Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Mosin-Nagant - Thoughts, Deals, investment, care, cleaning and etc.

This blog post was inspired by a recent spate of postings on facebook and a comment thread at "The Truth about Guns" on my favorite center fire rifle, the Mosin-Nagant. The M91 Mosin action was first put into service in 1891, and 19th century Mosin receivers are still in use by the Finnish military as the basis for sniper rifles. Along with the British SMLE (short magazine Lee Enfield) which dates from 1895 and the Mauser '98 which (obviously) dates from 1998, the Mosin-Nagant is one of the few military arms with more than a century of being in official service. (Yes, the 1911 just passed that gate, along with Browning's other masterpiece the M2 50 caliber machine gun.)  Since the Finns have actually used receivers from the 1890's in some of their Tkiv 85's, those may arguably be the oldest firearms in active military service in the world.

Anyway, the spate of facebook postings, and the comment thread on TTAG gave me an excuse to put all my thinking and experience with Mosins in one place triggered by this happy annoucement:

Classic Arms has my favorite rifle in the world on sale just now in a neat special:  $2500 for an unopened crate of Mosin's direct from Mother Russia (Ok, from the Ukraine) for $2500.

I hear from some people how this isn't a great deal, and they bought their Mosin from Cabella's for $99.00.  I  have news for them.  The days of $99 Mosins anywhere, and especially in big box stores is pretty much gone.  When current supplies are gone, expect that the prices are going to take a substantial step up.  I'm expecting that fresh cosmoline covered Mosins will be running $200 and up for unselected nothing special with selected and laminates well over $250 by late fall. 

Every other surplus gun used to be cheap, then as supplies dried up, prices went up.  Why should Mosins be different?  Live and learn.  An unopened crate of these at $2500 could easily turn into a $7500 in a couple of years.  Not a bad investment.  If I had a spare $10K or $15K laying around, I'd do it in a moment.  This is cheap enough it's worth getting the C&R for. 

Surplus Ammo

As for the ammo, thou shall not see these prices again. 

Even if you only buy one, and even if you get one from someone else, these are historic military surplus firearms and great fun to shoot, and the ammo is as cheap as any center fire ammo you can buy today.  Top quality eastern european surplus ammo in sealed cans of 440 rounds is only $109.  At $ 0.248 cents per shot, I dare you to find a decent center fire rifle that you can match the price unless you load yourself. 

And yes, people go "Oh my God! It's corrosive ammo!"  Well, yes, yes it is. So?  The Soviet Army shot ammo with corrosive primers for seventy years.  The rifle you got from them had corrosive rounds shot through it for years and years.  It was carried in WWII an shot with them in the field, and by golly the bore looks fine, doesn't it?  How can that be? Uh... they cleaned it?  

Dealing with corrosive primed ammo is simple.  When you're through shooting, either in the field, or at home, do what British and Russian soldiers did forever.  Take the water you're boiling up for your tea anyway, and pour a cup or so through the barrel from the receiver end.  Now, run a dry patch through.  All done.  If you're worried about it, now run an oiled patch through.  You can, when you choose to or get around to it, clean the rifle the "normal way" now, but you washed out all the acidic nasty primer crystals with the boiling water and nothing bad happens.  Hot water is your friend.  There's not a problem with waiting until you get home, or even the next day.  You don't think all those Russian peasants cleaned their gun within an hour of a firefight do you?  It takes a substantial amount of time for those acid crystals to draw water out of the air and then to corrode the barrel of the gun.

But, if you're not willing to wait...
  Knowing that the primer crystals are acidic, if you're really paranoid about it, and you insist on not waiting until you get home, mix up a squeeze bottle of water with baking soda, cap it and put it in your bag, or soak a few patches and put them in a zip lock bag in your range bag.  After shooting, take a couple of soaked patches (dripping) and run them down the barrel, then run a dry patch.  All done.  Clean normally later.  The point is, you're trying to dissolve the acid crystals, neutralize them, and then dry the barrel.  Anything the water doesn't dissolve is normal gun-goop.  Your normal gun-cleaning regimen will be fine for powder, copper fouling, etc. 

Arsenal fresh guns dipped in cosmoline


Those guns you buy from Century or someone else have not been cleaned.  When the Soviets put them away, they got out a big wooden box, and put some brown paper down, and put in a wooden rack to hold five guns.  Then, they took a big pot of cheap icky grease, sort of like unfiltered vasoline, and melted it, and dipped the entire gun (stock and all) in it.  It was in there long enough for the gun to get hot so  that it wouldn't retain a thick coating of the grease. Then, it was pulled out and hung for a bit so the excess could run off. 

Once they cooled, they were put in the box, five to a layer, four layers deep and a piece of brown paper over the top, and a wooden top nailed on.  Then, they were stacked in an unheated, uncooled armory somewhere in the Soviet Union against the day that Napoleon, or someone else would invade and they needed to arm 20 million peasants again really fast.  Over the course of the next sixty years, the vasoline (oops cosmoline) oxidised and turned brown and hard and icky, but the GUNS didn't.  They were safely locked away from all that nasty oxygen and were exactly the same as the day they were dipped. (except for the crud.) 

Many people seem to have a major problem with cleaning these guns and making them functional again.  Here's the first hint.  If you're not going to be shooting it, don't clean it.  The cosmoline worked for the last 60 years to preserve the gun and it will probably work for the next 60. If you're not displaying it, or shooting it, leave it alone. 

But I want to clean off all that stuff

So, here's what I know about removing  cosmoline.  Boiling water is your friend.  Go to the flea market and buy the biggest pot you can find (Unless you're a bachelor, in which case get the big pot out of the kitchen)  Put it on the barbeque full of water until it boils (unless you're a bachelor in which case, do this in the kitchen.) 

Take the gun completely apart, including the bolt, every screw, every spring, everything. (OK,ok, don't dissasembly anything that requires a punch. Leave the sights alone.) Take all the small parts and dump them in the boiling water.   Wait.   Use tongs and pull them out and lay them on a towel.  No need to dry them, they're so hot they dry almost instantly.    Then, put the barrel in one way and wait...   then, turn it over and do the same.  Tada!  instant cosmoline free gun parts.  Now clean normally with your favorite gun cleaner and oil with your favorite gun oil. 

The Mosin Sticky Bolt Curse

The most common complaint about Mosins, or about the surplus ammo is about sticky bolts.  After firing a few shots, the cartridge becomes stuck in the chamber and you have to beat the bolt open, sometimes with a hammer.  This has been attributed to many things, but really, there is one simple cause, and one simple solution. The dried cosmoline inside the chamber, or old laquer from rounds shot ages ago and never sufficiently cleaned has left a layer on the inside of the chamber that acts like glue once it gets hot enough.

The solution is easy: take a 20 gauge shotgun brass brush and clean the chamber well with a solvent.  I usually use a drill to spin the brush.  Don't go too deep, you don't want to force the brush into the barrel. Once you get the dried goop out of there that the water couldn't manage, apply your usual oil/preservative and go try shooting.  All will be well.  If you don't do this it's almost certain that you will experience the classic "mosin stuck bolt syndrome."

Cosmoline on and in the stock

If the stock is historically important, or if the stock is "nice" and I don't want to refinish, then wrap in paper towels or newspaper and put it in black plastic trash bags and put in direct sunlight for several hours.  Turn over and repeat.  You may need to do this a couple of times.   Now, clean the stock with a mild detergent, finish with a light furniture oil and re-assemble. No need to do more.   

If I'm looking to refinish the stock, I will stick the stock in the boiling water for several minutes and get the cosmo off of it.  What the heck, I'm going to be stripping it and refinishing anyway. 

If you're refinishing, as soon as the stock is out of the water, while still warm, coat with a thick coat of orange/citrus stripper, wrap it in a layer of plastic, and walk away.  Let it sit at least overnight.  Now, take it to the utility sink or outside (unless you're a bachelor...)  and use a green kitchen abrasive pad and scrub off the citrus stripper. Use a brush to get into the slots and cuts, use a small brush or pipe cleaner to get into the holes for the sling.  Once all the stripper appears to be off, wash with warm water and a mild detergent.  Rinse well.

Once the stock is dry, you can look for markings, dings, cuts, etc that are interesting enough to preserve.  Lightly sand the entire stock with 120 sandpaper.  You can follow up with 200 if you want, but it seldom makes much difference, we're not talking about producing a work of art here.

Now, refinish any way you like. Personally, I use a water based gel stain to get the gun back to red, and then coat with a high tech uber polyurethane varnish.  I stripped it, it's not original, and I want a nice smooth hard finish.  Feel free to use your favorite oil or whatever.  Matching the reddish soviet varnish is doubtless possible, but not something I've investigated.  

Black spots on the bolt

 If your mosin is a cheap chinese type 73 carbine, or if it was abused before put away, you may have a bolt that simply got rusted and has black corrosion spots on it.  It's possible to use  polishing wheel and compound to clean up the bolt to shiny, but honestly, I wouldn't.  If anyone asks, explain that the gun came that way, and that the black marks are the result of use in the field, this is a historic military arm. What the heck, if you wanted perfect, why did you buy a used gun? 

The horrible trigger

Yes, the trigger on Mosins is horrible.  The fix takes less than five minutes, and is something that is easy to do while you have the gun dissassembled anyway to take the cosmo out.  It requires a couple of square inches of fine sandpaper.  (400 grit is fine.  If you don't have it, honestly 200 will do for this.)  Instructions are all over the net, but a good one with illustrations is at TTAG "Bubba Gunsmith's  Guide to the Mosin Nagant Trigger" I prefer to read instructions.  If you prefer video, there are several on youTUBE.

Of course, if you want a real trigger job, a real adjustable trigger with a real safety and all that modern stuff, you can simply buy a drop-in trigger from Timney.

Note that if you do get the Timeny, it requires that you cut a slot for the safety lever into the stock. Don't do this to a historically important gun. 

Final thoughts

  • This thing kicks.  Pull it HARD up against your shoulder. Recoil pads are not a bad idea.  
  • Surplus ammo is mostly iron-cored.  Some ranges don't allow that.  Check.  
  • Surplus ammo is not re-loadable.  Oh well, at least it's cheap.  
  • Surplus ammo is not legal for hunting, you need soft nosed stuff for that.  Fortunately, it's widely available.  A Mosin will take down any North American game you choose to point it at.  
  • Scope mounts are available. On the other hand, the WWI sniper record was set with a Mosin with iron sights. Part of the fun of using a historic firearm is learning to use it as built. Try the iron sights, you will learn something.   
I own a bunch of Mosins.  Some are still in the arsenal cosmoline. Some are in fancy new polymer stocks. Some have been refinished and modified.  They're all fun, and it's a branch of the hobby still accessible to people who have normal incomes. If you wanted to get into collecting various imprints and ages and historically important Springfields or Grarands, you had better have real money.  Most Mosins, even "odd" or "rare" ones can still be had for under $300.  (Ok, ok, a few go higher.) Try finding a Garand for that.  :-)

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