I’ve enjoyed shooting air rifles for a long time, and for the past couple of years, I have been learning how to shoot field target. It's been a struggle, and my results were disappointing for quite a while. But, I met a lot of friends, and gradually improved. I learned a lot along the way, changing rifles, barrels, scopes, pellets, as well as trying to control my right index finger better.
My work in the electronics assembly business doesn’t seem relevant, but it was a prime factor. In 2015, one of my airgun friends, Joe Peacock, brought a novel idea to one of our shoots. Joe is a very clever guy, and has several businesses. His “Speedy Pellet Inspector” is made from sheets of acrylic plastic, with laser cut holes to hold pellets so as to easily see and compare them and pick out any that are misshapen.
As it happens, one of my tasks at work involves designing and buying very precise laser cut tooling. The idea came to me that my tools made from steel foil would have the precision needed to gage pellets. I called my supplier (a very bright young man) and within a couple of days, we had the first prototype.
Measuring the diameter of a spheroid object isn’t easily done. Normal micrometers and calipers can measure one chord or section across the object, but you begin with an accuracy of about +/-0.0005 inches at best.
The .177 caliber pellets used for field target shooting are usually sourced in Europe and specified in metric units, such as 4.52 mm. So. we can buy ‘em (or we hope to) as 4.51/4.52/4.53 mm, etc.
Now, the 0.01 step is 10 microns, or 0.0004 inches. On a good day, holding your calipers perfectly you might be able to measure the difference between a 4.51 and a 4.52 pellet accurately, but you’d probably miss quite a few. So, if you sort on that basis, it’s quite possible that you mixed up some of both into your separated batches.
Using a diode pumped fiber optic laser, intense light is directed by a very fine optical fiber, producing a tiny and well defined cutting beam. The accuracy and repeatability for the best of these machines is 2 microns, or 0.00008. Using a special setup for the exact type and thickness of metal, it is programmed and set, it will cut a perfectly round hole, easily stepping up that ten micron diameter for each aperture.
We now have a tool with series of clean, perfectly round apertures stepping from 4.47 to 4.56 mm. After checking with a 40X optical comparator, they are “right on”. Note, the entire incremental span of all ten apertures is a 90 micron range, smallest to largest opening. That’s 0.0035 inches, or about the breadth of a human hair.
All of us who have gotten serious about airgun accuracy know that we have to find the pellet our gun “likes”. I think we are really selecting the exact pellet size to fit the bore (and choke) of our guns.
The Pelletgage will allow us to know the diameter of the pellet’s head, and to make that determination quickly. It will also allow us to check that next new tin of pellets we open, to see if the nominal size is right, and to check variations.
In use, most of us will find that we want our pellets to “go” on 4.53 and “no go” on 4.51, for instance (each rifle may differ). Pelletgage has a plastic frame, and thanks to my friend Joe Peacock, a plastic guide plate with oversized openings aligned to each gage opening that helps the pellet head drop cleanly into the metal aperture. I’m confident in the quality of the materials and the precision machining of Pelletgage. This is a simple, durable and accurate way to be confident your pellets are the right size for your gun.
I have found variations of 40 microns (0.04 mm) in head diameter within one tin of European pellets. Perhaps more significantly, I measured a large sample of my favorite pellets, and found 90% of pellets from one tin to be 4.53. So, say we forget the 10% that could be less accurate than the main group - I was a lot more surprised to find another tin of the same .177 pellets that were gaged at a mean diameter of 4.51. Examination of the pellets at 40X confirmed this. They have a slightly different shape, a bigger head, and they are a little longer, too. The groups of the 4.51 head pellets were noticeably better in my rifle.
We have all suspected variation between two lots (or even two tins) of pellets. Pelletgage will quickly and simply confirm whether one important variant is present. It also serves to screen any pellet that is not round, or that has a parting seam.
If you would rather be confident that you know the diameter that works best for your gun, and be able to confirm each new purchase is consistent, you need this. Other methods on the market are more expensive, and more difficult to use.
Six years and thousands of Pelletgages later, customers have assured me it is a useful product and works as described.