April 8, 2021
By Ryan F. Sullivan
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“Does it work?” This is a very popular question we receive often—especially during the approach to auction time—and the M1 Garand is a very frequent subject of this inquiry.
While not the first semi-automatic battle rifle to be issued to the military (the Mexican/Swiss Mondragon and the French RSC 1917 both made it into action in the 1910s), the Garand is one of the most famous and most enduring, being the signature American rifle of the Second World War. In the field, the semi-automatic firepower of the Garand stood out against the more common bolt action arms on the opposite side of the conflict, like the German 98k, Italian Carcano, and the Japanese Arisaka, forcing the opposition to play catch up with varying degrees of success.
In today’s market, the Garand sees a very heavy overlap in interest between collectors and shooters; the wide variations and the deep connection to American and world history brings in the former, and being an extremely well built and designed high power rifle brings the latter to the table.
A full assessment of a Garand for shooting purposes involves a number of tools that are a bit niche, in particular a set of gauges for determining erosion and headspacing. The erosion gauges, one each for the throat and the muzzle, determine how much rifling has been lost at each of those spots, which naturally tend to wear out at a faster rate than the rest of the bore (assuming proper maintenance; if someone shoots it all day and then throws it in a closet for the winter then all bets are off).
The readings themselves are very straightforward (the gauge tells you how many thousandths of an inch the rifling is off relative to the ideal), but interpreting those results is a personal matter, based on your preferences and what you plan on doing with the rifle. The headspace gauges are for ensuring that the chamber length is proper and the bolt is in the correct position to chamber and fire a round, and consist of a “go” gauge and a “no-go” gauge; if everything is in order, the bolt (possibly sans extractor, depending on the gauge design) should close on the “go” gauge and fail to close on the “no-go” gauge.
In terms of a basic examination, as always we begin at the beginning; checking the weapon to be unloaded. On a Garand the procedure is simple, you grab the operating rod handle, and pull it back until the bolt fully retracts and locks, which exposes the internal magazine and the chamber in one move. Lock back should be automatic on an empty magazine, and if the bolt fails to lock back, that's your first clue that something has gone awry.
A basic diagram of an M1 Garand rifle.
If the bolt locks back, the receiver makes a distinctive “PING” sound, and you get smacked in the face with a piece of spring steel, then it was unloaded but someone left a clip inside; while not particularly dangerous, it is not very considerate.
If you do find the Garand loaded, clearing the weapon is a bit of a different procedure than other weapons. Not difficult, just odd if you're accustomed to detachable magazines. Like other weapons designed to use “en bloc” style clips, the Garand accepts a full load of ammunition in a contained clip, which is then removed when the weapon is empty. Multiple European designs used similar clips for speed loading, with a port on the bottom for the clip to pass through when the last round was chambered. When John Garand designed his rifle, he took a different approach, eliminating the port and removing a potential ingress point for dirt and debris.
Instead of dropping the empty clip out of the bottom, the M1 uses a spring-loaded mechanism to launch it out of the top after the final round is discharged and the slide locks back. This ejection method is the source of the distinctive “ping” the Garand creates, one of the signatures of the design.
To get a loaded clip out of a Garand, there is a small catch on the left side of the receiver that needs depressed which will release the clip. The spring mechanism is designed to eject an empty clip, not a full one, so once the catch is disengaged the clip will need removed by hand.
Once the weapon is clear and the bolt locked back, the next step is letting the bolt back down. Now, on paper, what should happen is this: you depress the follower with your thumb, pull back the handle to disengage the bolt catch, and then ease the bolt back down.
Of course, the whole reason we're doing this is because we don't know if everything is working properly, in which case it can look more like this: depress the follower with your thumb, have the bolt instantly slip off the catch and crush your thumb between the bolt face and the chamber, curse loudly, pull back the op rod handle so you can get your thumb out, curse more, check for bleeding, and then set the rifle down so you can go find some ice.
Failures of this nature are common enough to merit a nickname, “Garand Thumb.” The bolt catch is a very common part to get slightly out of whack on a Garand, so it's best practice to make sure you have the op rod handle directly under control when placing any of your fingers inside an open Garand action, especially if you're going to interact with the follower.
The disconnector mechanism in the Garand can be tested without dismantling the rifle, if needed. The procedure is easiest to do with your left hand in position to manipulate the trigger, the butt braced against your hip, and your right hand on the op rod, which positions the rifle so you can view the hammer through a small gap on the right side.
With the bolt closed and chamber empty, pull the trigger and observe the hammer drop; it should snap right to position and be clearly visible. Then, with the trigger depressed pull the op rod handle back about half to two-thirds of the way back, which should be enough to re-cock the hammer with an audible click, but not enough to engage the bolt catch. With the trigger still pulled, ease the bolt back down. If the disconnector is in good order, the hammer should still be retained in the cocked position, and make another audible click when the trigger is released.
Other areas that should be checked on the exterior are the gas cylinder, the section of the op rod visible through the underside of the wood, and the stress points in the wood around the receiver, magazine, and butt plate.
Internally, there are a few points of particular interest which justify a takedown of the weapon. The procedure is fairly simple, though easiest to execute with a table or similar work surface, and can be easier if you have a ballpoint pen, thin dowel rod, or a similar small, non-marring tool.
When assembled, the receiver slots into the stock, and then is locked in place by interfacing with the trigger assembly, with the trigger guard pulling double duty as the takedown lever. Starting from an unloaded weapon, pull the trigger guard back slightly and then rotate it away from the stock, which unlocks the group from the receiver. Once this is done, the only things holding the weapon together are friction and gravity, so make sure you have a good grip on the Garand when you do this.
With the trigger guard out, the group can be pulled out of the bottom of the stock, and then the muzzle tipped down to hinge the receiver out of the stock. If the guard puts up a lot of resistance, the small tool comes into play, either slipped through the hole seen on the back of the earlier milled guards or between the trigger and the guard on later models for increased leverage. Additionally, it can be easier to manipulate the parts if the rifle is set down on a table, inverted to rest on the front sight and the rear sight wings. Once you have the weapon down to three groups (trigger housing, barreled receiver, buttstock), you have the majority of the working parts exposed for inspection.
Looking at the internals, there is one area in particular that demands attention; the operating rod. The Garand was a very good design virtually from the very beginning, but nothing comes off the drawing board perfect; even Browning needed to revisit his auto-pistol design a few times to go from the 1900 to the 1911. The early pattern operating rods were a common failure point for the Garand in operation, due to the presence of a squared-off 90 degree bend between the section of the rod that serves as the gas piston/spring housing and the section that interfaces with the bolt. This squared-off area served as a focal point for stress during firing, and would suffer cracking as a result, requiring a minor adjustment to the design. This modification, the “relief cut”, very effectively solved the problem, eliminating the stress point without requiring an extensive redesign, and can be found on the majority of M1 op rods, including all the post-war production.
While the receiver is exposed, one may as well look it over in a general sense for any abnormal wear or pitting, damage to the spring or the magazine hardware, or odd variations in the finish. Odd color variations, especially in the vicinity of the bolt raceways, could be a sign of a refinish or welded again. While the former is not a major problem for a shooter, the latter should be considered very, very carefully for any Garand not purchased purely for the parts or as a “wall hanger.” While it is possible to make a decent firearm this way, confirming the work is tricky, at best, and in the long run it’s less hassle to just stay away.
By following these steps, a proper understanding of the functionality and aesthetic of the M1 Garand rifle can be deduced to determine if any further restoration, maintenance, or cleaning is needed. However, every case is different and an inexperienced attempt to function check an M1 Garand rifle could result in serious bodily harm to yourself or others. As with handling any firearm, proceed with extreme caution.
Interested in function checking some of your other weapons like swords, 1911s, and Single Action Army revolvers? Check out some of my other articles detailing these subjects. Don't let your precious items be ruined by avoidable oversights.
If there are any question regarding these methods, purchasing a model, or selling one please contact Rock Island Auction Company. As always, for inquiries regarding consignment, registration, or future auctions, please contact Rock Island Auction Company.
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