An Old Warhorse Rides Again: Faithfully Restoring a K98k Mauser

Because of my involvement in the Civilian Marksmanship Program sports and similar hobbies surrounding old military rifles I often find myself in an ethical debate with my fellow competitors and enthusiasts. In a loud world of dime-a-dozen AR clones and wannabe snipers assembling parts builds out of multi-thousand dollar actions, the (relatively) quiet debate over the restoration of military antiques rages on among those who consider themselves purists and those who see themselves as preservers of history, both in spirit and practice.

I know a fair amount of people who fall into both camps. I dare say the purists are mostly made up of collectors and modern-day treasure hunters. These individuals will likely never fire their weapons, instead storing them away in their own private museums as sacred objects and physical pieces of history.

The other camp is made up of those who actively use their old weapons. These are the people in the CMP competitions and reenactments. I fall into that category for the most part, as my rifles are used heavily and see thousands of rounds a year along with the attendant abuse, dirt, and rain. Many collectors I know cringe at the rugged treatment I give my pristine Swedish Mauser. The 1914 vintage rifle sees more rounds annually than most IDPA pistols and has been dropped and kicked around regularly.

To the uninformed, the debate seems fairly insignificant. Who really cares about what you do with your old gun? The argument that there are no more being made, so extra care should be taken to preserve what’s left. Therefore these rifles are curios shouldn’t be fired or otherwise altered. I know many people who won’t mess with a single part of a rifle. And I know others who’ll tear down and rebuild anything from Garands to Mosins.

When I was a kid I got hooked early. The very first article I read on the subject was by David Fortier, a comparison between said Mosin and Mauser. I knew from the start that I wanted to have a Mauser like the one in the article: a real Nazi K98k.

Like many young boys in the early 2000’s, I got to witness the popularity of surplus rifles soar due to movies like Saving Private Ryan and Enemy at the Gates. With the popularity came increases in price and at 14 years old, a real K98k was out of my price range at over $250. A Mosin could be had for only $60, so I had my first rifle.

Fast forward over fourteen years to my beautiful bride and me on our weekly mall crawl and shopping excursion. Somehow I found myself standing in front of a rack loaded with Yugo Mausers…with one exception. In the midst of the bulky, hardwood-stocked M48s was a slim rifle with a laminated stock and turned-down bolt handle. It was a K98k.

The rifle after grease removal

I could hardly believe my eyes as I snatched it from the rack. I scanned the weapon and instantly determined that it was indeed a WW2 vintage Yugo capture of German manufacture. A glance at several of the parts revealed small stamp marks featuring the Nazi eagle over various numbers. I haggled a bit with my friend at the counter and took it home for a paltry $240.

I was proud of the fact that I had somehow managed to get a rifle I wanted as a boy for less than what they were going for back when I first read that article. There was just one problem with my rifle — it was a gigantic piece of grease-covered shit.

Note the ugly bolt handle and generally poor condition of the wood.

I had several healthy debates with my peers over what I intended to do with the rifle. One friend of mine pulled $400 out of his wallet and offered to stock my fridge with beer if I gave it to him to save it from my sandpaper and files. I declined.

Over the course of a week or so, I received many more offers for the rifle, all of them motivated by the fear that the gun would be ruined in my hands. It made me feel bad, as I would never butcher a rifle by “sporterizing” it. There’s a very special place in hell for anyone who would knowingly do that a genuine K98k or the like. Sporterizing is a crime against history and would make Wilhelm Mauser roll over in his grave. Restoring his creations, though, brings you good fortune. Or so I hoped.

Restored K98k 8mm and original condition M96 6.5×55. The M96 maintains most of the original oil finish over 100 years after it was made. Whenever I bring both around, it is the M96 that most people think is restored!

It took me the better part of five hours and untold numbers of shop towels to fully degrease the beast. There was so much cosmoline inside the bolt that the firing pin would only move in slow-motion when the trigger was pulled. The bare rifle I was left with wasn’t much to look at. It was a rather sad looking piece with raised grain, poor bluing, and a variety of obscene tool marks from its time in Communist lockup.

The restoration I had in mind wasn’t to bring the gun into new condition. I wanted to show its age, but at the same time regain some of its original character. You have to be selective about what you restore and how when it comes to these things. The bluing can’t be too dark and the wood can’t be too shiny. This was a combat rifle likely captured close to its time of manufacture on the battlefield and I wanted to make it hold up to that reputation as best I could.

Original condition of the barrel and muzzle

My first task was restoring the stock. The wood was in poor condition, but showed no cracks and fit tight to the action. The handguard was slightly oversized and hung over the stock. Much of the wood near the barrel band was caked with cosmoline and appeared almost rotten. The recoil lug was also oversized and protruded past the lock disc.

Forend after restoration. Note that there are still slight dings and the metal intentionally wears a patina.

Normally I’d soak the stock in Purple Power to get the cosmoline out. I determined that that may be dangerous to the epoxy used in the lamination process, so I opted to simply sand the surface of the stock and let the oils present in the wood act as a surface finish. This is important because no varnish would work with cosmoline still in the wood.

Handguard and stock before.

My initial pass with 400 grit paper revealed a lovely color. The gooey wood choked the sandpaper quickly, so I went through a lot of it. Instead of simply sanding the handguard flush to the stock, I decided to let it keep its character and rounded it out while letting it still have its own shape. The finished piece blends well with the stock.

Stock and handguard after sanding

Sanding the stock took several hours and I finished it out with a 600 grit polish. Sure enough, the oils in the wood emerged and gave the rifle a natural appearance rather than a shiny one. I loved that my hands again smelled of cosmoline. It evokes special memories in those who grew up walking the rows in gun shows dreaming of finding that special rifle.

The next task was the metal. This was more difficult, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t deal with. The bluing on many of the metal parts was gone or in poor condition. The rear barrel band was nearly in the white, just like the upper barrel surface and sight hood.

The K98k on top now has a finish on par with the wear of the M96 below it. The M96 is in near-new condition and has honest wear on the metal and wood.

Of greater concern was the magazine floorplate and bolt handle. The Commies force-matched the rifle and stamped their own serial number after crudely grinding the original markings off. That could not be allowed to stand. I carefully removed the serial number from the bolt handle and set it aside for recoloration.

The floorplate was a bit harder. I used all my filing skills and managed to smooth the entire thing out. There was still a bit of divot left, but given the thickness of the plate it was the best I could do without risking damage.

Before restoration.

The rest of the metal was fully degreased and any rust or corrosion removed. That’s when I soaked the bore and chamber. The rifling was crisp and sharp.

The metal parts in need of a reblue were sanded and hit with steel wool before being heated with a propane torch and dunked into cold blue solution. This impromptu hot blue process has worked over many projects for me. A bit of heat causes the bluing to work faster and more evenly, while at the same time allowing flexibility for an artificial patina later on.

After initial filing.

With the parts reblued and the wood done, I reassembled the rifle and checked function. As a final small project, I reworked the trigger to be a crisp two-stage and gave Hornady a call. In the mean time, I ordered a reproduction sling and set about fitting it.

The K98k floorplate was ‘aged’ to match the trigger guard. Below is an M96 in original condition for comparison.

Hornady sent me two varieties of their excellent ammunition, the first being their 8mm JS 196gr Vintage Match load and the other a 195gr Soft Point Custom International. My first trip to the range with the rifle proved that Hornady knows a thing or two about accurate ammunition.

Both Hornady offerings grouped well. My average for the Match load was five shots into 2.5” at 100 yards and 3” with the Custom loads in the same conditions off the bench. There was just one problem.

The excellent CMP-quality groups were low and left by more windage than I had available to me in the front sight dovetail. WARNING: this is where the purists should turn their heads. I’m about to sweat off a front sight and reposition it, so avert your eyes now.

I wrapped the barrel in tin foil to act as a heat shield and took the front sight apart before introducing it to Mr. Propane Torch. The process was pretty easy. Solder ran out and I popped the sight base off. I found that the small lock screw was badly stripped and I opted to retap the sight base and install a hardened steel lock screw in its place. After I made the necessary modifications, I reassembled the sight and headed back to the range.

The K98k is at home in the snow and cold.

The result: I was thrilled to see groups printing dead center. I made the final adjustments and backed out to 200 yards. Sure enough, I was ringing steel shot after shot.

I gave pause for a moment and mused about the journey I made getting here. I wondered if there would be some young man who would read the article I was going to write and be inspired to get into old rifles just as the Fortier article did for me all those years ago. If so, I hope that when he shoots his old Mauser, he feels what I felt the day I made a boyhood dream real.

A note on Yugo-captured K98k rifles:
WW2 was a crazy time, as was the aftermath. I know a lot about old rifles, especially Mausers, but getting a definitive date on this one is next to impossible. Based on the features of the rifle, I determined that the barrel is indeed of German production, as many had Yugo barrels installed while being rearsenaled post-war. The Yugoslavian barrels are slightly different and require a modification to the stock. The Yugos also never, to my knowledge, manufactured laminated stocks for the K98k and, combined with the sanding marks where the original stamps would’ve been, allows me to say that the stock is of German manufacture.

Based on the features of the rifle and the markings I can find, I can narrow down the date of production to sometime in 1944. I can reasonably assume that this rifle was likely captured or surrendered shortly after being made, was scrubbed of markings and then immediately put into storage until it was imported. The fact that it still has capture screws and a sight hood says that it was likely found to be in serviceable condition from the get-go and simply remarked.

If you’re in the market for a K98k and want one for less than the ludicrous prices being asked today — sometimes in excess of $2000 — you’d do well to search for a Yugo capture, as they’re about the closest thing you can get to an original condition rifle that was used in the war. The Russian capture rifles are often in poor condition and have a thick black finish with an ‘X’ on the receiver over the original markings. Then again, they’re also real war rifles that have their own unique history.


  1. avatar Rimfire says:

    A great story and wonderful work in bring this old veteran to life once more. Enjoyed the read so much!

  2. avatar Mike Betts says:

    If I wanted a Mauser K98k for a “shooter” I’d probably do exactly what you did. Am I going to shoot my 1939 Erfurt Arsenal K98k which has all of the Waffenamt proof marks intact? No. Once in awhile I take it out of the rifle safe so that it can tell me terrifying stories about the Eastern Front.

    1. avatar 16V says:

      Why not shoot it? They made like 14MM of them, unless it’s a real kreigsmodell, or sniper. Take the old guy out, get him some fresh air and sunshine, let him run a few down the pipe. He misses the feeling. I get a NIB Python safe queen, but an old war rifle?

      I still shoot my 1915 Erfurt Kar98a, here and there. No import stamps, numbers match right down to the capture screws, although somebody sporterized the original stock (typical style of a cigarette gun).

  3. avatar Geoff PR says:

    To those that complained you ‘ruined’ it, unless the rifle was so rare that examples are very few and far between, tell the whiners you did your part to increase the value of their rifle, and it’s mighty inconsiderate of them not buying you a beer (or a case worth!) as a token of appreciation.

    There’s a difference between concours restoration of a Ferrari and a street car daily driver. That ain’t the only K98k out there. Enjoy it…

  4. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    That turned out really nice. Good work Josh.

  5. avatar jwm says:

    190 grain loads for the Mauser? I seem to remember the service loads being 150 grains. Switching up the ammo like that must have some effect on the accuracy. I think I only ever shot service type loads thru my Mauser.

    I tried running those gawdawfull 203 grain softpoints thru my Mosin a couple of times. It was a serviceable load, but the recoil from the bench in a t shirt was unpleasant.

    1. avatar brianinca says:

      Standard German load was 196 gr bullets. You’re thinking of US M2 Ball @150 gr.

      1. avatar Southern Cross says:

        The original S-bore load (.323″ diameter) was 154g FMJ Spitzer that would have a velocity of 2960 fps out of a 24″ barrel. This load was used until the mid-1930s until the introduction of the MG34 and other high-rate-of-fire MGs and the high velocity caused increased barrel wear. So a 196g bullet with a velocity of about 2400 fps was introduced and the old light-bullet ammunition was used up in practice, exercises, or exported.

        Turkey had an ammunition factory made with German assistance and continued to use the old light-bullet load until the guns were replaced with introduction of a licensed G3 copy.

        I do agree that service riles are made to be shot, and original condition rifles should be left as original as possible. Any changes must be able to be reversed. I have a safe-queen M48 I am thinking of using a Mojo backsight on. I can replace the Mojo sight with the original if needed.

        The No4 I had converted to .223 had a useless barrel and the shop was going to strip it for parts. The other conversion I bought was a parts bin special, so no historical antiques were desecrated.

  6. avatar Gregolas says:

    Excellent article and restoration. I’m very impressed with your skills and knowledge. The result is great. Like you, I don’t cotton to sporterizing war relics. I love my history, thank you.
    Please write some more about any other restorations you’ve done.

  7. avatar 1919a6 says:

    I can relate very well. My favorite is the 1917 U S model in 30-06. Considered it my duty to rescue all I could and add them to my collection. Most had yearly use of a couple hundred rounds. After awhile I had 1 compete of each manufacturer. Instead of them sitting in my safe I donated them to the museum the America Legion was starting up. I still have 3 shooters. More fun than any other weapon I have.

  8. avatar Jason says:

    I remember an article that Fortier did on the K98 vs the Mosin. I believe it was sniper rifles. Of course the German won but it also had the better quality scope. Maybe that was the was the article your referring to. I ended up buying a Turkish model 98 but at as a teenager never allocated the funds to buy an original German. Good article and good work on the rifle.

  9. avatar brianinca says:

    I picked up an M48n (nemec = German) from Samco >10 years ago, a little beat, front sight way over, hood smashed a little – superbly accurate, I was very surprised. I didn’t see a picture of the left side of the receiver, does yours have the “Mod 98 /48” overstamp? I did luck out and get the cleaning rod, but the main thing is the “dripping with history” quality the rifle has. My second favorite Mauser in the Mauser safe, behind my Persian. I’m a sucker for a pretty face.

    Great article, you really expressed the ethos of “shootable history” in a relatable manner.

  10. avatar strych9 says:

    Nice work. Ignore the naysayers.

  11. avatar Ditto says:

    Josh, excellent article, and a really good story. You did good work bringing an old rifle back to life.

  12. avatar Ralph says:

    Good job, Josh, and good article.

    As a Yugo capture, your K98k may not have been stored immediately. The Yugo army put some of their captured Mausers to work.

    I know that guns bark, but man, if they could only speak.

  13. avatar Guidoc says:

    A very generous friend gifted me one of these, several years ago. Despite being marked PREDUZCE 44, I figure it is a Russian capture. Along with the Yugo Communist markings, it has a matching 4 digit number on the buttstock, bolt handle and receiver ring. Under strong light, some of the original German markings can be faintly detected. I suspect it was manufactured in 1943 but I can’t determine the factory of origin.

    Like some of you, I can’t help but wonder where it has been.

    My friend is a Viet Nam combat veteran who prefers collecting military bolt actions.
    We enjoy banging away with Mausers, Enfields and 03 Springfields.

    Recently, at our local outdoor range, we were surrounded by folks shooting AKs and ARs. A grandfather and grandson passed bye and paused to watch us. Grandpa turned to the youngster and hollered “Now boy, them are rifles.”

    Folks seem to be drawn to our fun. Great hands on history.

  14. avatar waffensammler98 says:

    Ahh, my favorite rifle. I’d hardly call cleaning cosmoline and fixing a messed up sight “ruining history.” The Yugos alread ruined whatever collectability that rifle had. I’m surprised you didn’t know about Russian Capture K98k’s in the early 00’s. They were dirt cheap.

    I watched the prices for these rifles explode once the online distributors ran out, and somehow found a byf 44 marked RC for $225 in 2012. The previous owner did a great job drill/tapping a peep sight onto the rear receiver ring, which I removed. Yeah the holes look ugly, but it is a tack driver with a minty fresh bore, so I get why he did it. One day I will pony up the $1,400+ for a nice matching safe queen.

    My grandpa tells me stories about hardware stores having barrels of these things in the 50’s for $100 a piece after inflation, all of them matching or bolt mis-match. Nobody wanted them because 8mm wasn’t that popular here. He wishes he bought twenty.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      That ammo thing was real amongst those older guys. Along with a Murica attitude.

      When I was 13 I wanted to buy a Lee Enfield jungle carbine for an off the rack deer rifle. It was unaltered and was 30-40 bucks. My dad balked at a foreign rifle with foreign ammo. Shortly after I located a sporterized 03 springfield for the same price and he had no problem with that.

  15. avatar BCE56 says:

    After acquiring a Spanish Mauser from Samco many years ago I faced a similar situation. Bore is decent and numbers match, action is tight and trigger acceptable. There was no rust and little damage to the metal, bluing about 80% intact with some bare spots and patina. After disassembly and cleaning I decided to use as received.
    The stock and handguard were intact with a few dings, no cracks or chips, bedding tight. Wood very dark and saturated with gunk.
    I decided to degrease, steamed the dings, lightly sanded being careful not to round any edges, and applied a clear oil finish.
    I’m not sure what these looked like originally- the wood is definitely blonder than when I got it. The result is very similar to your effort.
    Total investment was a little over 100 bucks, and a pleasant weekend of tinkering.

    This rifle is basically a wall-hanger as I have some doubts as to the strength of the action after the Spanish arsenal conversion to 7.62 NATO.

  16. avatar M1Lou says:

    I found one of these Yugo M98/48s for sale last year. I snapped it up for a bit under $300. It was filthy, but after a good cleaning, it has been a great shooter. I shoot my 03A3 a bit better, but I love working the bolt on the Mauser.

  17. avatar Justin says:

    I’ve recently found a k98k she’s so badly abused or makes me sick, with ugly scope mount and all but otherwise untouched I traded my expensive guitar just to save it. Could use some tips if anyone has them.

  18. avatar Robert Taylor says:

    I have a 98k-48 Mauser I’ve had since I was a kid. It is not like the ‘Mitchell’s Mausers’ in that it has a swastika with a date below it of ’43’. I think it’s odd in that it has a laminated stock on it and the caliber is 8X57. On the net, they talk about laminated stocks before the war, but not during. Is this an odd bit of history?

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