Enfield Restoration by Bill Marion
After restoring a dozen or so antique firearms, I felt that I was ready for a bit of a challenge. That is exactly what I found when I purchased an “untouched” P-1853 3-band Enfield from International Military Antiques (IMA). The Enfield Pattern 1853 Rifled Musket (also known as the Pattern 1853 Enfield, P53 Enfield, and Enfield Rifled Musket) was a .577 caliber muzzle-loading rifled musket, used by the British Empire from 1853 to 1867. Many Enfield 1853 Rifled Muskets were later converted to Snider-Enfield rifles which used a hinged breech block and a .577 black powder cartridge. During the American Civil War, the 1853 Enfield was used by both the Union and the Confederacy in great numbers. The Confederacy imported the Enfield P-1853 more than any other small arm, in spite of the fact that they had to be smuggled through the Union naval blockade.
IMA acquired a large number of antique arms from Nepal in 2003 that included the 1853 Enfield’s as well as other period rifles and muskets. Having sat in an armory for 150 plus years with virtually no maintenance, you can imagine the condition these rifles were in. IMA cleaned up and restored many of the Enfield and Martini-Henry rifles to a reasonable condition and have been selling them on-line. In addition to the restored rifles, they offered “untouched” Enfields. Untouched was described as exactly that, in the condition they were found in Nepal and only checked to make sure they were unloaded.
Several reviews described the untouched rifles as being complete and only needing a good cleaning. This sounded like what I was looking for and within a week, my Enfield had arrived. I really didn’t know what to expect. I hoped for the best, but having handled antiques of the same age that had actually been cared for over the years, I was prepared for a lot of rusted metal and broken wood.
What I found was a happy medium between the two extremes. Unwrapping the Enfield revealed the first challenge. It appeared to be covered in what can best be described as a mixture of dried grease and sawdust. This 150 year old grime easily came off on my hands, my shirt and the living room carpet. After a quick relocation to the garage and a pair of gloves, my examination continued. The Enfield was basically intact with all its parts. The ramrod was stuck in place, all the barrel bands were present and intact, the sights were complete and the lock appeared complete. The brass butt plate and all screws were in place, with just a few small holes worn through the brass.
While I knew I shouldn’t, I had to try the lock. Fully expecting it to be stuck or to break when I cocked it, it worked. Definitely a tribute to British engineering and craftsmanship.
Now where to begin? I started on the lock and the removal of the 2 lock screws. With a bit of penetrating oil and a good screwdriver, they came out with no problem. The lock then pulled out of the right side of the stock taking a small piece of wood with it but giving me a better look inside. The wood inside looked pretty bad. There appeared to be some rotting along with the grime. The lock however looked remarkably good. The lock plate had no rust or corrosion and the internals of the lock were complete. I’m guessing they were made of some type of cast alloy as it had a pewter look to it. I wanted to take the lock apart to clean it and in the process managed to break the mainspring. My first broken part.
Now I had to decide if I was doing restoration or conservation. With restoration the goal is to end up with a functioning firearm even it means using modern replacement parts. On the other hand, conservation is aimed at maintaining the original piece in its current condition. With the broken mainspring and the cracked stock, I could have either a conserved wall-hanger or a restored antique that might be a shooter. The lure of firing a real P-1853 was too much and I was off on a restoration project. I was going to try to keep as much of the original Enfield as possible and only use replacement parts when absolutely necessary.
Back to the task of disassembly. With the lock off, I flipped the Enfield over and started on the trigger assembly. One of the two screws on the trigger guard had to be drilled out, so that became replacement part number 2. The one screw holding the trigger in place came out easily and that finished the lock and trigger assembly.
The butt plate was next. The top screw can out easily but the bottom screw was a different story. After penetrating oil and heat, it finally had to be drilled out. Replacement part number 3. The screw on the tang of the butt plate looked like a nail rather than a screw and pulled out when the butt plate was lifted up. It actually was a screw but the slotted head had worn flat.
Next I removed the front sling swivel and the three barrel bands. The front band was loose and the rear bands just needed a few taps to come loose. The last item of disassembly was extracting the ram rod from the stock. The barrel bands had pinched the groove in the underside of the stock closed, trapping the ram rod in place. Using a screwdriver through the slot in the ram rod, I was able to twist the rod and break it free. Total disassembly time was about two hours.
Now on to cleaning the parts. The brass parts went into an ammonia cleaning solution for an overnight soak. The lock, barrel rings and other steel parts were put into a container of Evapo-Rust™. I used this product because it was advertised as being non-corrosive and not damaging to the underlying metal while removing rust. It sounded like it was worth a try. Finally the stock was sprayed with a secret cleaning compound known to restorers – Easy-Off™ oven cleaner. That ended the first days work.
Next morning and time to see how the metal parts and stock turned out. The brass parts were clean and shiny with all the accumulated goo removed. I was impressed with how well the Evapo-Rust™ cleaned the steel parts. Virtually no traces of rust and just a dull grey patina left on the metal. The spray foam oven cleaner on the stock had turned into a thick layer of brown muck. After rinsing the metal parts with water, I took a soft brush to the stock and washed off 150 years of grime. While the stock was drying, it was time to work on the barrel. With the exception of a little pitting on the underside, the barrel was in good shape. Even the sights were intact and the numbering readable.
I used a wire brush and steel wool for a rough cleaning of the barrel. The nipple unscrewed easily so no worries about dealing with a seized nipple. I ran a bronze brush and a few patches through the barrel to clean the inside. Next I used my own patent pending (I wish) barrel soaking device. Actually, it is a 4ft piece of plastic drain pipe with a cap on one end. I dropped the barrel in and filled the pipe with Evapo-Rust™ for an overnight soak. The brass parts polished nicely with a little Brasso™ and were set aside for later.
The biggest chore was now the stock. After drying I could see its condition better. Besides the piece above the lock, there was also a split on the left side just forward of the wrist, a piece missing on the left side of the fore stock and a 5 inch split on the underside where the ram rod entered the stock. In the cutout for the lock, the wood was soft and there was some rot. On the butt were several worm holes (I was later told they were actually termite holes). Each was about 1-2 inches long and twisted its way along the stock. Since there were only a few, my guess is that this wood was not very tasty.
It was clear the stock need some major work. I started looking for something to fill and patch the holes and to help strengthen the rotted wood. I decided to use Minwax™ Wood Filler for the major repairs. It is different from wood putty in that it is actually an epoxy that hardens and can be worked. Wood putty on the other hand, tends to stay relatively soft and won’t shape well or hold screws. On the downside, the wood filler is not porous when dry and is a bear to stain. Given the major repairs needed, wood filler was the only choice if I wanted to use the original stock.
For the soft wood, I used Minwax™ Wood Hardener. It was advertised to penetrate rotting wood and then harden to add strength. After cleaning the cutout for the lock, I coated it with the wood hardener. I also coated the bed of the stock since it looked like it could use some support. After drying overnight, I sanded the stock smooth. From the pictures, you can see there were a lot of repairs. Since the wood filler didn’t hold stain, I had to use a gel stain. It worked, but looked more like paint than a stain. After a few tries it was close to the original dark stain.
While all this was in the works, the replacement parts were in the mail. Trying to use as few replacement parts as possible, all I needed was a mainspring and 2 screws, one for the butt plate and one for the trigger guard. The rest of the Enfield was original. I did find a source for original Enfield parts in England, but the cost was way more than my need to keep the gun original. There was one additional part that was missing and I couldn’t find a source for a replacement. The barrel bands are held by band springs (see photo). The band slides over the band spring as it is depressed and is then held in place when the band spring is released. It didn’t look that difficult to make one, so after an hour and some metal working, we had a new band spring.
After the overnight soak in the Evapo-Rust™, the barrel was rinsed and dried. It was in good condition at that point, but I wanted to get it in as good a condition as possible before blueing. I had a cold blue kit from Wheeler Engineering™ and used it for the barrel and the other steel parts. Given that we were working with 150 plus year old steel I wasn’t expecting much, but the cold blue was acceptable after a few applications.
The brass butt plate had a few holes worn through it and needed fixing. Using a torch and a brazing rod the holes were filled in. After some filing and sanding the butt plate looked good as new. For some reason, the original brass turned a copper color in some areas. My guess is that the heat caused the copper in the original brass to come to the surface. A little Brasso™ and the color differences blended together.
With all the parts and pieces together, it was time to reassemble everything and see if we had anything that looked like a P-1853. The butt plate was the easy part. The lock wouldn’t fit in the stock cutout due to the buildup of wood filler so some sanding was needed. Once the lock was in place, the trigger assembly dropped into place and the trigger guard was secured over it with 2 screws. The barrel is held on the stock by one bolt at the rear and the three barrel bands. The barrel bands need just a few taps of a mallet to slide into place.
At this point, at least it looked nice. If I wanted a wall hanger, this project would have been complete. But I wanted a shooter. I checked the barrel with my barrel light and checked the operation of the lock. Everything looked good and was in working order. Now off to the range for what may be the first time in 150 years that this old Enfield had been fired. But that’s another story; stay tuned for the range report.
Evapo-Rust is a registered trademark of Harris International Labs Inc.
Easy-Off and Brasso are registered trademarks of Reckitt Benckiser Inc.
Minwax and Minwax Wood Hardener are registered trademarks of The Minwax Company
Wheeler Engineering is a registered trademark of Battenfeld Technologies, Inc.