Reader Texan asks:

In line with your previous article (Best AR-15 for First Time Black Rifle Owners), what is a good AK-47 for the first time AK-er?

The AK-47 system is the most popular firearm ever produced no matter what metric you use. Firearms produced, worldwide ownership, countries that issue it to their troops — Mozambique even has it prominently displayed on its flag. As with any popular firearm, many different configurations have been developed to fill different roles, but for a first time buyer the choice is obvious. Before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about the design and history of the AK-47.

The original design for the AK-47 was as a replacement for the main battle rifle of the Soviet Union. They wanted something with the portability and rate of fire of a PPS-43, but “stopping power” and penetration comparable to the Mosin Nagant m1891/30. Intermediate steps like the SVT-40 and the SKS proved useful in combat, but the predominantly wood construction and relatively intricate machining required for such guns made production on a large scale problematic.

The AK-47, designed mostly by a team led by Mikhail Kalashnikov (but integrating parts from other competing designs as well), was the ideal weapon for the Soviet Union. The simple metal receiver and parts meant that they could be turned out in great numbers and required fewer raw materials than previous weapons, the operation was so simple that Ukrainian peasants could be quickly trained on its use, and the extended 30-round magazines (something only seen in machine guns to this point) meant the soldier could be more effective for longer periods of time. An improved version, the AKM, used a stamped instead of a milled receiver and became the most widely produced firearm ever.

The original design, using the 7.62x39mm round, was built in a vast number of different designs and by many different arsenals behind the Iron Curtain. Variants included the RPK (heavy barrel and bipod for machine gun use), AKMS (folding stock for airborne troops), and the AKS (for use in armored vehicles).

After the Vietnam conflict the Soviet powers that be got it into their heads that a .22 caliber projectile was the way to go, seeing the space and weight saving benefits as well as wanting to go with the “modern” trend of firearms development. The AK-47 was redesigned to accept a new cartridge, the 5.45x39mm round, and became known as the AK-74. This “improved” AK would be the weapon of choice for decades to come, a lighter weapon with less recoil and one which was easier to control in fully automatic fire.

In reality, there are two “best” AK pattern rifles because there are two major calibers. For those who want an AK because of the enjoyable recoil of the 7.62x39mm round (or its penetration capability) there’s an AK-47 variant, and for someone who wants a fun shooter with cheap ammo that will last a lifetime there’s a 5.45x39mm AK-74 variant. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the popularity of the AK pattern firearm has meant a massive increase in importation of different kinds and one specific model designation won’t be valid for more than a few weeks (while it’s in stock). So instead, I’m going to list off the features that a first time AK buyer should look for, no matter what caliber their heart desires.

  • Fixed full stock. This is probably the most important feature new AK buyers will want. Some AKs come with folding or swinging stocks to make them more useful to troopers in confined spaces, but it makes getting a cheek weld impossible and makes the gun feel terrible. If you really want an underfolding AK stock go for it, but just realize that you might regret it later.
  • Stamped receiver. Some people prefer milled receivers (machined from a single block of material) but for a first time buyer the weight and cost savings of a stamped receiver outweigh the benefits of a milled receiver. I’m not saying that if you find one for a great price you shouldn’t buy it, instead I’m suggesting you focus your search on the more popular stamped variety.
  • Threaded muzzle. The vast majority of AK pattern rifles came from the factory with some form of threaded muzzle so they could take muzzle brakes and other fun things. Some rifles, like the WASR-10, have a nut “permanently” welded to cover these threads, but that can be removed with a Dremmel. In fact, it may actually be harder to find an AK without a muzzle device. Anyway, I recommend you have one.
  • Side accessory rail. The AK series rifle often has a funky looking mount on the left side of the receiver. This was designed to allow shooters to quickly add or remove optics from the rifle, including all manner of scopes and red dot sights. The Soviet equivalent of the AR’s top rail.

Any AK is better than no AK, but of the AKs I’ve fired I have four solid recommendations.

  • GP 1975. This gun, made by CAI and pictured at the top of the article, is a mostly American manufactured version of the AK-47 in 7.62x39mm. It works great, and it’s currently running about $420 (cheaper than the imports).
  • Romanian AK-MV / WASR-10. The Romanian imported AK pattern rifles in 7.62x39mm have historically been of superb quality and low price. The ones my friends have purchased have had the muzzle threads covered by a nut, but that was easy to remove. $450.
  • Arsenal SSGL31. This Russian made AK-74 pattern rifle in 5.45x39mm has proven to be of excellent quality and beautiful as well. Which is great, because the price tag of $800ish is a little steep. Just make sure you’re 922(r) compliant.
  • Polish Tantal AK-74. There have been some issues with the barrels being of the wrong caliber (5.56 not 5.45), so make sure to check your targets for keyholing. CAI (who assembles them) has been very good about replacing defective guns. It does have a wire folding stock, but at $410 I could live with it.

Almost any gun store sells AKs, but the cheapest place I’ve found is Classicarms.us (praise Jesus). The website is right out of 1999 but the deals are great and the products have been top notch.

If you have a topic you want to see covered in a future “Ask Foghorn” segment, email guntruth@me.com.

34 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Best AK-47 for First Time Commie Milsurp Owners?

    • Don’t buy Chinese. They overheat and have a tendency to go into burst fire mode from time to time.

      Are firearms are the only thing in this country not made in China these days?

      • How exactly could a Chinese AK “overheat” any more or less than any other AK? I own a Chinese MAK-90 and its a very fine rifle. Much better than those crappy looking WASRs.

        • I wasn’t even talking about AKs man. I was talking about Chinese made SKS’. They are a completely different firearm..

          “As a followup, what about covering the SKS?”

          That being said, I would not trust a MAK-90 over a WASR, but as far as SKS’ go, I’m not the only person with a Chinese SKS to go into overheat/burst mode from time to time. Never have I EVER gotten that from my Yugoslavian or Romanian models.

          As to your “overheating” any faster than any other AK, Norinco does not use the same quality materials as other manufacturers, and because of that fact, are less durable and more prone to overheating. Look at anything made in China man, crap materials, low standards.. what do you expect?

  1. Right on, brother! I’ve spent some time in Kalashnikovia as well, and I’d offer a few more suggestions:
    • Be careful with Tantals from Century. Joe Grine had a bad barrel, got it replaced, and still has a little bit of keyholing.
    • The 5.45 AKs seem to be slightly more accurate than their 7.62 cousins, but they’re still 2-3 MOA rifles.
    • The 5.45 is incredibly cheap ($150 per 1080 rounds delivered) but few local stores carry it in quantity. If you go 5.45 like I did, buy in bulk from AIM Surplus Online, or at a gun show.
    • Get an AK with the Tapco G2 trigger group. This avoids the old painful ‘trigger slap’ from the violent reset of older semi-auto AK triggers. Almost all new AKs are built with the G2 trigger, but look for it if you’re considering a used gun.
    • Centerfire Systems has a mind-boggling selection of AKs and competitive prices as well.
    • if you get a straight-stocked Saiga you’re getting a good Russian-made rifle, but beware of high-capacity magazines until you make it 922(r) compliant.

    • • if you get a straight-stocked Saiga you’re getting a good Russian-made rifle, but beware of high-capacity magazines assault clips until you make it 922(r) compliant.

      Russian/import or not, be cognizant of any state laws that may apply as well, especially if you need an evil assault pistol-grip or assault folding stock, or assault flash suppressor, or an assault bayonet lug.

      • Good point. The thing to remember is that box-stock Saigas are just like any other small-capacity semi-auto, but things get legally complicated the moment you add a flash hider, pistol grip, folding stock, or normal-capacity magazine.

    • Actually, that’s a good follow-up question: what accuracy *should* one be able to expect out of an AK-47? I know they’re less accurate than an m16… but by what degree at what range?

      • this depends on weather or not its an import, or a new build, and who built it. Arsenal’s (newly built in Russia) ak47’s are WAY accurate, i know from experience.

  2. Excellent summary. I would also suggest perspective AK owners perform a little research into which magazines are excellent and which are acceptable only for range use. Decent primer here: http://www.m4carbine.net/showthread.php?t=40068

    High-level (half serious) summary: don’t rely on AK magazines made in a country which never manufactured the Kalashnikov.

  3. go with an Arsenal, none of the accuracy problems that surplus guns have, as these are new weapons that have the potential for 1-2 in groups at 100 yards, with 7.62×39.
    5.45 is an interesting, effective round, but it is a rare caliber to find in your average gun store, (if you are fine with buying ALL of your ammo online or at gun shows this is not a problem) where the ak47 round is almost universal available. the extra $ for an arsenal gun compared to a piece of crap century build is well worth it.

  4. Nick: it is my opinion that the problem with the Tantel barrels was not, as you suggest, that the bores were the wrong caliber. The problem was that they had the wrong twist rate. The 5.45 x 39 round is a long bullet with a penetrator core, and therefore requires a high twist rate (1:8 or tighter) in order to stabilize in flight.

    Also, Century Arms was replacing defective guns for a while, and then changed its policy and stopped. The last time I checked, it had some vaguely worded bulls**t “notice” on its site suggesting that the 5.45 x 39 round is supposed to keyhole as it travels through the air. Obviously, only a moron would believe that.

    Bottom line, Century Arms Int. is a crappy company that makes crappy builds. I own 5 of their builds and perhaps 40 or 50 of their bolt action imports, and about 10 of their pistol imports. Of the 5 builds, I needed to get smith work done on three of them. As long as they still to importing guns, they do fine.

      • Century doesn’t have a problem when it *imports* guns that are already built, like mil-surp bolt actions and Czech pistols. If you pick up a Mosin-Nagant, Mauser, Enfield, or other WWII-era bolt gun, chances are pretty good it was imported by Century. Joe collects these like a Russian diplomat collects parking tickets, and they’ve all been solid guns.

        OTOH, when Century assembles guns from US-made receivers and foreign parts kits, they have a long history of making absolute crap. Google the phrase “Century Drunken Monkeys” and prepare to sit down for a long read. Joe and I have made our last mistake buying a ‘Century build’ rifle.

  5. I bought a PSL / FPK last week (yea, probably not the best decision for a first AK) and I’ve had a few problems with failure to feed. I think it might simply be because my lovely milsurp 7.62x54R ammo occasionally has rims that are a tad too wide (I have issues with them in my Mosin Nagant 91/30 and M44 from time to time where it won’t feed due to the rim being too large). Are there any other things that I should look at other than just buying massively more expensive ammo or just deal with it since it doesn’t happen that often?

    • I’ve found that a significant majority of my feed issues were resolved by a clean, appropriately lubed, high quality magazine/follower/follower spring.

      I would start there and work upwards.

    • PSLs are marketed as ‘Dragunovs’ but they’re completely different. As Totenglocke writes, most of their feeding issues are caused by their magazines. PSL mags are pricey, but if you buy five or six of them you’ll probably end up with one or (maybe) two that feed properly. Re-sell the rest; they might work fine on somebody else’s rifle.

      • Do you know of a place that sells / makes NEW PSL / FPK magazines? All I can find is surplus / refurbed surplus magazines.

  6. For someone who’s only plans are doing target shooting (and the slim possibility of home defense), which would you recommend? An AK-47 / AKM variant in 7.62×39 or an AK-74 variant in 5.45×39? I know that there’s a difference in penetration power and price, but what about the actual guns themselves?

    Also, any word on when we’ll ever be able to get our hands on some of those new AK-1xx models?

  7. In my opinion the AK accuracy “issues” are over-hyped. A well-maintained and properly sighted AKM (yes, the yucky stamped variety that cause Arsenal owners to spit on you) is respectably accurate up through 200m. If the shooter does his/her part.

    I own one of the much maligned WASR10/63 Century imports. Yep… I had to re-pin the front sight post. Took all of ten minutes. So long as I keep it somewhat clean and supplied with decent mags, it doesn’t let me down. It’s light, accurate with irons, and a joy to shoot. Half the price of an Arsenal, and after firing several (Arsenals) I don’t feel I’m missing out.

    The trick is to put hands on when purchasing. Check the action, cant of the front post, mag wobble. There ARE bad ones out there, but those are easily avoided with a little inspection.

  8. Arsenal for 7.62×39.
    Arsenal, Krebs or Waffen Werks for 5.45×39.
    Arsenal or Norinco for 5.56×45.

    Magazines for 7.62×39- Steel (almost indestructible but very heavy, widely available and inexpensive), Russian bakelite (significantly lighter than steel, still very durable, rare and expensive), Bulgarian Circle 10 polymer (expensive, somewhat hard to find, over all the best 7.62x39mm magazine). US PALM AK30 (Suarez likes them, so they must be pretty good).

    Magazines for 5.45×39 – Bulgarian Circle 10/21/25, East German bakelite, Russian bakelite, Russian polymer.

    Magazines for 5.56x45mm – Bulgarian Circle 10, Noricon steel.

  9. Thanks for another great article, Nick, and for sharing your knowledge – great comments as well – another bookmarked and forwarded link.

    I’m concerned about the WASR after reading this page – any thoughts on this?

    Thanks again.

  10. No offense but I have a Norcinco SKS and MAK 90 and they’re both superb firearms. I ran the Mak 90 until you could have probably lit a cigarette gas block. I’m not saying you didn’t have bad experiences with either, but I hold both in much higher regard than many similar arms. Neither firearm has had a single issue since I’ve owned them.

    Personally I think even the WASRs can be good rifles as long as you quality check the gun before you buy it you won’t have many problems if any.

  11. If you’re willing to gamble on Century, they also offer a fixed stock AK-74 rifle from Bulgaria. Sure the stock may be hideous but she’s solid.

  12. No thanks. I’ll stick with my SCAR17S and Bushmaster AR15.

    I buy most of my ammo via the internet in bulk and thus far no problems.

    Bring on the zombies!

    “America was supposed to be the “land of liberties” not, as the lawyer lobby has propagated for decades, a “nation of laws” intended and used to take/steal the people’s money, property, liberties, freedom and future! How about we get back to that?” – self

  13. I was lucky enough to buy a Pre-Ban POLYTECH/AKS-7.62X39mm before “Hill Billy” Clinton passed his joke of a bill called the “Assualt Weapons Ban”. The fit and machining on this weapon is excellent! In the years I’ve owned it only had two stoppages due to missing primers in the ammo (WOLF). Many a woodchuck has passed thru the “Halls of Valhalla” due to the AK-47 cosmetologist’s free hair cut test. Long live the woodchucks!

  14. I recently research purchasing my first AK I decided to go with the Arsenal SLR-101-13 7.62-39 for a couple of reasons.One you don’t have issues reported about failure to feed.Two it may cost more but mine came with a life time warranty from the place where I purchased it . You can’t say that about CIA. Not that mine will need warranty work based on the reviews I’ve read.

  15. I do сonsider all of the ideas you haνe presented on yoսr ρost.
    They are reall сonvincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, thee posts are very quicҡ for novices.
    Could you please extend them a little from next time?
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  16. Legally converted, well properly reconfigured Saiga IZ 132 owner. Great 3 moa shooter, which is all it was ever supposed to do anyway. It is lighter than my old thumbstock Norinco Mak90, but the Pre ban Mak90 has less felt recoil.

    Both are tough as nails,and well machined with no stereotypical rough parts or bad shop monkey damage from the manufacturers( both Norinco and Izmash are govt contractor factories for China and Russia)

    As Norinco cannot be found on the market like in the past, I’d suggest buying Saiga carbines, then spending and hour or two being Patient and DIY reconfiguring the rifle to its true form as an AK( make sure all parts are 922r compliant, and add a bullet button if your state requires it)

    It is EASY to do for anyone who has ever used a hammer or drill( neatly finished mine in 45 mins). K-Var, Carolina Shooters, Mississippi Arms, and many offer legal after market parts and upgrades.

    It is cheaper to DIY than shell out $900 plus on a similar Arsenal, or pay over $1,000plus for a Krebs. You’ll soon see WHY the rifle of commie oppression and 3rd world revolution is STUPIDLY simple to work on. Did mine for $399 ( cost of saiga carbine at LGS) plus $200 in K-Var “conversion” upgrades…

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