Choosing a MBR: The M1 Garand or the M14/M1A?, by Zorro

I am getting along in my years but, I recognize that I may need a high power Main Battle Rifle  (MBR) in the future if significant issues surrounding our standard of living within the US remain unresolved. So, what rifle should I choose Let me start by saying that a 5.56/.223 in a AR-15 or any other light caliber rifle does not qualify as a MBR with me. The 5.56/.223 55 grain round requires 2,800 fps at impact to produce a large wound cavity. When shot from a  20″ barreled  AR-15 the round is below that impact velocity at about 150 yards and from a 16″ barrel at 75 yards.(1). I own a AR-15 and I like it but, I limit it to defense and close quarters use mostly. My wife and daughter can shoot it comfortably but, it is more a ‘multipurpose utility’ type weapon. Because you can kill game efficiently, shoot through large cover (12″ diameter tree), and drop the enemy well beyond 600 yards I choose a MBR that shoots the 7.62/.308/.30-06 round. As Boston T. Party says, “Boys, give up your carbine toys for a real man’s weapon-a .308 battle rifle” (2). Murphy’s law of combat applies: INCOMING FIRE HAS THE RIGHT OF WAY (3) . The AR-15 debate can rage elsewhere.

Many rifle designs are available using the .308/7.62 x 51 round , even the venerable M1 Garand. DPMS and Armalite make AR style rifles in the .308 ( the bolt locks into the barrel chamber instead of into the receiver like the M1/M14) and, they are very accurate. Also, DSA makes FAL type rifles which are very good as are the HK91s. But, I want an American forged and assembled  rifle capable of shooting an American caliber bullet. Okay, I am biased. Consequently, the FAL and HK were not considered. As for the .308 AR style rifles – they have too many serious negatives with the direct gas impingement system, the design complexity, and  parts availability. The AR-10 (et al) is just not rugged enough for a prolonged unsupported survival situation. Besides, I have shot the Garand and M14 many times in the military. I know and I like them- familiarity means quite a bit. Also, the Garand and the M14 are rated as the best two MBRs available today-  ahead of the FAL, HK, and the AR-10 (4) ( DPMS was not rated and if their customer service rapport is any indication of their product then I can see why !)  It is the Garand and the M14 (called the M1A by Springfield of Illinois) that I will discuss, compare, and from them make a selection.

I learned the Garand during my ROTC days and could disassemble and reassemble it quickly and do this blindfolded. Owning one for many years I have shot the rifle and admire its’ simple design. My experience with the M14/M1A  is less than that with the Garand but, I have shot  hundreds of rounds through this rifle on several occasions over the years. I really like it’s handling and smooth recoil. The two rifles are very comparable in weight with the M14 being around a pound lighter than the Garand (unloaded with wood stocks) but about the same when loaded . Both have the fewest parts of any MBR out there – 62 for the Garand and 61 for the M1A/M14. Incidentally, the AR-15 has about a 119 parts (5). This is significant! I have always examined mean time between failure (MTBF) for components my life depended on – the more parts the more failures-an easily understood and an important fact. Parts for all MBRs  are abundantly available now but, will they be should “The End Of The World As We Know It”  (TEOTWAWKI) occurs? Probably not!

Further consideration of the Garand and its’ son the M14 brings us to another controversial issue. The military Garand  receiver ( not to be confused with the commercial variety  receiver serial # 7,000,0000 and above) was made to mil spec which means # 8620 steel forged and heat treated to a hardness of 60 on the Rockwell scale at the US National Armory in Springfield, MA – (not the corporate armory at Springfield Armory, Inc. of IL.) (6). As one writer states: “After July, 1942, receivers used WD Steel No. 8620 Modified, the same as for the bolt. The receivers were then heat treated. They were carburized 0.012″ to 0.018″ at 1600EF followed by an oil quench temper for one hour at 480E. The resulting hardness was Rockwell D 59 to D 67″ ( 7 ).       

In metallurgy, hardness is defined as the ability of a material to resist indentation by an applied load and within limits the strength of a metal increases in proportion to hardness (8). This Rockwell hardness scale was used for the military M14 also but, very few civilian M1A/M14  manufacturers ever made forged receivers – most are cast. We know the story: military Garands are readily available; military M14s are not. However, forged M14s are currently made by LRB, and the James River Armory (using the old TRW US contract M14 specifications). As I recall details from structural engineering I know that cast steel is not forged steel. “Forged Metals tend to be harder, stronger and more durable than cast forms or machined parts. The reason why is simple: pressure alone forms the steel into the right shape, and the metal’s response to such overwhelming force tends to align the grain. That means you get more cogent internal structure and a far greater ability to withstand warping and wearing”. (9) Smith Enterprises – probably by others too- reheat M14 cast receivers to Rockwell scale 55 readings (10). This process can encase ‘Beachmarks’  which are clamshell marks seen in fatigue failures of materials. Overtime these marks shorten fatigue life which is defined as the number of cycles required for a material to fail at a certain stress (11). Furthermore : Pre hardened and tempered (uncarburized) 8620 can be further surface hardened by nitriding but will not respond satisfactorily to flame or induction hardening due to its low carbon content (12 ).  The process of carburizing steel is applied to increase the carbon content of the surface, so that by suitable heat treatment the carburized surface will be substantially harder than the core (13 ). Reheating these cast receivers makes a hard surface but, a defective core remains unchanged.

Caveat Emptor-  the M1A cast receivers and  parts from the modern Springfield  Armory, Illinois (SAI) are not unanimously recommended. Their M1As are not made with forged steel nor, are those parts reheated to milspec standards.  Some complain that the parts are rough and that some bolts stamped TRW are fake (14 ). Other reports state that SAI  used Chinese made parts in their rifles recently- the Chinese often do not use # 8620 steel. Nonetheless, many strongly recommend the M1A and consider it an accurate and reliable MBR (15 ). Some reports of  failures in the M1A receivers are cursory. In 2001, a report clarified what was believed to be another report of a  M1A receiver problem when the failure was actually induced by the barrel threads ( 16 ). Regardless, forged steel has greater laminar cohesion than cast steel and because of this it is stronger and  harder. Should you have a choice for a MBR then, make that choice after analyzing the facts as well as the costs. A forged  James River Armory M14 costs $2,295 and the LRB M14 costs  $ 2,495 ; a similar configured SAI  M1A costs around  $1,700.  Also, do not forget the Garand.  A excellent  8620  mil-spec made  M1 Garand will cost around $1.400-$1.500 from the Garand Guy with excellent used milspec GI parts and a  new barrel (17 ). “Get the best battle rifle for you, cost be damned”.“If you are truly serious about battle rifles then you should eventually get into a forged receiver which will last you at least 75,000 rounds  (just like a real M14)”(18). I agree.

Of course, the venerable Garand wins the cost / milspec contest  hands down. When you need parts to work hardness means greater MTBF and, that is what I want in TEOTWAWKI  when the ‘Bad Guys’ show up. A soldier’s adage:  “Works good lasts a long time”. To me that means a military Garand serial number at or  below 6,099,905 which was the highest and last milspec Garand serial number). But, if I get richer quickly then a James River or a LRB semi automatic M14 would be a outstanding choice and for some even a better one. Since my MBR will be used in austere circumstances (post SHTF) I want it forged.

The Garand is restricted to a 8 round en bloc clip and, the clips are inexpensive. Many clips can be purchased for a hundred dollars and, they can be stored loaded without weakening anything. Conversely, the M1A/M14 has a detachable 20 round magazine which is expensive (around $25 to $40 each). Besides, the magazines need to be rocked into place and, this can be fussy for the unpracticed. Though the fire power from the M14/M1A is greater than that of the Garand I  tend to believe that the Garand clips are more reliable than M14/M1A magazines so, I regard this as only a small to moderate advantage in favor of the M1A/M14. Consider this: 5 loaded  8  round en bloc clips weigh less than 2 twenty (20)  round M14 magazines (types of magazines weighed is unknown) (19) . As one expert reminds us “A calm and focused M1 Rifleman can get the job done just about as well as with a M14.”(20 ).

The real problem with the Garand is the gas system and it is a serious one if ignored. The Garand has a fixed gas system which ports enough gas to the op rod to cycle the mechanism that  ejects the spent brass and that loads another round into the chamber. The .30 US  caliber (.30-06) military ball ammunition for the M1 is made with fast burning powder to keep the ported gas pressure on the op rod head at a level that will cycle the rod without unduly over stressing it (early produced op rods did fail at times ) . Nonetheless, this action tends to be somewhat violent. Most commercial .30-06 ammunition on the other hand is made with slow burning powders that will port too much gas to the op rod causing it to bend or even break during firing and possibly damaging the receiver too. The heavier the commercial bullet the stronger the ported pressure. The Garand was made for 30 Caliber M2 Ball and AP. Their ballistic characteristics were detailed in Hatcher’s Notebook pages 29-30 excerpted in the following table:(21)

Comparison of Various Military .30-06 Bullet Types



Muzzle velocity Velocity
@53 Feet
@78 Feet



(ft. lbs.)

Cal. .30 M2 152 2,805 2,755 2,740 2,556
Cal. .30 A.P. M2 168.5 2,775 2,730 2,715 2,780


So, ammunition for the Garand should be restricted to the bullet performances stated in this chart. Hornady is a commercial producer that makes specific M1 Garand ammunition- 168 grain A-Max match. Federal American Eagle also makes a 150 grain .30-06 round that works well as does PMC. But remember this as one blogger asked: 
“Hmmm… I didn’t realize you couldn’t use just any .30-06 ammo in a Garand. So, I can’t just pick a popular hunting round to use for hunting, target shooting, etc. without checking to see if it can safely be fired in it? Short answer….. NO!” (22).

However, a fix for the M1 gas plug is available so most commercial rounds can be fired safely. The Shuster (a set screw allows settings to be adjusted) and the McCann ( must install 1 of 5 independent jets) gas plugs are available for less than $50. These are adjustable and useful especially in austere conditions when any ammo available may have to be used . An M14/M1A does not need these devices since the M14M1A gas system is highly refined, self adjusting and one of the best made. This is a very important feature which at this point makes the M14 a better TEOTWAWKI choice. But wait, not so fast!

The nice aspect about the M1’s .30-06 chambering is that the M2 ball ammo is a specific application of the .30-06 round. This means that the cartridges have the same head spacing specifications.(23). Fix the gas problem in the Garand and you are ready to go with most ammunition available. This is not true for the .308 and the 7.62 x 51 rounds which are different (beware some Garands shoot this too). Clint McKee of Fulton Armory, has a very good discussion on the differences between these cartridges on web site.  His companion Walter Kuleck says :”Most of the time it’s a distinction without a difference. But if you intend to shoot .308 commercial in a military arm chambered for 7.62MM, first check the headspace with .308 commercial gauges first. You may get a surprise” (24). In another discussion in these same paragraphs  Clint further states : I completely agree with Jerry that if you have a chamber with headspace much in excess of 1.636 (say, 1.638, SAAMI field reject), you must use only U.S. or NATO Mil Spec Ammo (always marked 7.62mm & with a cross enclosed by a circle) since the NATO mil spec calls for a far more “robust” brass case than often found in commercial  (read .308 Winchester) cartridges”(24 ) . So, if you are having a .308  made or buying a MBR made for the .308)  then remember ,“ that 1.631-1.632 is a near perfect headspace for an M14/M1A or M1 Garands chambered in .308 Winchester. But I think that it also near perfect for 7.62mm NATO!” (24). Any reputable gunsmith can check head space. One more caveat- the Garand when fitted or refitted to the .308 / 7.62 x 51 cartridge may also require the Shuster gas plug or the McCann gas plug adapter depending on the brand of ammunition you are shooting. The .308 (oddly) at times produces more chamber pressure than the .30-06 (25)  and, op rods respond only to the ported  pressure so, I recommend the gas plug adapter with this modification especially if you are going to shoot enhanced commercial .308 rounds. The  M14/M1A, of course, does not require this modification.

The overall length of the Garand  is 43.6″ while the M14/M1A is about 44.3″.  The standard Garand is equipped with a  24″ barrel without a flash suppressor while the standard  M14/M1A has a  22″ barrel to which you must add 3 – 4″ for the specific type flash suppressor attached to  your gun – resulting in a barrel length of about 25″. This is an important consideration in a tactical environment. As one author states, “the lack of a muzzle flash is much more tactically important on a semi-auto than a muzzle brake”(26).( I will add that this is true for standard weapons). But, before we press- on  know that the T-37 pronged flash suppressor is available for the Garand at the Fulton Armory for about $36 without installation . The T-37 is about 2.5″ in length and making the Garand 46.1″ (2 inches longer than the M1) in overall length when added (27).

This information is about the standard model rifles but, not all Garands or M14/M1A’s are of standard length. The venerable M1 does have a variant known as the “Tanker” model. This weapon sports a 18.5″ barrel as does the LRB M14 which is called the same name too. Also, not all Garands have to shoot the 30 US caliber (.30-06) which is hard to find and relatively expensive. Modern means optimum length. “If  it’s going to have a .308 barrel, why choose a 24″ when something closer to 19″ is better ? All in all, a .308 “Tanker” Garand is precisely the flavor of  M1 best suited for the 21st Century rifleman”(28 ).

The loss of energy from a 19″ barrel is not significant for the .308.  Many have said  that if you cannot do it with a .308  then a .30-06 will not make any difference. This line of reasoning holds true for the M1/ M14 debate . The “Tanker” Garand  , however, does have a muzzle blast issue and a muzzle brake is recommended. This device can be purchased for about $150 from Smith Enterprises. Remember, it is a brake not a flash suppressor. Nonetheless, if  I were to choose the Garand – it would be the .308 Tanker model.        

Yes, the simple things are hard. This is true when justifying optics for rifles that were made to be shot with iron sights. All of us fall into this consumer oriented trap. We buy expensive optics to bypass what we really need to learn; that is- ‘ how to use iron sights’! The Garand  and the M14/M1A have excellent iron sights. The former are calibrated in yards while the latter are in meters. Both have front sight posts that transverse about  20″ at 250 yards so, if the bad guy is no thinner than your front sight post ‘shoot’  him. However, a Battle Sight Zero discussion shall be left for another time.

All this is not to diminish the value of enhanced optics when the iron sights are mastered for these weapons. The M1 has some ability to accommodate scopes although limited and , several manufacturers make a scout rail for the Garand and the M14. The M14 has a better ability to mount optics. In  fact, LRB makes a M14 receiver (M25) with a built in rail for a scope, or a red dot device. SAI also has a scout version for their  M1A. The scout rails designed for the Garand require a barrel that has a military taper (contour) for an easy fit although a non standard Garand barrel can be fitted with a scout rail it will be at added cost. Because the “Tanker” barrel follows a GI taper to a point before it changes shape costly modifications are required for a scout rail (29).  The point is check the  rifle barrel taper before buying a scout rail. Garand scout rails can accommodate Extended Eye Relief scopes, and lights. Remember however, that this discussion is about use in TEOTWAWKI . If you believe that, “Two weeks after the Balloon goes up, iron sights will rule the world ”(30) then a scout rail is redundant. Save the money and buy  night vision equipment. You should consider ruling the night too.

If the enemy is in range, SO ARE YOU       
This statement is not necessarily true for the M1/M14/M1A shooters. The Taliban can confirm this. If getting a  MBR is important to you then most lightweight calibers should be unattractive. The choice for me is between the Garand and the M14. Manufacturers and sellers of these weapons are numerous. The CMP, the Fulton Armory, the Garand Guy, Orion, the James River Armory, plus a few others make or refurbish milspec forged receiver Garands and, they do a great job. Forged M14s are currently made by LRB, and the James River Armory as discussed.

After considering all and because I am not getting younger I must say my choice maybe  different from yours. The milspec M1 receivers are easy to get, but the .30 US caliber ammunition is drying up fast. The .308 Garands are really nice but, by the time you add accessories then the price is around $1,700- 2,000 dollars ( 17). Also, we are talking about receivers that were last forged in 1957. So, because of the age of the milspec receivers, the fact that we do not know how close to the fatigue life we are with these refurbished receivers, that a M1 scout rail modification is subject to barrel contour, that a muzzle brake and magazine adapter are needed, that a gas plug may be required and because we will be operating in a non-support environment the .308 Garand is my second choice. The LRB M14 is my first choice with a  M25 receiver in the scout version with a 18.5 barrel. With this choice I get a new forged receiver, a scope or enhanced optics ready weapon, and no worries about the remaining fatigue life of the receiver. Costs will be around $2,700. Note that the cost of a  SAI  squad scout M1A is ($1,900). With the LRB choice I can, without reservation, pass this weapon down to my kin knowing that the receiver service life started with me and should be good to 75,000 rounds because it was forged.

Not  all of the available MBR choices were examined. I restricted the field to the weapons that I thought were the best. If you have a FAL, HK, Galil  or whatever and, you can use it well, then nothing I stated should change a thing. I also cannot emphasize enough that when you buy a MBR especially a M1/M14/M1A  you must check the headspacing, the throat erosion and, the muzzle wear particularly, if it is used. A bright and shiny bore means nothing but, it is so often advertised as a standard by those who are unaware of what makes a gas gun work. A gun that can hurt you or, those around you if the tolerances are worn beyond limits. This discussion also was for a TEOTWAWKI era.  In this period simplicity, durability, and quality equal reliability and those facets weigh heavier than they would during normal times. So does caliber choice which is why I want a .308. Although I choose the expensive MBR your choice can be the “Tanker Garand” and little will be sacrificed. Regardless, the choice means little if you do not practice with it. Practice using the iron sights until proficient, store up some spare parts and ammunition, and then get some optics if you need them.

1& 2. Party, Boston T.Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed. (2002 -2009)  p. 9/5 & p 10/3

3.”Murphy’s Laws of Combat”. From the Fulton Armory web site,  M1 Garand FAQ;M1 Garand Information Place-bottom of page.
4. Party, Boston T. Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed.(2002 -2009) , p 10/34  and chapter 11.
5. ibid., p10/9

6. ibid., p 11/36

7. The History of the M1 Garand — Springfield Armory and World War II Production ,

8. The definition of Hardness., www.Scribd ENG1108 -L3- HARDNESS- IMPACT-CREEP _ FATIGUE- OH”S.
9. Forged metals. Metal Tidbits, Forge. Forge Group,
10. Party, Boston T. Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed.(2002 -2009),p 11/37.

11. Beachmarks and Striations. Reed-Hill, Robert E,and Reza Abbaschian. Physical Metallurgy Principles. 3rd ed. Boston: PWS Publishing Company,1994.

12. 8620 case hardening steel.

13. The Process of Carburization for 8620 steel.,

14. Party, Boston T. Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed.(2002 -2009),p 11/38.

15. Pat’s Product Review: Springfield Armory M1A.,, July 18, 2011

16. Most Horrendous M1A/M14 kB! Ever. A comprehensive metallurgical report courtesy of Fulton Armory. Dr. William J. Bruchey, 509 Tome Highway, Port Deposit, MD 21904., April 5, 2001.

17.Tanker Garand.” Tony Giacobbe”., Monday, July 11, 2011 4:49 PM,
To:  author.”The tanker with a standard Criterion barrel (they do not make a chrome-lined
tanker) is $1300 after the $100 rebate, and the scout rail, muzzle brake & adjustable plug would be an additional $450″. 

18. Party, Boston T. Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed.(2002 -2009), Affordability p10/25. “How good is the cast M1A. made by Springfield Armory”? p11/38.

19. ibid., M1/M14 mag to gun.  p 11/8.

20. ibid., M1. p 10/26

21. Hatcher’s Notebook,  Julian S. Hatcher, Major General, U.S. Army, retired, The Telegraph Press,1947. p 29-30.

22.”.30-06 ammo for a Garand”. tools and technologies, rifle country, Swampy’s reply to SteveW13. Oct 1, 2003.

23. “Headspace for a M1 Garand”., email to Boston asking about .30-06/30 US caliber headspacing. June 9, 2011, 8:35 PM.

24.”What’s the Difference between .308 Winchester & 7.62x51mm NATO?”. Clint McKee and Walt Kuleck,, M14 frequently asked questions.

25. “What’s better in an M1 Garand: .308 Winchester or .30-’06?. Clint McKee., M1 frequently asked questions.

26. Party, Boston T. Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed.(2002 -2009). p 11/12 (top).

27. M1 .30 Caliber Rifle 21, 2004 – Length, M1: 43.6 in (1107 mm) M1C, M1D: 46.125 in (1172 mm).

28. Party, Boston T. Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed.(2002 -2009). p 11/14.

29. “Tanker Scout Rail Question” . Tony Giacobbe ( Garand Guy)., Monday, July 11, 2011 4:49 PM.. reply to author. “If you want the scout rail for a scope, an Installment would be cheaper (about $150 , compared to $150, + $100 fitting for the scout rail).

30.Party, Boston T. Boston’s Gun Bible,  USA ; Javelin Press, ed. (2002 -2009). iron sights.  quote from Clint Smith. p 8/11.

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