August 10, 2022

Army advisor in Viet Nam carrying an M1 Carbine

If you are a regular reader here, you will no doubt recall that in a previous article I explained why I believe the M1 Carbine to be the best Urban Defensive Weapon one could have. In that article, I promised to explain how to obtain one of the 80-plus-year-old firearms. I will do so here.

A Bit of History of the M1 Carbine

In a still earlier article posted here about the M1 Carbine, I gave information on the history, development, and manufacture of the carbine, and I recommend you review that article for the details. That said, you might recall, that besides a few “bring-back” souvenirs brought home by WWII GIs, no complete carbines were originally released from government surplus. Initially, only parts and components were made available. Demand, however, was so great for the carbine that entrepreneurs gobbled up those parts and married them to cast or rewelded demilled receivers to assemble complete firearms.

G.I. Arsenal rebuild of a Inland M1 Carbine
Here we see a very nice Inland M1 Carbine that was purchased in the early 1970s and was typical for a G.I. Arsenal rebuild that was released around that time. The obvious proof of the mismatched parts used is that the stock on this M1 was made for an M2 which you can tell by the belly in the bottom forward of the trigger guard.

Some of those more available frankenguns were those by Plainfield and Universal. I had one of each and my advice is to steer clear. With the release of wartime surplus firearms, things began to change dramatically. Carbines started showing up in 1963 through the DCM and the NRA, which made acquiring one easy and at an affordable $24. Many more Carbines went to allies and enemies alike around the world.

After the war, and some 60 years ago, most of the GI Carbines were arsenal reconditioned, before they were released to the public or sent to other countries. Arsenal reconditioned does not mean made to look brand new. What it means is that all carbines that went through the process were brought up to the current standard with the latest parts — anything worn or broken was replaced or repaired. If it was a worn but serviceable part, such as the stock, it was left alone. I am not going to get into “as issued” collectible carbines here, this is about choosing a reliable, accurate shooter.

As the stores of domestically-released carbines started to dry up, those that went to other countries were reimported into the U.S. and offered for sale through the DCM, and later, the CMP. Some imported carbines had been serviced and rebuilt by the country that used them. Italy is a good example because Beretta rebuilt those carbines that were issued to Italy. Even so, many people are put off by another country’s proof and import marks stamped on them.

Those guns can still make good shooters. Currently, even those sources are becoming scarce, and the price of GI-issued carbines has been climbing. Depending on what part of the country you reside in, prices can vary quite a bit. Recently, I have seen prices starting at about $1,000 for one in pretty sad shape and going up to several thousand dollars from there.

Remember, I am talking about GI-issue only. My personal recommendation for collectors would be to stay away from anything commercial, such as Auto-Ordnance, Fulton Armory, Chiappa, Universal, and Plainfield to name a few. Additionally, be aware that the Inland name has been purchased and the company is making commercial carbines under that name, so ensure you are looking at a GI Inland.

maker and date of manufacture shown on the barrel of a M1 Carbine rifle
The maker and date of manufacture are shown on the barrel.

What should you look for in an M1 Carbine?

Back in the day, you could attend a gun show and there would be collectors, who for the most part were pretty honest, and you could be assured a fair deal. Some of those old-timers are still around but not many. So, getting a carbine at a gun show can be problematic, unless you know what you are looking at and paying for.

Ultimately, it is up to you to educate yourself and know what to look for. If someone says to you that the one you are looking at has all matching numbers, he or she knows nothing about carbines. The only numbers on a GI Carbine are the serial number on the rear of the receiver with the maker’s name, and the manufacturer’s name and date on the barrel.

Sometimes numbers are encountered on the operating slide, but those are usually drawing blueprint numbers assigned to the part and were not assigned to the specific firearm. The only other mark is on the front receiver ring stating, U.S. Carbine Cal .30 M1 in two lines. Other anomalies may be encountered, but there is not enough space here to cover those with clarity.

Markings showing that this is an early Winchester slide for a M1 Carbine
The marks on the bottom of this slide indicate that it is an early Winchester slide. There are other numbers that would indicate the slide was made for an M2.

That said, all the parts are marked with an assigned maker’s mark. Carbines with all the correctly marked parts are worth more to collectors but are of no additional value to a shooter. Why pay the premium for that? Aside from matching manufacturing marks, the condition of the stock (if in good shape) will increase the price. If the appearance of the stock is important to you, refinish it or buy a replacement, remember you want a reliable shooter, not a safe queen.

One of the more important things you should be concerned with when choosing a carbine as a shooter is the muzzle crown. Inspect it and ensure it is not dinged or ruined by incorrect cleaning techniques. The muzzle crown has a tremendous effect on the gun’s accuracy, so make sure it is in good condition.

Another important safety issue is proper headspace, which must be checked. As you have probably concluded by now, knowing all there is to know about selecting a carbine requires quite a bit of study. If you are interested, there are some very good books available explaining more than you would ever want to know. There is, however, a foolproof shortcut. and it will not cost any more than a decent example found at a gun show or other source.

Marking to show the M1 Carbine was a post war build
The marks on the bottom of this safety lever indicate it was part of a post-war rebuild.

Alternative Option

Many years ago, before California went totally crazy, it used to have some world-class gun shows. One of the biggest was the Great Western Gun Show held at the Pomona Fairgrounds with thousands of exhibitors. It was at that show some 40 years ago that I encountered a gentleman who owned a company located in the bay area of California.

That company was Miltech, and it specialized in reconditioning Garands, Johnsons, Springfields, Enfields, Mauser 98Ks, and M1 Carbines. When I saw its booth, I was impressed by what I saw. Miltech even displayed some rifles in wooden crates, simulating what GIs might have seen when they ripped into their crates. This is part of the statement from its website regarding the M1 Carbine:

The MILTECH M1 Carbine restoration includes new springs and properly calibrated front and rear sights. In the restoration process, every attempt is made to match the major components of each M1 Carbine. For example, Inland receivers will have Inland internal components, Winchester receivers will have Winchester internal components, etc.

They will also, upon request, install an Ultimak rail, optical sight, and light of your choice — if you so specify. The owner is Ed Silva, and he is a real gentleman and great to chat with if you decide to go that way. I highly recommend that you do. Additionally, if you have a carbine and are not sure if it is safe due to headspace or want it checked out, call Ed for advice or to schedule a safety check, repair, or rebuild. The only fly in the ointment is that delivery times may be much longer than expected, but I believe the quality of work is worth the wait

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning, I believe the .30 CAL M1 Carbine is the best urban defensive tool one can choose. I recommend it to all my students and even have a class dedicated to its use. If you are offered the opportunity to shoot one, don’t pass it up. It is addictive and a joy to shoot. I believe so strongly in M1 Carbine that I rely on one as my personal home defense choice.

If past performance is an indication of the future potential, a lot of you are M1 Carbine fans. Do you own an M1 Carbine? Are you a collector? Share your M1 Carbine story in the comment section.

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