If you’re like a great many people, after you’ve put your new rifle through its paces, you’ll find some aspect of the gun that you’ll want to upgrade. Whether that means upgrading a trigger, adding a sling, or buying an optics mount, you’re going to want something that will improve your experience. That will mean doing research to find the very best AK-47 parts to improve your experience.
In the bad old days, like ten years ago, there simply wasn’t as great a variety of AK aftermarket parts. There were quite a few reasons for this. First off, serious R&D takes an investment in time and money. For the larger parts manufacturers, the AK was barely on the radar screen and the perception was that the market segment represented by AK owners didn’t warrant the development of AK-centric products. Besides, these companies were consumed with keeping up with demand for the AR 15. The AK-47 was just a side show.
A secondary, but no less compelling reason is that making parts that will fit all AK variants is impossible. Because there’s no universal Mil-spec standard, the specs for AK variants generally differ.
Despite this challenge, a few intrepid gunsmiths such as Marc Krebs and Jim Fuller took the plunge and engineered parts such as handguards, rear sights, etc., for the AK platform. With AK’s current popularity on the ascendant now larger companies such as Magpul and Troy Industries are cranking out products for the rifle once stigmatized as the “enemy’s gun”.
Even with large accessory manufacturers jumping into the fray, the big boys still don’t dominate the AK accessory market. It’s still very much a cottage industry, populated primarily by mom and pop shops. This makes for a lot of innovation, with new businesses and products emerging all the time.
To assess this landscape, I queried several of the top AK builders for their tips on customizing your rifle.
Customization Tips from Jim Fuller
Over the last decade Jim Fuller has established himself as one of the most sought after AK gunsmiths. His Las Vegas-based company, Rifle Dynamics, was founded in 2007 with the purpose of providing “fighting weapons and training for the fighting professionals”. In addition to offering gunsmithing and training (including very popular AK building classes), Rifle Dynamics sells a line of custom AKs and in-house designed parts.
Q: I note that you sell the US Palm grip. Any others you recommend?
A: I also like the Izhmash/Tula/Molot grips. The new Magpul is a quality grip–just not the angle I personally like.
Q: Let’s look at handguards for the AK platform. Any recommendations, either in metal or polymer—or both?
A: I have always been a fan of the standard Russian-Bulgarian polymer handguards with heat shield and metal reinforcement. They work well. Most of the aftermarket poly stuff with no metal reinforcement should not be considered for a fighting rifle. It will fail. The problem with metal is heat, the AK runs hotter than most guns and metal handguards can be a problem depending on how they are mounted to the gun. Rails are a different story.
Q: How about a folding stock?
A: We have tried most all of them but the best we have found are the standard AK 100 type folders. They lock up the best and have a proper cheek weld. Some of the ACE products work well but don’t compare to the original triangle or solid folder.
Q: How about a collapsible stock? Any brands you recommend?
A: When putting a collapsible stock on an AK it really comes down to what feels best for the shooter. On our 702 and 502 models we use a Mil-Spec tube with the Bravo Company B-5 stock; it is very popular.
Q: Do you prefer the standard AK sights or a peep sight option?
A: We have been doing our modified rear sights for seven years which consist of widening the notch and rounding off the corners. We have sold thousands of them and customers seem to be very happy. Aperture or peep sights, on the other hand, are not as effective in the standard rear sight position. For them to be effective they need to be closer to the shooters eye.
Q: How about rail mounts for a red dot?
A: We have found the UltiMAK upper rail to be the best option for a red dot based on the height and ability to hold zero. Rails from US Palm, Damage Industry as well as others have solid mounts but none set as low as the UltiMAK.
Q: What about other mounting options for a red dot?
A: As mentioned above we like US Palm, Krebs, Damage industries they are all solid mounts.
Q: What’s your opinion on the Zentico product line?
A: I have tried the Zentico rail products and find them to be a good option if you want a lot of rail space and a solid scope mount but in my experience they require fitting that not a lot guns owners will have the ability to do, they are quality but not a drop-in part.
Q: How about a trigger group?
A: We use a modified Tapco G-2 in all of our guns.
Venom Antidote muzzle brake Venom Tactical reduces recoil and muzzle flip. It’s standard equipment on many of Rifle Dynamic’s line. (Robert Kay)
Q: How does one go about choosing a muzzle brake for an AK?
A: It depends on a few factors, if you’re running a suppressor most suppressor companies make a brake (or flash hider) that their suppressors attach to.
Q: Can you recommend any types or manufacturers?
A: For just a brake, the Antidote, which we designed with Venom Tactical, was purpose built for the 7.62mm AK, it’s expensive but it’s the best in recoil and muzzle rise reduction. Battle Comp and Primary Weapon Systems also make good brakes for the AK. The best value I’ve seen is the Manticore brake.
Q: Who should consider buying one?
A: Anyone who wants to shoot faster accurately or if you are recoil sensitive.
Q: Does the average person need one?
A: Some people find them helpful. On a 7.62mm I think it’s beneficial. On a 5.45mm there’s so little recoil, it doesn’t matter.
Q: How much should someone have to spend to get something decent?
The better designs run in the $100.00 to $200.00 range.
Q: What about a flash hider? Who should you consider buying one?
In my opinion a flash hider is a good choice for the 5.45mm or 5.56mm AK’s. The recoil and muzzle rise are minimal compared to the 7.62mm round so in this case I think a flash hider has merit.
Q: What about a sling?
A: I prefer a single point for training or a 2 point for basic use.
Q: Any other new products from RD?
A: We are co-branding a new product line of suppressors with Silencerco which came out at this year’s NRA Show.
Not too many people know the AK platform as well as Chase Sisgold, the co-founder of Definitive Arms. He builds custom AKs and has experienced phenomenal success over the past few years with his patented Definitive Arms Kalashnikov System. Below are his recommendations:
Q: Let’s say I want to change out a stock polymer handguard because I’d like to add a light, a scope or a grip and I want something with at the very least, a rail on the bottom. What components do you recommend?
A: The options available from Midwest Industries are a good entry level option and fairly priced. We utilize a lot of the Krebs Custom KeyMod rails, which are a nice product, but will command a higher price tag.
The new DAKM 4150 line of rifles from Definitive Arms offers the same quality as custom builds. Prices start at $1000. (Courtesy AKOU)
Q: What if I want something polymer in order to keep the weight down?
A: I am not entirely impressed with the offerings available for polymer hand guards.
Q: What about pistol grips? Any recommendations?
A: We utilize a lot of the US Palm Battle Grips, as well as the AK grips offered by Magpul. The Hogue grips and a few others are of decent quality as well. My personal favorite is the U.S. Palm battle grip. At least for now.
Q: How about an adapter for a collapsible stock?
A: In my opinion there are only two ways to mount a collapsible stock. One is to utilize the Rifle Dynamics M4 Stock adapters with mil-spec buffer tube which will allow you to use any AR style stock that fits a mil spec buffer tube. The RD M4 adapters also sits the buffer tube higher than some of the other offerings on the market and provides for an excellent cheek weld. The other option, if a folding stock is a must, is to utilize the newest ACE folding stock mechanism, again for an AR style buffer tube.
The RS Regulate mount is a two-piece modular unit that works with many AK variants. It is secured on the rail with a cam-like lever. (Robert Kay)
Q: How about a QD (Quick-Detach) rail mount for a red dot?
A: My personal choice for optics mounting on a full sized AK is to utilize the QD side rail optics mounts offered by RS Regulate. The AK-300 series of mounts offered by RS regulate are second to none and absolutely rock solid. I have used them many times on multiple rifles and they hold zero very well. They even repeat zero easily when pulling different optics on and off the rifle. In a few seconds you can switch between a T-1 Micro, an ACOG, or a scope and not lose your zero.
Q: How about a decent trigger group?
A: A well-tuned and polished Tapco G2 single hook is a respectable trigger group. Otherwise an RSA (Red Star) Power Custom trigger properly installed and adjusted makes for an excellent trigger that rivals many high end AR triggers.
Q: What about a sling?
A: Though most will disagree with me, I find single point slings to be most comfortable for my AKs. A single point sling attached right near the back of the receiver, around stock tang, provides for an easy way to retain the rifle hands free and maneuver it freely without much getting in the way.
Q: What about a rail system for the other end of the rifle?
A: I like the Krebs rail. The Krebs rail also demands a higher price tag, but that goes with the old notion of “You get what you pay for”.
Q: How about a folding stock that has an adjustable cheek rest? Something that feels comfortable.
A: It’s a personal preference to have adjustable cheek rests. I consider them more for catering to optics that are mounted entirely too high above the bore on AKs (a trend that is becoming popular in the AK world right now) and don’t personally find the need for it. If building a more DMR (Designated Marksman Rifle) type weapon then I would still utilize the RD M4 stock adapters and a quality AR style stock with adjustable cheek rest. For your standard carbine size or “fighting rifle” sized AK, adjustable cheek rests aren’t necessary.
Q: That brings us to a query about iron sights. Is there a product that you can recommend over the stock rear AK sight?
A: I am a fan of the A2 style rear sights and considering that Krebs makes good usage of that sight in his offerings, I will say I am a bigger fan of Krebs sights.
Q: What about wooden furniture?
A: I love a classic iron on wood firearm, it just has a certain feel to it. My good friends over at E93 (Echo Nine Three) have designed a stock set that has modern function and feel to it, but is made of premium laminated wood. It’s a very attractive yet very functional stock set. I just recently purchased one and will be building a demo rifle set up with the stock set. The premise of the demo rifle is to show a modernized fighting AK that has a classic look to it at a glance.
Customization Tips from Tim Harmsen
Tim Harmsen, aka Mac, is best known as the host of the Military Arms Channel, the MAC Facebook page and his newest venture FULL30 which features Sport Shooting, Self-Defense and Gun reviews from a variety of contributors. Tim is very much a fan of the AK and has reviewed plenty of AK-centric products. In addition to new media he’s written for Be Ready! Magazine (IMO/Shotgun News) and The Book of the AK47 (Guns & Ammo). Here are his tips on adding the best AK-47 parts and components:
Q: What kinds of optics mounts do you prefer?
A: The best optics mount I’ve found, without a doubt, is the RS Regulate side mounts. Simple, reliable, good looking, just like the AK itself.
Q: What about handguards and rails?
A: I like rails because it allows you to use force multipliers like lights, lasers, and sights. The new Magpul front hand guards allow for MOE accessories. But a plain Jane wood stocked AK is also a beauty, so I have a few of those too.
Q: You’ve also covered the waterfront when it comes to third party parts for the AK. Are there any particular stocks that impress you?
A: There are a lot of good stocks, I think Bonesteel makes the best quality replacement stocks for AK’s. I prefer to have a real Russian side-folder, but if I need to replace a fixed stock, I’ll go with Bonesteel most every time. As for rails, Krebs Custom makes the absolute best rail system I’ve seen to date. The UFM is a KeyMod system that is sleek, light weight and looks incredibly sharp on the rifle. Midwest Industries makes some solid drop-in railed hand guards too. I’m also really taking a shine to the new Magpul stock offerings such as the Zhukov, including their pistol grips for the AK.
Q: How about Triggers?
Q: What about red dot optics?
A: There are a lot of good choices for RDS’s these days. I’m a huge fan of the Aimpoint T-2 Micro, it’s the best optic out there IMHO, although it’s very expensive. On the other end of the spectrum I’ve found Primary Arms, HiLux B-Dot and Vortex Sparc II optics to represent a great value with optics that rival the features of the Aimpoint. But when it comes to rugged reliability, I’m an Aimpoint kind of guy.
Q: Is there a quality fixed focus tactical style scope you could recommend that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg?
A: Check out the Primary Arms ACSS 4x Compact sight. At $259 I don’t think you’ll find a better affordable alternative to the ACOG.
Q: I know that the “cognoscenti” recommends Russian guns but many are in short supply. Are there others of decent quality that you recommend for an entry level rifle?
A: WASR 10 if you can inspect it for common manufacturing flaws before buying such as canted sights, bolt carrier hanging up on the hammer, improperly cut mag wells, poor riveting, etc. Some companies pre-inspect WASR’s for these defects for an added fee to assure you get a decent rifle. We’ve also learned from recent testing that current production WASR barrels don’t hold up well to extended heavy shooting sessions. There are now domestic AK producers such as Rifle Dynamics and DDI that make guns from many US parts that rival the quality of Russian and Bulgarian guns. The Century C39V2 (latest version) is a solid alternative in my experience as well.
There are rumors of US made cold hammer forged barrels being a possibility in the near future for AK builders which will level the playing field as this is the biggest advantage Russian and Bulgarian guns have had over US built guns. Some companies, such as DDI, are offering guns with nitrite finishes on high wear parts like barrels and bolts which is a step above the Russian/former com-bloc guns.
Tips from Marc Krebs on finding the best AK-47 parts
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mr. Krebs is one the most influential AK gunsmiths around. At his Wauconda, IL shop, Marc and his team craft some of the most sought after rifles on the market. In addition to traditional gunsmithing, he has designed and patented his own handguards, sights, muzzle brakes, safety selectors and other items. Below Marc reflects on what add-on parts to consider for your rifle:
Q: What if I want to use a peep sight on the AK?
A: We offer two options. One that is mounted on our rear sight rail system, and another that will go on the traditional rear sight support. That latter is for fast sight acquisition and older eyes. The scope rail provides longer sight radius and a place to put the optic.
Q: In addition to your handguards and other peripherals, your Mark 6 safety has become very popular among AK aficionados. Why did you come to design it that way?
A: For any firearm that is used in a defense mode or for hunting, you need to be able to take the safety off quickly when needed without having to reposition your hand. I’ve worked on the ergonomics so that this is easier to do.
Q: Let’s say I’m interested in doing a DIY modification of an AK with one of the sporterized imports from Saiga or VEPR. My intention would be to move the trigger group. Would you recommend this for the average guy who has never done this before?
A: Depends on how handy you are. My inclination in this case is to let a gunsmith do it. This is an equipment-heavy task.
Q: Is changing out a stock difficult to do for a DIY build?
A: With a regular AK stock there may be a little fitting. With an aftermarket stock, typically no.
Q: What variety do you like the best?
Q: Do you have any particular third party AK accessories that you particularly like?
A: What I like are the AK adapters that will provide a straight line across the top of the receiver. Vltor makes one—it goes straight along the line of the bore. There’s a lot of other good stuff out there.
Q: What about a folding stock? Does it make ergonomic sense to get one?
A: You’d get one primarily because of the ease of storage—getting in and out of a car, jumping out of a plane, etc. I would go with a collapsible stock because you can vary your length of pull.
Q: Got any preference in grips?
Q: What about third party wooden furniture?
Q: What about a third party match trigger?
Q: Do you have any preferences when it comes to third party rails and handguards?
A: I don’t want to come off as arrogant and say nobody makes as good a product as me but I think we (Krebs Custom) did a good job with the aesthetics and the functionality. I’m sure there’s other good stuff out there but I don’t have experience with it.
Q: How interchangeable are Saiga and VEPR parts?
A: The internal parts are not interchangeable. It’s hard to generalize with the other stuff. They may or maybe not be interchangeable.
Q: What about putting on a muzzle brake/flash hider? Is this easy to do and if so, what style do you recommend for plinking/hunting?
A: Ours is one of the better ones out there. We use a Vortex for a control to test. There’s a link on our Facebook page showing someone testing our flash hider.
Q: Do you have any other favorite third party add-ons that you think readers should know about? It could be anything in the way of rails, stocks, sights, muzzle brakes, slings, furniture, etc.
- Leatherwood CMR is an awesome scope. It has an unusually wide field of view. Great optics on that and an electronic dot.
- Arsenal, Tapco and, Red Star Trigger sets and (for match trigger).
- AK builder.com offers a lot of things for “DIY” riveting.
- Magpul has good grips and magazines for the AK.
- Both RS Regulate and Midwest Industries make very good side rail scope mounts. I particularly like the RS Regulate product, which is very durable
- Bravo Company KeyMod rails and vertical grips
Customization Tips from Larry Vickers
A retired career special operations soldier with 20-plus years of service, Larry Vickers has established himself as one of the foremost firearms instructors in the nation. He travels around the country and offers one-day classes on the AK (as well as instruction in other platforms). He’s also developed several products including a highly regarded two-point AK sling (which is reviewed in this book). His company, Vickers Tactical, regularly trains military and law enforcement units in combat marksmanship. In addition to tactical training and home self-defense instruction, Larry is a TV Show host and has a YouTube channel. He’s also a Master 1911 Pistolsmith, one of the original founders of IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association), and a firearms historian.
Q: What advice would have for the AK owner who is interested in learning about the capabilities of his rifle and how to shoot it with confidence?
A: The first thing I would do is take a class—it’s worth its weight in gold. Be sure and do research on who is offering the class. There are four basic things to learn on an AK. It’s a simple gun to use and operate but you need to get educated on those points.
Q: So what are the four items that you’re talking about?
A: The first thing is zeroing in the rifle. Whether it’s an AKM an AK-47 or an AK-74. You’ll want to be able to zero the Warsaw Pact-issue iron sights. Sighting in an AK is different from zeroing other rifles because the elevation and windage are on the front sight. Anytime you adjust the front sight, it’s always opposite you want the direction of the bullet to go. If you want the bullet to go to the right, you move the sight to the left. If you want the bullet to go down, you move the front sight up. It’s always opposite and you need to get a handle on that. Adjustments are on the coarse side. My theory is simple. I would put the rear setting on whatever you want, whether it’s 100 meters or the battle sight ‘zero’ setting. Then do your adjustments up front and dial it in. You adjust it and shoot it until you’ve got it right.
Q: How accurate are they?
A: They are roughly half as accurate as an M4. You can “cheat” on that by putting a red dot sight on there. What I tell people is expect to train yourself and zero the rifle to make headshots out to about 50 meters and upper torso shots from 50 out to about 200 meters. That’s the realm of the gun. Forget about shooting some guy at 500 yards. The AK with iron sights, regardless of caliber, is a 200 meter gun.
Q: What was item number 2?
A: Item number 2 is to learn how to manipulate the safety. If you’re only going to do one modification to the gun, put on an aftermarket safety like the product from Krebs Custom. If the safety is really stiff and you’re a right handed shooter, you may have to wrap your hand around the magazine and reach with your thumb to put it in the “fire” positon in order to get some leverage. You can modify the safety, perhaps bend the lever, but in some cases it’s more complicated than that–sometimes in order to reduce the tension it may need some fitting. Then you can manipulate the safety with an extended index finger or middle finger. The main thing is learn to run the safety.
Q: OK, what about number 3?
A: Learn the nuances of reloading the gun and/or fitting your magazines. Often mags have to be fitted to the gun. It’s a byproduct of two things. Number one is that magazines are made by a wide variety of manufacturers around the globe and vary in dimensions. Number two is that the specs on many magwells and magazine releases are not what they should be on US-made rifles and U.S. 922r modified (imported) AK’s. That means even some Warsaw Pact magazines that will fit on any AK worldwide may not fit properly on US guns.
Also, reloading is not as simple on an AK as it is on an M4. With an AK you need to rock the magazine in—nose down and rear end up. The good news is that once it’s in I would argue that it’s an even more stable and reliable way to retain the magazine in the gun.
Q: And the fourth point?
A: Learn how to clear malfunctions. The guns will malfunction on occasion. It’s often ammo related. There are a couple of malfunctions that are unique to the gun which are a direct byproduct of the amount of room you have in the receiver. There’s a ton of room—so much that you can pour sand in the gun and it will still function but the flip side of that is you can get a live round or an empty case near the trigger mechanism and that can cause problems. Fortunately, it’s an easy gun to clear malfunctions but when it happens is not the time to figure it out.
Q: Do you have any general tips for new owners?
A: Number one is to seriously resist the urge to over-accessorize the gun. By doing this you will frankly turn the gun into junk. There’s a very tiny percentage of aftermarket accessories for the AK that I think are worth having on your gun.
Number two is don’t think you can over-abuse the rifle and think that the gun will keep running. Yes, there’s some truth to the myth that the gun is indestructible but it’s not a myth you want to rely on. Lube the gun, take care of it and it will take care of you.
Number three is don’t judge the AK by the ones you see on the American market. Many of the guns you see are poorly made and improperly assembled with substandard materials. There’s a myth out there than anyone can put these together and it’s not true. Case and point: If you compare break-downs in my classes with M4s and AKs, hands down, every time there are always more problems with the AKs. I think there’s only a handful of people in the country who know how to build them.
Vickers advises not to over-accessorize your rifle. Adding a red dot scope, a rail and a vertical grip to this Arsenal are enough. (Courtesy Vickers Tactical)
Q: Which of the manufactured guns do you like the best?
A: As far as manufactured guns, I think the Bulgarian Arsenals are the best on the market. One of the problems is that the average AK-buyer is not willing to open up his wallet as much as the AR 15 buyer who will spend half again to twice as much on a rifle. I think the AK buyers got used to much lower pricing when you could get decent kits for very low prices and you could get a gun put together for $400 or less. Those days are over.
Q: Can you recommend any magazines?
A: I prefer the ‘Warsaw Pact’ steel, polymer or Bakelite magazines. You can still source them at reasonable prices. The Circle 10 magazines imported by Arsenal are more expensive than American-made products but they are fantastic.
Q: Do you think the AK makes a good home defense gun?
A: It wouldn’t be my first choice. It’s not as easy to accessorize as an M4. For example you can put a red dot optic and a white light much easier on an M4 than on an AK.
Q: If you were to set up an AK as a home defense weapon, how would you go about it?
A: You need a red dot optic. I’m a fan of Aimpoint, I think they are without peer. To mount it you need a rail system. RS Regulate makes the best side rail. Up front there are a number of options. You can replace your handguard with a rail system so you can put on a white light, which is the other item you need for home defense. You can get products from Midwest Industries, US Palm and UltiMAK. I’ve seen UltiMAK rails in my classes for years and they work just fine.
Q: Do you have to be concerned that a red dot will get ‘overheated’ being mounted above the gas tube?
A: If you have mag dump after mag dump you may have an issue with heat. But with any reasonable use I have never seen overheating as an issue with a red dot. Never. With a red dot I mean an Aimpoint. Let me be crystal clear on that.
Q: Do you think there’s merit to the argument because of the AK’s notoriety, using an AK for self-defense might give the impression in a court of law that a defendant could be construed as a “suburban Rambo”?
A: I think there’s some validity to that. It’s universally considered to be the gun of the bad guy. If you used it in a self-defense shooting there’s the potential of it being a liability in the court of law.
Q: You said you are pretty selective about third party accessories and provided some examples of products you like. Do you have any other suggestions?
A: The Krebs Custom safety is a good addition. My preference for the pistol grip is US Palm. Circle 10 AK and Manticore Arms are developing a KeyMod rail that has some potential. I also like the Circle 10AK U-notch rear sight. I think the new Magpul furniture looks like it has potential. There’s the Blue Force Gear AK sling which is excellent. I admit I’m biased about that because it’s my design.