Jim Fuller, founder of AK custom shop, Rifle Dynamics, offers insights when it comes to 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 come to fruition. 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: 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.