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The following was originally a comment posted by Dyspeptic Gunsmith to Jim Barrett’s M1A customization piece yesterday. But it was just too long — and too good — not to post it on its own.

The M14/M1A is, functionally, a Garand action for a shorter cartridge and a removable box magazine. It’s the result of John Garand himself telling the DOD (formerly the War Department, back when we used to flat-out win wars) that there was no way to achieve a full-auto rifle with a full-powered rifle cartridge with a .30-06 in a 10lb rifle. There’s just no way. If you review the historical accounts of the M14 project, you find that Garand was no dummy – he told the Army brass that we needed an “intermediate” power cartridge like the 8mm Kurtz or something similar to achieve full-auto fire in a 10lb rifle. But the Army brass . . .

…Not to be deterred from their damp dreams of a full-auto rifle in a full-powered “gravel belly” cartridge, barely listened to Mr. Garand and conceded to lower the power to what we now know as the .308. Which is really just a functional equivalent of the .300 Savage… but no further. We’re talking of only about a 200fps reduction in muzzle velocities from a .30-06 in 150gr bulllets. Where the cartridge really needed to go was to something like .260 or 7mm08 at 2600 to 2800 fps and a 120 to 130 grain bullet and I think .260 Rem would have been vastly superior to anything we got in the .308… and even more vastly superior than the 5.56 poodle-popping cartridge.

The hard truth is that we already had a 20-round, box magazine-fed, full-auto .30-06 rifle. It’s called the Browning Automatic Rifle and it comes in at about 18 to 22 lbs. Yes, that’s what’s needed to keep the fire on target from a full-auto .30 cal cartridge of “full” power. The M1A, owing to being only a little less powerful than an ’06, might have been able to be controlled if it had been 16 to 18lbs, with a compensator hung on it.

The result was as Jim represents: The M1A was too heavy, too uncontrollable, the ammo was too heavy… and more than all of that, our new allies and partners in the SEA war were smaller statured people (both men and women) who were more comfortable with something about the size of the M1 Carbine. So the M1A never really took off, despite being a “true” battle rifle and very accurate.

The first upgrades I’d suggest anyone do to an M1A (from a rack grade rifle) would be to replace the standard sights with the NM sights, which give you:

– a thinner front post
– 1/2 MOA clicks on the rear sight elevation
– an aperture on the rear sight that can be rotated for minute up/down changes in elevation.

Next upgrade would be to get the trigger improved. The M1A, like the Garand, has a factory trigger that can be vastly improved from the GI 9-lb two-stage pull. If you want to compete in DCM or Leg matches, you’ll need a minimum 4.5 lb. pull, which you can easily achieve with the stock two-stage trigger group. Unlike the M16/AR15, the trigger group components in the M1A/M14 are usually of higher quality and amenable to being worked on by a gunsmith.

For people who aren’t concerned with official competitions, you can go lighter on the trigger; I’d recommend that you not go below, oh, 3.5 lbs. If your ‘smith hones the parts with a very fine stone (like a ruby stone), you can make the M1A/Garand triggers feel like you’re pulling a polished glass rod across silk lingerie. You can make the stock, as-issued trigger that smooth, unlike stock AR-15 triggers — which actually are nothing but case-hardened cow patties, complete pieces of crap.

The only people who think AR-15 stock triggers are “nice” are people who haven’t had their fingers on triggers that are actually good. They simply need to get some trigger time on better rifles. Springfield 1903/A3, Garand and M14/M1A triggers all can be made very, very nice with minimal work by a gunsmith. The M-16/AR-15 . . . now you’re just talking wholesale replacement of the hammer, trigger and disconnector. The M-16/AR-15 was made to please the lowest bidder, not a rifleman.

Next, if you want to increase accuracy but keep the wood stock (and there are custom walnut stocks available for the Garands and M1A’s that are really quite lovely), you can start bedding the action into the stock. There’s about three “levels” of bedding involvement here, and unless you’re experienced in this area, it’s best to have an experienced ‘smith do the work.

For the nes plus ultra job, there might be extra lugs welded onto the rear of the receiver to increase the bearing surface for recoil as well as some added metal into the receiver area of the stock. There will be some welding of the clip that holds on the handguard up front, too. Find someone who can TIG weld competently if you want welding done on a M1A or a Garand.

With regard to bedding: Don’t start experimenting with novel or new bedding compounds – stick to epoxies that give known results, such as Acra-Glass or Marine Tex. Too many people babble on about which bedding compound is “harder” or some such nonsense.

The real secret to a successful bedding compound is that they don’t shrink over time. Many of the supposed “new” compounds do shrink over a period of years, and the owner is left wondering how the rifle “shot it self loose in the stock.” It didn’t “shoot itself loose” – the compound just shrank over time. In many other applications, it doesn’t matter that the epoxy shrank by .005″ over two years. In bedding, it does.

Stick with compounds that have a lot of time and experience behind them. Don’t pick a $1500+ rifle as a guinea pig for epoxy experimentation. Hogging out old compound from a M1A stock to re-do the bedding isn’t fun or painless. You’re going to pay for it, one way or the other.

Then, after bedding, you should remove the action/barrel from the stock as little as possible. Learn to clean the weapon in the stock, from the muzzle. The M1A conveniently puts the nut for opening the gas system up front where you can get at it without pulling the rifle from the stock, and unlike the AR15, doesn’t spit gas into the action. You really need only clean the gas piston/cylinder area, then the bolt, chamber and barrel, and you’re done. If you want to use mil-spec lube on the action and op rod, get some Lubriplate 130-A “rifle grease,” but any light lithium “white” grease should do fine at non-arctic temperatures.

Then learn to reload for the M1A – or pony up the serious money required to buy Federal Gold Team Match .308 ammo, with the 168gr match pills. At over $1.50+/round for the Federal match ammo, you can achieve significant savings over this price by learning to reload and buying 168gr match pills yourself. You should stick to well-established loads; don’t try to achieve the hottest loads, because you’ll beat the rifle’s bolt and action up. Pay attention to the requirements for crimping so as to prevent bullets walking out of the cases, etc.

NB that so far, we haven’t replaced the barrel. We’ve probably taken your M1A from a 2 MOA rifle down to a 1+ MOA rifle with no barrel replacement.

To achieve the best accuracy the rifle is capable of, you’ll either need to pony up for a rifle with a premium barrel from the factory, or (as I recommend to shooters on a budget), shoot out an rack-grade barrel learning for about the first 3000+ rounds, then get it rebarreled with a premium barrel. Now you get into a sub-MOA rifle if you’ve done your work on the trigger, bedding and sights – assuming you’re a good shootist. If you’ve not previously used a 1907 style sling, the M1A is a rifle on which to learn how to use the 1907 sling. Get a good one made of real leather and learn to use it. If you need lessons on how, find a retired Marine NCO, age 65 or older. He’ll quite likely know how to use a 1907 sling.

With as many rifles as I own and own fondly, if I were forced to pick one and only one rifle, it would come down to either a bolt action rifle (most likely a Winchester M70 that’s been customized) or, if I envisioned a situation where I have to scrounge standard ammo, it would be the M1A. With an M1A and iron sights, I can own anything out to 600 yards in a few moments of doping the wind.

NB – nowhere here have I diverged into mounting glass on the M1A. I’ve got glass on lots of rifles. For some reason, when I pick up a Garand or M1A, I have no need of glass. With iron sights, I can achieve groups of just over 1MOA with use of a sling, a supported shooting position and premium ammo in a rack grade barreled rifle with sight, stock and trigger work. The only improvement the iron sights on these rifles could use is a way of rapidly changing apertures on the rear sight. That’s it.

No matter how many ways I tart up an AR-15, AR-15s just never seem to make it into my list of “rifles I’d select above all others.” The biggest reason(s) are the lack of good support for a real sling, all the extra money I need to sink into the trigger group to make it merely acceptable and the cheesy feel of the rear sight. The M1A makes it as a “one rifle I’d choose over many others,” and it would be my pick over any and all other semi-auto, box-fed rifles. But it probably would lose to a custom CRF bolt gun in the final selection.

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88 Responses to Upgrading the M1A: A Gunsmith’s Perspective

  1. There is something about holding my Garand that just feels nice. I don’t own a M1A (yet), but the few I’ve picked up have given me a similar feeling. Stoner made a gun, Garand made a rifle.

    • I can’t wait for my M1 to get here. I like you want an M1A just because. They are both great rifles and you can’t beat the look.

  2. Thanks for the additional info. I appreciate the enhanced background into why the M14 failed as a main battle rifle.

    I agree with everything you’ve suggested. Gotta find a competent ‘smith in the Northeast to do the trigger work you recommend. I will say that when you drop the M1A into something like the Troy or Sage battle stocks, you get a different animal all together. I just might get a second one down the road and keep it closer to stock condition, but since I also have a decent Garand, I’m do have a nice “traditional” wood stock gun as well.

      • CRF is more reliable, there is no doubt about it. Get your push feed rifle such as a Remington Model 700 and put two dummy rounds in the magazine. Now feed one into the chamber not all the way but just enough so it pops out of the magazine and into the chamber half way. Pull the bolt back again and try feeding another round. Voila! You have a double feed jam. I have seen the cartridges jammed so tightly together that it took pliers to remove the jam, this from a not so strong young lady that was just a bit excited.

        Try the same thing with CRF. The first round will simply eject. That is why Mauser designed CRF. Soldiers would sometimes in a panic situation double feed the rifle rendering the weapon useless.

        Yeah, yeah, I know. You have used your trusty Model 700 for umpteen years and this has never happened to you. Tell me how many times you have been charged by a cape buffalo in all those years. Or maybe you’re just such a froid sang sort of person that this feature is a superfluous waste on. Yes, CRF is not necessary but it does make the rifle more reliable, there is no doubt about it. As an added bonus a proper functioning CRF is as smooth as bolt rifle can be. I have a M70 .458 that feeds so smoothly that you can’t tell by feel that it has fed at all. Yes, that can be a little disconcerting until you get used to it. This rifle is not just a safe queen having been to Africa many times and accounted for three cape buffalo and one elephant. BTW, every PH I ever hunted with in Africa had a CRF rifle. They wouldn’t consider anything else.

        For a few decades in US there were no newly manufactured CRF rifles available. They were just too expensive to manufacture and compete with the likes of the Model 700 which was a masterpiece in manufacturing economics but few people that really know bolt rifles would call it the epitome of bolt action design. It works, and works well enough for most people because they simply do not know the difference or need the added reliability of CRF.

        Of course it wasn’t just the push feed that made the Model 700 cheaper to manufacture. There are also other design elements that have been adopted by other manufacturers, some good, some that don’t matter one way or the other, and some not so good. Of these there are the round receiver made from bar stock, the washer like recoil lug, the button ejector, the controversial safety and others. All contributed to a rifle that worked well enough and caused Winchester to stop producing the Model 70 as it was designed.

        CNC machinery has changed all that. Now there are many CRF rifles available at reasonable prices.

        • Small historical footnote:

          While Peter Paul Mauser is credited with the big claw extractor, that wasn’t his original design for the German armaments board reviewing Mauser’s rifle.

          Mauser’s original design consisted of a sliding piece of hardened flat stock in the face of one of the bolt lugs, very, very much like what Winchester did on their post-64 Model 70. The German armaments board wanted something more positive and robust, and so we got the spring-steel extractor the Mauser 98 made famous.

          The beauty of Mauser’s implementation of the idea is that the extractor claw is pulled onto the rim of the case the harder you pull back on the bolt – and since the bolt camming action provides plenty of extraction force, the Mauser-style extractor is forced onto the case rim rather well. The secret is in the groove near the head of the bolt. Look at it carefully and you’ll see that the front edge of that groove is beveled, so as to pull the extractor onto the rim… That was quite a detailed bit of machining in that day. Someone had to have a lathe bit ground specifically to create that bevel-on-one-side groove…

        • Well, CRF is great in theory, but there are times when the round somehow escapes the claw, then you either have to force the extractor over the rim risking damaging or breaking it, or you pick the round out of the chamber by pocketknife so your wonderful CRF rifle can actually chamber and fire the next round.

          I have a Mauser that did this to me once, of course it was when I missed the first shot at a deer and couldn’t get the second to chamber and not while at the range………..

        • “Well, CRF is great in theory, but there are times when the round somehow escapes the claw, then you either have to force the extractor over the rim risking damaging or breaking it, or you pick the round out of the chamber by pocketknife so your wonderful CRF rifle can actually chamber and fire the next round. ”

          This can only happen on an unaltered military rifle. On any sporting rifle sold today the extractor will snap over the case without problem, whether loading a single round or during a problem such as you encountered. You can have your Mauser altered to do the same. It is a simple, do it yourself procedure. BTW, I have never had the round escape the extractor but then again I wouldn’t know since on all my rifles in that case they would then just act like push feeds and chamber the round anyway.

      • CRF by far

        “They further claim that the big extractors on controlled-feed bolts pull stuck cases better than the small extractors on push-feed bolts. Again, not so.”

        Sorry but Yes, of course SO

        A larger extractor will consistently (though not always depending on the design; im talking bolt guns here) have more surface area than a smaller one. that means more of the cartridge is “grabbed”. anyone (like whoever wrote the linked article) that claims push feed is “just as good” is full of shit. Mauser had it right. the average person will never know this 😀

        • I’m a huge fan of CRF, but I’ll forthrightly admit that for target, varmint, “tacti-cool” and other situations where you’re not shooting at something that can kill you dead, push-feed is OK. The double-feed issue can be addressed by shooter training. Push-feed works in a great many situations, it’s accurate, reliable, etc. Of all the push-feed extractors, I like the Win70 post-64 type extractors the best, and something like an AR extractor translated to a bolt gun is perfectly OK as long as you don’t tempt case failure by over-stoking your reloads.

          BTW, overall, I think the post-64 Win70 has a lot of positive attributes that have been ignored by shooters over the years in favor of the Rem700-style actions, but that’s a topic for another day and another thread.

          For any hunting rifle where I might be going up against something like moose, bears, bison or buffalo – or African dangerous game? I want a CRF bolt gun, and I will accept no substitutes. I just might be having to cycle that bolt as I’m dancing around like a court jester, and having a round drop off the bolt face and bobble out of the action is simply not acceptable. I also want a cone breech, but that’s yet another topic…

        • I agree with you that a push feed is “good enough” for most uses but I think you too agree that a CRF is more reliable. Screwing up happens to everyone no matter how much training one has. CRF eliminates an issue. All my present hunting rifles are CRF and I wouldn’t buy a push feed rifle for hunting. My preference. I want the best for the job not “good enough”. Yes, the US military has done a fair job with a philosophy of “good enough” it’s true. However, I am not the military although I appreciate them being frugal with my tax dollars and not always insisting on the best which when you think about it would be impossible for them to have since the best is ever changing. It is expensive enough for a single person to keep up let alone a whole defense force.

          As to the coned breech, although an entirely different subject I am interested in why you like it. I have 6 Model 70s both pre-64s and Classics. All of course have coned breeches. I have other M70/Mauser type rifles that do not have that feature and do not see the use for it on a hunting rifle. My understanding is that Winchester borrowed the feature from the Springfield 03 that had a magazine cut off and the coned breech facilitated single round feeding. From what I see it does nothing to smooth feeding on a M70 from the magazine since if the rifle is working properly the cartridge lines up with the chamber.

          I know when Dakota came out their what was essentially a pre-64 M70 all the Winchester purists said it wasn’t as good as a pre-64 because it didn’t have a coned breech. I never got that. Maybe you can tell me what I am missing.

    • CRF as I know it stands for Controlled Round Feed , Mauser bolt action rifles back in the late 1800’s started this and Springfield and later Winchester model 70’s used this type of bolt and extractor till 1964.

  3. Is that a photo of a real live M-14, or an M1A with a dummy selector?

    Anyway, my M1A is for serious social work so I don’t know for sure if these refinements are necessary for reliable accuracy out to 400 yards. Any thoughts? I just bought this M1A even though I qualified on the M-14 back in 1969.

    • A trigger job ($50), using good ammo, and lapping the barrel…not mentioned ($35) using David Tubb’s Final Finish System, and bedding are all things that can be done without paying an arm and a leg, and will keep the reliability high….keeping it a ‘Battle Rifle’ and not some weird bolt wannabe that does nothing well.

  4. One slight correction: The 7.62 NATO cartridge is not a reduced power .30-06, at least not in terms of the military loads. They both achieve approx. 2750 fps in their respective rifles.

    Sporting loads are a different story. The longer .30-06 case will always win out.

    As far as recoil is concerned, I’ll bet with modern recoil compensators and optimized loads it would be possible to design a fully automatic main battle rifle in 7.62 NATO. After all, a .50 BMG shoulder rifle was unthinkable once upon a time.

    • 1. Try firing a 240B from the shoulder, and you’ll see how much modern compensators can do for 7.62×51.
      2. The Barret .50 BMG is technically a “shoulder fired weapon”, in the sense that it has a shoulder stock, but it’s right there with the 240B, it’s not meant to be employed that way. It’s meant to be fired from the prone supported position.

  5. I don’t know if this holds true for other folks but my M21 prefers the 155 grain Palma match load to the 168.

  6. I happen to agree. I qualified with both the M14 and the M16. The M16 was okay. But the M14 was/is a battle rifle. I never found it heavy. My only complaint was that it had only a twenty-round magazine.

    By the way, the picture is identified as an M1A. What does the little plate with two holes do. On the M14, tuning that bolt head repositioned a cam that turned the M14 from an automatic rifle into a machine gun.

  7. Just a causal observation. I don’t own an M1A…yet. BUT I do own a K98, 1093-A3, Finnish M39 Nagant, SMLE, Garand, M1 Carbine and ARs. Can I say that it seems that guns built 70 to 80 years ago were marvels? Beautiful works of craftsmanship. I look at my 1936 K98 and the finish on the receiver insides is flawless. And no CNC. Its no wonder that the post WWII generation in America built endless custom guns off of the 03. That when I heft my Garand it feels like a battle rifle up to Patton’s blessed quote. Even the Finn’s built a heck of a gun off of 19th century Tula receivers. No wonder they held the Russkies to a stand still in the Winter War. I’ll even give credit to the damm SMLE. I like its feel and the 1 minute drill proved its speed. The little M1 Carbine served its purpose and with about 2 dozen parts in it, brought down alot of bad guys around the world. It still sees service in lots of places in the US and elsewhere today.

    I think I was born about 50 years too late LOL….

    • Manufacturers know the Joe gun owner of today spends more time in front of a computer or tv than they do at the range. They know Joe gun owner isn’t going to even mildly abuse their product so they cut costs by using cheaper parts and cutting corners in the manufacturing process. This is why I collect WWII firearms with the Mauser K98k being my favorite rifle of all time. Not all are tack-drivers, but you can use and abuse them ’til judgment day and not have to replace any parts.

    • Ill take a mauser over any american-made bolt action (other than the 03 which is a mauser LOL).

      They were far ahead of their time, thats for sure. They were just obsolete when World War II came around.

      • The Mauser 98 is/was certainly a very good and strong action, but might be considered “over-built” for modern sporting purposes. There is no other bolt rifle that has as many safety features tho, especially in the event of a case failure. There, the 98 action, as originally conceived, stands head and shoulders above most all other bolt actions since.

        The Winchester M70, pre-64 (ie, with CRF) is probably the zenith of sporting bolt action rifle design in the US.

        • As much as I like the pre-64 Winchester action it isn’t perfect. It is not the best action for venting gas in the event of a case rupture. The gas escape holes face the left raceway and the raceway is really unblocked. Winchester corrected this fault in present production Classic by having the gas venting into the magazine and installing a gas block.

          Still any rifle can be dangerous in the case of a catastrophic failure. At our club years ago before safety glasses were required a guy had a failure from Winchester factory ammo in a Remington Model 700. Winchester settled out of court for $250K. Not enough in my opinion even when the dollar was worth way more for losing one’s right eye.

        • i dont know much about that model of winchester. Im not too strong on bolt guns to begin with anyways.

          where can i do some research on the subject?

      • WLCE: A good book to start with is “Bolt Action Rifles” by Frank de Haas. It is available from Amazon.

        • Can I also recommend “Backbone Of The Wehrmacht The German K98K Rifle 1934-1945” by Richard Law. If you crawl thru every page of this book you will be well on your way to understanding bolt guns, their manufacturing and production during the last century. I found it incredibly fascinating.

  8. or we could have adopted the FAL in 280 British…or the AR10 in that same caliber…instead of reinventing the wheel.

    sad. Garand was far ahead of his time.

    • Quite true. The US did try out the FAL in the early 50’s but chose to stick with the familiar M 1 upgrade – the M 14. The reason is unclear but probably the insistence on a “full-power” cartridge rather than the intermediate caliber it was originally designed for made the FAL a little jumpy – which it is – even if the pistol grip and fairly straight line design help a lot. The old M 1 was, of coarse, deservedly a legend with lots of heft and mass but I did feel it was a bit too much for close range. Speaking of overpowered, if you’ve ever fired a M1892 French Cavalry Carbine in 8m/m Lebel you’ll know what blast and recoil is all about. Its like a stun grenade going off.
      Anyway, either the FAL or the M14 in maybe a shortened 6.5 to 7m/m would have been fine and a lot more utilitarian and definitely more elegant than the little “bullpups” knocking around today – not that there’s anything wrong with them – but were never given a fair chance .

      • You’re right – it was.

        When you read through the history from that era, it’s quite interesting. The Brits and Germans wanted to go with a cartridge for the FAL that I could best describe as a “European 7mm08” – the European thinking was, just as I’ve advocated, a 6.5 to 7mm intermediate cartridge for a full-auto battle rifle.

        The US insisted that they wanted the 7.62×51/.308Win, and the Brits & Germans, realizing that they were in the back seat on this NATO road trip, went along with the US. The US went with the M-14, the Europeans with the FAL and everyone with the 7.62×51 NATO.

        Then came the dawn of reality – that the 7.62×51 was too much for the M-14 (and even the FAL) in full giggle mode, and the US suddenly shifted to the .223/5.56 as we got into Vietnam.

        The Brits were furious, but couldn’t say much other than “we told you so.” The US wasn’t going to listen to the intermediate cartridge idea, because the JFK administration wasn’t going to go through another re-spin of a government designed rifle while Robert Strange McNamara was SecDef.

        • this story irritates me to no end.

          stupid americans.

          think about it: such a cartridge would have solved problems that we would encounter in the 21st century in afghanistan.

          I know the 308 is too much for the G3. If youve ever seen old G3s, their receivers are stretched and the design wasnt intended to incorporate the 308 either. NATO standardization of that round really screwed things up.

          and of course, we didnt even think about looking into such a cartridge for the AR platform. we decided to go full retard into 22. caliber territory as if driven by some primeval desire to overcompensate for the overpowered 7.62 NATO, leaving NATO with the 308 and us with 223. wonderful. that defeated the purpose of standardization to begin with.

        • Yeah he was “Strange” all right. The 7.62 Nato wasn’t a total loss though, serving well in a “set up” machine gun role with both the M 60 and the incomparable MG 42 in all it’s modern formats. Still useful as well in various sniper rifles – including the M 14.
          Maybe now they’ll get the caliber right.
          Its like the 3 little bears, first too big, than too small, maybe the third will be “just right”.
          Anyhow, thanks for an excellent article and comments – till next time, RV

          PS to WLCE: Watch that “stupid americans” stuff – not polite.

        • considering lives have been lost and put at risk unnecessarily because less than ideal cartridges being fielded, stupid is rather a understatement.

          i understand your point though.

        • The FAL in its original caliber would have been an almost perfect assault rifle but was stretched by the 308 and turned into a battle rifle and and assault rifle wanna be. The M14 just wanted to be a squad designated rifle that one could hunt deer with at home. But NOOO, they turned it into a battle rifle that was forced to (try) to be an assault rifle (on full auto with less success than the pistol gripped FAL) and in recent years a super tuned sniper rifle.
          “Leave Britney Alone” (if you saw the crazy youtube dude).

  9. The level of intelligence found on this blog is mind-boggling, exhibited by both the editors and posters. I’m not a dumb guy, college educated (ok, degree in kinesiology, which is uhhh, sports) but not a day goes by without my mind being blown. Just proves how much i have yet to learn about firearms, gun culture and politics. Also, keep up the comments about hamster farts and ants riding mini-bikes around Cheerios. Those are great too.

  10. A full power cartridge doesn’t work with full auto. So what? We no longer use full auto except for a narrow range tactical situations. Aimed semiauto fire is far more effective. The Garand’s only flaw was the 8 round clip. Even with this limitation American infantrymen could put up a wall of lead that would stop virtually any attack. Go read about the 82nd Airborne’s defense of the Arnhem DZs. Replace the clip with a 20 round mag and a soldier can put out 40 aimed rounds a minute. That is a lot more effective than spraying lots of lead in every direction.

    If you train correctly you don’t normally need individual automatic fire. The German’s invented the assualt rifle for two reasons; the Russian hordes and the limitation on trained manpower. The Russians went to full auto because they didn’t train their cannon fodder infantry to shoot. The US Army maintained high standards of marksmanship training right up unitl the Vietnam War. The post Vietnam reforms returned to the pre-Vietnam standards. The Marines never dropped them. I would not advocate going back the M-14 because it is almost century old technology but we should get away from the low powered 5.56 and move back to a full sized cartridge. The German’s had the right tactical idea. Build the squad around the machinegun and use the infantry to protect it. Maybe some of our recent veterans can enlighten me on what kind of squad level tactics are currently in play.

    • True story.

      My Grandpa (WWII) vet told me of how he kept a German attack at bay after he and his buddy were left behind. His company pulled back to consolidate the lines and his platoon lost contact with him. They were left alone on a small hill. The Germans came back for the night and he and his buddy fired their Garands until they “warped the barrels” at the encroaching Germans. They Krauts gave up at trying to take back the furious fusillade coming from the tiny knoll.

      Later, after the US advanced and captured some prisoners, they were told some interesting info. The Germans heard the move back that night and sent in a small detachment of Germans were told to establish an LP/OP on the hill my Grandpa and his buddy occupied. They had to return without accomplishing thier mission because it appeared that an American platoon still occupied the hill, so obviously the sounds they heard were reinforcements, not a withdrawal.

      True story. I only heard that story whe my Grandpa visited and I let him hold my M1. He got emotional and told of how it saved his life many times. They as if in a trance he told the story above just as clear and descriptive as it happened last week. He’s 93 this year and this was the first time he told that story. I try to get more out of him but he doesn’t always like to talk about it.

      Oh yeah, he added that when he returned his weapon at the armory to get a new one, they tried to charge him for it. He told that story too but I if i repeat the language here I might without offend someone.

      • Great story. My father in law was wounded in France in WII. He also would never talk about it. I tried many times to get him to tell what it was like but he said it wasn’t important. We lost him a few years ago and he is missed. He also was one of the best shots with handguns or rifles I’ve ever seen. Must be that Ranger training.

      • They were left alone on a small hill. The Germans came back for the night and he and his buddy fired their Garands until they “warped the barrels” at the encroaching Germans. They Krauts gave up at trying to take back the furious fusillade coming from the tiny knoll.

        Unpossible. The Germans would have over run their position once they heard the * ping * of the empty Garand clip being ejected. I know this because the Internetz told me so!

    • “Build the squad around the machinegun and use the infantry to protect it. Maybe some of our recent veterans can enlighten me on what kind of squad level tactics are currently in play.”

      From my experience in Afghanistan a couple of years ago, we seemed to re-learn what the Soviets did: introduce designated marksman into all squads. I think that they started with one DM with a 5.56 rifle per squad. Then, again, relearning what the Soviets did, they started including at least 2 or 3 designated marksmen more per platoon. Anyways, with each individual unit different, designated marksmen were more emphasized.

      Much emphasis in afghanistan was on mortars (60s and 81s) and M240s in infantry-on-infantry combat. In fact, individual small arms played a rather limited role unless we closed in with the tali.

      The part that pisses me off is that these new american “concepts” currently being applied in afghanistan are nothing new and, in fact, have been applied by the Soviets since the end of World War II.

      • The military just never seems to apply the right lessons to the right situation until they’ve been in that situation for a few years.

        • its amazing how quick our military discounts and ignores the lessons learned by adversary militaries as if its sacrilegious to do so.

          Its just dumb that the US Military keeps reinventing the wheel over and over again.

  11. It’s my understanding that Garand wanted his originol M1 to be chambered in a lighter cartridge, something in the 6-7mm range. But because of the huge stockpiles of standard .30 cal on hand and because of the standardised chamberings for MG’s, BAR’s and rifles this would throw a kink in the system.

    I don’t know for sure, but I’ve also heard that he did contemplate putting a detachable box mag on the new rifle but was rushed into his final design by the brass. As he had the example of the BAR to inspire him it seems reasonable that he would have at least have experimented with a box mag.

    • Garand’s original M1 design included a removable magazine. The Army nixed it because the brass were afraid that the soldiers were stupid and would lost them. The en bloc clip loading system was adapted from a competing rifle that was rejected.

    • I read somewhere, and I forget where, that one of the reasons for enbloc clips vs. a box magazine was because enbloc clips fit in the existing web gear and mags wouldn’t. (Plus you can stuff a whole bunch of enbloc clips in your pocket.) Don’t know if that’s true or not, but having spent the last 28 years in the Army I can believe it.

      One advantage to the enbloc is that ammo comes ready to fire. Just toss a guy a bandolier and he’s ready to keep fighting. With magazines you have to reload them. No big deal, unless of course someone is shooting at you while you’re doing it.

      As far as losing magazines…I’m a tanker so I can say this…the story goes that if you put a tanker in a sealed, round room with two ball bearings, he’ll lose one and break the other. I’m pretty sure that’s true. Tankers are the only people I know who regularly break sledgehammers…not the handle, the actual hammer.

      • My 1st shirt used to say of me that if he put me in a padded room with a steel ball and a feather I’d find a way to fvck up the ball. Soldier proofing is a very real concept and necessity.

      • The argument of “clips vs. box magazines” was fought out in the War Department Requirements for Semiautomatic Rifles in a requirements circular in 1921(!). Garand, Pedersen, et al were working on semi-auto battle rifles clear back to the early 1920’s. Anyway, the War Dep’t stated:

        The rifle must be so designed that the magazine may be fed from clips or chargers. The magazine may be detachable, but this is not considered desirable. The capacity of the magazine should not be less than five rounds, preferably ten, but not to exceed ten rounds.

        From Hatcher’s Book of the Garand, Maj. Gen. Julian S. Hatcher, USA, (c) 1948.

        There were rifles being designed with 20 round box mags, 40 round (!) box mag, etc. The War Dep’t frowned on all of these – partly for reasons of weight, partly for reasons of reliability (you could get mud and crap into a box magazine, it is true) and partly for reasons of cost, but mostly because many of the desk-drivers in the War Dep’t and US Army Ordinance Dep’t just hated the idea that somehow, somewhere, some grunt was going to waste ammo because they let him have too much of it at one go. You can see this on the ’03 Springfield rifle design – the “magazine cutoff” on what is otherwise the bolt stop. The first time any modern soldier or Marine sees this, he wonders “WTF do I want to ‘cut off’ the magazine for?”

        The answer was that the Ordinance Dep’t had this idea that soldiers were going to single-load their ’03’s, and keep the “magazine in reserve.” No lie, that was the idea. I’ve never been in combat, but it sounds to me like one of the most stupid ideas I’ve ever heard of. I’d rather produce a well designed rifle with the minimum of complexity… and leave the ammo handling to the man up at the front. He has a vested interest in managing his ammo situation, and who the hell am I to tell him how to do it?

        For all people interested in the detailed history of “how we got here?” WRT to the .30-06, the Garand, the “Pig Board,” the “Goat Board,” the development of the .276 Pedersen cartridge (which might still be in use today if it had been adopted), and the unilateral decision by Douglas MacArthur to dispense with the .276 Pedersen cartridge in favor of retaining the .30-06 in 1932, this book is essential.

        • I’ve heard the story that another reason the box magazine on the Garand was rejected because the troops couldn’t execute close order drill with that big old magazine hanging out of the rifle. The Brits managed to do so with the SMLE but they did “shoulder arms” with the rifle sideways. The Garand was the best compromise we could do given the financial climate of the day and it turned out to be a war winner.

  12. Wood and bluing are nice and all, but what the author tells me is that he doesn’t want to spend $280 for the best AR-15 trigger there is for competition (Geissele Hi-Speed) and which to me are as good as any of my tuned bolt gun triggers, but recommends that someone sink $1k+ in work (more if you rebarrel) on a $2.5k+ gun to be almost as accurate and shoot about as well as an off-the-rack $1.2k AR-15 service rifle (and it’s not hard to find service rifles with .25 moa click rear sights)?

    • One thing to bear in mind is that the ballistics of the 5.56 are inferior to that of the 7.62 out past about 400 yards (and even closer depending on the AR-15 you are using). So, yes, for activities inside of 400 yards, it doesn’t matter, but if you are looking for long distance shooting, most $1.2K AR-15s are not going to be able to compete.

      Also, you may be quoting current prices, but when I bought my M1A last year, I paid just north of $1,600 for a version that features a Nation Match barrel, National match front sight, match grade rear sight, and match tuned rear trigger. Certainly not $2,500.

    • I have and do spend the bucks on Geissele triggers for AR’s. I have them on several of my AR’s. NB the “several.” While I might not like AR’s, I know quite a bit about them and own more than one, in more than on caliber, from more than one manufacture. I’ve built all but one of them, and while I bought the only one I didn’t build pre-’94, I’ve re-built it a couple times over. I just retain the original A2 upper/ 20″ chrome barrel for…. I don’t know what, nostalgia?

      What makes me weary is explaining to AR owners who expect that I can do for their AR what I can do for $75 to $100 on most any other gun can’t be done on their AR, and that I’m going to charge them for the Geissele trigger, possibly some springs and pins (if their pins or, more likely, pin holes are worn) and they (or I) can do the installation. Installing an AR trigger certainly isn’t difficult… most owners could do it easily. Still, that the bill out the door is going to be at least double what it is on any of their other rifles, including a Garand/M1A.

      When explaining why they’re going to be happier if they plunk down twice the normal cost of a trigger job for a Geissele, I have to get into explaining the problems with the AR trigger group, why they’re crap, why they can’t be stoned reliably, yadda, yadda, yadda, and that burns up some of my time for which I’m not billing. Other smiths tell me that I should be charging for educating customers, but somehow, it doesn’t feel right to charge for simply talking to a customer about what he “needs” vs. what he “wants” vs. how much money s/he wants to spend, and trying to reconcile these three parameters.

      And, BTW, the M1A has only recently attained these $2K+ prices for a rack-grade rifle. They used to be $1200 for a rack-grade rifle before Dear Leader put on the most recent sales push, and a “super-match” or whatever from Springfield used to be about $2600 or so (and those rifles needed no involvement from a ‘smith). You used to be able to get M1A’s in the used market for less than a grand.

      Either way, to get to a “match” rifle in the M1A prior to Dear Leader’s recent sales push, you were looking at about $2K to $2800 all-in, and that had been true for about 10+ years.

      At today’s prices, you could buy a receiver, stock, trigger/gas/op-rod, barrel, sights etc and have a ‘smith assemble a custom M1A for less money than you’d sink into the retail prices of the most recent completed “match” rifles, – but you’d be waiting over six months for the barrel. Todays prices on M1A’s (from what I saw last night after someone told me to “hey, go take a look…”) are completely absurd. You’re right, at today’s prices, there are better ways to spend your money, and I think that Springfield has priced themselves completely out of the market at today’s prices.

  13. @Dyspeptic Gunsmith: where would you recommend obtaining gunsmith training (i.e. as a pro and not just a DYI hobbyist)?

        • Look into the NRA summer courses to get a flavor of what smithing really is before you jump in with both feet. The schooling and tools are a substantial investment expense – well over $20K for out-of-state folks. If you have VA benefits, they help with the tuition, but do not offset the costs of tooling, which are substantial.

  14. Depends on what you want, if you must have lasers and flashlights then the upgrade is worth it. If you want a pure sniper rifle and or classic property defense rifle no the upgrade its not a stock M-14 is fine. While the Army upgraded all of there M-14s the Navy are not and the M-14s will solder on as regular perimeter rifle and sniper rifle in the Navy. The USCG is half way with a improved stock but no major changes to the rifle itself. So you see each services version of a M-14 solder on for many years.

    I wrote the author before the Military had a successful conversion to make a M-14 fire 5.56mm in the late 60s but Robert McNamara and Co where sold on Colts M-16A1 so test went no wear after testing. Disclaimer this is NOT a Mini-14 it used a pure John Garand action for these tests!!!

  15. Great article, thanks!

    I bought an M1A some time ago…good trigger, bedded composite stock and Leatherwood scope (and National Match iron sights as well). It shot just fine, but I wanted the “look and feel” of what I carried in Vietnam (1969-70), so took the scope off and re-did a 1960’s US Army M14 stock. I left the painted rack number on it, but cleaned off the gook and grime and used Tung oil for a finish. It has not only the “look and feel” of my old M-14, but has a lot of character in the nicks and dings…just like me!

    Thanks again for the great article. Makes me realize that I picked a winner.

  16. Mr Gunsmith, what are your thoughts on using Tubb’s Final Finish in the process of accurizing an M1A? (Or any other rifle, really.)

    • What you’re talking about is called “fire-lapping.”

      Let’s talk about barrel lapping in general.

      This is a whole ‘nuther topic which could inspire a rather lengthy thread, but I’ll try to condense it as much as possible.

      Inside many barrels, there are tooling marks. When you look down your bore from the end, you can’t often see the tooling marks unless you use a set of optics (like a macro camera lens) and light at the correct angle, or you use a borescope. Looking from a very shallow angle from the end of the bore often leads you to think that your barrel is smooth… much smoother than it really is. Many barrels have tooling marks on the lands and in the grooves, and these marks come from the tooling leaving chatter or very small marks where the cutting edges of the tools are worn. You have to look very closely to see them, but they’re there.

      First, understand that some premium barrels come already lapped – by hand, with a “lead lap.” Some custom barrel makers either hand-lap their barrels as a matter of course in their production, or they have an option on their price sheet to do so. If your barrel has already been lapped, I wouldn’t be fire-lapping it.

      All of the barrel makers who do this are either single-point cutting their rifling or button rifling their barrels. I don’t know of any hammer-forged barrels that are lapped; their finish can be quite good on the inside, because they’re not drilling/reaming/rifling their bores, they’re just crushing them down on a mandrel that’s already polished.

      For barrels that are not already lapped that aren’t hammer forged, I’d hold off fire-lapping until or unless I saw a problem, starting with copper fouling. The first problem you can actually solve with lapping (hand or fire lapping) is to smooth out the tooling marks in a barrel to reduce copper fouling. Copper fouling can build up over a series of shots, then reduce accuracy, increasing barrel heating, etc. The conventional way to remove copper fouling is to use a copper solvent (something that usually has ammonia in it) and you let it set in the bore for 15 minutes or so, then start pulling patches. If you smooth out the tooling marks in the bore, you reduce the abrasion of copper jacket material off your bullets, thereby reducing fouling.

      Fire lapping for accuracy? Eh, it might work, it might not. I’ve seen barrels that were rough as a county dirt road that shot pretty well. Would they be improved by lapping? Maybe. If the barrel is already shooting well, someone has to take a leap and say “Why yes, I’m willing to mess with success and lap this bore!” and there’s not too many shooters who are eager to do that.

      Then there are barrels that are rough as a cob, they foul and won’t group, that are reported to be improved. The thought there is “how much worse can I make it? I’ve tried everything else, might as well throw a few more bucks at it before I yank it off and have a new barrel hung on the action…”

      Where I come down on it: I can see how the proper application of lapping can reduce fouling, that’s a no-brainer to me. Increase accuracy? I’d have to see that verified under some pretty strict testing protocols before I’d be willing to say “yes” or “no.” The fact that David Tubb is putting his name on it makes me interested, because if there’s one guy who runs really structured tests on changes to his shooting rig, it’s David Tubb.

      I have a barrel on an AR that I’m thinking of fire-lapping, because it copper fouls worse than any barrel I’ve ever seen. It also fails DOD straightness gage tests, and appears to have a burr at the gas port. It was a cheap POS surplus barrel, it shoots reasonably well, but not great, so the worst that can happen is that I wreck it and I have to buy a real, non-POS barrel.

      In any case, I’d like to see bores before & after through a bore scope, and I need to acquire a bore scope with some recording facility (ie, capture a file to a computer) to start recording bores and scoping them systematically to obtain some side-by-side views that I could look at (and then show to customers) and say “Yes, this made an improvement in the bore right here” and be able to point to where ‘here’ is on the bore.

      • Thank you kindly for taking the time to reply.

        “I have a barrel on an AR that I’m thinking of fire-lapping, because it copper fouls worse than any barrel I’ve ever seen. It also fails DOD straightness gage tests, and appears to have a burr at the gas port. It was a cheap POS surplus barrel, it shoots reasonably well, but not great, so the worst that can happen is that I wreck it and I have to buy a real, non-POS barrel.”

        If you go ahead and do this I would be interested in seeing your resulting data. I know you can’t be a regular, contributing member of the site authors, but please offer a brief post about it.

  17. The only thing I really disagree with is crimping. Most match shooters don’t crimp their .308 or 30-06 loads. Bullet walk isn’t really an issue in a 10 lb rifle like it is in a 16 oz snub.

  18. I was Army Signal in Nam for 15 months. I never did see any action other than dodging mortars most nights. And once I was told not to fire on a VC mortar crew (that we had dead to rights) by a 2nd Lt. because “You might draw their fire on us”!! ????? O well!! My weapon was a selective fire M-14. I did get to fire it at the range. One day I put 7, 20 round mags through it on full auto and then 3 on semi. Not one problem, but I did have a very good time. A very good and accurate rifle. Needless to say I would very much like to have a M1A. Thanks for this article. It may come in handy. Soon, I hope.

  19. I have to disagree about mounting a sling on an AR-15. I’m an Appleseed instructor and we use GI Web Slings on ARs without any issues. The only issues that arise are when people come with non-standard AR parts.

  20. When I was in VietNam I carried a m-14 with a 3×9 scope when my company commander would let me. I loved it although is was very heavy for every day humping through bush, but hated the matel toy. It had a selector switch for full auto and I only tried it once. I stood 5ft6″ and weighed 135lbs, I think the bursitis in my shoulder is the result. I usually carried a grease gun or shotgun. I really wish I could have gotten one of the m-14’s that Obama denied letting us get back from South Korea. I also used the 14 when I competed on the Army High Power Rifle team, if I did my part it actually was hard to miss.

    • It isn’t even M-14s that Obama prohibits reimportation; it’s the WWII vintage M1s, and M1 carbines.

  21. I own, and regularly shot (till ammo prices went ridiculous) an AR-15 SP1, MiA Loaded, Garand, Springfield Armory Inc./Imbel Match-grade FAL, SIG 556, and Remington 700 BDL (30-06) and CDL (300 Win Mag)… each is a sweet machine in its own right, and like a father loves all his children equally, I would have a hard time parting with any of them. But, the FAL is my one-gun-solution, my rifle of last-resort… I would grab it and go because it has an adjustable gas system that accommodates the widest range of ammo, as well as scope, bi-pod, and cleaning kit… it is a 1 MOA rifle with 175 gr. FGMM SMK’s for the first three shots, about 3 MOA all day long.

    None of these fine rifles are perfect, yet each has features that are… after all these years, nobody has designed one rifle combining them all.

  22. SHOOT-SHOOT and keep SHOOTING until you establish consist shooting habit’s(breathing.squeezing,butt location,sight picture and more). 85% or more is shooter inconsistency.It’s cheaper to correct your bad habits ( Read shooting techniques ,ther’r all consistent.) instead of replacing springs, sights, bolts, stocks etc, thinking those will make the gun accurate.I’ve seen my friends replace almost everything on the gun, thinking that’l realy make the gun accurate.
    What king of gun You have?
    Hunting: don’t expect to shoot sub moa 10 to 20 sustained shots.
    Battelfield :shoots 3-5in 0-100 shots
    Target : shoots moa 0 to 20 sustained shots.
    USE COMMON SENSE, you’ll enjoy shooting and be safe and resonsible. ALOHA

  23. Hello,

    I bought one M1A Springfield Armory recently, and i would want to know if it possible to down trigger weight to 3/3.3/3.5 lbs ?

    Does it a M1A 3 to 3.5 lbs trigger assembly and where i could order it ?

    I’ve found this M1A 4.5 lbs trigger group : http://www.smithenterprise.com/spec/4.5lb_Trigger03.pdf
    But i didn’t succeed right now to find lessweight trigger for M1A.

    In attempt for your response,

    Regards.

  24. M1a ‘loaded’ – i want to purchase and put the NM 1/2 MOA rear sight on my rifle – Do I need to drill an additional hole for that? Is that going to be a threaded hole?.Is it a standard receiver – thanks from New Guy – USAF retired.

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