Japanese Arisaka Restoration

The recent successful completion of the Lee-Enfield restoration has me inspired to work on a couple of other neglected firearms that have been in the family for decades.

My dad was in the navy in WWII and brought home a Japanese Arisaka rifle from the Philippines.  He never talked much about the war, and all he had to say about the rifle was that there was a pile of them that were free for the taking.  So, he brought one home.  Fortunately, he never tried to shoot it; more on that in a moment.

1930s-40s Japanese Arisaka before restoration (bolt removed)

1930s-40s Japanese Arisaka before restoration (bolt removed)

The rifle was stored in our attic from the time the house was built in the late 1950s until 1983, when my mother moved closer to town.  It went straight into that attic until 2006, when she moved into a retirement facility.  Unbeknownst to my brother and me, she gave it to a family friend.  Since each of us thought the other had it, the rifle never came up in conversation until last summer, when I happened to ask about it.  Long story short, the family friend graciously returned it to us, along with a side by side shotgun that is in horrendous condition.

I don’t know the rifle’s condition when my dad picked it up in the Philippines, but having spent 70 years in attics since, the Arisaka accumulated a lot of dust and rust.  The wood was in fair condition, but very dry; all the metal surfaces were rusty and most of the original bluing was gone.

Detail of the receiver and rear sight

Detail of the receiver and rear sight

After doing some research, I’m 90% sure this particular Arisaka was strictly a training rifle, and was never shootable. It appears to be some sort of type 38/type 99 hybrid with a mixture of parts from both designs. The biggest giveaways are lack of a serial number and proper hallmarks, and the fact that the barrel isn’t rifled. It is interesting, however, that it does seem to have all the correct mechanical parts of a fully functional rifle, including the firing pin, magazine spring, and the action dust cover, which is normally missing from all Arisakas. That one part, seen in the photo below, is probably worth as much as the rest of the rifle.

Detail of the bottom, trigger guard and magazine floor plate

Detail of the bottom, trigger guard and magazine floor plate

These training rifles are not uncommon, but they were not constructed to handle live ammo and are likely to explode if shot. The receivers were made of cast iron and intended for either wooden rounds or low power blanks.  Because they are virtually indistinguishable from the real rifles, a lot of GIs who brought them home after the war tried to shoot them. The consequence of doing this was not pretty.  This earned the later Arisakas a reputation for being poorly made and these are sometimes (incorrectly) referred to as Last Ditch guns.

Since I didn’t have to worry about shooting it or compromising its value (it’s a $50-$100 gun at best), the restoration focused primarily on the cosmetic, with mechanical function a secondary concern.  Fortunately, none of the screws were seized and the rifle disassembled quickly.  Compared to the Enfield, taking this one apart was a breeze.  The rust turned out to be mainly superficial, and came off pretty easily with some CLP and light brushing.  The receiver and barrel required a little more aggressive scrubbing with the CLP and steel wool, but cleaned up very nicely.

Arisaka-Comp-5Once cleaned and degreased, I used a cold blue oxidizing agent to darken the metal areas that were overly brightened by the cleaning.  This toned it down to a perfect match to the overall patina of this 70-year-old firearm.  With a little light surface toning, the result was a rich and lustrous dark blue/gray finish that accurately reflects the age and matches the remaining patina.

Arisaka receiver before & after restoration

Arisaka receiver before & after restoration

The stock, as I said, was overall pretty good, but the wood was very dry and splintery, and there were a lot of scratches and dings from laying bare in attics, etc.  A few applications of Kramer’s Best had it looking much better, but I still wasn’t satisfied with the result.  After looking at it and thinking about it for a few days, I decided to give it a light application of Watco Danish Oil, which is thin and penetrates well, and is great stuff overall.  Unlike many finishes, it builds up very slowly with a low sheen, and plays nice with other existing finishes in my experience.  I used a mahogany tint that matched the original finish on the rifle, and gave it just a single application.  The result was a remarkable improvement.  Scratches faded, tone evened out, and the overall surface just felt better in the hand.

Reassembled, the rifle looks great.  Since it’s not shootable, it will never be anything other than a wall hanger, but that’s okay.  It’s a piece of history and a link to my dad.

Arisaka after restoration

Arisaka after restoration

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About Bryant
Bryant is a business management and organizational development executive with over 15 years’ experience focused on financial and operational efficiencies, talent development and optimization, improved employee engagement, and cultural alignment of teams within the organization. He has diverse experience in successful financial and strategic planning, brand management, leadership analysis and talent development, as well as designing and executing improvements to teams’ cultural efficacy and organizational alignment. Bryant has experience in both International Public S&P 500 Corporate and Non-Profit Sectors, and also runs his own entrepreneurial business venture, a consulting company specializing in helping small businesses and organizations improve operational efficiency, leadership development, and employee engagement . Bryant holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and a Bachelors in Fine Arts (BFA).

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