Editor’s Note: Kudos and thanks to Graham Baates of GBguns for his help in putting together this section. He’s incredibly well-versed in the realm of muzzle devices.
Picking a Muzzle Brake or Flash Hider
Generally, AK-47 barrel muzzles are threaded with a 14mm x 1mm, left-hand pattern to accept a muzzle device such as a muzzle brake, a compensator or a flash hider.
Beginning with the AK-74, manufacturers went to the front-sight base (FSB) threading instead of barrel threading. The threads are 24mm.It’s important to know the differences between these devices.
A brake uses the escaping gasses to pull the rifle away from you, lessening the recoil.
Brakes can usually be identified by their walls or baffles running nearly perpendicular to the barrel. These walls trap the gasses, and the resulting impact is the pull that lessens the force of the rifle coming back into your shoulder.
The gases escaping to the sides, and sometimes slightly toward the rear of the rifle, carry heat, force and noise with them, making brakes less than ideal for shooting in close quarters with teammates, family or even solid objects that you don’t want blasted with hot air.
This also explains why it can seem that one rifle is louder than another, despite being the same caliber or model.
A compensator uses the same principles to push the muzzle downward, compensating for the tendency to rise.
Compensators are easily identified by having vents on the top and fewer vents or no vents on the bottom.
As the gases rush out of the barrel, they slam into the “floor” of the brake and are redirected upward.
Compensators will have less percussion than a brake, but along with those gasses rushing upwards is an accompanying flash.
Flash-hiders are fashioned with the intent to divide the escaping gasses and minimize their combustion signature — the flash that you sometimes see after firing.
The most effective flash-hiders divide the gases and redirect them in as many directions as possible around the muzzle.
Flash-hiders are useful when trying to keep your position concealed or in home-defense situations, when the objective should be to not blind yourself with the first shot.
The drawback here is that those gasses have a tendency to kick up dust, making prone shots irritating at the least and prone follow-ups difficult to dangerous in some situations.
If the wind is not in your favor, the concealed flash does you no good because now your opponent sees a much longer-lasting puff of dust!
So, if they all have drawbacks, which one is best?
The answer depends on your use of the rifle. For the average plinker or even competitive shooter, flash is not an issue, though it can be temporarily blinding in low light. (Check out this video from Justin McMillon at JMAC Customs, who compared the flash reduction in a number of different muzzle devices).
For most shooters of any physical bulk, the recoil of most popular AK calibers also isn’t a problem.
For most of us, however, compensation is the priority, followed by braking.
There are oodles of brakes on the market—too many to be reviewed in this book but we did have a chance to look at a few high-end models — the Venom Tactical Antidote ($195) and the RRD-4C (aka Recoil Reduction Device) at $96.95 from JMAC Customs. JMAC also has an even lighter version, the RRD-4C (SLIM) Muzzle Brake Compensator 14mmLH ($84.95) which weighs in at 1.8 oz. Krebs Custom also has a number of great products including a combination flash hider and brake.
Both are configured with side baffles. We liked this configuration for one main reason.
Muzzle devices with ports on the top and below can result in what Justin McMillion, founder of JMAC Customs, calls “cheek slap”. This is when downward pressure is applied to the front of the rifle and like a fulcrum, the buttstock rises and smacks your cheek, especially at higher rates of fire. This makes it difficult to retain your sight picture and can intensify felt recoil.
You’re simply not going to get a lot of muzzle rise with these two brakes because the gasses are expended sideways. If you’re going to be doing a lot of rapid fire you’ll be able to avoid the “cheek slap” syndrome with these two devices. I found both very effective at maintaining barrel stability.
In addition to keeping the barrel steady, both these items do a good job of keeping the flash down as well.
From the shooter’s perspective, both aren’t particularly noisy but with the gasses spitting out sideways, I wouldn’t want to be the in the position next to either of these.
I could certainly feel the difference between these high end brakes from lesser ones and I suspect most people would also be able to do so. Are they worth the price for the average shooter? Probably not, but the Antidote and other high-end muzzle devices are not meant for the typical shooter. You’ll find the Antidote on $2000 semi-custom guns produced by Jim Fuller where some owners will wring every ounce of performance out of their rifles. In particular I thought the RRD-4C to be effective and a good value, even at $93, if you put a lot rounds through your rifle.
Another option to consider is the VG6 EPSILON AK from Aero Precision which is designed to mitigate both flash and recoil. Aero Precision is well respected for high quality (and reasonably priced) AR platform rifles but there are definitely some AK enthusiasts who work there. Priced at $94.99 and weighing in at a mere 2.24 oz, our team concluded that this diminishes recoil as well as any of the devices we’ve tested. We all loved it because it combines light weight with efficacy.
Of course, when considering what brake to purchase you need to focus on your requirements. If you’re not going to be doing a lot of rapid fire shooting, chances are you’re not going to need an expensive muzzle device to stabilize the barrel. Likewise, if you know that you’re going to mostly shoot off the bench (as is the case with most people I see at the range) then a heavier brake, which may not be as expensive as the higher-end models, is quite acceptable.
Two other models I’ve looked at, the K-VAR AK-74 style brake from Krebs Custom and the Jet brake available from Circle 10 AK, are both of excellent quality and less pricey than the high end merchandise.
High End vs. Bargain Brakes
With all the verbiage I’ve devoted to pricey muzzle devices, one may legitimately ask if it’s worth spending the extra money for these products.
One of my sources for this the book, Graham Baates, decided to test the effectiveness of inexpensive brakes and compare them with the costlier models.
He took nine commonly available muzzle devices advertised as brakes to a local range and fired them all from the same position, with a fixed camera on one side and a grid on the opposite side.
He then took freeze-frame shots of the moment before the shot and the moment of highest rise and deepest recoil after the shot. He then measured the depth and height of travel and used the Pythagorean Theorem to measure the total distance traveled.
This is far more than the average consumer needs to do, but it did give him a chance to observe the behavior of different muzzle brakes.
His conclusion was that the inexpensive brakes, ranging from $10 to $40, are a bargain. Here’s a video of his tests which included devices mostly from Carolina Shooters Supply.
Baates, a competitive shooter, said he uses a $20 brake on his AK simply because the potential increase in performance for a more expensive models don’t outweigh the cost difference.
Removing a Muzzle Brake
Unless the barrel threads are caked with carbon and gunk, muzzle brakes are fairly easy to remove. Just keep the rifle stationary and depress the tiny spring-loaded detent with a punch or something similar as you remove the brake.
They are usually left-handed threads, so be certain you know which direction to turn.
When purchasing your rifle, you may want to be certain you’re able to swap out the existing brake, if for some reason you’re interested in an upgrade. Although the standard specs for the thread are 14mm x 1mm LH (left-handed), it doesn’t mean that your third-party brake or flash-hider will necessarily fit your existing thread.
(Note that the muzzle devices on the AK-74s are threaded to 24mm and are right-handed. The exception to this is the Yugo Krinkov which has 26mm left-handed threads.)
According to Kevin Stender, customer service manager at Tapco, the largest manufacturer of muzzle brakes in the U.S., “AK barrels are notorious for having ‘in spec’ barrel threads that don’t match up with ‘in spec’ muzzle brakes.
Acceptable tolerances on threads,” he said, “could allow for the barrel’s threads to be on the tight side and the muzzle brake on the loose side, or vice versa.”
To make them fit, Stender suggests taking a 14mm x 1mm LH die and run it over the barrel’s threads.
“This”, he said, “will shave a little metal off but leave it exactly how it’s supposed to be.”
Denny Butts, founder of CNC Warrior, which manufactures muzzle brakes as well as barrel-threading and cutting tools, concurs with Stender.
Butts said that many older guns with foreign-made, Arsenal barrels have threads that are smaller than spec. Thus, muzzle devices that are made to spec are usually very loose-fitting on these particular guns. Therefore, most AK muzzle-device manufacturers run their threads slightly below spec to make them fit better.
My colleague, RN Price, and I decided to try do a little home-rethreading job on a converted Saiga that had been fitted with a Tapco muzzle brake but wouldn’t accept other 14 x 1mm LH models.
We acquired a $30 die (see above) from CNC Warrior and put the muzzle thread through some re-grooving. It worked like a charm.
After the rethread, we were easily able to affix a Krebs Custom flash-hider and a Jet brake from Circle 10 AK.
If you’re at all interested in swapping out a brake from a rifle that you are about to purchase, it’s a good idea to see if the thread on your rifle will accept other models.
You can always ask the dealer if it is willing to let you check before you buy. Of course, if you don’t intend to replace or upgrade your stock muzzle brake, this won’t be an issue.
Be aware that some states or local governments may not allow flash-hiders.