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Thread: .303 British Case Separations - Causes and Cures

  1. #21
    Boolit Master Texas by God's Avatar
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    I'm throwing this out there to see if it sticks to the wall or falls.
    What about expanding the shoulder out to straight with a succession of dies (8mm,.35,375, 44) then reversing the process till close to what you need; then using soot to get the shoulder in the correct place. When they chamber with slight resistance, load&fire then neck size afterwards. Virgin brass to start and anneal beforehand. Of course this brass would probably only fit your rifle, but seems like the way for brass life. BTW I've always wanted a Savage WW2 Enfield- kind of a Hands across the Water thing......Best, Thomas.

  2. #22
    Boolit Master
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    I have two 303s. Brass is dedicated to each rifle. Some of my cases have been loaded over 15 times.

    My secret? Paper patched bullets in unsized brass.
    True, not for everyone, but the results speak for themselves.

  3. #23
    Quote Originally Posted by Traffer View Post
    Maybe you would like to know this:
    A guy gave me an Enfield 303 when I was 14. It had been traded in to a local sports store. I only shot it about 10 or 12 times. I think any one of those could have blown my head off. The cases were almost all ruptured at just above the head. People who knew guns said "too much head space" and warned me of the obvious danger. I did an experiment one day. I unscrewed the bolt head one full turn and tried to chamber a round. It chambered perfectly. I was more afraid to shoot it that way instead of looser because it seemed that those threads may not hold the pressure. (remember I was 14) So I shot it in a way that I had my head down behind a big chunk of wood when I shot. In case she would blow up. The shell came out without the rupture or huge bulge. I used it for deer hunting for a couple of years but maybe only shot it 2 or 3 more times. The last time I shot it a buddy was watching and said, "holy cow, did you see that?" "What," I replied. He said that there was a foot high flame come out of a hole on top of the chamber. Being concerned that someone else might have it blow up, I took it by the barrel and wrapped around a telephone pole. I have always been wary of the Enfields because of the obviously weak locking mechanism. It surprises me that they will hold the pressure even when they are in good shape.
    That begs the question how that flame got out. Something, brass or steel, must have been visibly ruptured.

    The Lee-Enfields are certainly weaker than most modern front-locking rifles, in the sense that permanent damage is easier to do. But it doesn't have a hollow receiver ring to be exploded by escaped gas. The person who has produced a drastic failure in a Lee-Enfield is more likely to be left cursing his luck with little or no damage to his person.

    Don't forget that gases are extremely elastic. Once released they can accelerate, even in that first fraction of an inch, to a much higher velocity than they would ever have had inside the barrel. Think of the spring you accidentally liberate from your ballpoint pen, which goes hurtling across the room. Gas a fraction of the bullet weight, at several times the velocity, can have at least as much energy.

    I don't have a note of the specific dimensions of the interchangeable bolt-heads, but I would be surprised if he wrong one could quite make up a complete revolution of that coarse bolt-head thread. Anyway the bolt-head under pressure is supposed to bear with its flat surface on the front of the bolt, not thread on thread. It seems likely that you had a rifle overstressed beyond its elastic limit by some previous abuse.

  4. #24
    Boolit Master Traffer's Avatar
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    It was a long time ago and I did not know much about guns at the time. But I seem to recall there was a hole drilled in the top of the chamber. Not the size of a de-mill hole but maybe 1/8" hole.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ballistics in Scotland View Post
    That begs the question how that flame got out. Something, brass or steel, must have been visibly ruptured.

    The Lee-Enfields are certainly weaker than most modern front-locking rifles, in the sense that permanent damage is easier to do. But it doesn't have a hollow receiver ring to be exploded by escaped gas. The person who has produced a drastic failure in a Lee-Enfield is more likely to be left cursing his luck with little or no damage to his person.

    Don't forget that gases are extremely elastic. Once released they can accelerate, even in that first fraction of an inch, to a much higher velocity than they would ever have had inside the barrel. Think of the spring you accidentally liberate from your ballpoint pen, which goes hurtling across the room. Gas a fraction of the bullet weight, at several times the velocity, can have at least as much energy.

    I don't have a note of the specific dimensions of the interchangeable bolt-heads, but I would be surprised if he wrong one could quite make up a complete revolution of that coarse bolt-head thread. Anyway the bolt-head under pressure is supposed to bear with its flat surface on the front of the bolt, not thread on thread. It seems likely that you had a rifle overstressed beyond its elastic limit by some previous abuse.
    AKA hans.pcguy

  5. #25
    Boolit Master Texas by God's Avatar
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    Traffer; I wish I'd been there that day to trade you a pocket knife for it before it got T- poled!
    Best, Thomas.

  6. #26
    Boolit Master Traffer's Avatar
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    Yes, I do regret smashing it. The one gun I wish I still had was a Winchester Model 1880. 1906 version. 22 short only. It was a carnival gun. Must have had a million rounds through it. But alas it got stolen.
    AKA hans.pcguy

  7. #27
    Boolit Master
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    When setting the headspace on a #4 not only is the length adjusted but the guide on bolt head should not turn past alignment with the guide on the bolt body more than 3/16 in. The threads should not take any load from firing.

    I try to get the headspace right if I can, if it was off I would use the O ring or something similar. The less damage done on the first firing keeps you ahead of the game. After that I use a Lee collet or partial size, I also made a larger mandrel for the collet die. That and staying away from max loads and of course having plenty of brass helps a lot. As much as I like the #4 Enfield I realize that they can be brass eaters.

    Thomas, I had a rather nice Savage but traded it for a mint 1950 Long Branch #4, wish I had kept it and bought the LB. They were going for about $125 at that time.

    Dave

  8. #28
    Boolit Master Traffer's Avatar
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    Just a thought. As I recall there is only one locking lug on an Enfield. Couldn't a person weld build the receiver and grind it to get the right head space?
    AKA hans.pcguy

  9. #29
    Boolit Master
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    Owned a SMLE for a short while, while in school. Had it rebarreled to 30-40 with a 1903 barrel, so headspace was not a problem. Sold it as soon as I got the stock refinished. Did not take the bolt head off, did not know about the different sizes at that time. Would it be possible to put a sleeve(of 4140 pre-hardened) between the bolt head and the bolt body to reduce the distance to the shoulder? That would reduce the case stretching on the first firing. It would do nothing for the chamber diameter being oversize but that does not damage the brass as much as blasting the shoulder ahead.

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Traffer View Post
    Just a thought. As I recall there is only one locking lug on an Enfield. Couldn't a person weld build the receiver and grind it to get the right head space?
    No, the rib on the right hand side and the lug engaging on a milled recess in the left side both have to be considered. I would rather silver solder a thin steel sheet to the front of the bolt-head and reharden, and extend the firing-pin if necessary.

    But we still have to ask ourselves why this was needed. It might be a legitimate piece of work if bolt heads have been substituted and the right one can't be found. But unexplained lengthening is likely to be due to overstraining of the action, which could suddenly get much worse. A rifle with headspace longer than the longest standard bolt head just might be a manufacturing fault, made in good steel in wartime conditions, and safely correctible as described. But I think we should assume that it probably isn't.

  11. #31
    Boolit Master taco650's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ulav8r View Post
    Owned a SMLE for a short while, while in school. Had it rebarreled to 30-40 with a 1903 barrel, so headspace was not a problem. Sold it as soon as I got the stock refinished. Did not take the bolt head off, did not know about the different sizes at that time. Would it be possible to put a sleeve(of 4140 pre-hardened) between the bolt head and the bolt body to reduce the distance to the shoulder? That would reduce the case stretching on the first firing. It would do nothing for the chamber diameter being oversize but that does not damage the brass as much as blasting the shoulder ahead.
    I made an attempt once to do something similar to what you are suggesting. I took a steel washer, drilled it out to the correct diameter to fit over the threads and reduced the thickness until the bolt head would screw onto the bolt in the correct orientation but it was still too thick and the bolt would not close. My goal was to fill the gap created when backing the bolt head off one turn. Didn't work so I just stick with neck sizing to save my brass. I'm also just shooting cast in it now as its more fun to have as a plinker.

  12. #32
    Quote Originally Posted by ulav8r View Post
    Owned a SMLE for a short while, while in school. Had it rebarreled to 30-40 with a 1903 barrel, so headspace was not a problem. Sold it as soon as I got the stock refinished. Did not take the bolt head off, did not know about the different sizes at that time. Would it be possible to put a sleeve(of 4140 pre-hardened) between the bolt head and the bolt body to reduce the distance to the shoulder? That would reduce the case stretching on the first firing. It would do nothing for the chamber diameter being oversize but that does not damage the brass as much as blasting the shoulder ahead.
    The bolt-head and the bolt body still have to be in the usual alignment. That means there are only two thicknesses of steel ring you could use. One would be very thin, to eliminate the slight overturn of the threads Beemer describes. (It is most often less than 3/16in.) The reduction of headspace would be very slight, and as the steel ring would be narrow, there is a good chance it would be extruded. The other thickness would be a complete thread, i.e. the bolt head screwed one complete turn forward as Traffer described. I can't think of a good reason why a rifle would need that - only the very bad one of previous damage.

    Besides, they successfully make much greater changes in shoulder location and diameter with the Ackley Improved rounds. It isn't the expansion or stretching that does the harm. It is the alternation of reduction and expansion.

  13. #33
    Boolit Master rondog's Avatar
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    Time to sell my Enfields, I have no patience for such nonsense.

  14. #34
    Boolit Master taco650's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rondog View Post
    Time to sell my Enfields, I have no patience for such nonsense.
    Well... a lot of us who are casters enjoy it because we like to tinker with things and see what changes can be made... like bullets. I feel the same about my #1 Mk3. Its a beater, missing wood, miss-matched serial numbers, etc. but the bore is shiny and rifling sharp so I'm going to keep it as a sporter/shooter and be very happy. Will it ever be as nice and accurate as my Ruger M-77 30-06? No but just as much fun but in a different way. So I'm guessing all this isn't "nonsense" to me. YMMV.

  15. #35
    I still remember a rifle club in the 70s, where a group of clean-limbed young experts with state of the art equipment and shooting jackets watched a scruffy old man in a crumpled raincoat and thick pebble glasses make a ten-shot group the size of a small dinner plate at 200 yards with a nicely kept but totally unmodified open-sighted No1. They made some unflattering comments. So he called up the targets, asked them to keep the target up between shots (which was against the range rules), and did exactly the same again in fourteen seconds. A funny little fishtailing wind had got up since they had shot, too.

    Back in the canteen afterwards, the first place where he permitted himself a slight change of facial expression, one of us suggested in jest that the army had forgotten to take the rifle from him in 1919, and for a moment he looked like a puppy that has desecrated your carpet. I bet it was true. You can't build that with carbon fibre and write "tactical" on it.

  16. #36
    Boolit Master
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    Ballistics in Scotland, that scruffy old gentleman would be the one you wanted beside you in the trenches.

    The first SMLE I owned was a Lithgow of the WW2 era. It was in decent shape with a good but not perfect bore and the headspace was correct, I did invest in a set of gages. I also bought the little NRA book British Enfield Rifles, it goes into great detail about bedding the Enfield. I spent a lot of time scraping, adjusting, assembling and firing. I started with surplus and finished with reloads, the rifle that wouldn't stay on a paper plate at 100 yds. would put 5 shots in 1 1/2 in. The rifle was fitted with a scope and eventually traded to my brother, he hunted with it for several years. I prefer #4 but have yet to find one that does much better than that old No1.

    Speaking of The Great War, the family has the helmet my Great Uncle wore while in France. He was in the 1st Army, the 16th I believe, you can still make out the 1 on the helmet. I heard him tell about holding off the Huns from behind a rock wall at Cantignay in France, he said that they burnt out 3-4 barrels on their machinegun that day. He was a crusty old character.

    Dave
    Last edited by beemer; 03-07-2017 at 09:39 PM.

  17. #37
    Boolit Master taco650's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ballistics in Scotland View Post
    I still remember a rifle club in the 70s, where a group of clean-limbed young experts with state of the art equipment and shooting jackets watched a scruffy old man in a crumpled raincoat and thick pebble glasses make a ten-shot group the size of a small dinner plate at 200 yards with a nicely kept but totally unmodified open-sighted No1. They made some unflattering comments. So he called up the targets, asked them to keep the target up between shots (which was against the range rules), and did exactly the same again in fourteen seconds. A funny little fishtailing wind had got up since they had shot, too.

    Back in the canteen afterwards, the first place where he permitted himself a slight change of facial expression, one of us suggested in jest that the army had forgotten to take the rifle from him in 1919, and for a moment he looked like a puppy that has desecrated your carpet. I bet it was true. You can't build that with carbon fibre and write "tactical" on it.

    Nope, you can't. Bet you and your buddies learned something that day didn't you? Those "old men" have put me to shame a few times too. Only problem is, "I are one now" as they say around these parts. Wish I could shoot like that old man you mention.

  18. #38
    Quote Originally Posted by beemer View Post
    Ballistics in Scotland, that scruffy old gentleman would be the one you wanted beside you in the trenches.

    The first SMLE I owned was a Lithgow of the WW2 era. It was in decent shape with a good but not perfect bore and the headspace was correct, I did invest in a set of gages. I also bought the little NRA book British Enfield Rifles, it goes into great detail about bedding the Enfield. I spent a lot of time scraping, adjusting, assembling and firing. I started with surplus and finished with reloads, the rifle that wouldn't stay on a paper plate at 100 yds. would put 5 shots in 1 1/2 in. The rifle was fitted with a scope and eventually traded to my brother, he hunted with it for several years. I prefer #4 but have yet to find one that does much better than that old No1.

    Speaking of The Great War, the family has the helmet my Great Uncle wore while in France. He was in the 1st Army, the 16th I believe, you can still make out the 1 on the helmet. I heard him tell about holding off the Huns from behind a rock wall at Cantignay in France, he said that they burnt out 3-4 barrels on their machinegun that day. He was a crusty old character.

    Dave
    There is another experience they can't shove across a gunshop counter in a box. The Lee-Enfield after that amount of bedding work can easily go back again through wet, knocking about etc. Some of the No4T sniper rifle cases had a label saying that the sniper was entitled to refuse to let anyone other than a qualified armourer handle the rifle. Of course the same could be said about many another rifle straight from the rigours of real-life military service.

    I never did like open sights anywhere near as much as a peepsight, and they aren't getting any better with fifty years of practice. Other than that, I like the No1 better than the No4. You are less likely to find an oversized chamber, and certainly not the tubular barrel shrunk and pinned into a threaded stub, which is found on some late No4s. If I was building a sporting rifle, in fact, I would try to find a pre-SMLE long Lee-Enfield that had already been altered too much for destroying originality to be a sin. They have an elegantly shaped receiver, usually no vestiges of charger guides, and a rotating dust cover which is very useful if you don't have to fit a sight or scope mount on the receiver.

    All I have from the wartime service of my grandfather, who when he was extremely small met a man who fought at Waterloo but was too shy to ask questions, is his lighter, stamped "Tommy's", and his hoof-rasp. He never told me whether he went to Georgia (the other Georgia), and perhaps Baku on the Caspian Sea. But unless he was sick he must, as the records show his battery did.

    Not to be pernickety about spelling, but you would have better luck in internet searches with "Cantigny".

  19. #39
    Boolit Master
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    You are correct about the spelling error and I do know better having already done a few searches.

    I have a Faz #4 Mk2 that has a nice chamber and tight headspace, being made in 1949 without the emergency of war makes a big difference. The rifle was unissued when I found it but the fore stock was sawn out beside a knot and warped so badly that it had to be replaced. Those long fore stocks can be affected by moisture.

    I have a #4 LB that I hunted with for years, I free floated the barrel and finished with poly. Accuracy might not be quite as good as one bedded to military specs but it has held it's zero well. I don't know how well this would work for long range but for hunting it has served it's purpose. It is still in military trim except for a scope and a cheek piece.

    Dave

  20. #40
    Yes, if I had to buy a No4 sight unseen, or even without seeing a fired case, the peacetime Mk2 has a lot going for it. I think the changing trigger pull from the trigger being mounted in the trigger-plate is more a theoretical than a real factor, but the Mk2's pivot integral with the butt socket can't hurt. Well, unless it makes the fit of the butt less secure, but nowadays epoxy bedding of the butt should fix that, and doesn't really affect originality. The wood is most often beech, but I would prefer good beech to bad walnut, and in the late 40s, with civilian gunmaking taking off again, good plain walnut was in short supply.

    In the 80s or 90s a lot of No4Mk2 rifles came back to the UK from Ireland, and some of them had the forend and handguard bound with wire. It was an official modification, to strengthen them for the use of rifle grenades, just as if nobody had invented the mortar. But it stops the user, though not water, from getting at the barrel or the bedding. I would be inclined to remove it, even though it would probably mean refinishing that part of the wood.

    One of the puzzling things, to the British, about the American market is that the detestable jungle carbine seems to carry something of a premium. In an auction in the UK I once saw a lot of about twenty 19in. barrels from jungle carbines, which had been used to build target rifles. But nobody bought them.

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Abbreviations used in Reloading

BP Bronze Point IMR Improved Military Rifle PTD Pointed
BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
PSP Pointed Soft Point Spz Spitzer Point SBT Spitzer Boat Tail
LRN Lead Round Nose LWC Lead Wad Cutter LSWC Lead Semi Wad Cutter
GC Gas Check