Everyone, within the firearms community, has a platform that first brought them into said community. The Kalashnikov platform held it for me early on. It was entirely based on an unmatched simplicity and a higher reliability than other rifle platforms available on our market. Of course, there is no such thing as the perfect machine, but the AK and its derivatives come very close. With the endeavors of American companies, followed up by the pursuits of the Russians, the Kalashnikov platform can be made as modular as any AR-15. Spetsnaz rifles started showing up with Texas Weapon Systems Dog-Leg top covers, EoTechs and UTG forward rail-integrated systems (RISs). All before the days of ZenitCo. But, they learned from what they moved out of the U.S.
The simplicity of the Kalashnikov platform means reliability and ease-of-maintenance. You simply pop the dust cover off, remove the recoil spring and pull the single-piece bolt-carrier group and gas piston free of the receiver, and spin the bolt free of the BCG. Most rifles also ship with a cleaning rod, mounted underneath the barrel itself – used for cleaning or clearing a swollen case from the chamber. The worst thing that may happen outside of an ammunition / shell casing failure is wear causing a breakage in one of the key components. As with anything else: if it is mechanical, it will surely break / fail at some point. However, I have not had a problem — let alone a significant problem: which would call for a significant replacement. This includes items such as a bolt-carrier group or bolt due to a metallurgic fracture.
There are two camps of Kalashnikov owners: those who are wood-stocked purists and those who are modernists. I have an appreciation for both styles, but all my AKs would be modernized with as light-of-weight kit as possible. There is an affinity for Russian “special unit” rifle clones in both 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm. Most often, these taken form with ZenitCo-clad Arsenal SLRs with an Aimpoint or EoTech sight. There are many variations to choose from; most often done by analyzing the variants from different countries around the world. Most desire a specific feature in a future purchase: a heavy barrel and receiver, like found on Veprs, for instance. Or, you could be searching for something collectible: like that of a Chinese pre-Assault Weapons Ban rifle with all the features of a military standard Type-56.
I started out with a plain-jane, second-generation Century Arms WASR-10/63 chambered in 7.62x39mm. They were imported from Romania and based on their PM md. 63 rifles. It is a rifle that I keep, still to this day. The WASR is an entry-level AK; though, certainly not the rifle to be using as a clone build. The glaring issue being that there is not magazine well dimples on the receiver. As for the quality of the WASR, the worst issue that I have is a slightly canted front sight assembly. I did have to go through over a dozen other CAI rifles until I found the one with the best quality. Aside from the Zastava imports, the second-generation WASRs were some of the better AKs brought in by Century Arms International.
I have put thousands of rounds through this rifle and I have never had a malfunction (of any sort). The majority of the rounds, probably over the 95-percentile, has been TulAmmo. That is followed by Monarch, various Eastern Bloc steel-cased brands and numerous American brass-cased examples — such as Hornady and Federal’s American Eagle. Cleaning is highly infrequent and more focused on preservation of the bore due to the prominent usage of corrosive ammunition. This is one of the only times that I like Tula and Monarch. All of the case failures, that I have seen, have been in calibers other than 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm. Usage of 5.56mm in AR-15 platform rifles is where I see the majority of the case splitting, case rim shearing and FTEs due to the steel case swelling in the chamber — which usually requires “mortaring” the rifle’s stock on the ground to clear.
If you purchase a standard configuration AK rifle, then I (first and foremost) suggest buying a Krebs Custom Enhanced Safety Selector for whatever platform you end up with. Unless you have child-sized hands, one of these safety’s will eliminate the need to remove a solid handle of the firearm to engage the controls — via either hand. The index finger sweeps it off, and an index-middle finger combo puts it back on without having to remove the palm from the pistol grip itself. If you change your mind, or something changes it for you, you’re snapping your fingers back in place instead of your whole hand around the grip.
To fix the length-of-pull issue, from the Warsaw Pact length buttstock, I bought a VLTOR AK-47 ModStock Adapter. It was the first thing I did to my rifle, years ago; and, I was surprised to see VLTOR still offering them presently. There are other options these days, but to my knowledge the VLTOR was the first quality stock adapter made for rifles with a standard AKM-style rear trunnion. A mil-spec buffer tube allows for the usage of many different “AR-style” buttstocks — and mine is the Magpul CTR. I bought the CTR for the lock mechanism so that the stock doesn’t have play on the tube, as the MOE seems to have. Starting fresh, with what is offered today, I would purchase a Rifle Dynamics M4 Stock Package. This mount requires all the normal AR parts for a screw-on buffer tube system. However, a pro to this system, and some similar “clones”, is that the system puts you higher behind the rifle than other 12-o’clock tang mounting options.
The other bigger upgrades, which I made, were the additional U.S. PALM pistol grip and a Midwest Industries Forward Rail Integrated System. Unfortunately, U.S. PALM is no longer in operation. They closed their doors around mid-year 2017. I also made the smart move of purchasing a U.S. PALM magazine a long time ago, and I do love the magazine despite the heft and overall size. Midwest Industries has a huge line of RISs, within two generations of products, for the AK-47 platform.
Presently, care must be taken when buying an AK. Some American-made models have more serious problems than what presented in the early WASR-10s. Cast-metal trunnions, bad riveting, misalignment in the barrel setting and trunnions. And, those were coming out of old and new companies, while there was a boom of American-made Kalashnikovs, during the Obama Administration. Poorly done parts kit builds aren’t nearly as prevalent of an issue as poorly manufactured rifles from a factory. Many people do mention that Century Arms (except for their Yugo line) and Inter Ordnance Firearms are companies to avoid due to quality-control issues. Destructive Devices Ind. and Palmetto State Armory (who bought DDI in early 2017) also had problems early on with their production rifles. I have also concluded that some American companies are producing AKs with similarly tight tolerances to an AR-15. It proves to be a hindrance when it comes to “torture testing”.
Kalashnikovs come in many different forms due to the variation in the countries that produce them. In some countries, the rifles are still produced the same today as they were the day they were modeled off their Soviet counterparts, namely the AKM. In places like China and Poland, they adapted what they learned from Type-III AK-47s and AKMs to make updated models which operated with new calibers. Poland switched to 5.56mm, in 1996, for their Beryl rifles and China went to 5.8x42mm for their QBZ rifles, in 1987.
In the United States, the rifles that we see keep the form of a regular Kalashnikov despite there being several imported variants. For example, the M70 rifles imported from Serbia, by the Zastava Military Arms group, differ heavily from Russian AKMs and are typically referred to as “Yugos”. There are several types of M70s including the O-PAP, the N-PAP, an M70 underfolder – modeled off the Serbian M70AB2 – and an M92PV pistol. Standard furniture sets, utilized on AKM-pattern rifles, do not fit on the Yugo rifles. Due to the Yugoslav Wars, stemming from the dissolution of the Yugoslavia SFR, quite a few of the wooden stock kits (buttstock, pistol grip and fore-end pieces) are emblazoned with armory markings and trench art and are highly sought after by collectors. Seriously. Look up some of that art; because it is amazing!
The Black Sheep of Kalashnikovs are probably the under-folding stock variants. The stamped metal stock is both uncomfortable to shoulder and tends to slap the user’s cheekbone when the rifle is fired. There are a handful of remedies for these issues which will not hinder the folding mechanism: such as paracord or various branded cheek-rests. Several companies also make modified replacement adapters (CAA, FAB Defense, Definitive Arms) for the under-folding mechanism within the trunnion. The rifle, which I had the pleasure of running, was a Century Arms AK-63D.
The under-folders are generally kept in the KISS setup; minor upgrades such as a Troy Industries railed gas tube allow for the use of a forward mounted red-dot optic. Add a matching Hungarian sling and a magazine carrier, and you have the perfect grab-and-go rifle to drive off with. I never found there to be any quality issues with this Century Arms rifle, but always make sure to do your research on them first. As is the fashion, the rifle is chambered in 7.62x39mm and takes conventional Kalashnikov magazines. The rifle is a milled Hungarian model, not to be confused with the stamped AK-63D / AMMS being used by the Hungarian Defense Forces.
Arsenal sits top of the pile when it comes to overall quality. The top two rifles coming out of Arsenal are the SLR-107 and SLR-104 series; in both 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm, respectively. These are the two rifles that are the closest for anyone to build Russian Military AK-103 or AK-74M clones of, and it is extremely popular to do so – within the Kalashnikov community. Arsenal also offers a few lines of 5.56x45mm NATO options. All the chamberings come in rifle, pistol or short-barreled rifle configurations; though the 7.62x39mm option is on a heavier milled receiver instead of a stamped.
For those who want the stereotypical AK-platform rifle, they’ll want any of the SLR-107 options. All of Arsenal’s options including a left folding-stock, except for the latest SLR-107R. The standard 107F-model lacks a left-side scope rail attachment point on the receiver. All the receivers are standard 1mm thick to Bulgarian specifications. If you wish to emulate an older AKM, then the 107R is the suggested rifle due to the lack of a folding stock and that it was introduced as the lower-costing competitor to other brands – while retaining the tighter mechanical tolerances. These are, arguably, the highest quality stock Kalashnikovs on the American market. Multiple companies, such as Rifle Dynamics, utilize Arsenal rifles as their base rifle platform to modify and improve upon. This has been shared with Izhmash’s Saiga-line of rifles prior to the 2014 sanctions of Russia, due to the intervention in the Ukraine.
The other option is to use a reputable dealer of Kalashnikov receivers, such as Childers Guns and NoDaK Spud, and buy a parts kit for a reputable builder to complete. These options are more specifically tailored to clone builds: such as, a one-to-one marked AKM similar to the Steyr-Maadi imports done for Red Dawn (1984). You will pay around $700-$900 for the receiver, parts kit and manufacturing work; all depending on how much the kit costs and who you seek out to do the build for you.
While there are no more truly Russian options – when it comes to imports – there are plenty of options to choose from, if you decide that a Kalashnikov is the rifle platform which you wish to utilize. Overall, doing one’s research into some of the variants will aid in the purchase of a decently manufactured AK. You may be looking at $550+ in price, but it’s well worth it in the end.
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