Photo by Jason Swarr

6 Compelling Russian AK Variants That Paved the Way

Most people see the AK-47-style rifles in movies and on TV and think they’re pretty cool. But they are unaware of all the makes and AK variants that may or may not be available for purchase in the U.S. Perhaps your granddaddy bought a rare one that has been sitting around collecting dust and is oblivious of his small fortune. 

The Russian AK Variants

There are more than 100 million AK-style guns in use, and what makes a gun rare varies. Here, in the States, it’s what was allowed for importation. For example, if only 10 AKs were imported into the U.S. from Russia in the 1950s, even though another million were sent worldwide, those 10 items would be exceedingly rare and valuable.  

More than 30 countries produce some sort of AK variant, and a dozen countries import complete guns or parts into the States. So, where to start? Let’s begin with “Mother Russia,” the parent to all that is AK.

Note that these aren’t all the AK variations the Russians made. If we were to discuss all the short-barreled rifles, AK shotguns, longer-range guns and prototypes, there would be enough information to write several rather large books. So, here are six of the most compelling Russian AK variants that paved the way for the other variations.

The First Group of Russian AK Variants

Russian AKs Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3.

Type 1 – The Actual AK-47

  • Caliber .30 caliber 7.62×39
  • Years In Service 1948-1951
  • Barrel 16.3-inch barrel

Distinguishing Features

  • Combination of milled and stamped receivers
  • Vented gas tube
  • Wooden hand guards with vented cuts 
  • Typically three to four spot welds on each side of the receiver
  • Two rivets (not including the trigger guard) on each side of the receiver
  • Reinforcement tabs on both sides of the receiver       
  • Both a fixed and underfolding stocks

Take Note

Rare and as valuable as it gets


Type 2

  • Caliber .30 Caliber 7.62×39
  • Years In Service 1951-1953
  • Barrel 16.3-inch barrel

Distinguishing Features

  • All milled receiver (machined out of a solid block)
  • Introduced chrome lining in barrels for corrosion resistance
  • Vented gas tube
  • Wooden hand guards with vented cuts
  • Wooden pistol grip
  • Lighting cuts to both sides of the receiver
  • Reinforcement tabs step-cut into the receiver just below the top cover, like the Type 1 
  • Metal collar added to rear receiver for buttstock, lower handguard and pistol grip 

Take Note

Second-rarest Russian AK that can be found in the States

Chopped up Type 2 parts kits go for upwards of $3,000


Type 3

  • Caliber .30 Caliber 7.62×39
  • Years In Service 1954-1955 
  • Barrel Chrome-lined 16.3-inch barrel

Distinguishing Features

  • All milled receiver (machined out of a solid block) 
  • Smooth shaft gas piston
  • Vented gas tube
  • Wooden hand guards with vented cuts
  • Wooden pistol grip
  • Lighting cuts to both sides of the receiver
  • Buttstock attaches from two tabs in the rear of the receiver
  • Metal collar on back of the lower hand guard and top of pistol grip
  • Lightweight version 9.3 lb

Take Note

All modern milled AK receiver guns are based on the Type 3 design 


The Second Group of Russian AK Variants

Russian AKM, AK-74 and RPK.

AKM Modernized

  • Caliber 30 caliber 7.62×39
  • Years In Service 1959-present
  • Barrel 16.3-inch barrel

Distinguishing Features

  • All stamped sheet metal receiver, 1 mm thick
  • Rivets hold parts (forward barrel trunnion and rear stock trunnion) to the receiver 
  • May or may not have dimples pressed into the sheet metal above the magazine well for strength
  • Slanted compensator made for a right-handed shooter
  • 45-degree gas block hole
  • Spot-welded rails on the inside of the receiver
  • A steel tab riveted to the trigger guard acts as a safety selector stop
  • Used wooden furniture, typically laminated  
  • Buttstock has hole for cleaning kit
  • Lighter weight than the milled receivers: 6.8 lb.

AK-74

  • Caliber 5.45×39 caliber
  • Years In Service 1974 – present
  • Barrel 16.3-inch barrel

Distinguishing Features

  • A direct response to the U.S. adopting the 5.56 cartridge 10 years prior 
  • 90-degree gas block and port
  • Used wood and polymer furniture
  • Long, cylindrical muzzle break
  • 24×1.5mm RH threaded front sight tower that slides over barrel
  • Side-folding buttstock models available

Take Note

Most of the surplus ammo was corrosive (7n6)


RPK

  • Caliber 7.62×39 and 5.45×39
  • Years In Service 1961 – present
  • Barrel 23.2-inch barrel

Distinguishing Features

  • 1.5 mm-thick receiver
  • Squad Automatic Weapon
  • Longer barrel to help with extended lengths of fire without overheating
  • Bipod attached to front of barrel
  • Used 75 round drum and 45 round magazines (they will also fit most regular AK magazines)
  • Clubfoot rear stock
  • Introduced a new rear sight system that has built-in adjustable windage 
  • Threaded barrel 14x1mm LH
  • Very little recoil 

Some notes on Russian AK model numbers: If the model name has an “S” in it, that means it’s a folding stock (side or underfolding). For example, the AKMS would be a 7.62×39, 16.3-inch barrel, stamped receiver gun with a folding stock. If the model name has the letter “U”, it means the barrel is short, as in the AKS-74U. The AKS-74U is a short-barreled, 5.45×39 caliber, folding stock rifle. And these are the only Russian model numbers you should really care about. The other numbers describe accessories, like night vision and tritium sights, things we probably won’t ever see.

The AK is a significant part of weapons history, right next to the bow and arrow and Japanese Katana. There are countries whose flags feature AKs on them. Seventy years after the gun’s creation, it’s still in service kicking ass. Like it or not, the AK is here to stay.

I hope this guide of Russian AK variants serves you well and gauges your interest in the platform. This style of gun is no longer seen as a “bad guy” gun, but rather a tool to become proficient at. Be sure to do your homework.

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