Collecting M1 Garands–Advice from Our G&G Expert!

with Paul Smeltzer
Guns and Gunsmiths Contributor

The M1 Garand is probably the most iconic US military rifle known. Called “the greatest battle implement ever devised” by General George S. Patton, it was the standard service issue rifle in World War II, Korea, and to a lesser extent in Vietnam. Every serious collector should have one, but finding a safe, accurate and reliable gun can be difficult.

Guns and Gunsmiths contributing author Paul Smeltzer, owner of Athens Gunsmith Service in Athens Louisiana, has been collecting, rebuilding and restoring M1s for many years. G&G recently had a chance to talk to him about these guns and how to go about adding one to a collection.

G&G–I’m speaking with Paul Smeltzer from Athens Gunsmith Service in Athens Louisiana. Hi Paul, how are you today?

PS–I am great–it’s a wonderful day in Paradise.

Paul Smeltzer, Athens Gunsmithing Service

Paul Smeltzer, Athens Gunsmith Service

G&G–That’s great to hear. First of all I want to thank you for the articles you have written for Guns and Gunsmiths on restoration and we look forward to seeing more of those in the future. But right now, what I would like to do is talk to you about people who are interested in collecting specific types of guns, especially military rifles and certainly one of the most popular is the M1 Garand.

So Paul, you have a lot of experience in this area, tell us what you think are the most collectible guns in the M1 line and what sort of things people should look for.

PS–Probably more so than any, collectors want to look at those rifles that are either WW2 guns or Korean War guns and I guess by far the most popular are those that date to WW2. When you look at the WW2 guns, the collectability factor is higher because of what the war meant. Also because of the numbers that were built and used in WW2 and the fact that there were only 2 manufacturers then, Springfield and Winchester. Of the 2 Winchester made the smaller amount and therefore Winchester rifles will have a considerably higher dollar value to the collector than the Springfield model.

If you want to be serious about collecting, not just WW2 guns but any period, the wonderful thing about Garands is they are so well documented. There may have been production changes in trigger guards or handguards or op rods or any of the various parts, but most of them are marked and they kept very good records. So we have the serial numbers that are stamped and we know what month and year they were manufactured, at least in WW2, and you can quite literally spend the time and research it and find out what it looked like and the parts that it had for September of 1943 for example, and then build one up accordingly with the necessary lot and part numbers for that September 1943 rifle. The really high end collectors are going to want a rifle with the right stock, with the right cartouches, inspection marks, barrel and so forth.

G&G–What about accessories Paul. Is that something that is considered  a good part of a collection?

PS–Some rifles seem to beg wanting all the accoutrement, but from my experience those that collect Garands, a bayonet or a sling is about as far as it goes. In the same way that you want the correct piece for the right gun, most of the leather slings used in WW2 were marked, but if you have one from back then it’s probably not in real good shape. They did have a web sling that was used and those are also available.

G&G–Are there people out there making reproduction slings?

PS–Yes. There’s a much greater chance that you are going to run into a reproduction sling, especially if it’s leather. The reproductions are generally very good, so if you wanted a sling like the originals, the reproductions certainly aren’t something to dismiss.

Bayonets are a little easier to get–we made quite a lot of them. They came from several different cutlery manufacturers, some more popular than others, but on the whole prices are very similar between one manufacturer and another.

G&G–If someone was looking to buy an M1 Garand, is there anything in particular they should look for as far as condition or areas of wear or failure?

PS–It kind of hard unless you have the opportunity to take it apart or test fire it, to stand at a gun show with a gun in your hand and know whether or not you’ve got something useful. There are a couple of things that are easy to do and you should consider.

One would be to carry a muzzle gauge and a chamber gauge–if you are serious about collecting you would want to get both of these. The muzzle gauge will give you an indication of bore wear and the chamber gauge for chamber wear. If you don’t have those, and they can get expensive, you could at least carry a .30 caliber bullet and put it into the muzzle end. If it really starts swallowing up the bullet, that would be something to be concerned about.

PaulGarand2However, I caution people not to get too excited about a gun that shows muzzle wear and think that it is all shot out. Back in the day, the cleaning kits were sometimes just a link chain that attached to a pull-through cleaning tip, and the muzzle would get beat up from these. So you would get muzzle wear on the tip, but that doesn’t mean the entire barrel land and grooves are messed up. You are more concerned with the chamber gauge–that will give you a better indication of how worn the gun is.

Those things aside, there are a couple of things I would tell people to not assume something is wrong with the gun. I get people who come to me and say “This op rod is bent. Can we get a replacement for it?” And I tell them that the op rod is supposed to be bent–don’t try to straighten it out.

The same thing with front hand guards. A lot of people say to me “I’m thinking about buying this gun, but look how loose this is.” Again, that’s supposed to move. In fact if it was really tight I would be concerned.

G&G–Fantastic advice Paul, and I’m sure this will help someone in their search for a gun for their collection. If someone hasn’t bought an M1 before but is looking to buy their first, what is a good place for them to look?

PS–That’s a good question. The problem with just going to your local gun show or pawn shop is that these guns all have a serious amount of age to them, so you need to be very cautious. Those people may or may not have any idea of what’s up with that gun. I’ve seen people buy a Garand for around $600, which is a great deal, then it shows up in my shop and I have to re-barrel it, and change out the hammer and throw some other parts at it, and that $600 gun ends up a $1000 gun just like that.

When I set up at a show, some people know that I am “that guy” so they will ask someone selling a Garand at the other end of the room if I can take it and use my headspace gauges, test bolts and stuff and I can go through it pretty quickly, and it’s amazing the number of those guns that have some serious issues with them. So be cautious and if you can, take someone with you who has a lot of experience.

Other than that it’s hard to give that one spot to get them. Of course I sell them–you can give me a call. I build them from the receiver up, so I know that I’m making a good quality gun that will last a long time. There are others like me out there that are doing restorations and rebuilds–you just have to go on the internet and search those folks out. There is no big box place you can go to and even CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program–ed) which has traditionally been the go-to place I believe are going to be out of Garands in the next 3 to 5 years. They’re already out of carbines and soon that will leave the collector market in gun shows and pawn shops.

G&G–Thanks Paul for all this great advise, and I know where to go now, when I want to an M1–I’ll be giving you a call!


10 Responses to Collecting M1 Garands–Advice from Our G&G Expert!

  1. Gary,
    About 10 years ago I purchased an M1 Garand from CMP. The S/N indicates it was built in 1943. From what I observed it has a new barrel installed in 1965 and the stock was replaced. All the internal internal parts are stamped with SA drawing numbers. The only thing I did was degrease the wood parts and refinish with tongue oil. I used Ovenoff, and do not recommend that process as it left the wood with lots of “feathers” and required a great deal of sanding to remove.

    In 2012 I purchased a 1955/56 HRA M1 Grand from CMP at a Arizona match. From what I understand this particular gun has only been proof fired. It remains in the condition I received I received it; entombed in cosmoline.

    My question: There are at least a half-dozen recommended procedures for degreasing the wood parts. Which one do you recommend?

    • Regarding cosmoline extraction Paul’s reply below says: “You can also lay the rifle out on some newspaper in the sun on a hot day.”

      I have done something similar to that once with an SKS stock. On a very warm, sunny summer’s day I securely propped the buttstock upwards and rested the tip of the for-end downwards (onto the patio deck) on top of several thicknesses of newspaper to catch/absorb any cosmoline run-off.

      I maintained the action/barrel channel in direct line with the sunlight. Every 20-30 minutes I would check for cosmoline extraction, removed any that had lifted/seeped from the stock by wiping with a shop rag. I used a shop rag to also wipe the outside of the stock and anywhere else that cosmoline seeped from. Then I shift the stock so the action/barrel channel maintained in direct sunlight. Cosmoline did make it’s way downwards and onto the newspaper.

      Being curious I used an infrared laser temperature gauge to see how warm the stock was from the direct sunlight – it gauged 128 degrees Fahrenheit in which proved effective enough to extract the cosmoline. A little warmer than 128 may have expedited the process.

      The process took a few hours (3+) to lift a good portion of the cosmoline from the stock. Doesn’t get it all out like squeaky clean but it gets a good portion out, then one can follow up with a simple green cleaning like Paul mentions.

      Great article Paul and Gary – brings back the memory of the SKS stock. Thanks for sharing! Cheers.

  2. There are lots of ways to get it done, my favorite is to use a heat, or blow dryer. Turn the barrel down onto newpaper and move the heat over the rifle. In a little while the cosmoline will liqify and start running downhill. After most of it is off dissemble and clean as Bob and Ken have discribed in various videos, I use simple green. You can also lay the rifle out on some newspaper in the sun on a hot day.

  3. I purchased my first M1 in 1986(?). A rifle re-imported from Korea, it cost me $280.00, and there were many others in the store (a rack full!).
    A few years later, bad times befell, and I had to pay rent one month by handing it over to the landlord. Some years later, I offered the gentleman $5-600 to buy it back, he said there was no way!
    Recently, I purchased a CMP “Special Grade” M1 Garand. It is essentially a “factory new,” 60-70 year old rifle.
    I can almost see the “Serious” collectors out there turning up their noses, but I’m pretty sure this one will not come apart in my face at the range one day. It is a SHOOTER.
    And – I’m seriously considering having it thrown in the box with me at the end.

  4. EXCELLENT article. Excellent questions and excellent answers. I have a garand built on a commercial receiver with GI parts from the 50’s. I love the thing but have been debating acquiring a WWII rifle. I may just have to give Paul a call!

  5. When removing cosmoline, one should consider that having it thinned by any combination of heat, sunlight, solvents or water-based degreasers ALSO makes it more readily absorbed into the wood. So these approaches are fine for the metal parts, but what about getting the most off/out of the wood? There is a little benefit to using whiting (finely powdered limestone or calcium carbonate) to wick it into the powder. Not fast nor terribly effective. I really don’t know the answers to this.

    I have determined that, if one wants to do a nice finish, soaking for a while in acetone, or MEK will get a lot out, even as some drives deeper into the wood. But the surface will dry out and take on finishes very readily. How long to soak? days to even weeks, with frequent solvent transfusions. (It will evaporate pretty fast, leaving behind a concentrated solution of cosmoline in dirty solvent. Count on draining and discarding the first 2-4 baths. You’ll see when the bulk has been removed as the solvent will not darken nearly so quickly.

    Anyway, when you’ve soaked it enough, you hang it out to dry for a few days. Check to see if any oily places show up, esp if you dry in sunlight. Cracks you can’t see any other way will show up during this time.

    Works for me. Maybe someone else has more info, eh?

  6. I was wondering if you happened to know Mr. MACOY of Santee Ca.
    He built up a nice one for myself several years ago.

  7. Don McCoy passed away several years. He trained Mark Heckman to continue his style of Accurizing M1’s. Mark also lives in Santee. Side note: Don was a Pearl Harbor Survivor.

  8. HOW MANY DIFFERENT COMPANIES ACTUALLY PRODUCED THE M1 GARAND FOR THE U.S. MILITARY DURING WW II AND KOREA WAR ?

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