An Old Battle Rifle Rides Again: Faithfully Restoring a Karabiner 98k Mauser

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Josh Wayner for TTAG

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 number 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 and 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.

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Note the ugly bolt handle and generally poor condition of the wood. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

I had several healthy debates with my peers over what I intended to do with the rifle. One friend 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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

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! (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Josh Wayner for TTAG

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Original condition of the barrel and muzzle (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Forend after restoration. Note that there are still slight dings and the metal intentionally retains a patina. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

Normally I’d soak the stock in Purple Power to get the cosmoline out, but I determined that might be dangerous to the epoxy used in the lamination process. Instead, 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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Handguard and stock before. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Stock and handguard after sanding (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

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. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

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 re-coloration.

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Before restoration. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

After initial filing. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

With the parts reblued and the wood done, I reassembled the rifle and checked its 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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

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

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Josh Wayner for TTAG

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Josh Wayner for TTAG

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.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

The K98k is at home in the snow and cold. (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

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 someone 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 re-arsenaled 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 conclude that the stock is of German manufacture.

Karabiner 98k Mauser

Josh Wayner for TTAG

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.

comments

  1. avatar brianinca says:

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

  2. avatar RGP says:

    Beautiful! I can still remember seeing surplus 8×57 K98’s in the bin at a Woolworth’s in Ft. Worth for $20 each.

    1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      RGP, me too except they were a little more expensive. In a wooden barrel. Next to it was another wooden barrel with 1903 Springfields. I was making $1.10 an hour in the shade leaf tobacco fields. Seemed like a lot for an “old rifle.” Especially since I already had a Marlin 30-30. The folly of youth.

  3. avatar DD says:

    Well Done!!

  4. avatar Skippy Sanchez says:

    Very interesting, well written article. I’m not a collector or restoration aficionado by any means, but I really enjoyed reading.

  5. avatar jwm says:

    Early 2000’s? In my youth you could walk in to surplus stores, hardware stores and some automotive parts stores and buy milsurp rifles for next to nothing. Jungle carbines could be had for 40 bucks. One place I went to had wooden barrels with rifles sticking out of them. Mausers and Arisakas. In those days commie guns were rare and expensive for their rarity.

    You want to cause the purists a stroke? I saw a marine supply store that had a variety of sidearms. 1911’s, p38’s, webleys. These old war horses had been filled with lead and concrete and were for sale as novelty boat anchors.

    1. avatar Darkman says:

      I remember when I was about 8 years old one of my uncles had a Japanese Arisaka rifle. It was taller than I was and kicked like all Hell. My uncle and Ol Man laughed their Ass’s off as I picked myself up. Lesson learned I just had to try it.

    2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      jwm,

      I wish I had known that people and stores were selling World War I and World War II rifles (e.g. Mosin Nagants and 98K Mausers) for under $100 in the recent past — I would have purchased a few of each.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        I’m talking the 60’s. Russian kit was rare and expensive. Once the iron curtain fell, not so much.

  6. avatar KenW says:

    Back in the mid 70’s a whole lot of these came on the market and could be found at Kmart where I picked one up for $70. They had several price tiers and mine was mid tier not new looking but the wood was all there and the metal was not dinged up or rusty, The ammo was iffy but it too was available at the home of the blue light special. I forget what it cost but could not have been much as this fresh out of the service boy was broke.
    I quickly learned to count to 30 before I would rotate the cartridge for another try after a few hang fires.
    That ammo is long gone but I still have the old warhorse, all nice and prettied up now of course.

    1. avatar KenW says:

      Might have been cheaper, I know one of my rifle was $70 that I bought around that time. Could have been the model 60 or ?? At the time $70 was a lot of money for me so I do remember buying one of them for that price.

  7. avatar 10x25mm says:

    Tito captured about 20,000 Kar.98k rifles from the 13th Waffen-SS “Handschar” Mountain Division when they surrendered in 1945. Further quantities were surrendered by the Croatian Black Legion, but most Croatian forces were armed with Italian small arms.

    Your rifle most likely was liberated from some Moslem in the Handschar Division.

  8. avatar Ed Earl says:

    This labor of love really came through in your writing. My dad brought home a type 99 Arisaka at the end of WWII. The chrysanthemums were still intact. When my oldest brother hit his late teens he talked dad into giving it to him. The first thing he did was sporterize the stock of this genuine war relic. Someday I hope to make the time to return it to its original condition. Your article was inspiring! Thank you

  9. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Josh, excellent article. Two in a row. Consecutive days on TTAG! I may buy a lottery ticket. I think I fall in that group between the museum collector (though my 03A3 would probably be in that category) and the DCM competitor. I just shoot them. On the rare occasion that I take them out in public I almost always have an interesting conversation with another PTOG. No one seems to pay much attention to the guy with an AR doing a mag dump. Except, maybe to look at him with annoyance. I wonder if there is a lesson here?

  10. avatar Coolbreeze says:

    My father got his genuine Nazi Mauser for free! He just found it lying on the ground next to the former owner who had no further use for it. Of course, there a lot them lying around over in France and Germany….back in 1944.

    1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

      Coolbreeze, a salute to your father. Would that we had more of his kind today.

  11. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    At least the Yugo-capture rifles typically have their metal in halfway decent condition. JWT was able to start from a good starting point there and arrive at a very nice result.

    Youngsters need to understand that the Mauser-98 pattern rifles were made in YUUUUUGE numbers – until the AK-47 came along the 98-pattern rifle was the single most-produced small arm in the world, bar none. The best estimates for 98’s, K98’s, licensed clone rifles and 98-pattern rifles that weren’t exact clones is over 110 million rifles. We don’t know exactly, because the French burned the Mauser plant to the ground in ’46, after having their fill of the Germans in two wars.

    I’ve seen Russian-capture 98/K98 rifles (including a couple from the surrender of the 6th Army at Stalingrad) that were horribly rusted/pitted below the wood. After Stalingrad, the Russians apparently stacked them up like cordwood in the winter, and didn’t get to processing them for a year – they were just left out in the weather – and it shows. The good rifles were inventoried (which is where all the electric pencil marks came from), greased inside and out and packed away. After the fall of the USSR, the Russkies were seeking US dollars, and they had these German rifles sitting around, so they started selling them off to US importers.

    For people seeking to do something similar to JWT’s very nice job here, I would recommend pulling the screws from the trigger guard/magazine and pulling the barrel/action out of the stock and having a good look at what’s under there. I would do this on any rifle that shows the marks of being captured & inventoried (eg, electric pencil marks on the bolt, barrel, action that match a number stamped into the stock), regardless of claimed provenance.

    Now, there are valid reasons to accept a rifle with pits/rust below the wood line. Why? Because the pristine Mauser-pattern rifles are going up in price like a homesick angel. So if you’re seeking to get a Mauser-pattern rifle for a reasonable amount of money, you might be thinking “eehhh… if I put up with a little bit of rust on the action/magazine where it cannot be seen, I can get a 98 for so much less money…”

    OK, that’s understandable. If I’d been able to predict the future when I was a kid, and WWII surplus bolt guns used to be sold in gunsmith shops and gun stores for $50 to $75 each, “you pick” and they were all just stuffed into a wooden barrel, muzzle-down, next to the counter… I would have backed up a U-haul truck and loaded it up, then driven over to the next gun shop and did it again. I would also have bought up every S&W Model 10 and second/third gen semi-autos that came out of police departments when they decided to trade those in on Glocks. What with my wit, charm and knowledge of guns, I could have been the American version of Adnan Kashoggi, only taller and with much more hair on my head.

    Sigh. As they say, “hindsight is 20/20.”

    A question I’ve had more than once: “If the thing is riddle with pits like a moth eaten sweater, can you fill the pits that you might find on a rifle that got water into the wood and then corroded the steel below the wood line?”

    Yes, if you’re possessed of the patience of a saint and superior TIG welding skills and are equipped with a good TIG welding rig that allows you to set up the pulse train to minimize the HAZ. I’m talking about an inverter TIG welder, like the Miller Dynasty series, Everlast, or one of the Lincoln Aspect TIG machines. I would recommend against welding on guns (any guns) with a MIG or wire feed welder, never mind a stick rig. Gunsmiths used to weld with a oxy-acetylene rig, but that tends to heat up a lot of metal. The wonder of TIG is that you can get penetration without huge HAZ’s. Having a gunsmith do this work for you… well, that can run up the cost of the project very, very quickly. So if you have the skills and equipment – by all means think about it. You’ll probably spend more time getting the grease out of the metal where you want to weld than you’ll spend welding, BTW.

    I’ve found that ER80 filler re-blued closer to the color that the base metal in the 98 action or bottom metal blued than ER70 rods – but your experience may vary – mine was on German-made 98’s. My recommendation if welding on an action or bottom metal is to weld first in an inconspicuous spot, clean it up, polish it up, and hit it with some Express Blue solution, drop it in some boiling water (or drop it into a hot salt tank, if you have access to one) and see what the colors look like in the weld area and around the weld area. You can remove the blueing in the areas where you need to do more welding after you’ve gotten the filler metal to take blueing the same as the base metal.

    Some of the capture 98’s have horrible barrels. You can sometimes find new, stripped usable, but not top-quality barrels with a tenon and profile on them through outfits like Sarco for about a buck, but you might have to finish the chamber and then sweat on the sights, etc. I’m assuming that people understand the need for an action wrench and barrel vise here.

    Another way to get a k98-like rifle is to look outside the “genuine” Mauser pattern and look at the clone rifles. One of my favorites is the VZ-24. Typically these rifles didn’t see hard use and they are in very good condition for the money. They’re not 100% compatible with the K98, but they’re darn close.

    Great job and write-up JWT.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      Dyseptic Gunsmith,

      Question:
      What are your thoughts on sweating (soldering) versus brazing sights on a barrel?

      I repaired someone’s 1911 handgun where its tiny front blade sight fell off. I was concerned that simply soldering the replacement would not provide a strong enough bond so I brazed the replacement front sight. My concern there, though, was the fact that I had to heat the end of the steel slide to almost 2000 degrees F. to braze. (For people who are unaware, heating steel and then cooling it can change its hardness and brittleness.)

      Brazing is definitely a significantly stronger bond than soldering. Does that significant heating and cooling of the base steel change its properties and outweigh the benefit of the stronger bond?

  12. avatar Kevin Kelly says:

    I brought back my grandfather bringback arisaka 38 carbine to working condition and cleaned it up. To ppl of a certain forum they acted like I just killed their mother. It looked like complete shit before and now it looks at least nice. Dudes are losers. Grown men getting their panties in a bunch bc we wiped away some jap hand oil. Lol. No one even sees their guns. They Lock them away in a safe until they die and their kids sell them.

    1. avatar jwm says:

      My 1873 French revolver was bought from a widow. Her husband had been a real gun collector. Polish his precious’s and stick them in a safe. White gloves. He loved his guns. She hated each and every firearm ever made. I think he had good safes to protect the collection from her.

      A couple of days after his funereal she basically had a yard sale. Everything must go at bargain basement prices. She never knew anything about guns and never wanted to learn. By the time I got wind of what was going on a lifetime collection was nearly gone for pennies on the dollar.

      I believe i paid 35 dollars for that revolver complete with a very good condition leather flap holster and a few rounds of ammo.

      1. avatar KenW says:

        Which is why I have a very specific section in our will that states basically all weapons supplies, tools and ammo are my son in laws upon my death. My wife is not anti gun but knows squat about anything to do with them and has no desire to learn so odds are the pennies on the dollar would happen with mine too.

  13. avatar Specialist38 says:

    Nice article. I say shoot em!.

    My first long gun purchase was an Argentine Carbine around 1980.

    From a True Value Hardware Store (those were the days) for 75 dollars. Interarms import.

    One point – Wilhelm was dead by the time the 98s rolled out. Only Paul was left, I think.

    The 38 Swede is still my favorite.

  14. avatar possum says:

    Dang it, when they were cheap and plentiful I didn’t have much interest.Whoe’est me and the rifles I traded off. I’d even like to have the carcano back . I traded a Universal M1 carbine for it. Now I want that back too. I think I traded a rock for that Carcano, was out shooting one day and a guy with a rock did better, so I traded the gunm for that rock.,,,, I might have gotten screwed though? Tried to trade the rock for a HiPoint but it was a no deal, said he had a Glock he’d trade for it tho, limped over to get it, but I told him don’t waste your time.

  15. avatar Wally1 says:

    So this is why I read TTAG, nice restoration story and a rifle history lesson. Kind of nice change from the political arena.

    I restored an old SKS. It was beat up and looked like someone dragged it behind a truck on 40 miles of dirt road. It still shoots great and good enough accuracy between 50 to 100 yards. Really fun seeing how engineers made these old rifles.

    Thanks for the write up.

  16. avatar Tim says:

    I want to print this to have as a challenge for me. I too have had a love for these old 98’s and in fact bought one about 40 yrs ago and never fired it. It is a Czech CZ 24 and has the crest of the Shah of Iran. I believe the year of manufacture is 1934. As far as I have gotten was to clean the wood so it can be handled and disassembled the stock and separate the bands. The upper hand guard and some of the bands, plus the butt plate have been lost over the years but I think I can find replacements for them online. One problem I have is the floor plate is stuck and I cannot get it to release. I’m not sure that is a problem except for being able to fully clean it. If anyone has any suggestions for this let me know. Oh and by the way. I bought it at a gun show for $25 plus a $10 dealer transfer fee.

    Those two of your’s look beautiful.

  17. avatar Roh-Dog says:

    I make it a point to liberate any sub-$400 surplus rifle from the LGS. Unfortunately I stopped in today for the first time in 7 months.
    Slim pickin’s.
    Besides, ammo is sporadic at best for some loadings. Last bit of ‘rare’ ammo I got was months ago, the PPU 7.5 Swiss hadn’t gone up in price and the shelf at home got bare somehow… If anyone finds that ammo thief give the bastard some licks from me!
    Make sure you can feed ‘em.

    1. avatar Roh-Dog says:

      That’s some nice spam!
      Don’t click the link, it’s bs.
      Fat-ah-rude, gfy guy

  18. avatar Bushwik says:

    I have an original 1916 Gew98 that was reconditioned/shortened for WW2. It is a beautiful gun that my Grandfather brought home from the war. I am working on it now trying to clean up some of the rust and blueing. I noticed you did not blue the bolt? I dont think my bolt was blued because it was the rustiest part of the gun. Did they blue the bolt’s back in the day? I am wondering if I should just clean it up and leave the bare metal or blue that as well as the other parts that needed repair?

  19. avatar Michael Gaul says:

    I have a K98 that is sporterized ( duffle cut) It was my grandfather’s rifle. I am trying to decide if I want to buy a modern stock or a WWII replacement. It has all matching metal and it’s a mid war bnz 43. It is very accurate. Thoughts?

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