October 21, 2021

Kitting Out The Kalashnikov – Part 3, by A.D.C.

(Continued from Part 2.)

Muzzle Devices

There are two sizes of muzzle threading commonly found on AKs. The older 14×1 left-hand thread (LH) is cut directly into the barrel, and the newer M24x1.5 is cut into an extension of the front sight assembly. Both sizes secure the muzzle device with a detent that protrudes from the front of the front sight tower. The older style is commonly associated with 7.62 rifles and the newer style is commonly associated with 5.45 rifles, but it is not unheard-of to find one paired with the other. When buying muzzle devices for an AK, it is critical to make sure you order the correct caliber (7.62 vs. 5.45 vs. 5.56), the correct thread size, and the correct thread direction (RH or LH).  Only a few American-made AK barrels have RH threads.

The Russians have long preferred muzzle brakes to flash hiders. The old-style threading is often seen with a diminutive slant brake, which is better than nothing. The newer style is often seen with a large multi-chamber brake. It is very effective and very, very loud. If you are anywhere close to the side of someone firing a rifle with one of these, you can feel the shockwave. They are widely blamed for high rates of hearing loss among Russian troops.

A wide variety of muzzle devices and adapters are available for both threading types from many reputable manufacturers. My WASR had the slant brake, and it was unremarkable. My Saiga is a special case: it is chambered in 5.56, so I had the muzzle cut with standard 1/2×28 AR-15 threads, and I run an YHM Phantom flash hider with no complaints.

A Word About Section 922(r)

Disclaimer 1 of 2: I am not a lawyer. The following is for information only, and should not be construed as legal advise.

Disclaimer 2 of 2: In my opinion, this law is an idiotic and unconstitutional insult to every American.

U.S. Code Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 44, Section 922 states that no “non-sporting” semiautomatic rifle or shotgun shall be assembled after enactment from more than ten imported parts. Since most AKs (and their parts) are imported, this is relevant to AK owners. What gets confusing is that not every part counts as a “part.” This compliance calculator is helpful.

For the handguard to count as a compliance part, both the top and bottom halves must be made in the U.S.

If you are running foreign magazines and need one more compliance part, magazine floorplates count as a part. Arsenal sells U.S.-made floorplates for their ((10)) polymer magazines and Csspecs sells U.S.-made floorplates for steel magazines. If you choose to use floorplate towards compliance, it would be prudent to replace the floorplates of ALL of your AK magazines.

Two Uncategorized Useless Products to Avoid

Safety levers with a large notch for holding the bolt open are a popular accessory. They are also a terrible idea. Despite the lore, a Kalashnikov WILL malfunction if filled with enough gunk, and the safety lever is designed to keep gunk out of the gaping hole in the side of the receiver when the rifle is not in active use. These notches will not automatically lock the bolt open after firing the last round: you have pull the charging handle back, and then carefully raise the safety lever and ease the charging handle into the notch. These are designed for use on ranges that require bolts to be open when going forward of the firing line. If your range requires this, just use an empty-chamber flag.

The Blackjack Buffer is a rubber pad that keeps the bolt carrier from hitting the rear of the receiver when the rifle cycles. The bolt carrier is supposed to make light contact with the rear of the receiver when cycling. If your rifle seems to be beating itself up excessively, it probably needs a new recoil spring. Besides being the wrong solution to a problem that has a very easy right solution, a buffer will also eventually break down into loose chunks that could jam your rifle.

Considerations for AKs in other Calibers

The 5.45x39mm round, and its AK-74M rifle, has largely replaced the 7.62x39mm round, and its AK-47 and AKM rifles, in Russian service. 5.45 rifles are a bit less common on the U.S. market than 7.62 rifles. Magazines are a bit more expensive and sometimes a bit more difficult to find. Ammunition is problematic, as will be discussed in the next section.

A rarer variant is an AK in 5.56 NATO, such as my own Saiga. 5.56 AKs have been manufactured by many nations, but unlike 7.62 or 5.45 AKs, 5.56 AKs of different national origins do not share a common specification for magazine dimensions. With filing, one nation’s magazines can sometimes be made to fit and function in another nation’s rifle. For example, my Russian Saiga takes Romanian magazines without modification, but requires filing the front top of Bulgarian and Polish magazines, and Israeli (Galil) and Serbian magazines do not work at all. Bulgarian magazines are generally available, Polish magazines less so, and East German magazines much less so. I have not seen a standard-capacity Romanian magazine for sale in several years. Considering this magazine situation and the current crop of excellent and affordable AR-15s, I cannot recommend any 5.56 AK (with the possible exception of the Galil, which is not a “true AK” and which will be discussed in a later section).

Several companies make adapters that will allow 5.56 AKs to use AR-15 magazines, but I have no experience with them. I also just don’t like the idea of AR magazines in an AK. It is undeniable that, from a reliability standpoint, the magazine is the weak link in the AR-15 design. The original aluminum USGI magazines were built like beer cans because they were meant to be used like beer cans: cycled once, dropped, and never seen again. (Of course, they have never actually been used this way.) Fifty years of refinement has made the situation much better, but the AK magazine has never needed such improvement.

Ammunition Selection

Tunnel Rabbit recently contributed a fantastic article in SurvivalBlog on 7.62x39mm ammunition selection.

Surplus 5.45x39mm ammunition was once imported in great quantities. So great, in fact, that several companies offered AR-15 uppers and magazines in 5.45. The military 7N6 loading (which is corrosive) has a reputation for inflicting horrific wounds thanks to a steel penetrator at the tip of the bullet, which shifts the center of gravity rearward and makes the bullet yaw and tumble aggressively in flesh. (This is the same principle behind the wounding capability of 5.56 Mk 262 loads, as well as the much older .303 British Mk VII load.)

Unfortunately, the ATF has used that penetrator as a pretense to ban the importation of 7N6 ammunition since 2014. 7N6 can still be found for sale occasionally, and basic FMJ and soft point ammunition is still imported. Hornady also offers several V-MAX loadings of 5.45, but there is not a huge domestic manufacturing base for 5.45. Hornady and Graf & Sons make 5.45 cases here, but they are available on a limited basis and can be relatively expensive compared to 5.56. Hornady even uses imported steel cases for several of its V-MAX loads. This dependence on imports makes a 5.45 AK only a slightly less-bad option than a 5.56 AK.

Information to inform .223/5.56x45mm ammunition selection is widely available elsewhere. I will simply add that most 5.56 AK barrels have 1-in-9 or slower twist rates, so they may not stabilize heavy bullets.

(To be concluded tomorrow, in Part 4.)

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