AK-47 Trivia
Photo by Straight 8

AK-IQ: 6 Time-Tested Kalashnikov Rifles From Mother Russia

Russian Variants

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 variants of the platform 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. 

There are over 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 models that paved the way for the other variations.

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 

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.


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)


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. 70 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 serves you well and gauges your interest in the AK 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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