Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Making Over a SMLE Sporter, Part 2

At some point, probably in the 1950's or '60's when  surplus SMLE's were widely available and cheap (I can remember in the 60's seeing barrels of them in Warshall's Sporting Goods in downtown Seattle for about $35 apiece), someone purchased this SMLE made by BSA in 1916 and converted it into a sporter.  Although most owners of SMLE's simply cut the service stock down, this person took two unusual steps: first, he discarded the two piece military stock and handguard and fit the barreled action, magazine, and trigger guard into a Fajen two piece sporter stock.  That had the obligatory white spacers at butt and grip together with a Monte Carlo comb.  Second, he removed the bridge for charging the rifle, giving a cleaner top line to the rifle, but leaving a large crescent cutout on the left side of the receiver.

I bought the rifle sight unseen from the auction GunBroker.com in May 2009 for $115 (probably a bit under the '60's price of $35, correcting for inflation).  I thought that it was an excellent candidate for an inexpensive make-over into a British-styled light rifle. Here is an example of what I was thinking of, this one with a flush magazine.

My aging eyesight dictated that I'd have to mount a peep sight instead of the open express sights on the example above. 

I cut off the Monte Carlo comb and used a rasp to reduce the cheek piece, reshaping it into the traditional pancake style with a sharply defined line.  Looking at several illustrations from old catalogs, I noticed that the English typically ended the forward edge of the cheek piece slightly to the rear of an imaginary line extended up from the rear of the grip, so I followed suit. 

I also moved the nose of the comb back and reshaped the grip, slimming it and smoothing out its arc.  Not having any buffalo horn at hand, I capped the grip with ebony.

The pitch of the butt was, well, unusual, so I changed the angle of the butt to the comb line to 90 degrees.  I had on hand an old Winchester red pad, so I sanded off the brand name and mounted it.  It looked quite like a traditional Silvers pad.  I gave the butt some cast off, rasping away at the cheek piece until the sights were on target when I mounted the rifle quickly.

Altering the fore end was comparatively straightforward.  I attached an ebony tip with dowels and epoxy and then shaped it into the shallow curve typical of English sporting rifles.  I slimmed the sides of the fore end considerably.  I cut off the two hollow studs in front of the magazine, originally intended to secure the detachable canvas breech cover, filed the metal smooth, and cold blued it.

I then took the gun to Fred Cornell (570 888-9236) of Sayre, PA, who was able to machine a fill-in for the charging bridge cavity and then soldered it in place and cold blued it.  He removed the rear sight, filing down the screw that secured it to the barrel until it was flush.

Fred soldered on a Williams ramp front sight and drilled, tapped, and mounted a Williams FP aperture sight.  The one negative of this sight is that unlike a Lyman, the sight bar can't be easily withdrawn.  If I were to do this over again, I'd search out an older Lyman with its quick release.

I wanted to mount the old-fashioned rings for a sling, but I couldn't find a source for them.  Instead, I ordered swivels and a sling from NECG, and Fred soldered on the front swivel in a typical English position.  Similarly, I placed the rear swivel closer to the grip than we're accustomed to.

Refinishing the rifle was straightforward.  The Fajen stock was black walnut with a somewhat greenish cast, so to kill the green I added red mahogany aniline dye to extra dark walnut dye in 50-50 proportions.  I then rubbed in two coats of alkanet oil, rubbing each down with 0000 steel wool after it had dried.  Two coats of satin polyurethane varnish followed as a sealer, again rubbing each coat down with steel wool.  I then top coated with Tru-Oil with a slight amount of alkanet oil added to it.

For checkering, I used a simple V pattern of 18 lines per inch on the grip and the fore end. The checkering on the fore end wraps around.

At some point, I'd like to have the magazine shortened so it only holds five rounds.  It would still protrude, but not look quite so military.  As of now, the rifle with sling weighs seven and a half pounds, handles like a dream, and is a delight to hunt with.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Making Over a SMLE Mark III* Sporter in .303 British

SMLE stands for Short Magazine, Lee Enfield; less formally, troops called it the "Smellie."  The Mark I was adopted in 1902 as the British service rifle following their decidedly unpleasant experiences fighting the Boers, many of whom were using charger-fed 7x57 Mausers, in what we now call South Africa.

It is "Short" because its barrel was shorter and therefore less cumbersome than its predecessors, the Lee-Metford of 1888 and the Lee-Enfield of 1895.  The "Magazine" denotes that it could be loaded with two five-round chargers, so it held five more rounds than the Mauser and was much faster to reload than the older Lee-Metfords and Lee-Enfields (their magazines held eight and ten rounds, respectively, but like the US's Krag, the rounds had to be loaded one at a time).

"Lee" commemorates Richard Paris Lee, the Scottish-born American who invented this box magazine system, while "Enfield"  refers not to the armory located at Enfield Lock but to the system of rifling with deeper grooves than those used in the Medford system.

With me so far?  We've almost finished!  The * following the Mark III indicates an official modification of the model pattern, but not one so sweeping as to require a different mark, as in, say, the Mark IV used by the British in WW II (the Australians stayed with the Mark III).  The SMLE Mark II's were updated Mark I's; the Mark III was adopted in 1907.  The Mark III*, adopted on January 2, 1916, did away with the long-range volley sight and the cut-off for the magazine. In May 1926, Great Britain began a different system of nomenclature:  the Mark III* became the Rifle No. 1, Mark III*.  If you can keep this straight, you're a better person than I am.

All of these models plus the later Mark IV and Mark V fired the .303 British, a rimmed cartridge introduced with the Lee-Metford in 1888.  It was at first loaded with black powder for about 1850 fps, then with smokeless cordite for about 1950 fps, both with a 215 grain round-nosed bullet.  In November 1910, the S. A. Ball Cartridge Mark VII became the standard, a smokeless round with a 174 grain spritzer developing about 2450 fps.

In the next post, I'll discuss how I made over a sporterized Mark III* SMLE.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"The Great Day That Dawns": The Source for a Kitlinguharmiut Song and My Redaction

Judging from the number of quotations on the web, this song from the Kitlinguharmiut or "Copper" Eskimo people (they made copper tools) has had a remarkably widespread and pervasive influence.  The US Department of Health has even used part of its concluding lines as the title for a handbook on suicide prevention:  To Live To See The Great Day That Dawns . . . Preventing Suicide by American Indian and Alaska Native Youth and Young Adults.  I read this song for the first time about ten years or so ago, when I was researching the hunting cultures of Northern Indians and of the Inuit, and it made a great impression on me.

I copied the English translation of the song and subsequently rewrote it.  I wasn't concerned about altering the integrity of the original:  after all, that was already at two removes.  This song first had been translated into Danish and that version then had been translated into English.  If you want to be strict about it, every translation is a betrayal, an idea expressed more succinctly in Italian:  traduttore, traditore.

Recently, as part of an extended conversation, I wrote down my redacted version and sent it to a group of friends that included Steve Bodio, who wanted to post it on his blog Querencia.  He asked me where it was from, and I told him that I'd reworked it but had lost my note on its source.  After Steve posted it, "Anonymous" then commented that a longer version could be found in Nick Jans's excellent The Last Light Breaking.  That is correct, on both counts:  that book gives the source, and that book is indeed excellent.  Thanks to Jans's citation of The Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24 by Knud Rasmussen, I was able to run down the original English translation.  It can be found in Rasmussen's  Intellectual Culture of the Hudson Bay Eskimos (Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition 1921-24.  Trans. W. E. Calvert. [Copenhagen:  Gyldendalkse Boghandel, Nordisk Forlag, 1932]), IX, 53.  I believe that this is the first time it has been quoted on the web with a full citation. 

It goes as follows:

     And I think over again
     My small adventures
     When from a shore wind I drifted out
     In my kayak
     And thought I was in danger.
     My fears,
     Those small ones
     That I thought so big,
     For all the vital things
     I had to get and to reach.
     __ __ __

     And yet, there is only
     One great thing,
     The only thing:
     To live to see in huts and on journeys
     The great day that dawns,
     And the light that fills the world.
     __ __ __

I felt by shortening the song and dividing it into three quatrains it could be more expressive and, perhaps, even more emphatic.  I was pleased enough with my version that I decided to inscribe on a canoe paddle I'd made.  That might have been a good idea, but my execution wasn't.   Although my handwriting was legible, the design didn't look right on the blade of the paddle, so I erased it.  Apparently, I then tossed the notes I had made on the source of this song, keeping only the version I had reworked on my computer.

Now that the source is clear, here is my reworked version:

     Kitlinguharmiut Song

     As I recall once more
     The time I drifted out
     On an off-shore wind
     And believed I was in danger,

     I recall again my fears,
     Those small ones I thought so big,
     For all the things I hadn't yet
     Accomplished in my life.
     Yet there is only one big thing
     That truly matters:  to live
     To see the great day that dawns
     And the light that fills the world.