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Reactivating a Springfield 1903-A3 Drill Rifle
by Roy Seifert

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Disclaimer:  This article is for entertainment only and is not to be used in lieu of a qualified gunsmith.  Please defer all firearms work to a qualified gunsmith.  Any loads mentioned in this article are my loads for my guns and have been carefully worked up using established guidelines and special tools.  The author assumes no responsibility or liability for use of these loads, or use or misuse of this article.  Please note that I am not a professional gunsmith, just a shooting enthusiast and hobbyist, as well as a tinkerer.  This article explains work that I performed to my guns without the assistance of a qualified gunsmith.  Some procedures described in this article require special tools and cannot/should not be performed without them.

Warning:  Disassembling and tinkering with your firearm may void the warranty.  I claim no responsibility for use or misuse of this article.  Again, this article is for entertainment purposes only!

Tools and firearms are the trademark/service mark or registered trademark of their respective manufacturers.

Table of Contents:  Click on a topic to move to that subject.


Initial Assessment

Broken Safety Plunger

Removing the Handguard Ring

Removing the Welded Magazine Cutoff

Milling Magazine Cutoff Detents

Cleaning up Rear Sight Base

Removing the Barrel

Replacement Parts


Polishing and Mating the Bolt Locking Lugs

Installing the New Barrel

Reaming the Chamber


Tightening Upper Band

Polishing Extractor Face

Barrel Break In

Lapping the Muzzle

Taller Front Sight

Refinishing Stock

Repairing Cracked Stock


Final Cost


Calculating Barrel Taper



When I was in high school I attended a military class run by the California Cadet Corps which was under the California National Guard.  In fact, I was the commander of the unit my junior and senior years.  We used deactivated Springfield 1903-A3 rifles for drill; the barrel was plugged, the bolt face was welded, and the striker was ground down, but everything else on the rifle was functional.  Most of us cadets wanted to own one of these rifles, so ever since my high school days I’ve wanted to have a functioning Springfield 1903-A3.

A reader of the Kitchen Table Gunsmith, Ray, recently contacted me asking for permission to use my disclaimer on his web site.  I gave him permission, but wanted to know what he was working on since I am always interested in a new gunsmithing project.  His excellent article, with many very helpful photos, explained how to convert a deactivated Springfield 1903-A3 drill rifle into a shooter titled 03-A3 Drill Rifle Facts and Recovery Process.  He had apparently purchased a batch lot of these deactivated drill rifles from the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) and was selling parts and complete rifles.  I purchased a complete rifle from him for the mere price of $220 including shipping to my FFL dealer.  A few minutes of paperwork plus $15 transfer fee put this piece of American military history in my hands.

Prior to adoption of the Springfield in 1903 the official rifle of the U.S. Military was the .30-40 Krag-Jorgensen.  This rifle had many shortcomings that were exposed during the 1898 Spanish-American war, especially when compared to the 1898 Mauser.  Development of a new rifle began in 1900 with the final design being adopted in 1903 based on the Mauser action.  Eventually the United States had to pay royalties to Mauser Werke in Germany since the action was very similar, but when WWI hostilities broke out the United States stopped paying royalties.  Production of the 1903-A3 variant began in 1941 and ended in 1944, however the rifle continued to be used in both Korea and Vietnam. 

I’ve always been fascinated with U.S. military rifles.  I currently have an AR15, M1A, M1 Carbine, and M1 Garand in my collection; all are functioning shooters.  A Springfield 1903-A3 was a rifle missing from my 20th century U.S. military rifle collection.  After I picked up my rifle from my FFL dealer I did a little research on the Internet and found; a web site dedicated to 20th century U.S. military firearms.  It turns out my rifle was built by Remington in August, 1943 which coincides with the date stamp of 7/43 on the ruined barrel.  An interesting side note; my newer model M1 Garand has an older Springfield Armory receiver built in 1942, but my older model ’03-A3 has a newer Remington receiver built in 1943!

Initial Assessment
I completely disassembled the rifle for inspection and to determine what work I needed to perform, and what parts I needed to replace.  This is what I found:


  • No front sight blade –The rifles we had in high school had the front sight blade installed, but I remember numerous cadets, including myself, getting cut by them during drill exercises so that is probably why this rifle didn’t have one.
  • It looked like the magazine cutoff had been welded, but someone had worked on it to make it function again. 
  • Rear sight base peened and bent – probably from cadets dropping the rifle multiple times, but I was still able to adjust the sight for windage and elevation.
  • Firing pin hole welded on the bolt face
  • Striker (firing pin) was cut off so just the collar was left.
  • Chamber was torched and a steel rod welded in place
  • Barrel was tack welded to the receiver
  • Missing ejector and ejector pin
  • Safety would not rotate
  • Upper band was loose
  • Upper band screw was stripped

Broken Safety Plunger

To my surprise I couldn’t rotate the safety, which made disassembling the bolt a bit challenging.  I discovered the shaft was broken off of the safety plunger.  This shaft guides the plunger into the hole, but now that it was broken, the plunger was hitting the side of the plunger hole effectively blocking it so it couldn’t move down.  I used a small screwdriver to align the plunger with the hole and pushed down so I could rotate and remove the safety.  I’m guessing since the plunger is longer than the space between the shaft and the lever it was installed prior to installing the shaft.  I’ll have to purchase a new safety assembly.

Removing the Handguard Ring
The handguard ring would not come off because of the tack weld on the bottom of the barrel.  I took a safe-edge #0 narrow pillar file #191-400-760 I purchased from Brownells and filed down the top of the weld until it was even with the rest of the receiver so I could slip the ring off of the barrel.  This turned out to be a stainless steel weld and would not take parkerizing, but this was not a problem since the weld was on the underside of the receiver and would be covered by the stock.

Removing the Welded Magazine Cutoff
Removing the welded magazine cutoff was much easier than anticipated.  Since it was functioning all I had to do was remove the magazine cutoff screw and spindle and remove the magazine cutoff from the receiver.  Although the magazine cutoff functioned correctly, because this part was so damaged from the welding I purchased a new one.

Milling Magazine Cutoff Detents
Probably the ugliest part of this rifle was the cratered receiver where the magazine cutoff was welded.  I could have had this TIG welded and then reshaped it, but I decided to leave it and just re-parkerize it.  Leaving it as is I can brag about how I recovered a drill rifle and show where it was originally welded.  However, I wanted the magazine cutoff to function correctly so I cleaned up the detents.

I took a 3/32” ball end milling bit and my high-speed rotary tool set to the lowest speed and opened up the welded center detent.  I took a cone-shaped grinding bit and ground in the beveled approaches on both sides of the new detent.  I then took a cone-shaped rubber polishing bit and again used my high-speed rotary tool to polish out the grinding marks on the beveled approaches.  I reinstalled the old magazine cutoff and tested it with the bolt and everything worked as it should.  The center detent was in the proper position so the bolt could be removed and installed easily.  I also cleaned up the ON and OFF detents with the 3/32” ball end bit because they had some metal splash from the welding.  Now the magazine cutoff plunger sets securely into each of the three detents.

Ok, so what does the magazine cutoff do?  In the down or OFF position it will not allow the bolt to come back far enough to feed rounds from the internal magazine essentially making it a single-shot rifle.  In the center position it allows the bolt to be removed and installed.  In the up or ON position it allows the bolt to come back far enough so the rifle will feed rounds from the internal magazine.  Also when in the ON position, after the last empty case is extracted and ejected the follower prevents the bolt from closing thereby indicating that the magazine is empty.  

Cleaning up Rear Sight Base


I completely disassembled the rear sight and noticed that the sight base was heavily staked onto the receiver.  I found on the Internet that this seems to be common with rifles manufactured by Remington so I decided just to leave it alone and treat it as part of the receiver.  I took a steel punch and pounded the sides of the rear sight base until they were straight.  I took a file and cleaned up the burrs on the top of each side, then used a rubber polishing tip and my high speed rotary tool to polish out the file marks.  When I re-parkerize the receiver this will look great!

Removing the Barrel
The most difficult part of the recovery process was removing the welded barrel.  Ray used a lathe to not only remove the barrel weld, but to remove enough of the barrel shoulder to reduce the interference fit of the barrel to receiver face so he could remove the barrel with a pipe wrench.  I don’t have a lathe so to remove the weld I used the same safe-edge #0 narrow pillar file I used previously. 


I started at the end of the weld and rested the safe edge of the file against the receiver face.  I began filing the weld being careful not to cut into the receiver face.  After I filed off some of the weld to expose the barrel I rotated the rifle so I could file off more of the weld.  I always made sure the safe edge of the file was resting against some exposed receiver face to keep the file square and flat.


Because the weld was so high I started filing on the other end of the weld being careful as before.  You can see in the above photo that the weld started to form a point at the top where both filed sides met.


I continued to file both sides of the weld until I had a bare-metal cut in place of the weld indicating that I had removed the weld metal and had started to cut into the barrel.  I filed a little deeper to make sure I had removed the entire weld.

Because I didn’t go completely around the barrel shoulder I still needed to use an action wrench and barrel vise to remove the barrel.  I already had the action wrench from Brownells so all I needed was the Springfield 1903 Head #080-801-003.  A properly fitting head is important because this prevents the receiver from warping or otherwise becoming damaged when removing the barrel. 


I also already had the barrel vise, but I didn’t have a bushing that fit the barrel, so I had to make one.  I marked the barrel just in front of the chamber swell, and made another mark 1 1/8” farther down the barrel.  The barrel diameter measured at the two marks was 0.980” and 0.942” respectively meaning the barrel had a 0.968o taper.  If you are interested in how I calculated the amount of taper, the math is at the end of this article.  I used BobCAD-CAM v20 to create the CAM code, then used my MAXNC 10 CL hobby CNC mill to mill the bushing from 1 1/8” aluminum stock.

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t remove the front sight base from the barrel, so I cut off the barrel about one-inch behind the front sight base.  This is a throw-away barrel anyway and I ordered a replacement front sight base.


I attached the receiver wrench to the front of the receiver using the Springfield 1903 head.  I coated the inside and outside of the barrel bushing with rosin I purchased from Brownells #083-016-100, positioned it on the barrel, then installed and tightened the barrel vise onto the bushing.  I positioned the barrel vice in a well-supported bench vise and used a 2-foot length of pipe on the action wrench to gain some additional leverage.  Thanks to this additional leverage the barrel easily came loose, even after almost 70 years.  As my father taught me; it helps to have the right tools!


Replacement Parts
I purchased the following parts from Gun Parts Corporation (Numrich).  All the replacement parts came stamped with an “R” indicating they were all manufactured by Remington; a perfect match for my rifle.

  • 1087210        new barrel
  • 514340B        safety lock assembly
  • 514510          striker
  • 515370          magazine cutoff
  • 524910          front sight base
  • 524650          front sight key
  • 524900          front sight blade
  • 514520          bolt body
  • 515760          ejector
  • 515750          ejector pin

I not only wanted my rifle to function like new, I also wanted it to look like new so I decided to re-parkerize the visible parts.  Parkerizing is a very simple, inexpensive process that applies a more durable finish than bluing.  This is why manufacturers starting parkerizing military guns to keep up with the demands of two world wars.  Parkerizing also covers up nicks, scratches, and other imperfections, and this rifle has almost 70 years of imperfections and cadet mishandling!  I have parkerized a number of guns and each one came out beautifully. 

I purchased a jumbo combination (black & grey) parkerizing kit from Home  I used the grey to match the original military parkerizing on early ’03-A3’s.  Later rifles came with a grey/green parkerizing.

I took all the parts I wanted to re-parkerize and first removed any unsightly burrs.  The new bolt body I received was blued and packed in cosmolene so I first had to remove all the grease.  I bead-blasted the parts down to bare metal which gave them a nice, even matte finish.  I thoroughly cleaned and degreased all the parts, and prepared the grey parkerizing solution according to the instructions.  I used nylon cable ties to suspend the parts and provide a means to remove the part from the hot parkerizing solution.  I heated the solution in a large stainless-steel cooking pot to 190oF and immersed the parts.



After the parts stopped bubbling I removed them from the pot, thoroughly rinsed them with hot water, then coated them with the provided light oil.  The above photos show (from top to bottom) the original part, bead blasted, and parkerized.  As you can see from the photos they came out very nice. 

Some areas on the receiver and the bolt sleeve wouldn’t take the parkerizing.  I bead-blasted them again and then dipped them in an acid bath made of 1 part muriatic acid and 4 parts tap water for about 30-seconds, then thoroughly rinsed them in tap water.  This time the parkerizing came out evenly.

Polishing and Mating the Bolt Locking Lugs
After I parkerized the parts I polished the bolt locking lugs on the new bolt.  This ensured that the bolt locking lugs mated evenly with equal pressure which can provide some increase in accuracy.  This process can also change headspace which is why I performed it before I installed the new barrel. 


I installed a spring onto the steel rod that was welded into the chamber of the old barrel.  I screwed the old barrel onto the receiver so the spring applied tension on the closed bolt.  I removed the bolt, applied some 800-grit lapping compound onto the recoil lugs, then closed the bolt.  I opened and closed the bolt about 45-degrees to lap the recoil lugs.  The spring applied rearward pressure on the bolt to facilitate the lapping process.


After 10-20 open/close cycles I removed the bolt, cleaned the locking lugs with brake parts cleaner and examined the progress.  I applied more lapping compound and continued the open/close lapping process until both lugs were evenly lapped.  I removed the old barrel and cleaned both the receiver and bolt with brake parts cleaner.   

Installing the New Barrel
The barrel I ordered from Numrich had a few problems.  First of all there was no alignment mark on the side of the barrel as found on military barrels.  So the only way I was able to index the barrel properly was to install the front sight base and “eyeball” it. 


I discovered the slot in the barrel for the sight base key was too wide.  The front sight base would not fit tightly onto the barrel because the wide slot allowed the sight base to rotate.  I peened the edges of the slot until the key fit tightly, then I silver-soldered the key in place.  Now the front sight base fits tightly onto the barrel and does not rotate.

I screwed the new barrel onto the receiver until it was hand-tight and discovered that the barrel was rotated about 75o which would make it way too tight.  The proper method for reducing the interference fit is to turn down the barrel shoulder on a lathe, however as mentioned before I do not have a lathe.  Another method for reducing the interference fit is to use 400-grit lapping compound and lap the barrel shoulder to the receiver.  This technique comes from Accurizing the Factory Rifle by M. L. McPherson.  This method removes metal from both the receiver face and barrel shoulder, but it also squares these two surfaces.  Because I am removing metal from the receiver face I may not be able to put another barrel on this receiver.  Not a problem because I don’t plan to ever put another barrel on this rifle.

I screwed the new barrel onto the receiver until the barrel shoulder was about 1/8” away from the receiver.  I took a toothpick and put some 400-grit lapping compound into that space, then screwed the receiver down hand tight.  I needed to be careful that I didn’t get any lapping compound onto the barrel threads.  I set the barrel straight up in a vise and alternately loosened and tightened the receiver.  After about 50 or 60 cycles of loosening and tightening I cleaned off the lapping compound with brake parts cleaner and checked my progress.  A grey ring was starting to form around the barrel shoulder and receiver face.


I continued this process until the barrel was about 16-degress off to the right.  This will provide the correct amount of interference fit (tightness) for the barrel and receiver.  Also there was a solid grey ring around the barrel shoulder and receiver face indicating that the barrel was lapped and square to the receiver.

I coated the barrel bushing with rosin as before and slid it onto the barrel.  I installed the barrel vise onto the bushing, and installed the action wrench onto the receiver.  I put the barrel vise into the well-supported bench vise and tightened the receiver until the front sight base was vertical and centered.

Reaming the Chamber
The new barrel came with a chamber that was cut 0.005” short so I had to finish reaming the chamber to the proper headspace.  First I measured the headspace of the new barrel.  A very important procedure when replacing a barrel is to check the headspace.  I used the new bolt body so just the bolt face came in contact with the gauge.  When testing headspace there should be no extractor or ejector tension on the gauge.


I inserted a .30-06 Go headspace gauge into the chamber and gently tried to close the bolt body using just light finger pressure.  I never try to force a bolt closed on a gauge; light finger pressure is all that is needed.  I used the Go gauge because this was a new barrel with a short chamber.  The above photo shows that the bolt would not close all the way.  This is the point where I just started to feel some friction.  Because the bolt would not close on the Go gauge indicated that the chamber was too short. 


I rented a .30-06 chamber reamer from Elk Ridge Reamer Rentals.  When it arrived I pushed the pull-through rod through the chamber and out the bore until the reamer was visible in the receiver.  I liberally lubricated it with cutting oil then pulled the rod until I felt the reamer contact the chamber.  I gave it about 10 turns clockwise as viewed from the muzzle; never counterclockwise as this could break the cutting teeth.  I could feel the reamer cutting into the new barrel as it cut a longer chamber and new throat.


I pushed the reamer back into the action.  As shown in the above photo the flutes had steel dust from the reaming process.  I removed the reamer and rod by pulling them back through the action.  I thoroughly flushed the reamer and chamber with brake parts cleaner to remove all chips and cutting oil, then ran a clean dry patch through the bore from the chamber to the muzzle.  I used the Go headspace gauge to measure headspace as described before.  The bolt still would not close on the Go gauge indicating I had to do more cutting.

I repeated the cut 10 turns, clean and measure process until the bolt would completely close with the Go gauge in place.  The chamber and throat were now cut to the proper length.  I also measured headspace with a .30-06 Field gauge just to make sure the chamber was within specification and the bolt would not close.

After I finished reaming the chamber I completely reassembled the rifle with the replacement parts.  Everything went together as it should, and the re-parkerized parts made the rifle look almost factory new.  Also the front sight base key didn’t have a notch so I drilled a notch so the pin would fit.  I made sure all moving parts were either oiled or greased before assembly.

Since all the parts were now re-parkerized, which is a rough finish, the bolt didn’t slide as easily and smoothly as it did before.  I purchased a tube of IOSSO bore cleaner from Brownells #073-000-002 which has a very fine grit.  I put some on a Q-tip and spread it along the receiver where the bolt travels.  I opened and closed the bolt about 20 times while placing downward pressure on the bolt.  I cleaned off the excess cleaner from the bolt lugs and receiver.  Both the bolt and receiver had streaks where the Parkerizing was polished off.  Working the bolt while watching TV also helps to polish those newly-parkerized surfaces!

Tightening Upper Band
The upper band was very loose and it looked like someone tried to tighten it by over-tightening the upper band screw causing it to strip.  The upper band hole in the stock was too large causing a large amount of slop and play in the upper band.  This may have been done on purpose to prevent cadets from installing a bayonet.


First I drilled out the hole in the stock to 1/4”.  Then I took a piece of 1/4” hardwood dowel, cut it to 1 1/4”, and drilled a hole through the center using a #29 drill bit.


I glued the hollow dowel into the stock, then cut and filed the ends flush with the stock.  I reamed the hole with a #26 bit until the upper band screw would fit and meet the threaded hole when installed with the upper band.  Now the upper band has no slop or movement.

Polishing Extractor Face
I discovered that the extractor wouldn’t slip over the rim of a single-fed cartridge; however it worked perfectly when feeding rounds from the magazine.  I put a rubber polishing tip on my high-speed rotary tool and polished the face of the extractor.  Originally it had a sharp edge transitioning to the bevel.  I polished that edge and the bevel, then cold-blued the entire extractor.  Now the extractor slips easily over a single-fed cartridge.


In the above photo you can see a light area on the lower left of the extractor face (indicated by the arrow) where the extractor rubbed against the case head when single feeding.  This is the beginning of the transition line from the extractor face to the bevel and was the area I polished.  This edge has to be smooth enough so when the extractor meets the cartridge head it cams over the rim of the cartridge.

Barrel Break In
I performed this barrel break-in procedure with my new M1 Garand barrel and it worked very well.  It is a combination of hand and fire lapping to polish the chamber throat and lap the bore.  The purpose of this procedure is to polish out any burrs left in the barrel throat from the reamer, and to polish and gradually taper the barrel for increased accuracy and ease of cleaning.  Burrs in the chamber throat can literally tear copper from a bullet and cause excessive copper fouling in the bore.

Traditional fire-lapping drives bullets impregnated with lapping compound through the bore at very low velocities.  Cases used for fire-lapping have to be thrown away because the brass case neck gets contaminated with the lapping media.  Although this method does wonders for the bore, it also lengthens the barrel throat which can reduce barrel life.  My method polishes the throat without increasing its length, laps the bore and I don’t have to throw away the cases!

First I loaded 15 rounds of .30-06 with 5.0 grains of Red Dot behind a 150 grain FMJ boat tail .308 bullet and a large rifle magnum primer.  I use magnum primers because there is so little powder in the case, and anything less than 5.0 grains of powder will cause the bullet to get stuck in the bore. 


I put a bore guide in the action to prevent the lap from depositing compound in the chamber.  I wrapped a .45 cleaning patch around a 25-caliber bore brush, and then impregnated the patch with USP Bore Paste™ that I purchased from Midway USA # 257358.  I ran the tight-fitting patch back and forth through the entire length of the bore 20 times being careful not to allow the lap to come all the way out of the muzzle, or all the way into the chamber.  This performed the hand lapping part of the process and left a small amount of compound in the bore.  I fired one low-velocity round through the barrel which performed the fire-lapping.  I inserted the bore guide into the action, then again using USP Bore Paste™ ran an impregnated tightly fitting patch back and forth through the bore 20 times.  This cleaned any powder residue and fouling from the bore and prepared it for a second low-velocity lapping shot.  After performing the lap/shoot process for 5 shots, I thoroughly cleaned the barrel using solvent and dry patches.  This removed any residual lapping compound in preparation for the next finer compound.

The photo above shows a recovered lapping bullet.  You can see the dark areas caused by lapping the lands and grooves in the bore.

Now I impregnated a clean patch with J-B® Bore Bright #083-065-100 that I purchased from Brownells which has a finer grit and performed the hand lap/fire lap sequence another five times as before, then thoroughly cleaned the bore again with solvent and patches.

Finally, I performed the same hand lap/fire lap process another five times using the ISSO bore cleaner which has the finest grit.  This process performed the final polish of the chamber throat and bore.  The bore was mirror bright and smooth and was now ready for full pressure loads, and the new throat was polished which will prevent excessive fouling.

Lapping the Muzzle


The last thing I did just to make sure I hadn’t picked up any nicks or burrs on the muzzle crown was to lap the muzzle.  This removes those nicks and burrs and makes the ends of the lands and grooves sharp and even which also enhances accuracy.  I put some 400-grit lapping compound on the end of a brass muzzle lap I purchased from Brownells #080-764-350 attached to a variable speed drill.  With the drill running at about 500-700 RPM I touched the ball end of the lap to the muzzle at the angle shown in the above photo and rotated the drill through 360-degrees keeping the lap at the same angle.  I did this for about 1 minute making sure I kept rotating my drill in a circular motion. 


I cleaned the excess lapping compound off the muzzle and ran a cleaning patch through the bore from breach to muzzle.  As you can see in the above photo, the muzzle had a bright ring around the inside and the lands and grooves were nice and sharp.

Taller Front Sight
The ’03-A3 is designed to hit 5-inches high at 200 yards using M2 ball ammo, but I wanted to be dead on at 100 yards with a dead-center hold.  I did some quick ballistic calculations and found that I would have to drop the shot 4.7-inches to be on at 100-yards.  Since I couldn’t lower the rear sight any more, I would need to have a taller front sight.  I used my Front Sight Height Calculator to determine that I would need to raise the front sight 0.037-inches.  The standard front sight blade is 0.537” so the new front sight blade would need to be 0.574”.

I scanned the front sight blade into my PC, used CorelDRAW® to trace around the image, then increased the height to 0.574”.  I exported the pattern to BobCAD-CAM so I could create the tool code for my CNC mill.  I first rotated the pattern 90-degrees so the base was vertical.  This would fit better in the one-inch wide 3/64” tool steel stock I purchased from that I used to fabricate the new front sight blade.


Once the new blade was completed I used a jeweler’s file to remove any burrs.  I installed the blade in the front sight base and used a #52 drill bit to mark the location of the mounting hole, then used a center-punch to make the mark deeper.  You can clearly see the mark in the above photo.  I used my mill/drill and the #52 drill bit to drill the mounting hole.


After the hole was drilled I bead-blasted and cold blued the blade.  I installed it in the front sight base using a 1/16” roll pin because I didn’t have a solid pin to mount the blade.  The pin was nice and tight so the blade didn’t move.

Refinishing Stock
I decided to refinish the original stock and hand guard rather than purchase new ones.  I’ve refinished a number of gun stocks and they come out looking almost like new, although this one is pretty beat up.

I completely disassembled the rifle and removed all the metal parts from the stock and hand guard.  I used Klean-Strip® KS-3 Premium Stripper that I purchased from my local home improvement store to remove the old finish.  This stripper is a semi-paste that adheres to the wood.  I applied the stripper with a brush, allowed it to set for 15 minutes according to the instructions, then wiped it off with a paper towel.  As you can see from the above photo, the first application removed almost all of the old finish.  I applied a second coat of stripper and used a stiff nylon brush to work it into all the crevices.  I again wiped it off after 15 minutes.  After the third application I soaked a green scrubbing pad in mineral spirits and rubbed down the wood to remove all excess stripper and completely clean the wood.  After the wood was stripped and cleaned it appeared like someone tried to refinish this stock once before and did a poor job of sanding.  However, many of the original cartouches became visible after I stripped off the old finish.

After the wood dried I applied a wet cloth to the wood and pressed a hot iron to the wet cloth.  This process steamed out any dents from the wood.  If this was a collectable stock I would not apply steam to the cartouches since they are stamped (pressed) into the wood, not cut.  I steamed the entire surface of both the stock and hand guard three times to make sure I raised as many dents as I could, then set them aside to dry.


I took an old stock I had in the shop and drilled a few holes in the butt to get some walnut shavings.  I put the shavings in a mortar and pestle to grind them into a powder.  I mixed the powder with some wood glue to make a paste and used the paste to fill some of the gouges in the wood.  After the glue dried I sanded the filled spots, then sanded the entire piece with a 220-grit sanding pad.  I used a pad so it would conform to the shape of the wood.


I applied my favorite stain, Minwax® Gunstock #231, then wiped off the excess with a clean cloth.  I allowed the wood to dry overnight.

After the stain had been drying for about 8 hours I applied a coat of Minwax® Clear Satin Fast-Drying Polyurethane to all the inside areas of the stock and hand guard.  This will prevent moisture from getting into the stock which can lie against the metal receiver or barrel and cause rusting and pitting.  I have seen this condition in other military surplus rifles.

Once the stain was dry I applied three coats of Birchwood Casey® Tru-Oil®.  Tru-Oil® provides a durable, easy to repair finish that I use on all my gunstocks.  I allowed each coat to dry for 6 hours.  After each coat was dry I burnished the surface with a nylon stocking.  I don’t usually use steel wool because it can leave steel filaments behind in the wood.

Repairing Cracked Stock

The stock was cracked from the magazine cutoff detent back to the wrist; but it was only cracked on one side.  I couldn’t open the crack far enough to put in any glue so I decided just to use pins.


I took a 1/16” brass rod and threaded it with a 4-32 die.  I threaded enough so I could cut two pins.


I used a #44 drill bit and drilled a pilot hole in the stock.  I made sure I didn’t go through the bottom of the stock.


I applied a clamp to the stock to keep the crack as tightly closed as possible.  I cut a piece of the threaded rod long enough so I could insert it into the chuck of my variable speed drill.  I applied some epoxy to the threads of the pin and used the variable speed drill at a very low speed to screw the pin into the hole.

I carefully trimmed the pin flush with the wood.  I touched up the wood with sandpaper, stain, and finish to match the rest of the gun. After the glue dried on the first pin I performed the same process to a second hole drilled from the bottom of the stock.  Hopefully the crack will not spread any more.



The above photo shows the result of all my work.  The stock was in pretty bad shape to begin with, but it now has a very nice finish, and as everyone keeps telling me, it has character.  All the external metal has been refinished and everything functions as it should.

You can still see a small spot of stainless steel where the old barrel was tack-welded to the receiver.  As mentioned before, this is covered by the stock so will not show.


I left the receiver weld alone where the original magazine cutoff was welded.  Because of the different consistency and hardening the weld metal parkerized differently than the rest of the receiver.


Ok, so how does it shoot?  Well first of all, it kicked like a bolt-action .30-06!  I can shoot my M1 Garand all day with no problems, but I needed to wear a recoil pad when shooting the ’03-A3.  This is why after so many years since high school I never owned one!  However, with a brand new, lapped barrel and proper bench rest technique, you can see the 100-yard result with the above target.  I am very pleased with the result, and proud to own a piece of U.S. military history that I restored to shooting condition.

Final Cost

$220   Rifle plus shipping

$  15   FFL transfer

$264   New parts

$  55   Chamber reamer rental

$  64   Parkerizing kit

$  63   Action wrench head

$681   Total cost

I already had most of the tools and supplies mentioned in this article which kept my costs low, so the prices shown above are what I actually spent out-of-pocket.

So why go through all the trouble and expense of converting this drill rifle into a shooter when I probably could have purchased a shooter for about the same price from a gun show?  First of all was the challenge of the project and doing the work.  Part of the pleasure was doing the work myself and seeing the result. 

Second of all, my rifle now has a brand new barrel and refinished parts.  Even if you could find a new, never been fired ‘03-A3 it would cost upwards of $1,500+ whereas I spent $681 for parts and tools including the price of the rifle.  A gun show rifle wouldn’t have a new barrel or new finish.

Best of all I now have a functioning Springfield 1903-A3 for my collection that will last for thousands of rounds.  I know I probably won’t come close to putting a thousand rounds through this rifle, but I do enjoy seeing those longing looks from fellow shooters when I take it to the range.  So the next time I participate in a bolt-action military rifle side match, guess which rifle I’ll be taking along!

I also want to express my thanks to Ray Brandes for his excellent web site and article on how to recover an ’03-A3 drill rifle.  His article and photos pointed me in the right direction, and I was able to purchase an excellent example of one of these deactivated drill rifles from him.  


Calculating Barrel Taper
Gunsmithing requires some math capability; especially when it comes to measurement and dimensions.  I needed to calculate barrel taper so I could make a tightly fitting aluminum bushing for my barrel vise.


My bushing had to be 1 1/8” long to fit in the barrel vise so I made two marks on the barrel just below the chamber swell that were 1 1/8” apart.  The barrel diameter at the two marks was 0.980” and 0.942”.  I made a drawing as shown above. 


I moved both vertical lines up until the bottom of the small vertical line was at the end of the horizontal line.  This helped me to visualize what I needed to do.  So now I needed to know the length of the small vertical section on the left.  I found this as follows:

0.980” – 0.942” = 0.038”:  difference between large and small vertical lines

0.038” / 2 = 0.019”:  1/2 the difference because the small line is in the center of the large line

So the small line was 0.019”.  I drew a line from the bottom of the large vertical line to the bottom of the small vertical line so now I had a right triangle and I could use basic high school geometry to calculate the angle.  (High school geometry; I can hear you readers groaning from here!)

First I needed to find the length of the hypotenuse.  I’m sure we all remember Pythagoras’ theorem for a right triangle; A2 + B2 = C2 where A and B are the sides of a right triangle, and C is the hypotenuse.  So now I had:

0.019” 2 +1.125” 2 = C2 so solving for C I got

C =   (0.019” 2 + 1.125” 2) or 1.1251604330050004029069759316584”

So now I needed to find the angle indicated by the arc in the above diagram.  The angle is represented by the Greek symbol theta ().  In high school geometry we learned SOH CAH TOA to remember the relationships of the angles and sides of a right triangle.  They stand for:

SOH:  Sine = opposite over hypotenuse

CAH:  Cosine = adjacent over hypotenuse

TOA:  Tangent = opposite over adjacent

The side opposite from angle() is 1.125” so I used the Sine function to find the angle.  I used the following formula:

Sine() = 1.125” / 1.1251604330050004029069759316584” so solving for I got

= arcsine(1.125” / 1.1251604330050004029069759316584”).  On the scientific calculator that comes on your PC arcsine is the INV check box.  So the angle worked out to be 89.032o.  This was very close to 90o which I knew was right, but would have been much too large to make my bushing.  The two non-right angles of a right triangle equal 90o so I subtracted 89.032o from 90o which gave me 0.968o.  This was the angle I used to make the bushing.

My high school math teachers would be so proud!


   © Copyright 2012 Roy Seifert.