Spring Gun Maintenance" The world of grease, oily rags and patience

  • Few today would have seen or even used a spring powered speargun, but in the early days of spearfishing as a recreational activity they were all the rage and the latest thing for the then new fad of going underwater and emerging, to the astonishment of beachgoers, with a fish.


    Ever since Alexandre Kramarenko (a Russian émigré) and his partner Charles Henry Wilen (an American) introduced their compression spring gun in 1937/1938 the underwater world has come under assault by a growing variety of spearguns wielded by Europeans who had thought that this activity was only something practiced previously "in the islands" with simple spears. In the USA and elsewhere the growing availability of dive masks and fins also brought about a desire to shoot fish in their own environment and everyone scrambled to find bigger and better underwater hunting solutions.


    The spring gun held sway as the most powerful of underwater arms until band rubber ceased being scraps scrounged from inner tire tubes and other forms of rubber goods pressed into service as "make-do" power bands.


    The key to maintaining shooting performance from a spring gun was to maintain its efficiency, which it does not have much of to start with. The enemy of tube confined sliding coil springs is friction, and friction in the barrel tube is what robs spring guns of their power as the spring coils always slide on the alloy tubing wall. To limit these frictional losses the springs are heavily greased which makes them a magnet for every sand particle within reach of the gun. When a spring is strongly compressed it buckles in a series of kinks and these kinks rub on the barrel as the spring expands back to its non-compressed length. Many people think spring gun propulsion springs are greased to stop them rusting, that is true, but it is also to lower the friction encountered with the spring moving against the inner wall of the barrel.


    In order to maintain shooting performance the grease had to be replaced frequently and if the gun hit a sandy bottom it definitely needed changing as grease embedded with sand skyrockets friction levels inside the barrel. Cleaning was a post-dive chore with numerous rags, a tub of grease, pliers and associated tools for extracting the long springs from the gun.


    Here is how you can do it today, perhaps a little easier than the pioneers did it. The fixing bolt that secures the spring in the gun is removed, then the trigger is pulled to lower the sear tooth to stop it impeding the spring's removal from the barrel as the coils pull past the sear tooth position. The removed greasy spring is wound in a circle inside a large diameter plastic container like that used for large cakes or pastry products such as a family sized pie. Then either degreaser fluid or petrol is added (ultra caution is needed with petrol) and swirled around in the plastic container which will pick up the grease and dissolve it allowing all foreign particles to fall off the spring to the bottom of the container. The spring is then fished out and hung on a nail driven into a fence post at an angle so that the spring droops in a long curve at the top when depending downwards from the nail. Any remaining particles are wiped off with a clean (but soon to be dirty) rag and WD 40 is then sprayed on the spring and under gravity spirals its way down the spring to cover all the coils. Do this on a hot day and things will evaporate and dry off much sooner, plus you can pitch the cleaning solution on the ground (out of the plastic container) and it will evaporate in no time.


    Now place a small wad of rag around a wooden dowel which is attached by a long nylon cord with a toggle at its front end and use this as a "pull through" device to clean out the inner barrel tube. A shot of petrol or degreaser ran down the inside of the barrel tube first will soften the deposits as you want them coming out without too much resistance on the movement of the rag covered dowel. You want the rag to have some loose clearance around the dowel when inside the barrel bore, so the dowel cannot be too fat in diameter or sand particles will scratch the inner barrel surface as the rag can then behave like sand paper and will be too tight to move along the barrel. A couple of passes with the "pull through" are needed with visual inspection looking along the bore of the tube with sunlight lighting up the appropriately angled barrel to see how clean it is all looking.


    The springs can be regreased by painting them with warmed up grease with a small paint brush, or putting grease in your palm, or on a clean rag and pulling the spring through your closed hand, turning the spring coils as you go. At the end of this procedure you and the spring will be covered in grease. Long springs seem to have a mind of their own, so be prepared for the spring whipping around unexpectedly and administering grease to your clothing and anything else that it happens to touch.


    Lastly feed the freshly greased spring back into the gun and refasten the attachment pin and then wipe the gun down to get rid of extra grease that has wiped off the spring exterior and is emerging out of the numerous anti-suction ports that pepper the barrel.


    At the conclusion of this procedure you will realize why no one in their right mind still uses a spring gun, unless of course they love playing with mechanical items like old guns and can feel empathy with the generations long before who faced this greasy chore as an inevitable necessity.


    Unfortunately even with the best spring guns power out is much less than power going in, especially as the internal bore of the barrel gradually roughs up and the springs get progressively rusty if you shirk on the regular and essential maintenance.


    I have written this as a result of my recent greasy encounter with the springs from my Cressi-Sub "Saetta Extra" (the blue anodized tube was extra) and a "Freshman" spring gun from Japan. Needless to say I will not be shooting these guns any time soon! I had put this task off for months and figured that it was now or never, plus it was a hot and still day, you do not want dust or grit blowing around when dealing with greasy metal objects like long coil springs.

  • What a great post Peter, I have only changed the grease in one Cressi Cernia , makes one happy for Air guns and bands.:D


    Cheers, Don

    ''Great mother ocean brought forth all life, it is my eternal home''
    Don Berry from Blue Water Hunters.
    Speardiver Gear

    The post was edited 1 time, last by Don Paul ().

  • What a great post Peter, I have only changed the grease in one Cressi Cernia , make one happy for Air guns and bands.:D


    Cheers, Don


    Here is what you get even when the spring is "clean"!


    A photo of the "Saetta" handle, this is an early one with dual springs, one inside the other, the outer spring is a larger diameter than the inner one. After a while it produces less power as the springs rub on each other, so eventually it was back to single springs in each gun.

  • Pete your knowledge of speargun history is insane...


    Well I guess you would be crazy cleaning your gun off with petrol, but it evaporates with no residue, unlike degreaser which must be washed off with water and everything then has to dry off. Also degreaser put down the barrel may take grease out of the trigger mechanism as it flows down the barrel. The gun will stink even after being hosed off, but on the plus side you can stick a garden hose in the barrel tube and blast everything out with water with the tap turned on full. Then the gun has to dry off. As to using petrol; kids, don't try this at home or you will be in the burns ward before you know it. Non-smokers only if you use volatile and flammable solvents to clean your spring gun.

  • Gone are the days we washed our hands in that stuff after helping a neighbor fix his truck.;)
    Here in Cali it's Orange Oil degrease'er for me, if we though a pint of fuel on the dirt we would get locked up and our Clean Air Board would send out a backhoe to remove 6 feet of ground under the spill.;)


    Nice blue color on the Cressi....I don't have that special one.


    Cheers, Don

    ''Great mother ocean brought forth all life, it is my eternal home''
    Don Berry from Blue Water Hunters.
    Speardiver Gear

  • sick post...thanks a lot for shainrg this gem of knowledge


    Well I figured that if I did not write it down then such knowledge will eventually disappear with the passage of time. Of course preventative maintenance meant keeping your spring gun in its canvas cover to avoid it picking up any dirt, dust or sand and leaving traces of grease on other surfaces which it rested against when not diving.

  • Here is a photo of the "Saetta" in its canvas carry case. The carry case, or bag, is in two section held together by a buckle and leather strap backed onto the top carry strap. A small canvas pocket alongside the mid-handle handgrip holds tips, line slides and "charging pin" for transport so that they do not rattle around with the gun and the two spears inside the case. A "charging pin" is the predecessor of the hand loader to cock the gun, it passes through a transverse hole just behind the spear tip. Another name for it is "loading bar", they all do the same job in helping you to ram the shaft down the barrel against the resistance of the long coil spring (or springs). Powerful spring guns 2 meters in length were real "test your strength here" weapons, such as the Cressi-Sub "Cernia". Some say "Cernia" rhymes well with hernia! Anyway to spare the spearfisherman somewhat there was also the "Cernia Velox" with two foot pegs and two-stage loading, you pushed the spear down the muzzle as usual, reversed and flipped the gun with handgrip upwards and put both fins (or feet) on the fold-out pegs just rear of the muzzle. The handgrip was then hauled back with both hands on it to fully charge the gun for shooting. The sliding handgrip could lock in two positions on the barrel. I have only seen a "Cernia Velox" in photos with guys wearing just a dive mask, snorkel (maybe) and fins with a sheath knife on a webbing canvas belt and a pair of swim trunks and that is it. How soft are we today!

  • Blue grease is faster..:D and John says hi.:toast1::toast1: I have a Cernia Velox.


    Cheers, Don


    The lithium based grease, being creamy white, seems to be less messy on your wetsuit and clothes. The black stuff on my hand is molybdenum disulphide grease, I cannot wait to get rid of all traces of it on the guns. To take those photos I must have washed my hands four times and even then I got more of it on my hands.


    Any chance of a photo of the "Cernia Velox", particularly the sliding handgrip section?

  • The lithium based grease, being creamy white, seems to be less messy on your wetsuit and clothes. The black stuff on my hand is molybdenum disulphide grease, I cannot wait to get rid of all traces of it on the guns. To take those photos I must have washed my hands four times and even then I got more of it on my hands.


    Any chance of a photo of the "Cernia Velox", particularly the sliding handgrip section?


    Yes, of course, I'll get it from my kids house this Sun Peter.


    Cheers, Don

    ''Great mother ocean brought forth all life, it is my eternal home''
    Don Berry from Blue Water Hunters.
    Speardiver Gear

  • The trigger mechanism in compression spring guns is usually of the "pull down sear" type, show here. The push from the propulsion spring tries to revolve the sear lever up, like a locking pawl, and restrains the shaft. The harder the propulsion spring pushes, the better it locks. When the user pulls the trigger the short forward mounted lobe inserted into the back end of the sear lever serves to pull the sear tooth down, aided by the leverage built into the trigger arm with respect to the short length lobe engaged into the sear lever. This force from the finger's trigger pull acts at a long distance out from the sear pivot pin due to the long horizontal length of the sear lever arm giving a considerable mechanical advantage over the vertical offset of the sear tooth from the sear pivot pin. The only problem with this trigger mechanism is that when swinging down the sear tooth ever so slightly pushes the spear backwards against the action of the main propulsion spring, but the longer the sear lever arm then the flatter the arc travelled by the top of the sear tooth as it depresses to release the shaft.


    This trigger mechanism was originally completely caked in dark reddish colored grease, the trigger biasing coil spring looked like a short piece of pencil it was completely filled with grease. If spring gun spearfishermen ever sought an heraldic emblem then it would surely have to be a jar of grease surrounded by tattered rags rampant and sitting on a stained field of old newspapers.

  • The propulsion spring in a "Saetta" compression spring type gun is much longer than the barrel and has to be compressed before the rear retention pin can be inserted (there is a sort of steel piston at the front end of the spring and a muzzle restriction to keep it inside the gun). This is a pretty difficult job unless you have a tool to hold the spring down while you push the pin in, which is actually a brass bolt with a nut on the other side, and similarly to get the pin out when you want to remove the spring for cleaning. The smallest diameter on the tool (made of wood) fits inside the rear of the spring, the next diameter fits neatly into the barrel tube and the diametrical step butts up on the rear of the barrel tube with the notch in the front end making space for the brass pin or bolt. I made this one up out of an old broom handle and a piece of stainless steel spear shaft that had seen better times. You use the tool in an analogue fashion to the charging pin (hand loader), except you are working on the rear end of the spring and not at the front end of the spring as when cocking the gun. The spring (or springs; some guns use two, one left-hand coiled the other right-hand coiled with one inside the other) are quite strong and if you lose your grip then the spring will fly out with a noisy "klong" and administer grease to whatever it runs into, like your head if you don't duck out of the way in time!

  • Nice tutorial Peter.:thumbsup2: I'm going to look for a nice long spring gun that was not ''legend owned'' so I can have a shooter. I have no problem with boat anchor guns...I can take some wt off the belt, unless I can
    find some long Beryllium Copper ones.;)


    Cheers, Don

    ''Great mother ocean brought forth all life, it is my eternal home''
    Don Berry from Blue Water Hunters.
    Speardiver Gear

  • Back in the period just after the conclusion of WWII inventors were competing to produce the best spearfishing gun, and due to the reliability of spring propulsion a lot of effort was expended in that area.


    One solution was to have a "dry spring gun" where you either tipped the water out or pumped it out and the latter system was perfected by Pierre Martineau. His French "Hurricane" brand also produced some of the first rollerguns, so he was a prolific inventor and saw most of his ideas put into production, and that included the "Carabine" dry spring gun. Unfortunately it was only dry after you had pumped it out, so the springs needed to be cleaned or at least rinsed because when you muzzle loaded the gun the seawater gurgled down the barrel and filled the gun up. The diagrams and photos show how the gun worked, but only recently has one been opened up to check what is inside and there were a few surprises.


    Cleaning one of these heavy guns would have been a lengthy task as with no holes in the barrel tube the gun’s interior would not have dried out any time soon. A number of "Carabine" guns survive as owners no doubt abandoned their use once good rubber for band guns arrived, and the perfected pneumatic gun was many times more efficient than any spring gun as the buckling coils rubbing on the barrel tube dissipate energy that could otherwise have been used for spear propulsion.

  • These two French "Hurricane" brochure pages show the four "Carabine" models; the "Mosquito" being the shortest version and the "Rafale" the longest version. The "Carabine" guns were produced throughout the forties, but by the fifties it was obvious that the pneumatic guns would soon eclipse their performance once they stopped leaking air. Many earlier pneumatic spearguns had a built-in hand pump to add more air as required, but not while in the water of course. Once the pressure sealing was made good enough to hold air for weeks, if not months, then the "Carabine" guns were well and truly obsolete, as in a sense a pneumatic gun is the perfect spring gun using a pressurized column of air as its "spring". With no (or very slow) air leaks, then the pneumatic gun hand pump could be a separate component and not built into the fabric of the pneumatic gun.

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