Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster
Travis Pike for TTAG

I get a certain level of pain when I see a cool old rifle get “modernized,” whether it’s historical or not. Even, in this case, the attempt at modernization sets me off.

The only good news in doing that is that it destroys the gun’s value and allows me to scoop it up for next to nothing. We are looking here at a bubba’ed Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster. This rifle’s tragic story was that it had been passed down to a grandson who promptly spray-painted it black and hydro dipped the original wooden furniture.

Thankfully, he didn’t go all tacticool with MARPAT or Multicam. The grandson then decided to hawk it, hoping to get about $200 above typical value because the gun had been, er, “upgraded.”

Woo boy. It sat on consignment forever, dropping in price occasionally. I gave my card to the owner of the gun store and wrote an offer on the back. An hour later, the offer was accepted, and I owned a Woodsmaster for about $150.

This model is a .300 Savage, which is a dandy round that outclasses the .30 Remington and .30-30 cartridges. It performs almost as well as the .30-06, and in an autoloading gun like this, the action stays short and manageable. My grandfather still hunts with a .300 Savage rifle and bags deer with it on an annual basis. 

The Woodsmaster’s Origins

This Model 81 Woodsmaster is based on the older Model 8 but was updated with some cosmetic changes and two new calibers. The Model 81 and Model 8 were produced in a variety of grades, and mine appears to be the standard sporting model. A working man’s variant.

These are semi-automatic rifles designed by the master, John Moses Browning. The Model 8 was one of the first successful semi-automatic rifles and saw use mostly by hunters. The rifle features a five-round integral magazine and is loaded through the top of the gun. 

Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster
The bolt locks to the rear (Travis Pike for TTAG)

Some Woodsmasters found their way into the hands of police officers with detachable magazines, and notably, Frank Hamer had some love for the rifle. His was a .35 Remington model with a 15 round magazine, and he famously used the rifle in the Bonnie and Clyde ambush.

The Model 8 and later Model 81 were most certainly some early examples of what would become the modern fighting rifle. A few of them were even used by French Forces in World War 1. 

Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster
The sights are rudimentary, but effective (Travis Pike for TTAG)

I knew very little about the Model 81 Woodsmaster or the Model 8 prior to purchasing this gun. I knew about its FBI usage and the Frank Hamer angle, and that was about it. Along the way, I discovered the gun has a fascinating operation system. The Model 81 uses long recoil operation, a system more common in shotguns than rifles. You can see the same humpback receiver design we see in the A5 series

John Browning Does it Again

When the rifle I bought fires, the barrel, and bolt move together inside the receiver against a pair of recoil springs. The bolt stays rearward as the barrel is then returned forward by one of the two recoil springs. As the barrel moves forward, the spent cartridge is then extracted and ejected. Once the barrel is locked back in place, the bolt is returned forward by the second spring, which picks up the next round and chambers it. 

Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster
Why bubba why (Travis Pike for TTAG)

It’s different, but it works. It also makes for a heavy gun at around 8 pounds without any accessories. The barrel is encased with a shroud to protect it and ensure reliable operation. The sights are mounted to this shroud and are old school open sights. My looks as if it was drilled and tapped for some kind of scope mount. Unfortunately, the scope mount wasn’t included. The top of the receiver is open to allow ejection, so a side-mounted scope is a necessity. 

The gun has a massive charging handle that is an impressive feature for the old gun. It’s the size every semi-auto shotgun should wear. The safety is very AK-like and ol’ Mikhail Kalashnikov was certainly influenced by this design. Another impressive feature for such an early semi-auto rifle is the last round bolt hold open. To send the bolt home, you have to depress the follower and pull the bolt slightly to the rear. 

Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster
The Safety sure looks familiar. (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The Model 8 and 81 series rifles are also takedown designs, allowing you to remove the barrel from the receiver for a more compact package. This allows it to be small enough for an SBR type AR15 case. The wood furniture is nicely textured and makes me grow to hate hydro-dipping bubbas hydro more and more every time I look at it. 

Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster
The Checkered hand guard is nice (Travis Pike for TTAG)

The Model 81 Woodsmaster is a big, heavy rifle, and between the gun’s weight and its operation, the gun eats the recoil from .300 Savage rounds with ease. It’s quite comfortable to fire, and .300 Savage ammunition is still easy enough to find. High-end hunting rounds are available for about a buck to a buck fifty a round, and it doesn’t seem like FMJs are too common. This won’t be a gun I shoot often, but when I do, I’ll enjoy it. 

An American Classic

Even though this classic had an ugly facelift, she’s still a sweetheart. I lightly oiled the gun and it ran like a clock for sixty rounds of ammo. I know that’s not much of a test, but ammo is expensive, and I don’t need to rely on this gun for home defense, so I’m not concerned with a 500-round reliability test.

The sights are simplistic, but they function just fine within the hundred yards I have at my home range. I plan to make this a deer rifle this season. 

Remington Model 81 Woodsmaster
Gotta ditch this dip job (Travis Pike for TTAG)

I like project guns, and this will be one such project. I plan to attempt to remove that hydro dipping from the wood, and I’d like to preserve the wood as well if possible. If anyone has tips on how to remove hydro dipping without destroying the wood, please leave them in the comments.  I’d appreciate the advice.

I also need to remove the spray paint, which I plan to do carefully. My gun is also missing the original buttpad, so it wears an old Pachmayr slip-on recoil pad. Hopefully I can find one of those bouncing around. 

This is a sweet gun. Sure it’s an outdated design, but is a fantastic piece of history that’s fun to shoot. Especially for $150. The recoil operation is fascinating and robust, and anything John Browning designed is fine with me. 

 

36 COMMENTS

  1. Next time you fire it if you take a slow motion with your phone I’d live to watch that cycle. I’ve always wanted one of these but never closed on one.

    • Ian over at Forgotten Weapons in YouTube has a great video on this rifle. You might like to have a gander at the slomo he does there. Pretty impressive, if not a bit intimidating.

  2. If you reload you will want a small base die. It uses 150, 168 and 180 grain .308 bullets. It takes the same stripper clips as a Springfield. Some are tapped behind the hump for a Lyman or Marbles sight. I never found the sight. Good luck with the wood, please let us know what happens.

  3. This is a tough one. Hydro dips are typically clearcoat sealed, though the level of finish on your piece depends upon if the former owner (grandson) did it himself or sent it to a shop. In lieu of soaking the furniture in solvents (which would not be nice to the underlying wood), you could soda blast at a lower pressure, perhaps 40 PSI. The checkering may need to be lightly re-cut to restore any “rounding” of edges within the diamond pattern due to the blasting, but would be easy and certainly worth the effort especially since the original pattern already exists and would only need to be enhanced.

    • ” In lieu of soaking the furniture in solvents (which would not be nice to the underlying wood), you could soda blast at a lower pressure, perhaps 40 PSI.”

      That sounds like the sanest approach. It sucks the original finish is toast, but hopefully he can get it down to the bare wood without damaging much of the checkering.

      As for the metal itself, would this be a good candidate for a complete stripping to bare metal and then a careful home rust bluing operation?

      • If the gun is metallurgically sound (and I assume it is after reading the article), I would say yes. Since the entire piece is already sporterized and no longer representative of its original state, I’d say it’s a great candidate for a full restoration back to its former glory. That’s a project I’d love to take on.

  4. These guns are absolutely great! I had a .35 Remington and it was like nothing else.
    I’ve been watching for what feels like a decade or two for something to show on the used racks, but I’m afraid that my luck may be better on lottery tickets.
    Someone convince Miroku-chester to do a reissue of these, I’ll take two!

  5. you can soak the wood in straight acetone, won;t hurt the wood at all. Common practice to draw out soaked in oil as well. I’d imagine the hydrodip won’t stand up to acetone for very long. Then sand as needed, and finish of choice.

  6. You didn’t show the scope mount holes, but 8’s and 81’s often turn up drilled for Stith mounts. They have an odd kind of x-hole pattern, and mount on the left side of the 8/81 receivers. They do come up for sale surprisingly often on eBay, since there’s not so much demand for them compared to Winchester 70 or Savage 99 mounts. And the screw on the back of the hump is for mounting tang sights, no extra holes needed. Fun old rifles in any case.

  7. Sweet gun. Been on my wish list for a long time. I still regret passing up on a model 81 chambered in 300 savage with the police nodded detachable magazine. If only I could go back and fix that mistake.

  8. Travis, very cool rifle. Especially the history in these old pieces. I have a cousin in AL. He used to own a gun shop/taxidermy shop. He did hydrocoating. I’ll ask the best way to remove it. In the meantime, you guys need to watch Joe Montangas’ [sic?) Gun Stories. Sportsman Channel. He did a great 30 minute show on the Remington Model 8. Including slow motion of the action cycling.

    • Travis, finally got Brandon on PX. He said on wood use lacquer thinner. (Acetone for synthetic.) He said remove the wood and soak until finish begins to bubble. Then “scrub like hell.” A technical term I think. Repeat as necessary. Finish wood with boiled linseed oil or similar.

  9. What a dick move, to take a working example of a model that’s not exactly growing on trees, and slop some “high tech” finish on it. Because…tactical. Generations of hunters probably bagged their limit with this rifle with the wood looking like – what a concept – a part of a tree. This generation of shooters (boy, that makes me feel old) has no appreciation for the deep lustrous color of well-blued metal or the shading and grain of natural wood. Gun manufacturers must be laughing all the way to the bank; “Polish and blue? Nah, just hang ’em up and blast ’em with a spray gun.” “Sand, stain, and finish? Why, are we out of paint?” “Why carve a stock? Just warm up the molds and start squirting plastic.”

    • Jim, you said a mouthful. Although, most of my hunting rifles are synthetic/stainless. Mostly because of the environment I hunt in. The only camo guns I own are my turkey gun and one of my duck guns. Anyone who did that to this rifle deserves to be beaten. Hard.

      • My Benelli has a factory camo job on it for hunting purposes. I’m convinced that i’ve lost some shots on crows because my mossberg was black.

        My ‘meat’ rifle was also flat black. I got one of those elastic camo socks to put on it. Did not effect the finish on the rifle at all. Not that it matters. A Ruger American will never be classic or collectible.

  10. Had the exact model myself, in 300 savage. Was very excited to find one in decent condition. Unfortunately, I parted with it ,as I couldn’t get it to run. The tools to take apart the barrel jacket assembly basically don’t exist. You can usually make due with a shotgun choke wrench to get the muzzle nut off (if it isn’t seized) and take the barrel out of the assembly, but you NEED the proper tools to take the barrel jacket apart to service or replace the action spring in the jacket. My action spring was weak, but I couldn’t replace it as I couldnt get the jacket apart, so the rifle would not cycle reliably. As most of these are getting close to a hundred years old, the springs can be worn out or the jackets full of dried out grease and other crud. Seized jackets like mine are a common problem. Custom making the tools yourself are about the only option, but I dont have the necessary equipment, so I had to move on from it unfortunately. This would be a cool rifle to receive a modern release!

  11. I have two Model 81s in .300 Savage — one standard and the other with the detachable magazine. Love them both. The standard one is my “meat gun” — it’s the one I grab when the freezer is empty.

  12. I’d like a Savage 99 but prices are so high for them. I would of bought one new if I’d known they were going to end production

  13. That .300 Savage round is basically a .308 Win in balistics. Got a cool, nearly pristine Savage 99 in .300 at my booth at the door of a gun show years ago. Came in an old Boyt case to boot. I didn’t realize the capabilities of the caliber, it’s very efficient for its size and age. There are quite a few of these 8s and 81s up here around Bemidji. Most aren’t considered collectors- they’re being used to whack deer. I always thought that hefty barrel would make a great handle if you had to club something when you ran out of ammo…

  14. HOWDY:

    MY GRANDFATHER WAS BORN IN 1906 AND LIVED IN THE WOODS OF NORTHERN MAINE IN HIS EARLY YEARS. HE LIVED THROUGH THE DEPRESSION AND IN THOSE DAYS OF KEROSENE LAMPS AND OUTHOUSES HE BOUGHT TWO OF THESE RIFLES, ONE FOR HIM AND ONE FOR MY FATHER.
    HE USED TO HUNT BACK IN THOSE DAYS AS THERE WERE NO GROCERY STORES AND NO MONEY TO BUY THINGS. HE WOULD SHOOT WAY MORE DEER THAN THE LAW WOULD ALLOW BECAUSE WITHOUT REFRIGERATION IT WOULD SPOIL UNLESS YOU CUT ICE OUT OF THE LAKE THEY LIVED ON AND MADE A PIT AND USED SAWDUST TO HELP IT KEEP FROM MELTING. HE HAD TO HUNT AND CUT LOTS OF WOOD (WITH A SAW) AS THERE WERE NO CHAINSAWS BACK IN THE DAY. HE HEATED HIS CABIN WITH A WOOD STOVE WITH A TIN CHIMNEY AND THEY WERE LUCKY THE PLACE DID NOT BURN DOWN AROUND THEM.

    MY FATHER TRADED HIS MODEL 8 IN 32 SPECIAL REMINGTON FOR A BOW AND ARROW SETUP BACK IN THE 70’S. MY GRANDFATHER NEVER FORGAVE HIM AND GAVE ME HIS RIFLE BECAUSE HE WAS STILL ANGRY ABOUT THE TRADE. HE INSTRUCTED ME TO GET HIS RIFLE AND KEEP IT AWAY FROM MY OLD MAN. AFTER MY GRAMPS DIED, MY FATHER WANTED HIS FATHER’S RIFLE AND WONDERED WHERE IT WENT. I TOLD HIM I HAD IT AND I WAS INSTRUCTED AND PROMISED NOT TO GIVE IT TO MY DAD. HE WAS ANGRY BUT KNEW THAT I WOULD NEVER GO BACK ON MY PROMISE.
    I AM GETTING OLD NOW AND I KEPT THAT RIFLE FOR ABOUT 50 YEARS AND TOOK CARE OF IT SO THAT I COULD PASS IT ON TO MY GRANDSON. I MADE COPIES OF THE OWNER’S MANUAL THAT I HAD ON HOW TO CLEAN AND TAKE THE RIFLE DOWN. I HAD 6 BOXES OF AMMO AND GAVE MY GUN AND AMMO PLACED IN BAGS THAT I SUCKED ALL THE AIR OUT OF. I MADE SURE THAT THE GUN WAS OILED PROPERLY AND ALONG WITH A VACCUMED PACKED NOTEBOOK SENT IT TO MY OLDEST DAUGHTER WITH INSTRUCTIONS TO GIVE TO MY GRANDSON WHEN OR IF HE EVER GETS RESPONSIBLE TO BE ABLE TO OWN IT. I PLACED A CLEANING KIT WITH ALL THE FIXIN’S SO HE COULD TAKE CARE OF. I WON’T BE AROUND TO HELP HIM BUT I PACKED ENOUGH INFORMATION AND TOOLS SO HE CAN FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. MY DAUGHTER IS VERY RESPONSIBLE AND I TRUST HER TO FOLLOW THROUGH WITH MY DIRECTIONS.
    BY THE WAY, THIS RIFLE WAS A 1908 MODEL 8 AND STILL LOOKED AND WORKED LIKE THE DAY IT WAS MADE. I FEEL I HAVE DONE THE BEST I COULD TO MAKE SURE THIS FINE WEAPON STAYS IN THE FAMILY FOR A FEW MORE GENERATIONS.

  15. Eh…..I’ve seen a lot worse done to guns by doofus owners in my time.

    Good luck with the restoration.

    Obsolete or not, I personally think Law Enforcement (average) would be well served by something like this or even a levergun.

  16. I took mine apart using a Win Choke tool removal tool. It was very hard but I dipped the barrel end into a mixture of ATF and paint thinner that I put in a Hornady Ultrasonic Cleaner that had a heat function on it. I would run it for 20 minutes and let it soak for 2 hours and then run it again. I then let it soak overnight and then ran it again 2 more times. This allowed me to loosen up the barrel nut. I was able to take off the nut and fully clean the barrel and the 2 springs. The gun ran flawlessly after that.

  17. Is it poor paint or is the metal heavily pitted? The gun isnt worth fixing if its pitted, and you have no emothjional attachement to it. I mean its not like it was your graddy’s. These guns in almost new condition can be bought online for less than $1500. They are NOT big collectibles, no matter in how high a regard you place them. Really nice ones will cost you between $750 and $900. Go look at gunbroker right now. Watch the ones with a low starting bid and see where they end up. (They jumped up a little since biden was eleceted.)
    The condition of the metal, may have something to do with why he did what he did to it. You will likely also find the stock has a crack repair or he filled a large dent or scar with bondo and that is the reason for the camo.

    If you want a nice one go buy a nice one. Otherwise just shoot it and enjoy it, at $150 its a heck of a deal. But the time and effort needed to strip, clean, sand, polish, reblue, and refinish will never be recovered. And unless you are really good at it you will be talked about on forums just like this but you might get $450 for your “unprofessional restoration.”

    Aircraft stripper (Now almost impossible to buy because some idiot couldnt read and apply what was read to the real world) Some automotive body shop supply houses will sell it to you if you tell them you are stripping a car. Its dangerous if you cant read and follow instructions. It will clean the wood all the way down to the original finish and down into the checkering. A soft brush even a tooth brush will clean up the checkering. The stripper is nuetralized when you put water on it. Just DONOT leave it on and walk away. Since you have never used it possibly just a small area at a time. It is very very caustic. wear eye protection and go outside but in the shade to use it. Accetone might do it and is less caustic than Aircraft Stripper but accetone is highly flmable and you could burn down your house, and it may need to sit forever to soften that clearcoat but it will take off the original finish eventually. I would test it by sticking the fore arm into a coffee can of accetone to see if it attacks it. I would rather not use the aircraft stripper unless I have to. Actone wont hurt the wood no matter how long you leave it in. Antique shotgun stocks are often left for weeks to get all the oil out of the wood before a crack is repaired.

    The paint on the metal should come off easily with aircraft stripper, wash it in hot water and put a coat of ATF on it to keep it from rusting. Do not sand or blast it until you see what is under it. You do not want to do anymore damage to roll stamps than he may have already done.

    If you are goint to leave it a while you can wax the bare meatal good when the hot water evaporates off of it.

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