LTC Joel Johnston (Ret), US Army Ordnance Corps
No.1 Mk III Short Magazine Lee Enfield
The No.1 Mk III SMLE has always been one of my favorite rifles. I like the muzzle length wood and the Lawrence of Arabia classic, snubby look. One of the more solid SMLEs is the Australian Lithgow. I like it because it is Australian (Featured in Crocodile Dundee 2), well made, and one of the more recent production rifles vs a Brit rifle made back in 1915. Back in the mid 90s, Australian Lithgows were plentiful. I remember reading the ads in Shotgun News with hundreds of these rifles available in many states of condition; some in mint condition. At the time, I was stationed at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA. Luckily, the "land of fruits and nuts" allowed the bolt action rifles and I picked up a mint example at a local gun store. I couldn't resist shooting it, and some of my soldiers and I would go out to our makeshift range on the side of a mountain in the Mojave desert. My favorite target was a minivan size rock at about 1km away. You could see those 303 Brit bullets bouncing off the rock, even at that distance. Unfortunately, I sold that rifle some time ago and regretted it ever since. Today, you just don't see them around. There are many No.4s but the classic looking No.1 Mk IIIs are not around much, and when they are, they are either old as Moses or dogs with no bore.
Recently, I found a coveted 1941 Lithgow in a local pawn shop. The wood was soaked with oil and gouged. However, the bore looked very nice and I knew I had a project on my hands. I got the rifle for $250. It was matching bolt and receiver serial numbers, and arsenal rebuilt in 1947. Normally, refinishing a rifle is a collector no-no, but this is no wall rifle, it is a shooter. However, I am going to outline a technique that has minimum collector impact and maximum improvement.
The problem with most surplus rifles is oil in the wood. Soldier after soldier has wiped them down over the years with linseed oil and the wood becomes saturated. This makes the wood dark and when bumped, the oil holds down the wood and exaggerates the look of the damage. Easy Off Oven Cleaner is the answer. It takes out the oil from the wood and often raises the wood to hide past damage. This does not have the sanding effect, and if done properly, can really make your rifle look nice and original.
This is all you need. Easy Off, gloves, steel wool, a stain, and news paper. Easier than getting an auto refinance loan, that's for sure.
First, disassemble the rifle. As with all Enfields, you may or may not have a screw driver long enough to get the butt stock off. If you do not, leave it attached to the receiver, but try to minimize the Easy Off on the metal. It is corrosive to naked steel.
Now you need to spray the wood. Let it soak for 15 minutes. Reapply if it dries out as you go.
Wear gloves when you scrub the wood with the steel wool!
Scrub the wood and it will lighten up in color as the oil is lifted. Do not be concerned if the various pieces are different colors. Once you have everything scrubbed, wipe the wood down with a wet towel.
Put the pieces out in the sun to dry. This can take as little as 15 minutes. You will see the magic before your eyes!
Now dried, the wood is all the same color, but it is bleached out from the chemicals.
The last step is to stain the wood. I like this MiniWax. It "Penetrates, Stains, and Seals." I chose this color because I remember what my mint Lithgow looked like. It was maple colored and dry.
Before and After
Once severely gouged, now it is looking good!
Ready at the range.
My video of first firing.
Warning, this is politically incorrect (Like I give a crap)
Next Up: I am getting some decent ammo and a trigger job.
Disclaimer: Ol' Army Joel accepts no responsibility for accidents involving improper handling of firearms. Virtual Arms Room is no substitute for expertise and gun competence.