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The Gun Digest Book of the AK & SKS: A Complete Guide to Guns, Gear and Ammunition

The Gun Digest Book of the AK & SKS: A Complete Guide to Guns, Gear and Ammunition

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The Gun Digest Book of the AK & SKS: A Complete Guide to Guns, Gear and Ammunition

618 pagine
5 ore
Dec 16, 2008


The AK and SKS are the most widely used and well known assault rifles in the world, and this comprehensive look at these famous rifles contains never-before-published information blended with 600 photos, and written by the leading expert in assault weapons.

Dec 16, 2008

Informazioni sull'autore

Patrick Sweeney is a certified master gunsmith and armorer instructor for police departments nationwide. He is author of many Gun Digest books, inculding Gun Digest Book of the 1911 Vols. 1 & 2, Gun Digest Book of the Glock Vols. 1 & 2, Gun Digest Book of the AR-15 Vols. 1, 2, 3 & 4, Gunsmithing: Rifles, Gunsmithing: Pistols & Revolvers 1 & 2, and Gunsmithing the AR-15 Vols. 1 & 2.

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The Gun Digest Book of the AK & SKS - Patrick Sweeney

The Gun Digest® Book of the




©2008 Krause Publications Inc.,

a subsidiary of F+W Media Inc.

Published by

700 East State Street • Iola, WI 54990-0001

715-445-2214 • 888-457-2873

Our toll-free number to place an order or obtain

a free catalog is (800) 258-0929.

All rights reserved. No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a critical article or review to be printed in a magazine or newspaper, or electronically transmitted on radio, television, or the Internet.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2008929070

ISBN-13: 978-0-89689-678-9

ISBN-10: 0-89689-678-1

eISBN: 978-1-44022-436-2

Designed by Paul Birling

Edited by Dan Shideler

Printed in United States of America


Sometimes life is strange. If, years ago when I was deeply immersed in guns, working long hours at the gun shop and shooting everything that I could lay my hands on, you had told me I’d be here, I would have said you were crazy.

I was just not looking very far ahead – which is what you have to do to learn something front-to-back and in all its details. Looking only at what is right in front of you is a great way to learn a subject, but a lousy way to live a life.

Yes, get out, learn to shoot, learn about firearms, but don’t forget that there is more to life than just guns. (Hey, it took me a long time to figure that one out.) Find someone to share it with, either a shooting partner or a life partner. Some really lucky ones find one person who is both.

As with all the other titles, this is dedicated to Felicia, but also to the two poodle dudes who accompany me on walks. They are very amused by my jokes and turns of phrase, and I get to polish my writing on them by orating parts of it while we walk. Felicia is too, but she, unlike the two dudes, also points out where my grammar could be improved, for which I am grateful. Having seen what passes for a manuscript from other authors, I think Dan is also grateful for Felicia’s efforts.

If you find the book to be amusing, entertaining, and useful, I give all credit to Felicia, the poodle dudes and Dan. If not, I’ll take the hit.

Patrick Sweeney

July 2008

Other KP Firearms Titles

Assault Weapons Buyers Guide

Std Catalog of Military FA

Gun Digest Book of ® the AR-15

Gun Digest Book of ® the AR-15, Vol. 2

Gun Digest Book of ® the Glock

Gun Digest Book of ® Ruger Pistols & Revolvers

Gunsmithing: Pistols & Revolvers

Tactical Weapons Assembly/Disassembly

Gun Digest

Standard Catalog of FA

Gun Digest Book of ® Guns & Prices

Modern Gun Values

Cartridges of the World

Rifles of the World

Pistols of the World

The Gun Digest® Book of the






Chapter 1: History of the AK-47

Chapter 2: How It’s Made

Chapter 3: Disassembly

Chapter 4: Calibers

Chapter 5: Stocks and Handguards and Magazines

Chapter 6: Building an AK

Chapter 7: Testing Your AK

Chapter 8: Arsenal and AK-USA

Chapter 9: Hammerstone Arsenal/Romanian

Chapter 10: Krebs Custom

Chapter 11: Galils

Chapter 12: Bulgarian

Chapter 13: FEG

Chapter 14: Saiga

Chapter 15: The Mysterious Krinkov

Chapter 16: The Wieger and the Inter Ordnance Stg-2000

Chapter 17: The Vz.58: It Looks Like an AK, but Inside, It Isn’t

Chapter 18: The Other Soviet Rifle: the SKS

Chapter 19: The Future of the AK

Appendix: List of Manufacturers and Suppliers


First off, the people I consulted were extremely generous with their time, knowledge and interest. You know the guy who can recall every useful loading recipe for all the common, and some uncommon, cartridges, but who cannot remember to pick up bananas on a trip to the grocery store without writing it down? That’s me. Yes, I know a lot about guns, but even I have to consult other people, people who live a particular aspect of a subject day-in and day-out.

First, Dave Fortier, who could have easily talked his way into doing this one. Not me, he said. You’re the book guys. Instead, he goes on to form a complete web site from scratch and fill it with content he wrote – without anyone knowing about it beforehand. You’ve got to see it, if you have any pretensions of knowing everything current about black guns:

Then, the guys who built guns for me: Greg Collins at Hammerstone Armory built my Romanian clone, and built it exactly as I requested. Lots of guys build guns, but many are all too willing to inject their own tastes into a project. Greg did what I wanted, no more. I’ve got a couple more on the way to him as a result. Mike Branson of Missouri Custom Armament also followed instructions and built me an AK-74 that is different. When I left it out in the rain and the stock showed some rust, he immediately offered to refinish it for me. I figured I’d test it long-term, and left it as-is, so if you see my ’74 named Kermit and it looks a bit scruffy, it isn’t Mike’s fault.

Chris Butler at AK-USA built me an AK-74 that is so nice it seems a shame to take it to the range and put ammo through it. However, I am not one of those guys who buys a rifle just so I can keep it as pristine as the day it left the factory. (Unless it is really, really rare.) So I’ve shot it in classes and in qual courses, and have done well with it.

Marc Krebs was invaluable. He answered all my questions (even the ones that were off the record and thus not quotable); he showed me the shop; and he left me alone at times to simply fuss over thoughts, photos, and questions. He then shoved a rifle into the back of my truck and told me to send it back whenever you’re done with it.

Kevin Miller at Tapco sent me a care package so large my delivery driver almost had to get out the hand truck to bring it to my door. It is fashionable in some circles to dis Tapco because what they make isn’t Soviet mil-spec. Yeah, you’re right, in a lot of cases it is greatly improved over the typical socialist worker’s paradise-manufactured product, so I guess it isn’t Soviet-approved. Me, I don’t judge people by what they put on their rifles, but how they handle said rifles. One of the most competent contractors I know is quite happy with Tapco upgrades, as he finds them much better than their Warsaw pact counterparts. And in many cases, Tapco makes things the Soviets never have made.

Jason Morton at CZ-USA sent me their Vz-58, and has left it with me to shoot as much ammo through it as my heart desires. Unfortunately, while my heart is quite desirous, my schedule is not so forgiving. Jason, I have not yet managed to wear off the finish at the corners, let alone shoot it until I wear the finish off.

When I asked Dave Michener at Elite Firearms for a sample to test, he grabbed a rifle out of the rack to ship to me, and a very nice rifle it is, indeed. I must admit, the combination of caliber and model is one not often seen, and it speaks well that he’d build something uncommon just because a customer asks for it.

Steve Kehaya at Century Arms sent me one of his hot tickets: the Golani Sporter. Despite having a desk full of orders for them, he plucked one out of the rack and shipped it, for which I am grateful. Every importer, manufacturer and custom gunsmith always has to strike the balancing act of I can ship this to a paying customer, or I can ship it to a gun writer who will play with it and send it back in pieces. Steve has always shipped to me, so if you found your rifle, handgun, ammo, accessories or whatever arriving a day later than promised, I’m probably to blame.

All these rifles needed ammo. There, I have to thank two people: Bill Filbert at Wolf ammo and Michael Sutton at DKG Trading, for Bear Ammo. In these modern times ammo can be hard to locate and expensive to acquire. One of the perqs that really get the attention of those interested in firearms is the supply of ammo that gun writers get. I’d like to tell you that they simply stuffed my garage full of ammo, but they didn’t. Still, the amount of ammo sent for testing was embarrassing, and I did my best to shoot it all, which leads me to the last thank-you.

In all the shooting I had not a single significant failure. Not of ammo, not of rifles, and the one magazine failure that happened only happened with one magazine in one rifle. That rifle worked fine with all other magazines, and that magazine worked fine in all other rifles. Considering that many AKs in the US are hand-made, and those that aren’t have been made in a dozen countries, one failure (the bolt wouldn’t strip the last round out of the magazine, but fed fine otherwise) is hardly a problem.

The guys at Tactical Response are the ones you should thank for that. I went off to a pair of classes (not in AKs, curiously) and while I was there for seven days I noticed something interesting: the AKs in the class worked just fine. Many of the ARs did too, but the rifles that didn’t work were ARs, not AKs. And those who shot them could just about make an AK sing. That got me to thinking, and that eventually led to this book. Without the experience of Tactical Response, I probably would not have talked to Krause about an AK project. So thanks to Alan Webb, Sherman House, and James Yeager for a fun, informative and now additive time.

Maybe I’ll have to go back soon, and this time thrash an AK or three, for Gun Digest Book of the AK & SKS, Vol 2.

I’ll tell you how that works out.


Here we are, a decade into the 21st century, discussing earnestly a rifle conceived in the forge of battle. It was the greatest battleground ever seen (until the next one, anyway). The Soviets referred to it as The Great Patriotic War. As many at 25 million people lost their lives on the Soviet side of the war. The losses were so great that the demographics of the Soviet Union and its client states after the war were noticeably distorted.

The tactical and strategic requirements of the war also had their effect on the Soviet Union, post-war. One aspect was the recognized need for volume: volume production, volume enlistment/staffing, and volume sustainability. War can be a brutal business. Indeed, it often is – and the times is has not been so are so prominent that we write legends about them. But from the first time two cavemen realized that if they worked together they could beat the threat, to today, the need for essentials have been learned, lost, forgotten, re-learned, written down and then shrugged off. Two essentials, however, have survived. One is that you have to have tools, and good ones. The other is that lacking the best tools, a numerical superiority can suffice.

In the words of one Soviet General, Quantity is its own quality.

The basic design elements of the AK make it a natural for fast and cheap production (a characteristic that we’ll cover quite a bit in this book). Also, it’s rugged. If you aren’t going to be spending a lot of time training people, what you hand them has to be simple and able to shrug off neglect. I sometimes think that advocates of the AK make too much of that particular benefit, but it is still one that has to be noted. You also have to have a certain amount of ruggedness if the method of re-supply is going to be battlefield pickups.

If you’re reading this you probably have seen a lot of war movies. Check out Enemy at the Gates. In an early scene, our hero is running towards the front, where there is a picket line of supply officers. They’re handing out rifles and packets of ammunition and one iron-lunged officer or NCO is shouting repeatedly: One rifle to every other man! If the man in front of you falls, pick up his rifle! You think the screenwriter made that up? Not so. The Soviets started the war with an army they felt was large enough, lost most of it and its equipment in the first stages of the war, and had to recruit and build everything after that – what they didn’t get through Lend-Lease programs, anyway. At the time of the Battle of Stalingrad, they had not even begun to increase production enough to replace lost rifles. In that kind of an environment, having a design that could lie on the ground for hours or days, and still work when picked up was a good thing.

Don’t let people tell you an AK can’t shoot. Granted, I’ve shot a perfect score in this course with just about everything I’ve picked up, but you still need a basic level of accuracy to get the job done.

One thing you can count on: damn few things on an AK break. This is a rare, but not unknown AR-15 break. Bad show, and you need a new bolt.

By the time the rest of the world had a good idea of what the AK-47 was all about, the US had already decided on the course for its new rifle: the M-14. It would not be long after that the two crossed paths, to the detriment of U.S. soldiers and Marines. However, the differences were not as great as some might lead you to believe. A rifle is only as good as the training of the soldiers who use it and their ability to adapt to the situation they are faced with. You can do a lot with a supposedly sub-standard tool, if the job supervisor lets you change from the accepted method to a new one that works.

Saying this or that is more reliable, more powerful, more accurate, etc., matters only if one side or the other can take advantage of the difference. One example might suffice: One of my friends is the sci-fi author Dave Drake, a Vietnam vet. He is considered the originator of military sci-fi and has written a shelf of books in that genre. In one book, his protagonists use armored vehicles that fire heavy-metal projectiles. Their opponents use supposedly superior energy weapons. The good guys protect themselves from the beams of the other side with smoke, smoke which does not in the slightest decrease the impact of their tanks’ cannon shells. But the smoke diffuses the energy beam of the supposedly superior weapon.

The moral? If one rifle is a lot more reliable in adverse conditions than another, you can take advantage of that only if you lure the other side into enduring those adverse conditions. If they don’t, the advantage is merely theoretical. Ditto range, power, etc. Unless you can lure the other guy into that gap your supposed advantage does not exist.

But I risk being on a soapbox.

The AK-47 is an Icon. I had thought, in earlier books, that I had been dealing with Icons, but I had merely been dealing with icons. I mean, the Glock gets on the cover of rap CDs (do stores sell CDs any more?) but no country has a Glock on their flag. Countries have the AK-47 on their flag. Well, the country of Mozambique and the organization Hezbollah have an AK on their flags. Politicians who are otherwise level-headed get emotional when the subject comes up. Some who are not so levelheaded are emotional before, and become nearly unhinged when the subject of the AK comes up. Otherwise educated, rational adults begin to ascribe near-mystical powers to the AK and those who wield it. People who can do complicated accounting in their heads lose all grasp of simple numbers when faced with the thought of an AK in their district or state. How did this come about? For that, we have to dive right into the history and origins of the AK, the next chapter. But you have to realize the animosity some hold towards the AK, to understand why I’m so in your face when discussing aspects of it. You know the old saying about not suffering fools gladly?" I’m usually the nicest guy in the world, but even I can be driven to distraction by the antics of those who will not learn. So I write what I know and feel, and then edit when on re-reading it seems like I’ve gone a bit too far.

As good as the AK is, it still won’t work with ammo that looks like this. You really need to buy at least decent ammo, if you expect your AK to work.

Unlike the AR-15/M-16, which has a cast-in-stone set of blueprints called mil-spec, the AK is pretty much all over the map. Various models will have variations of manufacture, design, assembly and fitting. Even when they were being built for the minions of the Evil Empire, they were built almost as hand-fitted firearms. Not because they were hand-fitted for reasons of absolute quality, like a hand-fitted London Best shotgun. Oh god, no. They were hand-fitted because the design lent itself to hand-assembly, and it was easier to employ a workshop full of filers, hammer-whackers and sandpaper wielders than it was to harass the machinist to ensure that all their parts fell within a narrow, interchangeable-fit set of specs. Of course, that makes it more fun for us, since we are hand-fitting and assembling them for ourselves.

What you won’t find here are blow-by-blow descriptions of the variations between all the countries, over time. No charts of this is a Bulgarian gas block, this a Romanian, and you can clearly see the difference sort of stuff. There are already books out there. Also, I won’t be of any help for those who want to be sure they have an absolutely-correct stock for their 1959 Soviet AKM retro recreation project. No, I don’t know how many laminations a Soviet AKM stock of 1959 has/had, nor do I care. I realize some of you do, but again, there are books for that. This isn’t it. What I’m doing here is covering the mechanics, history, operation and future of the AK and testing a selective sample of rifles, from imports to custom-built cool guns. The important thing, to my mind, is not that you have a period-correct AK with every detail (save the selector and parts) absolutely correct. It is that you know how yours works, what your options are, and how to test/build/buy one that makes you happy. Not me, not the AK cognoscenti, but you.

Sit back, have a beverage nearby, and settle in for a tale that will hopefully entertain you, certainly amaze you, and by the end, inform you so you can make a decision on the subject based on knowledge, and not on emotion.

Chapter 1

History of the AK-47 and Its Predecessors

Do not expect a blow-by-blow description of the development of the AK-47. Here, you will not read the memos from one to another government committee about this or that detail. (Even assuming such can be found. It was the Soviet Union, after all.) I will not regale you with the trials and tribulations of Mikhail Kalashnikov as he labored over his masterpiece. The day-by-day details of the rifle are the subject of someone’s masters thesis in History, and I would not want to make his or her job more difficult by doing so first. So if you really want to know the history of the left-side machine cut on the first-model AK-47 gas block, you’ll have to wait for that other book. Here, we cover the AK-47, its basic history and manufacture, and its various uses and models.

Before we can discuss the rifle, you have to understand the context within which it was conceived, and how it was going to be used. We begin our tale in the summer of 1941.

The Eastern Front of WWII can be roughly divided into three time periods: The Onslaught, The Balance, and The Long March. The Onslaught began on the morning of June 22, 1941, with the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. In that operation, the German Wehrmacht, in combination with the Luftwaffe, drove deep into the heart of the Soviet Union. Within a relatively short time they had armored columns deep within Russia itself. From the dividing line between Germany and the Soviet Union (in what had only recently been Poland) they drove as much as four hundred miles into the Soviet Union in a few weeks. Losses on the Russian side were staggering; entire divisions disappeared, surrounded by the advancing Germans, surrendering and being marched off to labor camps for years to come. Entire airfields of Soviet aircraft were strafed, bombed and burned before even taking off.

The German drives reached their maximum extent at Leningrad, Moscow and Stalingrad. To give you an idea of the scale of the Eastern Front, Stalingrad is almost a thousand miles from the German starting-off point. From the southern end of the lines, up to Leningrad, the front stretched over 2,000 miles. There, time, energy, manpower and weather ran out for the Germans. The siege of Leningrad lasted longest: a thousand days. The sieges of Moscow and Stalingrad didn’t last as long, but that was due mostly to those cities being in the middle of open plains, with lots of maneuvering room. For Leningrad, resting on the coast, there just wasn’t as much room for flanking maneuvers.

While the Soviets were going to a lighter, lesser-recoil carbine, the West insisted (mainly because of the USA) on sticking with a full-power rifle, like this G-3.

When the world’s armies gave up black powder, low-velocity, lead bullets, they went with what seemed like smallbores at the time. Left, the US .45-70, then 7.92X57, 7.62X54R, .303 and .30-06.

The sieges began The Balance. The time gained when the German advance halted allowed the Soviets to undertake a breathtaking plan: to move their entire industrial base out of German reach. Whole factory buildings were constructed east of the Urals, and entire plants emptied of machinery and moved, out of the reach of German bombers. One of the plans of the Allies in the West was to destroy German industrial output with bombing attacks. We did it, mostly because we could make planes faster than the Germans could shoot them down, but also because we could reach the factories, which the Germans could not move out of reach. Likewise, the Germans could not reach the new Soviet factory locations in the East.

German losses in the sieges also meant they had to have a more flexible defense and attack, come the Spring of 1942. In The Balance, in 1942 and 1943, the Germans and Soviets swirled back and forth across the steppes of Russia and the Ukraine, flanking and re-flanking each other. All the while, the Soviets were perfecting their tactics, recruiting and conscripting more soldiers, and absorbing the industrial output of the re-located plants.

The result was a complete change of roles when The Long March began. That change came at the Battle of Kursk. Called Operation Citadel by the Germans, the plan was simple: a combined northern and southern pincers that would flank and encircle the city of Kursk. Too bad the Soviets saw it coming, and to make matters worse, the Germans didn’t start their flanking maneuvers wide enough: they ran headlong into defenses in depth. Named by many historians as the largest armored battle ever, it showed the Germans what they could expect for all future Soviet offences, namely overwhelming artillery and swarms of infantry.

The AK-74 and the M-4 are roughly the same size and weight. And they shoot bullets that are, again, roughly the same.

From there, it was all backwards for the Germans. For every subsequent attack, German armored and infantry units could expect the same thing: artillery barrages that would darken the sky, and a horizon full of armored vehicles, each aswarm with Soviet infantry. The description of Soviet artillery preparations was simple – cannons parked hub-to-hub. Their factories made plenty of artillery, along with supply trains literally filled with ammunition. The Soviets by then made armored vehicles as good as, and in some respects better than, the Germans’.

And the Soviets had learned that infantry needs firepower. Those tanks with soldiers clinging to them? Every one of those soldiers had a sub-machine gun. Not a Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle, although the arms factories still cranked out plenty of those. No, the new factories made Shpagin PPSh-41s and Sudaev PPS-43s to go with the Degtyarov PPD-40 SMGs. Chambered in 7.62X25, loud, marginally accurate and with (except for the Sudaev) relatively high rates of fire, they were meant to be bullet-hoses. A German infantry squad, trying to support their MG-34 or MG-42 machine gun, would (if they survived the artillery prep) be faced with multiple armored vehicles coming at them, each draped in infantry. As soon as they were shot at, the Soviet infantry was expected to dive off the vehicle,

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