January 14, 2023
For many of us shooters, our interest in firearms goes beyond sending bullets downrange. The history of a firearm can be important, as well. I often ask myself, When was it made? Where was the firearm used? How was it produced? I prefer collecting classic firearms that are in original or near-original configurations. There are few things I enjoy more than handling and firing one that has not been altered. As many readers can relate, Garry James’ articles in Guns & Ammo on historical firearms fascinate me, and I’ll admit to being jealous at times that he gets to examine so many pieces of history.
One of the subjects that I am keenly interested in is World War II. My father served in several of the most famous engagements in the European Theater, so I have always been passionate for any firearm of this era.
The M1 Garand tops my list of rifles from this period that holds my attention. It is hard to find any firearm in history that has as long or a more interesting development, which has gone on to impact in the era it was used in.
M1 Garands have been readily available for some time from both commercial distributors, dealers, as well as the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP). Established in 1903, the CMP is still active today, and it offers M1 Garands at more reasonable prices than those encountered at dealers.
There are two ways to purchase an M1 Garand from the CMP. You can shoot in a sanctioned CMP match and qualify to purchase a Garand, or you can join the Garand Collectors Association (GCA), and through this affiliation you can qualify to purchase an M1 from the CMP. Don’t wait too long to purchase from the CMP, though! The CMP is getting short on rifles because imports have been cut off. In my opinion, the GCA is well worth the annual $25 membership fee. You will get an extremely interesting bi-monthly magazine, which also contains a marketplace with members selling rifles and parts.
Today, the majority of M1 Garands sold through various sources are not in their original configuration. Most Garands, — certainly those of World War II vintage — have been rebuilt multiple times, meaning that they have had worn or damaged parts and wood replaced. The number of Garands available for sale that are in their original configuration are few, and they are very expensive. Fortunately, there are still many parts available for Garands that allow us to restore one near its original production arrangement. I’ve found that researching and hunting for correct parts is a lot of fun and can get to be obsessive. So, allow me to break down how to do this and what to look for. Most of this discussion will be geared towards the restoration of World War II-era specimens, but the process can be applied to any production period of Garand.
One statement that must be clarified is what constitutes a “correct” M1 Garand. You may have seen advertisements for an “all-matching Garand,” but there really isn’t such a thing. The only part that was serialized on the Garand during production of these rifles was the receiver, so all parts sharing the same number is impossible. The numbers seen on M1 Garand parts are drawing numbers that can be traced to when the parts were produced and what receiver and stocks they would have been assembled with. An original configuration Garand is one that has all the parts made in the correct time period and with the correct drawing numbers or parts. Those who want to take details to extremes should look for correct parts and try to match the finish.
As I alleged, nearly all M1 Garands went through at least one — sometimes several — rebuilds. It is somewhat easier to find late-production Springfield Armory (SA), Harrington & Richardson (HRA) and International Harvester (IH) rifles that still have original barrels, stocks and a lot of the correct internal parts. These rifles saw much less service and part replacement than other World War II-era M1s. SA and Winchester Repeating Arms (WRA) M1 rifles are not often found on the market with anything but a scattering of correct parts. After the war, most of the rifles issued in battle went through various refits and upgrades. Some of the most common pieces replaced were stocks and barrels. During these rebuilds, the rifles were disassembled and inspected. Worn parts were replaced and the guns reassembled, usually with new parts fetched out of a bin. Due to subsequent rebuilds after the Korean War, it is difficult to find rifles that are not a mix of parts from different production periods and manufacturers.
I could go on for a while if I were to discuss this in detail. Instead, I’ll recommend Scott Duff’s well-researched books, “The M1 Garand Owner’s Guide”. He offers a set of six books — to include one on the M1 Carbine — for $120. The books contain extensive charts and pictures to help readers determine the correct parts for any period of M1 Garand. I heartily encourage you to obtain a copy of these books even if you are not interested in restoring a Garand. The extensive picture documentation and history discussion alone is worth the read.
It’s important to understand the changes that were made to the M1 Garand during and after World War II. The Garand went through several rear sight updates during the war. After the war, and again during the Korean War, sights were replaced entirely with the ones many shooters are now familiar with. Barrels on most M1s available for sale are replacements. The manufacture date and initials were stamped on the right-rear side under the operating rod, or “op rod.” If the op rod is drawn back, it is easy to see these markings. Checking the barrel date against the receiver’s manufacture date is an easy way to determine if the barrel is original.
The gas cylinder sight base was also widened during the war, and its two-slot solid-lock screw was changed to a four-slot spring-loaded plunger late in the war. The gas cylinder lock nut was also beefed up late in the war (and again later) to better handle the stresses of launching grenades.
Post-war inspection of Garands showed that a number of the op rods were cracked at the sharp corner of the handle and transition to the rod. Because of this, most op rods were modified with a radius milled into this corner to relieve stress concentration and increase the life of this part. Post-war manufactured op rods were all made with this “cut” during production. Any correct World War II-era Garand should have an “uncut” op rod. These changes are described in Duff’s books.
Many stocks were damaged or in rough shape after World War II, and warranted replacement. During World War II, all production stocks had a cartouche on the left side with the initials of the manufacturer; “SA” for Springfield Armory and “WRA” for Winchester Repeating Arms, as well as the initials of the U.S. Army commander at each facility during the time of the rifle’s manufacture. The crossed cannons of the Ordnance Corps were also stamped behind the commander’s cartouche. This practice continued with rifles rebuilt by Springfield Armory immediately after the war, but it was not done to replacement stocks following the Korean War. They were simply marked with a “P” in a circle at the front of the pistol grip to signify the rifle had been “proof” tested. Post-war production SA, HRA and IH M1 Garands have a small eagle in a field of stars within a square for the stock’s cartouche.
There are two types of common restorations. A cosmetic restoration simply involves making the gun look correct externally with no concern for the internal parts. This is easier to accomplish and less expensive. The process is fairly simple and surplus parts are available. Pay attention to identify the correct-type of rear sight for the receiver’s serial number, as well as the gas cylinder, gas cylinder nut and screw and correct triggerguard. You can send your existing stock (or a new stock) off to get the correct cartouche stamped on it. You can also purchase your own stamping tools appropriate to the receiver’s number and do it yourself.
The second method is a complete restoration with all correct parts. This requires a lot more time, money and persistence. However, the research and hunt for parts is an experience. The charts in Duff’s books, and finding similar information online, are essential in searching for the right drawing-number parts for your gun. There are many places to purchase parts that sell them by drawing number.
The two most difficult parts to find are a stock with an original and correct cartouche, and a correct-period barrel. If you are restoring a World War II-era Garand, you’ll also need an uncut op rod. Stocks are not so easy to find, but they are still available with some effort. Begin looking through websites that sell guns and join the GCA. The GCA’s magazine has a large “for sale/wanted” section at the back of each issue. Going to gun or militaria shows is also encouraged. The holy grail is to find a Garand for sale with the correct stock and a correct barrel, which I have occasionally seen at gun shows. Even if the condition of the barrel is poor, consider purchasing it. If you want to shoot your newly restored M1, a good gunsmith can sleeve the barrel to return it to shooting condition. Note that finding WRA, HRA and IH parts are fewer and farther between than finding SA parts. Therefore, those M1s will be more expensive to restore.
Sources for Parts & Information
As I mentioned, Duff’s books on the M1 Garand are must-haves for researching the proper parts and identification.
Several of my favorite websites to hunt for Garand parts are Ammogarand, the CMP, Dupage Trading Company, Numrich Gun Parts, and Sarco Incorporated. There are far too many other websites on the internet that discuss M1 Garand parts to list them here. Simply search “parts for an M1 Garand” and prepare to dig in.
I mentioned that you can get your stock, or a new stock stamped with the proper cartouche marks for your receiver. Bardalls offers almost every U.S. stock cartouche stamp you could require. Schuff’s Parkerizing offers many Garand gunsmithing services, and will apply the correct cartouche to your stock, as well. Replacement stock and handguard sets are available from the CMP, but they can also be purchased from Boyds Stocks and Dupage Trading Company.
It’s Habit Forming
If you are as fervent for shooting and collecting the M1 Garand as I am, or would like to own your first, I would encourage you to consider restoring one to its original configuration. Warning: Should you decide take on such a project, it can become addictive! Learning about and pursuing parts is a lot of fun. I have completely restored both World War II-era SA and WRA Garands. My SA gun was one of the “holy grail” guns I referred to. I found it on a table at a gun show; once I noticed that it had the correct stock and barrel, I couldn’t get my wallet out fast enough. The WRA was a total parts gun, though, with a replacement barrel and only a couple of WRA parts still on it. The WRA Garand took a lot more time to come up with the parts, especially the barrel and stock which were pricey. Still, it is great fun to take both of these rifles to the range and shoot them. Astute shooters at the range usually notice that these don’t look like the usual Garands they see, which leads to having a lot of good conversations. I will add that restored Garands are highly desirable on the collector’s market, too, and can bring hefty prices.
Enjoy articles like this?
Subscribe to the magazine.
Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine