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Thread: Novice Buys First Springfield 1903: Is it safe to shoot?

  1. #1
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    Default Novice Buys First Springfield 1903: Is it safe to shoot?

    Just purchased my first Springfield 1903. (PIcs below.) I'm a novice to the problem with low ser number 1903's and am trying to find out if mine is safe to shoot. Details:

    Ser No is 235188
    Armory Stamps on left grip include: RA-P and what looks like FJA with RA-P overstamped
    Receiver appears to be Parkerized
    Bolt appears to be blued
    Stamps just south of front sight read "RIA 1-19"

    I have concluded that the ser no was assigned in 1906. That the rifle was assembled in 1919. That at some point in its life it received some mods at Remington.

    Can anyone please comment? Thanks very much in advance.

    v/r,
    LWW
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  2. #2
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    Rifle was originally produced in 1906. Rebarreled most likely during a rebuild with a Rock Island 1919 barrel. Most likely rebuilt during WW2 as well. The stock is a non-fingergroove "S" type produced during WW2. RA-P is a rebuild stamp for Raritan Arsenal. Stock probably produced at Remington (FJA). It's one of the low numbered Springfields. Whether safe to shoot, that's one of those great debates.

  3. #3
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    It is known that the single heat treat receivers are brittle, that they don't have near the safety margin of the double heat treat receivers, and that when they do fail they do so catastrophically, so it just comes down to whether you want to shoot it with that information. Some shoot them and some don't.

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    LeagleEagle is right about the great debate. There is a pretty good chance the rifle is perfectly safe to shoot. However, and this is a big however, if the receiver is inproperly heat treated it can fail. If it fails it will probably be due to a ruptured cartridge case head. Such failures cause the reciever to shatter in low number rifles spraying fragments like shrapnel in every direction.

    Enough of these older rifles failed, the officail number was about 60 and the Army was concerned enough that the rifles were ordered rifles withdrawn from service at one point though many of the rifles were re issued in World War II because the need for rifles was felt to override the risk.

    There are a good many folks who do indeed shoot low number guns with no ill effect. I personally wouldn't shoot it because there are too many hugh number rifles out there and I always was nervous about issues like this one.

  5. #5
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    According to the article by Joseph Lyons (http://m1903.com/03rcvrfail/) some of the failures were atributed to ammo.

    Any thoughts re: firing new ammo, or if perhaps firing lighter projectiles (say 125gr) to reduce chamber pressure?

    I agree that firing an unsafe weapon is not a good idea.

    Thanks.

    v/r,
    LWW

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by LWW View Post
    According to the article by Joseph Lyons (http://m1903.com/03rcvrfail/) some of the failures were atributed to ammo.

    Any thoughts re: firing new ammo, or if perhaps firing lighter projectiles (say 125gr) to reduce chamber pressure?

    I agree that firing an unsafe weapon is not a good idea.

    Thanks.

    v/r,
    LWW
    The biggest problem was ruptured case heads. If youre rifle has one of the "cooked" recievers and you have a case head failure it won't matter what kind of ammunition you use.

    If your rifle is not one of the ones with a bad reciever, and if you never have a case let go you will probably be ok. I personally consider it a "crap shoot" in which the odds are in your favor but in which should anything ever go wrong you could have a really bad day and so could anyone on either side of you. Just my devalued $.02

  7. #7
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    Thanks very much to all. Especially useful information!

    v/r,
    LWW

  8. #8
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    no debate at all... per the the Gov, when they were sold as surplus.
    single heat treat recievers are not safe to fire..
    however...
    many collectors and shooters shoot the low numbered rifles. myself included.. i dont not recomend anyone ever do so..ever.
    but, if you do, use modern factory ammo. such as the Remington 30-06 factory loads, dont use +P hunting loads, wear safety glasses, ear muffs, and leather gloves.
    make sure the rifle is in good mechanical shape, clean, clear bore, safe DHT bolt, headspace ect.
    dont shoot handloads, or older military ball ammo in a SHT.. better safe then sorry.
    the issue with SHT recievers is how they handle a failure.
    if it aint broke...fix it till it finally is.

  9. #9
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    This debate will rage forever. I have read all I can about it and have made my choice, but cannot recommend anyone else do the same.

    My rifle is very similar to yours, also made in 1906 and rebarreled in WW1. One thing that no one else has pointed out is that it appears that you have a "straight-handle" bolt as does mine. These early bolts are also suspected as being dangerous. So, like me, you have a doubly dangerous rifle.

    My rifle headspaces very tight (very important me thinks) and I fire it using light cast loads so my pressure is low to begin with. I necksize my brass and inspect very carefully. Even taking these precautions there is still the slight chance that I will experience a cartridge failure leading to a catastrophic receiver failure. The way I see it, I take a much greater risk each time I climb in my car.

    I have a high number (safe) 03 that I also fire, but my low number just is nicer to me and I love the old-timey script on the receiver. Do not do as I do, read up on it and make your own decision.

    Pretty sure you can get a front sight blade from Springfield Sporters.

    daveboy

  10. #10
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    Two me there are two basic problems: the metullurgy of the era and you cannot non destructively sort these things out.


    The low numbered receivers from SA range from 1 to 800,000. I do not remember the RIA range. They were made of a low carbon Manganese steel later called WD 1325. If you examine the material properties of the stuff, it is very low grade. Material properties of the stuff in an annealed state are : Tensile Strength Lbs per square inch: 75,000 lbs, Yield; 50,000 lbs. The steel used in these receivers is only somewhat better than what is used for rebar today. Today, it would be hard to justify using such a cheap, inferior grade of steel on something that was so complex, and was so expensive to manufacture. In fact, in time, SA used alloy steels, the so called Nickel steel receivers.

    Why did they use plain carbon steel?. It was state of the art in 1903 and they were familiar with it. Remember that Nickel Steel was high tech for the era. They were just at the start of the development of steel technology. They were just coming up with standardized tests, material property comparisons, etc. Remember the material tests on hull samples from the Titanic? The metal was brittle at 20 degrees. The concept of a Charpy impact test was not around in 1912. The materials of that age were greatly inferior to the same steel made today. Or even 1940. Current capabilities to process and inspect is so much better. In 1898 SA was still flame hardening Krag bolts. Sophisticated steels and standardized steel tests, such as shock tests, were things in the future.

    But this is true for all WWI era weapons. The machine work may be fantastic, but below the surface, it is slag and impurties. Shooting those things are a risk. I have even heard reports, but no detail, about double heat treat receivers breaking. One guy had a data base with 25+ double heat treat receiver failures. And I would not doubt it, because carbon steel is erratic in hardening behavior. Never mind the process controls. It seems around 1930 that steel technology and industry practices became mature enough to have confidence in the quality of the end product.

    I am unaware of an inspection technique to distinguish between good low number receivers from bad ones, and certainly the Army was unable to do it, because it became Army Practice to scrap low number receivers during rebuild. But since there were almost 1,000,000 of these receivers built, they stayed in service until scrapped in a rebuild program. The Marine Corp, being the ugly step child of the Navy, and still underfunded to this day, kept their low number receivers in service to WWII. I guess it was cheaper to replace Marines than rifles! I believe you can identify low number receivers used by the Marine Corp by a drilled hole on the left side of the receiver. This could only have been done as part of a rebuild program, as this hole was only incorporated during late production, in the 1930’s.

    So the bottom line is, yours is more likely to be a good receiver as it has been through a rebuild program. But shooting it entails more risk than a later receiver.

    Flip a coin.

    This is an interesting blast from the past:

    http://www.fulton-armory.com/LNSpringfieldLowRes.pdf

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