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.
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.
However, 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!