If you’re in the market for an AK and you’re like me, you’ll consult every check out every AK-47 buyer’s guide you can get your hands on.
You’ll read every review, watch every video and pour over the many related posts in the online forums. Even after doing all of that, it’s still a daunting task to pick out a rifle.
To a large degree your choice will be determined by your needs.
Do you plan to hunt or compete with the rifle? Will it be your personal defense weapon? A rifle that’s just for plinking may differ from one suitable for home defense. In the case of the latter, you’re probably going to want to drop the extra bucks for a higher quality product.
How do you discern higher quality?
Price is always a guide, but close scrutiny of the finished product is a must. Substandard riveting and canted sights aren’t good signs, but it may be difficult for a novice to recognize these nuances.
Then there are brand names which are associated with a particular provenance. For example, in the $600 range you can purchase rifles with parts manufactured in Romania (the WASR) or Serbia (from Zastava).
As a first step, you may want to view this video from Jim Fuller, one of the top builders in the industry. He discusses what to look for in a rifle, whether it’s new or used.
Rule Number One:
You Get What You Pay For
The first rule of thumb when buying a new AK is that you get what you pay for. A good-quality rifle will have both superior parts and a higher standard of manufacture than an average gun. These elements factor into the final price. With this in mind, I will arbitrarily divide the AK universe into two distinct categories.
The first belongs to the semi-custom rifles coming out of shops such as Krebs Custom, Rifle Dynamics, Definitive Arms and several other outlets.
These operations are run by quality-control freaks and recognized for consistently producing outstanding, dependable rifles. Their firearms are built to hold up in combat or law enforcement environments. The rifles produced by these builders are usually sourced from Russian, Polish or Bulgarian parts. Figure on paying over $1,000 to purchase one.
Let’s classify the other segment of the AK universe as “production” rifles aimed at a broader market with parts sourced generally from Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria. Some guns may come over in a box as parts, whereas others may be converted from “sporterized” rifles. The quality varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, as do prices, which range from $600 to $1,200. Manufacturers in this category include Century Arms, Palmetto State Armory and DDI. Some Arsenal and Definitive Arms models also fall into this price range.
DDI, which began production in June of 2014, is one of the newer manufacturers. It occupies a niche between Arsenal on the high end and Century on the lower end of the price range.
The company builds milled models from Bulgarian parts kits and stamped models from Hungarian parts. The founder, David Fillers, said DDI components go through a Ferritic nitrocarburizing (case hardening) process which purportedly provides superior corrosion resistance, increases accuracy, and reduces wear. DDI barrels are sourced from (US made) Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Company, which are made to DDI’s own specs. DDI models utilize Magpul and Hogue furniture. Although I have not tested their gear, initial reviews from other sources have been very good. Prices begin at around $750.
Palmetto State Armory, a long-time builder of AR 15s, is also selling an entry level AK for $699 and more expensive rifles (with MOE furniture) for $750. I have also not reviewed their AKs but am very familiar with their AR 15 products which are well regarded. If their AKs are of the same quality as their other rifles, consumers should be happy with their offerings.
This Definitive Arms DAKM AK 74, priced at $1000 (not including scope), has features of more expensive rifles. (Courtesy Atlantic Firearms)
The trend, as I see it, is focused on manufacturers catering to customers in the $1000 range. These are people who don’t have the resources for a semi-custom rifle but understand that they need to spend about $1000 to get the quality and features they want.
We’ll delve into this subject with three different experts—Chase Sisgold, Mike Owen and Jim Fuller. These guys build AKs for a living and are in a great position to assess the quality of AKs sold in the United States because they know the products from the most fundamental level — the shop floor.
Buying Tips from Chase Sisgold
To help us answer the question of what to look for in an AK, I sought the advice of Chase Sisgold, co-founder of Definitive Arms in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Chase builds custom AKs and has experienced success over the past few years. He’s developed a system allows your stock .223/5.56 AK variant to accept commonly found AR magazines and, has a “Last Round Bolt Hold Open” (LRBHO) feature. This means exactly what it describes–after the last round is fired, the bolt remains open, as with the AR-15 and other semi-auto rifles. (This tells the shooter in no uncertain terms that the magazine is empty).
Q: There are a number of different AK-47 style rifles out there. What advice do you have for a first time buyer?
A: I would advise first-time buyers to consider why they are purchasing the firearm.
There are a variety of options when it comes to AKs. Purpose, caliber, and price point are going to be the biggest factors. Is this rifle for personal defense? Competition? Ranch duty? Collector value? Home protection for the family?
For a first time buyer, I would generally recommend a run-of-the-mill AK in 7.62x39mm. These are common and inexpensive. Magazines and ammunition are widely available and, most important, the rifles are extremely reliable and easy to operate and maintain.
Q: Is there a particular model that you think has the best quality?
A: I find that the Russians still produce the best quality components from which to build an AK. Both for my shop and for personal use, I prefer to start with a Saiga or a VEPR or a parts kit.
However, with the availability of Russian AKs dwindling, I can say that having a quality AK built by a professional from a quality parts kit is an equally viable option.
Q: I see wide disparity of price between manufacturers. Why such great differences?
A: Simple. Not all AKs are created equal. Supply and demand also play a large role in the price of AKs. I often times make the comparison to 1911s. Some guys will spend $1,000, $2,000, even $4,000 on a premium 1911 but for some reason will draw the line at paying more than $1,000 for a good-quality AK.
There are plenty of AKs (and 1911s) that will run in the $500 to $600 range. However, if you want a premium AK (or 1911) built by a skilled gunsmith using excellent-quality components, you had better be prepared to pay for it. In my opinion, the best fighting/defensive rifles are AKs built by skilled guys who really know what they are doing. Most of the time, you get what you pay for.
Q: What caliber should one choose, given that AKs are available in 7.62×39, 5.45×39, 5.56×45, .308, and 7.62x54R?
A: Here is a quick break down on calibers for the AK from an American shooter’s perspective:
>> 7.62x39mm is pretty common, affordable, hard hitting and has mild recoil. The magazines are all over the place and usually inexpensive to buy. They perform very well out of short barrels and make a great PDW (personal defense weapon) cartridge.
>> 5.45x39mm is fairly common, affordable and has a very flat trajectory along with light recoil. The magazines have gotten expensive but they are a very deadly cartridge that shoots well in the AK platform. It has great penetration and amazing results when hitting flesh.
(Left to right) 5.45×39, 7.62×39, 7.62×54R (Courtesy AKOU)
>> 5.56x45mm is very common and abundant. It is not terribly high priced and has a great track record as a fighting caliber. It’s accurate, deadly and has light recoil. There are a large assortment of styles to choose from. The 5.56 AK magazines are expensive and hard to find, but AR magazines are a dime a dozen and very easy to find for the guys out there running AR magazines in their AKs. In an emergency (natural disasters, etc.) the 5.56 cartridge will be the most commonly available cartridge to acquire via bartering, considering its standardized use with military and law enforcement agencies across the country.
>> .308/7.62x51mm is very common, accurate and can easily be used to hunt medium and large game. It also has a great track record as a battle rifle cartridge and is deadly at longer distances. The rounds are a little pricy but not terrible when buying surplus ammunition. Depending on your AK model, the magazines may be hard to come by or expensive. Luckily, we also produce a magwell system for VEPR rifles that utilizes .308 Pmags with the LRBHO feature. This upgrade simplifies the magazine equation while significantly improving the usability of the rifle.
>> 7.62x54R is fairly common in the surplus variety and a number of current production factory loadings are available. This cartridge is the oldest military cartridge still in service today. It can be purchased at very fair prices considering the cost of other calibers in terms of size and power. It is powerful and very deadly. Magazines for it may be more difficult to find. Depending on the load — surplus ammo versus current production factory ammo versus hand loads) — the accuracy will vary greatly out of an AK chambered in this cartridge.
Q: Let’s talk about barrel length. What are the standard lengths and what are the practical differences?
A: Most AKs you will find in America are 16 inches long. Extended barrel lengths ranging from 19 to 23 inches are not uncommon. Krinkovs, custom AKs or other short barreled rifles (‘SBRs’) are under 16 inches.
An AK with shorter barrel, between 7 inches and 14.5 inches, can come in handy as a personal defense weapon or for operations in tightly confined spaces. Close-quarters combat or getting in and out of vehicles quickly comes to mind. Perhaps the operator simply wants something that will fit into a small bag when folded up. Concealment is a huge factor for personal defense weapons.
Standard-length rifles around 16 inches are going to make up the majority of AKs one will encounter in America. These might include home/property defensive rifles, competition rifles, or fighting rifles.
A 16-inch barrel is long enough to get good projectile velocity and deliver good stopping power down range with good accuracy. It is still fairly light and will maneuver well, allowing it to bridge the gap between all roles. It’s a do-all rifle. In short, the 16-inch barreled AK will suit the needs of most.
Q: Are chrome-lined barrels more desirable?
A: In general, yes. Hammer-forged, chrome-lined barrels have been around for a long time. They are tough and very long lasting. Most people will be hard-pressed to shoot enough ammunition through one to wear it out.
Q: What about buying used rifle?
A: AKs are one of those weapons that can be bought used with confidence. Any decently built AK will most likely outlive the next two generations. Of course, you will still want to inspect the weapon closely or have someone who is knowledgeable look it over for you. I wouldn’t recommend buying a weapon that looks like it was mistreated and may have a high round count on top of that.
Q: What are the differences between a milled or stamped receiver? Does it really matter?
A: Milled receivers can make a fine AK. Stamped receivers can also make a fine AK. I don’t favor one over the other. I will say that currently I own more stamped AKs than milled, but I believe that is due to cost and availability more than anything.
Q: What about wood furniture versus plastic? Is this purely a function of aesthetics?
A: There is something beautiful about a classic all-steel firearm encased with well-finished wood. Some people like the look and feel of a wood-clad firearm. From a manufacturing perspective, plastic can be more economically produced.
Q: I see a lot of people using a folding stock. What furniture is the most ergonomic and comfortable?
A: Comfort and ergonomics are really a personal choice. Some may base their choices solely on cosmetics as well. I personally prefer a full furniture set on my 16-inch barreled weapons. For Krinkovs or SBRs, I love the look and feel of the classic triangle folders, though they may not be the most ergonomic choice.
Q: You mentioned that AR’s are less accurate and AKs are more accurate than most people think. What kind of accuracy, say at 100 yards, can I expect from an AK-47 versus an AK-74?
A: Many shooters will say that their rack-grade AR is a sub-MOA (Minute of Angle) weapon, but this just isn’t the case. I think if most of these folks got their rifles out at 100-plus yards they would find that their beloved ARs do not, in fact, shoot half-inch groups like the sales guys told them.
On the flip side, you hear a lot of people say that the AK is not accurate, but many can consistently tag steel at 200, 300, 400 yards or more with one. Any rifle capable of tagging a man-sized target at 400 yards is more than combat-effective in terms of accuracy. Generally speaking, an AR will be more accurate than an AK, but not by a great margin. The AK is plenty accurate for its intended purpose.
Caliber is also a big factor. We put out 5.56 AKs that will shoot on par with most rack-grade ARs.
Q: If I want to customize a stock AK, are they as easy to work on as ARs?
A: ARs are definitely easier to work on. Almost everything for an AR can be done with simple hand tools. AKs do not have as many aftermarket parts offerings and are more difficult to mount optics to with repeatable results.
A lot of AK components will require gunsmithing for installation, not just hand tools. In this sense, the AR is definitely easier to customize. However, there is nothing quite like a well-built AK, and for that reason alone many will go through the effort or pay the money to have a custom AK built. There are also enough drop- in AK parts so that customizing an AK from home is not terribly difficult.
Q: What about the garage builds that you hear a lot about? Is that a good way to go?
A: Jim Fuller has an expression, and I agree with what he says: “Building an AK is easy, but building an AK properly is difficult.”
You can build them in your garage with friends and probably get them to shoot, but if want it to be built well and last a long time, you really need to build it right, and that can take some time.
We do an alarming number of repairs and reworks of very poorly built AKs from “build parties” and guys who’ve built it themselves from advice given to them on gun forums or on YouTube. Neither of these are a reliable source of anything AK-build related. Building AKs is fun, but gunsmithing should be taken very seriously.
Unless you really know what you’re doing, I’d avoid the “garage groups.”
Q: Given that the Russian guns such as the Saiga are harder to get nowadays because of the ban, what other variants do you recommend for an entry level rifle?
A: Given the current situation I would recommend guns that are built by a quality builder from older parts kits of forged, then machined components. The only downside is trying to source a quality barrel. Fortunately, US manufacturers are putting out fairly tough and accurate barrels these days.
Q: What kind of price points are we talking about?
A: If you want a reliable gun built for you, get a reputable builder and budget between $799 and $999. If you want an amazing AK that is reliable, accurate, smooth and well-tuned, I would budget between $999 and $1,999 depending on options. If you’re looking for just a range gun you can get a ‘plinker’ for about $500 to $600, and just roll the dice.
Q: Anything we missed?
A: The only difference between an AK and most other weapons is that in 200 years the AK will still work and be relevant as a fighting implement and tool for survival.
Buying Tips from Mike Owen
Our second interview concerning how to purchase an AK is with Mike Owen, founder of Meridian Ordnance LLC in Mount Sterling, Kentucky.
Mike’s shop has a great reputation for building AKs and he’s one of the more articulate guys I’ve interviewed on this subject. Reading his comments will complement what Chase Sisgold had to say and will go a long way to help first-time buyers sort out the most frequently asked questions.
Q: With some Russian products now banned from import, what brands of mass-produced rifles do you recommend?
A: There are many variables here, with the biggest ones being the buyer’s budget and intended use.
Given the current situation, if I had to choose an out-of- the-box AK, I would suggest a Bulgarian Arsenal Inc. SLR107 (stamped) or SAM7 (milled) series. The only caveat is that for their price range I’ve always thought Arsenal Inc. should feature a superior finish than what they do. That said, having an AK refinished in a more durable option like Moly Resin or Cerakote is an easy fix, and I do many in just such a fashion.
Q: Are there any appreciable differences in quality between some of the more popular mass-produced rifles such as WASRs, Century Arms, Arsenal, etc?
A: Absolutely, yes. I could preach for days about some of the known issues with lower-end commercial AK offerings out there. Canted sight blocks, magazine wobble, poor fit/finish, improper heat treating, and even headspace issues have all been documented.
(Courtesy Rick Davis)
I’ll hit on this: For many of these budget buyers, having a “correct” or high-end AK isn’t the point, but the majority of the noted problems are performance or safety issues — not personal preference issues.
Factoring in neutered parts, commercial features and overall quality to price ratio is a budgetary matter. While there are many decent commercially made budget AK-based firearms like the WASR out there it is important for the first time buyer to remember that you get what you pay for. I often have customers bring in problematic rifles, where the cost of the corrections or repairs plus what they gave for the firearm would put them within the price range of a military pedigree or overall higher-quality AK.
Q: It seems that you can get a good deal from some of the larger stores that sell online. What are the pros and cons of buying a new rifle online?
A: The biggest pro to buying online is just as you noted: The good deals. Large retailers who market online have the buying power to get more product from the manufacturer or distributor at a lower cost and pass some of those savings on to the consumer.
The firearms industry simply does not consistently have the big margins and high mark-ups people often associate with it. In some cases, my dealer’s cost on a quantity of just one particular item can be higher than what large online retailers offer the same item for on sale.
I think most gun owners would agree the biggest disadvantage to online shopping is that you cannot physically inspect, handle, examine, or pine over the exact item you want to buy. With something as unique and often as personal as a firearm, many people are perfectly content to pay a few dollars more to see it in hand, or, in our case, have it built to order just for them.
Q: Can you recommend a specific model in the $600 price range for a first-time buyer who wants a brand new rifle?
A: If the buyer is not looking for a more “correct” rendition of an AK variant, at under $600, I’d suggest the Zastava produced O-PAP M70 rifle.
Now, the receiver, reinforced trunion, furniture, rivet pattern, gas block and a handful of other details are not identical to its military cousin the Yugoslavian M70B1, but for a commercial AK they hold up well to the typical usage which most shooters will put them through. I would give Palmetto State Armory AKM a tentative look as well.
Q: With some Russian rifles no longer imported, do any dealers you know sell other sporterized rifles that can be converted?
A: A few distributors actually may still have the Saiga 5.56mm NATO IZ114 and 5.45x39mm IZ240 rifles in stock. They are great candidates for conversions. We have a few in 5.45mm left ourselves.
Granted, they are on closeout due to the import ban and will not be restocked anytime soon. That said, any AK that is lacking in some respect can be a good candidate for a conversion, depending on your goals. It could be something as minor as needing a gas block with a bayonet lug to having the barrel threaded or, as major as an out-of-the-box Saiga needing a full conversion.
I always offer a lot of guidance to customers seeking to improve an AK in these respects. Funny thing, but the model that comes to my mind in regards to converting a truly sporterized rifle like the Saiga series into something more practical is the old Norinco Hunter. Big transformations possible there.
Q: What about in the $700 to $1,000 range?
A: In this price range there’s the Arsenal SLR107-21 and -31 right at the top end, cost-wise. I wish the Russian SGL series were still an option here. But the SLR series are solid rifles with the right feature set and very few shortcomings.
What many people are surprised to learn is that even with the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) barrel ban, you can still often get a matching-numbers, military-parts kit built on a fully heat-treated receiver in this price range.
The Russian Saiga IZ132 rifle conversions can also be done professionally for under $1,000 by some builders such as ourselves, but we can all thank (President Obama’s) EO 13662 for effectively cutting off that option. U.S.-made variants will quickly fill the gap so it seems.
Q: If you can’t afford a $1,000+ Arsenal, are you better off buying a good-quality used rifle?
A: Get the best you can afford for your purpose, be it new or used.
If your budget is $500 to $600 and your purpose is plinking at the local range, check out that Zastava N-PAP or a Romanian WASR, provided you can look it over for those problem indicators first before buying, which is the big boon of buying in person versus online.
If your budget is $900+, consider an Arsenal Inc. model, Russian VEPR or custom kit build from a reputable AK builder.
If you take your time and hound the gun boards, auction sites and listing services, there are still some deals to be had. Just be careful that you know what to look for and do your homework first before buying. If you find yourself looking at a kit build, especially of unknown provenance, correctly check the head spacing before buying and certainly before shooting. A $70 set of headspace gauges beats a $700 emergency room visit, or worse.
Q: Some manufacturers, such as Century, are advertising AKs that are made exclusively of all USA-made parts. Are these rifles of good quality?
A: The U.S.-made AK is slowly coming to fruition, and there are a number of companies pushing these models to market. Some say Century is slowly improving its QC (quality control) reputation and their C39v2 rifle is making some gains.
I’d also suggest tracking how the Palmetto State Armory AKM stacks up this year. I cannot speak definitively on any one U.S. made offering being better than all the others right now.
Q: We’ve talked at length about the purchase of a new AK. What about buying a used rifle?
A: Most people who own a quality AK know it, so finding that great used AK deal can take some time.
You will likely weed through hundreds of jacked up and overpriced offerings for every fair deal you see, and great deals are even scarcer.
Good deals on Russian VEPR rifles are hard to pass up when encountered, but I personally believe the biggest “sleeper” AK deals on the market right now lie in the Clinton-era Assault Weapons Ban firearms imported from ’94-’04, although they are drying up. Examples would be rifles such as the Chinese MAK90, NHM91, Romanian SAR series, or Egyptian MISR or MAADI for instance, often seen with thumbhole stocks and neutered parts.
No, these are not going to be WASR-priced, by comparison, but often you can snag one for a fair price and sit on it while gathering funds to fully de-ban the rifle appropriately. In the end you’ll have something unique and more collectible, as well as a good shooter, typically.
A properly de-banned Romanian SAR1 rifle (for example) will appreciate in value exponentially faster than even the best made WASR on the market, in addition to being of higher quality and a closer representation of an AKM.
Q: You’ve mentioned to me that there are QC issues with WASRs, especially in the area of proper heat treatment, which in the long term can result in malfunctions. Those rifles always seem to be the least expensive. Are they a serious option for first time buyers?
A: For the budget buyer, yes. The WASR has always been an option simply because of price, and that price makes it popular.
Their known issues have given them a bad reputation, one that’s not entirely misplaced. I have seen a handful of egged axis pin holes and stress fractures that can be attributed to improper heat treating in the series. If you are a serious first time AK buyer, don’t fall to impulse, understand your own needs and expectations, and then train-up a bit before going with any given AK.
Q: What caliber do you recommend for the first time buyer who is primarily a “plinker” and maybe will use the rifle for home self-defense?
A: 7.62×39 mm Russian M43 (ammunition). It’s obtainable, well-proven and comes in many loads from many manufactures. From bulk Wolf WPA Polyformance ammo to Hornady, there are lots of great options for every need, from the range to defense.
It’s an AK. Don’t over-think what you’re feeding it. I know guys who carry over experiences with $3k+ bench rest rifles and try to apply that same thinking to an AK platform. It’s just misplaced, like a GE jet turbine in a (WW2-era) T34 tank.
5.45×39 mm is a fine light load as well, and, contrary to what some people think, the Executive Order banning Russian 7n6 5.45×39 ammo Russian did not kill 5.45, as it is far from dead. It’ll still be imported and made domestically, but not in the quantities or the selection of 7.62×39 mm ammo.
5.56 NATO is a distant third choice. The Romanian SAR3 and its brief history with hammer geometry issues gave the .223/5.56 AK in America a bad rap early on, but those days were long ago and few people even know about it today. New offerings in 5.56 mm, such as those from Arsenal, are pretty squared-away rifles. My personal complaint with any 5.56 mm AK is simply that the diversity of 5.56 mm AK magazines and their availability/cost will keep it from being a major contender on par with 7.62×39 mm.
From the East German Weiger to the .223 Saiga, there is a big selection of different original and aftermarket mags, and not all of them are interchangeable, of course. The Definitive Arms AR mag adapter conversions seek to solve that problem, and do so very inventively and surprisingly well.
Q: What kind of finish do you recommend for an AK? Can you talk about blued, versus powder coat, versus Cerakote, etc. How do they wear? Which is better at protecting the metal?
A: There’s a slew of finishes on the market now to augment the traditional stuff we’ve seen for decades, such as hot bluing and zinc or manganese phosphate Parkerizing.
Cerakote is of course a big name in the newer coatings and quite popular for good reason. I mention Cerakote here because they have done a fine job testing a number of these old and new finishes side by side.
From the standpoint of someone who does a lot of refinishing, including Cerakote H-series work, I personally prefer John Norrell’s Moly Resin for an AK. It is more forgiving and simpler to apply, as far as the applicator is involved, so I can process jobs more efficiently. But more important, it is a closer match to the Russian “squid ink” acrylics and similar finishes used on many AK rifles, so it makes a good historical match for those who want a more correct AK or wish to only refinish certain parts and preserve the rest.
The flat black option of Moly Resin is also a good match to manganese phosphate Parkerizing. One downside is that Moly Resin does not come in the vast array of colors that Cerakote H-series comes in. Moly Resin is a very durable finish and in my opinion the only one on the market that holds up on par with a product like Cerakote H-series. The only way to entirely remove either of these finishes is with abrasion blasting.
Bluing is a decorative finish and does nothing to protect steel, but is often the right historical choice.
Likewise, Parkerizing is simply a porous finish so once any oils in it have bled out over time (accelerated by heat or moisture) it will do nothing to inhibit rust or corrosion.
Powder coating is generally not an option for firearms, as it will not hold up to the really tough solvents and chemical abuse over time.
Of the many other spray-on air-cure or oven-cure finishes out there, there are many decent ones such as Duracoat or KG Gun Kote that are available for the DIY crowd and professionals alike. The results of using these products will be entirely in your preparation, just like anything else, but some are a bit better than others.
Q: What are the pros and cons of having a gunsmith build you a rifle from a kit from scratch? What’s the price range?
A: Well, you get exactly what you need, not an off-the-shelf model you have to modify later at greater cost or settle with as-is.
Gunsmiths and professional builders such as ourselves assemble your rifle to-order, often based on a given set of specifications to suit your needs, wants or mission.
Many military pedigree kits carry with them history, character and a unique appeal for those seeking hard to find variants.
Other buyers want the satisfaction which comes with knowing a specific kit is their own basis for a higher quality AK, be it a museum-worthy reproduction or practical, modernized Kalashnikov system they may depend upon with their life.
The downside is it takes time to build each individual firearm for its owner, to source parts or dig up that one small detail that brings the whole project together, so it’s not a pay and go option.
Our basic AKM kit building services start in the $260 ballpark and go from there. Just to get an idea of average cost, there are still many great AK parts kits on the market today in the $200-$500 price range.
We simply have had the best results, are most impressed and most satisfied with Moly Resin and Cerakote for our needs and AKs specifically.
Buying Tips from Jim Fuller
Jim Fuller, founder of Rifle Dynamics, an AK custom shop, also had some tips for finding the right rifle.
Q: For the first time buyer on a budget, what are your suggestions?
A: The AK market, like all other guns, is tiered. Our guns are on the higher end. The lower-end guns have a place for the beginner, particularly if they are a casual shooter who will never put enough strain on the gun to cause a failure.
What it comes down to is what the gun is going to be used for. If you’re going to buy something that your life depends on that’s one thing. Where the WASRs and other less-expensive guns run into problems is when you run 500 to 1,000 rounds a day through them, for example, in a training situation. The Arsenals are built to handle that kind of stuff. Most of the other guns are not Mil-spec and not made for that. If you’re only shooting a few hundred rounds a year, you’ll be fine with a less-expensive gun.
With the expansion of the AK market in the U.S., there are a number of choices in all categories. Of course, you’ll want to do your research. I have a number of videos on this subject that are available free on our Rifle Dynamics You Tube Channel, or my armorers DVD from Panteao Productions.
One suggestion I can make is that you compare multiple copies of rifles at a shop. Yes, it will cost more to buy this way, but you will get a better gun when you can see and compare them in person.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for mid-range buyers?
A: The midrange guns are not well served in the U.S. AK market. Arsenal in my opinion is the best off-the-shelf gun you can get in the $1,000 range. The VEPR is another quality gun, but there is little else in this area. In my opinion, the Bulgarian factory guns are the best of the current imports.
I’ve also had a look at the new DDI (Destructive Devices Industries) guns. I liked the model with the milled receiver. They also have a stamped-receiver version that I think will be competing with the Arsenal build in the future. I spoke to the owners at SHOT and they are definitely making an effort to build good guns.
Q: Do you have any other options, such as converting a sporterized rifle?
A: OK. Another option, while not as sexy, is the (sporterized) Chinese Mak 90. It can be had in the $600-$800 range.
Q: How did you respond to the ban on Russian imports?
A: When some Russian guns were banned from import a while back, we pushed forward on our U.S. AK plans, and this year that will come to fruit. We have been through several revisions on our bolt, carrier and trunion, and they are just about there. We have most other parts ready and will be making some needed changes in design on some of the standard parts that will offer to the U.S. AK market things that have never been possible with the AK before. All the parts made are being made on my property.
Q: What are the challenges inherent to building a quality AK in this country?
A: The biggest issues facing the professional AK builder these days is parts that are all over the place, spec-wise. The guys that know what they are doing spend a lot of time dealing with this to get the best-fitting gun possible. The ones who don’t know, well, they just assemble them.
Q: How do you see things changing?
A: With our U.S. parts, that will make history as things will be standardized, making them much easier to assemble with less hand-fitting needed for a quality gun. The tolerances will still be loose enough to guarantee the legendary reliability but tight enough to increase accuracy.
In our eight years in business we have worked diligently to expand the AK industry, and now we are seeing benefits from growing that market.
For example, a few years ago we didn’t have much of a choice for U.S. AK barrels, but now we are working with some of the best match-barrel manufacturers in the business and are actually in the process of testing U.S. made Cold Hammer Forged barrels.
We’re trying to get away from using surplus parts. They are not going to be around forever. Right now there are a lot of good Polish parts available. After they became a NATO country, they de-milled all of their old 7.62×39 mm AKs. That’s the only reason why people are able to build the Polish guns now. When those dry up, there won’t be any more decent parts.
Q: So right now your guns are built from Polish parts?
A: Yes, we buy the parts that are being demilled from their arsenal, not the used stuff. We’re not converting rifles from Saiga or others. We’ll do that for customers, but not to build our own line.
Q: How far away are you from building all USA-made guns?
A: About six months.
Q: I understand you are working on a line of rifles that will be priced less than your premium line. What’s the status on those?
A: We’re working on a standard AKM and AK-74. We’re looking at producing rifles that will be in the same price range as Arsenal. We may offer both wood and polymer stocks. It depends on the supply of good-quality wood furniture.
Q: It seems like your front-end design, the Bolton Block, has become very popular in the AK community. Can you talk about that?
A: We started doing that 2005. Not too many people paid attention to it until Travis Haley bought one about four or five years ago. It’s since become very popular.
Q: Can you talk about the genesis of the product?
A: The (Bolton) block was originally my idea. At the time I didn’t have the money to produce it, so I went to a friend of mine, Lenny Bolton of Venom Tactical, who produces these kinds of products. We put that together, and since it’s become popular people have purchased the part to emulate the look.
The problem is we do so much more on the inside of the gun to complement the block replacement. We change the size of the gas porting. We change the size of the piston. We do all kinds of stuff to balance that system out. It will work with or without a suppressor.
Q: I understand the front end work you do takes about a pound off the rifle?
A: Yes, you’re changing two blocks into one and you’re taking about two inches of the barrel off. It comes to nearly a pound off the gun. It also moves the center of gravity on the gun back about four inches. This is why it feels so much better to people when they shoot it. It’s about 10 percent of the weight. There’s no “over swing” and no extra weight. It comes in very handy for fast shooting.
Q: This is definitely significant for an AK, especially if you’re shooting offhand.
A: Yes, with a loaded magazine it’s about only half a pound more than an AR. I think that’s one of the reasons why our guns are so popular.
This brings me to an important point. Everyone in our shop are shooters. We build guns for shooters. That sets us apart from everyone else. The AK has a bright future in the U.S. and we are proud to be in the forefront of that expansion.