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  #1  
Old 02-16-2010, 10:54 AM
Matt Wheeler Matt Wheeler is offline
 
Join Date: Feb 2010
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Default M1903 receiver (pinpointing cause of failure)

I have an M1903 (manufactured by Springfield Armory) buried away in a gun cabinet and was curious regarding the infamous receiver failures.

According to Hatcher's Notebook, this rifle was manufactured in 1916. My great-grandfather purchased it shortly after World War I. I am uncomfortable with displaying the precise serial number; however, I will report its near 621,000.

Unfortunately, the rifle was somewhat butchered over the years. In the 1940s or 50s, my grandfather sawed the wooden stock to imitate a hunting rifle's appearance. Some years ago, another relative replaced the stock with an original and installed "new hardware". I am uncertain what "new hardware" implies.

I am somewhat confused regarding pinpointing the receiver's cause of failure. Multiple people state Springfield Armory M1903s (with serial numbers < 800,000) are considered unsafe to discharge - poor heat treatment caused receiver failures. However, I also heard the Army further researched the issue and later discovered poor ammunition (wrong brass in cases, ruptured cases cracked actions) caused failures.

Whose story is correct? Secondly, does there exist a non-destructive method to test receiver hardness? I heard someone mention the Rockwell Hardness Test, but never discovered anything further. I appreciate any assistance anyone can offer - thank you.

Edit: I neglected to ask whether anyone could report recent receiver failures. If no receiver failures occurred in modern times, it may indicate the problem stemmed from poor quality ammunition. But I leave that to you experts to answer.

Last edited by Matt Wheeler; 02-16-2010 at 10:57 AM.
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  #2  
Old 02-16-2010, 12:21 PM
Rick the Librarian Rick the Librarian is offline
 
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Probably the majority of the problems with low-numbered receivers did stem from poor-quality wartime ammunition. However, there were a few other reasons, as well. The long and the short of it was that many low numbered receivers would not take any "un-normal" situations. Whether this was caused by wartime ammunition, obstructions in the bores, or whatever, some would not hold up.

I know of three "post-military" problems with LN receivers:

1) A gentleman reported on another forum, tapping a low-numbered receiver (after shooting it a number of times) and seeing it shatter. He was well-known to me and I trust his story.

2) A close friend fired an 802,000 range SA and had it shatter (probably one of the SHT receivers that "leaked" through) - Hatcher mentions one)

3) Another incident, together with pictures, was reported on another forum a couple of years ago. I no longer remember the forum, however.

You say that receiver failure was caused by either poor heat treatment or poor ammunition. Actually it was part of the same problem: defective receivers.

I was recently reading a copy of a 1928 article that appeared in Army Ordnance Magazine, the August, 1928 issue. The author was Lt. J.E. McInerney, who was stationed at Springfield at the time. The article was entitled, "Overhauling the Service Rifle". He discussed the rebuild process on M1903s and was obviously familiar with the workings of Springfield Armory. I believe his account has been used in several authoritative books on the M1903.

McInerney states that "...All Springfield Armory receivers with numbers under 800,000 and Rock Island Arsenal receivers with numbers under 285,507 are removed from the barrels and scrapped. ... It has been found that the heat treatment which was given these low numbered receivers did not render them sufficiently strong and ductile to be satisfactory under abnormal pressure conditions."

I don't anybody is saying that most, or even a significent minority of low numbered receivers are dangerous. The problem is to know which are and which aren't.

The chance of something happening can be reduced by using good quality ammunition. However, with even the newest surplus ammunition nearly 40 years old (and some significently older than that), it is a chance that you must evaluate before using one of these rifles.

My own personal choice is not to fire a low numbered M1903. The reasons:

1) Yes, they were used through WWII. However, we are no longer in a war, where every rifle is needed.

2) The are hundreds of thousands of high numbered M1903s with which this is not an issue.

3) It is up to each individual to examine the facts and make his (or her) own decision. I have made mine.

Last edited by Rick the Librarian; 02-16-2010 at 12:23 PM.
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  #3  
Old 02-16-2010, 02:56 PM
Slamfire Slamfire is offline
 
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People keep on referring to heat treatment, when the initial problem with the SHT receivers was not heat treatment, but overheating during forging. A careful reading of Hatcher's Notebook really shows the problem was not in heat treatment but in the forging shop. The men who were stamping out the receivers got them too hot in the forging cycle. Unfortunately, they "burnt" the steel in the forging furnaces. Burning steel is not like burning toast. It is a fusion reaction, fusing the steel into one big austenite crystal. The desired crystalline structure is martensitic. But when steel is raised to a “white hot” temperature (about 2000 °F) the steel is all in the austineitic phase. When it cools from this temperature it is a very hard, brittle steel. It is impossible to anneal or heat treat burnt steel back to a useable material. Long anneals will break up some of the hard areas, but not all. To make the steel useable it would have to be completed melted and recast, as it is came from the steel foundry.

The steel used in the single heat treat receivers and the double heat treat receivers were the same. Looking at data on Matweb, the low carbon steel used in these early receivers is not used for complicated parts, unheated it is used for rebar, if heat treated for medium duty shafts, studs, bolts and nuts.

I did a composition search and found AISI 1117-1118 steel, which is similar in composition to Class C steel. I could not find something that was just carburized and quenched . I found data for 1 inch round AISI 1118 mock carburized, reheated to 1450 F, quenched, tempered. This is similar to the double heat treatment. The Ultimate strength is 103,000 psi, yield 59,300 psi, elongation at break 19%. For something similar to WD2340 Nickel steel, I found one inch round AISI 4820. For that material, mock carburized, 1450 F reheat, water quench, the ultimate strength was 163,000 psi and the yield strength was 120,000 psi, elongation at break 15%. It would appear to me that even the best of the double heat treat receivers have a low yield strength compared to an alloy material and less elongation before breaking.

Today, no one uses rebar to make a complicated and expensive part such as a rifle receiver.

All Pre WWI receivers from all nations were made from low carbon billets and only the SHT 03's have a reputation for being brittle. I would also risk the statement to say that a single heat treat receiver not burnt in forging is as safe to use as any other WWI vintage receiver. But I do not think that WWI era receivers are all that safe to use. There is risk due to the inconsistent and inferior metallurgy. I do not know of a non-destructive test that can determine whether a single heat treat receiver was of proper materials and processes. But about 1,000,000 of the things were built and not every one blew up.

However, based on examination of Hatcher’s Notebook, P.O Ackley’s Vol II handbook and the Oct 1945 Dope Bag in American Rifleman, these early receivers have no margin of safety in an accident.
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  #4  
Old 02-16-2010, 03:07 PM
George2781 George2781 is offline
 
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Harcher was there at Springfield Armory at the time and in his book he clearly states that the problem occured in the Receiver Forging Shop.The workmen judged the proper temp. by the color of the forging,which could very according to the amount of daylight by a great deal.The heat treating shop had pyrometers but the damage was done earlier at the receiver forging shop.
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  #5  
Old 02-16-2010, 04:03 PM
Rick the Librarian Rick the Librarian is offline
 
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I think your last sentence says it all: "...these early receivers have no margin of safety in an accident."
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  #6  
Old 02-16-2010, 04:37 PM
Calif-Steve Calif-Steve is offline
 
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Slamfire did it very well. Among the problems was the forge shop not following Army Regulations for Manufacture. The shop guys "eyeballed" the forged steel, this was forbidden by Army Regulations. Also, the coned breech of the '03 barrel allowed for a very slight overhang of the .30-'06 case. Finally, poor quality ammunition of WWI was a last straw. Army Ordnance Corps investigated Springfield and found Springfield not at fault(my conclusion). None of us are aware of any issue like this with the Gew98, the able opponent of WWI.
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  #7  
Old 02-16-2010, 07:44 PM
J.W.A. J.W.A. is offline
 
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RtL and Slamfire just provided the most concise and well explained description that you will ever receive. There are a lot of "myths", untruths, half-truths and just plain misinformation floating around out there but these guys gave you the straight poop.

The only thing that I can add to their perfect explanations is that there is definitely no non-destructive test available to determine if a steel has been "burnt". Yes, there are a number of tests for hardness such as Rockwell, Brinell, etc. but that won't necessarily tell you what you need to know.

Regards,
__________________
Jeff

Last edited by J.W.A.; 02-16-2010 at 07:49 PM.
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  #8  
Old 02-21-2010, 11:29 AM
Homer03 Homer03 is offline
 
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I never knew that it was only a small portion of the low number rifles that actually had a problem. It would seem that alot of good rifles are hanging on walls instead of being shot just because they are guilty by association. Why wouldnt it be acceptable to proof ones rifle with a homemade "blue pill"? Build about 10% excess pressure into a reload and give it the old tire fire. It would seem that some shooters would be glad to find an old war horse shootable and willing to risk the wall decoration to find out.
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  #9  
Old 02-21-2010, 11:34 AM
Calif-Steve Calif-Steve is offline
 
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NO, no, no. What is meant is only a very small number of rifles have blown up in people's faces injuring them. However, it is plainly evident that the low number rifle was improperly made through out its production run. In fact, it was consistantly made in an improper fashion. They properly belong on a wall.
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  #10  
Old 02-24-2010, 09:00 AM
HughUno HughUno is offline
 
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Location: Northern VA
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Default or you can consider this and make up your own mind

(despite anecdotal (aka "BS) stories about "hammer taps leading to shattered receivers" etc.) THERE HAS NOT BEEN ONE SINGLE DOCUMENTED LOW NUMBER RECEIVER FAILURE RELATED TO FIRING ANY NORMAL (I.E. NON-RELOADED) AMMUNITION AT LEAST SINCE WWII BEGAN. THIS DESPITE HEAVY COMBAT USAGE OF LN 03'S IN THE PACIFIC BY THE USMC, THE OBVIOUS USAGE OF HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF LN RIFLES IN WW2 TRAINING/BOOT CAMPS SPORTING POST 70,000 PSI PROOF ROUND WW2 DATED BARRELS (like the LN rifle in the picture that I shoot regularly has), MAYBE ANOTHER HUNDRED THOUSAND LN RIFLES TURNED INTO GRANDPA's DEER RIFLE (like yours) IN POST-WAR AND PRE-WAR CONVERSIONS. IF LNs WERE A PROBLEM, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN A BIT MORE PROOF THAN "ZERO." In fact, the ACTUAL DANGER from LN rifles is almost certainly LESS than SA Inc. "commercial" M1 and M1A rifles which has had SEVERAL dangerous "blow ups" due to METALURGICAL FAILURES inlcuding at least ONE for 100% certain (perhaps two) FATALITIES. No one says "don't shoot that M1A in might blow up."

I would without ANY hesitation whatsoever shoot a LN rifle with a WWII barrel with any normal ammo.


Last edited by HughUno; 02-24-2010 at 09:13 AM.
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