PUBLISHED: 12:10 18 January 2012 | UPDATED: 09:36 23 April 2012
Many of you will have heard of Ben Taylor. He now works with Milbro as their consultant and development engineer. So I took my beloved Air Arms S410 to Ben to see what he could do.
I'd always wondered why people - especially young men; bought a car like a VW Golf and then festooned it with aftermarket kit. I met one such chap called Wayne or Kevin or something like that (not that I'm stereotyping), when I worked for a car magazine. He'd bought a new Renault Clio and spent another 35,000 pimping it up. I was aghast at the expense. Who in their right mind would spend that sort of money on an ordinary car when they could have bought a Porsche? Well, I've done something similar with my Air Arms S410. My justification being that in these straitened times it's cheaper to invest in the rifle I already own and enhance its performance, rather than buy a new PCP.
Many of you will have heard of Ben Taylor. Hes a modest man, so I wont go on about what a brilliant engineer he is. Suffice to say that he was one of the founders of Theoben, BTAS and is the inventor of the incredibly accurate SmoothTwist barrel; need I say more. He now works with Milbro as their consultant and development engineer. So I took my beloved Air Arms S410 to Ben to see what he could do.
Run of the Mill
First, the S410 is a great rifle. If this Air Arms sporter was a car it would be something like a Mondeo or VW Golf because its reliable, well engineered and great value for money. Dont take my word for it, just look at the amount of S410s around and that says what a fantastic rifle they are. Nothing is perfect, though, and theres always room for improvement.
The first thing Ben offered to do was fit a SmoothTwist barrel to my Air Arms. The S410 comes fitted with a high quality Lothar Walther barrel, which is the barrel of choice for the majority of top end air rifles, but Bens SmoothTwist has proved to be incredibly accurate and amazingly pellet-friendly, compared to conventional rifled barrels. As someone who tests pellets of all kinds on a regular basis, this aspect of the SmoothTwist sounded particularly interesting.
For those of you who dont know what Im talking about, a SmoothTwist barrel is largely smooth, but has a formed end which imparts spin to the pellet as it leaves the barrel. Ben explained to me that instead of having grooves carved into it from the rifling, a pellet comes out of a SmoothTwist barrel with minimal change to its structure. Ben came up with this idea more than four years ago and ever since I heard about it Ive always wanted to try one.
For those of you who would rather buy a rifle already fitted with a SmoothTwist barrel, they are now supplied in .22 as standard on FX airguns and Im sure more manufacturers will be using them in future after the negotiations have been done.
The SmoothTwist was a must, but to take advantage of the accuracy potential of this new invention, my rifle needed a tune. On springers, tuning is often just a case of fitting an improved spring and making sure the mechanism runs smoothly via a little polishing and lubrication, but on a PCP its a matter of valves, hammers and power curves.
To eliminate power curve a regulator can be fitted. This is a device that feeds precisely metered amounts of air from the reservoir to the breech in order to power each shot. It will also increase the shot count.
Those of you who have shot unregulated PCPs will have noticed that in terms of velocity there is a sweet spot in the rifles charge cycle. When the air reservoir is full, velocity can be adversely affected for the first few shots, but in the middle of the charge the rifle produces good speeds until the air begins to be depleted and the velocity drops off again. A regulator is designed to stop this and create more consistency in terms of accuracy and power.
However, I didnt want a regulator fitted because it was more expensive - around 285 depending on whether your rifle is fitted with anti-tamper or not. Ive heard that a rifle without a regulator, so long as its well engineered, can be made to shoot with a minimal power curve and thats a much cheaper option.
The cheaper option was a service and tune for 99. This is astonishing value as the whole rifle is rebuilt. Ben takes it apart, modifies the top block and inserts and seats a better O ring.
On top of this Ben fits a more efficient BT hammer that has a longer but lighter and crisper stroke. This hammer runs on PTFE which is a slippery, synthetic material that makes for smoother and cleaner operation.
If anyone could tune my unregulated rifle to be almost as good as a regulated rifle, Ben could do it. In fact Ben claimed he could give me a few more shots per charge as well as virtually eliminate the power curve. This I wanted to see.
However, I didnt just want to see an improvement with my airgun, I wanted to hear it. Id seen the Hugget silencer at the IWA gun trade show in Germany over the last couple of years. With mesh vents, rather like Waynes pimped Clio. They looked great and I knew I had to have one. Yes, deep down Im as shallow as Wayne and Im sure he would have said my Hugget looked quality. I have to point out that the mesh is part of the sound moderating system and not just for show and to see why it costs so much money you have to look at the beautifully engineered internals, but at that price, I will not be fiddling with it.
It all adds up
Designed by Andrew Hugget, a talented engineer and airgunner, the moderator weighs around seven ounces and wouldnt unbalance my rifle, or make it unwieldy, so I had to shell out for one.
All that work was going to add up. The full tune would cost 99, the SmoothTwist conversion another 125 (including fitting and power adjustment) and the Hugget was going to set me back 85. That all added up to 334. Ouch!
Anyway, as Ive often said, the quality remains long after the expense is forgotten, so I asked Ben to pimp my PCP and waited two weeks in a heightened state of anticipation.
Finally, my rifle came back. I was glad to see the rifle looked unchanged apart from the Hugget moderator. The reason being that I didnt want a rifle that was all fur coat and no knickers; I wanted a rifle that preformed like a dream, yet retained its unassuming and classic Air Arms looks. Im sure that aftermarket car fanatic, Wayne, would not agree with that.
Theres something very gratifying about having something like an airgun or car that doesnt look anything out of the ordinary, but outclasses everything around it. I remember my dad when he was buying a car always made sure that the engine size wasnt emblazoned on the back because he said he wanted performance, but didnt feel the need to shout about it.
Anyway, back to the rifle; there it was in my hands at last. It was like seeing an old friend again, but this time I knew that my friend had changed.
As I was owed some holiday, I took my S410 up to my mothers house in Scotland. Over the years, my mums garden has been a proving ground for all sorts of airguns, but this is one test that I was most excited about because this rifle was mine; I wasnt going to have to give it back at the end.
I fitted my old Tasco scope back onto the rifles scope rails. I often get ribbed for still using such a simple and relatively cheap scope on my S410 when I could easily get something better, but I feel that a combo is like a marriage and I dont want them to be separated. Anyway, enough of my sentimentality. I cocked the rifle and was intrigued to find that Ben had indexed my bolt. This meant that after cocking, the bolt was locked down and so would not be so easily knocked up by a careless hand or branch. This is typical of Ben and other engineering geniuses. They see something that could be improved and just cant help but improve it. I was also struck with how smooth the cocking action was. Again, Ben had fettled it.
To my delight, the rifle didnt take too much re-zeroing. By some miracle my scope was back in its orginal zero position, so rather like an old familiar married couple they had meshed together with ease.
In case the rifle and scope had not meshed well, Ben had fitted an adjustable barrel support (25), so that if you run out of adjustment on the scope, which can happen on .22 airguns, the barrel can be raised, so that you get an optically direct sight, with your eyes looking through the centre of the lens at 30 metres.
The conditions were blustery, and I doubted I would get a particularly tight grouping due to that, but my first pellet went straight to where the crosshairs were pointing. Feeling flushed with success I cocked the rifle and took a second shot. Disaster! The pellet was low and right about an inch. An anxious feeling was rising inside me. Had I wasted all that money? At the heart of everything I wondered whether I was just a mediocre shot.
I tried again. Thankfully, the pellet clipped the ragged edge of the first pellet hole. Then again and again the pellets piled in on top of each other until the ten-shot magazine was spent.
After a couple more magazines went down the range, I decided to have a rest and try the rifle in less windy conditions. There had been one or two flyers and I wanted to see if this was due to the blustery conditions, me, or the rifle.
I couldnt wait until my next go on Bens version of my cherished S410 and when I tried it in the still air the accuracy was phenomenal. I dont claim to be the greatest shot and to reduce human error I created a stable gun platform, inspired by Airgun Worlds Jim Tyler, and put an old cushion on top of a wheelie bin. It seemed to work and the accuracy out to 30 metres was astounding. Bear in mind that the Air Arms was originally a very accurate rifle, so it wasnt as if there was much to improve on, but somehow Bens SmoothTwist barrel and tune managed to improve on excellence to create perfection.
I re-filled the rifle to around 200 bar and noticed that the accuracy was there straight away and didnt fall off until I was very low on air. I have to confess that in my excitement I forgot to count how many shots I got from one charge in .22 calibre, but Ben reckons the S410 will push out around 100 pellets on one charge of air, which is only a slight improvement from the unmodified rifle, but the important difference being that there was only a slight power curve.
I can hear some of you asking why Air Arms dont manufacture the S410 with all the modifications Ive mentioned. Well, they could, but wed be paying well over a thousand pounds and, as countless airgunners will confirm, the S410 that retails for 578 is a superb sporter. The simple fact is, Ive used my Air Arms S410 in factory condition for years and never felt the need to change, but when I heard what Ben was offering to do with my rifle, I could hardly resist.
Yes, I could have bought another rifle, but now with my modified S410 Ive got one thats customised for me. Ben has made my S410 special and unleashed even more of its tremendous potential. Im sure if Wayne had been into airguns instead of cars he would have given my S410 a big burup. For those of you who dont speak rude boy, burup is pronounced with the b and r rolled and the word comes to a crescendo on the up and is used to show wholehearted approval. Oh yes, Im well down with the street kids ...erm, innit.
Ive been rather rude to Wayne and his customised Clio. To be honest, after speaking to him I admired what hed done to his car. It wasnt to my taste, but thats precisely the point. Hed turned something that was already good into something unique to him. Now Ive done the same to my treasured Air Arms S410 - and Im lovin it!