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Product testing performed with DraXxus Paintballs

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Palmer's Squall
By Bill Mills - July 2004
Photos by Dawn Mills

In the 1980s, Glenn Palmer took his background as a gunsmith and combined it with his love of paintball to establish Palmer’s Pursuit Shop in Sacramento, CA.  Palmer felt that a shoulder injury restricted how fast he could pump his customized paintguns, so he developed a pneumatic automation system to recock his paintgun each time the trigger was pulled.  In a world of pump action paintguns, a reliable, gravity fed semi-auto was a hot commodity.

Since its early days Palmer’s Pursuit Shop has expanded and become a father and son business with Glenn’s son Craig joining him.  While the company is well known for their mass produced products like the Rock low pressure regulator, and the Stabilizer inline regulator, they still do what they did from the beginning – true airsmithing and the construction of custom built paintguns.

In today’s day and age, a “custom” paintgun usually means that a shop has either taken a mass manufactured paintgun and swapped out stock components for theirs, or simply had the paintgun manufacturer produce a “custom” version with a brand specific milling pattern and accessories.  The slogan at Palmer’s Pursuit Shop is “Palmer’s Pursuit Shop, where custom still means something.”  A Palmer’s custom paintgun is not a hopped-up production gun, but rather a paintgun that is built from scratch, to the customer’s specifications. 

An analogy to paintguns could be drawn in the motorcycle world.  Some riders will ride a “custom” bike that is mass manufactured, while others will turn to a shop that builds truly custom choppers from the ground up based on what the customer orders, down to the size and shape of the frame.  
Such is the case with the Squall reviewed here.  Palmer’s assigns different names to a number of custom built general configurations.  For example – Houndstooth, Paladin and Pug are pump action, while the Typhoon and Squall are semi-automatic with pneumatic recocking systems.  “Nasty” versions of these paintguns are double barreled, firing two paintballs for each pull of the trigger.  The name Stroker is applied to existing pump action paintguns like PGPs that Palmer’s converts to semi-auto with by refitting them with a pneumatic system.  In general, Palmer’s custom builds center on a stacked tube design, similar to Sheridan pellet airguns, and the PG/PMI line of paintguns.  The lower tube houses the exhaust valve and hammer, while a tube above it is the barrel and houses the bolt.  

The construction process for this Squall started by placing the order.  This took the form of a number of e-mails exchanged with Craig Palmer describing the desired length, features and finish.  Pricing is also arrived upon in this manner.  It starts with the base price for the general configuration and is adjusted with the specifics of the order, depending on changes in the expected labor and materials needed to do the build.

There are two main differences between the Squall variant and a typical Typhoon.  First and most visible is that it has a limited capacity spring driven feed system for the paintballs, and second is that instead of refillable CO2 tanks or HPA systems, it is built to use disposable 12-gram CO2 cartridges as a power source.  This makes a holsterable semi-auto pistol with a spring fed magazine on top of the barrel.  While this is admittedly not the most practical of paintguns due to the limited paint and air supply, being custom built it is as much a show-piece as a paintgun – much like custom minitrucks on which hydraulic systems to lift and tilt the bed and cab are more about a nice truck than serving work as a dump truck.  Functionally the Squall is well suited for use by a scenario or big game general who won’t be up on the front line, but needs to carry a paintgun to ward off those pesky assassination attempts, and wants it to look very good.

Construction of the Squall began with the receiver.  Three brass tubes were precision soldered together, then drilled and milled to form the Squall’s receiver.  The barrel was engraved with the WARPIG URL, and the body textured before being coated with a rugged nickel plating.  By first polishing the body to a mirror shine and then masking off portions before bead blasting, Palmers creates truly unique custom finishes that have patterns of alternating mirrored and matte surfaces.  The nickel plate over the top of that surface enhances the mirror effect.  In this case the mirrored areas resemble paint splats, and become visible when looking closely at the Squall.  

The barrel was built just over 12 inches in length with a feed port in the rear bringing it in at 8.5 inches from muzzle to breech.  As with most of Palmer’s Custom built paintguns, the barrel is an integral part of the receiver, and cannot be swapped out (though some Typhoons were produced in the 1990s for Bad Boyz Toyz which accepted threaded barrels.)  

Wrapping over the barrel just ahead of the breech is a small curve of wire with a round plastic ball on one end.  This serves as the paintgun’s ball detent, ensuring that only one ball feeds when the breech is open, and is a common feature on most Typhoons.  In addition to the detent, there are three small indentations in the barrel called wedgits.  The wedgets prevent an undersized paintball from rolling out of the barrel before it is fired. Internally, the barrel goes through a process that Palmer’s calls elliptical honing.  This treatment gives the barrel a slightly larger diameter in the center than at the breech and muzzle, which Palmer believes results in the best possible combination of accuracy and gas efficiency.

The bolt is a hollow, high flow design.  Instead of using o-rings to seal to the breech and barrel, machined rings of Delrin were used instead.  The use of Delrin has an advantage over black nitrile o-rings in that Delrin is considered to be a self-lubricating material.  The result is a low-friction bolt movement.  Each ring is split for assembly, as the Delrin is not flexible enough to stretch over the bolt for a fit.  This small gap in the seal proved to be of little consequence, as the bolt is only exposed to gas pressure during the brief pulse of firing.  A spring loaded pull pin unlocks the bolt from the cocking arm.  With a pull, a twist and a tug, the bolt slides out of the rear of the Squall in under a second, leaving the barrel accessible for pull-through cleaning.  

Above the barrel is the 10 round magazine.  This tube is parallel to the barrel and features an internal aluminum follower, which is pushed by a light pressure coil spring.  A cut out in the side allows the spring to be compressed and the follower locked at the front of the ‘gun to remove the spring pressure for loading.  Heavy knurling and an ornamental hourglass cut mark the rear magazine cap.  

This is customized from the standard design which is a simple knob, another option with the custom build.  A slight twist is all that is needed to unlock the cap, and then it can be slid out the back of the magazine.  On the front of the magazine cap is a curved piece of Delrin, which directs paintballs from the back of the magazine downward to the breech.  Atop the magazine is a 3/8-inch sight rail, grooved down the center so that it can be used by itself as a sight, or as a mount for a red-dot or similar sight.

As an added feature, Craig Palmer included a plastic coiled keeper leash between the magazine cap and the bolt.  The flexibility of this leash did not inhibit cocking, but was a great addition to keep from loosing the cap while reloading, or the bolt while cleaning in the field. 

Below the barrel is the lower receiver, which houses the exhaust valve and hammer systems.  In the rear is the spring driven hammer.  When released by pulling the trigger, the hammer slides forward striking the valve.  Velocity is adjusted by a hex screw on the rear which changes the pressure on the hammer’s spring.  Turning it in increases velocity, while turning it out lowers velocity.  The valve itself is of Palmer’s design.  Unlike Sheridan/PMI valves it does not have a CO2 piercing pin attached to the valve core.  Instead Palmer uses a hollow pin in a cup seal to pierce and seal the 12 gram cartridge.

An option selected for the Squall was a Quicksilver CO2 changer.  The Quick Silver was one of the most popular of the early modifications offered by Palmer’s Pursuit in the 1980s.  Instead of dropping a CO2 cartridge in the front of the lower receiver and screwing a pressure cap on over it, the Quick Silver utilizes a cut-out slot in the bottom of the receiver and a spring loaded lever.  The lever is pulled to one side, a cartridge dropped in, and the lever is then returned.  This pierces and locks the cartridge into place.

The single trigger grip frame, more suited to a holsterable pistol than a two finger frame, was equipped with a functional cross block safety, polished and plated trigger shoe, and covered in a wraparound rubber grip.

Straddling the barrel on either side are the low-pressure regulator and the recocking ram which are the heart and muscles of the pneumatic recocking system.  On the right side of the body is the LPR.  It draws gas from the main exhaust valve’s source, limits its pressure and then routes it to a four-way valve in the grip frame.  The pneumatic ram on the left side is powered by the low-pressure gas supply controlled with the four-way, and an additional feature added to the ram was a quick exhaust valve to the cocking stroke side.  

The firing cycle for the Typhoons begins with the trigger being pulled which releases the hammer, striking the valve and sending a puff of gas up to the bolt, propelling a paintball out of the barrel.  As the trigger is pulled further back, and small link arm pivoting in the trigger shoe activates the four way valve inside the grip frame.  This directs low-pressure gas to the cocking ram pulling back the bolt, which in turn pulls back and cocks the hammer.  The trigger must be held back long enough for a paintball to drop into the breech, and when it is released, the four-way valve then directs gas to the ram, which closes the bolt chambering the paintball.

In testing for review the Squall was operated with DraXxus Hellfire paintballs, and both Sheridan and Crossman branded disposable 12 gram CO2 cartridges.  It was carried in the holster of a Ronin Gear SWAT Paintball Vest which allowed the Squall to be holstered on the left, and 10 round tubes of paint to be carried in the tube pouches on the right.  Ten round tubes made for much faster and easier loading than dropping paint into the Squall’s magazine 1 ball at a time.

On the field at Hurricane Paintball in Palm Bay, Florida, using the Squall was reminiscent of paintball in the 1980s, stalking through the woods with only a pistol in hand.  It proved to be different in two distinct ways.  First in that everyone else on the field could spit out a couple hundred paintballs without reloading, and second in that this pistol, unlike those bolt action and pump models from the 80s, could follow up a first shot with a few more as a semi-auto.  Working under cover fire of other players, and creeping through the brush where possible, the Squall was definitely usable even without raining paint.  Longballing with accuracy by volume fire was out of the question, so use of the Squall meant flanking opponents and setting up angles of fire that they weren’t expecting.  It proved effective with the first player who was eliminated with a shot around the side of a bunker while he was looking the other direction.

A problem with some automatic recocking semi-autos is that due to their two step trigger pull, a player can “short stroke” them by either not pulling the trigger back far enough to fully re-cock the gun or not holding it down long enough for a new paintball to load into the breech.  Between the swing trigger design, adjustments made during construction, and weight of the trigger return spring, short stroking was not a problem with the Squall.  In fact it took considerable effort to intentionally short-stroke it at the chrono station.  
Short-stroking was a non-existent problem on the field.  This performance was in opposition to many other automatic recocking semis where firing rapidly without short-stroking is a learned skill.

The use of CO2 as a power source, particularly a 12-gram cartridge meant that the Squall could shoot more shots per cartridge when fired a shot at a time, rather than rapid firing through the 10 shots in the magazine.  By firing more slowly, the cartridge was allowed time to absorb heat from the air, and regain pressure after each shot.  In typical use on the field, it was no problem to fire 20 shots on a cartridge while retaining usable velocity, even more if shooting at closer targets where not as much velocity is needed.  This is quite a feat of efficiency, considering that the Squall is using gas for the re-cocking system as well as to fire the paintball.  Many early pump action paintguns could only fire twenty or so shots on a single 12-gram cartridge.

Compared to a number of off-the shelf holsterable semi-auto pistols, most of which operate as open-bolt blowbacks, the Squall was much easier to shoot accurately, because the way the re-cocking system works generates less jarring of the paintgun, making it easier to stay on target with repeat shots.
The spring fed magazine proved trouble free in cool or warm weather.  When fielded on a hot, humid day it was found beneficial to keep the magazine spring locked open between games to prevent spring pressure from deforming the softer paintballs.  It was paint deformation that caused a chopped ball at the chrono and a couple of dry-fired shots during hot weather testing.  In warm weather with less humidity the paint held up and fed flawlessly.  As with any spring fed system weather and paint quality will affect performance.  This wouldn’t be an issue with a more typical hopper fed Typhoon configuration.

Because the Squall lacks mounting holes for a bottom-line, it was not locked onto a test stand for performance testing.  However, it was checked by manually firing over a recording chronograph, fired once at a rate of approximately 1 ball per second, and once rapid firing as quickly as possible, in both cases with pauses to reload.  The chronograph confirmed that the Squall used CO2 from the 12-gram cartridge more efficiently when the cartridge was given time to recover and absorb heat between shots.  Even when rapid fired, the velocity was stable for three shots, then began dropping off.  After a pause to reload it was again stable for three shots before dropping off.  

The conclusion drawn from the testing was that even shooting in three round bursts, waiting a second or two, then firing the next burst would give the maximum rate of fire while maintaining velocity for tight shot groupings.  Some Squall users report as many as twenty-five or more usable shots are attainable by waiting even longer between the shots, though in practice on the field, 20 seemed like a good point to swap the cartridge to avoid any noticeable velocity drop.  This drop off rate of course is an issue facing the 12-gram powered Squall and is not related to other Typhoon configurations which are set up to use refillable CO2 tanks or compressed air.

There is an ethereal quality to a custom built paintgun that goes beyond just the aesthetics and performance (though both must still be there) into the knowledge that the end product was hand crafted for the customer.  There is a big difference in the feel of the Squall compared to most of the mass produced pistol style paintguns on the market today - it feels like a true paintgun, while they feel like low cost toys in comparison.  Those are things that can’t be quantified in an empirical review, but are the leading reasons that the Internet is home to a very devoted following of Palmer’s custom customers.

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