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Various Whiscombe articles

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Various Whiscombe articles 

Taken from the original Whiscombe web site.


Shooting Sports Oct 00

Peter Wadeson

The Whiscombe JW50FB

I‘ve been privileged to speak to John Whiscombe on several occasions; and I’ve always hinted at the possibility of acquiring one of superb and unique rifles for review. During one such conversation, talk turned to hunting which is something I had never really associated John with due to the fact that his guns being mainly (field) Target shooters tools. So I was surprised when he informed me that he regularly used a JW50 FB for hunting as well as field target. Anyway I think John finally realised that the only way I was going to stop bending his ear was to let me try out one of his products. I didn’t know or expect that arriving within days of our conversation would be his very own JW50 FB that he regularly uses out in the field – in fact – it’s the first one made as a finished, non-prototype rifle, The Whiscombe JW50 FB No 0001.

Now this man knows his onions, and not only did I get the usual bumph that comes concerning the operation of an air rifle, but also John’s own personal advice on pellet lubing and tips on tuning the HOTS system (which I’ll return to later). Yes I was indeed privileged to test this rifle.

Equal and Opposing Forces
For the uninitiated, John Whiscombe is the inventor of a simple yet highly effective system that uses twin spring and pistons that travel in opposite directions in the same compression chamber, thus cancelling each other out and in the process, negating recoil. It’s definitely a case of equal and opposing forces – sounds odd but boy does it work!

No surprise then that this twin spring and piston takes a special under-lever operation to cock. On the JW50 FB this requires two strokes; operating the under-lever pulls back the rear piston whilst the front one is driven forward through a simple yet highly efficient gear and ratchet system. Incidentally, John actually produces a unique range of rifles based on this design principle; the JW50 FB is the 12ft/lb version whilst the others are designed for FAC power levels.

The procedure for the JW50 FB is as follows. First, unlatch the cocking lever by depressing the serrated catch sited at the front. Draw it down until a click is heard. This is the anti-bear trap device operating as a ratchet. Return it to a forward position, until a second click is heard; this is the lever’s draw bar engaging into the second piston dog. Pull the lever down once again until the anti-bear trap engages and continue to pull back until you hear the trigger and automatic safety engage. Now return the under-lever to it’s original position in the recess in the underside of the rifle, and the gun is ready to load with a pellet. Its important to cock the action before loading; if the procedure is reversed air will not be drawn past the pellet and severe damage can occur, as there will be no air ‘buffer’ between the opposing piston heads. This can cause more damage to the internal than firing the rifle empty, which is a definite no-no in conventional spring rifles. An anti-bear trap safely allows the pellet to be thumbed directly into the fixed barrel with confidence that your thumb and fingers are safe in the process. To access the breech loading area, swing out the nicely designed side-lever positioned on the right of the action, this draws back the chunky loading bolt. Insert a pellet into the barrel; return side-lever to its original position when you’ll hear a reassuring ‘snick’. This indicates all’s safely loaded and sealed. Although this cocking and loading may sound complicated, it really isn’t, and regular users of the Whiscombe for field target shooting have told me that this deliberate procedure actually helps concentration on the shot.

Match Trigger and Stock
Many claim their trigger units to be match-grade, but John Whiscombe’s rifles really are the business when it comes to performance and the range of adjustments available for precision release control. Likewise, it’s only when shooting one that you really come to appreciate the hand -crafted stock with the drop-down pistol grip and thumbhole position. It’s one of the most comfortable I’ve ever used. Complete with adjustable butt pad and cheek rest, the stock on this model is an absolute gem. John’s furniture is supplied by Custom Stocks to his own specifications, and on this - his own personal rifle the walnut is absolutely stunning. Granted this is one weighty tool, but we’re talking FT rifle through and through. For hunting I adapted by taking most shots in the ‘across the knee’ field target style, but even shooting off hand the weight helps keep those crosshairs locked on target. Incidentally, to do the gun justice, I scoped up with a Simmons ProHunter 6-18 x 40 AO rangefinder in set back pro mounts and, after zeroing, the accuracy proved little short of amazing!

Got the HOTS?
Muzzle weights are nothing new, but John Whiscombe has taken it a step further by creating a system where the weight can be changed to compensate (tuned) to suite your preferred choice of ammo. This he’s named the Harmonic Optimisation Tuning System, or HOTS for short. Apparently this is already tuned on a production rifle for maximum accuracy using Crosman Premiers.

When changing pellets or switching barrels, it’s necessary to adjust the HOTS. His system like the internal twin piston mechanism sounds complicated but in use isn’t in the slightest. All you need to do is unscrew the locking ring and move the internal weight by screwing in or out, this changes the length of the muzzle weight, therefore changing the weight distribution. It sounds similar to the Browning BOSS (Ballisticly Optimised Shooting system) they use on their full-bore rifles. When satisfied that the optimum accuracy has been achieved, simply tighten the locking ring and end cap. These must be screwed together tightly or you’ll experience erratic groups. According to the man himself, JW writes in the manual that accompanies the rifle that “several so-called sweet spots (Browning said that) may be found over a movement of 25mm (I”). One position will hold its accuracy over a wider range of weight movement than the rest. This is the best position to set the HOTS for maximum accuracy.” Phew, talk about attention to detail. All I can comment on this system is that no matter how I fiddled around with it, I couldn’t get the rifle to shoot inaccurately when using quality ammo. I finally settled on Crosman Accupels for my accuracy tests and hunting.

To say I was impressed with the whole concept of this rifle is an understatement. It’s by far the most accurate spring-powered gun I’ve used – and believe me I’ve shot plenty. Internal spring noise and muzzle report on firing are barely audible and that’s without a silencer as such. Concerning recoil, or I should say ‘lack of it’, the JW50FB reminds me of the sadly discontinued Air Arms TX200SR, which was rated as semi-recoilless (SR). That being the case then the John Whiscombe system should be rated (TR), totally recoilless. What tiny perceivable movement there is on firing is more than deadened by the weight and that ingenious HOTS system. In a nutshell, the ‘Whiscombe’ is the absolute pinnacle of spring-powered air rifle design, and I’m proud to say a prime example of British ingenuity and engineering. Nice one John.


Editors Note
The best group that I have ever seen shot with an air rifle in the field was achieved using a Whiscombe. After five ‘warm-up shots’ an FT shooter named John Brewer put five .177” Crosman premiers into a paper target at 55 yards, giving a group size of 13.5mm edge to edge – That’s smaller than a 5p piece. He then followed the same procedure with another Whiscombe rifle – one of the older break-barrel loading types – and achieved a group of just 10mm. Both were fitted with Leupold 6.5-20 x 44 varilux III scopes. I’ve mentioned this before (more than once), but as we rarely get a chance to talk about Whiscombe rifles, I thought it was worth repeating.


Unpublished Article (Airgun World)

Terry Doe

Whiscombe JW75

John Whiscombe knows how to treat an airgun journalist. He mowed out a flat 70 yard range alongside his house, with my firing point shaded by a convenient tree, an observation platform for himself and a nice big target board for me to perform on. Binoculars poised, he bid me good shooting and the test began.

Seventy yards is a hell of a long way for an airgun. The JW 75 was pushing 14.3 grain .22 Premiers out at 900 fps, which translates to 26ft lbs. in real money. Wind was a factor, as always, and waiting for the right moment allowed the sun to boil the rifle and me, until scope lenses and armpits misted up a treat. After the opening salvo, I clicked around with the elevation turret, desiring a precise zero, but not getting one. Wind can do some strange numbers on downrange pellets, lifting and dropping them at will, as well as putting the traditional sideways oar in. You have to learn to read the signs, go for the constant effect, when the wind is predictable. I placed my faith in an elderberry bush behind the target when it shimmered gently I slipped the shot.

Sods law will dictate that your top performance is never witnessed. Well sod sod, I had JW himself on line, ancient eyes boosted by binocular vision, to record my moment. Three groups inside an inch at seventy yards, ten clusters just as good, apart from the odd stray pellet, which fell to the lure of a Newbury wind. I also cleared a row of metallic lollipops, the smallest only .750" across, to underline the potential of this air rifle.

John invited me to swap the .22 barrel for .177, .20, or a B.S.A. made .25. This takes a normal human 5 minutes per barrel. We had but six hours of daylight left, so I daren't attempt the job myself. I watched. This is what I was designed for. Have to admit, the barrel swappage facility is a handy item, allowing the exploration of four calibres without the hassle of using a new system each time.

I used Bisley Magnums and lightweight Premiers in .177, and Premiers only in .20. The .20 version is something else, equalling my results in .22, with incredible efficiency in the air. This would certainly be my choice *if power was unrestrained. The .25 remained untested by me, but I was shown some figures from an American customer, who quoted sub inch groupings at 50 yards, using Bisley Superfields and Rhino pellets.

Time to praise the trigger. Still the best unit available, damn near miraculous when you discover the workload placed upon it. The sear faces have a contact area of just 0.9 sq. mm, that's about equal to the end of a matchstick. This holds back 650lb, or six-hundredweight, every time the JW 75 is cocked. Through pure perfection in design and engineering, let-off pressures can be set as low as 2 oz, with no creep or danger of rogue discharges. Auto-safety is standard, should be on all guns, and although the safety button is an ugly little cube, it sits in range of your thumb and does its job faultlessly. Never did like the shape of that safety button though, should be prettier.


There are 150 Whiscombes out there somewhere, most of which are known personally to John. These are individual items, designed and built by a genuine craftsman, their appeal is obvious, but who buys them? A lot of Americans for a start, for field target and hunting. No power limits over there of course. Europe likes Whiscombe, again opting for the high-power version mostly. He has a few clients in the far-east as well, and looks forward to the opening of German market places. The domestic demand alone has filled the order books since production began in 1987, John has yet to catch up. Waiting time now stands at four months, and it's pointless to try to hurry the man. He needs a solid week to build each ritle, with overtime tacked on for calibration, testing and fine-tuning. You neither own, use or fully appreciate a Whiscombe quickly. A system to be savoured, as much a tribute to efficiency, as pellet launcher.


Airgun World Aug ’00

nick’s page

Whiscombe JW50

I first met John Whiscombe in 1984 when shooting in one of the British Masters field target Competitions, at Sandford Hall in Shropshire. We were in a shoot-off for first place along with three others - including the eventual winner, Richard North - and I clearly remember trying one of John's innovative rifles after the shoot-off, provisionally ordering one of my own. In those days spring powered rifles were still the most competitive but the idea of a totally recoilless, full powered FT rifle was something you'd happily sell a kidney for. Subsequently, as pre-charged pneumatic FT rifles started to dominate, I never actually completed a deal with John - mostly because I won an Air Arms Shamal in the Airgun World Showdown finals!

In this rapidly developing era of field target shooting many people chose high magnification scopes which didn't suite the break-barrel design of John's earlier rifles. To keep pace with this trend John introduced in 1992 his fixed-barrel - FB - air rifle, and there has been a continual development of this system since then, culminating in this JW50 FB MkII - the rifle that John currently uses himself. There are also JW65 and JW80 high-powered options available for FAC holders to drool over. The power potential of this twin piston spring gun means that you can get in .25 calibre - and from a recoilless action.

The Whiscombe works on the principle of two pistons moving towards one another to create high pressure just below the transfer port. As the air is redirected towards the barrel it hits the skirt of the pellet and the shot is fired. The weight and kinetic energy of one piston counterbalances the other - which sounds as if there is a lot going on inside - but since thee isn't any felt recoil, each shot has the precision of a pneumatic rifle.

To fully appreciate the accuracy potential of this system, John offered me his own rifle on extended loan and I must admit I have enjoyed every single shot. It's so easy to be enthusiastic about a product one man has dedicated his life to, especially when it's built like a Rolls Royce and shoot s better groups than many pre-charged rifles.

I fitted 24x scope and evaluated the four most successful pellets used since the mid 80's. With the Harmonic Optimised Tuning System on the end of the JW50's barrel it is possible to gain added accuracy with different pellets. Some trial and error experiments needed to be carried out, to fully benefit from the system, but I found what must be the perfect setting for an old batch of RWS Superdome pellets. Over the chronograph the rifle produced less than 6.5 FPS variation and at 30 yards I achieved one-hole groups measuring 0.17 of an inch, centre to centre.

No doubt with time I could have adjusted the HOT system for the other pellets but it was rather nice to 'domes doing so well. As you might see from this months Classic Pellet, they were the 'bees knees' back in the days when I tried my first JW.

Each movement or cycle of the under-lever, safety catch and trigger feel as though there's a well lubricated bearing in the system to smooth things out. The cocking is staggered into two separate operations - making it fairly light and fast. In a n FT event, under the stopwatch, cocking and loading a JW could be regarded as a drawback compared with a pre-charged pneumatic, but in reality it only takes six or seven second longer and doesn't greatly increase a shooter's heart rate in the process.

Swinging out the small side lever, after the rifle has been cocked reveals a generous breech chamber, which allows plenty of access for a pellet to be located into the barrel. Closing the side lever effectively seals the transfer port to the end of the barrel.

The Whiscombe has an automatic safety catch, positioned just above the rear of the action, which is easily de-activated when you are ready to shoot. The test rifle was fitted with a match grade trigger unit, which can only be described as outstanding. Both first and second stages were light, crisp and predictable - exactly what anyone would wish for.


John's own rifle sports a piece of beautiful French walnut, carved to give the correct cheek, shoulder and hand position. I'm not the word's greatest fan of thumbhole stocks, but this one is far better than most. The stock has an adjustable cheek-piece and butt-pad but no accessory rail - because it would interfere with the under-lever. For the hunters among you there is a sporter style of stock available instead of the FT thumbhole, which is £100 cheaper. Each of the Whiscombe models is available in a left-handed configuration for an extra £15.

Many shooters around the world have chosen to ignore the extra hassle and dependence on a scuba tank and invested in a self-contained Whiscombe masterpiece. For them, this is the pinnacle of piston air rifle engineering, destined to be one of the most collectable rifles of it's time. I'm beginning to think that I may have to finally make that provisional order from sixteen years ago a firm one - and start talking to John about my requirements.

He is one of shooting's true gentleman and anyone looking for the ultimate hand made air rifle should give him a call.