The spring pistol is the simplest of all airsoft weaponry, requiring a pull of the slide before each shot. The spring pistol function by the slide carrying the piston, holding a spring against the frame of the pistol, to a catch, which holds it in that compressed position. On the way back to the original position, the slide also pushes a BB from the top of the magazine through an incline and into an O-ring, which holds the BB in place in the barrel. Upon pulling the trigger, the catch that holds the piston is released, sending it forth, against the piston shroud and forcing air from the shroud into a hole leading into the barrel. The resulting sudden increase in air pressure between the BB and the piston causes the BB to accelerate down the barrel of the gun. Some pistols are equipped with the Hop-Up system, which puts a backwards spin onto the BB as it sails through the air. This motion causes the air at the lower end of the BB to have a lower pressure than the air traveling at the upper end of the BB, and thus through the Bernoulli principle, generates lift. Guns with the Hop-Up system will have a much higher effective range as the forces of drag and gravity will affect the BB to drop in angle much later, thus providing a much straighter shot. Many of these spring pistols (including many High Grade Hop-Up Mauri pistols and their subsequent UHC copies) can be field striped. This process involves removing the slide from the grip and frame of the pistol, so that the pistol and barrel can be removed and cleaned or lubricated. Spring pistols that have the Hop-Up system will have what is known as fixed Hop-Up, in which the Hop-Up is pre-calibrated for a certain weight BB. Most pistols have this calibrated for .12g BBs, with Mauri HG Hop-Up pistols for .25g and newer KWC spring pistols for .2g. However, any type of 6mm BB, regardless of weight can all used, to varying degrees of success, in all types of spring pistols. In addition to the large amount of automatic pistol replicas, there are also small number of revolver replicas, which work by the spring in the grip being compressed by a hammer. Upon trigger pull, the spring is released and air is forced through a tube into one of the chambers, where it forces the BB into the barrel.
To understand the different aspects that make up a "good" spring pistol, first you must understand the factors that determine its effectiveness. These are the muzzle velocity (measured in FPS), the presence or absence of the Hop-Up system, and the quality of the materials and design for the internals and barrel (determined by manufacturer). Most of these can be determined by simply looking at different manufacturers, since the guns of the same company are pretty much on level with each other. Thus, a look at the major manufacturers of spring pistols follows:
Tokyo Marui (TM):
This most well known manufacturer of AEGs offers a wide selection of spring
pistols. These can be classified into three groups, literally “the Good, the Bad,
and the Ugly.” The “ugly pistols are the oldest TM designs, with the BBs in a
stick which is inserted into the base of the grip. These guns thus have no magazine,
limited functionality, and no Hop-Up. The "bad" Mauri pistols are the older "High-Grade
non-Hop-Up" models. Aside from the obvious fact that these guns do not possess
the hop-up system, many of them (including the Colt Model 1911) have technical
problems that cause them to wear down and break easily. On the other side of the
spectrum, the newer "High-grade hop-up" Mauri pistols are considered by many as
the best on the market as well as the industry standard. These pistols have a
fixed hop-up system calibrated for .25g BBs, offering more range than those calibrated
for .12g BBs. The quality of the plastic used to make Mauri guns is noticeably
better than those of Mauri's Hong Kong (HK) counterparts and TM guns have the
reputation of being reliable and long lasting as well as effective. Unless I am
mistaken, all of the better TM pistols include trademarks, which are legally covered
by putty or tape. All TM guns are considered Light Weight (LW) as they weigh around
300-350 grams, about a quarter of the actual real steel version. In short, these
are the best guns to get if you can get your hands on them, which may be a problem.
There are very few US retailers online that carry TM springers, so online auction
sites like Ebay may turn out to be your best bet. The other alternative is to
purchase them from Asian-based online retailers like Red Wolf Airsoft, Wargamer's
Club, and DEN Trinity to name a few. The problem with this is that shipping across
the vast expanse of the pacific ocean is costly and at the fastest shipping rate
(SpeedPost, which takes 5-7 business days), a TM springer will cost $15-$25 to
ship and runs the risk of being seized by US Customs. The final problem is price:
TM pistols are the most expensive in the industry, and while the $40-$50 price
tag may pale relative to an upgrade AEG, it is still at least twice as much as
a UHC copy. For extra magazines, it may be more desirable to buy UHC magazines
for guns of the same model, since the UHC pistols, and hence the magazines, are
copied from the TM design. Thus, the magazines will work when swapped around.
Bottom line: excellent choice for serious airsoft players looking to play skirmishes
frequently, but bad for the occasional weekend warrior just looking to shoot at
targets in the back yard most of the time.
Tokyo Mauri is planning to release the next batch of its spring pistols by spring
of 2001. These new pistols would include a new and much improved high-grade hop-up
Colt M1911, and the long-awaited Heckler and Koch Mk.23 SOCOM pistol. Most likely,
these would also end up being copied by UHC and released by them as their own
gun a few months following the TM release.
Hobbies Company of Taiwan is an interesting company. Most of their spring pistol
designs are copied off of Mauri designs and made with cheaper materials with less
stringent quality control (leading to the chance of a newly purchased gun being
a “lemon,” although I myself have not encountered one in the dozen UHC guns that
my team has bought). All of their guns include the hop-up system, calibrated for
.12g BBs, which are less stable in wind than .2g BBs. A few of their models are
also available in Light Weight and Heavy Weight (HW) models. The difference is
that HW pistols are typically weighted down and are made of better looking and
more durable materials. These changes push the weight from 300-350 grams to around
600-650 grams, depending on the model. These feel much more realistic in your
hands, and can aid targeting. Accuracy for both LW and HW UHC guns are similar.
While reportedly of slightly worse accuracy (in fair conditions - wind makes a
big difference on accuracy as TM guns typically use .2g or .25g BBs as opposed
to UHC's .12g BBs) than TM guns, UHC pistols do still have good reputations in
the areas of reliability and service life. Although calibrated for .12g BBs, the
hop-up unit on UHC guns can be used, with some success, to fire .2g BBs. This
is from the author's personally experience, so maybe I was just lucky with my
Beretta. Typically, the material quality of LW guns suffers while HW guns like
the Beretta have a very nice matte black slide resembling the texture of the real
article. There are no trademarks on UHC guns, although usually they tend to make
clever parody logos that resemble the real ones. The magazine designs of both
TM and UHC are identically. In a way, this is bad, because each BB must be individually
loaded into the magazine, not like other designs were you could simply pour them
in with a squeeze bottle. One bad aspect of UHC magazines is that when loaded
with a few BBs and when pressure is applied to the upper side of the top BB, the
entire magazine load of BBs flies out. This does not occur in TM pistols, even
though the magazine design is the same, allowing the use of UHC magazines in TM
pistols of the same model (and vice versa). When buying a UHC pistol, it is likely
that UHC BBs will also be offered. While they are typically deformed and almost
unusable in AEGs and gas guns, they will work quite well with springers, due to
low price of spring pistols and the inherent tolerance of bad BBs by spring pistols.
UHC pistols, unlike Mauri, are widely abundant in the US. They are imported mainly
by two distributors: Leapers and Viper USA, which in turn ships them wholesale
to retailers. LW pistols may be acquired for a mere $17 at www.tapco.com and HW
models can be found in almost every major online airsoft-specific retailer (www.airsoftatlanta.com
to name one) for $25 or so. Extra magazines are also offered at relatively low
prices ($5). Bottom line: while not as well made, effective, reliable, long-lasting,
or good-looking as Mauri guns, you can get two or even three UHCs for the price
of a TM, and those two or three will last longer than the one Mauri. Good for
plinkers and those just getting into airsoft.
Specific First-Person UHC pistol analysis:
Beretta 92: This is perhaps one of the best low-priced spring pistols widely available in the US. It features an open ejection port, well-made sights, comparatively ergonomic grip, protruding barrel (useful for attaching suppressors), double action trigger pull, very easy and realistic field stripping, and a lanyard attachment. The HW version of this gun also includes a very nicely textured slide of matte black (unlike the shiny LW one). Finally, the slide lock (which acts as a safety on this gun, can be altered so that it is once more a slide lock.
Glock 17: The G17 is not a good choice for several reasons, the least of which is that I am a Beretta aficionado and think that Glocks look like undeveloped USPs. First, the ejection port does not open. This leads to situations in which a BB is left stuck in the slide area without a means of removal. Which brings me to the next problem: they cannot be field stripped and forced disassembly is reported difficult. While they do have decent accuracy, a pretty cool working trigger safety, and a relatively smooth slide pull, the Glock really cannot measure up to the Beretta in terms of ease-of-use.
USP: The USP is quite simply, woefully underpowered. The length of the slide is a bit too long for the spring to be completely compressed, leading to very low FPS and thus range. Fortunately however, the FPS problem can reported be fixed by adding a spacer to the end of the spring. It also does not have an open ejection port and does have a rather unsightly open space under the barrel through which you can see a weight. But, on the bright side, it can be rather easily field stripped.
Klein Well Co. of Taiwan offers some very nice pistols indeed. The exterior materials
are superior to those used by UHC and there is a relatively large abundance of
metal parts. The guns are of good quality and durability. The catch is that the
guns do not shoot as accurately and do not have the Hop-Up system, killing the
range at about 35 ft. The thing that's really devious is that while KWC guns have
the hop-up logo very prominently displayed on the box, but they don't have it
in reality. From my experience, these also have a bad tendency to break in ways
so that the gun is unfixable without taking the gun apart (which I had thought
was impossible, but actually is not). Acquiring these is done through major airsoft
sites (like AirsoftAtlanta) for about the same price as UHC guns. Bottom line:
a good collector's item, or if used for display purposes, but a less-than-great
Newer model KWC guns, such as the P99. do have Hop-Up actually and are rather
nice, especially as the Hop-Up is tuned to .20g BBs.
KWC pistol analysis:
K99 (KWC’s non-trademarked name for the P99): This is one of the newer KWC guns and it is very nice! In fact, it could compete with the UHC Beretta HW. While KWC does regrettably leave its tradition of numerous metal parts (like in their 1911 series), this gun does have many nice features. Among these is the .2g calibrated Hop-Up, the exposed (but not open barrel) ejection port area, the slide lock, the quick-load magazine (which annoyingly drops the top BB after being ejected), and top-notch slide charging action. The Hop-Up unit is covered with a thin layer of oil though, so out of the box, it shoots like a wounded llama, but after 100 rounds, it starts shooting VERY well.
Colt 1911 10mm Custom: One of the 1911 series of KWC guns, this is a pretty old design. It has plenty of metal parts, a working grip safety, pretty high quality plastic body, slide lock, and a quick-fill magazine design, but lacks Hop-Up. But generally, this is a pretty decent collector’s gun.
Ho Feng Co. of Taiwan makes airsoft replicas of many of the more popular guns.
Generally, they offer higher FPS than UHC pistols, but do not have hop-up. The
materials, balancing, and design are also superior in some ways to UHC and Mauri
pistols. For example, the sights on the HFC USP include a useful, if not simple,
white dot for easy aiming. The UHC USP does not have this. Also, HFC does make
the only HW USP on the market, and an excellent one at that as well. HFC guns
may be purchased through most airsoft-specific online stores, but extra magazines
for them are rather rare. Prices are similar to those of UHC HW pistols. Bottom
line: good quality, good design, good looks, but no hop-up. The range difference
is going to make you wish you'd have gotten a UHC in the long run unless you very
desperately want a really good looking heavy USP.
There have been unconfirmed reports of newer-model HFC pistols having Hop-Up.
But this is unconfirmed as of this moment, so if anyone knows, fire off an email
to me (Supergeek@earthlink.net).
UHC pistol analysis:
is pretty much the best USP made in terms of functionality, design, and weight.
It is heavy weight, has an open ejection port, quick-fill magazine design, numerous
metal parts, slide lock, very realistic safety, ambidextrous magazine eject lever,
and nice color and textures. BUT, it doesn’t have Hop-Up, which pretty much limits
effective range to about 30,40 feet. Finally, this gun is a bit badly-designed.
The piston is connected to the slide at one point, which places enormous pressure
on one thin section of the slide, right behind the ejection port. So, after a
length of time of constant use, this part breaks, disabling the gun.
- Generally regarded as a low quality manufacturer, Y&P does make some models
that are rare among other manufacturers, including the Walther P99 springer (better
to buy the KWC version though). The general consensus on this manufacturer is
that while the gun looks somewhat good, it shoots terribly and will easily break
after repeated use. Bottom line: to be avoided, since you can just get a good
UHC gun for about the same price. Y&P guns are imported in the United States primarily
by Spring-Time International (or STTI).
There are several Korean spring pistol manufacturers, but because of the general consensus being that the hierarchy of gun quality goes from Japan to Taiwan to Korea (and other countries), Korean regulations on gun FPS, and the relative scarcity of these pistols sold by US retailers, these cannot be seen as a serious consideration for pistol buyers, unless for display or collection purposes.
Thanks particularly to Inferno, who has provided many details about Tokyo
Mauri and KWC 1911-series spring pistols through the airsoft forums as well as
influence in gun modifications. Also, thanks to everyone that commented on my
mistakes or offered me praise and criticism.