Springfield 1903A4 replica sniper rifle part 6: last time (12/10 issue) Coffield drilled and tapped the receiver for a scope. This time, he finishes the metal and test-fires his Springfield sniper rifle.
The only problem, just as it was during World War II, is supply. There just aren't enough rifles available for the demand. On top of that, since we're now approaching 70 years since the end of the war, those original 1903A4 sniper rifles have become very valuable and desirable collectables. Even if you could afford one, it wouldn't make much sense to take a costly antique out on the range and shoot it extensively.
Fortunately, a number of companies have stepped up and are offering some darn nice replicas of these older rifles. James River Armory, 3601 Commerce Drive, Suite 110, Dept. SGN, Halethorpe, MD 21227, telephone 410242-6991, an SGN advertiser, is one of the better suppliers and produces a beautiful rifle for a very reasonable charge. If you're in the market for a rifle, I would encourage you to contact these folks.
But if you're like me and love to work with guns, you might want to consider building your own replica. You'll not only have the pleasure of owning and shooting a replica of an historic World War II firearm, you'll also spend some great time in the shop building it. That's what I did and it's been a very interesting and enjoyable project. As I mentioned earlier in this series, building a replica 03A4 is pretty simple but it's not necessarily easy! Depending upon the materials you start with, it can be a challenge.
I started with a couple of extremely abused and extensively used 1903A3 drill rifles. Both had been welded and made inoperable. However, upon close examination I discovered both of these rifles had not been harmed or made unsafe when they were converted into non-firing drill rifles. I was able to remove the barrels and disassemble the rifles. I then chose the better of the two receivers for this project.
In earlier parts of this series (8/10, 9/10, 10/10. 11/10, 12/10) I rebarreled the receiver, fitted and installed a Boyds' semi-finished stock, and drilled and tapped the receiver for a Redfield one-piece scope base. I already had many of the other parts I needed. Some I'd had since I was 16 years old.
My task next was to remove my new barrel and refinish some of the components The receiver, for example, had lost much of its original finish while serving as a drill rifle. There was also some damage to the finish with the welding to the bolt stop/magazine cutoff by the military.
I decided to use the Brownells Parkerizing system for those parts to be refinished. This would provide a nice phosphate finish very similar to that used on some World War II period 03A3s and 03A3 parts. While some of the original rifles were just blued, many were later Parkerized when they were refinished, and lots of original parts were Parkerized as well.
A mistake many make in refinishing military rifles like this is they make everything too uniform. They make the color of all the parts match perfectly. That's fine for a civilian sporting rifle but for military guns made during wartime or repaired after the war using wartime production parts; you'll seldom see such uniformity and consistency.
Parts especially were often made by different manufacturers at various locations. Just due to differences in setups for the finishing materials, you'd find different colors or shades of finish. Then, as the .war progressed, you often had changes in specs for the finishes. While early in the war you might be able to blue a part, later it might be mandated the same parts be Parkerized. For that reason, I didn't hesitate to have my project rifle set up with parts with different finishes.
While my receiver was definitely in need of refinishing, my barrel had never been used and was still packed in Cosmolene from when it was manufactured. The finish on the barrel was perfect. Because of that and the fact it would make it possible to use smaller tanks for the refinishing chemicals, I removed the barrel from the receiver.
When I originally fitted the barrel, I was very careful to align the witness mark on the barrel with the witness mark on the receiver. This ensured the front sight, which was later removed, was properly positioned at 12 o'clock and the barrel was fully seated in the receiver. I then headspaced the barrel and fitted the bolt.
Those 'witness marks now allow me to remove the barrel and then later put it back to exactly the same point without altering the headspace or fit of the' bolt. The barrel will sit back in the receiver to exactly the same point it had initially. It'll not be screwed in any further. All i have to do is just align those two very important witness marks.
The point here is you should always have witness marks on the barrel and receiver. If your firearm doesn't have 'em; it's a darn good idea to make some. All you need are two lines that match up; one on the receiver and one on the barrel. It's as simple as that.
Once the barrel was removed, I cleaned the receiver with Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber to remove all traces of oil and grease. I then set the receiver aside with the other parts I planned on refinishing. There weren't many parts. There was the bolt, the Redfield scope base, a set of Redfield rings, the lower band and sling swivel assembly, and, of course, the receiver.
I bead blasted the parts for a couple of reasons. First, it was a quick, easy way to remove any rust. This was especially significant with the lower band. Secondly, by giving these parts a. slightly rough texture, it would make it easier for the zinc phosphate finish to adhere and provide a uniform durable finish for the part.
The finish material I used was zinc phosphate, one of several forms of Parkerizing. The zinc provides an excellent surface finish that holds lubricants such as Cosmolene or oil quite well. It also provides pretty fair abrasion resistance. Most importantly, it was a finish used during World War II.
A question that always comes up when discussing phosphate coatings or Parkerizing, whether it's Brownells or some other product, relates to the color of the finished product. Folks want to know if a particular process will give you the same color as seen on World War II Parkerized guns. Well, the answer to that question is "Yes and no".
The kicker is that World War II Parkerizing was not just one color, contrary to what a lot of folks would have you believe. Years ago I had a chance to talk with two fellows that actually worked in the metal coating shop at Springfield Armory during World War II.
I asked 'em that very question about the color and they grinned and asked me, "What day of the week are you askin' about?" It seemed that, according to them, the color would vary from a gray to a black and just about everything in between depending upon the age and strength of the Parkerizing bath, what type of metal was being coated, and then what type of oil or grease was applied after Parkerizing. There was no "official" color.
The zinc phosphate finish in this Brownells kit will normally produce a gray finish. The color will then darken quite a bit with any grease or oil you subsequently apply.
I picked up a kit from Brownells, the gunsmith supply house located in Montezuma, Iowa that had just about everything I would need for this finishing project. One of the things I really loved about the kit was that it included three small tanks, one stainless steel and two cold-rolled steel.
These small tanks, which Brownells calls quarter tanks, hold about one gallon each and are 10 inches long, 6 inches wide, and 6 inches deep. The small size means you can set 'em up on your gas grill if needed. If you're only doing small parts or handguns and you want to do some Parkerizing, this kit could be just the ticket.
As with most Brownells products, you're supplied with extensive and detailed instructions. Because of that, I won't go into detail about the actual process. Anything and everything you might want to know about how to set up the kit and process your parts is contained in the eight-page booklet that comes with the kit. On the last page of the instructions is a wonderfully helpful flow chart showing you each step in sequence with the time and temperature requirements where applicable. The instructions are definitely "user friendly".
That said; I did learn a few things that might be helpful. The setup I used included the tank stand and burner I normally use for rust bluing. Consequently I had three small tanks setting over one long burner. This turned out to be a bit of a problem in controlling temperature.
The cleaner, for example, needed a lower operating temperature by about 20[degrees] than the Parkerizing solution. I solved the problem by simply placing a piece of aluminum foil over a portion of the burner under the cleaner tank. This blocked out some of the burner flames and allowed the temperature to moderate a bit.
Since I was working outside and there was a bit of a breeze, I had initially placed a skirt of tin foil around the stand to help hold the heat under the tanks. Based on past experience, I knew even a slight breeze would dissipate the heat and cause some problems. With my cleaner I used this to my advantage by removing the skirt near that tank. Between the removal of the skirt and the use of a block for a portion of the pipe burner, I was able to control the temperature as needed.
Still, if you can use separate burners as on most gas grills for these small tanks, it could make temperature control a lot easier.
Once the parts had been Parkerized, I applied the Brownells Post Treatment. This liquid helps to neutralize the Parkerizing process. Once that was done, I applied a heavy coating of Birchwood Casey gun oil to each part. I also, just for the heck of it, applied a bit of Cosmolene to the receiver.
I wanted to see just what this would do to the color. My receiver was somewhat dark coming out of the tank and the oil and Cosmolene made it even darker. That was fine with me, as this was a very nice military looking finish and certainly in keeping with the colors I've seen on original World War II U.S. military arms.
The next step was to reassemble my rifle. The major job was installing the barrel. Keep two points in mind. Be sure to apply some grease or anti-seize compound to the barrel threads to prevent galling. Also, use your witness marks to properly align the barrel and receiver.
I also installed the hardware on the stock. Before placing the barreled action in the stock, I fitted the scope base to the receiver: The base I'm using is a standard Redfield one-piece base for the 03A3. This is basically the same base developed and used during World War II for the 03A4s. Once I Parkerized it, it looked very similar to the original military base.
The 03A3 rifles were not designed or initially produced to be set up for use with a scope. Consequently, you shouldn't be at all surprised if your base is not level and parallel to the axis of the bore. You may well encounter variations in height of the front and rear rings of the receiver. This is of no real consequence when iron sights are used. However, when you put a scope on the receiver, these differences in height can be a problem.
The way to check this is to install the base and then measure the distance from the top of the base over the front ring to the flat on the bottom of the receiver directly under that point. Now go back to the rear of the scope base and do the same thing. More than likely you find the base tilts down towards the front of the receiver.
When the 03A4s were assembled, the military dealt with this problem by using shims under the front of the base: With this particular rifle, I lucked out! The measurement from the top of the scope base to the flat on the bottom of the receiver was basically 1.171 inches both front and rear. I must have been livin' right!
Since most of my shooting will be at 100 and 200 yards (that's all the distance we have at the high power range at my club) my base should be fine. If I were to ever try some extended shooting out to 600 yards or more, I might need to shim the front of the base.
Once the base was level, I installed the scope and rings. Initially I used the copy of the early M84 scope I ordered from Numrich Gun Parts. An old Bushnell bore sighter I've had for years was used to check the scope alignment and roughly position the crosshairs.
That should get me on the paper when I start shooting. I'm also going to take my M74 scope from the folks, at James River Armory. While I still don't have period appropriate rings for the M84 scope, I still want to put it on my rifle and try it out.
The rings I have are standard Redfield 1-inch rings. They're too large, but I have a set of ring reducers from Brownells that'll allow me to use 'em on this smaller diameter scope body. I Parkerized the rings along with the base so they'll have the right color, even if they're not truly authentic. Again, eventually I hope to find some appropriate rings and change these out.
The rest of the assembly process was pretty straightforward. The rifle went together without any problems. One last item I added was a Brownell 1907 leather sling. This is a beautiful copy of the original military 1907 sling. While I could have used 'a web carrying strap, I just prefer the ol' 1907 sling. I used 'em for years when I was shooting high power and they are wonderful slings.
The day I made it to the range it was beautifully clear and sunny with a temperature of about 60[degrees] dr so. I was there fairly early to 'avoid crowds. I started by firing five rounds at 100 yards. That was kinda risky but I just had a good feeling about this rifle. Generally I start with a couple of rounds at 25 yards but with my 03A4, I figured what the heck! Go for it!
Using some Black Hills 168-grain match ammo, my first round was a bit high but centered on the target. The next four rounds printed a group about 1 1/2 inches below that first shot, still centered on the target The amazing thing about this was that the group of four 1 1/2 inches center to center vertically' and slightly less than 1 inch center to center horizontally. That was simply amazing!
I continued to shoot and moved out to 200 yards. There my typical group measured about 3 inches vertically by 2 inches horizontally. This rifle is definitely a shooter and performed far beyond my expectations.
After shooting a bit with the Numrich Gun Parts M84 replica scope, I pulled it from the rifle and installed the M73 Hi-Lux scope. I was curious about this scope and how the rifle would shoot with it.
In many Ways, the M73 scope was easier to use. The crosshairs are much finer and do not obscure as much of the target as the crosshairs on the M84. The M84 scope has a very heavy post and horizontal crosshair. In fact, it was a bit difficult for me to use unless I employed the top of the post as the aiming point rather than where the post and horizontal crosshair met. If you use the top of the post as you would an iron front sight, you shouldn't have any problem. This is just something you might want to keep in mind.
By the way, with the M84 scope you'll need to make a special tool to adjust the windage and elevation knobs. You can zero the scope and then set the windage knob for "0" and set the elevation knob so the distance markings corresponding to your actual range.
This tool is nothing more than a Brownell Magna-Tip screwdriver blade with a clearance cut made in it to straddle the smaller nut on the adjustment knobs. Once you make that tool, you might want to fit it to a plastic handle and keep it with your rifle.
I really like the idea of having both scopes. By swapping them on or off the rifle I can have an "early" 03A4 with the M73 or a "late" 03A4 with the M84 scope. It's the best of both worlds!
I had several different brands of ammo to shoot in the rifle. My best shooting was with the Black Hills ammo. Next was the Hornady Vintage Match ammo. I would be delighted to use either of these two in any match anywhere! Both are absolutely great and fantastically accurate in this rifle. The Remington and Winchester ammo was fine but did not shoot quite as well in this particular rifle. At this point I still haven't tried to work up any handloads or used any actual military surplus ammo.
As with any rifle, you should do some experimenting with various brands and types of ammo to find out just what your rifle prefers for best accuracy. Every rifle is unique and what works best in my rifle might not be worth a darn in your rifle. Bottom line ... take it to the range and do some serious testing! It'll be worth every minute you spend out there.
I was very pleased with the results and especially with the accuracy of my rifle. It was far more accurate than I anticipated. After breaking in and several trips to the range, I found I could get consistent five-shot groups at 200 yards of less than 3 inches. Remember the official accuracy standard for this rifle during World War II was not that great. All a rifle had to do was shoot a five-shot group within 3 1/2 inches at 100 yards to be acceptable. This rifle far exceeded that standard and I couldn't be happier. I lucked out and ended up with one of the "good" 03A4s.
My last bit of work consisted of marking my rifle in several different places indicating who did the work and when it was done. One of the spots was under the butt-plate. I did this to help ensure my replica was never mistaken or sold as an original. There are numerous physical differences such as the use of Torx screws and replica scopes which a knowledgeable collector would spot immediately. Even with that, I wanted to add a little more insurance to prevent misuse of this rifle. This has been a very enjoyable gunsmithing project but I'm sure you would agree; we don't want to have anyone mislead now or in the future with our work.
I also want to caution anyone undertaking work with a demilled receiver. As I pointed out earlier, I've seen some receivers that were absolutely and totally ruined by the welding done when the rifles were demilled and rendered inoperable. Some receivers should not be used for anything other than perhaps a .22 rimfire conversion.
You have to be very careful when working with one of these receivers. If you're not absolutely certain it's safe based upon experience and careful examination; for goodness sakes don't use it! You and you alone are responsible for the safety of your rifle. Years ago I was taught when it comes to safety issues with firearms, if in doubt, don't! That's a good rule for anyone and I urge you to adopt it in your work.
I hope you've enjoyed following this series and this project. If you'd like one of these rifles but don't have the time, equipment or inclination to build your own, I would strongly encourage you to check with Mark Hartman and the folks at James River Armory. He builds a great replica of the 03A4 as well as a number of other classic sniper rifles. If you're gonna buy one, I definitely recommend the James River rifles.
The next time we get together I'll be starting a project dealing with the rebuild of a classic semiautomatic shotgun; the Remington Model 11. The Model 11 was the first commercially successful semiautomatic shotgun made here in the U.S. It saw extensive use by hunters, trap and skeet shooters, law enforcement, and the military. I've got a couple of basket case junkers I'll try to turn into a good lookin' and good shootin' scattergun.
Until next time, good luck and good gunsmithing!
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|Date:||Jan 10, 2013|
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