Managing the Enfield

Introduction > Rifle > Equipment > Ammunition > Shooting > Cleaning > Bedding


To close this dissertation on the Enfield it will be as well to discuss a point of great importance to owners of Parker-Hale rifles. The Parker-Hale series of muzzle loading rifles, three models of the Enfield, the Whitworth, the Volunteer and the Henry Rifled Volunteer, are excellent value, well made in their parts and undoubtedly form the basic tools of a great proportion of today’s muzzle loading shooters.

The writer has commented that these rifles are well made in their parts, and so they are. Unfortunately they are not always assembled to produce reliable results. The marriage of lock, stock and barrel (to coin a phrase) is not something that can be neglected in any way. In modern Target Rifles, built on the latest bolt actions, there is no lock to worry about, the barrel floats entirely free and only the action has to be bedded. To accomplish this, the modern maker uses one of a variety of epoxy resins which undoubtedly produce excellent results.

The muzzle loading rifle presents an entirely different problem. To start with, the use of modern epoxy resin is banned under “The Spirit of the Original Rules”. Whilst in the U.K. we do not generally consider it too much of a sin if a certain amount of this substance is used, we have to consider that anyone appearing at an International with it will be banned. It follows that, even if you are not an International contender, it must be preferable to stay within the Spirit, if only for your own self respect.

The bedding corrections often necessary apply equally to all models of the Parker-Hale series. The chief difficulty occurs under the breech where often the barrel channel is too deep. The effect of this is to cause the under side of the nipple bolster to bed down hard on top of the lock plate without proper contact between the wood and metal under the breech. This fault shows itself by the group walking across the target, usually in a diagonal direction.

To check if this fault is present remove the barrel and put in the bottom of the channel two three layers of brown paper. Sometimes more than this might be indicated. Ensure that the paper does not extend more than a little up the side of the channel as you wish to ascertain how much space is free underneath and the sides of the stock channel often fit more tightly than the bottom. Put the barrel back with its bands in position and screw down the tang. If the nipple bolster fails to reach the top of the lock plate, remove the barrel and reduce the paper layers until you have reached the stage where the two surfaces just make contact. The whole point is that the bearing surface should be the underside of the breech and not the bolster. Continue by carefully putting brown paper into the bottom of the tang inlet so that the tang also is not stressed when screwed home. The paper bedding should extend about five inches forward from the rear face of the breech. If it turns out that no paper is needed then you probably do not have a problem. Having established the thickness of bedding necessary, it can now be made permanent as described shortly.

Another way of quickly checking is to remove the lock and see if the tang screw will turn down a further distance. The lock will almost certainly be difficult to remove without first loosening the tang screw in this case.

Attention should then be given to the fit between the barrel and the wood in the vicinity of the bands. A snug fit under each band can be achieved in the same way. Having established the need for the bedding you can now consider whether you would prefer to substitute shims of veneer for a really professional job. These can be glued in (using cabinet maker’s animal glue for authenticity) but do not allow the glue to add to the thickness. The paper shims can be similarly glued in. On some of the later rifles the barrel channel exhibits a fine ridge down the centre line caused by the manner of machining the wood. This should be scraped out. The channel will then be too deep and should be built up from the bottom, but only for the few inches each side of the barrel bands. A full length treatment is possibly an aesthetic improvement but not strictly necessary. Smoking the underside of the barrel and observing the contact points with the wood will help in this operation.

Now to consider waterproofing. The modern Target Rifleman very rarely ever takes his action out of the stock. To do so would wreck the accuracy. There is no reason why the Muzzle Loader should do so either. It is perfectly possible to clean a muzzle loading Enfield type of rifle thoroughly without ever taking the barrel out of the wood. Do this and you will always have the same point of impact with the same load.

What if rain or, even worse, foul cleaning water should get between the stock and the barrel ? We have all seen the horrible rust that can found on some originals there. With this system you will have complete peace of mind. Simply apply a layer of WATER PUMP GREASE to all the concealed metal leaving a good surplus to work into all the crevices such as the edges of the stock and under the fore-end cap. Water cannot get in and even if it does it cannot touch the metal. Do not use any old grease, make sure it is Water Pump Grease which is designed to protect metal in the presence of lots of high pressure hot water. The stock should be well proofed against the weather by the liberal use of linseed oil and wax polish both inside and out which will prevent water soaking into the wood and swelling or distorting it. This comment applies even more especially to original arms. Finally, always use a flash shield under the nipple in order to prevent the escape of hot gases from marring the finish and working fouling down the side of the stock channel forward of the nipple or around the tang.

Using this system on the author’s Naval Enfield meant that only once in the past twenty years has the barrel been out of the wood and that just to check that all was well – it was!

When dealing with original Enfield rifles, it will usually be found that the fit of wood to metal does not need adjustment but there is one tip that should be followed. When finally re-assembling the barrel to the stock, replace the tang screw only loosely. Put the barrel bands into position but before tightening them, bump the butt on the floor to set the barrel firmly back into its place in the wood. Then tighten the bands and finally screw home the tang screw but NOT TOO HARD. Do not swing on the screw driver, the tang screw should be merely “nipped up” to position. Over-tighten it and there will be a stress on the rear end of the barrel. These comments about the tang screw also apply to the Parker-Hales.