Finally I persuaded our resident REME Armourer (Paul Wragg) to tap the keys on our behalf and he has written an article on rifle maintenance. It is presented here unedited. I should like to add just one brief warning. Your Lee Enfield has survived for many years by being maintained with very little more than gun oil and raw linseed oil. None of the amazingly clever chemical cleaners now available have been tested to see what long term effects they have on either steel or wood. The metalwork will probably be OK, the woodwork is another matter. If the bottle says that the contents are harmful to humans then it is a fair bet that it doesn't do wood a lot of good either, especially over long periods of time. So use with caution please.
Perhaps you have just bought your first rifle, perhaps you already have a few, either way they are an investment and like all investments they need care and attention. One sure way of doing that is to clean and care for them in a way that will not add to their wear and tear. It is often said that an Armourer does a lot of damage to a gun by stripping it and to prevent this we use the right screwdriver. It should fit the slot snugly and not rattle about. This prevents distorting the slot and the chipping that subsequently results. Secondly don’t strip the weapon down for no reason. This wears away the thread and loosens all toleranced parts. When the weapon is not in use it may be beneficial to slacken the trigger guard screws and, in the case of the No 3 and earlier weapons, the other screws in the fore-end. This may help prevent distortion and warping. The MOD gets around this by having climatic control which keeps the moisture and temperature at a constant level.
Protect your rifle with a good quality gun oil. There is one specifically formulated for 303’s and that is Young’s 303, which is thicker than modern gun oil (newer guns need thinner oils for their gas operating systems).
Woodwork on Enfield’s is either walnut as fitted to Long Lees No1, No3 and some No4’s, or beech as in most No4’s and No5’s.
Just a little note here, tiger beech was a type of beech that had a loosening of the grain which affected its appearance and gave it a stripy look. This has been faked a lot by methods such as staining and burning, so buyer beware!
Both the above woods require the same care, (i.e. don’t cover it with gun oil and store your weapon muzzle down). I do mine periodically, around once a year. Take a small amount 0f raw linseed oil (about a teaspoon), rub it into the palm of your hands and then work it into the woodwork quite vigorously until it is well spread. Don’t just brush it on and leave on as it will form a gummy skin on the woodwork and it will need cleaning off before use; a real chore!
If on a hot day on the range your woodwork starts to sweat an oily residue, this should be rubbed off with a piece of cotton waste or other absorbent material. This residue is likely to be the excess linseed oil from the past x amount of years.
Don’t varnish your woodwork it seals the grain and is more likely to cause the warping you have to avoid to keep your rifle shooting straight.
This brings me to the fit of your woodwork. Fitting of Enfield woodwork is a highly skilled operation and unless you have endless supplies of fore-ends don’t even think of trying; you will cock it up! As an apprentice Armourer it took me 5 or 6 attempts to get it almost right and that was under supervision, I’ve done quite a few since and it still takes a lot of patience and attention to detail.
Generally if your butt or top guards are split, chipped or dented it is repairable, but again it is best to have it done professionally.
Finally when you assemble the weapon lightly grease where wood covers or touches metal.
Clean your rifle before and after use even if you only shoot one round. The heat of the igniting powder will burn the oil out of the barrel and will lead to rusting and pitting. Metallic fouling will have started. This is a process of copper, lead or nickel being deposited in the grooves of the rifling and will ultimately, if left, affect accuracy. Carbon (diamonds are made of this stuff) is also deposited in the barrel and will become harder with time. This will also affect accuracy and increase wear in the barrel. In one military Armoury I worked in a civilian kept his rifle there and when doing a monthly check I noticed a green colour in the muzzle of his rifle. On closer inspection I saw the green was metallic fouling. I spoke to the owner and he said “the next round will clean it out” Ignorance is bliss!! This could have caused the round to slow down enough to cause a bulge in the barrel or even split the barrel with resulting injury/death to the firer.
To clean your barrels
1. Use a bronze brush and pass it through the bore a couple of times. (you can lubricate this with oil if you wish*)
2. Using a jag or a pull through, repeatedly pass clean flannelette (4x2) through the bore until it emerges clean. Also a chamber stick and 4x2 may be used to clean the chamber.
3. Oil the bore using either a woollen mop or 4x2 with oil.
*If you are using old RG303 ammo, it may contain primers that are corrosive so add Young’s 303 or black powder solvent to boiling water (instructions on tin) and use this to scrub out the bore with a nylon brush then follow previous steps 2and 3.
Don’t over-tighten the bolt head onto the bolt when this assembly is out of the rifle. This will cause problems with the overturn on the bolt head and may affect cartridge headspace. Inspect the bolt before and after use. Look for cracks around the locking lugs, if there are any don’t use it and seek professional advice. Check the firing pin isn’t chipped; it should be even and rounded. Keep the bolt lightly oiled even when in use. It prevents wear and makes the bolt operate quicker and easier.
Other metal work
If your rifle is a No4, 5 or 8 it has probably been parkerised. (Boiled in phosphoric acid and then painted). It needs little care just wipe down with a very lightly oiled rag and touch painted if necessary. If your rifle is an earlier type then it will almost certainly have been browned or blued. Browning is a 3 day process of rusting that leaves a protective and blue appearance on the metal. Care for this is just a wipe down with lightly oiled rag. Blueing is a process of boiling in a mixture of chemicals and requires the same care practice as browned examples. Repairs to both browning and blueing are possible and relatively easy to do. You can buy the necessary cold blue or plum brown from most gun stores for touching up; just follow the instructions on the tin. Re-blueing /browning of the whole gun is both hazardous and requires a knowledge of the process. Seek professional help.
This needs to be kept control of and I do this by using a bore cleaner once a year. There are many on the market; some contain ammonia and some are more green and safer to use. I use M- Pro7 copper remover (a safe one) but if this fails to do the job I turn to G96 (ammonia based). Usually the instructions are the same with most brands. Use a nylon brush and deposit the product in the bore and scrub lightly. Leave for a period of time, usually around 10 minutes, then clean bore with 4x2 and repeat the above process until it emerges clean. Don’t be tempted to plug the ends of the barrel and fill with the chemical; it can seriously damage your gun. After using bore gel you must remember to clean the chamber.
Just a note on 22’s, some 22 ammunition has a waxy coating on the bullet. Don’t remove this before shooting, it is there to lubricate the bullet and prevent metal fouling. It may be prudent when using this ammunition to clean the bore during sustained bouts of firing. This wax does not negate the requirement to clean the weapon after firing.
If you have any questions on the above I am often on the range and will be pleased to help if I can. I will also do a safety check on your 303 rifle free of charge. Just ask.