and allow operation at even higher pressure.

    Diameter is increased from 7mm to 9mm and the housing is bored out accordingly.

    Pumped it up to 1800 psi and shot it over the chrono.

    The display showed 520 feet per second but I suspect this is erroneous as the lead ball went further into the wooden backstop than previous shots. The muzzle was probably too close to the first sensor on the chrono.

    Loaded up a second shot and got an almighty whoosh, and this:



    That works out at 84.2 ft lbs

    The chamber was completely empty however, and subsequent evaluation revealed the reason:



    It turns out that allowing the valve to bottom out and a relatively weak valve spring might not be the best ideas at this end of the performance spectrum...

    I think a minor redesign will solve the issue, watch this space

  10. #10
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    That is really slick, a deer-hunting cane! There is also the possibility to adjust the opening / lift of the valve, maybe by a screw on the metal head to change the clearance from striker to valve.

    Don R.

  11. #11
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    Slightly off topic but what were these things for, back in the day? A novelty, or something else?

    If I was a Victorian gent planning to use my walking stick in self defence I think I’d probably feel safer just with a stick for bashing, (or even a swordstick, I suppose, back then) so I’m wondering if they were just cool gadgets, or were they supposed to have a serious use?

    Great thread btw.
    The miserable man and evil minded, makes of all things mockery,
    and knows not that which he best should know,
    that he is not free from faults.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by draitzer View Post
    That is really slick, a deer-hunting cane!
    You hear about these being used for poaching, however I doubt the gentleman who could afford one would indulge in such caddishness

    There is also the possibility to adjust the opening / lift of the valve, maybe by a screw on the metal head to change the clearance from striker to valve.
    Due to the translation of rotational motion with this type of lock, I'm a little hesitant to play with that as a variable as it does not seem to alter performance as predictably as one would expect with more traditional linear hammers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Cornelius
    Slightly off topic but what were these things for, back in the day? A novelty, or something else?
    While supposedly for self defense, the fact that it's a single shot muzzle loader means that it was hardly practical for this purpose.

    They were more likely purchased as a novelty, as described in this article by Tom Gaylord:

    The popular myth is that air canes were 19th century defensive weapons. Most advanced collectors believe this is untrue, because it takes a lot of work to make a muzzleloading air cane ready to fire. Perhaps, if you knew you were about to go in harm’s way, you might have time to make the weapon ready, but a derringer or even a good knife would be better. Using an air cane for self-defense would be the equivalent of holding up a liquor store with a flintlock — not the thing a thoughtful person would do. I think sword canes are much more capable defensive weapons, and people have probably extrapolated the defense role to air canes because of their similar appearance.

    Many collectors believe the principal attraction to air canes was simply their existence. They were portable science experiments one could use to amaze both family and friends.

    They were not used as walking sticks. The end of the ramrod did have a brass tip that could be put on the ground, but it was too fragile to serve as a walking support. It was more for show than for go.

  13. #13
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    The Victorians were great ones for collecting and I believe that Gentlemen would often carry them on country walks loaded with shot , just in case a specimen they desired appeared in range. I also believe that solid shot used was often clay balls so as not to damage small birds/mammals too much. Unobtrusive and fairly silent, they were ideal for the job.

    Never read anything about them being intended or used for self defence. remember this was in the days when small pocket pistols were cheap, common and had no restrictions on them.

    Pity that modern ones are prohibited weapons in Europe now
    Last edited by WebleyWombler; 03-03-2021 at 08:18 PM.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by WebleyWombler View Post
    The Victorians were great ones for collecting and I believe that Gentlemen would often carry them on country walks loaded with shot , just in case a specimen they desired appeared in range. I also believe that solid shot used was often clay balls so as not to damage small birds/mammals too much. Unobtrusive and fairly silent, they were ideal for the job.
    Could you be thinking of the stone bow?

    My example is anything but silent and at over 35 ft lbs of muzzle energy in its standard configuration even a clay ball is going to make a mess of a small bird/mammal, you won't have much of specimen left.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by fullmetaljacket View Post
    Could you be thinking of the stone bow?

    My example is anything but silent and at over 35 ft lbs of muzzle energy in its standard configuration even a clay ball is going to make a mess of a small bird/mammal, you won't have much of specimen left.
    Nope. Air canes. Shot was the most common load and whilst you may feel they are noisy, compare that to a powder burner. remember that small .32 calibre revolvers could be bought for as little as 10/- in those days and had 5 or 6 shots. Air canes were more like a fiver and only single shot. Which would you carry for self defence?

    Stone bows were very common in this part of the world but clumsy for a gentleman to carry on an amble with his family or a group of like minded naturalists.

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