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MilSurp: The SKS Carbine—What You Need To Know

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Although relatively short-lived, the SKS carbine is a popular and collectible milsurp firearm with numerous variations. Shown from top to bottom: Russian CK45g, Chinese Type 56 and Romanian M56.

Although a relatively short-lived design, the 7.62x39mm SKS carbine is a popular and collectible MilSurp firearm with numerous variations. Shown from top to bottom: Russian CK45g, Chinese Type 56 and Romanian M56 carbines.

To learn more, visit www.northcapepubs.com or email ncape@ix.netcom.com.

To purchase an SKS rifle on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=SKS%20rifle.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-31-31-pmEditor’s Note: This piece was written by Joe Poyer, coauthor of the book The SKS Carbine (CK45g). If you would like to explore the SKS carbine in greater detail, you can obtain a copy of the book from North Cape Publications, Inc., PO Box 1027 Tustin CA 92781. The price is $22.95 plus $5.75 postage. To obtain a 12% discount, use the code GANC when ordering.

The SKS Carbine has been called the Soviet Union’s M1 Carbine. Like the M1 Carbine, it was designed as a lightweight, semi-automatic rifle that was handier than the standard infantry rifle. The 7.62×39 mm cartridge of the SKS was less powerful when compared to that of the issue 7.62x54R mm rifle cartridge employed in rifles such as the M91/30 and the M44 Carbine, but it enabled the carbine to fire much faster than those bolt-action rifles and with far less recoil. Like the M1 Carbine, it was manufactured in a number of various factories. But there the similarities end.

Other variants include (from top to bottom) the rare Albanian Independence Carbine and the Yugoslav Model 1959/66 Carbine.

Other variants include (from top to bottom) the rare Albanian Independence Carbine and the Yugoslav Model 1959/66 Carbine.

The M1 Carbine, originally intended to replace the Model 1911A1 .45 pistol, went on to become a general issue shoulder arm during World War II and the Korean War. The SKS Carbine, first developed in the mid-1940s and officially issued to Soviet forces in the late 1940s, was almost instantly replaced by the AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle which began full production around 1950. Manufacture of the SKS in the Soviet Union ended in the mid-1950s and the SKS was relegated to para-military, police and ceremonial units.

The East German SKS carbine was never imported into the U.S. Note that the photo was taken surreptitiously as communist East Germany did not allow photographs of military, police and para-military personnel and installations.

The East German SKS carbine was never imported into the U.S.

With large stocks of the SKS in warehouses, the Soviets began offering the carbine and its design to Warsaw Pact members and to “friendly” nations around the world. A total of twenty-one countries adopted the SKS carbine on four continents.

The SKS is understood to have been manufactured in seven countries aligned at one point or another with the Soviet Union: 1) Albania, 2) the People’s Republic of China, 3) Democratic German Republic (East Germany), 4) North Korea, 5) North Vietnam, 6) Romania and 7) Yugoslavia. Because it was manufactured in over a dozen factories in eight different countries (counting Russia), there are certain differences besides markings in the way some parts were manufactured. The collector can use these markings and differences to determine the country of origin and decide if all the parts are original manufacture. The collector should also keep in mind that almost all SKS carbines are surplus military. (Figure 3)

The exception is the Chinese-manufactured M21 SKS Carbine which was produced for commercial sale abroad. These can be distinguished by their stamped sheet metal receivers and barrels that are pinned rather than screwed into the receiver.

Poland, although a member of the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, did not manufacture the SKS carbine domestically but issued Russian-based models for ceremonial purposes.

Poland did not manufacture the SKS carbine domestically, but did issue Russian-based models for ceremonial purposes.

It is relatively easy to determine the country of origin of an SKS carbine from markings on the receiver and bolt cover as shown in the accompanying chart. But it is very difficult to determine if the individual parts—which are not serial numbered to the receiver—are original to that carbine.

While the SKS Carbine has eighty-five parts, only seven—or eight, depending on the manufacturer—are serial numbered. Most of the parts will interchange with minor fitting. But those parts that do not interchange can pose problems if you are trying to repair or refurbish an SKS with parts from the surplus market.

The most common part of the SKS Carbine needing repair or replacement is the bolt. Fortunately, tolerances are a bit loose by Western-manufacturing standards, but great caution must be observed in changing or replacing them. NOTE: It is always wise to check the head space on any surplus military firearm before shooting it or following repairs or the exchange of a bolt. Even if you do not intend to shoot it, someone else might. The proper SKS headspace according to SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute) is 1.8743 + .0005. The case headspaces on the shoulder.

The SKS Carbine fires 7.62x39mm ammunition that can be fed by stripper clips.

The SKS Carbine fires 7.62x39mm ammunition that can be fed by stripper clips.

The forearm and handguard for the Albanian Independence Carbine are longer that the standard SKS Carbine fore end and handguard.

The forearm and handguard for the Albanian Independence Carbine (below) are longer that the standard SKS Carbine fore end and handguard.

A good example for the need of caution when swapping parts is the firing pin: Six different types of firing pins were manufactured. One type of firing pin, the Type 4 used the in Romanian SKS, can be installed in most SKS carbines, but it can be inserted upside down by mistake. It will then jam in the forward position and can cause a dangerous slam fire. Some firing pins made in Russia (Type 1) used a spring to withdraw/retract it. These springs were usually discarded from Russian SKS carbines when they were sold on the international market. If you have a Russian SKS with a firing pin spring, your carbine is worth a premium. The Type 6 firing pin can only be used safely in Chinese-manufactured SKS carbines with sheet metal receivers. They cannot be used in any other SKS carbine.

Mao Zedong and Liu Shaqui examine an SKS Carbine taken from the factory assembly line.

Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi examine an SKS Carbine taken from the factory assembly line.

figure-4Three bolt types and two extractors were manufactured for the SKS. The parts are not always interchangeable without modification. (Figure 5) Because of a difference in design, a Type 2 bolt (the most common) cannot be used in a Type 1 bolt carrier, but a Type 1 bolt will work in a Type 2 bolt carrier. The Type 3 bolt cover manufactured in Albania has a solid bolt handle, similar to the AK-47. It can be hard to fit on non-Albanian carbines.

The trigger assembly of the SKS was specifically designed to be manufactured under wartime conditions with the least number of precision tools. Three types of trigger guards were manufactured: Most Type 1 and Type 2 will interchange with minor fitting, but the Type 3 trigger guard was designed for use with Chinese-manufactured sheet metal receivers sold commercially and will not interchange.

Most stocks will interchange on all other SKS Carbines, except for the Albanian. The factory for the Albanian SKS carbines was built by the Chinese, but the Albanians decided to diverge from the basic design and lengthen the forend (among other differences). An Albanian stock will not fit on any other SKS.

Bayonets are a tricky proposition. Two types were used and all were attached to the barrel and folded back into the forearm. The blade bayonet was the original and used on most European-manufactured carbines and early Chinese-manufacture SKS carbines to 1965. The cruciform, or spike, bayonet was used on all succeeding Chinese and all Albanian-manufactured SKS carbines. The standard blade bayonet is 11.4 inches long, while the two Yugoslav bayonet variations are 9.4 inches and 11.3 inches long and are not interchangeable with other SKS carbines.

If you would like to explore the SKS Carbine in greater detail, obtain a copy of The SKS Carbine (CK45g) from North Cape Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 1027, Tustin, CA 92781. The price is $22.95 plus $5.75 postage. To obtain a 12% discount, use the code GANC when ordering. Models and parts are described by country of manufacture. Serial numbers deciphering is included for many models and Chinese factory symbols are illustrated.

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-2-31-31-pmTo learn more, visit www.northcapepubs.com or email ncape@ix.netcom.com.

To purchase an SKS rifle on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=SKS%20rifle.

{ 17 comments… add one }
  • mrpski September 26, 2016, 3:36 pm

    Despite any so called “flaws” a weapon might have, some of them are just worth more than the sum of their parts to a collector who appreciates them. The SKS is one of those weapons. Like certain Mosins, they are just interesting a beautiful pieces of Soviet firearm history.

  • Mike Watkins September 26, 2016, 2:42 pm

    Love the SKS! A Chinese was the first milsurp rifle I ever owned. Now I own several Chinese variations, several Russian, one each Romanian, Albanian, Yugoslavian. (The North Korean and North Vietnamese are priced beyond my means).

    Not shooters? Surely one commenter jests! Aside from that sear problem after thousands of rounds, almost nothing on an SKS ever breaks.

    And, funny response, Ivan. All mine are as they came from the factory except a Chinese I put a red fiberglass “jungle stock” and a star-stamped 20 round mag on–not intended to detach, loads from the top with stripper clips like any proper SKS.

  • Ben September 26, 2016, 11:57 am

    Worked on SKSs 27 years now. Only bolts we ever replaced were due to loss, or one that had a crack across the face. Must wholeheartedly disagree with authors and suggest that firing pin is most often the part that is damaged and needs replacement. The bolt body is made from some of the toughest material we’ve ever seen, (would like to know what steel it is) as we machine them with carbide tooling almost weekly. Besides that, a complete bolt can nowadays easily set you back $100-$150. Sure…we have a dog in the hunt, but incorrect information is incorrect information.

  • BR549 September 26, 2016, 10:43 am

    The SKS was, well, a cheap carbine ……. that also had a number of design flaws. It was never really designed to have a scope mounted onto it, but that aside, it still amazes me how accurate my Yugo is at 300 yds. on iron sights.

    The real issue is with the seer and its tendency to promote a slam-fire. I only had it happen once, but it had me reshape the seer from a negative slope to a positive slope. Having done that, and then polishing and hardening it, it no longer has the inherent problem of having to rely on the friction of roughly machined surfaces to keep from firing. Instead of creeping its way toward an unintended discharge, it now stays squarely in place while the polished surface removes that long scratchy trigger pull that the used Yugo and my new Norinko both had until I corrected them.

    For another mod, I got rid of the synthetic aftermarket stock I had bought (it never felt right, anyway) and went back to the wooden stock; the difference being the addition of an AK47 pistol grip attached to the resculpted stock at the “wrist”. I was able to secure it with a 1/4″ SS pan head phillips machine screw that tightened against a T-nut inverted with the flat sitting under the back end of the receiver frame. That last mod turned this into my absolute favorite piece. I have also mounted a Streamlight laser and light into the biscuited and leveled recess of the old bayonet well. Those were not easy mods. They were all unique to each weapon. Who knows, maybe someone will someday be able to standardize that process.
    As far as the more standard changes, I adapted both pieces to accept the Magpul 20 round mags. The 30 round mags are not like the 30 rounders for an AR, but too bulky and awkward. Also, you can’t effectively top-load a 30 rounder to its full capacity, where you can with a little practice on the 20 rounder. And I seem to recall some issues with the 30 rd putting the rear of the weapon a bit high for use on a bipod.
    And yes, I did have to get enough 922r compliant parts. Too bad I can’t post a photo here.

    • Ivan Chesnikov September 26, 2016, 12:57 pm

      WHAT IN FUCK IS DONE TO THIS POOR RIFLE? STUPID HICK AMERICAN WITH TEN GALLON HAT AND GIANT PICKUP TRUCK LOOKS AT PERFECTLY FINE SIMONOV KARBIN AND SAYS “NO, RIFLE NEED MORE DUMB SHIT ON IT”?

      WHAT IS REASON FOR PISTOL GRIP? IF YOU NEED TO FIRE FROM HIP IN EMERGENCY, NOW HAND IS TWISTED INTO PAINFUL ANGLE AND YOU MISS EVERY ENEMY! LOOK AT WRONG ANGLE OF BAYONET! LOOK AT CHEAP PLASTIC MAGAZINE THAT FEEDS CARTRIDGE LIKE CONSTANTLY JAMMING PEZ CANDY BOX! WHERE DID CLEANING STICK GO?

      I HEAR OF 922 LAW IN AMERICA. ADDING PISTOL GRIP TO WEAPON MEANS YOU CHANGE OTHER PARTS. WHAT ELSE YOU FUCK? YOU PUT NEW BOLT EDIFICE? HOW ABOUT BAD FIT RECEIVER COVER FOR CHEAP SCOPE TO SHOW OFF AT HICK PARTY AND NEVER HIT LARGEST SIDE OF BARN?

      SURE, IS ONLY YUGOSLAV COPY TYPE BUT IS STILL PROUD DESIGN OF SERGEI SIMONOV. THIS IS LIKE SENDING HIM BIRTHDAY CARD WITH SEVERED OFF THUMB OF DAUGHTER IN ENVELOPE. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY SERGEI! I PISS ON ALL YOU CREATE!” LARGE MOUND FORMS OVER SIMONOV’S GRAVE BY CONSTANT TUMBLING OF HIS ANGRY CORPSE. IS FAULT OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU.

      RIFLE WAS FINE BEFORE YOU FUCK IT. NOW IS TRASH. MAYBE YOU CHECK IN GARAGE AND ORIGINAL BOLT EDIFICE AND WOOD ARE STILL THERE. MAYBE IS NOT TOO LATE TO KEEP RIFLE SOMETHING NOT SHAMEFUL TO TAKE TO FIRING RANGE. TAKE SHIT OF GOAT AWAY AND COULD STILL BE GOOD WEAPON.

      • Matt September 26, 2016, 8:30 pm

        This is the best comment I’ve ever seen posted here. They should just close the site down, nothing will ever be as grand as this. Have a good day Comrade.

        • Ivan Chesnikov September 26, 2016, 9:54 pm

          http://www.m1-garand-rifle.com/ivan-chesnokov.php

          I merely pasted one of the original “Ivan” comic rants… There are more where that came from, enjoy! And perhaps be uncomfortably aware, he may be accurate about the impracticality of a good deal found in the present USA pop gun culture.

      • Eric October 10, 2016, 4:26 pm

        This is what happens when you put too much vodka in your Red Bull.

    • Big Jim September 27, 2016, 12:24 pm

      I would disagree as to BR549’s first statement about the SKS’ awkward incompatibility with a scope as being a design flaw. A scope simply was not a design consideration. This lack of a design consideration is no more a flaw than the lack of wheels or tacos – it is not a flaw, it just is not what it does. Putting a scope on an SKS is like putting a square peg into a round hole – it is quite doable with some modification but will take more work than the end result would justify.

  • Andrew September 26, 2016, 8:56 am

    I owned several over the years, but sold my last one a few years ago.
    It is a neat platform, but the lack of spare parts kind of killed it for me.
    Sure, it was neat back in ’01 to be able to find a Yugoslavian 59/66 for $109, but now the SKS is a Collector’s Item, not a shooter.
    The days of “cheap milsurps” is coming to a close.
    After all…it seems the world isn’t making obsolete arms on an industrial scale to sell for pennies several decades ago.
    So, the massive piles of SKS, Mosin Nagant, Enfield, and Mauser Rifles are dwindling and prices react accordingly.

  • Alford Adams September 26, 2016, 7:57 am

    I’v got SKS 7.62×39 I love my rife.

  • Bill September 26, 2016, 7:52 am

    I know the SKS is often compared to the US M-1 carbine, but I have always felt the SKS was more like what the M-1 Garand would have become in a version 2, redesigned to take a smaller cartridge.

    • GearheadTony September 26, 2016, 10:00 am

      Actually the M14 is a downsized Garand, and the Ruger Mini 14 is a downsized M14.

      • William Clardy September 26, 2016, 12:42 pm

        Actually, the only aspect of the M14 which was reduced in size compared to the M1 was the cartridge. All the other changes — the gas system, the detachable magazine, the selective-fire capability, et seq — were “product improvements” for a full-size, full-power rifle.

  • joe September 26, 2016, 5:24 am

    I would throw rocks at most AK’s given the choice of owning one over a SKS.
    I love my SKS and put a Monti Carlo folding stock on it along with a Magazine conversion over the clip system. .

  • Mick September 23, 2016, 5:54 pm

    Love my Russki SKS ! 🙂

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