5 Problems to Look for When You Buy an AK

Keep this image in mind. While this pile may not be destined for domestic sales, I wouldn't be surprised to find that some of these ended up as parts kits.

Keep this image in mind. While this pile may not be destined for domestic sales, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that some of these ended up as parts kits.

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.

A Saiga in importable, sporterized configuration.

A Saiga in importable, 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.

A canted front sight will make accuracy hard to achieve.

A canted front sight will make accuracy hard to achieve.

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.

Look at wear patterns on moving parts. Are they where they should be, like down the center of the hammer?

Look at wear patterns on moving parts. Are they where they should be, like down the center of the hammer?

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.

How mags fit will ultimately determine the reliabilty of the gun. Since you hardly ever get to test them on the range, be sure to dry-fit mags before buying.

How mags fit will ultimately determine the reliability of the gun. Since you hardly ever get to test them on the range, be sure to dry-fit mags before buying.

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.

Check inside the gun and see if it has been modified. Sometimes you might find a gem, like this Tac-Con Raptor.

Check inside the gun and see if it has been modified. Sometimes you might find a gem, like this Tac-Con Raptor.

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/

We're fans of the new builds coming out of Century, like this RAS-47.

We’re fans of the new builds coming out of Century, like this RAS-47.

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/

We've got these coming in, so we'll weigh in on what we find soon, but we like what we see so far.

We’ve got these coming in, so we’ll weigh in on what we find soon, but we like what we see so far.

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!

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Jimmy Jack November 12, 2018, 12:39 am

    I have around 20 years experience with AK rifles, not an expert though. The general rule of thumb is to stay away from American made AK rifles. I really wish we had a reliable American made option……but there isnt one yet. The problem with American AK rifles comes from poor materials or bad assembly practices.

    Arsenal has the ability to make a great ak……but they have let some real junk creep out of their doors . On top of that, they make the buyer pay the shipping to get thier stuff back to them to fix….which is BS. Make sure you look them over well before you lay out the cash.

    VEPRs, Saigas are good usually, if you can find them and afford them.

    MAK90s are fine rifles and are still within the realm of affordability. Just make sure bubba didnt get a’holt of it. Find the parts and a good ak smith that can deban it for you.

    Another option is to buy a kit, barrel, and receiver then have a competent smith put it together for you. Assembly prices are normally around $300.

  • kennyB December 11, 2016, 12:29 am

    Can you buy a slide fire for a Century Arms c39 pistol , I was told by a dealer you could not put a slide fire on the c39 pistol

  • Dan Dunn October 21, 2016, 10:10 pm

    If I am not mistaken , I am hearing that Century Arms 100% American Mfg . Ak’s ( RAS47 and C39V2 ) guns are great
    quality AK’s …. I beg to differ with that fantasy .
    These guns are still manufactured with cast steel bolts /carriers etc. – Stress cracks between the bolt body and locking lug of
    the bolt now showing up ( accidents waiting to happen ) .
    Although these are beautifully made guns , Century arms needs to break down and switch over to a forged action group .
    Someone , sometime , is going to get hurt !

  • JLA August 4, 2015, 6:20 am

    I have a WASR-10 that I got a little over a decade ago, long before I knew much at all about AK’s. At the time I really wanted an AR, but I didn’t have the money, and the AK was much cheaper. It has a rough action, an optics rail that is way out of spec and a mag catch that doesn’t like polymer magazines, at least those from Tapco anyway. (I haven’t tried it with P-Mags yet.) I’m pretty sure it came into the country as a single-stack gun and was converted to take regular AK steel magazines, with which it runs perfectly. I have several thousand rounds through it, and it has proven to be both completely reliable and accurate enough to get by with out to around 300 yards or so, by which the round is out of gas anyway. I’ve upgraded it with a buttstock and a railed forend & hand guard from CAA and a really comfortable Hogue overmolded pistol grip. For optics it has a Burris Fast Fire III on a Midwest Industries Mini Dot Mount/rear sight. The only internal change that I had to make immediately was installing a Tapco trigger. The trigger slap was so bad on the original that it was seriously painful to shoot. On my first trip to the range with it I made it through about half a magazine before I cried ‘uncle’ and put it away! Since then I’ve also added a Tapco gas piston & muzzle break (to make the asinine 922r requirements) along with a recoil buffer from Buffer Technologies. The next upgrade I’m looking to make is a left side charging handle of some type. (I’m NOT a big fan of having to reach under the gun to work the bolt!)

    I’ve been looking real hard at those new, 100% made in the USA rifles from Century Arms, especially since they now offer one with a stamped steel receiver. I also like all those new Mag-pul furniture upgrades as well, and the new Sabrewerkes Kalashnikov Optic Platform is, IMHO, easily the best optics mount available for the AK platform. (You will need a gunsmith to install it though.) The lasted Slide Fire stock for the AK is also really, really sweet! Overall I’m still an AR guy, but I definitely like AK’s too!!!

  • D.T. August 3, 2015, 6:55 pm

    I.O. Inc. had some major issues but they moved to Florida a while back and apparently resolved many of the issues. Yugo makes some heavy but well made AKs. The newer WASR’s are very nice. And while most AKs are kind of rough around the edges, they typically work even when dirty and with cheap steal ammo. Try running that stuff through a Ruger Mini 14 or 30. It doesn’t work very well.

  • thomas August 3, 2015, 6:52 pm

    I have 2 Molot Veprs 1 carbine 1 rifle imported by Robinson Arms. Both are milled receivers nothing has been done to either one wouldn’t trade either one for love or money. I’ve had many others Norinco, Poly Tech, Romanian, etc. all gone except the Veprs.

  • Parks Gray August 3, 2015, 2:40 pm

    Picked up a WASR 10/63 about a year ago. People can say what they want about them,I’ve put about 800 rounds through mine. Still works perfect. Gave 400.00 brand new for it, shoots straight and never had a problem with it. I have done a few mods. to it. I love it wouldn’t take 700.00 for it now, great shooter.

  • Capn Stefano August 3, 2015, 11:01 am

    Beware Waffenwerks.. mine was fine at first but at the 500 rd mark started having ejection issues, and by 800 rds is a virtual single shot that won’t even hand eject an unfired, chambered round. Naturally the warranty was up when these troubles started…

    • John Shenangis August 24, 2015, 9:00 pm

      Agree on WaftenWerks — should be avoided at all costs. Some are fine but too many lemons.

      The author lost me at: “We know and trust the Century AK builds.” Barf. C39 and RAS47… yeah no thanks.

  • Steve Warren August 3, 2015, 9:28 am

    Fixing up an AK-47 is like putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.

    • Gary Gorsich August 3, 2015, 10:55 am

      Regarding The Pig:
      I prefer mine au natural, with sauce on the side.

    • D.T. August 3, 2015, 6:49 pm

      Pigs do not like AK’s because they hurt.

    • JLA August 4, 2015, 6:22 am

      Well just remember that, while pigs may be ugly, they are also smart, tough and dangerous!

  • Joe August 3, 2015, 7:57 am

    First I bought a Chinese SKS back in the day when Clinton was getting ready to ban the import of them. It was a good shooter and I still own it though it now uses a MAG instead of those stripper clips and has a folding stock too. ( I tend to treat a good shooter well)
    Then I bought one of those NORINCO AK 47 platform imports…Did I mention how well my SKS that I still own shoots.
    No more AK platform guns in my safe.

  • Benjamin Vander Jagt August 3, 2015, 7:29 am

    I wish I’d done even more research before starting my search for an AK. My first was a Maadi, mid-ban. I knew Maadi was good quality. Three features I wanted in an AK were Picatinny rail, folding telescoping stock, and good muzzle brake…unfortunately I picked one of the very few AK’s that couldn’t take ANY of those without a heavy amount of cutting!

    I decided to sell it and go American with a lifetime warranty…again, I wish I’d done my research. I would have bought a C39. Instead, I got a death-trap I.O. My very long string of troubles with it is not unlike many other poor buyers have experienced. Now I have an un-sellable unsafe AK with a “lifetime warranty”. (I guess the “lifetime warranty” is the reason the gun tries to kill its owner.)

    I give up. I’m going back to SKS. Maybe I’ll dip my toes into AK again after I save up more money.

    Thanks for the article! I’m really enjoying all of the gunsamerica.com articles I’m reading!

  • David Reiss August 3, 2015, 3:43 am

    First of all there is no way to determine if a line on a wall, corner or doorway is straight or 90 degrees to the floor. Almost any body that has done carpentry or home repair knows this, so it is no way to check the cant of the sights. If you’re in a store or at a gunshow and have nothing with you to check the sight alignment, you are just going to trust your eyesight. Second, “fitment”? Where do guys find these guys to write these stories? Hey Epstein, check the dictionary for the definition before you use big grown-up words. Everyone who reads these stories is not as dumb as the guys who write them. But this comment will probably not be posted because they don’t criticism very well on GunsAmerica.

    • george nader August 3, 2015, 2:04 pm

      Epstein??? WTF??
      Wasn’t he on Welcome Back Kotter???????
      Maybe you need the dictionary

      • David Reiss August 4, 2015, 3:39 am

        Jacob Epstein was the author, or did you not read that far past the title. WTF!

    • D.T. August 3, 2015, 6:44 pm

      The original use of the word meant “furnishings” however people use others words when discussing firearms that weren’t their original meaning. For example, “I put 50 rounds down the pipe”. Obviously, the barrel isn’t a pipe. Or, some refer to the stock and/or foregrip as furniture.
      I understood what was meant by fitment. And some expanded dictionaries use it that way as well!
      Did you notice that they did print your criticism, including the error, “will probably not be posted because they don’t (missing word) criticism very well”. -:) Relax. Enjoy the gun talk. Life is good.

      • David Reiss August 4, 2015, 6:02 pm

        Hey D.T.,

        I am very relaxed, but thanks for the concern. The use of the word “fitment” is improperly used in the statement the author made. Upon searching no less than 7 on-line dictionaries (including expanded ones) and 2 I have here at home, I could not a definition that supports it’s use in the article. Many authors will use improper words or slang terms, but will put them in quotation marks so that the reader knows that is his or her intention. However in the case one can tell that the use of fitment is just an indication in the education of the author. When authors use poor grammar and erroneous statements (using a line or corner of the wall to judge proper sight alignment), it is hard to believe any other statements are factual. Most grammar or spelling issues are caught and corrected by the edition of the publication, but in this case, based on this article and others I have read, that is not the case.

        In the previous edition of GunsAmerica News & Reviews, the moderator replied to a comment posted by telling its author to, “pull your head out of your ass”, as his response to the commenters review of the article. When I responded to the moderator’s comment, not using any profane or abusing language, it was not posted. That is typical of this poorly written and never edited online news and review site. This is why I made the comment about not getting my response posted.

        I find that about 2 of every 10 articles written are factual and correct and by looking at the comments by fellow posters, I think they are in agreement. I keep reading, hoping that it will get better and because it is free. Had these articles been written in a magazine I subscribe to, my subscription would be cancelled. It is sites just as this that give internet firearms news sources a bad rap as sites that publish articles that are not based on actual fact backed by research.

        So I will end by saying all is good with me and my life is good. So D.T. you need not worry about me. Your focus should be more on what is written on the internet and whether it is factual and correct.


  • Will Drider August 1, 2015, 2:36 am

    Is mag well cut equally into both sides (centered)? Dimples or plates stabalizing mag? Rivets installed correctly? Fitment of components?
    WILL MOVEMENT OF SAFETY LEVER (RAISED TO A POINT ABOVE THE EDGE OF THE DUST COVER) THAT HAMMER WILL RELEASE? This is a way to common problem/defect that WILL CAUSE A ROUND TO DISCHARGE!!!! This is because a full auto safety is installed instead of a semi auto safety. The dust cover “should” limit this movement. But you should know about it as these parts bend and dent.

    A side scope mount base is a plus.

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