Servicing airgun springers – Mike Morton works on his gun club’s collection

Mike Morton services his gun club’s springer collection, starting with an HW97 called rifle A5 – will he be able to make Number Five come alive?

Airgun shooters wanting to join a club have a pretty wide choice these days, and while some clubs are airgun-only, many like to mix airguns with rimfires, and occasionally even centrefires and black powder firearms as well. 

My club falls into the latter category, and has a well-stocked armoury with which to train new shooters and let people shoot a particular discipline if they don’t already have a corresponding gun of their own. The club’s powder-burners are cleaned and serviced by a dedicated armourer, but the airguns are largely left to their own devices, so I offered to lend a hand.

The club operates a mix of PCPs and springers, but the first one handed to me for some TLC was a Weihrauch HW97 underlever. The 97 needs little in the way of introduction, being a more modern take on the German gunmaker’s HW77, this time being a scope-only rifle with a combined muzzle brake/underlever keeper up front. Some of the guns I’ve come across at various clubs and ranges over the years have been in a pretty woeful state, but this one appeared to be in very good overall condition.

 No obvious problems had been reported by the club, but I thought I’d carry out a reasonably thorough analysis, clean and basic service. I hope you’ll find these steps helpful, especially if you’re new to airgun shooting and are looking to buy a second-hand rifle.

When taking charge of any rifle, airgun or otherwise, the first port of call is to ensure it’s safe. With a springer like this, it’s simply a case of gently pulling down on the cocking lever to see if there’s any resistance. If you can feel the spring compressing under tension then this means the gun has not been cocked. 

If you pull down on the lever again, taking care not to go too far and actually cock the rifle, the sliding compression tube will be pulled backwards, exposing the breech, where you can now check to see if a pellet has been seated. These two initial safety checks should have been the end of it, but since the advent of Covid there was one more step that needed to be taken – sanitising the gun.

Who would have thought a couple of years ago that we’d need to do this to our guns? But this was now a necessary part of my overhaul, and rifle A5, as it is recorded by the club, was treated to a thorough application of Gun & Hand Sanitiser, one of three new cleaning products from On Target gun care (ontargetguncare.co.uk). 

I’d not used this particular product before, but it sprayed on evenly and wiped off cleanly, with what little that remained on the surface evaporating quickly and leaving no residue. I used this on both the wooden and metal surfaces as well as my hands, to ensure no nasty bugs were lingering.

The Assessment

Before working on any airgun it’s useful to check the rifle in its current state to ensure it’s functioning properly, identify any problem areas and see what might be improved upon. A quick check of the gun’s serial number suggested it had been manufactured in 2011, and its overall condition appeared near-mint – at least at first glance. 

The woodwork looked in great shape, and someone had added a homemade hamster for taking unsupported standing shots from the gallery range. However the cocking lever had a fair number of small scratches which had started to rust. Fortunately the rust was only superficial and came off fairly easily.

Elsewhere, the metalwork and bluing were all intact, and I suspect the damage to the lever had been caused by shooters cocking the rifle while wearing rings. One of my friends is so conscious of the damage a ring can cause that he removes his wedding ring every time he goes shooting. 

Gently pulling down on the cocking lever will let you see if a pellet’s been inserted in the breech and feel whether or not the rifle’s been cocked

That may seem a bit excessive to some people, but at least his metalwork never ends up being harmed. Apart from the cosmetic damage, scratches can lead to more serious rust, which, along with damaged seals, are a gun’s worst enemy.

My next step was to shoot the HW97 to make sure it was cocking properly and to ensure the automatic safety catch engaged and disengaged. I also subjected the rifle to the smack test – cocking the rifle, loading a pellet and disengaging the safety – all the while pointing the rifle safely downrange – then whacking the butt to make sure the gun didn’t involuntarily discharge. 

With the gun having passed this test, I was then able to fire off the pellet that was in the breech, returning the rifle to a safe state.

With the safety checks done, I now wanted to shoot the rifle properly to ensure the HW97 was operating within the legal limit and also to establish a benchmark in terms of its accuracy and consistency. Part of this process was to clean the barrel. 

Sanitising a gun is now part of a shooter’s responsibilities in the wake of Covid-19 – Mike’s using a dedicated product from On Target

This is a divisive exercise that many shooters never carry out, but I’m a firm believer in keeping it clean, so I ran a few patches through the barrel with a pull-through. As expected, the barrel was filthy, but it didn’t take much effort to get it perfectly clean. In a belt-and-braces approach, I followed this up with a perfectly dry Hoppe’s BoreSnake to remove any residual lead and barrel cleaning fluids.

With a clean bore, I fired a few pellets at 25 yards – the distance this gun is usually shot at on the club’s gallery range – and was pleased to see that it was grouping superbly with JSB Exact Express. I didn’t bother re-zeroing the scope for these pellets as this optic had temporarily been borrowed from another club gun, as had the mounts. This would all be addressed later.

Now I knew where the gun was shooting, I put a 10-shot string over the chronograph and found the rifle had a muzzle energy of 10.8 foot pounds, which was fine, but there was a variation in muzzle velocity of 17 feet per second, a disappointingly wide spread for a rifle of this quality.

Despite the rifle’s superb one-hole accuracy at 25 yards, it was a little noisy, much more so than my own admittedly tuned HW97, and the cocking and firing cycles felt slightly rough. 

But I decided to carry on shooting, this time at 30 yards. Group size was wider than expected and I also began to detect a whiff of dieseling. I suspected all the gun needed was a good internal clean and relube, and in order for that to happen the Weihrauch had to be taken apart.

Someone who knew what they were doing did a great job of shaping and fitting this homemade hamster to rifle A5

Cleaning the barrel on an underlever

The barrel on an underlever springer is fairly easy to clean, but some safety precautions do need to be taken as the rifle will need to be cocked in order to clean it properly.

The simplest way to clean the bore is to use a felt cleaning pellet, but it’s not enough to use one of these on its own. Springers need a pellet in place to slow the piston, as it will otherwise strike the compression chamber with too much force, potentially causing damage. In this case all the shooter needs to do is seat a lead pellet immediately behind the cleaning pellet, then fire them both together.

A pull-through works very well with an underlever. In this case a drinking straw was used to help guide the pull-through past the muzzle brake and into the bore. 

Patches soaked in cleaning fluid were then threaded through the loop and pulled back through the bore. During this process it’s important to keep the underlever under control and your fingers away from the breech at all times. Should the safety catch fail, the lever would snap up and the compression tube slam forwards, potentially harming both the gun and the shooter.

BoreSnakes are even simpler to use than a pull-through, with the brass weight at the end of the draw cord carrying it down the bore from the breech end. Once the draw cord has appeared at the muzzle, it’s then a case of pulling the snake through the barrel, keeping it concentric to the bore so it doesn’t start wearing a groove in the crown.

Once the barrel has been cleaned, do remember the gun will still be cocked, so it’s necessary to load and shoot a pellet to make the gun safe again. Springers should never be dry-fired as it can cause damage.


Off With The Stock

One tip I’m always keen to offer whenever a screwdriver is required is to ensure you’re using hollow-ground gunsmithing screwdriver bits rather than standard DIY chisel-headed screwdrivers. A hollow-ground bit of the correct width and thickness will fit a slotted screw head properly and won’t slip. 

Whoever had taken this rifle out of its stock to fit the homemade hamster had done an excellent job, as the two front stock screws, the front guard screw and the rear guard screw were in perfect shape. The trigger adjustment screw looked slightly mangled, so I bought and fitted a replacement.

With the action now free, I inspected the wooden stock and was again pleased to see that the hamster-maker had secured the device with some neatly countersunk screws that weren’t interfering at all with the function of the action. The stock and hamster were then treated to another On Target gun care product, the appropriately named Stock & Leather Cleaner. 

I’ve used this on leather slings and boots, and it performed wonderfully. The HW97’s stock was in clean condition to start with, especially since it had just been sanitised, but I thought it was worth doing in any case.

If you clean a stock, microfibre towels are a big help for wiping down the woodwork and cleaning off surplus product, but keep them away from the chequering as this can snag the fibres, which prove very difficult to remove. Instead, I prefer to use a toothbrush or dedicated gunsmithing brush for cleaning chequering as the bristles can really work their way into the nooks and crannies.

The metalwork had been left with something of a tide mark, with the metal that would normally sit proud of the woodwork now being clean, while everything that usually sat recessed into the stock was covered with fluff, dust and other detritus. 

It’s important to stop scope creep on a springer using an arrestor block or pin – the original rear mount did come with one, but it wasn’t being used

So it was time to break out my third and final secret weapon – On Target’s Extreme Degreaser. This is a powerful product that not only dissolves grease, but is easy to wipe clean, leaving a smear-free finish. Now I could see what I was working with, I had a decision to make: whether or not to take the next step and strip down the action.

Looking through the cocking slot, I could see that the mainspring had been coated with just the right amount of grease, and the grease looked fairly fresh and did not appear to have attracted any dirt. Still, I decided I would open up the rifle for a more thorough inspection. 

This process begins with the removal of the Rekord trigger unit, which is done by punching out two pins. I’ve carried out this procedure many, many times over the years, but this time it proved to be a pin too far, as both were an extremely tight fit and were refusing to move despite my best efforts with my pin punch and mallet.

I don’t like being beaten, and apparently neither did the pins, but I eventually had to admit defeat. When the rifle is due a full service I will have to take it to someone who can take out the pins with a press, as my pin punch was making no progress whatsoever. I’m ashamed to say I even let the punch slip at one point, scratching the back block. 

That’s a clumsy mistake and is something that I’ve prided myself on never doing, at least until now. I knew any further attempt to shift the pins would be futile. With my tail well and truly between my legs, I treated the scratch to some cold blue solution to stop it rusting. Luckily the scratch can’t be seen with the action back in the stock and it’s not affecting the function of the rifle in any way. But I know it’s there, and it hurts.

Nevertheless, while the action was still out of the stock I was at least able to clean and relube all the screw threads and linkages, making the operation of the gun a little bit smoother. And after the replacement trigger screw had been fitted the action was put back in the stock.

On With The Optic

The scope that came with the rifle had been borrowed from a rimfire, and was sitting in two-piece mounts. While some shooters prefer to use a one-piece mount with springers, I have no problem using two-piece – as long as an arrestor block or pin is used to prevent scope creep. 

The mounts on the club scope did actually come equipped with an arrestor pin – one of the screw-in types rather than the coiled steel plug type – but it had not been screwed down into any of the three locator holes on the top of the cylinder, so was doing absolutely nothing.

Rifle A5 is now wearing a dedicated scope and mounts from Hawke and Sportsmatch – this scope won’t be creeping
backwards in a hurry
Even though Mike failed to carry out the full service he had been hoping for, rifle A5 has been cleaned and lubed and is now shooting better than ever

This lovely Weihrauch HW97 desperately needed its own scope, and an excellent replacement was very kindly provided by Hawke in the shape of an Airmax 3-9×40, a well-proportioned optic for the rifle and the type of shooting it’s normally used for. New mounts were kindly supplied by Sportsmatch, and these were properly fitted using the supplied arrestor pin.

With the rifle back together, it was time to zero the rifle, shoot more pellets through it, check its accuracy and chrono it yet again. 

I was concerned about the fairly wide velocity spread the gun had initially recorded as well as the fact that I hadn’t been able to take the rifle apart to check any obvious problem areas such as excess grease, a damaged mainspring or a worn or torn piston seal.

But three things happened this time – the gun felt a little smoother, the velocity spread was reduced to nine feet per second and the groups were tighter. How could this be? While I hadn’t been able to clean and re-lube the inside of the cylinder and mainspring, I had been able to grease the linkages. But more importantly, I’d been putting plenty of pellets through the gun, which had distributed the existing grease.

Guns are like cars, as they like to be used, and the simple act of shooting the rifle had made it function more smoothly. As for the accuracy? That was an easy one – it was down to the original mounts. Having looked at the old scope and the mounts it came with, I noticed the scope had been shifting under recoil.

The firing cycle of a springer is harsher than the rimfire from which it was taken, and the mounts hadn’t been tightened  enough, nor the arrestor pin engaged. With these simple problems put right, rifle A5 is now ready to go back into service at the club. It’s just such a shame about that scratch… 


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