Fylde Coast Muzzle Loaders Society - A Society Dedicated to the Preservation and Use of Black Powder Firearms Fylde Coast Muzzle Loaders Society - A Society Dedicated to the Preservation and Use of Black Powder Firearms
Home | Articles, Reviews & Guidelines | Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) | MarketPlace | About the Club
Refinishing a Mauser K98

[Article submitted by J.Downer]

Once Bitten..

I began shooting in December 2005 and one of the first military surplus (cartridge based) rifles I shot was a Mauser. I really enjoyed it and just knew that at some stage I would HAVE to obtain my own.

In late 2006, I contacted the firearms dealer Peter Lawman in Northampton, who had a small batch of genuine German K98's. I arranged a visit and went along to view what stock he had. I was like a kid in a toy shop and struggled to pick one, but eventually, I narrowed down the selection to 3 and decided on a 237, manufactured in 1940, with a Patten sniper bolt.

The 237 rifles were built at Berlin-Lübecker Maschinenfabrik, Lübeck. Many of the 237's manufactured were lost in the snow on the Russian front, so I am proud to own such a specimen.

The Decision to Refinish

The rifle has a solid walnut stock, which unfortunately has a few dings and scratches. The rifle is over 60 years old, so it isn't surprising that it has had a knock or two. For me, the "added character" factor of a few marks here and there does not bother me too much - but what bugged the heck out of me was the upper fore-end section - it does not match the lower section in colour (obviously this piece was added after production when the original section was lost/damaged).

In early January, 2007 I took the rifle to the range for the usual Saturday practice. In early January, 2007 we saw some pretty damp, grim weather and during one particular shooting detail, the rain was coming down hard and the rifle got a fair soaking. I was enjoying the shooting so much at the time that I carried on shooting in the rain. After the detail ended, I put the rifle back into its case and headed home, looking forward to a nice K98 cleaning session(!)

I arrived home and took the rifle from the case to begin the delightful job of cleaning it, to find it looking in a very sorry state indeed. My heart sank. Initially, I assumed that given time to dry, the stock would return to its (almost) former glory. Sadly, the finish must have been on its last legs and after leaving it several days to dry, the rifle stock did not look good at all. At this stage, enough was enough and after some research, I decided that I would refinish the rifle.


I headed into the local hardware shop and bought the required materials (see Fig. 1) for stripping the old finish from the rifle, my shopping list comprising:

  • 1 x small can of Nitromors stripper
  • 10 x sheets of assorted sandpaper (4 fine, 4 medium, 2 coarse)
  • 1 x cork sanding block
  • 1 x bag of fine steel wool (0000 grade)
  • 1 x pack of Jay cloths
  • 1 x pack of 10 disposable polythene gloves
  • 2 x touch-up paint brushes
  • 1 x scraper
  • 1 x roll of masking tape
  • 1 x pair of protective glasses/goggles

Fig. 1 - The Materials Needed
   Fig. 1 - Materials for the Job

Choosing the Finish

Following research, I decided on using Birchwood Casey's Tru-Oil to stain the wood. There are people who swear by polyurethane, which does look great on pine, but I don't think it is suitable for gun stocks; each to their own. I made my final decision after I saw two shotguns refinished with Tru-Oil over Christmas, 2006 and really liked the results. Tru-Oil is available at most gun shops, but if you struggle, they also sell it at TheGunShop.Co.Uk.

Tru-Oil allows you to apply the finish in several coats, with each coat darkening the finish - in this way, you have full control over how dark you want the stock to be. At the point the stock is as dark as you desire, you simply stop applying any more Tru-Oil.

I also purchased some Birchwood Casey Gun Stock Wax, to use for the final coat and protect the stock from the weather.

Stage One - Removing the Old Finish

I was ready to begin. I knew from research that rushing the job would yield very poor results and in many cases, rushing the job and skipping any of the processes can leave you with a gun stock looking worse than it did previously.

Now is probably a good point to provide you with a "before" image of the rifle, so as to be able to compare it with the eventual refinished gun - images of the gun refinished "after" the process will be provided later.

See Fig.2 and Fig. 3 below - the images shown here are photos supplied to me by the dealer - unfortunately I do not have images of the rifle showing the state of the stock after the January rain got to it (it was in a far worse state than shown below), but you get the idea:

Fig. 2 - K98 Rifle Before
Fig. 2 - K98 Rifle Before Old Finish Removal

Fig. 3 - K98 Rifle Before
Fig. 3 - K98 Rifle Before Old Finish Removal (Zoomed View of Butt)

At this point, I stripped the gun down, removing the sling, fore-end bands, cleaning rod, butt plate etc. until I had separated out the wood sections completely. This left me with the main lower section and the upper fore-end. When stripping your gun, remember to securely lock the other components of the gun in your gun cabinet - this is especially important if you embark on a refinishing project where you may be leaving furniture out to dry for long periods!

I then gave both sections of wood a wipe down with a cloth soaked in water with a light detergent and left it to dry overnight.

The following day, I stuck masking tape onto both of the bolt removal sections of the butt (the "button" with the hole, there is one on each side). This will serve to protect the metal components from the finish removal chemicals and the sanding etc. later on.

I then moved to the garage and leaving the door open for ventilation, put on goggles and some disposable gloves and began to apply Nitromors to the wood to remove the old finish. I did this using one of the paintbrushes I purchased. As indicated on the can, I applied two coats, concentrating on the stubborn areas of old finish where this was necessary. After allowing the Nitromors time to work, I gently scraped the old finish off using the scraper, taking care not to scrape too hard, so as not to damage the wood.

I should say at this point that many people avoid using chemicals and go straight to sanding the wood to remove the old finish. This, in my opinion, is going against the objective of what we are trying to do - preserve and refinish the wood, losing as little of the old stock as possible - sanding can be a bit too aggressive in the earlier stages of wood preparation and the use of a chemical stripper tends to speed up the process (again, each to their own).

After the Nitromors and old finish was scraped off, I washed down the wood using a damp cloth (again with water with a light detergent) and left it for a couple of days to dry.

At this stage, the wood is looking pretty washed out and sorry for itself (and I must admit to having several "oh well, there can be no going back now" moments)!

Stage 2 - Focused Heat Treatment to Remove as Many Dings and Imperfections

I had been told of a trick involving the use of a soldering iron and a damp tissue to rid a gun stock of dents and dings (a nod to R.Rimmer is due here). The idea behind this is that heat applied to a section of wood will raise it up back to its original state, without having to sand it down (over-sanding can leave a gun stock with dips and uneven areas). A soldering iron for the number of dings and imperfections in my K98 would take forever, so I upped the stakes and opted for using an iron and an old, damp towel.

I got the ironing board out, soaked an old towel in cold water, rung it out and fired up the iron.

I then placed the wood onto the ironing board, wrapped it with the damp towel and using a slow circular motion with the iron, began to slowly apply heat to the wood. This allows the steam and heat of the iron to go to work on the areas where there were dings in order to raise them up.

It is vital not to use the point of the iron, as this will over-concentrate on an area and damage the wood - proceed slowly and surely and the rewards from this will be massively evident later on. There are some that state that the ironing / heat treatment stage is the process yields the best results. Skip it at your peril.

The first time you actually do this is quite an enlightening experience - it REALLY works - removing most dings and imperfections (the worst, deepest dings cannot really be removed in this way and must be filled or sanded out). In my case, I actually want some imperfections in my K98 stock so as to enable it to retain some historic character.

The woodwork at this stage was a little damp, so I left it to stand for 24 hours before proceeding.

Stage 3 - Light Sanding

The heat treatment in stage 2 leaves the gun a little rough, so now is the stage to pull out the light sand paper and begin the job of smoothing out the wood. Avoid using the sand paper with your hand - use the sanding block instead as this will ensure your sanding strokes are even and properly distributed over the areas of wood you are working on.

The idea is to start with a coarse grade of sand paper, then move down to a more fine grade of sand paper as you proceed so as to ensure the smoothest of finishes.

The secret here is not to rush, take your time and the rewards will come later - and always work with the grain.

Stage 4 - Steel Wool

By this stage, the stock was starting to look a bit less unsightly, but there were still imperfections that needed to be removed. Soaking fine grade steel wool (0000 grade) in water and rubbing the stock (paying extra attention to dings) really smoothes out the wood from the previous stages of the job (see Fig. 4 and Fig. 5). Using the steel wool, I even managed to severely reduce 3 particularly nasty dings that couldn't be ironed out in stage 2, to the point that they became minor blemishes. One such ding is the one at the lower right between the bolt removal hole (covered in tape) and the sling attachment area in Fig.6, it is now smooth to the touch.

Fig. 4 - K98 Rifle After Removal of Old Finish
Fig. 5 - K98 Rifle After Removal of Old Finish
Fig. 4 - K98 Rifle After Old Finish Removal
Fig. 5 - K98 Rifle After Old Finish Removal (Full Length Shot)

Fig. 6 - K98 Rifle Butt After Removal of Old Finish
Fig. 6 - K98 Rifle After Old Finish Removal (Zoomed View of Butt)

Stage 5 - Staining with Birchwood Casey Walnut Stain

At this point, I began the job of coating the stock with Birchwood Casey Walnut Stain. To do this, I used the second of the two paint brushes I purchased and put the stain solution into an old container.

I applied only one coat of the stain, using a small amount of the stain solution and adding some water to dilute it slightly. You may wish to apply more than one coat of stain, but I felt that one was enough for my stock. The stain soaked into the wood very quickly, with a surprisingly fast drying time (a little over an hour)!

A quick word of warning. If you plan to use Birchwood Casey Walnut Stain, I would strongly recommend that you stain a test piece of wood, before applying it to your beloved gun stock. Always start lighter (by adding water to the mix) and work to a darker shade in increments (preparing a fresh solution of stain and less water than previously used) until you reach a shade that suits you. You need only very little of the stain solution. BC's Walnut Stain is tricky stuff to remove - the removal of which (through additional sanding etc.) could undo all of your previous preparation labours!

Stage 6 - Applying Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil

Now the fun part!

Using an old container, I added a small amount of Tru-Oil. Using my index and middle finger, I applied Tru-Oil to the stock in long, even strokes, always following the grain. Tru-Oil is amazing stuff to use and a small amount goes a long way. The key here is to use it in small amounts so as to prevent runs, but use enough to coat the stock properly. I personally avoided using a brush or other applicator. Fingers seem to do a better job of ensuring a run-free finish with Tru-Oil.

A Tru-Oil finish is not only good for making the stock look better visually, but also protects it from the elements (Tru-Oil dries forming a highly resilient coat). I have read articles about Tru-Oil written by Americans who have taken their freshly finished Tru-Oiled guns on hunting expeditions, during which their guns had a lot of exposure to bad weather. In every article, the author describes how after getting home, their stocks looked just as good as when they had just re-finished their gun, despite mass exposure to the elements. Great news to members who take their guns out to Altcar during the Winter months where exposure to the elements is almost guaranteed to eventually reduce the life of most gun woodwork.

Between each coat of Tru-Oil, I allowed the stock time to dry for 24 hours. Some people recommend allowing several hours for the drying process, but I found allowing 24 hours was much better.

Prior to applying each subsequent coat, I used steel wool to rub the surfaces of the stock. The idea of using steel wool between coats enables you to remove areas where the previous Tru-Oil coat has run (we are all human, it happens!) and to prepare the surface each time ready for the next coat. The wool readies the surface in such a way that the next coat of Tru-Oil soaks in properly. I also wiped the surfaces down after using the wool with a dry cloth to remove any remnants and particles, so as to ensure the next coat would be applied to a smooth surface. The steel wool also reduces the shine, so if you are not happy with the shiny vibrant finish your last coat achieved, the steel wool rub will reduce this for you.

I have to be honest, the first two coats of Tru-Oil did very little to hugely change the appearance of the stock. You may find yourself in the same boat, wondering what all the Tru-Oil fuss is about, but keep at it. I have come across some people who say that only after 3 coats does the real Tru-Oil effect begin to become apparent. In my situation, this was exactly the case.

Below in Fig.7 and Fig.8 are the results after the staining and 4 coats of Tru-Oil. As you can see, the difference is easily apparent - particularly looking at Fig.7 (compare it with Fig.4 above). An even better photo is that shown in Fig.9 - compare that with Fig.6 above, in particular noting how the "natural tiger striping" patterns have really become prominent in the butt after the refinishing work (these patterns are naturally present in the wood, I did not use the "blow torch trick" to artificially add them).

Fig. 7 - K98 Rifle After 1 Coat of Tru-Oil
Fig. 8 - K98 Rifle After 1 Coat of Tru-Oil
Fig. 7 - K98 Rifle After Walnut Staining and 4 Coats of Tru-Oil
Fig. 8 - K98 Rifle After Walnut Staining and 4 Coats of Tru-Oil (Full Length Shot)

Fig. 9 - K98 Rifle Butt After Walnut Staining and 4 Coats of Tru-Oil
Fig.9 - K98 Rifle Butt After Walnut Staining and 4 Coats of Tru-Oil (Zoomed View of Butt)
* A little too much shine at this stage, but note the natural patterns in the wood are now becoming far more prominent *

Stage 7 - 2 Final Coats of Tru-Oil and Final Finishing

Two weeks after starting the project, I was at the stage where I was ready to apply the final 2 coats of Tru-Oil. I also purchased some Birchwood Casey Gun Stock Wax - to add as a final outer layer of protection from the weather.

Before applying the 5th coat of Tru-Oil, I used 0000 Steel Wool in the usual way to ready the stock as before. The 5th coat was applied, but this time I used a little less than on the previous 4 coats as I was getting close to the finish I was after. The stock was again left overnight to fully dry.

All set for a sixth coat, I again used 0000 Steel Wool to ready the stock and then sparingly applied the last coat Tru-Oil. The stock was again left for 24 hours.

The Birchwood Casey Gun Stock Wax coat was applied in even strokes and rubbed into the stock until it went dry. At this stage, the finish was exactly as I wanted and although several coats of Gun Stock Wax can be applied until you achieve the look you desire, I stopped after one coat. The stock looked vibrant and in all honesty, I couldn't wait to re-assemble my Mauser to see how it looked. As an aside, the Gun Stock Wax can actually be used on metal and leather to protect it. In my case, I had treated my Mauser sling a few weeks earlier, so I didn't use it for the leather.

In total, I worked on the rifle almost every night for approx. 2 hours per night for 2 weeks. A pretty long haul, but all in all, I am really made up with how the rifle has turned out. All that remains is to say how impressed with Tru-Oil I am and to show you the photographs of the final, finished Mauser. Note how the upper hand guard now matches the lower section in colour and finish - one of my main goals in this refinishing project. The rifle still has a few dings in it here and there, but I'm happy with that, there should be some character in a 1940 rifle, after all!

Fig. 10 - K98 Rifle Butt After 6 Coats of Tru-Oil and 1 Wax Coat (Zoomed View)
Fig. 11 - K98 Rifle After 6 Coats of Tru-Oil and 1 Wax Coat
Fig. 10 - K98 Rifle Butt After 6 Coats of Tru-Oil and 1 Wax Coat (Zoomed View)
Fig. 11 - K98 Rifle After 6 Coats of Tru-Oil and 1 Coat of Gun Stock Wax (Full Length Shot)

K98 Upper Hand Guard and Lower Sections Now Match
Fig.12 - K98 Upper Hand Guard and Lower Sections Now Match

Fig. 13 - K98 Rifle Long View
Fig. 13 - K98 Rifle Long View (Right Side)

K98 - A Final Shot
Fig. 14 - K98 - A Final Shot