About One of the Key Developments in the Evolution of Lee-Enfield Rifles

For those that know anything about Lee-Enfield rifles for sale, they know that there are many variants among the 17 million produced between the end of the 19th century and nearly the current time.

But, there is a predecessor to the Lee-Enfield rifle that bears only half of its name, which has a key difference from modern models that affects how it shoots, and how accurately.

This is the Lee-Metford rifle, one of the precursors to the magazine, Lee-Enfield (MLE) and Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield (SMLE) rifles that you’ll sometimes see for sale as surplus.

The first Lee-Metford was a combination of the designs of two men, James Paris Lee and William Ellis Metford.

The rifle, which was magazine fed and fired the .303 Mk I black powder cartridge, was produced with polygonal rifling.

Polygonal rifling has much shallower lands and grooves than conventional, modern 8-groove rifling. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Polygonal rifling tends to perform well with black powder cartridges because the rifling is shallower and doesn’t have sharp grooves. This makes it a lot easier to clean out because there is nowhere for fouling to hide.

With black powder, this is quite a bit of a big deal, since black powder produces thick, heavy fouling, that not only can affect accuracy, but which left in place will accelerate corrosion and pitting of the bore – not good in a service rifle (or any rifle, for that matter).

Polygonal rifling is also fairly suitable for use with black powder cartridges since black powder produces such lower chamber pressures, comparatively, than modern smokeless powders, like cordite.

Speaking of which, at the time of the Lee-Metford’s introduction, black powder and the cartridges that were loaded using it were both moribund. Militaries around the world were already making the move to smokeless powders, which produced higher chamber pressures and less fouling.

The British were no exception, and were moving to a new smokeless powder already named, called cordite. Unfortunately for the Lee-Metford, when its .303 cartridge was loaded with cordite, barrel and rifling wear were accelerated grievously.

So much so, in fact, that some Lee-Metford rifles started to experience flagging performance and accuracy after as little as a few thousand rounds.

This occurred because the shallower polygonal rifle of the Metford was prone to accelerated wear from the higher chamber pressures produced by the new, cordite-loaded cartridges.

Unfortunately for the Metford, it had somewhat limited utility by the time it was rolled out.

The solution came from the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, whose barrels featured deeper, more substantial square-cut rifling. This rifling had more pronounced lands and grooves, was more reliable, and produced better accuracy, even after several thousand rounds.

And so, the rifles produced under the Lee-Metford design that were outfitted with Enfield barrels went on to become known as Lee-Enfield rifles.

Give or take 17 million rifles later, and the rest, as we know it, is history.

On the Hunt for a Lee-Enfield for Sale?
Even after the name swap from Lee-Metford to Lee-Enfield, the rifle went on to enjoy a long service history, through two World Wars and beyond. It has served among many Commonwealth Countries and was one of the most influential (and recognizable) rifle designs of the 20th Century (or 19th, if you’re a stickler for original dates).

Either way, if you’re looking for a Lee-Enfield rifle for sale, you’d better know where to look. Many millions were made but these are still figuratively priceless pieces of history, and some are worse for wear than others.

For those of you interested in historical and military surplus firearms, like Lee-Enfield rifles for sale, visit SARCO, Inc., either in their showroom in Easton, Pennsylvania, or on their website. They carry a massive inventory of firearms, parts, and military collectibles, including parts for Lee-Enfield rifles. Check them out today.

For more information about Gun Kits and M1 Bayonet Please visit: Sarco Inc.

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