Mauser: Small Ring, Big Controversy

By Mike Hudson

Mark Twain once observed that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes and nowhere is that axiom more true than in the world of firearms, especially since the advent of the Internet. A word then, perhaps, about the inherent �weakness� of small ring, non-98 Mauser actions, including the 91, 93, 94, 95 and 96 models manufactured for use by Spain, Argentina, Sweden, Chile, Turkey and many other countries around the world. This non-issue has been written about by illustrious gun scribes and aped by ignoramuses far and wide for decades.

�The steel used by the Spaniards is considered to be soft,� one know-nothing opined on a web page recently, perhaps not realizing that all of the true 1893�s were built by Mauser, Ludwig Lowe or DWM in Germany. The truth is, while the earlier actions are indeed not as strong as the rugged M-98, they are plenty strong enough when used as intended. For years, the Swedish firm of Husqvarna turned out fine sporters based on 96 Mauser actions in .30-06 caliber.

Thousands of beautiful custom sporters in useful calibers like 7x57mm Mauser, 257 Roberts, 8x57mm Mauser, .35 Remington, 9.3x57, 6.5x55 Swedish and the .300 Savage and .250-3000 Savage have been turned out using small ring actions, which have a number of advantages some believe offset the fact that they can�t be chambered for the .458 Winchester Magnum.

In truth, the myth about the weakness of the earlier Mauser actions coincided almost perfectly with the foundation of the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers� Institute (SAAMI), a private organization established at the behest of the United States government. This was in 1926, more than a generation after Mauser began turning out smokeless powder repeating rifles.

Currently, SAAMI dictates that ammunition sold in America for most of the calibers mentioned above generate no more than 50,000 psi when fired, a mandate that has led to the underloading of popular European calibers like the 7x57 and the 8x57, as well as some American calibers. The .257 Roberts very nearly became extinct because of SAAMI pressure standards set arbitrarily and absurdly low due to the large numbers of small ring Mauser and other surplus actions used as the basis for rifles built for the former wildcat cartridge.

In its original military loading, the 7x57mm cartridge produced an average pressure of 50,370 CUP when fired through the M93 Spanish Mauser rifle, according to J.M. Whittemore�s 1899 treatise, Report Of Test of Mauser Arms And Ammunition Relative To Pressures And Velocities. Whittemore drew from the work five years earlier of the Spanish ballistician Salvadore Cardenal, whose 1895 report for the Spanish government reached the same conclusions.

However, SAAMI has published a Maximum Average Pressure of only 46,000 CUP for this round, which leads to the possibility that commercial rifles built to SAAMI standards may not be designed to withstand the powerful military cartridges intended for the more robust pre-98 Mauser designs.

It�s a well known fact that older military cartridges loaded for sale in Europe are hotter than their American counterparts, but it isn�t generally known why. Certainly, the European governments care as much as the Americans about citizens dying from catastrophic firearms failures.

Instead of SAAMI, the Europeans employ C.I.P., the Permanent International Commission for Firearms Testing. A far more independent organization, the C.I.P. was founded in 1914 and does not answer to corporate American or European gunmakers. According to official C.I.P. guidelines, the 7�57mm case can handle up to 390 MPa (56,564 psi) piezo pressure. In C.I.P. regulated countries, every rifle/cartridge combination has to be proofed at 125% of this maximum C.I.P. pressure to certify for sale to consumers.

By contrast, SAAMI specifies a far lower maximum pressure of 46,000 CUP or 51,000 psi. Although this lower specification is due to concern about the allegedly weaker actions of the older Mauser 93 and 95 rifles, this anxiety is misplaced, as the original ammunition developed for, and issued with, the M-93 Spanish Mauser produced an average pressure of 50,370 CUP in those rifles. Since the Spaniards continued building M-93s themselves into the 1950s, continued C.I.P. proof testing would have uncovered any inherent weakness in the action.

Some might argue that the century old steel in original 1891, 1893, 1895 and 1896 Mauser actions is somehow not as strong as it was when first manufactured. In the case of rusted, pitted, dented or otherwise damaged examples, this would indeed be the case. Anyone who thinks fine steel somehow degenerates in ways not apparent to the naked eye over a period of time as brief as 100 years would do well to research Japanese swords turned out on primitive hand forges as early as the 13th and 14th centuries. The pristine blades are as strong as they ever were, in many cases stronger than steel blades turned out today using modern technology.

I suppose I�m thinking about all this today because, on the table in front of me, sits a Spanish M-93 action, turned out by Ludwig Lowe of Berlin in 1896. A quarter of an inch shorter and two ounces lighter than the large ring M-98 action, it remains, I believe, the perfect platform for the 7x57mm cartridge, the round for which it was specifically designed 120 years ago.

I�ve decided to go ahead with the project, a lightweight sporter in the classic configuration, and have just spent the morning happily ordering a new stock and barrel, an adjustable trigger and bolt safety, a set of iron sights, scope bases and rings. I know a gunsmith near here in the Santa Monica Mountains who can put it all together for me and in a few months I�ll be the proud owner of a custom 7x57 capable of taking anything I might find out here in the west, from coyotes to elk, so long as I do my part.

One thing is certain. No matter what ammunition I use, I�ll be a lot more concerned about my own strength and stamina than I will about that of the Mauser action Lowe turned out 60 years before I was born.

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Copyright 2012 by Mike Hudson and/or All rights reserved.