The Girandoni air rifle, predecessor to air rifles found at Surplus Store Crawley

The Girandoni air rifle may or may not be a name that you are familiar with, but it has its place in the history books for some of the roles it has played.

We have taken a brief look at the history below, and how it has played a part in the shaping of air rifles over the years.


The Girandoni was designed by inventor Bartholomäus Girandoni around 1779. The rifle was also known as the Windbüchse, which means wind rifle in German, referring to the use of air as a propellant. The rifle is perhaps more famously known for the Lewis and Clark Expedition of North America, where they were charged with finding a safe and practical route across the Western part of the country, as well as establishing an American presence before the British.

The air rifle was issued for use in the Austrian army starting from 1780, and lasted for over thirty years in use. It did offer a great deal of advantages, including the absence of smoke from propellants and a high rate of fire.

Design and Firing

The rifle was around four feet in length, and weighed four and half kilograms, which was around the same weight and size as other basic muskets at the time. The calibre of ammunition fired from the rifle has been contested, with some sources saying it fired a .46 ball, and others stating it was 13mm.

The magazine fed the ball ammunition into the rifle via gravity, meaning after every shot, the rifle had to be pointed upwards in order for the ball to drop into place. This was perfect for shooters looking to keep a low profile, as other muskets at the time required the shooter to stand up in order to reload with powder and ball.

On a full air reservoir (which was found in the butt of the gun), the gun could shoot to approximately 125 yards; although this power would decrease significantly as the air ran out.


While the rifle was capable of achieving 30 shots on a full tank, it took nearly 1500 strokes from a hand pump to fill a reservoir, which was extremely time consuming. The reservoirs themselves were made from hammered sheet iron, which were held together with rivets, and brazed together. Manufacturing these proved very difficult due to the techniques of the time, so they were always quite rare.

In addition to this, the weapon was extremely delicate, and the smallest amount of damage could cause the gun to be rendered unusable. It was also very different to any other weapon around at the time, and only highly trained soldiers could operate it.

The gun was, however, the very first repeating rifle of any kind to be used in the military, and the first to use a tubular magazine. It was eventually outdated and replaced with the Henry rifle. It did lay the foundations for many future air rifles, of which you can find an extensive range here at Surplus Store, so why not take a look today?


Photo courtesy of U.S Army, under Creative Commons