Japanese Arisaka Restoration

The recent successful completion of the Lee-Enfield restoration has me inspired to work on a couple of other neglected firearms that have been in the family for decades.

My dad was in the navy in WWII and brought home a Japanese Arisaka rifle from the Philippines.  He never talked much about the war, and all he had to say about the rifle was that there was a pile of them that were free for the taking.  So, he brought one home.  Fortunately, he never tried to shoot it; more on that in a moment.

1930s-40s Japanese Arisaka before restoration (bolt removed)

1930s-40s Japanese Arisaka before restoration (bolt removed)

The rifle was stored in our attic from the time the house was built in the late 1950s until 1983, when my mother moved closer to town.  It went straight into that attic until 2006, when she moved into a retirement facility.  Unbeknownst to my brother and me, she gave it to a family friend.  Since each of us thought the other had it, the rifle never came up in conversation until last summer, when I happened to ask about it.  Long story short, the family friend graciously returned it to us, along with a side by side shotgun that is in horrendous condition.

I don’t know the rifle’s condition when my dad picked it up in the Philippines, but having spent 70 years in attics since, the Arisaka accumulated a lot of dust and rust.  The wood was in fair condition, but very dry; all the metal surfaces were rusty and most of the original bluing was gone.

Detail of the receiver and rear sight

Detail of the receiver and rear sight

After doing some research, I’m 90% sure this particular Arisaka was strictly a training rifle, and was never shootable. It appears to be some sort of type 38/type 99 hybrid with a mixture of parts from both designs. The biggest giveaways are lack of a serial number and proper hallmarks, and the fact that the barrel isn’t rifled. It is interesting, however, that it does seem to have all the correct mechanical parts of a fully functional rifle, including the firing pin, magazine spring, and the action dust cover, which is normally missing from all Arisakas. That one part, seen in the photo below, is probably worth as much as the rest of the rifle.

Detail of the bottom, trigger guard and magazine floor plate

Detail of the bottom, trigger guard and magazine floor plate

These training rifles are not uncommon, but they were not constructed to handle live ammo and are likely to explode if shot. The receivers were made of cast iron and intended for either wooden rounds or low power blanks.  Because they are virtually indistinguishable from the real rifles, a lot of GIs who brought them home after the war tried to shoot them. The consequence of doing this was not pretty.  This earned the later Arisakas a reputation for being poorly made and these are sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as Last Ditch guns.

Since I didn’t have to worry about shooting it or compromising its value (it’s a $50-$100 gun at best), the restoration focused primarily on the cosmetic, with mechanical function a secondary concern.  Fortunately, none of the screws were seized and the rifle disassembled quickly.  Compared to the Enfield, taking this one apart was a breeze.  The rust turned out to be mainly superficial, and came off pretty easily with some CLP and light brushing.  The receiver and barrel required a little more aggressive scrubbing with the CLP and steel wool, but cleaned up very nicely.

Arisaka-Comp-5Once cleaned and degreased, I used a cold blue oxidizing agent to darken the metal areas that were overly brightened by the cleaning.  This toned it down to a perfect match to the overall patina of this 70-year-old firearm.  With a little light surface toning, the result was a rich and lustrous dark blue/gray finish that accurately reflects the age and matches the remaining patina.

Arisaka receiver before & after restoration

Arisaka receiver before & after restoration

The stock, as I said, was overall pretty good, but the wood was very dry and splintery, and there were a lot of scratches and dings from laying bare in attics, etc.  A few applications of Kramer’s Best had it looking much better, but I still wasn’t satisfied with the result.  After looking at it and thinking about it for a few days, I decided to give it a light application of Watco Danish Oil, which is thin and penetrates well, and is great stuff overall.  Unlike many finishes, it builds up very slowly with a low sheen, and plays nice with other existing finishes in my experience.  I used a mahogany tint that matched the original finish on the rifle, and gave it just a single application.  The result was a remarkable improvement.  Scratches faded, tone evened out, and the overall surface just felt better in the hand.

Reassembled, the rifle looks great.  Since it’s not shootable, it will never be anything other than a wall hanger, but that’s okay.  It’s a piece of history and a link to my dad.

Arisaka after restoration

Arisaka after restoration

The 5 Hand Planes Everyone Should Own

Unless you live in a city apartment, or happen to be wealthy, disinterested, or lazy enough to pay someone to do all of your home maintenance projects, chances are now and then you have need of a hand plane.  Even the most ardent power tool minded woodworker can’t escape the reality that some jobs are just easier solved by a couple of passes with a hand plane than with anything you plug into an electrical outlet.   Whether you’re an active hand tool user, a neophyte learning to work wood by hand, a weekend woodworker or a casual homeowner, a basic set of good hand planes is essential.

There’s a great deal of generalization that goes into compiling a list like this.  Because hand planes tend to be used for specific applications, some woodworkers my find greater utility in some planes than others.  Someone who makes musical instruments would obviously need different tools than a furniture maker.  But speaking in the broadest sense, these are the 5 essential hand planes that virtually everyone should own.  Certainly for anyone interested in acquiring a first set of planes to use around the shop, farm, or house in the suburbs, these tools offer the greatest utility and versatility.

1. Fore Plane – The Stanley No. 5

Stanley Bailey No. 5, Type 11 (c. 1910-18)

Stanley Bailey No. 5, Type 11 (c. 1910-18)

Fore planes are those ranging from approximately 14 inches to 18 inches in length. In the Stanley bench plane assortment, these include the nos. 5, 5-1/4, 5-1/2, and 6. The term ‘Fore’ dates back several hundred years and is generally assumed to be a contraction of ‘Before’ and interpreted as the plane used first in flattening a surface. “It is called the Fore Plane because it is used before you come to work either with the Smooth Plane, or with the Joynter.” [1]

As the first plane one would use in preparing a surface, the Fore plane takes the most aggressive cut, removing rough saw marks and leveling out low and high spots, etc. The iron is sharpened with a significant camber, or curvature to the cutting edge, with as much as 1/16″ to 1/8″ difference between the center and the edges. This removes the most waste, but subsequently leaves the surface of the wood with a scalloped finish.

While either the Stanley no. 5 or no. 6 will do, the no. 5 is the better choice in our 5 plane roundup. Rough planing is a very physical activity, and the lighter weight of the no. 5 makes it less fatiguing to use. It’s smaller size also makes it more appropriate for the wide variety of other day to day planing jobs that most people likely face. The no. 5 is, in my opinion, the most versatile of all the bench planes and the plane I use most often.

2. Try (or Jointer) Plane – The Stanley No. 7

Stanley Bailey No. 7, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Stanley Bailey No. 7, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Try planes, more commonly known as Jointer planes, are those over 18 inches, and are most commonly 22 to 28 inches. Stanley’s offering of Jointer planes are the no. 7 and no. 8, measuring 22 inches and 24 inches respectively.As the name implies, a Jointer plane excels at truing the edges of long boards that will be glued together to make table tops, shelves, and carcasses. But its value and place on the workbench isn’t limited to edge work. The Try, or Jointer, plane is used to flatten and refine the surface left by the Fore plane. Its extra length allows it to true large flat surfaces without riding up over the peaks or dipping down into the valleys created (or left uncorrected) during the initial surface preparation.

Despite its heft, the Jointer should be considered a precision tool. The iron should be sharpened with a slight camber (or perhaps none at all if used exclusively for edge work), and the frog typically adjusted with a fine set for thinner shavings than the Fore plane. Working both across the grain and in all directions, the Try plane leaves a perfectly flat surface that requires only final touch up with the Smoothing plane.

Your choices between the two standards, nos. 7 and 8, are really a matter of personal preference. In this case, Newton’s laws of motion lend a helping hand.  The greater heft is actually a benefit, in that once you get it moving the additional mass helps keep it going with less effort. That said, the no. 8 is quite a beast, and my personal preference is for the lighter and shorter no. 7, which I find easier to manage.

3. Smoothing Plane – The Stanley No. 4

Stanley Bailey No. 4C, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Stanley Bailey No. 4C, Type 10 (c. 1907-09)

Smoothing planes include the shorter planes in the lineup, those 10 inches or less. Stanley made a number of planes in this range, from the tiny no. 1 to the most popular no. 4 and its wider sibling, the 4-1/2.The Smoothing plane is the final plane used prior to applying the finish. Executed properly, there should be no need for sandpaper. Used primarily with the grain, the Smoothing plane is normally sharpened with just the slightest camber or left straight with its corners eased to prevent them from digging in or leaving tell tale ‘lines’ along the edge of the cut. The frog is adjusted with a closed mouth for the finest of cuts, and the shavings produced are tissue thin, ideally produced from long strokes covering the full length of the wood. Aside from perhaps a little hand scraping here and there, the surface left by the Smoothing plane should require no further treatment. In fact done correctly, sanding would actually diminish the quality of the surface left by the Smoother.

More so than with the Fore and Try planes, the choice of which size Smoother is really a matter of and comfort and the scale of your work. All of them will do a comparable job, although the nos. 1 and 2 are really only suited for very small surfaces (and very small hands). The no. 4 is considered the most versatile size, and the one I use most often. However, I do have a smaller no. 3 and a wider no. 4-1/2 that I reach for, depending on the size of the project. But since the point of this article is to identify the three core bench planes you’ll need for woodworking, the no. 4 is probably the best overall size choice for a single Smoothing plane for most people.

4. Standard Angle Block Plane – The Stanley No. 18 

Stanley Bailey No. 18, Type 17 (c. 1947-50)

Stanley Bailey No. 18, Type 17 (c. 1947-50)

This is my go-to block plane for everyday use, the one I always seem to grab first.  Mine is a very pristine WWI era model that I’m pretty sure I’ve used more than anyone else in its history.  Although it’s almost 100 years old, it looks like it could have been manufactured last year.  Both the japanning and nickel plating are pushing 100%, and so I baby it.

The Stanley no. 18 is a standard angle plane, meaning the iron is seated on a 20 degree bed.  With a bevel angle sharpened at the standard 25 degrees, you have a cutting angle of 45 degrees, same as a bench plane.  It also has an adjustable throat plate, an essential feature in a block plane.  The no. 18 is 6 inches long and fits my hand better than its longer, otherwise identical 7 inch brother, the no. 19.  And unlike the more popular Stanley no. 9-1/2, it feels more like an extension of my hand.

The no. 9-1/2 plane predates the no. 18 by about 15 years, was in production longer, and was the best selling block plane Stanley ever made.  It’s still made today, in fact, although the current design features a completely different mechanism from the original.  Admittedly, the no. 9-1/2 was the more popular of the two.  I truly don’t know why, though, since the design of the no. 18′s knuckle cap was far superior to the hooded lever cap on the no. 9-1/2, and it’s also more comfortable to hold in the hand.  I also find that the hooded cap on the no. 9-1/2 is more prone to slip around a little in use.  Not so with the no. 18.

Ironically they are both basically the same plane with two different styles of lever caps.  Other than the lever cap and its mounting bolt, all the other parts are interchangeable. Stanley charged a little more for the no. 18 and marketed it as virtually indestructible.  This of course was not true, for while the steel cap is arguably more durable, the bodies of both were cast iron and therefore susceptible to breaking if dropped.

I have several vintages of both models in my collection, but find the no. 18 with the knuckle cap superior in both function and comfort.  I use this more often than any other block plane I own.

5. Low Angle Block Plane –  The Stanley No. 60 

Stanley Bailey no. 60 Type 2 (c. 1901-04)

Stanley Bailey no. 60 Type 2 (c. 1901-04)

The Stanley no. 60 (and the identical japanned version 60-1/2) is a low angle plane, meaning the iron is seated on a 12 degree bed.  Sharpened at 25 degrees, you have a cutting angle of 37 degrees.  The primary advantage of the lower angle of attack is that it excels at shaving end grain.

Like the no. 18, the 60 series of planes are approximately 6 inches long.  However, the 60 series are narrower with an iron width of 1-3/8 inches, vs the 1-5/8 inch irons on the standard angle planes, and the 60 series feature a narrower version of the hooded lever cap used on the no. 9-1/2.  The 60 series planes also have adjustable throat plates.

Low angle planes are typically used for cutting end grain, i.e., across the end of a cut, verses cutting along the grain, down the side of the wood.  The lower angle is perfect for the shearing action needed to cut those end fibers.  On cuts that will be visible and finished, this produces a very clean and smooth surface, whereas if left as cut from the saw, the grain tends to be very rough and porous.

On both standard and low angle block planes, the iron is seated bevel up, whereas on bench planes the bevel is usually down. There is a tremendous advantage with bevel up irons in that the angle of the bevel can be changed to affect a change in the angle of cut.  While there is more to consider in edge geometry than just the angle of cut (durability), you could reasonably sharpen the bevel on a low angle plane iron to 33 degrees and end up with an angle of cut of 45 degrees (12+33=45), the same as on a standard angle plane.  However, to accomplish a low angle of cut using a standard angle plane, you’d have to sharpen the bevel at a very shallow 17 degrees (20+17=37).  Durability of such a thin cutting edge would be problematic with most woods.

For this reason, along with a few others, many people consider the low angle plane to be the more versatile of the two. I tend to agree.  While I use my standard angle plane more often, if I could only have one block plane, it would have to be a low angle.

***

For more detailed information on the three step process using hand planes, I highly recommend you check out Christopher Schwarz’s outstanding Course, Medium, and Fine, available on DVD.

Tools shown in the photos were returned to functional condition by Virginia Toolworks using museum quality archival preservation techniques.  Sharpened and tuned for use, every tool is fully tested and adjusted until perfect.

____________________________________

1. Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick Exercises. London, 1703.

Cutting Grass

Author’s Note: Please excuse and indulge this divergence from the topic at hand, although it is in fact tool related. I wrote this essay about 12 years ago and came across it tonight. Given the time of year, I thought it timely. It brings back some fond memories of my own boys, and also reminds me of a certain nephew of mine who loves to cut grass…

lawn-clippings
I’ve been cutting grass for as long as I can remember.  I guess I must have been about 8 years old when my dad finally consented to let me drive the “riding mower.”  It was a red Toro with white trim, not large or powerful, but to an 8 year old boy it might just as well have been a mammoth John Deere tractor.  By this age, I had some minor experience with the push mower, a white Briggs and Stratton motor with a hole in the muffler, bolted to the top of a nondescript gray chassis.  No bag attachment or height adjustment or self-propelled feature in those days.  It had a large semi-circular hole in the upper left side of the mower deck, the product of a violent altercation with large tree root in my grandmother’s yard, which my mother failed to address with the proper respect.  You see, everyone cut grass periodically at my house.

We always seemed to have a varied assortment of push mowers from which to choose.  This was most likely due to the genetic flaw in my father’s side of the family that makes all of us physically incapable of getting rid of anything regardless of its age, condition, value, or provenance.  It was not until my grandmother died in 1998 that we cleaned my grandfather’s clothes out of the closet in the upstairs bedroom of her house.  The pockets of his coat still held the cigarettes and buffalo nickel he carried the last time he wore it.  He died in 1935.

Oh yes, we had lawn mowers.  One had a rotary crank on top that required turning to start.  It didn’t run at all as far as I know.  However, that did not diminish its value as a “backup mower.”  We also had a non-motorized rotary blade mower that I used briefly… once.  We even had a mower with no motor, just the mower deck.  Actually, that one was mine.  I found it in a trash dump in the woods behind Stephen Smith’s house and immediately recognizing its potential value as an object of random retention, faithfully dragged it home.

Cutting grass, at least to me, was always a cathartic experience, a means of purging the day to day evils of childhood.  It was never a chore.  An interruption, perhaps, of other things I’d have rather been doing, but never a chore.  Climbing up on that riding mower, the world took a back seat.  I felt like a farmer preparing to plow a field, and I’d ride off to the edge of the yard to begin tilling my rows.  I patterned my swaths just as I’d seen the big tractors do.  One or two rows across the ends of the yard, and then perpendicular rows up and down the length.

Cutting grass was not a task I took lightly or rushed to complete.  I practiced making the endless cuts as straight as possible across the longest part of the yard.  This was accomplished by fixing my eyes on a distant point of reference and walking or driving straight toward it without looking at anything in between.  Singular focus was essential and distraction a sign of fatal weakness.  A straight cut was the epitome of grass cutting perfection and I was relentless in this pursuit.  It is something that I unconsciously do even today.  I would hone my skills by deliberately cutting curves and arcs, and then straightening them again on the next pass.  Missing a clump here or a tuft there was unthinkable and inexcusable.

I learned that, whether riding or pushing, it was best to overshoot the end of the row prior to making my turn.  Curved corners were sloppy and left an uneven cut.  I also learned that cutting the grass in the same direction every week produced what I privately called a “grain” to the yard that was most unattractive.  Alternating directions each week produced better results, and changing the direction by 45 degrees on a weekly basis was preferable above all else.  I found that when the grass was too tall, I could get fine results without raking by cutting at twice the normal height, and then crosscutting the yard again at 90 degrees, this time at the normal height.  This resulted in a mulched effect long before anyone thought to market mulching as a feature.

In later years, and not too long before he died, my father purchased a “lawn tractor.”  It was a very large (by comparison) red Wheel Horse with an 18hp Kohler engine and a 52″ cut.  It was delivered on the back of a large flatbed truck with ramps that extended down the back.  I must have been 15 or 16 at the time and was in heaven.  I cut every damned thing in site for all of 2 or 3 weeks.  I even cleaned and cut the ditch on the (country) road between our house and my grandmother’s lane.  Beyond the other side of the yard I cut a nice slice of ditch 30 or so feet down the road that gradually curved away from the cornfield to the road itself.

Now I need to jump in here and make clear that our yard otherwise was not what you might call manicured.  I’d never seen a bag of fertilizer.  In fact, at the time, I was quite perplexed as to why anyone would encourage grass to grow in such a manner.  After all, I spent much of my time reducing it to a respectable height.  No, the weeds in our yard were healthy and robust and I don’t recall questioning their existence any more than I did the grass itself.  My sole artistry was in the cutting, not the growing.

On my 16th birthday, I came home from the DMV with my license, and with determination forthwith headed straight to my first job – cutting grass.  It was the “estate” (as I liked to call it) of Dr. and Mrs. Norman Rock Tingle.  Dr. Tingle was my doctor.  Hell, he was everyone’s doctor in the upper end of Lancaster County, Virginia.  I’m recollecting that it must have been about 10 or 15 acres – 10 to 15 acres of viridescent wonderland, fronting the Rappahannock River about 10 miles or so before it emptied into the Chesapeake Bay.  Bordering the property along the gravel road leading up to their drive was a long hedge of huge wiry bushes that far exceeded my height.  The paved driveway itself wound through towering pines and expanses of slightly rolling grassland that closely resembled a golf course.  From many areas of the property the house was not even visible.  Standing at the back porch overlooking the river, the yard sloped gently down to the water’s edge, transitioning from earth and fescue to sand and sea grass that bordered the shallow but respectable beach.  Extending out into the mile wide river was a dock (pier), whereupon in cooler weather I would have my lunch.

Situated across the parking area that faced the garage doors of the house was the shed that housed the yard tools and mowers.  I knew my employers well, if only in a doctor/patient way, but that combined with the innocence of youth precluded any feelings of nervous uncertainty at starting my first job.  Besides, the challenge that lay before me was quite clear and I was in my element.  The yard was, in my opinion, in a terrible state of mismanagement.  My predecessor, a school acquaintance one or two years my senior, obviously had neither the respect nor eye for lawn detail that I had.  The yard was suffering from “graining,” the result of constant mowing in one direction.  Worse, the grass around the trees and bushes was not properly trimmed, the edges and boundaries of the yard left haphazardly hacked at or conspicuously ignored altogether.  My counterpart “worked with me” for a couple of weeks to “show me the ropes.”  He gave me his version of what the expectations were and how much and how little I needed to do.  It was all completely irrelevant and I found his lazy discourse annoying and lack of pride offensive.  My mission was clear before I ever set foot on the property.

Within a month I had the yard much improved and was rewarded with sincere kudos and compliments that the place had “never looked so good…”  Though I didn’t say so at the time, I was a little puzzled by this recognition.  It never occurred to me that anyone (who cared) should not cut grass the same way.  I simply did it the only way I knew how, with attention to every detail, with respect for the magnificence of the property, and with passionate pride in perfection.  Partly for my effort, but mostly because the Tingles were nice people, I was rewarded with an open invitation to partake of the soft drinks kept in the bar refrigerator, just inside the lower level of the house.  This was a privilege I enjoyed with some constraint and considerable appreciation.

The cutting of grass facilitates a distinct perspective of the world.  The very nature of the task isolates the individual and deprives everything auditory; the abrasive drone of the engine allowing only the voice of thought.  Yet, while so isolated from the distractions of sound, the operator is paradoxically interconnected to the open expanse of all outdoors.  The permeating smell of cut grass and dust, the stifling heat of midday summer sunshine, the tactile vibrations of a mechanical beast rolling over undulating earth overwhelm the senses and lull the driver into trancelike euphoria, facilitating a spectacular playground for the hungry imagination.

The sheer size of the property necessitated long leisurely hours spent atop the big Cub Cadet, time that afforded the sweet luxury of colorful daydreams and inexhaustible adolescent introspection.  I concocted endless fantasy dates and detailed romantic relationships with the girls I knew.  Relationships ultimately destined to remain confined deep within the fragile chambers of my imagination, bound by the demons of insecurity and low self-esteem, and closely guarded by teenage male ego.

I had a particular romantic interest those days in a young lady who quite by chance, lived within bike riding distance of the doctor’s estate.  She knew that I worked there and I made a point of mentioning the days and times I’d be around in hopes that she might wander by, perhaps on her bicycle and perhaps wearing “Daisy Dukes” and a bikini top.  She gave all appearances of being superbly, magically and magnificently mammiferous, and of this I was enamored.

She was an odd sort of girl, a loner, very shy in a group and not at all popular.  She was not beautiful in the cheerleader sense, but pretty enough in my 16-year-old opinion.  She had amazing deep auburn hair, sparkling blue eyes, and the skin on her freckled face was the softest thing I’d ever felt.  There was something about her that I found irresistibly charming.  One on one, she was delightful – funny and chatty, yet always mysterious.  I still remember her laugh.  I liked that she was not popular.  Being with her felt… less competitive, more comfortable.  She was surprisingly easy to talk to, and with her I could just be myself without the high school machismo.  I probably could have fallen in love with her.  There was just something about her…

Of course she never came by while I was working, and despite my mostly honorable and completely sincere feelings of affection for her, we drifted apart after 6 or 8 months of periodic dates.  For whatever reason, Joan was not interested in me, would never even let me kiss her on the lips – only her cheek.  My heart could only take so much rejection.  There were other yards to cut, other bushes to trim.  I mowed on.

I guess I cut the grass on that estate for four, maybe five years before college got in the way, even during the summer break.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be some years before I would again cut grass.  Being young and distracted by new adventures of life on my own as a college student, I never looked back at the life I was leaving.  I suppose that is normal.  Still, I cannot remember the last time I cut the doctor’s yard.  There was a last time.  There would have to have been.  I just can’t remember it.  I had already moved on and I missed it, even as I put the mower away for the last time.

Last Sunday, I got my mower out of the garage.  A black Briggs and Stratton motor bolted to a nondescript gray chassis.  No bag attachment or self-propelled feature.  My 11 year old followed at my heels and asked when he would be allowed to cut our grass.  I cut around the outside boundary of the yard for him, and then showed him how to cut straight lines in neat rows up and down the length.  “Go past the end of the row prior to making your turn.  Curved corners are sloppy and leave an uneven cut…”

cutting-grass

***

The Complete Lee Enfield No. 1 MKIII Restoration

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

For those of you who have followed along, I finally finished up the Lee-Enfield this past weekend, and I’m pretty pleased with the results. To recap, this rifle was given to me by my father-in-law back in early January. It’s a Lee-Enfield SMLE (Short Magazine Lee-Enfield) model No. 1 MKIII (.303 British caliber) produced at the Birmingham Small Arms Co. in England in 1940. Lee-Enfields were manufactured from 1888 to the early 1970s, and total production was nearly 14 million rifles. This one appeals to me because it was made in England during the Battle of Britain, and shows evidence of actual deployment in combat.

The WWII No. 1 MKIII rifles are plentiful even today, and not particularly valuable. I probably exceeded the value of this one in the parts alone that I purchased, but I didn’t restore it to sell. It’s a keeper and a shooter that will be enjoyed and passed down.  As it happens, the first high-powered rifle I ever shot as a kid was an old WWI vintage Enfield that belonged to my uncle.  I remember that .303 kicked like a 12 gauge.  I may even still have that first casing somewhere in a box of my childhood stuff.

The Enfield before restoration with new forestock and hand guard above

The Enfield before restoration with new forestock and hand guard shown above

As I wrote in earlier posts, the rifle had been ‘sporterized’ at some point, or at least someone started that process. Unfortunately, this was a popular practice in the post war years. The guns were plentiful and cheap, and guys who bought them apparently preferred the look of a traditional hunting rifle. Since the Enfield featured a barrel fully shrouded in wood, sporterizing them usually began with removing the nosecap and hardware, the upper hand guard, and cutting off the front part of the forestock.  Sometimes the rear sights were removed or altered to accept a scope, but fortunately the bubba who hacked away at this rifle didn’t get that far.

The forestock had been cut and the upper hand guard removed

The forestock had been cut, the hand guard missing

The forearm on this rifle had been cut just behind the swivel band. The entire nosecap assembly at the front was missing, along with the swivel band, forward swivels and a variety of related hardware, and the upper hand guard. The rear hand guard was still there, but its ears had been cut off and so it needed to be replaced. It appeared all of the remaining wood on the rifle was scrubbed with a heavy wire brush, leaving the surface pretty rough and scarred with brush marks. All of the original finish was long gone.

After the initial disassembly and inspection, I was happy to find the action and barrel in surprisingly good condition. Areas of rust were minimal and superficial. All the serial numbers thankfully matched, so I knew everything was likely original. The action and barrel had significant areas of olive drab paint, which I discovered was routinely applied to rifles used in tropical climates during WWII to help prevent rust. I was careful to leave that intact.

Enfield Serial

Receiver with bolt removed – original forestock still on the rifle (note the olive drab paint)

I was able to identify and source all the missing parts without too much trouble. Since there was such a long bedding space on the Enfield’s full length forestock, I decided to go with an unissued but old forestock and hand guard assembly. With so much hand fitting required, I didn’t want to take a chance on a stock that had already been on another rifle. I may have been misguided in this assumption, but that’s what I did. I left the original buttstock on the rifle since there was no need to replace it other than the aesthetic contrast between it and the new wood. I preferred to keep the rifle as close to original as possible.

Enfield New Stock Fit 1

Fitting the new forestock to the receiver – completed

The new wood required quite a bit of fine tuning and adjustment to get it to fit the receiver and barrel correctly. There are several fairly critical areas on Enfield rifles where the wood needs to fit very flush against the metal, so the work was slow and cautious. With so many parts all needing to come together and a half-dozen attachment points that all had to be aligned, I spent more than a few hours wondering why I ever started this project. But in the end, it all finally came together and I feel really good about the fit. It seems to fit like a glove where it’s supposed to, with the appropriate generosity in the other areas where called for.

The hand guard sat too high for the nosecap to slide on

The hand guard sat too high for the nosecap to slide on

Of everything on the rifle, the nosecap I sourced ended up being the most difficult part to get properly installed. Initially the upper hand guard sat too high for the nosecap to slip over it properly. That required carefully reducing the height of the guard along its full length, but not so much that the top of the barrel would bottom out preventing it from seating against the forearm. Once that problem was resolved, I then found that the screw holes through the forearm were just lightly out of alignment, preventing the front nosecap screw from engaging the threads on the opposite side of the nosecap. Eventually, with a lot of patience and careful filing, everything fell into place and the wood was ready for the finish.

While not the most practical by today’s standards, I wanted to keep this rifle as true to original form as possible, and so went with the tried and true linseed oil finish. This is what was used when the rifle was made. Since boiled linseed oil is chemically different, I used raw linseed oil. Or at least I assume it’s raw. I had a can of artist’s grade linseed oil that I bought when I was in college 30 some years ago and never opened. I cut it with 50% turpentine to help ensure it would dry sometime this decade. Following the old adage, once a day for a week, once a week for a month, I’ve applied about 8 ‘coats’ and the results look great. The wood has a nice rich low luster and even the contrast between the new wood and the old stock doesn’t jump out too much.

Bayonet Attached

That distinctive Enfield Nosecap with the Bayonet Attached

I completed the restoration with an original WWII vintage Enfield sling, also dated 1940, that I found on eBay. That and the war vintage bayonet I previously wrote about are the icing on the cake. Not that I need a bayonet, but it’s in unissued condition and the price was too good to pass up. I’m looking forward to putting a couple dozen rounds down range sometime in the next few weeks.

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

Lee-Enfield SMLE No. 1 MKIII

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