The Mosin Nagant M91/30 Rifle

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I purchased my M91/30 back in November from Big 5 Sporting Goods in Aurora, CO for the low, low price of $89. Unfortunately, I had to be there at 5:30 AM when the doors opened to have a chance at getting one of the seven they had in stock.
I checked out their stash and settled on an Izhevsk with matching serial numbers and a good bore.
Notable Items
On the top face of the buttstock there’s a cyrillic “И” stamped — which would suggest to me that it milled in Izhevsk (the Russian spelling for Izhevsk is Ижевск). There’s also what looks like a stamp for the Izhevsk armory on the top of the receiver. Serial numbers for the receiver, bolt, buttplate, and magazine floor all match. The bayonet is the odd one — it’s mismatched from the rest of the rifle.
The receiver shows it was milled in 1941, which would make this a Soviet, WWII-era rifle. It likely saw service of some sort in WWII.
The receiver also has the BATF-required engraving of the non-cyrillic serial number and caliber — 7.62x54R, as expected.
The bayonet does not fit properly on the barrel — it will need some milling to get it to fit neatly and so it would be removable. I’ve no plans to use the bayonet, but it would be nice if it fit properly as a show piece.
There are, of course, the expected dents and dings in the stock from 68 years of use/storage/neglect/etc.
Included Accessories
My rifle included a few accessories in the box:
  • complete cleaning kit with solvent/oil tin marked with Щ (щелочной: alkaline) and Н (нефть: oil), indicating solvent and oil in that order
  • four post-WWII ammunition pouches
  • dog-collar sling in very good condition
  • bayonet
  • enough Cosmoline on everything to store the whole rifle and kit and protect them from rust for about 700 years
The Project
I decided before purchase that I, in no way, expect this to be a mint-condition rifle. I also had no interest in restoring it to it’s original condition. Instead, I just wanted a basic bolt-action rifle that would be suitable for medium to large game out to 500 yards. It would also be nice if, once cleaned up a bit, the rifle could be a nice show piece to display over the kitchen door.
Clean
First order of business, though, would be to clean it up and remove the cosmoline. A steam bath would do the job — for example, those handheld steamers available from home improvement shops do a pretty good job. I don’t have one. Instead, I fired up my Coleman white-gas cook stove and submerged all of the small parts in boiling water for about 30 seconds each. After the first bath, use fresh water and repeat the process. A light coat of oil on everything left them as good as new.
The stock would be a different story. How do you remove cosmoline from an old wood stock without destroying the wood or the original shellac? Steam can be bad for wood — in particular the thin upper forestock on the M91/30. It would be nice to keep the original shellac intact to see what it originally looked like. Alas, I’m not that committed.
Do not sand to remove the finish! You’ll end up removing wood in some spots before removing the finish and it takes far more work if you were to sand.
Instead, use denatured alcohol and some painters’ rags. No need to use lacquer thinner or any purpose-made strippers — they’re far more powerful than this project needs and moderately toxic.
Denatured alcohol is available in the paint section (with the rest of the solvents) in your home improvement store. Grab a box of cotton painters’ rags to do the job. You won’t use all of them, but it’s nice to have a box of rags around should you need them. Or you could use one or two old, plain T-shirts. Don’t use printed T’s! .
Safety tip: Don’t use the denatured alcohol anywhere near flames — it’s is flammable, has a very low flash point, and burns very hot with a nearly invisible flame.
Wet a small area of the rag with denatured then start rubbing the finish. It won’t take much pressure. If you’re breaking a sweat or if your arms start getting sore, you’re trying too hard. It will take a few seconds before you notice it doing much of anything. Once it starts working, it’ll soak up the cosmoline and soak through the shellac. Once you’ve rubbed the finish off, you’ll notice the wood is dull and probably a bit lighter in shade. After the whole stock is done, grab a fresh rag, get it damp, then give the stock a final wipe down — we don’t want any more of the existing cosmoline, shellac, or stain to be absorbed.
Still on the To-Do list:
Dents and Dings
With the finish removed, we can attack any dents in the wood. Some marks are unimportant. For example, I want to keep some of the cyrillic stamps on the stock, but I want to try to remove some of the other accidental dents if I can. I’ll borrow my wife’s iron for this — or just go buy a cheap $10 iron from Walmart.
Wet a fresh, clean rag with water then ring it out — we don’t want it soaked. Fold it into quarters and place it over the mark you want to remove. With the iron under medium to high heat, hold it on the mark for a few seconds. The iron will heat the water, creating steam, which can only go one direction: into the wood. This will cause the wood to swell, filling the dent.
Once the dents are addressed, you’ll probably have a bit of cleanup for old stain — so back to the denatured alcohol and some spot cleaning of those spots.
Let the stock rest for a day so any stray water and alcohol can evaporate.
Stain
Because I’ve already stripped off all of the original shellac, it’s time to think about stain colors to bring out the wood’s texture. Or I can use the same, old, boring stain colors that everybody uses on gunstocks, or I can go with something a bit atypical. Blues, reds, and greens come to mind.
Adding a red stain to the existing stock would make it darker orange/red.
Blues would be interesting if I had a clean surface to work with, but given the stain it already has embedded in the wood, it may turn it somewhat grey or even pink.
Instead, I’ll be using a Cabot’s acrylic-based, semi-transparent stain in medium green — Mountain Laurel — and adding two or three coats. $4.95 for a 4 oz. sample can, which will be plenty to finish this project plus a few more.
Finish Coat
Once stained, it’ll need a finish coat to protect it from wear, weathering, sweat, etc. Birchwood Casey has a series of finishing products for firearms. In particular, I’m interested in using their Tru-Oil Gun Stock Finish (not aerosol) so I can do several hand-rubbed coats to my liking. $6.80 for the 3 oz. bottle.
Add-Ons
Stripper Clips
My rifle didn’t come with any stripper clips. Not a problem as it can be hand-loaded, but some stripper clips would mean I could make use of the ammunition pouches as well.
Replacement Rear Sight
With iron sights, I’ve always preferred peep instead of open. There’s a vendor on the internet selling new machined adjustable rear sights for the Mosin and other rifles. They’re elevation and windage-adjustable and would make this rifle a bit more accurate for my eyes. It uses the stock front sight, but I would probably replace it with a brass or even a fiber post if I can find one.
A scope is an option, too, but that would preclude the use of the iron sights as the only scope mount option for this particular M91/30 is a mount that replaces the rear sight. Also, the cost of a centerfire rifle scope is restrictive and could be three to four times the cost of the rifle itself.
New Sling or a Bipod
Sure, real marksmen can stand upright and hit a target 1000 yards off, in high wind, at night, in the snow, with both eyes shut… bipods are for pussies.
Meanwhile, back in reality, a real marksman can make some pretty wild long distance shots, but they also know when not to make a shot if they aren’t assured of a hit. To help make the shot, marksmen will use a proper sling to support and steady the rifle or even a bipod.
End Result
Well, the project is ongoing. I haven’t even had the rifle out to the range yet — and finding a good range where one can test a rifle like this around here is tricky. Hopefully, I’ll have it out this summer for some testing and report back on the progress.