Which is the best replica pistol? Part 1

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One of the most common questions I’m asked is “What’s the best replica pistol?”. Problem is, there isn’t really a single “best” replica. There will always be a trade-off between performance and functionality. Some replicas are good shooters, some are good functional replicas and some look and handle well. None (as far as I’m aware) excel at all three. The best replica for you will depend on what you’re looking for. So, having answered my own question in the second sentence, the rest of this article will be a meander through products from some well-known manufacturers, assessing which particular boxes each tick and whether any could be considered the best replica. The list is in alphabetical rather than in order of preference and it isn’t intended to be comprehensive or encyclopaedic, it’s just based on my own experiences. Having said all this, I’ll do my best at the end of Part 2 to select my candidate for the best replica. Probably.

And as ever, feel free to disagree.   Or even better, send me an article explaining your own ideas on the perfect replica…

ASG (Action Sport Games)

Action Sport Games A/S (ASG) is a Danish distributor of air and airsoft weapons and accessories. Most products are manufactured by OEM companies in Taiwan. ASG have license agreements with several well-known firearms manufacturers including Dan Wesson, STI International and Ceska Zbrojovka ( CZ) though they also provide unlicensed replicas of Glocks and Berettas. ASG market a range of spring, CO2 and green gas powered replicas including automatic rifles, sniper rifles and SMGs in addition to a range of semi auto pistols and revolvers.   Most ASG pistols are available in 6mm and 4.5mm versions, though I only have experience of the 4.5mm, CO2 range.

The Dan Wesson revolvers are well-known but ASG also produce a very nice range of CO2 powered blowback semi-auto pistols including the CZ75D Compact and the STI International Duty One. These are very nicely made and finished replicas, and pretty fair shooters too. The trigger action on the semi-auto replicas is a bit quirky though – the blowback action just cocks the hammer – it doesn’t queue up the next BB. So the first part of the long single action trigger pull pushes the BB into the chamber. Squeezing the trigger slowly or tentatively can lead to a BB falling out of the barrel or, if you pull the trigger back without firing and release, can lead to more than one BB being fired. That apart, these are very nice mid-priced replicas, and ASG recently announced the release of a pellet-shooting version of the Dan Wesson revolvers with a rifled barrel, which could be very nice indeed.

Best things about ASG replicas: Reasonable cost, blowback versions are good replicas, fair shooters.

Worst things about ASG replicas: Single action trigger action on blowback replicas, some questions about quality control/long-term reliability.

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My favourite ASG replica: Would probably be the 4.5mm, CO2, CZ 75D Compact blowback. Good replica, nice weight, well finished and as far as I know, the only 4.5mm licensed version of this chunky and attractive handgun. Nice shooter too – powerful, consistent and reasonably accurate.

Related pages:

Dan Wesson revolvers review

Website: http://www.actionsportgames.com/products-210.aspx

Crosman

Crosman Corporation is a US manufacturer and retailer of air pistols and rifles. The current range includes a number of (generally unlicensed) replicas of real world handguns. These are mostly fairly low cost replicas, and I can’t say that I find many of them (with the possible exception of the 357 revolver) very exciting. However, in the sixties and seventies, Crosman sold a range of replicas based on the iconic Colt Single Action Army, and it’s those I want to include here. Prompted by rising interest in all things cowboy, in 1959 Crosman introduced their first pellet firing, CO2 powered SAA replica – the Single Action 6 (SA6) which sold from 1959 – 1969.  In 1970 it was superseded by the Peacemaker 44.  Both the SA6 and the Peacemaker 44 were available in .22 calibre only and were all metal replicas, though from 1976 – 1981 a Peacemaker 44 in .177 calibre with a plastic outer cylinder was also produced. All production of Crosman SAA replicas had ended by 1982.

Very large numbers of both the SA6 and the Peacemaker 44 were produced, and these replicas are readily available in used condition. These are basic, crude, loud, fiddly to load, not terribly accurate and they gobble CO2. And I absolutely love them. If you have any interest in replica guns, you need to try shooting one of these SAA replicas. Personally, I wouldn’t bother with one of the later plastic cylinder models (or the Crosman Shiloh – a replica of the 1861 Remington revolver) as the build quality of these doesn’t seem quite so good. But if you can find a decent SA6 with its imitation stag-horn grips or a good original Peacemaker 44, grab it with both hands and don’t let go.

Best things about Crosman replicas: Low cost, Colt SAA replicas from the 60s and 70s are great fun.

Worst things about Crosman replicas: Just about everything else they currently make is of low quality with limited functionality and most are indifferent shooters.

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My favourite Crosman replica: Would be my very own Crosman Peacemaker 44. It’s super loud and I’m lucky to get 30 full power shots per CO2 but it’s nevertheless one of my favourite replicas to shoot. Weighty but with good balance and one of the best single-action triggers I have come across, it never fails to put a smile on my face. Why, oh why doesn’t someone introduce a new Colt SAA replica?

Related pages:

Refurbishing a Crosman Peacemaker 44

Website: http://www.crosman.com/

Cybergun

Cybergun is a French distribution company which markets a range of branded CO2 and green gas powered replicas including automatic rifles, sniper rifles and SMGs in addition to a range of semi auto pistols. Most are from Taiwanese OEM companies including KWC.   Cybergun pistols are available in 6mm and 4.5mm versions, though I only have experience of the 4.5mm, CO2 range.

Many Cybergun replicas have odd licensing agreements – their Taurus PT92B replica is branded as a GSG92/Swiss Arms P92, their Colt 1911 is the Tanfoglio Witness and the Mini Uzi sometimes appears as the Swiss Arms Protector. If markings are important to you, this may be an issue, but these are generally very good replicas indeed. Heavy and fully functional, they really are close to the feel of operating the real weapon. However, finish isn’t always the best: some Cybergun replicas seem to have a very thin coat of paint indeed which wears quickly and some folk report rapid wear of internal components. As shooters, they do seem to vary – I have owned three Cybergun Tanfoglio Witnesses and one was very accurate indeed while the other two weren’t quite so good. I also owned a GSG92 which had relatively poor accuracy and power and a Sig X5 which was very good indeed in both respects. Buy with fingers crossed.

Best things about Cybergun replicas: Low cost, good functionality and weight, good visual replicas.

Worst things about Cybergun replicas: Finish isn’t always of the best quality, some questions about long-term reliability, variable shooters.

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My favourite Cybergun replica: Is the 4.5mm, CO2, Mini Uzi blowback. I’m not sure this qualifies as a pistol at all, but it’s a very good functional replica with nice weight (it’s pretty much all-metal). The bolt is heavy, which gives a strong recoil. Not particularly accurate and it gobbles CO2, but in full auto mode (not available in the UK) it’s as subtle as a baseball bat with nails in it, but pure mad fun. It’s unlike any other replica I have owned – You really need to try one of these.

Related pages:

Cybergun GSG92/Swiss Arms P92 review

Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness review

Website: http://www.cybergun.com/en/home/

KWA/KSC

KWA and KSC are separate companies (KWA is a Taiwanese manufacturer and KSC is a Japanese R&D company). However, though both companies are very coy about explaining, there is obviously a close relationship between the two. Products branded KSC and KWA appear to be identical, though KWA products are generally a little cheaper. Both companies provide a range of electric and green gas powered rifles, SMGs and pistols in 6mm. All recent KWA/KSC replicas are high quality and visually and functionally very accurate: some are sold as PTP (Practical Training Pistol) training weapons. Some KSC/KWA replicas are licensed, but many are unlicensed but accurate replicas of real weapons – the KWA KZ75 for example, is a very good replica of the CZ75 but includes no CZ markings.

The KWA pistols I have owned have also been very accurate and consistent shooters, especially those featuring System 7/NS2 internals. Unfortunately, many airgun enthusiasts still regard airsoft pistols as toys. I’d recommend anyone who feels this way to try a KSC/KWA pistol – these are not only well made, well finished and accurate replicas, they’re satisfactory target-shooting air pistols too.

Best things about KWA/KSC replicas: Extremely accurate visual and functional replicas, good finish and overall quality, fair shooters.

Worst things about KWA/KSC replicas: High cost (especially KSC versions).

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My favourite KWA replica: Is the M226 PTP.It may not feature Sig Sauer licensing or markings, but you simply won’t find a better replica of the Sig P226. It has good weight at 1.8 pounds and every aspect of the function of the original, including field stripping, is replicated. It’s a handy shooter too, using the NS2 shooting system, and has a reputation for quality and reliability.

Related pages:

KWA HK45 review

Website: http://www.kwausa.com/

Coming soon: Part 2 – Tanaka, Tokyo Marui, Umarex and others. And possibly even a decision on the best replica…

Refurbishing and repairing a Crosman Model 44 Peacemaker

44peaceI recently acquired a slightly weary Crosman Model 44 Peacemaker.  That’s the .22 calibre successor to the Crosman SA-6 and a replica of the Colt 1873 Single Action Army (SAA).  Produced between 1970 and 1981, the 44 Peacemaker is a pellet only gun (the .177 36 Peacemaker shoots both BBs and pellets).  I have always fancied one of these Crosman guns, but the prices for working models seem to be very high.   So, when I was offered a leaky and in need of refurbishment Model 44 at a reasonable price, I was happy to go along with it.  However, buying a non-working older gun is always a gamble – you never know quite what you’re getting, and spares can be fiendishly hard to find.

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Here is the Crosman, as received  and pretty much as described by the seller.  Paint is flaking off the metal cylinder, the finish has rubbed off the hammer and trigger and there are a few areas where the paint on the body has chipped and discoloured.  However, the gun cocked and dry fired well with a nice positive action and the cylinder appeared to index correctly (though only shooting a pellet will show if this is actually true).  The plastic CO2 cover is missing, though I knew that when I agreed to buy.

Putting in a CO2 cartridge revealed a bad leak.  CO2 was venting continuously through the barrel, which suggested a failed main seal.  However, in the short time that it held CO2, it did seem to cock and fire properly (though I didn’t try it with a pellet).  My plan was to fix the leak and to do a general cosmetic refurbishment of the pistol.

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First step was to strip down the 44 Peacemaker and try to find the cause of the leak.  Very few tools are needed – a couple of good quality screwdrivers will be used for dismantling and a pair of needle nosed pliers are useful for removing tiny springs without having them spring into the middle distance.  First the plastic grips were removed by releasing the slotted screw on the left grip.

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Just four slotted screws hold the two halves of the 44 together.  Once these are removed from the right side, the upper (right) half is lifted clear.  Nothing pinged off – hurrah!  At a first glance, everything seemed to be there (even the tiny detent spring and ball bearing) and nothing looked broken.  I took lots of pictures for reference before doing anything else.

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Next I removed the cylinder, complete with valve assembly (which just slides out of the front of the cylinder when this is removed).  This was followed by the barrel, CO2 tightening screw, main leaf spring and the hammer, trigger, trigger return spring, safety bar and indexing pawl.  All simply lift out when the halves are separated.  Finally the tiny détente spring and ball bearing were removed.

The only problem I immediately saw was that the hammer has clearly been rubbing on the inside of the frame – some sort of spacer may be required here.

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Bright area (arrowed) where hammer has been rubbing

With the valve assembly out of the cylinder, I could see that one or two of the O-rings have nicks and marks (I’ll be replacing them all anyway), but there are no obvious problems.  Given that the leak is coming from the barrel, I suspect that the problem is the main seal.  This is accessed by unscrewing the top of the valve assembly.

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Not much in there really.  Next step was to try to remove the main seal from the firing/piercing pin to see if I could fabricate a replacement for the nitrile seal.  This looked simple – just drift the seal and brass carrier off the pin.  What could possibly go wrong?

448And here’s the answer – overenthusiastic drifting led to a broken firing pin and the severe startling of my cat due to a sudden storm of expletives.  Few things are more irritating than a problem you have caused entirely by yourself.  And this was purely down to me.  The brass carrier was very tightly drifted on to the pin, and I should have been more careful.  Now, fabricating a new firing pin is beyond my meagre capabilities, but fortunately I know a man who can.  Nick at Magic 9 Design is a talented gunsmith who specialises in airguns (see link at bottom of this article).  Nick responded to my panicked e-mails with reassurance that he’d make me a new firing pin.  I posted off the broken parts of the pin and started working on the cosmetic refurb.

I had better say right here that I am not an expert on old air pistols.  However I have been restoring old motorcycles and sports cars for more than 25 years, so I do know something about making sad old bits of metal look shiny again.

First step was to re-paint the 44.  I know folk have lots of different views about this – some people think that repainting spoils the originality of a gun.  I go along with this to a degree, but I believe that the original paint on this 44 was so chipped and flaked that there wasn’t any alternative.  If you are going to paint a gun, the first thing to look at is the original finish – is it matt, semi-matt (sometimes called satin) or gloss?  On the 44 it’s a semi-matt finish for the body of the gun and the cylinder, with a matt finish on the hammer and trigger.  The first job on the 44 was to paint the cylinder.  This is fairly straightforward as it’s a metal cylinder on the 44 (the cylinder is plastic on the 36 Peacemaker). 449

Cylinder stripped and ready for paint

If you are painting a pistol, I’d strongly recommend spray rather than brush paint and you need the right colour and finish, obviously, but you also want something that’s resistant to chipping and which won’t dissolve if it’s exposed to solvents or oils.  There are lots of good paints out there, but over the years I have used the Hammerite range of spray paints with good results.  These paints seem to bond well with metal (they’re used without primer), they last well and they’re readily available at home improvement and car accessory outlets.

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Left side, partly stripped.

Preparing the surface for painting is critical.  You need to get all traces of the old paint off.  If you use a good quality paint stripper, this isn’t too difficult, but you do need some patience to get into all the nooks and crannies.  If you find stubborn bits of paint which won’t come off easily, don’t scrape at them with anything metal (like a screwdriver blade), you’ll just mark the metal.  Instead, use a wooden spatula – an old ice lolly stick is ideal or a large kitchen style matchstick will do at a push.  Do check what you’re trying to get the old paint off – some aggressive paint strippers will dissolve plastic just as happily as paint, so check what it says on the tin before using paint stripper on plastic components.

When all the old paint is off, clean the item in warm water with some washing-up liquid in it.  This will help to get all the grease from years of use and your sticky finger marks off the metal.  Once the piece is clean, rinse it carefully with clean, warm water and don’t handle before it’s painted.

OK, now you’re ready to paint.  Almost.  Before you start, warm the paint.  Stand the aerosol can of paint in warm water for about 15 minutes before you start to spray.  This helps the paint to flow better, and gives a much better finish.  When you’re spraying, use light, even coats.  Don’t be tempted to try to put on lots of paint in one go.  I find that 2 – 3 light coats, with at least 30 minutes between coats works well.

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Frame halves and cylinder painted.

Let the piece dry thoroughly before handling.  Most paints take at least 24 hours to cure properly.  Don’t panic if the finish doesn’t look right immediately.  Some paints take time to achieve their final finish – for example, the Hammerite paint looks gloss when it’s first sprayed, and it doesn’t turn semi-gloss for about 12 – 18 hours after application.

Initially I was happy with the finish on the 44 – it looked just about the right tone of semi-matt.  However, after leaving it to cure for a couple of days, I noticed some bubbling of the paint in small areas (circled, below).

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It was obvious that I hadn’t removed all the old paint, and that these tiny traces of original paint had reacted with the new paint to cause the bubbling.  Unfortunately, when this happens, the only solution is to rub off all the new paint and start again, being especially careful to remove every trace of the old paint.

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Stripped and ready for painting.  Again.

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Painted, again.  No bubbling this time.

I also decided to repaint the hammer and trigger at this time.  I cleaned all traces of the finish off both, and painted using a matt-finish black.  You can see the result below (the wire is used to hang the piece during painting and drying).  The paint has reacted with something on the metal to cause bubbling and a gloss finish. The trigger was the same.   Beginning to wish I had never started the whole repainting job, I removed all the new paint and started again.

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I tried using two different types of paint, and the result was the same both times.  There is clearly something impregnated into the hammer and trigger which no amount of cleaning will remove, and which reacts with paint.  I finally ordered a small bottle of Birchwood Casey Aluminium Black from Amazon.  This is supposed to provide cold blueing of light alloys, such as those in air pistols.

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And… it worked!  After half a dozen applications, I ended up with a durable looking matt, very dark grey finish on the hammer and trigger.  Which is pretty much what I was hoping for.  I also tidied up the grip and frame screws.  The heads were badly marked.   The easiest way to do this is to stick them in the chuck of an electric drill, and use fine grade wet and dry paper on them as they rotate.  I could have tried to source new screws, but I imagine that finding identical fasteners for a gun of this age would be very difficult.  I also prefer to re-use original components wherever possible.  Poking the screws through holes in a piece of card gives good support for re-painting.

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I also ran a wire brush over the CO2 tightening wheel to clean it up, and that finished the cosmetic side of the refurb.

4418At around this time the firing pin was returned from Magic 9 Design.  Nick had made, tempered and hardened a new firing pin to replace the one that I broke, and installed a new 90 Shore Hardness polyurethane stem seal.  And very nice it looked too.   The new stem seal should fix the leak.

4419All O-rings were replaced and all internal components were cleaned, checked and lubricated with appropriate oil and grease.  Reassembly is fairly straightforward as long as you notice that there is a locating pin on the frame (arrowed) which must fit into a hole on the cap of the valve assembly (arrowed, inset), or the frame halves won’t join properly.

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The only really fiddly bit is installing the tiny detent ball and spring (arrowed below).  This isn’t a job to try if you have had more than your allotted daily ration of caffine!

4420With  the pistol back in one piece, it was time to try the action.  Unfortunately, it was immediately apparent that the new paint on the front of the cylinder was causing the cylinder to bind.  So, I dismantled again, and sanded the new paint off the front of the cylinder before reassembling.

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After second reassembly, the action was very good indeed – smooth, light, precise and creamy.  Interestingly, the hammer was no longer rubbing on the frame, even though I hadn’t installed a spacer.  One less thing to worry about.  Time to try CO2 in the pistol.  This 44 didn’t come with the plastic CO2 cover, so when spraying the pistol, I also sprayed a few CO2 cartridges, just to make them look a little less obtrusive.

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Time for the moment of truth – I inserted an new CO2 and…

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No leak!  Even better, it shoots very nicely indeed.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do a full review sometime soon.

Final thoughts?  It was much harder to get a decent finish on this pistol than I had expected.  Breaking the firing pin was stupid and entirely my fault – some care is required when working on this part.  Internally, the metal parts of the gun showed no signs of wear at all, despite the pistol being more than 30 years old. Internally the 44 Peacemaker is pretty simple and requires no special tools to disassemble.

Before…

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After…

4425The Crosman Wild West revolvers are featured in my book, Classic American Air Pistols, avaiable on Amazon:

Books

Related posts:

Classic Handguns – the Colt Single Action Army revolver

Umarex Colt Single Action Army revolver

Links:

Magic 9 Design