[Closed] Guide to buying Old BSAs  

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Lakey's Vintage B.S.A. Air Rifle Buying Guide

Having the opportunity to buy a vintage BSA air rifle is a wonderful thing and prices seem to be rising, especially for better examples, so it is wise to select a good rifle from the start. Eighty to 100+ years is a long time and rifles often appear original but really are not. This is not always a bad thing, as updating a rifle can be a normal part of ownership and is an important part of the individual rifle’s history. But it’s always best to know – as far as possible – what you are getting and to make a decision from an informed point of view. I thought I would offer this buying guide, which I have put together from many years collecting experience. Starting at the muzzle end of the rifle, I will explain some of the things to look out for and some of the things to avoid if possible.

Foresight and crown

The crown of the barrel should be well rounded, and well finished. Look for any damage or impact marks especially as these could have a detrimental effect on the guns accuracy. Look at the first bit of the rifling and check to see that the area isn’t badly corroded or pitted. The foresight was available in different patterns including, blade, barleycorn, ring etc. However, the bead foresight is the most commonly encountered variation. Depending on the age/model of the gun, the height of the foresight varied. Generally speaking, the earlier the gun, the lower the height of the foresight. Check that the top of the foresight is similar in height to the rear sight, as often the sights have been changed from the originals. The cast foresight is quite brittle and sometimes is missing the bead from its tip. This can cause the gun to shoot high, if not rectified. Finally, check that the foresight is tight in its dovetail, and that the base of the sight looks undisturbed - that is a good sign.

Barrel and underlever

Check that the barrel, is straight, and has a nice even taper. Ideally, the barrel surface should be smooth and free from corrosion or heavy/deep pitting. Look out for vice marks on the barrel itself, as often this is the area of the gun that is selected for securing in a vice prior to work being carried out. Check to see that any colouration or patination is even on the barrel and cylinder, as those are the most noticeable parts of the gun, and any variations in the gun’s finish will really stand out on these parts. Ideally, you are looking for some original blueing – a sign the gun has been lightly used or at least well cared for. Be suspicious if the gun looks too good, as it may have been re-finished Check the underlever catch post, which is dovetailed to the underside of the barrel. This varies in design from a triangular wedge shape on the earliest guns, to a ring shaped catch on the side button models, and finally ending with a short notched post on the post-1919 guns. Check to see that this catch is tight in its dovetail, as a loose catch post can cause and encourage lateral movement on the underlever itself. Also the looseness could cause uncertain indexing or lock up of the underlever on the barrel. If you are looking at one of the earlier pre-WW1 guns, check to see that you have a strong lock up on the bayonet underlever handle, as sometimes a build up of dirt or old lube can prevent the little plunger in the handle from locking up fully with the catch post. If you are looking at a later end-button underlever, check to see that the small catch post is not bent as that can prevent definite lock up. Any screws or pins visible in the underlever itself should be a good tight fit, and have similar patination with the rest of the underlever. Pins can sometimes be shiny on their ends, but are usually rounded on underlevers.

Rear sight and breech area

Check the rear sight thoroughly, as this is an area that frequently gives trouble, and period replacement parts are very difficult and expensive to obtain. Modern replacements are both costly and stick out like a sore thumb to experienced collectors. Firstly, check that the rear sight is similar in height to the foresight. The rear sight should be a tight fit in its dovetail. If the sight is loose, check it thoroughly. On the earliest guns, the rear sight is a low affair, with a small knurled elevation screw, which is fiddly in use. On later Improved Model D’s, the rear sight changed shape, becoming both wider and higher, and the central elevation screw became larger, and more offset from the sight bar. On post-1919 guns the rear sight had by now become higher still, and the large-headed elevation screw was central (ie. no longer offset) with the sight bar. The elevation screw was solid. If you find a rearsight with a small plunger and spring in the middle of the elevation screw, underneath the elevation bar, that is a later replacement sight from a Cadet Major, or a Mk1 Airsporter. On earlier sights, up to the Improved Model D, (No.10 rear sight) a small spring-steel leaf spring was fitted to provide tension for the elevation screw. If this is present, that is a bonus, as more often than not it is missing. Make sure the elevation screw works easily and freely, and that the elevation bar is a good fit in its vertical slot either side of the rear sight base. Original elevation bars are marked with tiny numbers on their left hand side. Sometimes you will find that the elevation bar/leaf is broken across that thin bit where the ‘V’ or ‘U’ notch is. This is almost impossible to fix and will mean a replacement rear sight bar/ leaf will have to be obtained. Moving on to the breech area, this was another area that underwent continued development and improvement throughout the production run from 1905 until 1939. The first pattern breech featured a narrow transverse plug, with a long elegant lever on the left hand side. The hole through the plug was both small and had parallel sides, which meant that a pellet seating pin had to be used when loading. Wear could be taken up by moving a large washer and screw on the right hand side. However, often that meant that the loading hole was pulled out of line with the breech. Wear in these early breech plugs can lead to a loose, sloppy fit, and poor sealing qualities. Sometimes the long loading lever/tap handle can become bent if the gun was dropped onto a hard surface. Later breech plugs, starting with the Improved Model B, featured a more definite lock up and action and the loading hole was enlarged, doing away with the need for a pellet seating pin. These later taps rarely give trouble and sealing qualities can be tested by operating the cocking lever, then turning up the tap into the vertical loading position and SLOWLY, under pressure let the lever return to its original position. Check the tightness of the screws in the area of the breech and look out for damage to the screwheads from careless use of screwdrivers. Again, finish on these screws should be similar to the rest of the gun, and both the tap plate screws should match and be a flush fit. If small keeper screws are fitted to main lever pivot screws, make sure they are present and in good condition. The tap plate should be tight against the breech block. Any play or looseness should be investigated.

Main compression cylinder

Check this area closely as this is where the power comes from. Firstly the compression cylinder should be a tight and immovable fit on the breech and also tightly screwed into the trigger block, Any play here is not correct and must be investigated. Turn the rifle over and examine the cocking slot for excessive wear. The auxiliary cocking lever should be a good fit in the slot and not too sloppy, or have too much side to side movement. Any model information stamped onto the cylinder should be clear and legible. The cylinder should not have corrosion or deep pitting present, and should have an even colouration or patina present. On 1914 > guns, model details were photo-etched onto cylinders, and these details easily wore off with heavy use or excessive cleaning. If etched details are present and clear, that is a REAL bonus. Only around 10% of these later rifles have these details still clearly visible. The cylinder should have smooth parallel sides, with no bulges.

Trigger block and trigger mechanism

As said above, the cylinder should be a tight fit onto the trigger block. The main reason for a loose fit are loose trigger guard screws. As these screws work loose over time their threads may become damaged or stripped, so pay special attention to these screws. They should be identical and done up tight. Any slackness should be investigated. On some pre-1910 guns there is a large screw through the compression cylinder, also securing the trigger block. If present, this screw should also be tight. Early and late production guns had an adjustable trigger mechanism using a screw through the front of the trigger guard. This screw should have a nut on it, in order to tighten it down against the trigger guard once adjustments had been made, The base of this screw should come into contact with the base of the trigger, and contact should be definite. Later post-WW1 trigger mechanisms had internal adjustment and featured a three hole trigger block. Check all screws and make sure you have both a trigger weight adjustment screw, and its corresponding locking screw on the other side. The other two screws are simply pivot screws for the trigger and sear. All triggers had robust trigger springs present to ensure a strong return trigger action. These springs can break and get lost, so make sure a working trigger spring is present. My advice is to always check correct trigger function and the guns ability to cock by thorough testing. Cock the rifle, then whist still holding onto the cocking lever tight, try the trigger a few times to ensure all is well. Finally if a No12 peep sight is fitted into the trigger block, thoroughly check and test action and free/easy adjustment is satisfactory.


A walnut stock was fitted to all models, and this should always be tightened down to the trigger block, using the stock bolt that runs through the centre of the stock from back to front. A further locating device takes the form of a small metal peg which protrudes from the inner surface of the trigger block into the stock to prevent the stock turning around the stock bolt. This can sometimes rust badly and the resulting corrosion swells this peg until it splits the wooden stock. Pay attention to this area on the right hand side of the rear of the trigger block closely, and look for any splits or cracks. Another fault in the stock can be from excessive oiling of the outside of the gun, which is then stood upright so the oil runs down the outside of the gun, and soaks into the wood. This is very difficult to put right and severely softens the wood in this area. Deeply oil soaked stocks should be avoided. Chequering was originally hand cut, and can get dirty and in-distinct over time. This can be cleaned out with a toothbrush and a little warm water and detergent, or sugar soap. Later guns have heat impressed chequering and this is a little less pronounced as a result. It can still be cleaned out with a toothbrush etc. Proceed carefully. Look for any stock markings or maker’s marks; these are always a welcome bonus. Stocks should be free from deep cuts or gouges but light dents can often be steamed out with care. Check the butt plate if fitted. It was metal in early guns and was held in place by two large woodscrews. These should of course match. Later guns had a small wooden stock bolt cover held in place by two matching brass screws. Beneath the cover was a blued spring-steel tensioning plate. If you need access to tighten up the stock bolt, be VERY careful removing this cover as they are easily broken, and VERY hard to replace. Blank covers can be bought and are the right shape, but they lack the grooves of the originals, which are very hard to replicate effectively.


Originally posted by Lakey - August 5 2012 at 6:59 PM

Posted : 22nd December 2017 08:30

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