The Mauser 98 Project - Interview with Larry Potterfield

Larry Potterfield • January 01, 2017
Why Build a Sporter from a Military Gun?

The classic 98 Mauser military rifle is what the American GIs would have brought back from World War 2 and what would have been imported by the thousands in the 50s and 60s. Great firms like Griffin & Howell in the late 20s and 1930s thought maybe they had perfected the concept of sporterizing rifles in the 1903 Springfield, so it wasn't like the customization of military rifles was new after World War 2, but there were just thousands and thousands of guns and returning GIs who liked them. Maybe it was their first exposure to a bolt-action rifle. So here we now have these guns, we have inventive GIs, we have the concept down and people start sporterizing military rifles. Sometimes this was as basic as just taking off the extra wood and shortening the barrel. When we think of custom gunsmithing in America, it really is custom rifle smithing in America. I think people build sporters out of military guns because they want to. There is a great deal of satisfaction from doing the work, from converting a military rifle, especially if it's all beat up with a lot of war dings in it, and converting it into some modern sporting rifle that you can go hunt elk or deer with. It's very satisfying for people.

What is the Base of a Modern Sporting Rifle?

So, the first thing you have to do whenever you're going to build a sporting rifle from a military gun is to completely disassemble the military rifle that you're working with. There are three components: the lock, the stock, and the barrel. After disassembly, you've got the barrel attached to the receiver of the lock, so you have to pull that off, you've already taken the stock off and now you can see the three components: the lock, stock, and barrel.

The only thing you really keep for the sporting rifle is the lock itself or the action. So, the wood is of no value to us, the old barrel is of no value to us, but it's the lock or the action in the middle that is the basis of a modern sporting rifle whether it be a Mauser, a Springfield, or even a 1917 Enfield.

The Action, or
The Action, or "Lock"

What was Done to Bring this Gun to Modern Standards?

The bulk of the work done on the action is for function. We want the gun to work like a modern sporting rifle. Some of it, however, is just to make it look better. So, let's talk about function first and then we'll talk about the cosmetics.

We first put on a new bolt handle. We had to cut the old bolt handle off, which would have stuck straight out to the side, and we welded a new one on. We got it bent and swept back so that now we can pick it up and operate the bolt with it.

The process of removing the old bolt
The process of removing the old bolt

The Mauser comes with a three-position safety, but the safety is up on top of the bolt and for a sporting rifle, you want the safety on the side so that you can catch it with the thumb. It's not too much work to put it on but it's an aftermarket part. So now we've got a safety on it, and we've got a bolt handle. Of course, the military guns aren't drilled and tapped for scopes, so we had to drill and tap this one (6x48) for the scope basis, and that's a pretty simple job.

Drill and tap for the scope mount
Drill and tap for the scope mount

What a great challenge the floor plate is. They have what we call a detachable floor plate on the original Mauser but we have converted the detachable floor plate to a hinge floor plate design. So, we had to put a tab on the front of it that we could use as the hinge and then we needed to latch on the back, so we've built a latch into it that allows the hinge floor plate to then go down.

Hinge floor plate design
Hinge floor plate design

There's a lot of work here. To do this, you've got to do some work in the back for the locking apparatus, a lot of contour work to do on the trigger guard, as well as cutting in the latch itself. The original trigger is a two-stage military trigger. We wouldn't prefer that, so we put a modern Timney single-stage trigger in this one.

Trigger guard contouring
Trigger guard contouring

The rear tang on the action of a Mauser 98 is going to be about an eighth of an inch higher. So, in order to get the shape that you'd like to have for the guard or the top of the pistol grip, you really have to cut down the rear end of that tang and you just do that with a grinder.

Shaping the rear tang by grinding
Shaping the rear tang by grinding

We've reshaped the top of the bolt release just a little bit and then checkered it. We've jeweled the bolt and done some bluing; we've nitre blued the extractor and rust blued the whole thing. These are all purely cosmetic changes. So now, we've got a very attractive and functional receiver with a good bolt handle in it, a three-position safety, a good trigger in it, and a modern hinge-type magazine. It takes lots of hours of time in the work itself and then polishing out the receiver afterward, so I don't necessarily recommend you try to make a living doing that. It's a lot of work and not much reward. But that's what you do to the lock or the action. It's pretty standard to do those things in order to bring it up to what we call the modern standards for a sporting rifle.

Tell us about the Features of the Mauser Stock.

The stock on a modern bolt-action sporting rifle is probably the most visible piece of it. It's the piece you see first, and it can be the most attractive or the most unattractive part of it. For this particular stock, we've got English Walnut and that would be the type that most people say would be the premier wood for a modern sporting rifle. You can see what the shape is and how it looks, it's what we call a modern classic design and there's no cheekpiece on it. It's made interestingly enough to fit me. So the grip is designed to fit my hand, and the forend is designed to fit my hand.

English walnut wood
English walnut wood

Some of the features that we've done on it, of course, are very nicely finished with a rubbed-in or sanded-in finish. We've cut the flutes into the forend or into the point of the comb, we've got a steel grip cap on it, a steel butt plate called a Neidner style, we've put in two screws swivel studs so that you never have to worry about a swivel stud turning on you, and we've got an ebony forend tip on it. The checkering on it is all hand-cut checkering with 20 lines per inch, we've got a wraparound pattern on the front, a standard two-panel design on the rear, and a standard three-point design. I like borders on checkering, so we've got the border on the checkering. We've also glass-bedded it, which you can't see. We radiused off the top of the forend because I don't like that to be squared up. So, this is a sporting rifle stock that is designed to fit the owner, in this case me, and to satisfy the owner's desire to have a beautiful stock and a nice straight grain in it. It's a beautiful piece of wood.

What was Done During the Rebarreling Project?

The barrel is one of the most important parts of the gun because you're looking for an accurate rifle and the barrel is a key piece of that. Let me tell you some of the stuff we did to the receiver though as it's part of the rebarreling project. We re-tapped the barrel threads in the receiver, we trued up the face of the bolt in relation to those threads, we lapped the lugs and the bolt raceways, but we really got the receiver all trued up to take the barrel before we ever put the barrel on.

Lap the bolt raceways
Lap the bolt raceways

We then selected a modern sporting weight barrel. We wanted either 7x57 or 257 Roberts because that is the 7x57 case and since I already had a pretty good 7x57, this one is in 257 Roberts so we had to mark the receiver for that as part of the overall process. Then, of course, the whole treatment on everything is just a slow-rust blue which would be a traditional sporting rifle finish. It's kind of a matte color that isn't very shiny to you, just a very pleasing appearance to the barrel. So that's the barrel project, that's the most straightforward of all the parts. Of course, it had to be polished, it had to be crowned, we had to chamber it and we had to fit it.

And there you have it, the lock, stock, and barrel on a sporting rifle. There's a whole bunch of work here, but what you get is a very pleasing rifle that is designed to fit its owner and designed to satisfy them literally for a lifetime.

-- Larry Potterfield