Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Troubleshooting a Lee Enfield Rifle

The Lee-Enfield Rifle served the British Empire and Commonwealth Nations as their service rifle from its adoption in 1895 through both World Wars until 1957.  Although it is no longer the official service rifle it is still used in many offices for training, as a sniper rifle and as a ceremonial piece. 
This was a rifle that was clearly ahead of its time.
In fact the Lee-Enfield Rifle still holds the World Record for aimed bolt action rifle fire. The record was set all the way back in 1914! It was so fast in battle, that during WWI the Germans thought the Brits were using machine guns!

The particular gun that I have was purchased as a surplus gun in the early 1990's. I believe I paid $59 + shipping for this gun. It was made in 1943 at the Long Branch Arsenal in Canada. It is a No.4 MkI* model with flip up peep sight and a 10 round magazine.

The gun fires the .303 British Cartridge, which is slightly less powerful than a 30-06 Springfield.
 Anyway, I have only shot this gun a couple of times in the twenty plus years that I have owned it. Last summer I took it to our favorite outdoor shooting pit to shoot it and I found that I could not chamber a round. My first thought was that something (perhaps the top of an old cartridge) was stuck in the chamber. I used a high powered light and could not see anything in the chamber at all (the rifling looked great though!).

So I decided to take the gun apart to see if there was something that I was over-looking. I soon realized that I had never cleaned the cosmoline out of the gun when I bought it.
For those that don't know, Cosmoline is a type of grease used to preserve firearms when put into long term storage. If it were not for cosomoline we may not have many of these old military weapons today. The Cosmoline would be heated into a liquid and the guns would be submerged in it, ensuring the grease got into every nook and cranny. Brownells now sells the goo, it even conforms to the original mil-spec.

You can see the cosmoline on the trigger mech and the stock

So I set about cleaning the gun, fortunately military guns are easy to dis-assemble (they had to be).

If you ever wondered what an Enfield looked like without its fore stock:

Here is the evidence of my cleaning effort....

After a through cleaning with Hoppe's #9, I reassembled the gun. To install/remove the bolt you need to line up the end of the bolt with a notch in the receiver

Then turn the end of the bolt 90 degrees so that it lines up with the locking lug on the bolt, you can now pull the bolt out the back of the receiver
 While taking these pictures, I noticed a gap between at the end of the bolt. The bolt end unscrews to dis-assemble the bolt/firing pin.

So I turned the bolt all the way in and there was no more gap........this was the problem! This is one of those AHA! moments when you realize the problem was so easy it makes you look stupid, but you don't care because the problem is fixed.

The bolt had gotten spun 360 degrees, enough to prevent the bolt from closing when a cartridge was in front of the bolt, but still allowing room when there was no cartridge.

I tested it with a couple of factory cartridges that I had on hand, no more issues. The gun chambered them just fine.

So I learned something new and finally cleaned the cosmoline out of my I need to take it shooting!