Virginia Toolworks


Home | Pages | Archives


The Complete Lee Enfield No. 1 MKIII Restoration

April 10, 2014 6:00 pm

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.

Enfield Complete 4

Rear Sight with new upper guard in place

 

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

***

Like this:

Posted by Bryant

Categories: Firearms, Metal Arts, Preservation, W. G. & E., Woodworking

Tags: , , , , , ,

45 Responses to “The Complete Lee Enfield No. 1 MKIII Restoration”

  1. Reblogged this on Brittius.com.

    Liked by 1 person

    By Brittius on April 11, 2014 at 8:04 pm

  2. Reblogged this on hocuspocus13.

    Liked by 1 person

    By hocuspocus13 on April 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm

  3. Awesome job. What a great looking example of the best rifle ever made.

    Liked by 1 person

    By ananonymousbanker on April 15, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    1. Thanks! I just hope it shoots okay. I’ve already got two more firearm restoration projects in the que – a WWII Japanese Ariska and a 1910s Lancaster Arms side by side 12 gauge.

      Liked by 1 person

      By Bryant Rice on April 15, 2014 at 8:10 pm

  4. Have you tried out the 303?

    Like

    By ananonymousbanker on May 28, 2014 at 5:28 am

    1. I did! I ran a few rounds through it on Easter Sunday. The rifle shoots straight enough (hard to tell exactly how accurate because I was hand holding it), but it was hitting a 6 inch target at 50 yards without any effort toward accuracy. Next time out I will shoot from a rest.

      Like

      By Bryant Rice on May 28, 2014 at 8:57 am

      1. Good stuff. My brother and I love our Lithgow 303s but ours don’t have the cut offs as produced in 1941. Look forward to seeing how you get on with the Japanese rifle.

        Liked by 1 person

        By ananonymousbanker on June 3, 2014 at 4:36 am

      2. Here’s the link to the write-up on the Arisaka.
        https://virginiatoolworks.com/2014/04/28/japanese-arisaka-restoration/

        Like

        By Bryant Rice on June 3, 2014 at 9:12 am

      3. Good job again. Nice looking rifle. Pity about it not being fireable but nice for the memories. Next project?

        Liked by 1 person

        By ananonymousbanker on June 24, 2014 at 4:41 am

      4. Next (current) project is a very old 10 gauge side by side that I assume belonged to my grandfather or great-grandfather, but was left in a barn for most of the 20th century. I’m in the middle of replacing both hammers, which were long lost. Should be completed very soon.

        Like

        By Bryant Rice on July 4, 2014 at 1:49 pm

  5. Brilliant work. I used to shoot these at school (in England) back in the early 1970s. We’d go out to Otley Moor, just outside Oxford, and shoot first from 200 yards then from 500 yards. As I’m left-handed I used to get horribly bruised on my left cheekbone from the slide kicking back. But it was fiercely accurate. I’m told the Afghans have only recently given up theirs!

    Liked by 2 people

    By The Real Jolyon (@jolyon) on May 31, 2014 at 6:47 am

  6. It looks fantastic. I am doing the same to a 1914 No. 1 MkIII, so I was wondering where you sourced the furniture?

    Like

    By simonallaway on July 17, 2014 at 11:36 am

    1. Got the furniture on eBay. Cost a small fortune, but it was the only place I could find what I wanted.

      Like

      By Bryant Rice on July 17, 2014 at 11:37 am

      1. I’ve been looking there too. I think my timing has to be just right to get a full set. Thanks!

        Like

        By simonallaway on July 17, 2014 at 11:39 am

      2. Numrich is good for parts too, but they rarely seem to have the furniture.

        Like

        By Bryant Rice on July 17, 2014 at 12:17 pm

  7. Great job on your Enfield . I picked up a Enfield No 2 Mk 3 22 caliber training rifle with matching numbers in G to VG condition, with 90% on the finish and from a desirable factory for $125 at a local flea market. Of course it had been sporterized and badly at best but nothing but the wood had been cut/removed so that’s a big plus. Now I need to track down and purchase all the wood and nose cap ect. and bayonet. Im aware this post is late but if anyone out there knows where i could find these parts i would appreciate the info and I can check back here under the new comments.

    Like

    By lakeorion on July 8, 2015 at 9:53 pm

  8. Great job on your Enfield and it was good reading. I picked up a Enfield 1915 No 2 Mk3 .22 caliber training rifle at a local outdoor flea market in G to VG condition with 90% on the metal finish with matching serial numbers all for $125 . It had been sporterized so none of it’s wood can be used, but a big plus is nothing on the rifle had been cut,removed or replaced, original sights front and rear so I figured it would be the perfect specimen for a restoration. If it hadnt been sporterized (badly) it would have been priced beyond flea market pocket money. I got it home knowing what I thought was an average amount about Enfield rifles until I seen all the stampings. I now know it started out a 303 and was converted to a 22 Cal training rifle by Parker Hale and also has an F stamped above the serial numbers but not sure if it stands for Fazakerly royal ordinance factory or if the F stands for “fine adjustment” , if anyone knows I would appreciate your knowledge . Because it’s a arsenal conversion it has it’s original stampings from starting out a 303 caliber and a second round of stampings from it’s 22 caliber training rifle conversion. I’m going to start the restoration any day now and if anybody knows of a good scorce for stocks,nose caps,swivel bands,and so on I’d appreciate the info. I will check back here. Actually after I seen what these sell for I would probably sell it for the right price or trade but until then I will start getting it back to it’s original condition and hopefully someone can steer me in the right direction.

    Like

    By lakeorion on July 8, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    1. I had great success finding everything I needed between Numrich and eBay. I’d start there.

      Like

      By Bryant on July 9, 2015 at 12:46 pm

  9. G’day,
    I am restoring a MKIII at the moment and curious as to how you sealed the metal to stop it from rusting, i love that finish!

    Like

    By Mitch on August 22, 2015 at 2:45 am

    1. Mitch, I didn’t seal it, I just cleaned it with some 000 steel wool and CLP . As long as I keep it oiled, it should be fine.

      Like

      By Bryant on August 22, 2015 at 9:29 am

  10. I have the same gun where can I get a new forstock and hand guard for this.
    Thanks
    Brendan King

    Like

    By Brendan king on May 30, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    1. I got mine on eBay.

      Like

      By Bryant on May 30, 2017 at 8:46 pm

      1. I see them on eBay. How did you match the colour. The ones on eBay are very light

        Like

        By Brendan king on May 31, 2017 at 2:47 am

  11. I just waited until I found one that looked close to the stock I had. Could be the ones you are seeing are not walnut. Mine wasn’t a perfect match either, but that’s the nature of walnut. It gets richer with age.

    Like

    By Bryant on May 31, 2017 at 9:14 am

  12. Where did you find the lower forearm
    I can’t locate one.
    I have an SMLE 1915 without the shell cut
    Off or volley lever III*

    Like

    By Erich Duplantis on June 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    1. I bought the wood furniture on eBay.

      Like

      By Bryant on June 6, 2017 at 3:02 pm

  13. Do you manufacture & supply Forestock Mk111 SMLE and supply to Australia.

    Like

    By Leonard Carter on August 20, 2017 at 11:54 pm

    1. No, sorry

      Like

      By Bryant on August 21, 2017 at 6:57 am

  14. I really enjoyed this article. I recently acquired a No. 1 Mark III* that was sporterized sometime in the past. I think that your approach to restoring yours is perfect and mirrors what I have in mind for mine. Thanks for posting this.

    Like

    By Mike Sholtis on October 26, 2017 at 8:50 pm

  15. Hi,

    I have a SMLE no.1 mk3*. The top two hand guards have been replaced and no longer have the correct size cut out to accept the original rear sight. Also the rear sight has been replaced with a fixed post instead. Would you be able to tell me where you sourced the replacement top wooden hand guards from? Thanks.

    Like

    By Jason on January 8, 2018 at 3:24 am

    1. I got mine on eBay. You might also check Numrich and Sarco for the parts you need.

      Like

      By Bryant on January 8, 2018 at 9:31 am

  16. Where did you ever find a replacement fore stock ?

    Like

    By Shane Adams on July 17, 2018 at 9:17 am

    1. eBay

      Like

      By Bryant on July 17, 2018 at 9:33 pm

  17. Hi. I know you posted this like 4 years ago but I was wondering if I could pick your brain a bit regarding a restoration project I am doing with my 1mk3. I would really like to talk with you about the parts you used and where you found them but I am apprehensive about ordering the parts until I know exactly what I should buy. You project was very impressive and I would like to do the same thing.

    Like

    By Mike on August 16, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    1. I’d like to add that, I wanted to give you a picture of my rifle and conclusively determine that it is actually a 1mk3. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you in advance.

      Like

      By Mike on August 16, 2018 at 9:25 pm

      1. I’m not expert, but you can email me using the contact link and I’ll do what I can to help.

        Like

        By Bryant on August 17, 2018 at 11:19 pm

  18. Great article. One question. I have 2 smle. One 1914, other 1944.first bsa, 2nd lithgow. The bsa was sporterized and i want to return it to original image. But the bsa barrel is approx 1 1/2 shorter then the Lithgow. How can i find wood to fit the shorter bsa. I have seen earlier models with a designations of sht. Both are no1 mk 3. Would that sht stand for short?

    Like

    By Kevin mertes on September 24, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    1. Sorry, I’m not an expert on Enfields. There are numerous websites you can research to find this information.

      Like

      By Bryant on October 14, 2018 at 8:28 pm

  19. Have restored many NO I’s and NO IV’s. Wood used to be pretty plentiful. Low wood is very difficult to find. Liberty Tree Collectors have a decent hard parts selection some top wood. Sarco Inc has decent metal as well. Gun Parts Corp noted above metal to Check BRP also. More likely to find wood for the NO IV’S. Actually have some low wood out to see if it can be copied by a stock maker for a NO I MK V. There was a company in England where one could get reproduction wood for the SMLE’s. The owner passed a year or so ago but there was a possibility the family will continue. Otherwise am looking locally. Used to think these Brits were ugly but they are like worms they get under your skin. Just plain iconic and reliable as the day is long.

    Like

    By Charles Hunter on January 2, 2019 at 4:52 pm

    1. Good Afternoon & well done,

      I have had trouble in obtaining the lower stock from Liberty due to US export Regulations. However I managed to obtain lower stock parts within Australia.

      We now have a replica WW1 Uniform and Arms supplier that markets complete wood sets for App $400.00 AUD that helps. In addition parts are available for all weapons particularly SMLE.

      I have completed restoration of Two Replica, SMLEs’ Mk11 & Mk111. After the recent 100 year centenary of WW1 & Gallipoli celebrations there are now available Original-SMLE 303 Rifles for sale within Australia, however you must have a Police Commissioners Licence to Purchase,(in all Australian States) also to retain in a safe & Licenced Armoury. You must also hold a collectors Licence and be a Financial member of a Rifle Club. You also require a permit to carry in public in going to, or from a specific destination (practise or hunting)or at a Military or any other ceremonial parade.

      As you see our Australian Gun Laws are very strict. Good luck and well done in your restoration.

      Yours Sincerely.

      Lt. Leonard Carter.AFSM EFO JP, (Retd).

      President/CO. 7th Light Horse Regiment AIF. Menangle Historical Troop. Australia.

      Like

      By Lt. Leonard Carter on January 2, 2019 at 7:38 pm

  20. Nice restore job. I am working on 2 and having trouble finding the mark 3 fore end and front handguard If you still have the cut down fore end I would like to buy if you want to sell it.

    Like

    By Anonymous on February 18, 2019 at 11:13 pm

    1. Sorry, I sold those parts on eBay right after I finished the restoration.

      Like

      By Bryant on February 20, 2019 at 8:08 am

  21. I have a Britich 303 Mark3 Doues aney 1 no the seating Death

    Like

    By Paul on March 22, 2020 at 11:42 am

    1. I have no idea what this means.

      Like

      By Bryant on March 23, 2020 at 7:23 pm

  22. This was awesome, thanks for posting this, it was a big help for restoring my own SMLE No1 Mk3.

    Like

    By Stephen Rahimian on March 28, 2020 at 11:35 pm

Leave a Reply



Mobile SiteFull Site


Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com. Theme: WordPress Mobile Edition by Alex King.