Pat's Product Reviews: AK-47 vs. AK-47 vs. AK-47

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I've received quite a few e-mails from SurvivalBlog readers, asking me to write an article on AK-47s. Well, here's my take on the AK line-up. First of all, I only write about guns I actually own or have personally tested. I don't take a press release and write an article based on that, like some writers (that I've heard have done.) There are so many different variations of "AK-47s" out there these days, it would cost me a fortune and a lot of time, to obtain samples of 'em all to test and evaluation.

The question always arises, which is better, the AK-47 or the AR-15? Well, as I've mentioned before, there is no "better" when it comes to guns and knives, it's all in the perspective and intended uses of these tools. So, if you're looking for a debate as to which gun is better, this isn't the article. I will say, that without a doubt, under extremely adverse conditions, where regular maintenance is far and few between, the AK-47 is more reliable than the AR-15. However, I've yet to see an AK-47 that can hold a candle to an AR-15 when it comes to accuracy.

For this article, I tested the NoDak Spud, two Century Arms and the new ATI AKs. The Century Arms line of AK-47s have really gotten a bad reputation, and most of it, I honestly believe, is undeserved. I don't know anyone at Century Arms, and my samples of their products were purchased out-of-pocket, so I don't have a dog in this fight. I will say though, that for a short time, those workers at Century Arms who were assembling and modifying imported AK-47s, weren't paying close attention to some of the details, And to be honest, the AK-47 is really hard to screw-up when you are putting 'em together or modifying 'em.  I've owned more than my share of Century Arms AK-47s over the years, and I've only had an issue with one of 'em - the gas piston was ever so slightly bent, causing it to bind inside the gas tube, which didn't allow for 100% reliability. It took only a few minutes to correct the problem.

My local gun shop sells a lot of AK-47s, and there's a good reason for it - they are affordable and reliable. Most of the AKs they sell are from Century Arms, in one of the many configurations that Century produces. One of the problems they have observed over the years is that the front sight is canted and not in-line with the rear sight. There is no reason for this, other than a failure of quality control on the part of Century Arms. The problem is usually easily corrected if you have a bench vise and a little bit of knowledge. Still, there is no excuse for this sort of sloppiness, if you ask me. Another common complaint about Century AKs is that, the forearms and stocks are usually sanded (to take the dings out - these are military surplus stocks) - and Century doesn't take a few extra minutes to spray on a coat of lacquer on the wooden stock or forearm. Again, this can be easily corrected by the purchaser at home.  

One must keep in mind, that the Century Arms line-up of AKs, are very affordable for the most part - they have a few that are a bit more spendy than the others, but most of the Century AKs are made from Romanian parts. Some gun snobs will turn their noses up at a Century AK that has the "Made In Romania" stamp on the receiver. Truth be told, these are parts guns, assembled and fitted here by Century, using the correct number of US-made parts, to make them legal. I'm not going to get into the 922(r) compliance thing, you can look it up on the ATF web site if you want - the law is stupid, plain and simple!

I tested two Century AKs, one was the WASR-10 with a full wooden stock, and the other was the WASR -10 with the under-fold stock. Both guns were great shooters, simple as that. I did have two failures to feed on the first magazine through the under-fold stock, and I expected that - there were some burrs on the bolt or receiver rails. After the first two failures to fully feed, the under-fold version just plugged along without any problems. The full wooden stock WASR-10, it never missed a beat from beginning to end. Accuracy with both of these Century AKs was running around 4" at 100-yards - that's about as good as I can get with most AKs. There's a trade-off when you want more reliability - you lose some accuracy potential. I understand that the AKs that are coming off the Century Arms assembly line these days have USA-made barrels, and I would expect slightly better accuracy with these new barrels. Again, this is another stupid ruling from the folks at the BATF: AK parts sets can no longer be imported with the barrels. So they've resorted to using US-made barrels on the guns. On both of the Century samples I tested, and on many other Century AKs, I've found really great trigger pulls - most around 3-1/2 pounds. I believe this is due to the Tapco trigger and sear that Century uses. Again, certain parts on imported AKs have to contain a certain number of US-made parts - like a Romanian trigger and sear somehow makes an AK a "bad" gun, and a US-made trigger and sear make it a "good" gun.

I also picked-up a well-used AK-47 that had "NoDak Spud" marked on the receiver. Near as I can tell, NoDak Spud only makes the receivers and other folks assemble them into AKs of some type. Whoever did the work on this gun - didn't know quite what they were doing, in my humble opinion. First of all, the attempt to parkerize the gun wasn't successful - the gun easily picked-up rust in our damp climate of Western Oregon - even though I had sprayed Birchwood Casey Barricade on the entire gun. The NoDak Spud sample was very rough, to say the least. Whoever assembled it, also forgot the retaining spring, that is used to keep the trigger pin in place, and the pin would work itself out, binding the action up, until I could break it down, and get the pin back in place. I corrected the problem with an e-clip and the pin never worked itself loose again. (A 7 cent fix!)   The wood on the forearm and the stock were rough, and I cleaned 'em up with some sandpaper and steel wool. I then prepped the wood with some primer and spray painted the stock and forearm in a flat back - the gun was looking better at this point. Aside from the aforementioned trigger pin working loose, there were no malfunctions of any type during my testing. Accuracy was what you'd expect - in the 4" range at 100-yards, if I did my part. I used a variety of Wolf and Brown Bear Russian-made noncorrosive ammo in my testing. It is inexpensive and it always goes "bang."

The last AK I tested is from ATI, and it is quite a step up from the Century Arms AK. Only slightly more in cost, too. The ATI version of the AK has a milled receiver, the NoDak Spud and Century Arms versions have stamped receivers. The obvious quality in workmanship is there on the ATI AK, you can see it and feel it. The ATI weighs in at about 3/4 of a pound more than the stamped receiver AKs. The ATI also comes in a nice hard plastic carrying case with two magazines, instruction, cleaning equipment, etc.   The ATI AK was nicely blued, and there were no sharp machining marks on the gun - and it's marked "Made In The USA" too - that means a lot to some folks - me included. The ATI was a much tighter gun than any of the other AKs I've owned over the years, and I expected some malfunction because of this. I tested the gun dry - no lube - and it never missed a beat. Then again, it's an AK - they can take all kinds of use and abuse, and keep on going. The forearm and stock are made of wood, and it appears that the forearm is from Russia - both the forearm and stock were nicely finished and covered in a clean lacquer for weather-proofing the wood - nice!   I expected the ATI to shoot better than the Century Arms and the NoDak Spud - well, it did, but only by a little bit. If I did my part, I could get groups at 3 1/2 inches at 100-yards, but not all the time. Still, the quality is there in this ATI version of the AK...my local gun shop has another ATI AK sitting there, and I'm thinking real hard about getting it, too - just takes money.

One thing that I have found common in most AKs is that, the magazine usually have to be fitted slightly. Keep in mind, AK magazines are made in a lot of different countries, by different tooling, and some makers don't take the care we take in the USA to make sure things are nice and tight. The two mags that came with the ATI would lock in the mag well, but it took two men and a small boy to get the mags out. A couple minutes with a file took a small amount of material off the mag stud (lower portion) to make the mags fit properly. The same was done with the NoDak Spud and Century Arms AKs. I like my mags to snap in and out without a lot of effort, and once the mags were fitted, I sanded down the lower portion on each mag stud so it was nice and smooth. The mags - all that I have - and it's a lot - will lock-up and come out of all my AKs without any problems.

There's a lot to be said for the 7.62x39 round. It can reach out there and touch someone a little harder than the .223/5.56mm rounds can. However, the .223/5.56mm rounds do more damage - at least when used within the limitations of the distance involved. The .223/5.56mm rounds do more tissue and organ damage than the 7.62x39 rounds, when up and close and personal distances are involved. So, we have longer range possibilities with an AK because of the round - it's heavier and a bigger caliber and had greater retained energy, at range. However, with the AR, and the 5.56mm round, does more damage and the ARs are more accurate. You can also carry more 5.56 ammo than you can 7.62x39 ammo - if that's a concern. [JWR Adds: The AK-74 is chambered in 5.45x39, which has similar weight and size characteristics to 5.56mm NATO.] AK magazines are also more rugged than the standard alloy AR magazines.

Honestly, you can't lose if you pick an AK-47 of just about any type for your survival purposes. If looking into a Century Arms AK, I'd take a close look at the front sight, and make sure it's not canted from dead center. And, work the action - make sure it doesn't bind before you buy the gun. I know, Century Arms backs-up their guns, but it's a pain-in-the-butt to have to send back a brand-new gun for repairs.

The Century Arms AKs I tested, run in the $500 price range. The NoDak Spud - about the same. The ATI I purchased was $569 and it honestly was worth the little bit of extra over the Century Arms version, in my opinion. The quality and workmanship were "there" with the ATI version. Some of you asked me to review the Arsenal line of AKs - I've only handled them, and couldn't bring myself to pay the extra money over a lesser AK version. If I'm gonna be spending $800 - $1,000, you'd better believe I'm gonna be looking at an AR of some type.

So, don't believe all the horror stories you've read on the 'net about Century Arms AKs - for the most part, they are putting out some really good AKs, for a good price. However, if your budget will allow it, take a look at the ATI AK - I think it's worth the extra money. In any case, it's hard to beat an AK-47, no matter who makes it, it'll save your bacon, when the chips are down.  - SurvivalBlog Field Gear Editor Pat Cascio

JWR Adds: Let's face it: Most folks do not have the cash for a "Cadillac" solution like a Valmet M62 or one of the new SIG 556R rifles. (The latter outwardly looks like a SIG 556 but it is chambered in 7.62 x39 and uses standard AK magazines.) Rather, I recommend a "Chevy" solution, like the Bulgarian AK or the Russian Saiga AK. They are relatively inexpensive, but very reliable. The "Chinese Bicycle" solution is to find a used SKS carbine. These use a 10-round fixed magazine, but these can legally be replaced with a 30 round "semi-detachable" magazine in most jurisdictions.


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