by Mike Cormier
Ok, before I get into the meat of the article, I feel I should clarify my stance on the issue of altering Lee Enfield rifles or parts. Let me state very clearly that I personally do not feel that any collector’s grade antique military rifle should be sporterized, or altered from its original configuration. That being said, rifles which have already been altered, either commercially or in someone’s basement, are plentiful and often fall into the hands of a .303 “true believer” such as myself. Frequently, these rifles are in need of serious attention, but with a little elbow grease and a few after market parts, they often make great shooters. So this begs the question: “If I’m gonna sporterize this old Lee, can I get a less military looking clip so the gun looks more like a ‘real’ hunting rifle?” Unfortunately, the answer is all too often “No”.
While some manufacturers have made 5 round magazines, most are not flush fitting and those which do exist comprise the “holy grail” of Lee Enfield sporterizing accessories. After ramming my head into the wall a few times on this issue, I finally decided to manufacture my own flush fitting 5 round magazine and found that it is a relatively easy project requiring only a few choice tools. So for those of you who are into sportered Lee Enfields, I’ve put together this guide to illustrate how I went about it so that you can all benefit from my learning curve, and yes, this works on all magazine-fed .303 Lees.
10 round .303 magazine
hand metal file(s)
10cm x 4cm piece of 2mm thick steel
cold blueing agent
Step 1: Sizing Your Magazine
If you are in possession of more than one magazine, you’ll want to select the one which has seen the most abuse. There’s no sense doing a Frankenstein job on your favorite, most pristine 100% finish mag from your prize winning un-issued #5 Jungle Carbine. Keep in mind that the bottom half has a date with the hack saw, so the one with the big dent in the bottom is ideal.
The first step is to disassemble the magazine. Of course this can be done! How do you think the Brits put ’em together? (see Figure 1). This is relatively easy and is accomplished by pressing down on the back of the feeder plate until the front end pops out of the bullet guides (the bent in pieces of metal on the top front of the mag) and then slightly twisting and pulling on this plate until the spring assembly comes loose. Additionally, there is a small metal liner at the front of the casing which pops off.
Now that you’ve got the thing apart, you need to determine where to begin cutting. This can be a bit tricky because depending upon the type of stock you have installed (military, synthetic, after market) your new flush fitting magazine could have a different length than that of your fellow .303 shooter. Personally, I always use any given magazine in only one rifle, but if you plan on swapping, you’ll want to determine an average length and go with that. I chose my length by installing it and using a grease pen to draw a line around the contour flush with the magazine harness attached to the trigger guard. In any event, this measurement is only rough and will be refined later with a grinder. For now, dig out your hack saw and slice off the bottom of the magazine, remembering to err on the side of the grease line which you intend to toss. Be sure to secure the part in a vice by the ‘bad’ end.
Once you’ve finished your rough cut to get rid of the excess length (see Figure 2) you’ll want to re-install the shortened casing to check how much still protrudes from the rifle. The goal is to get this newly cut edge to match the grade of the rifle’s magazine harness. This can only be accomplished (as far as I know) by carefully marking and grinding each elevated surface a little at a time until you are satisfied. It can be time consuming, but this approach is better than the alternative: grinding away too much and starting over with a new magazine. For this task, I used a motorized grinding wheel on a bench, although it could be done with hand files if you have the patience.
Step 2: Making A New Bottom Plate
The next step is to select a piece of steel to use as the new bottom for the magazine. I chose a scrap piece of 2mm thick (sorry about the metric, I’m Canadian) low carbon steel with a smooth surface free of rust. Place the shortened magazine casing upright against this piece of steel and grease pencil along the outside of the magazine’s perimeter to mark a slightly oversized template on your new bottom. Now it’s time for more elbow grease as you hack-saw out this rough shape, unless you have access to an industrial metal band saw, in which case life will be much easier for you. Once this is done, you can begin grinding the part down until the grease pencil line you drew is on the verge of disappearing. From here on in, I would suggest only using hand files, lest you need to begin anew. The aim is to (as closely as possible) size the bottom plate so that it is the same size as the inside perimeter of your magazine (see Figure 3).
Pay special attention to the shape and position of the fluting along the sides of the magazine. If your bottom plate is to fit properly, you will have to align these indentations rather precisely. I would suggest the use of a round file of the type used to sharpen chain saw teeth. Eventually you will be able to fit your new bottom into the magazine where it will be held by friction (see Figure 4).
Step 3: How To Secure The Bottom Plate
Now that you have the bottom plate snugly in place, you need to decide how to permanently fix it to the magazine. The British used to braze their clip bottoms in place with bronze. If you are experienced in this method, please feel free to try it and let me know how it works out. Personally, I decided against it because I wanted to cold blue my finished clip, and blueing agents don’t generally agree with bronze. Initially, I tried silver soldering the bottom in place, but I grew concerned that the solder wouldn’t hold. In the end, I went to a local welding shop and had it professionally mig welded at a cost of twenty dollars (Cdn).
Step 4: Finishing Touches
After having the magazine welded together, the bottom surface was (obviously) rather rough. I began the process of finishing the surface by grinding the welds down to a manageable level of protrusion. I then used a hand metal file to further flatten the welds until the bottom of the clip was roughly smooth.
Next, I used a fine grain sand paper to get rid of the filing marks, and then steel wool to rid the surface of sanding marks. Eventually it buffed up to a pretty high sheen. Afterwards, I removed the old surface finish from the sides of the magazine with some Stag Pre-Blue. This was done so that a uniform finish could be achieved when the cold blue was applied. I then just followed the instructions on the blueing bottle (see Figure 5).
Once you have the casing finished, you still have to resize the metal small metal liner from the front of the mag. Measure the new distance to the bottom of the magazine and mark it on the liner. This liner is made of very tough steel which is practically impossible to tackle with a hack saw. I would suggest just grinding through it at the appropriate length. Be careful not to shorten it too much, or the front of your 5th round could catch against the bottom of the liner and jam your magazine. Finally, you will notice that the spring riveted to the feeder plate is now too long. You will have to grind through this tough bit of spring steel, removing the very bottom section, to make it fit. There will still be more than enough spring left to chamber your rounds. Re-assemble the magazine and you’re all finished.
NOTE: In the figures, I drilled a small hole in the bottom plate used. This is only cosmetic. I placed it there to keep in spirit with the similar hole located on most original Lee-Enfield magazines. I believe this was to allow moisture and water to drain from the clip in the field, but I just thought it looked good.