Buying an AK style rifle or pistol isn’t like buying any other gun. There are things you have to watch out for–things you need to know before you walk into a gun shop and pick out your next gun. Being aware of things like production defects, improper assembly, or inferior parts all make picking the right firearm a complicated process. And yes, despite the rumors to the contrary, you can take the faithful Kalashnikov design and make it into a real lemon. If you take the time to inspect for the following problems, you can almost guarantee yourself a rifle that will outperform and outlive you.
How do they get screwed up?
How AKs are made is pretty much common knowledge, at least for those members of the choir I’m preaching to now. But it is worth considering again. Most all imported AK pattern guns are built overseas. They’re built like tactical rifles. But our import restrictions prevent us from importing them in that configuration, so the guns get “sporterized,” which means they’re rearranged so they look more like hunting guns. The scary parts (like pistol grips) are taken off. This is how many of them enter the country. It is such a popular method, in fact, that some of the bigger manufacturers (one’s who cater to the American market) began making brand new rifles and shotguns in the sporterized configuration.
As you might imagine, someone has to put them back into their tactical configuration. That happens stateside, with American made scary parts. The rule governing this is referred to as 922(r), and is the topic for another post. Just know that many AKs on the market–brand new guns–were built, taken apart, rebuilt. If they’re used, they may have had even more hands involved in aftermarket customization. The potential for error goes up exponentially.
Guns that come in as parts kits pose even more problems. Some of those are decommissioned service rifles that have been ragged out, sold as scrap, broken down, put back together…. You see where I’m going, right?
Buy an AK on GunsAmerica: /AK
1. Canted sights
Canted sights on an AK style rifle or pistol can be a huge red flag that the weapon is going to be more of a headache than it’s worth. The easiest way to tell if the sights are canted is to simply look down them. Find a solid background, aim at the corner of a wall or find a straight line on the wall and see if you notice any cant or bend to the sight picture. If you do, it’s normally easier to just avoid this gun.
If you are presented with limited options and they all have canted sights (or somewhat canted sights) turn the gun around. Be safe, and quadruple check everything. Look down the barrel of the gun and see if the sights are slightly canted or if the trunion itself is canted. If the front sight is slightly out of line, it can be fixed or adjusted to compensate. If the trunion is canted then you’re better off walking away.
2. Rough action
The AK’s action is the next thing you should check out before considering the gun good to go. Pull back the bolt. The action should not hang up at any point. Resistance is normal, but if the bolt gets locked up at any point, consider that gun done. It’s normal for these weapons to have a bump in the action as the bolt moves off of the apex of the hammer and onto the second leg.This is entirely a feeling judgement. You have to feel multiple actions to get a good gauge.
If the bolt manipulates freely, check to see how smooth it rides on the frame rails. Bring the bolt all the way to the back of the receiver and slide it forward slowly. Feel for burrs, gouges, or excessive grit. If the bolt doesn’t hang up, or feel like it’s riding on sandstone the AK should be good to go.
The next thing check is hammer wear. Work the action a handful of times then remove the top cover. Inspect the top face of the hammer and make sure the hammer isn’t wearing unevenly. Ideally you want a smooth wear mark down the center of the hammers face. If you don’t notice anything too abnormal then its safe to say the action is good to go.
3. Magazine fit
Magazines should fit in to the rifle with out extra force; yes there is variance in AK magazines form country to country. However the tolerances of the magazine well on the AK type rifle should allow for easy insertion of all magazines. If you cant easily fit a magazine into the gun, it’s a clear sign that the magazine well is cut just a bit shy of spec.
A good way to check for this is to bring a few unloaded magazines to the shop and (with permission) insert them all in your gun of choice. Check fitment and make sure you can fit most, if not all of your magazines in the gun. While its important to make sure the magazines fit easily into the gun, it is also important to make sure that they aren’t too loose. They should have a little wiggle room, while not rattling in the receiver. Don’t over analyze this step though. If they fit in the gun and don’t rattle, the gun should be good to go.
4. Safety and trigger movement
The last and least critical thing to check when buying an AK pattern rifle is the ease of use. Make sure to check that the safety lever moves freely and locks into its groves in the frame. Make sure that the trigger breaks somewhat clean, and resets strong. If it has a folding stock, make sure it locks up tight and is easy to fold.
If you run across any faults look deeper into the faults and figure out if the issues are deal breakers. Generally these guns are stiff and a bit on the rough side. If you find any issues in the manipulation of its controls, make sure you figure out if it’s a defect or if the gun is just in need of breaking in.
5. Get a guarantee!
I’d say buy American, but your options are limited. We know and trust the Century AK builds.
Read our review of the RAS47/blog/the-new-american-made-ak-the-ras47/
Read our review of the C39/blog/century-international-arms-c39/
If not, look for a company willing to stand behind its product. Know your supply chain. Who built the gun? Who imported it? Who rebuilt it? Who distributed it? Who sold it? If you can answer those questions, than there’s accountability.
Kalashnikov USA is getting into the American made game, too: /blog/kalashnikov-usas-new-american-weapons-now-available/
And if you have bought an AK with some issues, don’t let it get you down. It is an AK, after-all, and problems are meant to be solved. You’ll learn more about your rifle fixing it yourself than you will sending it back for repairs. These are rugged dependable guns that, when built correctly, will last you a lifetime. But before you make that purchase make sure you look a little closer and check that the rifle you are buying is up to the task!