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  1. #1
    Member deadwood83's Avatar
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    Help saving a moldy swiss relic

    Hey all. Posted this on another forum but no input from there. Hoping I might get some luck here.

    Picked up a swiss k11 which looked fine externally, bore is one step off 'brand new' and receiver and bolt only had a couple spots of minor surface corrosion.

    I knew the stock was bit rough on the outside, but was not expecting what I found inside... mold. Mold and oil soak right on the verge of destroying the wood.

    I have run 5 rounds of whiting using cornstarch in turps to remove a large chunk of the offending oil, and have scrubbed the mold. I have a few questions though.

    1. I have read mixed things on what kills the mold. Some have said oxalic acid kills it, others have said that only TSP will kill it. Which is correct?

    2. The bottom wood was basically left to rot. Guessing the PO passed on and nobody in the family gave two hoots about the rifle, leaving it standing in an attic or somewhere to slowly decay. There are mildew stains fore and aft (though the butt mildew is not especially rare on swiss rifles; it does seem odd on a K11 compared to a walnut K31icon). Can these also be dealt with using oxalic acid?

    3. The bottom wood is covered in small microfissures around small dings and had very, very little shellac left. The dings are not in locations I have seen to be typical on my 8 other swiss rifles. I'm not sure how to best blend these when I put it all back. They are... massively ugly and a relic of the neglect this poor thing suffered. Normally, I don't care about milsurp cosmetics as long as it is mechanically sound since I tend to buy into "each ding is a story" but this rifle has a matching pristine upper handguard; so the damage is just depressing. At one point or another, we all buy the wrong rifle. This is my wrong rifle, and I plan to own my mistake, and hopefully make good on it.

    I'm not concerned about value or devaluation for the work I am doing. I don't sell my rifles. I sold one back in 2015 and regretted it. Never again. I also prefer to stop active decay, so I may rust blue the bottom of the TG to a similar finish as the rest of the rifle (most of the old finish has corroded away) to add a layer of protection / texture to hold corrosion inhibiting oils.

    Observations:
    • Leading side of both barrel bands are minorly to moderately pitted, forward facing parts of the TG are minorly pitted. Bottom of TG plate was covered in a fine film of surface corrosion. Back of the barrel bands is pristine. All the corrosion happened during improper storage while muzzle-up. All deterioration of the rifle is consistent with this pattern.
    • Bore is almost like-new (stored with muzzle cap on, at least).
    • Bolt had one spot of corrosion on the bottom which left discoloration, but cleaned up with a fingernail's pressure. Similar spot on the extractor, which also cleaned up with fingernail pressure.
    • Mold was growing beneath the TG, buttplate, and rear tang. Very minor pitting at the rear tang where moisture had accumulated. After 5 rounds of whiting, some oil soak is still coming through the wood. Further whiting is planned using calcium carbonate. Oil soak deteriorated the most fragile of the inletting, and two pieces of wood lifted out with the receiver. Bearing surfaces feel hard to my fingernail pressure, so I believe it can be saved.
    • Wood is numbers matching, but not even close to condition matching. Bottom wood had paint spatter, incredible oil saturation (not quite cosmolineicon-soaked levels but very nearly.) Bottom wood has some pinholes which are less than 1/8" deep, was missing almost all shellac, shows signs of mildew intrusion over the entire RH side where surface fibers are broken, the nose, and the butt. Bottom wood has significant quantity of impacts on RH side which have caused micro fissures on each side of impact area. LH side of wood is mostly free of defects. Top wood looks like it was produced yesterday. Single small gouge towards forend which looks very, very recent (bright, clean wood exposed with no dirt.) Finger grooves are sharp and defined on both sides, with some small gouging and contamination on RH side edge of grooves.


    Sadly I did not take before pictures. I saw the damage and went immediately into action mode. Any assistance with neutralizing the mold and tips on addressing the fissures would be greatly appreciated. My G11 (a total winner) is very dark. The top wood is also rather dark. I really want to avoid sanding and staining, but if it will help hide the fissures I would be willing to try. Stain RGL-1884 Black Walnut looks like it might be close in hue to the top HG. RH side of the stock is light and rather featureless (though some striations and patterns are visible) but LH side has rather strong mixed heart and sapwood figure.




    The condition of the bottom wood makes me rather sad... and judging by the taut (though aged and hardened into place at full retract) sling, the pristine bore, and the top wood condition I believe it would dishearten the soldier who carried this rifle. Rifle came with troop tag. Birth date 1909, Canton Vaud, Ste-Croix, EM Gr f[something] 22. I believe EM Gr might mean an enlisted man in the grenadiers?

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    Contributing Member Singer B's Avatar
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    I'm not sure what the Swissicon used as a finish for their wood, but you may be surprised at how close the handguard and stock match up once you get the stock hydrated and coated with the correct finish. The other option is to strip both pieces down to the bare wood and start over with the finish you prefer (RLO, BLOicon, stain, etc.). I have a feeling that you are going to have a great looking K11 that shoots well when you are done.

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    Member thrawnformbi's Avatar
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    I generally err on the side of caution when it comes to moldy stocks and immerse fully in acetone or ammonia. Depends what I have on hand. As far as whiting goes - I've had much better success using lacquer thinner and sodium carbonate instead of cornstarch. Once fully covered and flashed off I seal the stocks in vacuum bags and boil them. Works fantastic and doesnt subject the wood to a drop of water.

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    Member deadwood83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thrawnformbi View Post
    I generally err on the side of caution when it comes to moldy stocks and immerse fully in acetone or ammonia. Depends what I have on hand. As far as whiting goes - I've had much better success using lacquer thinner and sodium carbonate instead of cornstarch. Once fully covered and flashed off I seal the stocks in vacuum bags and boil them. Works fantastic and doesnt subject the wood to a drop of water.
    This is incredibly clever! Unfortunately i do not have a vac sealer or tank large enough to boil this stock; double unfortunate that my rust conversion steam chamber has a 4" ID which is too small. Checked out the oven and it has a min of 175F which miiiiight work. Cornstarch was just used initially because i didn't have any chalk. I have 2lbs now, which I hope will be enough to finish it up.

    Resting has allowed more oil to come to the surface; particularly around the action.


    There were some gouges on the bottom wood which I figured were going to look rough no matter what, so I tried a little bit of direct steamer application. This worked alarmingly well to raise the grain enough to soften the snagging edges so that putting the rifle in a padded sock for transit would not cause part of my microfiber sleeves to permanently affix themselves. Since I just have an incredible hesitancy to sand on any milsurp, the stock was immediately gently padded with microfiber then whiskered using a DA razor blade held perpendicular. Very very slow, but removes basically zero wood.

    It also revealed just how completely filthy this piece of wood is. I have seen european walnut with a striated/grainy look and thought this was such a piece. Turns out this thing just might be waaaay dirtier than I thought.


    Steaming around the finger grooves is.... very stressful. Wood bleach arrived and I'm considering using it before finishing the whiting with calc carbonate. When exposed to acidic solution, the precipitate formed contains carbonic acid which woods naturally form to aid in hydrolysis. I fear it may cause the bleach to migrate in an uncontrollable fashion.

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    Member deadwood83's Avatar
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    I thiiiiiiiink I did it.

    I started out by treating all the really bad spots with oxalic acid on a qtip. THis took a few hours. This left the stock splotchy as hell, but I was able to witness the wood change from grey to sapwood/heartwood depending on where I was looking at the stock.


    The solution did not change the color of the grain as much as I had feared. The color pops right back out when the stock gets damp.

    This photo was 2nd to last acid wash, after which I followed up with baking soda in solution to neutralize the acid. When the wood stopped ejecting bubbles, the acid has been neutralized.


    When my RLO arrives, I will cut it with turps and some red wine vinegar and do a very dilute coat to sink it into the wood and try to gauge where I am at color-wise.

    If the stock is not dark enough to match the HG, then I will start looking at dyes. Fiebing's dark brown and maybe one of their sliiiiightly reddish dyes i think can be made to match the upper HG.Will dilute with denatured alc and apply until satisfied.

    After coloring, I will apply the final finish of original Swissicon design:

    Swiss recipe for walnut stocks:
    30% Turp
    30% RLO
    30% fruit (wine) vinegar
    10% beeswax.

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    Contributing Member Singer B's Avatar
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    Its looking pretty good!

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    Member thrawnformbi's Avatar
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    I like Fiebings dark brown mixed with cordovan. Perfect service rifle stain.

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    Contributing Member ssgross's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by deadwood83 View Post
    After coloring, I will apply the final finish of original Swissicon design:

    Swiss recipe for walnut stocks:
    30% Turp
    30% RLO
    30% fruit (wine) vinegar
    10% beeswax.
    Can you provide a reference for this? Anything that detailed would likely have many other facts or "lost knowledge" in similar detail, and I would be interested to read.

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    Member deadwood83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ssgross View Post
    Can you provide a reference for this? Anything that detailed would likely have many other facts or "lost knowledge" in similar detail, and I would be interested to read.
    For sure. The recipe was frequently posted by Frank *Guisan* Van Binnendijk. He was a frequent poster (and founder) on the Swissicon Rifles message boards. You can find his posts here and GB as well. He passed in 2015. Being a CH native and passionate about straight pull rifles, he was a wealth of knowledge and very patient.

    The recipe is pulled from a sticky on the aforementioned forum where he posted:
    Quote Originally Posted by Guisan@SRDC
    From the Landesmuseum in Zürich.
    For walnut, clean the stock first;
    30 % Turpentine30 % Linseed oil30 % Fruit (wine) vinegar10 % Bees wax
    Fill the mix in a plastic bottle and put that one in hot water (60 degrees celcius) for 15 minutes till the bees wax has dissolved in the mix, apply with a piece of cloth.
    And for beech;
    45 % Denatured alcohol (high percentage 95%)45 % Shellac flakes10 % Paraffin-oil.
    Get the old shellac layer off with help of fine steelwool and alcohol (95% ).Apply with a piece of cloth starting at the top;
    Guisan.
    The exact type of vinegar was never specified. I am electing to use red wine vinegar based on the coloration difference I have between the top HG and the bottom wood.
    I also examined the one raw wood scuff on the top handguard (after carefully mechanically removing the shellac with a razor so as not to influence the color perceived from the oil finish) and found the underlying wood to have a distinctly less red hue. The depth of penetration (or lack thereof) would support the use of beeswax in the finish.
    I used two different backgrounds to try and give an accurate idea of the color difference. The background using my hand has a white balance much closer to real life compared to my bound book.


    My Swedishicon M96 (1905 mfg) is also finished in RLO as per original mfg and while the original non-oxidized color under the range sticker (I know, it makes me sad) is less oxidized and slightly lighter, the oil has not oxidized anywhere near enough to impart a reddish hue. You can see it next to my G11 (1918 mfg. that G11 has DARK heartwood and absolutely stunning figure). G11 close-ups to emphasize the distinctly reddish hue compared to another european walnut rifle of similar era. If the swiss did not use something which had a color cast I would expect the swede to be even more colored due to it's decade head start on oil oxidation.


    Vinegar is acetic acid, which is a 'natural' (fermenting) fungicide. Searching for "turpentine linseed vinegar mix" turns up a bunch of different results in different areas of interest from boat oars to antique radios.

    I would wager (I have ZERO evidence to support this, this is just my wild guess) the beeswax was added for two reasons:
    • Beeswax controls penetration, causing a 'finish' to build faster than pure oil and turpentine. This would be advantageous for production leading up to war, or when going through four different service rifles in 22 years (1889, 1896, 1911, K11). The Swiss already had a regimen for rifle care using waffenfett rubbed on the wood by the soldier as part of maintenance.
    • Beeswax is slightly more waterproof than RLO alone.

    From 2017 remarks on waffenfett tin smell:
    Quote Originally Posted by KneverKnew@SRDC
    That may very well be true. I doubt the recipe is very complicated. But these latest two tins of waffenfett have a different smell to them than the first tin I got a couple years back from Frank (Guisan). They both smell very much like they have turpentine in them. Actually, they smell slightly similar to my "Gunny's Paste" which is made of BLOicon, Turpentine and Bees Wax. Definite pine smell.
    Sounds a lot like the museum recipe but my bet would be heavier on the wax and turpentine since it is a whitish oily paste. This is also found as "tom's 1/3 mix." I believe the museum to be correct not only due to their provenance and location, but due to the widespread tribal knowledge of this mix in other industries and interests. It would be rather risky to use an unproven finish on an issue rifle.

    Shellac was added post-late 40s when rifles were re-arsenaled. It was safe and easy to apply over an oil finish, and the beech furniture adopted for the K31 late production was all finished in shellac. You see far less shellac on 1889 models since they seem to have been largely privatized prior to shellac hitting the armories. This K11 is 1917 mfg in SIG Neuhausen. G11 is 1918 mfg, cannot recall if it is a Hammerli or SIG.

    Anyway, that's what my research and decade of Swiss rifle ownership has lead me to. I feel confident in it, but somebody else may have actual arsenal documents which prove me completely wrong.

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    Member deadwood83's Avatar
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    First coat of oil is a go.

    It took forever. The wood was thirsty, and this museum recipe likes to separate in a matter of seconds. I'm starting to wonder if the beeswax might be there as a binder. I won't do beeswax until the last coat or two.

    Oil went in so quickly that by the time one hand had rubbed it in, the wood had no residue or tackiness for the other hand to pick up. The photos with oil on show how this particular stock is nearly split right up the middle with sapwood and heartwood.

    Please excuse the auto processing my phone does.


    Overall, I have no reason to doubt the recipe. The wood looks pretty much identical to every original walnut Schmidt I have ever seen

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