Modernizing the AK with the SLR Rifleworks ION MLOK Hand-Guard

Modernizing the AK Platform

Accessorizing your AK pattern rifle can be as problematic as being a firearms journalist working at Facebook. This is because AK-pattern rifles have a noticeable lack of standardization….what works in a Serbian AK likely won’t work in a Romanian, Chinese, or Russian manufactured rifle. It gets even stranger when you get into specific make and models. Numerous AK enthusiasts have spent hundreds of dollars in trial-and-error to find something that works with their specific set-up.

I own several AK’s and the new Zastava M70 ZPAP is my favorite but I wanted to modernize the hand-guard to accommodate an angled vertical grip and provide some more rail space for mounting a flamethrower….or at least a 1,000-lumen weapon-light (can I live?).

Finding compatible accessories was incredibly difficult. Midwest Industries offers a compatible MLOK hand-guard but it’s never in stock. Fit and finish had some questionable reviews, some users stating that they had to Dremel their rifle sling down to fit the Midwest Industries hand-guard. This is a common approach to modifying the AK platform and one I specifically wanted to avoid. Just as I was ready to give up on my quest, a certain subreddit pointed me to SLR Rifleworks.

I purchased the SLR Rifleworks’ ION 11.5″ Lite MLOK – M70 for $195. I also opted to buy the matching railed gas tube as well putting me at $295 for this set-up. Buy once, cry once. Especially considering I wanted to avoid potentially spending even more finding a compatible hand-guard for the Zastava.

Installation

Well GunsAmerica, I’m happy to report that the SLR Rifleworks ION hand-guard is a true drop-in solution for upgrading arguably the most popular rifle of 2020. It’s so easy, even a Gun-Grabber could do it.

Out of the box, the ION hand-guard comes with:

  • The 11.5″ lower hand-guard made from 7075 Aircraft-grade aluminum
  • Railed Gas tube (additional $99), you can still use the factory gas tube instead
  • 2 hex-screws for marrying these two pieces together

I unboxed the parts, field stripped the Zastava and within 5 minutes I had a modern AK pattern rifle.

Intended Purpose

Now, I’m sure someone is going to comment “Wood furniture or GFY” so let me address that first: I have an AK with wood furniture. I want to eventually mount my Thermal Scope to this Zastava and use it on some hog hunts. Wood furniture is pretty to look at sure but it’s not the most modular or even ergonomic option so here we are.

Performance

AKs are notorious for heating up fast. I’ve personally burnt myself on hot barrels on several occasions. I was specifically interested in how the SLR Rifleworks ION hand-guard handled heat dissipation. Admittedly, I tested the ION in the midst of a Texas snowstorm so I had the below-freezing ambient temperature working in my favor. However, after doing 3 consecutive 30 round mag-dumps, the ION hand-guard was still comfortable to the touch.

The SLR Rifleworks ION hand-guard in Action

While I’m sure the ION will get hot faster in 110 degree Texas summers, keep in mind my intended purpose is using this as a hog rifle. I won’t be dropping 90 rounds into a sounder in 30 seconds even if I wanted to. The heat dissipation was a noticeable improvement even over the factory polymer hand-guard that came with the Zastava.

Keep in mind, this is 2021, and ammo availability and prices have gotten worse. 7.62×39 is going for about .50 cents per round now. Those mag-dumps were painful but consider a gesture of love from me to GunsAmerica readers.

The ION Hand-Guard also has 2 Integral QD mounts.

All in all, I burned through close to 200 rounds testing this hand-guard and I can confidently say, if you’re looking for an easy solution to modernizing your Zastava, look no further. I’ve already recommended this hand-guard to 3 of my friends who are looking for something similar.

Shooting from a Soviet-era Lawn Chair for the Kulture.

Criticisms

Now not every review can be perfect. While the hand-guard truly is a drop-in solution and the ION hand-guard is close to perfect, I’m an elder millennial so of course, I’ve got some complaints.

First, the ION hand-guard is a little heavy. This should be expected. You’re adding an 11.5″ chunk of metal to an already heavy rifle. This doesn’t bother me all that much because I used to hunt with an AR-10 but I know this is a big deal for a lot of people so it’s worth calling out.

Gas fouling escaping the railed gas tube.

Secondly, the railed gas tube isn’t as tight as Zastava’s factory gas tube. This results in gases escaping the gas tube rail and getting on your hands. Again, this isn’t a big deal to me but it’s something worth calling out. Easy fix: don’t put your fingers in your mouth while shooting.

I’m incredibly happy with the ION hand-guard from SLR. It does what I need it to do, the installation was a cakewalk and it opens up a lot of modularity for Zastava m70 ZPAP owners. My two criticisms are pretty minor and I wholeheartedly recommend SLR Rifleworks. I’ll be looking at a few of their other hand-guards for future projects.

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About the author: CitizenHush is the Bob Ross of 2A Twitter. A Virginian by birth but Texan by the Grace of God, Mr. Hush enjoys firearms and firearm technology.Dislikes include: Strong opinions on Cast Iron skillets, politicians, and Brass Goblins. When he’s not blasting feral hogs in Central Texas, you can find him either on the range or living his best life as a suburban ranch hand.

{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Todd March 23, 2021, 6:52 pm

    Gas tube is a free float type along with handguard.

    A tight fit will defeat that purpose.

    Gas tube is vented on bottom that’s where most of it comes out. Less gas into the action.

    The tube is nothing but a guide on an AK. Your AK will function fine without a gas tube.

    The bolt is unlocked by the time the piston leaves the gas block.

    Chamber pressure pushing the case rearward completes the action cycle.

    • CitizenHush March 25, 2021, 12:13 am

      Thanks Todd! Today I learned something!

  • Scott March 22, 2021, 10:09 pm

    Is the gas tube discrepancy fixable? If so, how?

    • CitizenHush March 23, 2021, 4:37 pm

      Which discrepancy? The leakied fouling? I imagine i could get a simple o-ring seal but tbh it doesn’t bother me that much

  • Randy March 22, 2021, 5:28 pm

    You say that your gas tube leaks because it’s not as tight as the original. Well may I suggest a trip to your local auto parts store and ask if you can take a look at their o-ring assortment box and find one with the same id but larger od. It also might be best if you see if they have the green or blue A.C. O-rings since they are more heat and chemical resistant. Just a thought.

    • CitizenHush March 23, 2021, 4:37 pm

      Yeah that’s what i figured folks could do if it was a deal breaker but tbh it’s not a big deal to me.

  • Jake March 22, 2021, 11:51 am

    Nice looking rail. I have installed the Midwest Industries quad rail on two stamped Norincos. No modifications required. Can’t say how that piece would work on anything else. They solved the heat issue which is real for those who haven’t run 150 rounds through an AKM. The Midwest won’t cook an optic which has been a concern of mine with the various brands of railed gas tubes, whether that can happen or not.
    It really is too bad that there is not more standardization. When you try to install an adjustable stock it is a real mess and often the one that might work is out of stock. The VLTOR tube works well with stamped Norincos if you can find one. Even with hundreds of thousands or more Norincos in the US, Magpul’s Zhukov stock does not fit it which is too bad as it is pretty slick.
    Always remember, file or grind the aftermarket parts, not the rifle.
    If anyone has any idea or info, I am looking for a way to install a Magpul UBR on a milled MAK 90.

    • CitizenHush March 23, 2021, 2:50 am

      Thank you! I actually have an extra SKS laying around i’ve been looking at doing something similar with. Ill take a look at the VLTOR

      • Jake March 25, 2021, 12:54 pm

        I know the VLTOR fits most stamped AK’s but I have no idea about an SKS. Good luck!

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