Kitting Out The Kalashnikov – Part 2, by A.D.C.

(Continued from Part 1.)
Handguards

The simplest upgrade to classic wooden handguards is a polymer Russian design, often seen on the AK-74M, which has horizontal grooves for cooling and improved traction. The best versions of this design also have internal metal heat shields. Being much slimmer than other options, they are good for small hands. If you don’t need to mount accessories on the front of your rifle, these are a great option.

Among several options for handguards that allow for the mounting of accessories, Magpul offers two types: MOE and Zhukov. Both are excellent, and provide M-LOK attachment points at the 3-, 6-, and 9-o’cock positions. The MOE makes use of the AK’s handguard retainer bracket, whereas the Zhukov requires cutting off the bracket and installing an aluminum chassis that runs for much of the length of the barrel. While easy to install and providing attachment points all the way up to the gas block, the Zhukov makes an AK, already a front-heavy rifle, even more front-heavy. It also means finding and installing a new retainer bracket if you decide you don’t like the Zhukov. If you decide to try the MOE, be sure to order the correct version: MOE AKM for rifles with sling loops on the handguard retaining bracket, and MOE AK for others.

If you need to mount accessories (such as a red dot sight) at the 12-o’clock position, an old and well-respected name is UltiMAK. UltiMAK’s system replaces the gas tube with another that has an integral Picatinny rail. These sometimes need filing to install, and it is very easy to accidentally remove too much material. Much has been said out of concern that UltiMAK mounts can get hot enough to fry optics. They do not, but they can get very uncomfortable to hold. If you prefer to use a thumb-over-bore grip on your rifle, this may not be a good option for you.

A better option in this instance would be Midwest Industries’ line of railed AK handguards. MI makes handguards for AKMs and several other varieties of the AK. You can set up the lower half of your handguard with Picatinny rails, M-LOK, or Keymod, and the top half of your handguard with either a Picatinny rail or an optic-specific cutout. Many red dots will co-witness with the optic-specific cut uppers.

If you want to install a vertical foregrip on your AK, you will need to consider the AK’s rock-and-lock magazine insertion and the very pronounced curvature of the magazine itself. It is very easy to accidentally mount a VFG too far rearwards and cause problems with magazine changes. The Romanians and Hungarians issued large numbers of rifles with integral VFGs, and they were angled towards the muzzle for this reason. The Poles often run integral VFGs on their Beryls, but they don’t have to be angled because the Beryl is chambered in 5.56 and therefore has a relatively straight magazine. Short VFGs, for use used with the thumb-over-bore hold, and the Magpul AFG are also worth considering.

You may order a new handguard, rip open the package, and then get REALLY frustrated that your rifle’s gas tube is stuck and preventing you from installing that new handguard. If this happens, remember that you have to remove the bolt/carrier/piston assembly into order to remove the gas tube. I take great comfort in knowing that I am not the only one who has made this dumb mistake.

 

Buttstocks

Unlike the AR, the operating mechanism of the AK does not extend into the buttstock. This makes it very easy to add a folding stock. An AK with a folded stock makes for a very compact package: a rifle with a sixteen-inch barrel will fit into a tennis racquet bag, and an SBR/PDW/braced pistol can fit into a small backpack or a briefcase. Most designs will let you fire with stock folded, though actuating the safety might be a bit clumsy.

The easiest and most “modern” option for a folding stock is Magpul’s Zhukov stock. It slides into the rear and screws into the tang. Despite one notable report of catastrophic failure in very cold conditions. See this video, starting at the 9:35 mark. It has an excellent reputation. The Zhukov stock also provides the option of snap-on risers to customize your cheek weld. It is a bit bulkier than some of the other options.

Another folding stock which you may encounter is the Russian “100-series” stock. It outwardly resembles a fixed polymer stock, but it has a folding mechanism inside the receiver and a catch just forward of the buttplate to retain the stock when folded. You may also encounter the 100-series’ predecessor, the triangle stock. Both types are extremely tough, but require the temporary removal of side rail-mounted optics when folded. They also require the permanent removed of the tang, and are beyond the skill of most amateurs to install. DO NOT go down the rabbit hole of finding one and installing it unless you are an experienced gunsmith AND a glutton for punishment. They are also difficult to uninstall. Just run it (and love it!) if you rifle has one.

The sheet-metal underfolder is another common style that deletes the rear tang. These make for an extremely compact package when folded, but they have a reputation for loosening up with use and they are the most uncomfortable of all folding stocks. Like the 100-series and the triangle, they are not easy to install or uninstall.

Wire folding stocks offer the best combination of slimness, toughness, and ease of installation. The “classic” wire folders are the Romanian, Polish Tantal, and East German, and the greatest of these is the East German. Some of the key points of how a wire folding stock attaches to an AK are explained in the image to the right.The Tantal and East German wire folders attach with one screw in the tang and a metal bracket that is secured by the pistol grip nut. Romanian wire folders attach with two tang screws. Romanian wire folders come in both lever and pushbutton types, but Tantal and East German folders only have levers. For their Beryl rifle, the Poles also have an updated wire folding stock that requires minor cutting of the receiver to install. Examples of all four are available on the surplus market. To any of them may be added a cheek riser from amd65tech.com, as shown in the image at the beginning of this section. This simple upgrade improves the cheekweld greatly, but not really well enough for use with a magnified optic.

If running a wire folder, I recommend using a red dot. You can also improve the cheek weld (and keep your face off of hot metal) by wrapping a wire folder with paracord. All four wire folding stocks also offer a sling loop just aft of the receiver, which is especially appreciated by shooters accustomed to M4s with slings attached to the receiver endplate.

If you are not interested in a folding stock, there are many wood and polymer fixed stock options. I know of none that are problematic. The Magpul MOE AK stock is notable in that it can accept the same cheek risers as the Zhukov stock. Traditionally-styled fixed stocks are often sold in either “Warsaw pact” or “NATO” length, with NATO lengths offering a slightly longer length of pull. Some traditional fixed stocks have a shallow, lengthwise furrow cut down either side. This furrow was introduced by the Soviet military with the AK-74, so that rifles chambered for 7.62 and 5.45 could be told apart at a glance. For the civilian, it is a purely aesthetic choice.

There are several adapters that allow you to install an M4 buffer tube and telescoping stock on your AK. They are a subject of ridicule among some AK aficionados, but photos of them running in today’s conflict zones cannot be dismissed out of hand. The point of a telescoping stock is to adjust the length of pull, usually to accommodate body armor or small-statured firers. Such adjustments usually run to the shorter end, and Combloc stocks tend to be quite short. If you are running a red dot rather than iron sights or a magnified optic, fine-tuning the length of pull becomes even less urgent. It is also undeniable that a folding stock will be much more compact for storage and transport. If you do decide that you want an M4 stock on your AK, then I would recommend an adapter that holds the buffer tube in-line with the bore, which not all of them do.

Tapco’s fixed stock is fine, but their folding and telescoping stocks are flimsy, wobbly, and just plain ugly. Avoid them.

Pistol Grips

Many manufacturers make AK pistol grips, and I have never heard of any particular brand being problematic. Pistol grips are inexpensive and worth experimenting with in order to find one that fits you. My own favorite is Tapco’s SAW-style pistol grip which is, unfortunately, no longer made. If you can find one, it is worth checking out. It copies the shape of the M249’s pistol grip, which was designed to give the shooter adequate leverage on a twenty-pound machine gun. With that design, a nine-pound rifle is very easy to maneuver. Previously, I had a GP WASR-10/63 with a traditional Soviet-pattern pistol grip, which I didn’t care for. An East German pistol grip came with my wire folding stock, and though I have never installed it on a rifle, feels better to me. I have also tried the very popular U.S. Palm pistol grip, which I hated and couldn’t get back off my rifle fast enough.

Your mileage will vary.

It should also be noted that most commercial-design pistol grips (Tapco’s SAW, U.S. Palm, Magpul, and Hogue to name a few) are hollow and attach with a short bolt, like the AR-15. Most surplus pistol grips (and reproductions of military designs) are not hollow, and attach with a long bolt that runs from the bottom of the grip. The threading of the pistol grip nut is standardized, so while a new pistol grip might require a new pistol grip bolt, it shouldn’t require a new pistol grip nut.

(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 3.)




17 Comments

  1. It’s understandable why we are attracted to folding stocks. It makes the rifle so compact and easy to carry, yet unless there is a specific need for a compact AK, such as constant use inside a vehicle, I would stick to the original design and laminated wood stocks that provide a rock solid cheek weld, and can withstand the rigors of war and not break. Any modern accessory runs the risk of degrading the simple and rugged design that makes an AK what the AK should be. It takes us further away from what we may actually desire when it counts most. The Tapco stock in the video broke during what I would consider to be the proper manual of arms for the AK. A wire stock may not break, but it may not provide the rigidity required to successfully perform the operation demonstrated, and needed to resolve the malfunction. The short laminated stocks are the best. The short 13 inch length of pull is necessary when bulky winter clothing is worn. My favorite AK wears a Boyd hard wood stock cut to the correct length of pull for myself. It provides an ideal check weld and improved accuracy. In winter, it will be changed to a standard short laminated wood stock.

    1. Tunnel Rabbit,
      I’m with you. The AK is designed for the rough weather of th Soviet winters. A huge trigger guard for gloved hands. A shortened stock for large overcoats. Even the spare magazine pouch has a larger than life 3 and a half inch belt loops for an oversized leather belt for that extra large woolen trench coat. The cleaning kit, in the stock, was designed for use in the motor pool. You would utilize used transmission fluid to clean your disassembled AK and then oil it with used motor oil. Very economical. Runs every time.

      1. Exactly. It is also well suited for the short ranges and woods of Montana. And it is a rifle for the masses who have little training on how to maintain more sophisticated and refined rifles such as the AR-15. It will continue to function for years in austere conditions where there are no replacement parts, or gun smiths. If I had no access to lubricants, I could make Russian oil from Birch bark, or other woods. And if there were no solvents, brushes, or cloth to clean, simply boiling up a quart of water and flush the action and barrel would remove all debris and dirty lubricants from the mechanism. It is akin to an old tractor, tough and easy to maintain, whereas the AR is a race car, and requires more maintenance and care than the average person can do, especially when and where there are no tools, cleaning supplies, parts and technical knowledge to repair the rifle. Yes, it is easy to work on in general, but not necessarily easy to diagnose and fix.

        No, the AK is not perfect. It has fatal weakness in the trigger group. Do have spare springs and clips for that event, just in case. The rest of it will hold up even if a caveman were using it. And not all AK’s are crude and inaccurate. The trigger on my AK is far better than any of my AR’s, and it is just as accurate.

        I believe a long a bitter winter is ahead. Choose your rifle wisely.

  2. Although AK’s have been prohibited up here for almost 30 years, many of the modifications that you are discussing have been adapted to both the Chinese Type 81 ( a relatively recent import) and the venerable CZ-858.

    The Magpul Zhukov fore end, with its mounting hardware lends itself to relatively simple modifications to fit both of these firearms. The Zhukov Yugo stock has also been adapted to mount on them as well. In the case of the CZ-858, Stormwekx actually produced an adapter that allowed a straight bolt on. Gotta love Magpul.

  3. High quality AK magazine pouches for only $4.95, plus $1 shipping are hard to beat. These are surplus East German Ak-47 magazine pouches designed to hold four magazines. They can also easily handle AR-15 magazines. A wide belt, or for shoulder carry, a sling, can be threaded through the pouch loops in the rear of the pouch. These may also be used to house spare loaded mags in the field, and used as bandoleers. These may or may not be easily adapted to ALICE or Molly webbing, but they otherwise would work, and could be multi-purpose and used for other equipment. These pouches can be quickly modified and used for auxiliary rifles, and as shotgun ammunition pouches. All firearms in the inventory should have a means to carry ammunition. This is a inexpensive means to do so.

    https://www.gunpartscorp.com/products/1135420

    1. Those pouches are of good quality, I have several. Most of the East German “rain camo” stuff is well built, if not always super ergonomic. It used to be dirt cheap, and is still usually fairly inexpensive.
      I don’t know how easy it would be to use with ALICE gear, the belt loops might be wide enough for an ALICE belt, but I’ve never tried them. You can use it on MOLLE gear pretty easily with some paracord- it might not be pretty, but it will get the job done. The Chinese Type 81 chest rigs are hard to beat for the money for an AK as well, they work and they’re about as simple as you can get.

  4. As soon as the democrats control the White House and the Senate, the AK and AR platforms will either be outlawed, taxed out of affordability, or at a minimum, registered. Too many Americans are now ignorant of our history and heritage… thanks to our “education” system. This will result in skyrocketing prices on the remaining stock of government approved weapons.

    But alas… I rant.

    1. They might be “outlawed” but not all of them will be taxed, registered, or turned in. Many may be, but there will be a lot of them that will evade Mr. Fed’s radar.

      The other thing is, once large swaths of average everyday Americans get turned into felons by unconstitutional regulations, I believe that more than a few that decide they’ll start practicing some home gunsmithing and homebrew chemistry of the type that the ATF frowns upon.

    1. Arguably the SKS is a better rifle in many regards. I have a minty one. Using the stripper clips from actual Chinese military surplus ammunition, it feeds flawlessly. A comparison between the M1 Garand and the M1A, in terms of the advantages and disadvantages between a box fed magazine, and the en bloc clip systems could be made, yet the SKS is a different breed of Com bloc rifle, unlike the AK in important ways that are not widely understood. That said, the 30 round magazine of the AK, provides the continuity of fire necessary for maneuver. If different tactics were employed, suitable to the lower round count magazine of the SKS, then I would have no problem with it. Get the correct stripper clip available from Numrich Arms, or Sarco, and the SKS becomes a pleasure to operate and a viable weapon. Use the incorrect cheap garbage stripper clips, and the rifle is not viable.

  5. I had two post ban AKs of the Bulgarian and two of the Hungarian type. (One was named FEG.) I don’t remember much about either except that they had those terrible thumbhole stocks which I got retrofitted last year. Finding a folding stock retrofit on the milled receiver was impossible and had to get a standard fixed stock. The other two had stamped receivers and the Magpul folding stock worked fine.

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