Even Better than a Swiss Watch

The high quality of Swiss craftsmanship has become almost a cliché. Thus it comes as no surprise that the precision of the Schmidt-Rubin series of straight-pull rifles and carbines is compared to that of Swiss watches with painful frequency. The carbine model of A.D. 1931 (or K1931) was Switzerland’s last bolt-action service rifle, being replaced in that capacity by a select-fire assault rifle in A.D. 1957.1

The K1931 is a straight-pull bolt-action rifle and was not well known in the United States until recently.
These rifles were not known very well to American collectors and shooters until rather recently. When they began to be imported in larger numbers and sold for remarkably low prices, their reputation for accuracy and affordability spread quickly via the Internet. Some experts estimated that a rifle of this quality wouldn’t leave the factory for less than $1,500 today. I was intrigued and bought my K1931 for less than $100.2

Overall, my K1931 was in very good condition, but its stock had suffered many dents and gouges.
When the rifle arrived, I was immediately impressed. My K1931 was assembled at the Swiss Federal Arsenal in Bern in A.D. 1941 had last been issued to Bernard Chevalley (b. 1942) of Lausanne. Its walnut stock was typically battered, with the dents, gouges, and worn finish not unexpected for a rifle that spent its military career in the snow and ice of the Alps, but the metal was in nearly perfect condition with very little wear to its original bluing. The speed of the carbine’s straight-pull bolt action also rivaled that of the British turn-bolt Lee-Enfield rifles.

On top of all this, my carbine was complete. It had all its original parts, which were numbered to match the receiver. On closer inspection, however, I noticed the cantonal repair markings on the stock and receiver tang. The edges of the wood had already been rounded by a previous refinishing episode.

Confident that I wouldn’t be harming a historical relic, I decided to refinish the stock and try to remove some of the dents. I disassembled the rifle and proceeded to clean its parts. I washed the stock with Murphy Oil Soap and removed the remaining finish with odorless mineral spirits. Thankfully, I didn’t have to deal with the cosmoline common on other surplus firearms.

I removed the old finish from the wood and smoothed out many of the dents.
Of course, once I had my carbine taken apart, I found some rust hidden under the wood. There were many small spots of stable, black rust on the barrel. I smoothed these out with my trusty stainless-steel pot scrubber. Fortunately, there was no red rust, which can be a sign of rapid corrosion.

I used a hot iron and a damp washcloth to steam many of the dents out of the stock. This process was quite successful but also raised the grain of the wood in many spots. Working with fine sandpaper, I carefully smoothed everything out again. At this point, I noticed a previous and rather skillful repair to an incipient crack.

Three dowels mark an earlier stock repair at a Swiss arsenal.
Rather than trying to replicate the shellac used by the Swiss, I decided to apply a more modern finish to the stock. I selected Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil for the job. Applied in thin coats with a clean rag, it quickly developed a glossy sheen but also brought out the natural figuring in the wood rather nicely. Pleased with myself, I left the parts to cure for a week.

Tru-Oil left a shiney, somewhat sticky finish. Note the scars where I had raised dents in the wood.
When I returned to the stock, I was not so pleased. The finish remained slightly tacky in certain spots, and no amount of rubbing with a clean cloth seemed to help. Reluctantly, I turned to the very fine steel wool. This would be my first time using steel wool in this capacity, so I was worried that I might do more harm than good.

Following the grain of the walnut, I gently buffed the stock with the steel wool and was happy to see that I wasn’t removing the new finish or scratching the wood itself. After a few minutes, the tackiness was smoothed out, and the glossiness was reduced to a pleasant satin. I then wiped the stock clean with a paper towel and removed the remaining fragments of steel wool with a powerful magnet.

After buffing with very fine steel wool, the finished stock looked and felt much better.
As I noted earlier, the metal parts of the carbine were in excellent condition. The bluing was worn only in few spots, most significantly on the butt plate.3 I refinished the plate with Brownells Oxpho-Blue but left the rest of the metal alone. After this, reassembling my carbine was all that was left for me to do.

In the end, my K1931 required very little work. I repaired some cosmetic damage to the stock and gave it a new protective finish. The rifle still bears some of the scars of its decades of service and storage, but it also remains as ready for action as it was over 60 years ago.

I gave the stock of my K1931 an attractive new finish but did little else to the carbine.
And yes, the K1931 rifle is even better than a Swiss watch. It can shoot.
The K1931 was officially a carbine, but by the middle of the 20th century A.D., most military rifles had been reduced to “carbine” length, whether they were called such or not. Service rifles and carbines have continued to shrink since then, making the carbines of the Second World War look more like long rifles today.
At one point, K1931s were priced so low that their bayonets commanded more money than the carbines themselves!
This seems to be a common problem on K1931s. In fact, it’s so common that some collectors have questioned whether the butt plates were even blued in the first place. I have seen ample evidence to conclude that they were.






Copyright © A.D. 2007
by M. D. Van Norman.

Dancing Giant
“When you know there is going to be
an emergency, you pick up your rifle.”