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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About Bryant
Bryant is a business management and organizational development executive with over 15 years’ experience focused on financial and operational efficiencies, talent development and optimization, improved employee engagement, and cultural alignment of teams within the organization. He has diverse experience in successful financial and strategic planning, brand management, leadership analysis and talent development, as well as designing and executing improvements to teams’ cultural efficacy and organizational alignment. Bryant has experience in both International Public S&P 500 Corporate and Non-Profit Sectors, and also runs his own entrepreneurial business venture, a consulting company specializing in helping small businesses and organizations improve operational efficiency, leadership development, and employee engagement . Bryant holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and a Bachelors in Fine Arts (BFA).

28 Responses to The Complete Lee Enfield No. 1 MKIII Restoration

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

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryant Rice says:

      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.

      Like

  2. Have you tried out the 303?

    Like

  3. 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

  4. simonallaway says:

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

    Like

  5. lakeorion says:

    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

  6. lakeorion says:

    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

  7. Mitch says:

    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

    • Bryant says:

      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

  8. Brendan king says:

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

    Like

  9. Bryant says:

    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

  10. Erich Duplantis says:

    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

  11. Leonard Carter says:

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

    Like

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