M1 Carbines are not known for their reliability. Whether because of their age or inherent shortcomings in the design itself, frustrated M1 Carbine owners frequently deal with problems like failures to feed and failures to eject. Today, we’re talking about what kind of performance users can realistically expect from these guns as well as a few fixes for the most common problems. This is the fourth installment in our series on the M1 Carbine. Be sure to check out the others if you haven’t already!
Watch the video below for all the details, or scroll down to read the full transcript.
This is our fourth and final (Maybe final. Probably final. We’ll see…) installment of our series on the much beloved M1 Carbine. Last time, I talked about using the M1 Carbine for self-defense, and a kind of left you hanging with the issue of reliability. So that is what we’re talking about today.
These guns have a bit of a reputation for not being super reliable. But there are a few things we can do to help mitigate those factors. I need to tell you right up front: I am no gunsmith and I am not an expert on the M1 Carbine.Basically, I’m passing along information I gathered from other sources while researching this gun. I’ll also share with you some of the experiences that I had with this particular M1 Carbine. So it’s only a sample size of one but I think it might be of some value to some of you, especially if you are considering maybe purchasing one of these.
Before we get into the specifics, there are a couple of things you might want to keep in mind. First, these guns are really old, especially the actual GI models. This one has a barrel that’s stamped March 1944 and I bet most of the rest of the gun is at least that old. So we’re talking about a 75 year old gun; not just old technology, but really old parts. There’s no telling what’s happened to it and what’s been done to it over the years. There are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong that can impact the reliability.
It’s also important to remember something that Ken Hackathorn mentioned in a video interview he did with Ian McCollum on the M1 Carbine. In case you haven’t already, you should probably check that out if you have any interest in this gun. He mentioned that the concept of reliability back in the WWII era was probably different than it is today. We have much higher expectations of our hardware. For example, I can run thousands of rounds through my AR-15 and as long as I keep dumping lube in the thing, it never malfunctions. I never have any problems with it and I don’t expect to. Now, you can say that’s abusing the gun if you want, but it runs just fine. That is not unusual for a modern gun like the AR.
Back in WWII, they would not have had that same expectation of their guns. If you’ve got an M1 Carbine that has one malfunction every thousand rounds or so, that’s pretty good. That’s well above average for a gun from that era. It’s a design that can be reliable, but I don’t think it takes a whole lot for it to become unreliable.
Best Practices for M1 Carbine Reliability
If you look into how to make these guns more reliable, you’ll run into a few of the same recommendations over and over. First of all, use an original GI-issued Carbine. The commercial reproductions like the Universal or the Plainfield, and more recently, the Auto-Ordnance or the Inland (not the original Inland Division, but the more recent company that’s using the Inland name to make reproductions), they just don’t run as well. And there have been other reproductions over the years, they go back to the 50s and 60s. I’m sure some of them work just fine, but on average, the commercial copies are just not as well made.
There is one exception and that is Fulton Armory. They make very faithful reproductions of the original. They’re not cheap — you gotta pay for that quality. 1940s manufacturing processes are not cheap to replicate today, so Fulton Armory’s guns come at a premium. But from everything I’ve heard of them, they work just as well as you can expect any M1 Carbine to work.
Aside from Fulton, if you start with a GI Carbine, it seems like you’ve got a much better chance of ending up with something that’s reliable. Any of those original manufacturers — the government contracted several companies to make them; Winchester, IBM, Inland, Rock-Ola, Underwood Typewriters — there were a bunch of companies making them. Any of those should be fine as a starting point.
The next suggestion is to use good magazines. Usually, that is defined as original GI magazines. Those are still fairly plentiful and not crazy expensive, though they are not always easy to track down. One of the newer manufacturers is KCI, imported from Korea. From all the feedback I’ve been able to find, those those magazines work just as well as the GI magazines on average. Aside from that, if you can find some of the original GI magazines that are still in the wrapper and unused, those are probably your best bet.
After that, you’re going to want to look at the springs in the gun. A lot of these rifles have springs that might be 75 years old. Hopefully, they’ve been replaced at some point, but if they haven’t, you can count on those causing problems with reliability. So, replace all the springs that you can with new ones.
And finally, use “quality ammo.” That is one of those arbitrary terms that no one really likes to define. What is quality ammo? I don’t know. I used a bunch of different types of ammo for this carbine and I’ll talk about that in just a minute. Generally, you probably don’t want to use questionable reloads from your buddy’s garage or something like that. A lot of people insist domestically-produced brass cased ammo is your best bet. But I think some of the foreign-made brass cased ammo is just as good. And in some cases, the steel-cased ammo is not bad either.
I don’t know that it’s all that important to always choose ammo from a specific place or a specific type. Just expect that these guns are going to be a little finicky and each one might run better with a certain brand or load. The only way to know for sure is to simply shoot a bunch of different types to figure out what your gun likes.
This is the M1 Carbine that I’ve been working with for the last few weeks. It’s actually the same carbine I was using in the last video. I just took off the rail and the optic because you guys made me feel bad for defacing a piece of history… not really. The real reason is that I’m actually borrowing this gun from a coworker here at Lucky Gunner, and I had to put it back in its original form before I could return it to them.
This is a fairly typical example of a shooter-grade carbine from the WWII era. It’s nothing special from a collector’s standpoint. It is an Inland gun — here on the receiver it says “Inland Division.” That would be the Inland Division of General Motors, one of the companies that was contracted to make these during the war. The barrel is also Inland and it’s stamped with an import mark that reads “Blue Sky, Arlington, VA.”.
The likely history of this gun is that sometime after the war, it was loaned or given to one of the US’s allies to use in their military. After that, it was sold back to an American distributor who sold it on the commercial market here. Then somebody bought it at a gun show or something in 1980s. That person used it and abused it for many years and passed it on to a relative and that relative happens to be my coworker. So there is no telling what has been done to this gun over the years. There’s no telling how many of its original parts it still has or when those parts may have been replaced. If you look at it, it is definitely showing its age.
The first thing I did with this gun was detail strip it, and thoroughly clean and lube it. I got some of those Korean KCI magazines and a few different types of ammo. I used Prvi Partizan, Sellier & Bellot, Federal, Hornady, and Tula. Most of it was the S&B and the PPU. The first trip out to the range, this thing was having a lot of malfunctions; mostly failures to feed and failures to eject. Neither of those are particularly difficult failures to clear. With the feeding failures, usually the round just hangs up on the feed ramp and you run the charging handle and it’s good to go. The failures to eject are typically the stove pipe variety.
Every once in a while, when you run the charging handle to clear one of these issues, you actually induce a double feed. So obviously, that takes a little longer to clear. But for the most part, the failures aren’t a huge deal. We’re not talking about major problems like parts breakages. But anything that makes the gun stop during the firing cycle is bad, especially if we want to use this gun for any serious purposes.
Since I was already using brand new magazines and decent ammo (the gun didn’t seem to malfunction more often with any specific brand of ammo over the others), I started the troubleshooting with the springs. I bought an M1 Carbine spring kit from Wolff Gunsprings. There are a lot of springs in the M1 Carbine and some of them are easier to replace than others. But I was hoping that replacing the recoil spring (an easy task) would take care of most of the malfunctions. It did not.
When I took the gun back out to the range, I was still getting a lot of those feeding failures. Maybe not quite as many as before, but definitely not an acceptable number. I had roughly one malfunction every one or two magazines. So my next step was to address some of the more difficult-to-access springs. In particular, I replaced the springs in the bolt. That can be hard to do because you have to disassemble the bolt, which requires something like three hands and four screwdrivers. So, for $35, I ordered an M1 Carbine bolt disassembly tool. This is a lifesaver. It makes taking apart that bolt a piece of cake. That allowed me to replace the ejector spring and extractor spring. When you’re having failures to eject, replacing the ejector spring seems like it might be a good idea.
And it was. On my next trip to the range, I fired 250 rounds with no problems at all. I took the gun back out a couple days later… and started having issues again. At this point, I had about 600 or 700 rounds through the gun without cleaning it. So I looked in the action and noticed that it was looking really gritty. There was a lot of fouling and the feed ramp looked nasty. So I stripped it again and cleaned and lubed everything. I had much better luck the next time I took it out. But I didn’t completely get rid of all those failures. That range trip was just a couple of days ago. In two hundred rounds, I had two failures; one failure to feed, one failure to eject.
At this point, I have addressed all of the low hanging fruit in terms of maintenance on these things. If this was my gun and I wanted it to be 100 percent, my next step would be to take it to a gunsmith or a specialist shop like Fulton Armory for them to troubleshoot it. When taking the gun apart, I did notice that there is some peening on the rear of the bolt. The hammer might be hitting it in the wrong place or something. I’m not exactly sure what to make of that, but it doesn’t look right. It could be causing some of the problems. And again, there’s no telling what’s going on with this thing. It’s 75 years old. These old guns get little gremlins in them and they’re hard to track down.
So the moral of the story is that you can follow the recommended practices and you can absolutely increase the reliability of the gun that way. But if you want an M1 Carbine to run mostly flawlessly, you may need to do a little more work, especially if it’s a gun with a more storied history like this one. If you’ve got one that is in more pristine condition, has been very well maintained, kept in a museum-like gun room for most of its lifetime, then it’s probably going to run a little better than this one.
A couple of other observations from shooting this carbine — oddly enough, it likes the steel-cased Tula ammo better than anything else. I shot about 300 rounds of that particular brand and had just one malfunction. And I think that malfunction was actually magazine related because the other thing I noticed is that with the 30 round magazines, I had more failures when I filled them all the way to capacity. If I put just 20 or 25 rounds in those magazines, they tended to run really well. If I filled them up all the way, I would get some of those feeding failures. So if you’re running those 30 round mags, you might have better luck if you down-load them by a few rounds. That is a common recommendation for those magazines.
If you are looking for a really fun piece of history that is easy to maintain, that’s easy to work on, and easy to turn into a modern self-defense rifle with ultimate reliability, do not buy an M1 Carbine. Get something else. I love these guns, but if the prospect of being your own gunsmith or having a gun that turns into a project is intimidating to you, the M1 Carbine is not for you. And just for the record, the problems I had with this carbine are not some kind of fluke. I’ve owned two other M1 Carbines that both had very similar problems.
Like I said, some of these guns that have been better maintained over the years probably run just fine. But it is not uncommon to run across an M1 Carbine, especially a shooter-grade gun, that has some kind of weird problems that are not always easy to fix.
All right, so that does it for the M1 Carbine. Unless I decide to do more. You’ll get to find out next time. In the meantime, you can buy all the ammo that you might need for your M1 Carbine, or any other gun that you have, from us with lightning fast shipping at LuckyGunner.com.