The M1 Carbine Modernization Project - Part 1 [2021]

Disclaimer: The M1 Carbine and components used were purchased at the cost of the Author.

M1 Carbine Modernization Project Title Image

The M1 Carbine is an iconic firearm, and a notable slice of Americana. America's M1 Carbine was made in massive numbers, and has been used by countless countries and forces. It has appeared in many iconic photos, such at the flag raising at Mount Suribachi, and in the hands of Patty Hearst. The M1 is also no stranger to being a movie star, being seen often in pieces like The Bridge At Remagen, and The Pacific.

Flag raising on Iwo Jima, February 1945. Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons.

The M1 Carbine is a short-stroke gas piston carbine, with a rotating bolt. It feeds from 5 to 30 round magazines, and uses the .30 Carbine round. There are many myths about the performance of the round, but it is comparable to .357 Magnum out of similar barrel lengths. Most M1s that you see will be wooden stocked, but polymer aftermarket stocks have been made for many years.

Despite the M1 Carbine being a firearm that entered production in the 1940s, I want to see how much I can "modernize" the M1. My inclination to do this is two-fold; I've always enjoyed the feeling and practicality of the M1 carbine, and I was recently inspired by a friend's video series on modernizing the G3 and MP5.

Modernizing the M1 Carbine: The "Why?"

I am someone that enjoys fun, but not generally when it comes to guns. I like to keep my firearms practical, and I find enjoyment in that. This project allows me make something practical, and have some fun when doing that. That's the big part of the "why".

M1 Carbine Modernization Project, Base M1 Carbine
What measures will be needed to modernize the venerable M1 Carbine?

The other thing that inspired this project is my disdain for the G3 and MP5 platforms. I don't see it a ton for the G3 anymore, but I still see people recommending MP5s as practical guns. I have a whole host of issues with the G3/MP5, namely the poor manual of arms, and horrid ergonomics. In my eyes, the M1 carbine is a gun that is simpler to operate, and easier to mount things to when compared to the MP5. It also will set you back much less money if you can find a reasonably priced M1. I'm not saying that an MP5 is better or worse than the M1 Carbine, I'm just saying that they are both old guns that need a fair bit of work to modernize them. I just chose to do this project on a gun that I like more.

Modernizing the M1 Carbine: Carbine Choice

I had a slew of options available for which manufacturer of M1 Carbine I wanted to use. I could have purchased a military surplus model, a commercial model from the post-war period, or a modern reproduction.

The model that I chose was the M1 Carbine produced by Auto Ordinance, a subsidiary of Kahr Arms. These modern M1s tend to be fairly high quality, and with my time with this gun, fairly reliable. Dan reviewed an Inland Manufacturing M1 Carbine a few years back, but that is a gun that I will not be recommending. Between his negative experience, and the issues I've personally seen with them, avoid the Inland Manufacturing guns.

The model of M1 that I chose was an early pattern gun, with a simple rear sight, crossbolt safety, and no bayonet lug. I wanted a simpler gun to start with, as it will lead to lighter weight of the package, and less components.

Modernizing the M1 Carbine: Accessories

M1 Carbine Modernization Project, Ultimak Rail
The key piece of the project is the Ultimak M1 Carbine rail.

With the performance of .30 Carbine being similar to .357 Magnum, I see the M1 as being a competitor to a Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC). Something meant to be lightweight, low recoiling, and made for a home/self defense role. With this, I've outlined the following accessories as being a requirement:

  • A rail for mounting an optic and weapon mounted light
  • An optic, preferably a red dot or holographic sight
  • A quality weapon mounted light
  • A modern, quick adjustable sling

The listed above are non-negotiable. A modern self defense PCC needs all of those accessories, and I won't settle for less. I've already acquired an Ultimak rail, and have it installed on the M1. The Ultimak is generally the best option for getting an optic mounted to the M1, and so far, I'm pleased with it.

My current optic on the M1 is an Aimpoint Micro. While not the most cutting edge version of the Aimpoint Micro, the R-1 that is mounted is lightweight, easy to use, and durable.

Weapon light choice leaves me with many options. Optimally, an offset scout style light would be my choice, however, mounting was an issue. I attempted to mount a Cloud Defensive Micro Rein, but I could not make it work, and still allow use of a low mounted optic. While that is a bummer, I was able to mount a CD OWL instead, which is still an excellent light.

M1 Carbine Modernization Project , Weaponlight, Optic, Sling
The optic and light need to be simple to use, and reliable.

A modern, quick adjusting sling is very important for this project. I treat my weapon's sling as a retention device, which is especially important for a self defense PCC. I still use and enjoy the VTAC slings, and will be using that for this project.

Mounting the necessary accessories to the M1 Carbine may not be hard, there are some deficiencies to discuss.

Modernizing the M1 Carbine: The Hurdles

There are two major hurdles to jump for this project:

  • The reliability issues of the M1 Carbine
  • Ammunition selection

While being used by many nations for many years, the M1 has been known to be choosy with magazines. Reliability can be great with some mags, poor with others. I'm going play around with different brands from different countries, and see what I can find to work well. I've currently been using the Korean KCI 30 rounders, and have had reasonable luck with them so far. They have a last round bolt hold open, which makes magazine changes much quicker compared to similar PCCs that do not have this feature.

My ammunition choice is pretty limited for .30 Carbine. I've been shooting Korean surplus 110gr FMJs, which has been consistent and reliable, however this is not an ammo that I would want to use for self defense. I will be testing out various soft point rounds, and will be on the lookout for hollow points too. How practical is the gun if you cannot get good self defense ammo for it?

These two hitches might take some time to work out, but I don't think it will be that bad.

Modernizing the M1 Carbine: The Conclusion

M1 Carbine Modernization Project, Optic & Magazine
Will the project pan out? We'll see!

While this is not a conclusion to the project, this is the conclusion to the preamble.

This project should be a lot of fun, and that's my main goal with it. I'm not trying to see if the M1 carbine is a cost effective home/self defense gun, as the AR15 already exists. I want to see how close I can get it to a comparable PCC, and to have some fun with an old workhorse. Do I hope that my end product is both practical and fun? Well yeah, of course I'm hoping that it is. But if I don't hit the goal that I'm looking for, I'm still happy to have taken the leap into it.

The continuation articles will be linked below once they are released!

About Paul Whaley 197 Articles
Paul Whaley is a guy with an interest in practical and defensive pistol shooting techniques with an eye for quality gear. He has received training from Holistic Solutions Group, John Johnston of Citizens Defense Research, Darryl Bolke, Cecil Birch, and Chuck Haggard. When not trying to become a better shooter, he can be found enjoying a Resident Evil game or listening to Warren Zevon.


  1. I enjoyed this and have been looking through archives for part 2, but no luck. Did the story die here?

    • Unfortunately, it did. I ran into issues with sourcing more quality self defense ammo, and never really iterated on the gun beyond what I had in this article. In addition, I found that while the Korean 30 round mags were generally good, they were more reliable when I swapped the followers for non-BHO ones. I very much enjoyed the project, but it was kind of a dead end from jump.

      Thanks for commenting! I'm glad that you enjoyed it!

  2. Nice read and looking forward to the continuation articles!

    If one is going to modernize it, the first thing I would have done is replace the wood stock with something synthetic. [ or maybe that's coming... 🙂 ]

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