Kitting Out The Kalashnikov – Part 4, by A.D.C.

(Continued from Part 3. This concludes the article.)

Considerations for Non-Standard AKs

When it comes time to order accessories and parts for your AK, it is very easy to accidentally order incompatible items meant for a different AK variant. To get an idea of the scope of the problem, check out UltiMAK‘s and Midwest Industries’ AK product listings. In this section, I’ll help you make sense of some of the lingo on these pages, as well as other terms that you may encounter. Unless otherwise noted (or implied by a chambering in a different cartridge), all of these rifles use standard AK magazines.

While commonly referred to as “AK-47s” (Automatic Kalashnikov model of 1947), most AKs that you will encounter are more similar to the AKM (Automatic Kalashnikov Modernized). When Mikhail Kalashnikov designed his namesake rifle, he intended for the receiver to be stamped from sheet metal. Soviet metallurgy of the day was not up to the task, so receivers were milled from blocks instead. This continued form the rifle’s rollout in 1949 until 1959, at which time Soviet metallurgy had improved such that the stamped receiver could be reintroduced, officially designated the AKM.

On the commercial market, AK-47-types are called “milled receiver” rifles, and AKM-types are called “stamped receiver” rifles. Milled receiver rifles use different styles of buttstocks, handguards, and gas tubes. Their barrels also mount directly to the receiver, whereas on a sampled rifle, the barrel mounts to a trunnion and the trunnion mounts to the receiver. Most other parts should interchange with basic rifles, but unfortunately, there are few guarantees here. Milled rifles are more than a pound heavier than stamped receiver rifles. Milled rifles also have a reputation for higher round-count life expectancies, which is probably academic for anyone not doing large volumes of full-auto fire.

At this point, I can explain my imprecise usage of the term “AKM.” The Soviet AKM, and its direct copies, was only ever fielded with 14×1 LH muzzle threading. The 7.62x39mm AK-103 is fielded in small numbers today and has M24x1.5 threading, but it has a 100-series folding stock and is therefore not considered a “basic AKM” for the purposes of our discussion. Such hair-splitting might cause confusion, but I wanted to introduce the term “AKM” early, as it is the common nomenclature for any stamped-receiver AK that mostly fits AKM parts.

The RPK is a light machine gun based on the AK. It can be identified by a long, heavy barrel that is often fitted with a bipod (Yugoslavian/Serbian variants also have cooling fins on the section of the barrel between the receiver and the gas block) and a club-shaped buttstock. The handguards, buttstocks, and gas tubes do not easily interchange with any other type of AK, and the front and rear sights are also non-standard. RPKs can use standard box magazines, but they are also the intended users of the 75- and 100-round drum magazines mentioned in the magazine section. An RPK and a good supply of (thoroughly-tested) drums would be great for defending a fixed position, and would certainly cost less than a belt-fed semi-auto.

The AMD-65 is a Hungarian variant of the AK, recognizable by its distinctive muzzle brake, forward-slanting vertical foregrip on a unique handguard, and unique wire folding stock. This rifle is the namesake of the aforementioned amd65tech.com, whose cheek risers were originally made for that rifle. The AMD-65’s wire folding stock does not easily interchange with any other rifle, though several companies make fixed stocks for it. The handguards also do not interchange with any other type.

The Saiga is a series of sporting rifles and shotguns. They roll off of the same assembly line as military AKs at Kalashnikov Concern’s (formerly Izshmash) factory in Russia. It is identifiable by its Monte Carlo-style stock, extended handguard, and lack of threaded muzzle. They are also built to be incompatible with mil-spec magazines. Saigas have been banned from importation to the U.S. since 2014, but Kalashnikov USA is now (intermittently) manufacturing a new version here. There is a vibrant cottage industry devoted to converting Saigas into mil-spec rifles, and Arsenal used to offer their SGL line of professionally-converted Saigas. The process of doing the conversion is well beyond the scope of this article, but you can start here [LINK: https://www.arizonaresponsesystems.com/tutorial-saiga-sporter-ak-conversion/] if you are interested. I did the conversion of my own Saiga, and it was a worthwhile experience. A fully-converted 7.62x39mm Saiga may be considered a basic AKM for the purposes of our discussion.

Of the several types of AKs imported to the U.S. from China, the MAK-90 is the most common. These may be branded as either Norinco or Polytech. They have 1.5mm stamped receivers, and so do not fit AKM furniture easily (I have seen the Magpul Zhukov stock made to fit with filing). A distinguishing feature of all Chinese AKs is a fully-enclosed front sight hood, as opposed to those from other nations, which are open at the top. Many are also fitted with an underfolding bayonet similar to the SKS. (Watch for both of these features in movies and TV shows: Chinese AKs are a staple of Hollywood armories.) MAK-90s have much in common with the Saiga: both are now banned from importation, both were imported in a “sporter” configuration, and both may be encountered in various states of partial conversion. Chinese AKs have become collector’s items, and command a premium. Chinese AKs in 5.56 use radically non-standard magazine dimensions, and Chinese 5.56 magazines go for about $100 each.

The PSL is a Romanian sniper rifle chambered for the 7.62x54R cartridge. It is sometimes advertised as a “Romanian Dragunov,” or “Romanian SVD” (“SVD” being the Russian acronym for ” Dragunov’s Sniper Rifle). In truth, the PSL has nothing in common with the SVD, other than its chambering and its general appearance. The SVD has its own unique action that is more similar to the SKS, but the PSL is essentially a scaled-up AK that has no parts in common with the AKM. It is typically fitted with an LPS scope, which has a very handy stadiametric reticle copied from the Russian PSO-1 scope. The LPS fits a mount that fits the PSL’s side rail, which looks like the AKM’s rail but is incompatible.

PSLs have a reputation for good accuracy with cold barrels, which deteriorates quickly as the barrel heats up. It is also worth noting that Saigas with 20-inch barrels chambered in 7.62x54R or .308 Winchester are occasionally fitted with thumbhole stocks and advertised as Dragunovs. They are also not Dragunovs, but if you wanted to put together a “Dragunov homage” rifle, a Saiga might be a more practical starting point. You could use some AKM parts and have more options for optics. (It should be noted here that the Russians, and many nations in their current and former sphere of influence, use the term “sniper” a bit more broadly than Americans. It is used as the equivalent of both “scout sniper” and “designated marksman.”)

The Galil is an Israeli rifle which that nation developed after bad experiences with their FN-FALs jamming during the Six-Day War. It largely copies the Finnish Valmet RK-62 (which is quite rare in the U.S.), which is based heavily upon the AK design. Both the Galil and the Valmet have a uniquely-shaped receiver, which angles upwards from the trigger guard towards the handguard much more so than the AKM. Both also have their front sights mounted to the gas block. The Galil can be distinguished from the Valmet by the presence of a secondary safety selector on the left side of the receiver, and by an upturned charging handle with a large knob. Most Galil’s available in the U.S. are chambered in 5.56, but one occasionally encounters the 7.62 NATO version. The Galil/Valmet’s buttstock, pistol grip, and handguard will not interchange with the basic rifle, and the interchangeability of internal parts is controversial.

Galil magazines are certainly not as common (nor as affordable) as those for the AR-15, but they are generally available. Milspec steel magazines are the best, Orlite polymer magazines are in a distant second place. And the Tapco and Promag aftermarket magazines should be avoided. Mounting optics to the “legacy” Galil is difficult, but the radically-updated Galil ACE makes it very easy. The Galil ACE is available in 5.56 and takes AR-15 magazines, and also available in 7.62x39mm, which takes AK magazines.

There are two types of pistol/SBR/PDW AKs commonly encountered on the U.S. market: the Draco and the Krinkov. The full-size Draco is an AK pistol imported from Romania that has a 12-inch barrel and the front sight mounted to the gas block. The Mini Draco has an 8-inch barrel and the same front sight arrangement. The micro-Draco has a 6-inch barrel and the same front sight arrangement, but it moves the rear sight onto the top cover. The rear of the receiver omits the tang from all of them. They are available with a plain rear, with an integral buffer tube adapter, or with a type of SB Tactical brace unique to the Draco. For the full size, all parts except for the front sight/gas block interchange with the basic AKM.

The Mini and the Micro use a unique lower handguard and non-standard gas tube. They also have no factory upper handguard, leaving the (potentially very hot!) gas tube bare. There is no provision for mounting a handguard to the gas tube. Several companies, including Midwest Industries, make railed handguards with top sections that attach by other means.

The Krinkov has an 8-inch barrel like the mini Draco, but it can be distinguished from the Draco by the presence of a unique top cover, which is permanently attached to the receiver by a hinge where one would find the rear sight on an AKM. The Krinkov moves the rear sight to the middle of the top cover. It also usually features one of several distinctive booster devices on the muzzle. These ensure adequate kinetic energy for cycling the action. The Krinkov mounts the front sight to the gas block just like the Dracos, and the Krinkov has its own unique handguard type. Several varieties of buttstocks are available. What we call the “Krinkov” was introduced into Soviet service with the formal designation AKS-74U. It has several nicknames in Russian, none of which are “Krinkov.” The most popular Russian nickname for the AKS-74U is “suchka,” which is the diminutive of “suka,” which is Russian for “bitch.” It is likely that “Krinkov” is actually a Pashtu word. For a fascinating discussion, see this article.

The Zastava company of Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia) puts its own unique spin on the Kalashnikov design. Their rifles are distinguished by thicker receivers and a non-standard handguard shape. Some models have sheet-metal underfolding stocks. Others have fixed buttstocks that slide into the rear of the receiver and are secured by a single, long bolt that runs into the stock along the stock’s long axis (similar to the Lee-Enfield). Some models also have integral AR-15 buffer tube adapters, and Zastava also offers several varieties of Krinkov, RPK, and PSL-like rifles. Collectively, these are known as “Yugos.”

Conclusion

I bought my first AK in 2007. In those days, they were available to suit any budget, from $400 WASRs to $1,400 custom builds, with many excellent options from Arsenal, Vector, Zastava, and others in the middle. Today, WASRs cost as much as the old midrange options (with a corresponding increase in quality), and the old midrange options can cost nearly as much as a custom build. Surplus parts are drying up, and some U.S. manufacturers are having problems with poorly heat-treated bolts and trunnions. This echoes yesteryear, when AR-15 forums kept meticulous charts of who would properly stake their gas keys and perform magnetic particle inspections of their bolts. “To everything, there is a season.” Anyone wanting to add a military-style rifle to their arsenal should seriously consider taking advantage of the current golden age of affordable and high-quality AR-15s. But, if the AK’s unique features appeal to you, no one could ever say that you made a poor choice of rifle.

Please forgive any errors or omissions I have made in this article. I have made every effort to avoid them, but it should be obvious that, in the process of becoming the world’s rifle, the AK picked up some of the world’s diversity. Where I have failed to answer your questions, I hope to have given you an idea of what questions to ask, and also the vocabulary with which to ask them.




10 Comments

  1. The article content is as comprehensive as could be found in an entry in a encyclopedia on the topic of firearms. It is a lot of nut in a small shell. Being the most popular assault rifle in history, the variations and history of each would require a very large book to be as comprehensive as possible. The AR is arguably the most versatile assault rifle, yet the prize for ruggedness and reliability goes to the AK variants.

    The surplus market in the U.S. created a melting pot, and the best of what an American market can now produce is a good addition to the dizzying varieties of AK’s out there. Metallurgy, the combination of hard and softer metals that work together, the art of assembling semi auto rifle based upon 1940’s technology, is still being hammered out by U.S. Manufactures. The most promising U.S. massed produced made rifle appears to be Palmetto State Armory version, yet I would have more confidence in well made, and proven Com Block examples. Arsenal is an example of an American company utilizing Bulgarian artisans/technicians, and their decades of acquired expertise. If one is familiar and sees the clues, it could be said that Palmetto State Armory has taken note of the Bulgarian rifle. This could be a good thing as the Bulgarian rifle as a solid reputation for a massed produced rifle. Krebs and other high end custom AKM shops would of course be more desirable AKM, if one could make the investment.

    The 1990’s market in the U.S., saw many variations of Norinco/Polytech SKS and AKM’s that were ordered by individual importers seeking to adapted to restrictive gun laws. Importers had rifles altered in an attempt to comply, yet keep the rifle competitive in the U.S., thus the MAC-90 and many other custom Norinco brand rifles are found with unusual adaptations of the military rifle. Norinco parts could be assembled by smaller Chinese shops to produce the rifle for a particular U.S. importer. To create and market a ‘sporter’ version, the importer may have added U.S. made stocks to the rifles as well. These are the much disliked thumb hole stocks. The MAC-90 is the most numerous version, yet there are other unusual adaptions to the U.S. market such as the MAC-91 and NHM-91, both introduced in 1991. There are others I’ve owned as well. These are attempts to use RPK barrels and receivers to make a heavier American quasi-RPK like rifle. The extra heavy and long barrels, and heavier stamped and milled receivers do make these rifles much more accurate that the MAC-90, yet with that accuracy comes weight. I am a proud owner of one of these.

    For those who need compact and light weight, these are not for you. Yesterday, using an Tapco plastic stock, we were able to whittle the weight of a MAC-90 down to 7 pounds without a mag. A MAC-90 cannot get much lighter than that. The MAC-91 is several pounds heavier. If I weighed the rifle, it would be too heavy for me, so it is better get the exercise and adapt to the weight, than wimp out and loose the advantages of a superior firearm. A DPMS LR308 weighed 8 pounds last night without a mag. My Norinco is heavier. The MAC-91 has the heaviest barrel measuring 21 inches, and a milled receiver. The NHM, is similar, but does not have a milled receiver. The heavy stiff barrels, and good triggers produce greater accuracy over the MAC-90. With suitable ammunition these quasi-RPK’s can produced at best 3 MOA off hand (not on a bench), while the MAC-90 in my hands is approximately 5 to 6 MOA. I have found other persons to be more accurate with the MAC-90. Comparing the vaunted and unobtainable Polytech to the MAC-90, the Polytech has better furniture and a milled receiver. The rest appears to be the same. The MAC-90 is mechanically speaking a mil-spec rifle made using the same tooling and parts as the issued military arm, that was at one time, the Polytech rifle.
    MAC-90’s have been know to operate reliable with exteme high round counts approach 20,000 rounds without replacing the barrel or any parts. AR’s would likely need a barrel changed before that number, or loose their much appreciated accuracy that is major consideration for the owners, or would-be owners of AR’s.

    The heavier MAC-91, and NMH-91 rifle soaks up more heat, and is a more stable platform, and when attached to a heavy bipod, or better yet, a tripod, the recoil is negligible, nearly non existent. The longer barrel is designed to be used with a heavy bipod attached at the end of the barrel and is held in place with a heavy metal boss. The use of a bipod makes the rifle maneuverable, and accurate rapid aimed possible. The bipod has the advantage of allowing the operator to quick re-positioned to a flank, or to the rear of the fighting position. Use any AK in this way on a bag, or Burris type bipod to picatinny rail attached to the barrel, or suitable hand guard, and feed it with first a drum, and then 30 round magazines. Continuous fire with 75 round drums will quickly heat the rifle up. To sustain a high rate of fire, it is better to use a 20 or 30 round mag that forces the shooter to slow down. ‘Mag dumps’ can not only destroy a barrel, but continuous ‘mag dumps’ during the adrenaline rush of a battle, can cause the rifle to fail, and make the rifle too hot to handle. It is best to have two rifles in the same position and alternate between rifles to reduce the heat load that only one rifle would experience. The result would be a longer period of continuous fire from that position.

    Again, congratulations on a great article the underdog rifle here in the U.S. deserves. It inspired me to add my few cents to the effort.

    1. Thanks for the kind words and the knowledge drop, both in your ammo testing article and here in the comments. I got into AKs just as the various Chinese models were getting rarer and more expensive, so that’s a bit of a gap in my own knowledge.

      I agree, PSA’s AKs look pretty good.

  2. Excellent article indeed. In light of the elections it seems it will be very costly to keep one with a $200 dollar tax per gun and than the long game of the left, just confiscate it outright.

    Maybe the future is old fashion bolt action rifles

    1. I would rather use the $200 to buy more ammo. If you live in a commie state, in a commie county, or commie city, I would certainly have an antique rifle. The local cops here know better than to attempt to take the guns.

  3. I have a Norinco Typs 56S, Polytech mags, and drum. Then I have a bunch of Yugo’s for the bunker. Wish I had more money to spend on AK’s before 86, but then I was just a kid fresh out of high school! The 56 that I paid $300 for is fetching $2600!

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