Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness 1911

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When I was a kid, I had a toy Colt 1911 (not that I knew what it was back then) which fired rubber-tipped darts.  It was my favourite pistol.  To my childish eyes, it looked just the way a gun should look- squat, no-nonsense, chunky and somehow menacing.  I also liked my die-cast, cap-firing Luger, but despite the cachet of this being a “baddie” gun (which is of course wildly cool when you’re ten years old), my preferred sidearm was always the Colt, especially when I was fighting off the relentless attacks of Stormtrooper Action Man from the top of the stairs.

My replicas are a little more sophisticated now, and if I owned a Stormtrooper Action Man, it would be a collectible far too precious and expensive to be shot at.  But the 1911 still looks to me like a “proper” semi-auto pistol – the standard against which others are judged.  I wasn’t interested in airsoft pistols back in 2010 and though there were some .177 replicas of the 1911 around, none were fully functional.  Until Cybergun announced the release of the Tanfoglio Witness in 2011.  I can’t remember when I was last so excited about the release of a replica pistol.  And then of course they sold out almost as soon as they were released, and I wasn’t able to find a new one.  I ended up paying more than I should for a barely used second-hand example.  And I loved it.  In fact, I liked it so much that I ended up buying two more over the next twelve months.

So, you’ll understand that this isn’t an entirely dispassionate review.  I had to sell my collection what I moved away from the UK, and those Witnesses are amongst the replicas I still miss most.

Real steel background

The Colt 1911 was created by legendary U.S. firearms designer John Moses Browning, and was an evolutionary development of previous pistols such as the Colt Model 1900.  The pistol which became the M1911 was initially produced in 1905 in response to a US Army procurement exercise intended to replace the then current Colt M1892 revolver as the standard US Army sidearm.  The army were looking for a gun which would chamber the new .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) round and which would be simple, rugged and reliable enough for military use.

tfw1Combat reports had noted the poor performance of the .38 calibre round for which the M1892 was chambered.  The .45 ACP cartridge
was designed by Browning in 1904 as an experimental round for semi-automatic pistols.  It was significantly larger and heavier than any other contemporary pistol cartridge and promised to provide the stopping power which was lacking in the smaller .38.  During the 1905 trials, pistols from several manufacturers were examined, including a Luger chambered for .45 ACP.

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US Soldiers with 1911s, circa 1912

Photo: National Archives

The design of the 1911 was hugely influential and most semi-automatic pistols which followed used variations of the same basic approach.  The principle of using expanding combustion gases to extract the used cartridge case and load the next round wasn’t new – the Mauser C96 and P.08 (Luger) pistols were both well established when Browning began his design.  However, both used  complex mechanisms to achieve self-loading and both were prone to jamming if they were not kept scrupulously clean.  The 1911 was much simpler, and was one of the earliest pistols to use a moving slide.  It’s an elegantly simple design which proved simple to manufacture and reliable in use.

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World War One Colt M1911

An exhaustive series of field tests were carried out between 1906 and 1911 to determine which pistol best suited the needs of the army.  The Colt was modified and improved during this time and trounced the opposition in later trials – at one test in late 1910, 6000 rounds were fired through one of the Colt test pistols over the course of two days.  When it inevitably over-heated, the gun was simply plunged into cold water to cool it.  Despite this brutal treatment the Colt suffered no stoppages during the test (its closest rival, the Savage pistol, had 37 stoppages).  The Colt was formally adopted for service with the US Army on March 29th, 1911 as the M1911 pistol.  Despite its success, Browning was never entirely happy with the pistol.  He felt that some features (such as the grip safety) had been forced upon him by illogical Army requirements.  Many of the features of the 1911 were re-visited in his final semi-automatic pistol design, the 9mm Browning Hi-Power which appeared after his death in the mid-1930s.

With minor external changes in 1924 to become the M1911A1, the Colt remained the principal sidearm of the US army until 1986 when it was replaced by the Beretta M9, though derivatives of the original 1911 are still used by some US military units.  Original 1911s were supplied in a blued finish, though many A1s have a “Parkerised” finish – a non-reflective, grey zinc phosphating process which provides good protection from corrosion.  The 1911 is single action only (i.e. the hammer must be manually cocked or the slide racked before it can be fired) but the principal disadvantage of this pistol is that it holds relatively little ammo – it’s admirably slim, but only seven of the fat .45ACP rounds can be squeezed into the magazine.

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World War Two Parkerised Colt M1911A1

In the wider world, copies and clones of the 1911 have been produced in many countries and these and originals have been used by a wide variety of military and law enforcement agencies around the world.  Captured 1911s were even used by German Volkssturm units in World War Two as the P.660(a).  In late 2004 the US Army Marksmanship Unit began work on the M1911A2 project, which is looking at whether an improved variant of the original 1911 may yet find large scale usage within the US military.  No-one is entirely sure how many 1911s, copies and clones have been produced, though over 2.5 million were provided to US armed forces alone.

This handgun is almost unique in terms of longevity.  The only other pistol I can think of that comes close is another Colt product – the Single Action Army.  However, although that gun is still manufactured, the current third generation SAA models are significantly different to the 1873 original.  Although there are many variations on the 1911 theme, it’s still possible to buy a pistol which is essentially identical to the original.  Outside the gun world, I think you’d be hard pressed to find another piece of relatively modern technology that has remained in use virtually unchanged for over 100 years.  For this reason alone the 1911 is worthy of interest.

The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness 1911

Cybergun S.A. is a French distribution and marketing company which sells branded airsoft and replica air pistols manufactured in Asia.  In 2011 (to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1911) the company introduced the Tanfoglio Witness, a 4.5mm replica manufactured by Taiwanese company KWC.  Fratelli Tanfoglio Snc (Tanfoglio Brothers) is an Italian company which produces a range of semi-automatic handguns including the Witness, a copy of the 1911.  The Witness is a copy of the 1911A1 with a finish similar to the Parkerised finish of the original.  So, this is a French distributed, Taiwan manufactured replica of an Italian copy of an American pistol.  Simple really, though it seems surprising that Cybergun didn’t go for a straight 1911 replica as they have extensive licensing agreements with Colt.

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The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness 1911

Picture from Cybergun.com

When it was first released, the Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness sold very well.  Probably unsurprising as it was the first accurate Colt 1911 replica in 4.5mm and was relatively inexpensive.  In fact it was so popular that many retailers quickly sold out and even second-hand examples became hard to find.  The Tanfoglio Witness is still listed as a current model on the Cybergun website, but supply seems to be sporadic with many retailers reporting the pistol sold out and on back order for long periods.

The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness is a CO2 powered, blowback 4.5mm BB replica with a 4.3 inch smoothbore barrel.  It’s all metal (zinc alloy) and the matt grey finish is visually a good match for Parkerisation.  CO2 is contained in a full-size drop-out magazine, though in order to fit a standard CO2 cartridge in the slim magazine the sides are cut away.  The sights are fixed and, like the original, this is single action only.

Spec;

Calibre: 4.5mm

Capacity: 18 round magazine

Propellant: CO2

Barrel length: 4.3″

Weight: 2 pounds

Length: 8″

Sights: Fixed

Action: SA only

Packaging and presentation  3/5

The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness comes in a sturdy cardboard box with a an expanded polystyrene insert cut-out to fit the pistol and accessories.  The pistol comes with a magazine, a ¼” allen key for tightening/piercing the CO2 and a small box of Cybergun steel BBs.

tfw9Oddly, the box and instruction sheet claim that the Witness has Spin-Up, the Cybergun proprietary hop-up adjustment.  This is incorrect – no hop up is provided on this or any other 4.5mm BB shooting replica as it’s not possible to impart the required spin to the heavier steel BBs.  The instruction sheet also notes that the Witness shoots 6mm plastic BBs, which is also obviously incorrect.

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Visual accuracy  7/10

The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness is an extremely accurate visual replica of the Colt 1911A1.  Surprisingly however, it’s not a particularly accurate replica of the Tanfoglio Witness 1911!  The real Witness has a straight backstrap, rounded hammer,  “double diamond” wood grips, an extended grip safety spur and an extended magazine base.  So, although this is sold as a replica of the Tanfoglio Witness, it’s actually a very accurate visual replica of the Colt 1911A1.  Confused?  So am I.  For the remainder of this review, I’ll compare this replica to the Colt 1911A1 rather than the real Tanfoglio Witness.

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The real Tanfoglio Witness 1911

Picture from: http://www.tanfoglio.it/eng/catalogo/defence/witness-1911.html

I really can’t fault this as a replica of the M1911A1, with the Parkerised finish seen from the late 1930s onwards.  Every contour of the frame and slide and every detail of the trigger and hammer are accurately replicated – even small details like the checkering on the front of the trigger and on the top surface of the hammer are present.  Overall, this is a very good visual replica indeed.  Apart from the markings.  The slide of the Witness is marred by bright, white lettering – on the left this reads “Tanfoglio Witness 1911” which is just about acceptable (though this marking isn’t used on the slide of the real Witness), but on the right of some examples is a whole paragraph of white safety text.  To me, this really spoils the look of the right side of this pistol.  However, this safety text doesn’t appear on every example – I have owned three Tanfoglio Witnesses.  Two had the white safety lettering on the right of the slide while the third had just “Made in Taiwan Witness” on the right, though all three came in similar packaging.

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Right side of one of my Witnesses with (inset) block of safety text seen on right side of slide on some examples.

Overall, this is a very good visual replica of the Colt 1911, though somewhat spoiled by garish and unnecessary markings.

Functional accuracy  14/15

The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness faithfully replicates every aspect of the operation of the original. The slide operates and locks as it should.  The safety, slide release and mag release all operate as per the original weapon and the Witness can be field stripped correctly.  The Witness shoots in single action only and the weight of the replica is close to that of the original.

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The Witness also replicates the function of the slightly quirky grip safety on the original 1911.  The grip safety is a moveable section on the upper part of the backstrap.  Regardless of the position of the manual safety, the pistol will not fire unless this is depressed, as it is naturally when you grip the pistol.  On the original, this was included to prevent accidental discharge if the 1911 was dropped.  Designer John Browning felt that this was superfluous and it certainly hasn’t appeared on many subsequent designs, but it’s nice to see this function accurately replicated here.  One minor irritation is that this means you need two hands to de-cock the pistol – there is no de-cocker provided, and the only way to de-cock is to pull the trigger and gently lower the hammer.  However, this can only be done while the grip safety is depressed.

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Grip safety

This replica will even allow you to experience one of the nastier features of the real 1911 – a tendency to bite.  Unless you hold a 1911 correctly, it’s possible to experience “hammer bite” – a very painful nipping of the web of skin that runs from the thumb to the forefinger and which can be caught between the hammer and grip safety spur as the recoiling slide cocks the hammer (this was a particular problem on early models, and was one reason why the A1 had a longer grip safety spur).  The Tanfoglio Witness replicates this precisely.  Perhaps not with quite the force of the original, but sufficient to draw blood if you’re unlucky.

Engaging the manual thumb safety on the left side of the frame locks the slide and disengages the trigger.  Just as one the original, all controls are set up for right handed use only – no ambidextrous appeal here.  However, I’m a lefty and I didn’t find this caused any major problems with shooting the 1911.  Grips from a real 1911 can be fitted to the Witness with very little modification, making it simple to customise.

Overall, this is a very good functional replica of the Colt 1911.

Shooting  32/40

CO2 is loaded into the magazine, and tightened and pierced using the ¼” allen key provided.  Generally this is done cleanly and without major leaks, though one of my Witnesses leaked at the main CO2 seal from new.  Up to 18 BBs can be loaded into the magazine, though many users have noted that loading all 18 can cause problems with misfeeds and jamming – generally it seems better to load 15 or less.  The magazine follower does not lock down, so you have to hold it in place while loading.

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With the magazine inserted, the slide must be racked to move the first BB into the chamber and to cock the hammer.  On pulling the trigger, you’ll initially notice two things – the Witness is loud for an air pistol and the recoil is very strong.  Both make this pistol seem more powerful than it really is – Cybergun claim 320fps for the Witness, but I found 290 – 310fps more realistic in the chilly North of Scotland.

Take-up on the trigger is short and light and the release point is clear and consistent.  When you start shooting, the next thing you’ll probably notice is that your shots aren’t grouping particularly closely.  Accuracy is variable – of my three Witnesses, one was notably more accurate than the others, and all seemed sensitive to BB selection.  I found best accuracy was achieved with Blaster steel BBs.  Generally, I was getting groups of around 2″ at six yards, though this reduced to less than 1½” with the best of my Witnesses.  When the magazine is empty, the slide locks back.

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CO2 consumption is reasonable for a blowback pistol – I generally got around 50 – 60 full power shots per CO2 cartridge.  Be aware however that some examples have a tendency to fire full-auto bursts when the CO2 pressure gets low!

The loudness and strong recoil make this a very satisfying replica to shoot, though accuracy is no better than average for a BB pistol.  The slim profile and good balance inherited from the original 1911 make this a natural pointer and a pistol which simply feels good in the hand.

Quality and reliability  11/15

The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness looks and feels as if it’s very well made.  The slide fits well without rattles and racks smoothly and cleanly – which is more than can be said for many real 1911s!.  The finish is well applied and seems more durable than the finish on some Cybergun replicas – the GSG92, for example.  However, it appears that quality control may be variable.  Some Witnesses seem to go on shooting almost indefinitely without any problems.  Others seem to give problems from the start.  This doesn’t seem to be confined to a single batch or production run, it seems to be almost random.  Of my three Witnesses, two performed very well indeed, shooting reliably and powerfully and without any issues.  The third seemed to have a whole range of niggly problems with BB feeding, jamming, inconsistent power and variable accuracy.  I don’t have figures to back this up, but anecdotally from talking to other owners, my impression is that most Witnesses are reliable and powerful with only a small number giving problems.

It’s also notable that filling the magazine to capacity does seem to cause problems with misfeeds and jamming – it seems better to load fewer than 18 BBs.

Overall Impression  14/15

I love the Colt 1911.  It’s a testament to the longevity of basically sound design.  It’s also a well balanced, slim and characterful pistol which is very satisfying to shoot.  So, no surprise that I also like the Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness a great deal.  In fact, I’d say that it’s about as close to the experience of shooting a real 1911 as it’s possible to get without using gunpowder.  For me, this is how replicas should be – heavy, loud with strong recoil and tough to shoot consistently, but wonderfully satisfying when you do.

Modifying the Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness

The Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness has proved to be a very popular platform for modification.  Partly this is due to low cost, but also because the metal used is of sufficient quality to facilitate stripping and re-coating, painting or polishing.  Real 1911 grips can also be fitted with very little modification.

tfw2TFW with hydraprinted slide, Duracoated frame and controls, modified trigger, Madbull airsoft suppressor and pearl grips.  Picture courtesy Freeballer74.

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Stripped, mirror polished Witness with vented slide, nickel plated trigger, hammer, slide release and thumb safety and white resin grips.  Stunning!  Picture from Black Dog Pistols (see link at bottom)

Conclusion

It’s really very simple – if you have any interest in replicas of historic pistols, you need to have a Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness in your collection.  The Colt 1911 is one of the most significant handguns ever made and this (in my opinion) is the best replica to date.  It looks, weighs, handles and shoots just like a real 1911.  It also appears to be generally well made, it shoots reasonably well and it’s inexpensive.  There does seem to be a question mark over reliability however – there seem to be distinctly good and bad examples and if you are unlucky enough to get a bad one, it may take some fettling to get it right.  However, that this replica is also a great basis for modification and customisation is an added bonus.

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Cybergun have gone on to produce other variations on the 1911 theme with the Swiss Arms 1911 and the Blackwater BW1911, but for me none have the raw appeal of this original 1911 replica.  So, if you don’t already own a Tanfoglio Witness – you need to get one now.  If you already own one, why not get another, strip off the paint, polish it and fit pearl grips?  You know it makes sense!

Total score: 81/100

Buy:

You can buy this replica at Pyramid Air here.

Related pages:

Tokyo Marui Colt 1911A1 review

Umarex Colt Government 1911 A1 review 

Cybergun GSG92 review

Cybergun SIG Sauer P226 X-Five review

Nagant M1895 revolver review

WE Tokarev TT33 review

Walther PPK/S review

Walther P99 Compact review

Umarex Legends P-08 review

Modifying the Tanfoglio Witness:

Magic9 Design

Black Dog Pistols

Links

Cybergun web page

KWA HK45

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There is an on-going debate amongst replica air gun enthusiasts about airsoft weapons versus “real” air pistols.  Many airgun fans regard airsofts as little more than inaccurate, underpowered and expensive toys.  While in the past there may have been some truth in this, improved designs and advances in technology mean that newer airsoft pistols handle and shoot very well indeed.  Personally, I feel that many modern airsoft pistols should be regarded as air weapons which simply happen to use a different calibre of BB.

So, I’m going to review here the KWA/Umarex HK45 which, IMHO, is a very fine replica air pistol which stands comparison to other replicas of any calibre.

Real steel background

For some background to Heckler and Koch, please see the Umarex HK P30 review (link at the bottom of this article).

The HK45 is an evolutionary development of the Heckler and Koch USP (Universale Selbstladepistole:  “Universal Self-loading Pistol”) and is functionally very similar to that weapon.  Chambered for the .45 ACP round, the HK45 has a distinctive polygonal O-ring barrel, replaceable grip backstraps, improved ambidextrous controls and a standard picatinny accessory rail.  To keep the grip within comfortable ergonomic limits, the HK45 magazine holds just ten of the fat .45 ACP rounds (compared to 15 rounds in the 9mm variant of the USP).

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The HK45 was originally developed for the U.S. Military Joint Combat Pistol (JCP) and Combat Pistol (CP) programs which were intended to find a replacement for the ageing Beretta M9.  Both programs were cancelled in 2006 before a new pistol could be selected but HK continued with commercial development of the HK45, targeting the military, law enforcement and personal defence markets.  The HK45 was released in 2007.

The HK45 is the first HK pistol to be assembled (from U.S. and German made components) at the Heckler and Koch manufacturing facility in Newington, New Hampshire, USA.

The KWA/Umarex HK45

KWA is a Taiwanese airsoft manufacturing company which began as the Original Equipment Manufacturer for several well-known airsoft companies before starting to offer their own products in 2006.  KWA has a long association with Japanese design and R&D company KSC.  KWA also manufacture pistols which are branded as KSC products in some countries.  KWA have a reputation for producing very high quality airsoft pistols which are also used as training weapons by some law enforcement agencies.

Umarex holds the worldwide exclusive rights to the HK trademark and the exterior design copy license for the HK45.  On the packaging for this pistol “Powered by Umarex” is prominently featured, though my understanding is that Umarex have no involvement in design or manufacture beyond granting a license for this replica.

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The KWA HK45 is a gas powered, blowback replica with a metal slide and fittings and polymer frame and grip.  It is a fully licensed replica featuring accurate trademarks and markings.  The KWA HK45 features the NS2 internal gas delivery system, a KWA patented design. NS2 utilizes an advanced lightweight composite gas piston with a two-stage internal expansion chamber that delivers gas more efficiently.  KWA claim that this increases cycle rate and provides a crisp, powerful blow back action as well as increasing muzzle velocity and providing more consistent shooting.  The magazine is an integral part of the system and is a one-piece construction milled from solid alloy billet.  NS2 is functionally identical to System7 which is used on some KSC branded pistols.

Spec;

Calibre: 6mm

Capacity: 28 round magazine

Propellant: Green Gas

Barrel length: 4″

Weight: 1.9 pounds

Length: 7.9″

Sights: Fixed, white dot

Action: SA/DA

Packaging and presentation  3/5

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The HK45 is provided in a rather nice cardboard box with HK and Umarex markings on the top.  The only KWA marking you’ll find here is a discreet logo on one of the end panels, and even there it shares space with HK and Umarex trademarks.  The box features hard foam with cut outs to fit the pistol and accessories.  The box is sturdy, but not suitable for display.

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Backstrap, hop up tool (top) and lock-out key

The KWA K45 comes with a small bag of BBs, a replacement backstrap, a hop-up adjustment tool and a lock-out key.  The lock-out key engages with an opening in the mag well.  With the hammer down, turning the key through 90° disengages the hammer.  KWA claim this allows “safe storage” – not sure about that, but the key and lock-out system are identical to those used on the real HK45.

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Using the lock-out key

Visual accuracy  10/10

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Real HK45 (left), KWA HK45 (right).  Probably.

The KWA HK45 is visually identical to the real weapon.  Every contour of the frame , slide and grip are accurately modelled and all controls are accurately placed and modelled.  All markings on the real weapon are replicated.  Even the tiny green O-ring on the barrel of the original is present on the replica.  The replica has “Licensed Trademark of Heckler & Koch Gmbh” in white lettering on the lower right front of the slide which doesn’t appear on the original.  Other than this, it’s virtually impossible to tell the original from the replica.

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Barrel O-ring

In terms of visual accuracy, this is about as good as it gets for replica pistols.

Functional accuracy  14/15

Many recent KWA pistols are intended as training aids for law enforcement operatives, so it’s no surprise to find that the functional accuracy of the KWA HK45 is extremely close to that of the original.  All controls here work as per the original.  The slide release and magazine release are ambidextrous as per the original.  The safety/decocker lever  is provided on the left side of the fame only (again, as per the original) though markings are provided on the frame to allow fitting a right-side lever.  Looking at how closely the KWA HK45 matches the real weapon (both internally and externally) I wouldn’t be surprised if the HK parts which can be used to convert the lever to the right side of the frame would fit on the replica, which would make it one of the very few replicas to be truly ambidextrous.

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The only thing that I can see which doesn’t work on the replica is the ejector pin.  On the real weapon, the ejector pin projects slightly when a round is in the chamber and the upper surface of the pin is painted red.  This acts as an external visual loading indicator.  The red paint is present on the replica, but the ejector pin is fixed in place.

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The KWA field strips as per the original – the magazine is removed, the slide is moved back until a cutout is aligned with the combined slide release/locking pin on the left.  The pin is then pushed out from the right side and removed, and the slide can be pushed forward off the frame.  It’s a very similar setup to that used on the venerable Colt 1911.

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Removing the slide locking pin

This replica loads, shoots and strips in precisely the same way as the original.  Other than for the addition of a moving ejector pin, it’s difficult to see how a replica could be more functionally accurate.

Shooting  32/40

The KWA HK45 is loaded by filling the full size magazine with gas and BBs.  Filling is done without drama or leaks.  The magazine follower locks down and the mag double stacks to hold up to 28 BBs.  I found the pistol worked well with 0.2g BBs.  The slide is racked for the first shot, which pushes a BB into the chamber and cocks the hammer for single action.  The HK45 feels particularly good in the hand – balance is very good and it points naturally.  Heckler and Koch spent a great deal of time perfecting the ergonomics of the original weapon and this is apparent when using the replica.

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Hop-up is adjusted using the supplied tool which engages with a toothed adjustment wheel.  Adjustment is precise, but the slide has to be held half-way back while this is done – with the slide locked back, the tool can’t reach the adjustment wheel.

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Using the hop-up adjustment tool

The trigger pull in single action is crisp, light and consistent.  In double action it is longer, but still fairly light and consistent.  The three white dots on the non-adjustable sights make lining up the target simple.  The pistol has adjustable hop up, though shooting 0.2g BBs at six yards I found that no adjustment was required.  Blowback is particularly crisp and strong and the pistol fires with a satisfying crack.  I have had no misfeeds or failures to fire though I have seen other owners reporting occasional double feeding of BBs.  The magazine holds gas for more two weeks without appreciable leaks.  It’s possible to fire two full magazines from a single fill, though power drops noticeably for the last few shots.  The slide locks back when the mag is empty.

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Six shots, six yards, 0.2g BBs, note flyer at lower edge of green circle

0.2g BBs hit the target hard at 6 yards and penetration is good – this knocks chunks out of a backstop which some other airsoft pistols just dent.  Accuracy is good.  I regularly get groupings around 1″ – 1¼”at 6yds though with occasional flyers which hit up to 2½” from the point of aim.  At 6yds, best accuracy seems to be obtained using 0.2g BBs.

Overall, this is one of my favourite airsoft pistols for target shooting.  It feels good and shoots well and reliably.  Groupings are generally good, though as noted with flyers approximately every ten shots.  My HK 45 is still fairly new, so it’s possible that this may improve with further use.  In terms of accuracy and consistency at six yards, this is comparable with many pellet shooting replicas and better than most steel BB shooters.

Quality and reliability  13/15

The weight of the KWA HK45 is good and is very close to the weight of the real weapon.  One slight disappointment is that a fair portion of this weight comes from the magazine, and with the magazine removed the pistol feels notably light.  However, most of the time you’re using this pistol the magazine will be in place, so this isn’t a major problem and the KWA HK45 does feel very well balanced.  The slide fits well with no side-to-side movement and no rattles.  The hammer, trigger and all other controls work well without play or slop.  The magazine locks and releases cleanly.

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The finish on the metal parts of the KWA HK45 seems well applied and durable – my pistol is showing no signs of wear.  The polymer parts seem robust and the textured finish feels good.

The only slightly suspect area is the outer barrel.  This is made of lightweight plastic, and some owners have reported that this can crack with extended use.  The pistol will still shoot if this happens, but it’s a surprising flaw in what otherwise seems to be a very well made replica.  I have read reports of premature wear on the slide locking catch, but my pistol seems unaffected.

Overall Impression  13/15

This a high quality, nicely finished replica which handles and shoots well.  Like the original, it’s ergonomically very good indeed with fine balance and a slim, contoured grip.  Visually it’s almost indistinguishable from the original weapon.  It has good weight, feels good to shoot and the crisp blowback helps to replicate the recoil of the real weapon.  It’s accurate enough for satisfying target shooting, though the occasional flyer BBs are something of a mystery.

Overall, this feels like a quality replica.  No surprise that it’s also more expensive than some other Taiwanese offerings.

Conclusion

This is a hefty and accurate replica pistol which shoots as well as it looks.  Forget that it uses green gas and shoots plastic BBs – this is as satisfying as any replica air gun I have tried.  I’d recommend anyone who thinks that airsoft pistols are toys to try one of these.  Don’t think of it as an airsoft – it’s simply a very fine air pistol indeed.

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For readers in the UK who may be put off owning one of these because of the convoluted laws regarding airsofts: have a look at the article on this site on UK airgun law – it provides suggestions on how you can legally buy airsoft pistols without being a skirmisher.

Total score: 85/100

Related pages:

Umarex HK P30 review

WE Bulldog (Beretta PX4 replica) review

UK Airgun law

Buy:

You can buy this pistol at Pyramid Air here.

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.

4427

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.

447

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.

4410

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.

4411

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).

4412

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.

4413

Stripped and ready for painting.  Again.

4414

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.

4415

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.

4416

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.

4417

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.

4421

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.

4422

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.

4423

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