How Do Air Guns Work?

Written by edwin thomas
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How Do Air Guns Work?
(Wikimedia Commons)

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One source of propellant for air guns are cartridges or bottles of carbon dioxide (CO2). As CO2 is almost always a gas at the temperatures normally found on Earth, it is pressurised and mixed with oil so that it becomes a liquid for storage in containers suitable for use in air guns. When these containers a tapped, a valve releases a small amount of the liquid, which rapidly expands back into a gas. That expansion in the air gun's chamber is what drives the projectile.

How Do Air Guns Work?
Powerlet C02 Cartridges

Spring Pistons

Some air guns use spring-powered pistons to compress regular air as a source of propellant. The crank for the spring has taken a variety of forms, with lever-action, slide-action, and even barrel-action cranks all in common use. Working the crank cocks the gun, pulling or pushing the spring down. When the trigger is pulled, the spring is released, driving forward a piston and producing a charge of compressed air. This blasts the chamber, driving the projectile. The power of spring-driven air guns is directly proportional to how much energy can be stored in that spring in one crank. There are guns that can propel a projectile at speeds just over the speed of sound, but these require good physical strength to operate.

How Do Air Guns Work?
A barrel-action spring-powered air gun.


Like the others, the pneumatic air gun also uses compressed air to fire a projectile. Like the spring piston gun, these guns require crank action to provide the power. Slides and mult-pumps located on the forestock are common, but some toy air guns will use a lever-action for the pump crank. Cranking the pump builds up a charge of compressed air in the gun's internal tank. This could require as little as two or as many as a dozen cranks, depending on how much air is compressed with each crank and how much air the tank can hold. Pulling the trigger releases the compressed air charge and drives the projectile. One advantage of the pneumatic air gun is that it is possible to fire the gun with less than a full charge of compressed air. For example, a shooter could pump the gas tank up to only half, and thus fire the gun with only a 50 per cent charge. They also have low recoil.

Air Gun Projectiles

It should be noted that air gun projectiles are generally metal pellets of .177 or .22 calibre. A big pellet will be .25 calibre. Air guns that fire plastic projectiles are called airsoft guns.

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