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November 26, 2004

My CMP Garand

I recently broke down and purchased a "U.S. Rifle Caliber .30 M1," the rifle described by Gen. George Patton as "the greatest battle implement ever devised," through the the Civilian Marksmanship Program. I belong to an affiliated club, and last April I shot in a qualifying match and received a certificate proclaiming my eligibility to purchase one of these pieces of history.

To be honest, I was not all that interested in the Garand at first. It is not a rifle known for its tack-driving accuracy, nor is it a svelte lightweight, nor IMHO is it all that esthetically pleasing.

At first.

BUT, it's a piece of history, and I had some overtime pay, and I was eligible, so on Nov. 4 I collected all the necessary paperwork and mailed it off.

And less than two weeks later, my Garand arrived, delivered to me at work by the smiling FedEx delivery guy. I had selected a Danish return, a "rack grade" rifle that the CMP described as

(M)ay have a gauged throat erosion of between 5 and 8 on a TE gauge or muzzle may show above normal wear or both. Bore may be pitted or have other deficiencies. Wood may show more use than Service Grade rifles. This grade is ideal for the individual who does not plan to use the rifle in serious competition or who plans to replace the barrel after a few thousand rounds.
But hey, for $350 I don't have any reason to complain.

Unsurprisingly, the rifle was slathered in cosmoline, a preservative grease. Cosmoline is the rifle's friend, but not yours. To clean my rifle, first I had to learn how to tear it down. It ships with a nice little handbook, but the CMP website has an illustrated guide on field and detail stripping that came in very handy. (Now if I could just get the cosmoline off my keyboard...) I chose to use brake cleaner to degrease my rifle. Others have suggested kerosene and gasoline as solvents, but brake cleaner is cheap and it comes with a spray tube that lets you direct a high-pressure stream of solvent right into the various nooks and crannies. I also used an old coffee can (large) to catch the brake cleaner fluid as I sprayed down the action. The two or three inches of collected fluid allowed me to submerge the smaller parts and I could scrub them with an old toothbrush.

My rifle has almost none of the original parkerized finish left. It's mostly bare metal, but the metal is in pretty fair shape with no major pitting or obvious rust damage. According to the serial number it was manufactured in May of 1944, and very well might have seen service during WWII before being "loaned" to the Danes. The barrel on my rifle was replaced, according to the stamp, by a Danish armorer sometime around 1957, and it still looks pretty good internally with clean, bright rifling and no pitting evident.

For a rifle as reliable as the legends make it, it has a lot more complexity than I'd have thought. Many springs and intricate milled moving parts compared to, say, an AK-47. A lot of fine machine work went into the manufacture of this rifle. I can't imagine what they'd cost to make today.

After cleaning, lubrication, and reassembly, of course I wanted to shoot it. The Saturday after it came in I was going to a shoot arranged by some of the Arizona members of, so I had to take it to that. However, the M1 was designed to fire military specific ammo. You can't just go to the gunshop and pick up some .30-06 hunting ammo designed for modern bolt-action rifles and run it through your 40's vintage Garand. At least not for long. Publicola, our resident Garand fanatic, has written an excellent piece here on The Shooters Carnival called Firing in Eights. I strongly recommend you read that if you're new to the Garand world. Anyway, I went out and bought a couple of boxes of Korean military surplus ammo so I could function test my rifle.

And function it did! No failures of any kind, and I was able to whack one of my 9" x 11" steel swingers at 100 yards offhand with regularity. I even got to enjoy that "SPRINNNNNGGGG!" sound when the en bloc clip ejected on the eighth round. My only complaint was... the stock.

The stock is pretty beat up, with lots of dings and dents and a couple of minor gouges. The finish is dark brown and thick, with a sticky feel. I had given thought to purchasing an entire new finished stock from Boyd's but instead I've decided to keep the original stock and refinish it. There are techniques to remove the dings and dents, but I think they give the rifle some character, so I've decided to leave them as they are.

On the advice of Publicola, I used Easy-Off oven cleaner to strip the finish. It's pretty simple, if messy. First I disassembled the rifle and removed as many of the metal pieces as I could. (Not tremendously important, though, as I said, most of the metal has no finish left anyway.) By removing one rack from my oven, I was able to get the buttstock in, and setting the temperature as low as it would go (170) I warmed the wood up. This softens the finish. Then, using good rubber gloves and GOOD ventilation, I sprayed down the stock with the Easy-Off and let it sit for a couple of minutes. Then using some rags, I scrubbed the oven cleaner (and the finish) off, and then rinsed the buttstock with cold water. I repeated for the handguard and the forend. I had to do this twice before I was happy with the results.

The bare wood shows that the handguard is probably not orignial to the rifle. This piece is easy to crack when removing it, and this one is cracked a bit, too. I may get a replacement handguard if I can't repair mine to my satisfaction.

I decided I'd refinish my rifle in the original boiled linseed oil. I did some research online and found this page describing how to refinish military rifle stocks. Tung oil works really well, but BLO is traditional, so that's what I'm going to use.

As to the finish of the metal parts, I've decided to use Norrell's Moly Resin. It's probably not as good a finish as a real Parkerizing job, but my rifle is never going to see combat again, just some trips to the range. It should do the job nicely, and I can do the refinish myself at home, simply. There's a very good page showing some of the results you can get using this stuff here. I'm going to use the greenish-gray product that duplicates a Parkerized finish that has been stored in cosmoline. Perhaps I'll write a follow-up when I have the rifle completed.

I still need to load some ammo and shoot the rifle to see what level of accuracy it can actually give me, then I'll decide if I want to rebarrel the action. I've got to say, as a project rifle, an M1 Garand is an excellent choice. It may not be a svelt tack-driving looker, but it's got character, in spades!

Posted by Smallest Minority