Field stripping your rifle
In order to clean and maintain your rifle, the first step is to field strip (disassemble) your rifle.
The AK was designed so that military conscripts with limited training could be quickly taught to care for the weapon. In this respect, Mr. Kalashnikov and his team did a brilliant job.
Here’s a step-by-step primer how to do a basic take-down so that you’ll be able to clean it.
>> The first thing you’ll want to do is detach the magazine by depressing the magazine catch.
Make certain the safety is on “safe” mode and pull back the charging handle. Inspect the chamber to make certain there is no live round inside.
It’s also a good idea to put your finger into the chamber to verify that there is, in fact, no live cartridge within. (If indeed there is a live round in the chamber, place the safety lever on “fire” mode, and pull the charging handle to the rear to eject the round. If the round is stuck, slowly release the charging handle, put the safety back on, lay the gun down out of harm’s way, and get someone to help you.) For more insights on how to clear an AK malfunction this video from Rob Ski of the AK Operators Union (AKOU) is quite helpful.
>> The second step in your field strip is to remove the top cover of the receiver.
Just depress (with your thumb) the square serrated button located at the end of a top cover. This will compress the carrier spring and allow you to lift up the rear end of the cover. (Take note where the front end of the cover fits against the rear-sight block.)
With the dust cover removed, you’ll expose the “guts” of the rifle.
>> Next, remove the recoil spring assembly.
You’ll do this by pressing the same button forward until it’s released from its slot. Then pull the spring and guide out. Again, take note of how the spring assembly is inserted into the carrier.
>> Then remove the bolt carrier.
Pull the charging handle back towards you, as if you were ejecting a live round, until it pops out of the receiver.
Note how it travels along a rail towards the rear of receiver and can be removed once it clears a couple of slots. Simply lift it out.
At this point you can also remove the bolt from the bolt carrier by rotating it clockwise, and then pulling it out.
>> Remove the gas tube by flipping up the Gas Tube Release lever located on the right side of the rear-sight block.
You’ll want to move it into a nearly vertical position.
On many rifles, particularly new ones, it may be stiff, so you’ll have to use the end of a chop stick or a similar wedge (nonmetallic, so as not to spoil the finish) to move the lever.
Once the lever is positioned at around 12 o’clock, you’ll be able to lift the rear end of the gas tube up, and then off the top of the barrel. (You can take a brush with some solvent to the inside of the tube to remove carbon buildup.)
>> To put humpty dumpty back together again, align the front end of the gas tube with the gas block opening.
Snap the rear end of the gas tube into position and then pop down the lever and lock it into a horizontal position.
Secure the bolt properly in its housing then rotate it counterclockwise, moving it forward as far as it will go inside the carrier. The front of the carrier will be just about flush with the front of the bolt.
>> You are now in a position to place the carrier assembly back into the receiver.
Before you do this make sure the hammer is cocked back, otherwise the carrier assembly will not fit.
Take the carrier with your thumb and forefingers and place the gas piston into the gas piston cylinder. Make sure the carrier is seated properly on the rails by pushing it down through the slots and moving the whole assembly forward.
>> After the carrier is on its rail in the receiver, take the recoil spring and slide it into the top of the bolt assembly.
Push the button forward and then let it slide back, nestling the button backward into the grooves at the back of the receiver.
Lower the rear end of the cover and press it down, popping in the rear button. It may take some jostling to get it to fit, but eventually it will lock it in place.
Placing the dust cover back on top of the receiver is a bit tricky. You’ll have to do some jostling to snap in on properly, but you’ll figure it out.
Cleaning and lubrication
To quote Rick Davis, an AK maven who kindly contributed a number of photos to this book, “Cleaning is almost as fast as describing the process: pressing the receive cover latch button, lifting the cover off, pulling the carrier and bolt out and maybe pulling the gas tube off. After this, a good swabbing with suitable bore cleaner appropriate to the type of ammunition used.”
Mr. Davis’ comment about “swabbing with suitable bore cleaner appropriate to the type of ammunition used” is important to understand. He’s referring to the surplus ammo from the former Eastern bloc which is quite popular in this country. It is inexpensive but there is a caveat: It contains corrosive priming agents, which is common with older military surplus ammunition.
The bottom line: If you use this type of surplus ammo you’re going to have to clean the gun ASAP or your rifle will suffer the consequences. One of the individuals I spoke to said that after 24 hours “he rust was so bad in the gas block that the piston seized.” He said that he had to “kick the charging handle to open it.”
Cleaning to remove corrosive residue requires a slightly modified procedure to remove the nasty priming compounds from the internal surfaces. This is rarely more than running a patch soaked with Windex or ammoniated cleaner to remove the priming residue. There are some who recommend pouring hot, soapy water through both the barrel and the gas tube / gas block, in order to ensure that all the corrosive salts are dissolved and flushed away.
There are also products available specifically for corrosive priming residue.
Note that if you use the commercial ammo such as Tula, Silver Bear, Wolf, etc, these brands do not have the corrosive priming agents so you don’t have to worry about cleaning the gun the same day.
Once your rifle is field-stripped you’ll be in a position to actually clean and lube it. To do this, the main implements you’ll need are a toothbrush, a cleaning rod with bronze (or nylon) brush and patch jag, the requisite patches, as well as solvent and rags. Before you get started, I suggest you watch a video by my colleague, Rob Ski, of the AK Operators Union. He does an excellent job demonstrating how to clean and lubricate your rifle in this video.
What lubricant to use?
You’ll find people on the forums who advocate just about anything that’s slick (including motor oil). Rob Ski, who trained with an AK in his native Poland, knows the rifle inside and out. He said that any brand of ordinary “no name” gun oil is just fine. Grease works great in milder climates but was never used in winter because of the possibility of freezing.
The first thing to do is apply a cleaning agent such as CLP or Hoppes #9 to a toothbrush and scrub away the carbon and grunge from the bolt carrier/gas piston and the bolt. I always wear nitrile exam gloves because I don’t want solvents permeating my skin. A lot of solvents are carcinogenic. Enough said.
You can use Hoppes #9 to clean the bore by passing a saturated patch down the barrel but there are other solutions. Bill Rogers has a good cleaning system that uses a sort of squeegee and his own formulated cleaning goop. Otis also has excellent tools, including their own proprietary bore snake called a “Ripcord” that works very well getting gunk out of the barrel after you’ve been to the range. (It’s a preliminary cleaning move. It’s not used with solvent).
After you’ve scrubbed out as much junk from the bolt, bolt carrier and rails with a toothbrush you must clean the inside of the gas tube. This can be done with a heavy duty nylon, or a brass brush. After degreasing and cleaning you’ll want to wipe everything down.
Lubrication can be done with any type of gun oil, CLP or gun grease. You’ll want to lube all moving parts such as the bolt, bolt carrier, trigger (aka fire control group), as well as the rails that the carrier group ride on. Inside the receiver it’s also good to coat the interior with a light film of gun oil. I use RIG gun grease on the rails but there are other good brands such as Tetra grease. You don’t need too much.
This video from Jim Fuller should be very helpful to newbies:
Adjusting the Front Sight
If you acquire an AK, one tool you’re absolutely going to need is a Windage and Elevation Sight Tool. The other option is to take a mallet and a punch and start banging on the pin that moves the post laterally but this is not recommended! This C-clamp style tool is old school Soviet technology but it works. Tapco has a decent one for about $16.
There are other versions available but unless you plan on making this adjustment on a weekly basis (which you won’t) the Tapco unit is adequate. The pin on the front sight is usually very tight (as it must be) and takes some trial and error to get it just right. If you ever end up changing your rear sight, you’ll probably have to go through this process once again. Note that there’s also a notch on the screw (just above the handle or “T” bar that is used to adjust the elevation on the sight post).
This video does a good job of showing how the task is done.
Storage and travel
Obviously if you’re putting your rifle away for a long time you’ll want to put a desiccant in your safe or store your firearm in a special laminated bag from ZCORR.
If you’re going to take your rifle on an airplane the TSA dictates that you need a hard-sided container that is locked. If your rifle is valuable to you, you’ll want to buy decent rifle case. Recently I tested a product from Plano called the Field Locker Mil-Spec Case. They are watertight, dustproof and built like tanks. This particular model will fit one rifle with room for magazines and even a handgun or two.
The main features are comfortable, over molded heavy duty handles and ball bearing wheels for trouble-free transport. It also has big fat latches that should discourage thieves.
At about 23 pounds, it’s very solid and if anything, a bit over-engineered for durability.
There are three layers of double density foam inside the case. The extra layer allows you to create your own cut-to- fit form by carving out the proper shape. Finally, there’s an atmospheric release valve which is meant to equalize pressure caused by altitude or temperature.
Price is $160 on Amazon which makes it about $10 less expensive than the equivalent model 1720 from Pelican.