© Ravi Chopra, 1998
Many today are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Bob Long´s new "Delta Defiant", a new autococking semi-automatic paintgun with entirely internal gas channels, eliminating the external hoses found on other autococking ´guns like the Autococker, Typhoon, and Sovereign. It promises to be smaller, lighter, and more reliable than the hugely popular Autococker. What fewer people know is that Palmer´s Pursuit Shop has had a paintgun on the market with all of those features for well over a year. That paintgun is the Blazer.
Palmer´s is probably best known for their one hugely popular product: the Rock regulator for the Autococker. What fewer people know is that Glenn Palmer´s biggest contribution to paintball history is actually much, much larger. It was Glenn Palmer who first developed and implemented the pneumatic cocking system for pump-guns. The first one was his own personal ´gun, Camille. The system later found it´s way into the Hurricane, Stroker, and Typhoon from Palmers, the WGP Autococker, and the Sterling Sovereign.
For years, the Typhoon was Palmers´ flagship semi-auto. Like all Palmer paintguns at the time, it was a completely hand built ´gun loosely based off of a Sheridan pump-gun. Though considered by some to be one of the finest paintguns built, it failed to achieve widespread acceptance and popularity as a result of a non-existent upgrade path, a fixed barrel, and Glenn´s complete unwillingness to advertise or sponsor pro-teams.
Never the less, Typhoons were constantly sold out. As a result of their being entirely hand-built, the synthesis of a single Typhoon took several days and was very labor intensive. Often, the waiting list for a new Typhoon was as long as 6 or 7 weeks.
But then a few years ago, rumors started to surface about a new Palmer semi-auto based off the Typhoon´s basic design. It would be manufactured, have all internal hosing, a much shorter, faster trigger, interchangeable barrels, and best of all, have a price tag a full $100 below that of the hand-built Typhoon´s $500 ticket.
The reasons for the Blazer´s long incubation are the stuff of legend, rumor, hearsay, and outright speculation. Whatever the real reasons are, it took until last year for the Blazer to reach the market.
So was it worth the wait? Is it a worthy successor to the Typhoon? Does it bring the Palmer-designed semi-auto into the mainstream? We´ll see.
CONSTRUCTION & FEATURES
That the Blazer delivers on many of it´s promises is immediately obvious. With an all-aluminum body, the ´gun is much lighter than the all-brass Typhoon. It also packs everything into a much smaller, compact package by moving the regulator to the right side of the ´gun and shortening the bolt significantly. To give you a better idea of it´s size, the Blazer´s body is about the same height and width (not counting the ram and Rock which hang off the sides) as an Autococker, but a full inch shorter. When you compare the full lengths (velocity adjuster to vertical ASA on the Blazer, back of bolt to end of regulator or the ´cocker), the Blazer comes in a full 6 1/2 inches shorter! Consequently, the Blazer is extremely small, lightweight, and maneuverable. All the gas lines are drilled through the ´gun body as well, so there are no low pressure hoses hanging out to blow or hook on sticks and branches.
In a significant improvement over the Typhoon, the Blazer comes with a standard WGP-type grip frame, meaning that it can take any standard bottom-line fitting and grips that will fit a stock Automag or Autococker. The stock grips are plastic molded battle-grips, not unlike what is being installed on stock Autocockers these days.
The Blazer also comes with a removable brass barrel. The barrel slip-fits into the upper body and a small screw clamps it in place. This is not a cheap, stock, throw-away piece to be replaced as soon as it´s removed from the box. Glenn Palmer feels that brass is the best barrel material there is and steadfastly continues to make ALL his barrels from this material despite it´s having fallen from mainstream usage by other barrel manufacturers. It does add quite a bit more weight than an aluminum barrel otherwise would have.
The bolt is a standard open-faced, three o-ring design. The back of the bolt´s air-chamber is counter-sunk a bit behind the inlet, but other than that it doesn´t have any of the oh-so-popular design elements like a venturi-face or insert. The bolt is significantly shorter than that of any other auto-cocking style paintgun around, and has the fastest quick-pull system in existence. A knob in the side of the bolt fits into a notch in the tiny cocking block attached to the ram on the side of the ´gun. To remove the bolt, just pull the spring-loaded knob out to the side and draw the bolt straight out the back - no muss, no fuss, no pin to lose.
The ´gun also comes with a standard vertical ASA bolted to the front of the body. If you don´t want to feed your air in there, you can plug that and run a hose into an input in the back of the regulator on the right side of the ´gun. A ball-bearing style detent is threaded into the upper receiver just to the left of the right-feed tube. Left and center-feed models are also available, though I did not get the chance to review them.
The cycling system in the Blazer will be immediately familiar to people who know the Autococker and Typhoon. What makes it different is an all-internal design requiring a unique arrangement of components. As a quick review, the trigger has two separate functional stages. The first part of the pull lowers the sear and releases the hammer. The spring-loaded hammer strikes and opens an exhaust valve, allowing CO2 or compressed air to flow through the bolt and fire the paintball. The second half of the trigger pull switches a 4-way valve to redirect low pressure (regulated down by the pressure regulator) gas to the from the back to the front of a pneumatic cylinder (the "ram") which draws back the bolt and hammer to start the cycle over again.
In all autococking semi-autos that preceded the Blazer, the system was fitted to a pre-existing pump-gun design. Subsequently, the 4-way, ram, and regulator were stuck on wherever space could be found and were connected by short, low-pressure hoses. The Blazer was specifically designed with these as internal, integral components with all internally drilled channels connecting them so there are no hoses to blow out. The regulator is nestled into the right side of the ´gun body, the ram sits off the left, and the 4-way is built into the lower front of the ´gun body just in front of the exhaust valve. The regulator and 4-way are both internally identical to the equivalent aftermarket parts Palmer´s builds for the Autococker (the famous Rock regulator and Palmer 4-way switch). The ram is also a good component, though it is not as frictionlessly smooth as some of the aftermarket rams available for the Autococker. The ram´s workload is seriously increased by the bolt which has o-rings that fit extremely tightly into the ´gun body and drag like crazy. These o-rings are designed to maximize efficiency by completely disallowing any air to escape around the bolt or up the feed tube. Though they do not appear to slow the cycle rate any, they do give the ´gun´s cycle something of a jerky feel. They also make manual cocking of the ´gun a laborious chore. Though it is not a huge issue, this will bother some players.
Like the Typhoon, the Blazer´s trigger has a rocking action. One significant addition to the trigger system is an adjustable sear. You could adjust the cocking point of the Typhoon´s trigger, but this was of limited value as the trigger stop limited forward throw, not backward pull. The Blazer´s cocking point can´t be adjusted (the trigger and 4-way are connected by a non-adjustable brass rod), but the firing point can by adjusting a small allen screw through a hole below and behind the trigger. If you´re the kind who feels an irresistible need to tinker, this can allow the experienced tuner to shorten the pull further. Palmers seriously discourages this because fooling with the timing is the surest way to achieve unreliability and poor efficiency.
Velocity adjustment is simple. As with most paintguns, it is achieved by increasing or decreasing tension on the mainspring behind the hammer. An allen screw in the plug at the back of the lower receiver adjusts tension on this spring.
The Blazer also comes with a bottle of oil, a barrel plug, an allen wrench for adjusting the velocity, and an owner´s manual. the manual is actually quite good for the average player and provides all necessary information for setting the ´gun up, firing, cleaning, and routine maintenance.
The first thing people always look at when they pick up a new paintgun is the trigger, so I´ll start there. The Blazer´s trigger is very reminiscent of the Typhoon. Though shorter, it´s still a very heavy pull. The trigger also has a lot of left-right play, giving it a somewhat loose feel. And as with all Palmer semi-autos, the Blazer is very conservatively timed to achieve the greatest reliability and minimize blow-back. What this means is that the hammer releases with a hard snap early in the trigger pull, then there is a noticeable gap before the 4-way is switched to cock the ´gun at the far back position of the trigger pull. That is an important point: you have to get used to burying the trigger at its full-rearward position to prevent short-stroking. I´m used to a much lighter trigger and found my fingers getting fatigued after a few games, particularly if I was trying to rip out long streams. The Blazer can cycle as fast as any non-electropneumatic paintgun out there, but doing so requires quite a lot more work than other ´guns. This is not a "bad" trigger; there are a lot of players out there very contentedly playing with stock Blazers. Players looking for a soft trigger pull will not be happy with the stock Blazer´s trigger, though. I have heard that simply adding a 2-finger trigger shoe improves the trigger significantly and makes it much easier to rapid fire this ´gun.
Range and accuracy are closed-bolt semi standard: very good. Even with the stock barrel, these are among the Blazer´s strongest points. I´ve shot Palmer barrels on Automags and Autocockers as well and had very similar results. They´re good mid-bore barrels that are relatively paint-agnostic, shooting pretty much all brands equally well. Lousy paint shoots reasonably well through this ´gun; probably better than what you´re used to. Feed the Blazer good paint and you´ll find that you have no difficulty hitting your target. This is a very good thing since, outside of Palmer´s, there are very few companies making barrels for the Blazer.
Velocity consistency is very good. Frankly, it´s limited by your air source and the quality of your paint. Shooting a Max-Flow nitrogen system and some really fresh, wonderfully round paint that fit the barrel properly I found that my velocity didn´t vary more than a foot-per-second either way. As with any paintgun, shooting paint of questionable sphericity results in somewhat less predictable consistency. Use of an unregulated air source will also reduce consistency significantly. My point here is that the Blazer is very consistent, but like all other paintguns, incapable of compensating for flaws in what you feed it.
The Blazer´s efficiency is about the same as a stock Autococker. A 68 ci nitrogen system at 3000 psi will give you somewhere in the range of 700-800 good shots before needing another fill. The Blazer was really designed with CO2 in mind and runs just as well on that source. A full 20 oz tank should keep you going through a half case of paint (1200 shots or so).
Though the Blazer is a big step up from the Typhoon in upgradability, it is still largely a take-it-as-it-is paintgun. The regulator, ram, and 4-way are all built into the body, precluding any replacements as is so commonly done on the Autococker. In its defense, the regulator is already the industry-standard Rock and the 4-way is Palmer´s own short-throw 4-way switch - both excellent aftermarket upgrades in their own right.
Despite that, the Blazer has a reasonable amount of upgradability. To show what they can do, Palmer´s Pursuit Shop sent me a fully-upgraded Blazer with a much increased $792 price tag.
First, Palmer´s has finally started offering their own "Pro-Touch" trigger-jobs for the Blazer. Why don´t they come like that out of the box? Well, there´s only so much you can do for $400. The Pro-Touch trigger job involves quite an extensive bit of hand-tuning, timing, springing, and the option of a 2-finger trigger-shoe for a total added cost of $120. The result of all this extra work is a slightly shorter and much lighter pull. I can not emphasize strongly enough just how big a difference this trigger job made. For me (a very trigger-oriented player), it completely transformed the feel of the ´gun. Laying down cover-fire and rapid-firing at moving targets became fun again. $120 is a lot of money for a trigger-job, in fact it increases the price of the ´gun 30% over the stock ´gun, but in this case I have to say it is a worthwhile investment.
They also sent along a custom 12", spiral-ported, match-honed Palmer barrel. Palmer´s uses an elliptical tight-loose-tight honing pattern in the barrel to control, accelerate, and again control the paintball before releasing it to the fickle hands of crosswinds and out-of-round aerodynamics. The spiral porting definitely makes for quieter shooting. I´ve always liked Palmer´s elliptically honed barrels on the Autococker (I have two of them). The performance is similar on the Blazer. The price addition is not insignificant, though. Addition of elliptical honing, spiral porting, and purely cosmetic nickel plating (still bare brass inside the barrel) adds another $72 over the price of the stock barrel.
The third performance upgrade they sent with the tricked Blazer was a Stabilizer pressure regulator threaded into the vertical ASA. The Stabilizer has an excellent pedigree: it is essentially a Rock regulator beefed up to put out higher flow and higher pressures. In addition to providing exceptionally consistent output pressure, it keeps out liquid CO2 better than any other regulator I´ve seen. If you´re shooting CO2, you´ll probably want a regulator like this to improve your velocity consistency. The Stabilizer is an excellent choice and offers amongst the best performance in it´s price range ($105 with quick disconnect).
The final thing they added to the Blazer was a full cosmetic package. The body and Stabilizer were anodized a dark satin green. All the other parts were nickel plated. The price: $80 - not bad all things considered. I´d be quite generous in saying that the Blazer is not the prettiest ´gun on the planet. Glenn Palmer´s extensive efforts to pack this paintgun into as small a package as possible has resulted in something of a warthog appearance. In all fairness, this paintgun is not about looking pretty; it´s about performance in a small package. The plating and anodizing do a good bit to improve the ´gun´s looks. The quality of the plating and anodizing is also quite good, though not the best I´ve seen. Finally, a nickled sight hood was added for another $15.
Palmer´s actually offers a few other in-house upgrades for the Blazer. If you prefer the feel of a back-bottle tank, Palmer´s offers a back-bottle adapter that replaces the velocity adjuster plug. Don´t worry, it has a built-in velocity adjuster screw. This can also be used in conjunction with the vertical or a bottom-line to set up a dual-bottle paintgun. Even more impressive is that fact that the Blazer is available in left, right, and center-feed models. The center-feed option adds a paltry $20 to the cost of the ´gun; an absolute bargain when compared to the huge price differential (hundreds of dollars) between right-feed and center-feed Autocockers.
Palmer´s also offers a LAPCO tight-bore barrel for $60 which they have milled down to fit the Blazer´s slip-fit body. This 0.687" ID barrel is ideal for small, high-quality tournament paint. If you´re a serious tournament player considering this ´gun, I´d highly recommend adding this barrel to your bag.
Beyond that, there are very few other barrels available for the Blazer. I believe that aftermarket Blazer barrels are made by BOA, J&J, and LAPCO, but that´s it, and that´s a shame. Given it´s slip-fit retention system (no threading or other special milling required), the Blazer has got to be the easiest paintgun to make aftermarket barrels for. Unfortunately, it appears that unless Glenn gets on the ball convincing barrel manufacturers to make barrels for the Blazer, aftermarket options may continue to be very limited.
There is one other aftermarket upgrade for the Blazer that is worthy of notice. AKA has developed a version of its Tornado valve and Mitey Max valve chamber extension for the Blazer. When coupled with a ported out air passage, AKA is claiming that they can get a Blazer operating reliably at 250 psi (the stock ´gun operates best at 650 psi or so). Their efficiency numbers are also exceptional, claiming as much as a full case (2500 shots) from a single 20 oz CO2 tank. Please note that I did not review these components myself and thus can not either confirm or contradict these numbers.
ANALYSIS & CONCLUSIONS
Given that it uses the same pneumatic drive system and carries a very simlar price, a comparison with the much improved ´98 Autococker is inevitable. How does the Blazer stack up?
With it´s all-internal design, the Blazer offers a much more elegant system than the Autococker´s tacked-on pneumatics. This design also leads to a much smaller and lighter package. The Blazer takes top honors in reliability as well. Though the Autococker has improved in this regard over the years, Glenn Palmer still reigns in his almost uncanny ability to build a paintgun that only goes down as the result of natural disaster or serious operator error. I am also impressed with the Blazer´s high-end suite of standard equipment, including a better regulator, 4-way, and stock barrel. In fairness, the Autococker does now come stock with a WGP regulator where the Stabilizer is a $100 option on the Blazer. I also want to commend Glenn Palmer particularly for pricing center-feed only $20 over the price of a right or left-feed ´gun. This is in gigantic contrast with the >$300 price difference between a stock Autococker and a similarly-performing STO. Performance between the two ´guns is very similar, though the Autococker´s operating pressure is considerably lower than that of the stock Blazer.
Where the Blazer falls short is in the areas of refinement and upgrade path. The Blazer´s stiff trigger pull and lateral looseness contrast sharply with the latest stock Autocockers´ longer but much smoother pull. Though Palmer´s trigger-job improves the trigger immensely, it still can´t be compared to velvety smoothness of the best trigger-jobs available for the Autococker. The Blazer simply doesn´t seem to cycle very smoothly either. I attribute this to the massive bolt o-rings which, though functional and effective, do not lend a feeling of polish and refinement to the ´gun when it is cycled. This is one ´gun that would gain an impressive improvement in feel with a set of low-drag o-rings. The Blazer is also sadly short of upgrade options. I´d particularly like to see a .45 frame and more barrel options for the Blazer.
For people who are debating between the Blazer and the old Typhoon, the choice is pretty simple. The Blazer brings all of the Typhoon´s excellent performance and reliability to the table in a smaller, lighter, more upgradable, and $100 less expensive package. The only real reason to buy a Typhoon over the Blazer would be for the style points you´d earn for having the rarer, better-looking, hand-built ´gun.
On the high-end, the Blazer´s lack of barrels, upgrade options, and ultimate refinement will probably keep it from making a big impact on the tournament scene. Though the framework of a truly competitive tournament paintgun is already there, what the Blazer really needs is for some custom shop with a tournament pedigree and mind set to step up and do for the Blazer what Bob Long, Bad Boyz Toyz, and Belsales did for the Autococker.
Most people though, will find the Blazer to be really quite an impressive paintgun out of the box. For $400, you´d have a very difficult time finding another ´gun that offered this much in the way of features, ease of use, reliability, and performance.
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 1999