M1 Carbine: The Classic Warhorse (Part III)

By CTD Blogger published on in Firearms, Military Surplus

It was only natural; as soon as I was old enough and had the funds saved up, I bought an M1 Carbine. Unfortunately for me, the first one I came found, while I had $95 burning a hole in my pocket, was at a local emporium in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles. It was a brand spanking new Plainfield Machine Company M1 Carbine. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Plainfield carbines were assembled using surplus parts. However, Plainfield has a colorful history, and is worth some investigation to those interested.

M1 Carbine with scope

The M1 with the proper aftermarket parts will hold all of the modern attachments a shooter could want.

Anyway, I couldn’t wait to share the news with a friend who was a much more experienced firearms aficionado. When I told him, the first comment he made was that I had to reload to keep the shooting costs down. I didn’t have a clue, so he gave me a list of components to buy and said, he would show me how to reload, which he did. That became my first reloading experience, which turned into a life long pursuit still going strong for over 55 years. It was at that time that I also came to realize another very interesting and attractive quality of the M1 Carbine, it really was very easy to reload for. Add another plus on the popularity side.

The problem with the previously mentioned Plainfield Carbine was that it just did not hold up to even the small amount of ammo I subjected it to—despite it’s cool looking, perforated handguard. After the brazed on gas piston housing separated from the barrel, it prompted another separation—our rather unceremonious parting of the ways. However, genuine G.I. was still scarce on the commercial market, so I found a Universal M1 Carbine to fill the void in my need. It was also assembled from G.I. Surplus parts and a cast receiver. Alas, it was not much better and soon discarded.

Despite the bad experience with the commercial versions of the M1 Carbine that I had tried, I was still enamored with the sexy little carbine, so I did my best to learn as much as I could about it. The more I found out, the more I wanted one. Eventually, I acquired a genuine G.I. Inland Division M1 Carbine in very nice arsenal-upgraded condition.

Various boxes of ammunition

I went to gun shows and scrounged sporting goods stores for magazines, tools, pouches, and a bayonet. About that time, I discovered the joy of weekends spent in California’s high deserts in pursuit of jackrabbits. It was fun and inexpensive. I can’t think of a better way to learn how to compute lead on fast erratic targets than with jackrabbits and the fast-handling agile carbine. The laws in California have certainly changed, but my fondest memories are of days spent walking the desert with a handful of 30-round magazines and plenty of ammo.

Those early trips improved my shooting and taught me many lessons—one of which was that the carbine’s range and utility could be improved with a scope. Now please remember, we are talking prehistoric times as far as things concerning anything shooting are compared to the things taken for granted today. It was really hard to find a means of mounting a scope to an M1 Carbine—no internet or mobile devices.

Eventually, I was able to find an outfit that made a scope mounts for the M1 Carbine. The mount fit in the rear sight cut and was secured by a bolt. In that mount with Redfield rings the scope rode high enough over the receiver so as to not impede function. I couldn’t wait to mount the 1.5-4x Bushnell Banner scope the salesman said would be just the ticket.

JR Special close up

That combination did in fact prove to be very deadly, and I would not even attempt to guess at the number of jacks taken with it, but it was a boatload. It did, however, exhibit a vexing problem. The base worked loose and caused the scope to lose zero after a day afield. After replacing the unit for a newer upgraded model that proved not much better, I eventually remedied the on going problem using the “ol’ iodine trick.” For those unfamiliar, back in the day, prior to Loctite when you wanted something to stay put, a little Iodine on the threads would rust them together. Afterward, the only way to remove the screw was to drill it out. That did correct the problem, and it has held its zero till this day.

Over the years, I acquired more carbines and at one point decided I just had to have the white unicorn for my own. I had to have an original, as issued, museum-quality example of the M1. Through a friend, I was put in contact with a well known collector and dealer who had a couple of examples he was willing to part with—at enormous expense. He then asked if I had an M1 Garand to match the carbine I was looking at. I did not then; I do now, but that is another story.

That visit started me on the never-ending path of carbines as collectables. There have been so many manufacturers, upgrades, parts changes, variations, modifications, and accessories that it might be impossible to collect examples of them all, but it sure is fun and educating to try.

M1 Carbine tools

Collecting M1s i s about more than just the guns. There is a whole host of accessories and tools you’ll want.

The most obvious accessories are magazines, and let me tell you, there is a whole world of variations and manufacturers. Needless to say, it’s like the proverbial onion, the more you learn, the more layers that are exposed, and the more there is for you to learn. I might add; it is just not enough to have good, functional, reliable magazines. You will feel compelled to get examples of those made by all the manufacturers (WWII, post war, foreign, and domestic). Then, there are the bayonets and scabbards not to mention slings, oilers, mag pouches, and carbine-specific tools such as the bolt take down tool and gas piston wrench. With all the interest, forgeries abound, so one must decide if collectability or functionality is important. It never ends, but if collecting is in your DNA, it can be very entertaining and loads of fun—not to mention some of the characters one meets along the way.

To say my love affair with this ol’ gal has lasted and still grows today is an understatement. Yet, another reason for my appreciation of the M1 Carbine, and I believe a whole new generation discovering it, is its newly found application as an urban defensive tool. As a firearms instructor, I have recommended the M1 Carbine as the perfect home/urban defense tool for many years while others down talked it. Again, they try to equate the battlefield with the living room or front yard, and that just does not work.

Faith

It was manufactured to be a weapon of battle in a much harsher time. As such, it is built tank tough to last with little or no care or attention. Remember, lots of people buy a gun for defense, shoot it once, and then it gets put away until the excrement hits the fan. If they are fortunate enough—and remember they have an M1 carbine and it is loaded—it will work and work reliably. It is light and handy—meaning it is friendly in confined spaces such as homes and vehicles.

Winchester recoil lug for the M1 Carbine

Winchester recoil lug

Women, children, the elderly, and infirmed can all use the M1 Carbine effectively. The defensive ammunition available today includes newly designed defensive ammo with a plethora of expanding projectiles at 2000+ feet per second. That trumps the hottest .357 Magnum loads, which I might add is considered a gold standard for self-defense.

Remember, the .357 in a handgun is difficult to master and shoot accurately. It also has tremendous muzzle blast and recoil. Most often, it will only have six rounds on board too. The carbine is much quieter, exhibits less recoil, is easier to shoot accurately, and depending on where you live, it can accommodate from 10 to 30 rounds. In a pinch, you can add the bayonet previously mentioned or use it as a club. Ah! Such versatility; it just warms my heart.

Other popular platforms, such as today’s MSRs are just not as user friendly in my opinion. Plus, I just happen to like wood and steel. I have said for a long time that gunmakers stopped making guns better and started making them cheaper during the mid to late 1950s. Driven by increased labor costs, firearms manufacturing looked for cost-cutting procedures and materials to be more profitable and as a capitalist. I understand and appreciate that.

Winchester M1 Carbine

Winchester M1 Carbine

We went from steel with lots of machining and hand fitting to aluminum and tubular construction, cast parts, and heaven help us plastic guns. Yes, they still go bang! but with less elegance and certainly without a soul. Do we really like and think these new modular firearms are better, or have we been brain washed into thinking so? I, for one, also feel that if a battle rifle’s caliber does not begin with a 3, it’s for varmints.

When I went trough basic training in the Stone Age (mid 1960s). The M16 was the service rifle, but we went through training with the M14. We were told they had not developed a manual of arms for the new Mattel-a-Matic. I was probably one of the last trainees to qualify as a bayonet expert. Would somebody please demonstrate how you do a bayonet drill with a pistol grip? Oh, the inhumanity!

Recently, I had a good friend over who happens to be one of the premiere firearms instructors in the country, if not the world; he is also one of the top competition shooters of all time. I brought out a few of my M1 Carbines and started to go on about them when he turned to his companion and said, “We need to get a couple of carbines, they are lots of fun and make a really good home defense tool for anyone.” I love that kind of validation for what I have been preaching for all these years, especially from someone of his stature.

Inland stock for the M1 Carbine

Inland stock

Zombie Gun

Now let’s look at the requirements of a zombie gun and a comparison of the contenders. The term zombie gun may no longer in vogue, but the concept endures. The first thing I look at is reliability. The M1 Carbine was made to arm our troops under the worst conditions and to last the duration and beyond. That means it will hold up and it is made from good American steel, forged, and machined. It has an economy of parts, which means less to go wrong. If something does go wrong, which is unlikely, there are so many in circulation that finding parts should be easy. This is true to a lesser degree of other U.S. Marshal arms but not as true. Remember, there were 6.2 million made plus boatloads of spare parts. Add to that commercial variants, and the supply is just short of unlimited. It has proven itself for 75 years.

It is light at 5.2 pounds. Lighter than any other battle rifle or carbine with like features. When walking, lighter is better. Remember, gasoline has a finite shelf life. The Carbines’ slight weight will allow anyone to be able to use it. It’s so light it can be handled and shot effectively with one hand.

Compared to Other Popular Defensive Calibers

The ammunition is compact and light—smaller and lighter than any AR or AK platform calibers. All calibers available for those platforms are overkill on zombies or under kill like 9mm or .22 LR. You might say that 9mm is smaller and lighter, and while true, it gives up mightily in performance. Even out of a 16-inch barrel, it is well below 300 ft. lbs. at 100 yards.

Cartouch

Police in Northern Ireland had no faith in their MP5s at more than 50 meters—so much for the 9mm. One could make the case for MP5s in 10mm, but good luck finding one—and then there is the problem of ammo. 10mm is not exactly a household name, although its popularity has increased in recent years. M1 Carbine ammo, on the other hand, is everywhere and everybody makes it. Remember, it was designed to be effective out to 300 yards. I, for sure, don’t want to be shot with one at any range. Additionally, 30-round magazines are plentiful. Consider weight and size; you can carry more of everything—always a good thing.

One of the features I like the most is that it was designed to use a bayonet and has a traditional wood stock. Today’s modern rifles are difficult-to-impossible to correctly wield a bayonet. The M1 Carbine allows that in spades. Try that with a MP5 or any bullpup.

Now, I know that all of you young whipper snappers are foaming at the mouth, throwing yourselves around saying the AR is better cause you can attach all sorts of modern gizmos to it. Well, hold on. You can attach all the same gizmos to the venerable M1 Carbine.

There is an outfit called UltiMAK that makes a slick Picatinny mounting system that replaces the handguard. It is a rock-solid system that allows you the ability to mount scopes, red dots, lasers, lights, or whatever to modernize the Old’ War Horse into the ultimate home defense machine. With the addition of the Aimpoint Patrol Rifle Optic you just put the red dot where you want it and squeeze.

For all the reasons stated and more, I believe the M1 Carbine to be one of the most interesting, effective, versatile, popular, and just plain fun firearms around. For the collector, its story is one of the most interesting—as is the firearm itself. Do yourself a favor, and get M1 Carbine fever… You will thank me.

Share your M1 story in the comment section.

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Comments (42)

  • Carl from Meridian

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    I too owned a Plainfield. Like Yours it was a POS and the slide guide wore out and the slide kept jumping out of the track. The rear sight was poorly staked. Finally saved what parts I could use and made a tomato stake out of the barrel/receiver.

    Reply

  • ANDREW AYCOCK

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    I AM NOW 59 Y/O.
    I BROUGHT MY UNIVERSAL CARBINE AT A GUN SHOW IN AMARILLO TEXAS IN 1975 FOR $90.S, IT CAME WITH 2 BANDELEERS OF AMMO, 3 15 ROUND MAGS AND 2 30 ROUND MAGS.
    I HAVE NOT HAD THE PROBLEMS YOU HAVE HAD WITH YOUR NON MILITARY CARBINES, I DID REPLACE THE BOLT SPRINGS AND THAT WAS AN ADVENTURE WITHOUT THE BOLT TOOL.
    I PUT A 4X SCOPE ON IT USING THE REAR SIGHT SCOPE MOUNTING SYSTEM.
    I HAVE KILLED MANY SOUTH TEXAS DEER WITH IT INCLUDING THREE RUNNING DEER. ALL THE DEER I HAVE SHOT HAVE BEEN ONE SHOT HEAD AND NECK SHOOTS USING MILITARY FMJ ROUNDS.
    I AM A TEXAS PEACE OFFICER AND FOR MANY YEARS BEFORE I HAD AN AR-15 I CARRIED MY CARBINE IN MY PATROL CAR.
    I HAVE HEARD THAT THE UNIVERSAL CARBINE COULD BE USED AS AN M-2 WITH MILITARY PARTS BUT I HAVE NOT TRIED OR SEEN IT DONE.
    I AM VERY PLEASED WITH MY CARBINE, IT WAS MY 1ST RIFLE.
    I HAVE MANY FIREARMS BUT THIS IS MY FIRST AND WILL ALWAYS BE MY FAVORITE.

    Reply

  • Rowca

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    I too am a M-1 Carbine fan and enjoy plinking at my local range. The service weapon manufactured in the 1940s functions flawlessly and serves as tribute to those who carried and served our nation. Several years ago when the Carbines were available through CMP I gifted one to each of my children with the proviso that they pass the weapon th their children. Days at the range with our respective carbines are fond memories.

    Reply

  • Jerry

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    Loved your article! I inherited a Universal M1 carbine from my grandfather when he died in 1981. I plan to give it to one of my sons or grandchildren soon.

    My question is, even thought it’s been very reliable whenever we shoot it, what can I do to make certain it stays that way? Is there a list of common trouble spots to look at?

    Thanks again!

    Jerry

    Reply

  • Dan Topolewski

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    I got mine from the CMP in Anniston, AL when they announced the Rockola release. I didn’t care what mfr I got – as my traveling partner did, so when the door opened that morning and those waiting in line rushed to the Rockola corner, I looked at crowns of others along the display wall. I found one in good shape and bought it. When I got it home and started cleaning it up, I noticed that a previous “owner” had carved “Vietnam 67″ in the stock. Out of respect for some mother’s son, I immediately replaced the furniture with new CMP stock, and saved the “veteran” stock in a safe place. What a wonderful shooter.

    Reply

    • Rodney Steward

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      As in Anniston Army Depot, (Bynum), at the time the worlds largest Tank Factory before Billy Clinton destroyed it? I too have one of those weapons that was purchased through the NRA in the 60’s! My father worked there for many years after he got out of the Army! His name was George R. Steward and was an inspector over the gun barrels and sights for the tanks! Sadly my father passed away 2 years ago, but I have that sweet little weapon and one of my first to ever shoot!! :-)

      Reply

  • William M. Quirk

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    I have Harvested a lot of Deer with rifle , I have a pistol of the same Cal.
    Perfect for survival >>

    Reply

  • Huggy

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    EXCELLENT article but one that has me trying to find a way to properly kick myself in the backside without hurting myself too much.
    I came across an all original Rockola version carbine many moons ago and enjoyed shooting it. Being without a good paying job at the time it was pretty much all I could afford at the time. I bought it from an aging friend knowing little about the gun and at a price that would make your jaw drop given it wasn’t a Blue Sky import or other amalgamation of parts of unknown quality.
    Then came along a better job (after going to a good Tech School…Take THAT, Four Year Colleges!) and with a better job came an increase in pay and discretionary cashola.
    Then came the craze for all things AR and trinkets with which to adorn it and it was infatuation at first sight! (Actually, that infatuation became a long-term Love but that’s another story for another day) But I kept my little Rockola with oodles of magazines, a genuine bayonet, proper oiler(s), (yes, plural but don’t ask why. I think they had babies), add on cone flashhider(s) (yes, plural AGAIN! What was WRONG with me?!?), proper Web slings (there’s that plural AGAIN!!) and other doodad’s too numerous to mention.
    But I fell into some kind of time warp since ALL components were verified as being original and NOT cheap copies and imports but, best of all, I wasn’t taken to the cleaners buying all of those goodies from the chap I bought them from.
    He just wanted to know it was going to s good home and would be properly and we’ll cared for (It was).
    While the little blaster wasn’t a one-hole tack driver, it was easily well within what was considered to be accurate for what it was designed to be. My then pre-teen kids liked it because it didn’t kick like my M1A or any .30 caliber bolt rifle so it did get a good workout.
    But as previously stated the AR craze came along, the kids grew up and they, too, became enamored by the AR bug, the result being the little carbine was relegated to the back of one of the safes, infrequent to see the light of day.
    Then came along a friend and fellow employee (new to the company and at the bottom of the pay totem pole) who was very nearly of Lilliputian dimensions who was trying to assemble a small collection of guns with which he, his equally diminutive sized wife and pretty tiny youngsters could shoot without being set on their derriere’s and not put them into the poor house.
    Well, HERE is a guy and a fine family who not only cannot afford Uber high quality (read expensive) guns, who have a NEED and, because of their own lack of size dimensions, absolutely fell in LOVE with the Little Rifle, and I got to thinking.
    Self, sez I to me, these folks are good people who deserve to be protected by QUALITY firearms and have a genuine NEED for the Little Rifle, so I put forth a trade deal. They would “trade” me a reasonable quantity of current day script for the USA and I’d “trade” them the Little Rifle and all of the accoutrements I had assembled for it since I had acquired it.
    These folks were fairly ecstatic over but not in possession of my asking price (which, BTW, was the same as I bought it for and about 1/3rd of the commercial asking price) so I allowed them to make payments while I retained the Little Rifle until it was paid off.
    Long (!!) story almost at an end, we were finally able to conclude our “trade” and we became fast and lasting friends. I felt good that I hadn’t taken advantage of someone in need just because I COULD (sadly, today so many people lack morals to help others without a price tag attached and who will argue that being a capitalist isn’t bad but taking advantage of a fellow human being is just Okie Dokie with them. HTF can they so much as LOOK at themselves in the mirror is beyond me! And the .22 LR Hoarding SOB’s are in the same category IMO) and the gun went to a Good Home where it resides to this day.
    My point in all this is that while I absolutely enjoy all things AR related, I recall wistfully that Little Rifle, the Rockola carbine and wish I still had it. Especially now that I have a Fiancé with MS and suffers from lack of upper body strength and the same affliction of her hands and arms.
    I really believe she would do well with a Little Rifle such as I once owned. But in our “Golden Years” (Golden my ASS!! What a cruel description!) it makes little sense to continue to be on the prowl for yet another gun.
    That said, I think it is past time I complete my AR pistol project since it MAY be just the ticket for my Sweetie and much easier for her to wield if faced with a SHTF situation. But I’ll definitely need to convince her it would be in her best interests to put on some ear protection BEFORE firing a 10.5″ barreled .556mm “pistol” or suffer the ear-splitting consequences.
    To those thinking about acquiring an M1 Carbine, I highly recommend you do so. They ARE fun guns to shoot and even hunt with if stoked with the proper ammunition. And with that same ammo, they can be called upon to serve as a Personal Protection Device when the circumstances warrant it.
    Considering it has a bit more Oompf than many handgun cartridges, it would seem to be a No-Brainer as long as the situation and surroundings dictate their judiciously applied implementation.
    Good Luck and God Bless.

    Reply

  • DON GRUBE

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    IN THE SIXTIES I SHOT MI CARBINES AS AN AIR EXPLORE SCOUT AT RICHARDS GABAR AIR FORCE BASE. THEY WERE TERRIBLE INACCURATE WITH BALL ISSUE AMMO. YES, THEY WERE GENUINE MILITARY SURPLUS NOT FAKE COPIES. THE ARTICLE WRITTEN DOES INDEED COVER THE WANT TO OF THE LITTLE WEAPON AND I SHARE THE SAME WANT TO’S AND DESIRES FOR IT BUT HOW CAN THE BABY .30 BE MADE TO SHOOT MORE ACCURATE? 6″ GROUP AT 25 YARDS IS NOT COOL. WHO MAKES AN ACCURATIZION RETROFIT FOR IT TO ENABLE 1″ AT 50?

    Reply

    • Lou

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      Those M1’s were either defective or you needed more training. My M1 is plenty accurate enough. Mine will shoot a 3 or 4″ group at 50 yards rapid fire.

      Reply

  • EnzoFromNM

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    I had bought a M1 carbine. It was a inland. I was so stupid because I sold it because I needed to pay off a debt from college. I should’ve just paid it off little by little. I miss my M1 carbine so much. That was one of the biggest mistakes in my life.

    Reply

  • Bill

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    After 21 years in the Air Force I became a Deputy Sheriff in Virginia and as such was authorized to purchase, on our Department’s letterhead stationary, most any firearm for our personal carry in uniform or vehicle.
    I always wanted a M1 Carbine of my own. That is what I trained on in the Air Force. The carbine that I received from a distributor in California is one made by Inland Div of GM. All serial # match, the wood is like new. Upon receipt of the weapon I disassembled it and cleaned it, which it really did not need. That was in 1976. Of course I still have it and will pass it on to my son,. I have fired it at least 10,000 rounds without a problem and I have heard about its use in the Korean war and its failure to be effective. Well I found it to be a match for the 357 magnum pistol. Yes is great for home defense. I have not used it in that role. Hope I never have to. Loved your articles.

    Reply

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