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AK Models: Ultimate Guide to Kalashnikov Rifles

While the United States and Russia have been everything from allies to enemies and unfriendly bedfellows, they do have one thing in common.

Dogmatic adherence to their rifle platform. In the United States, we cling to AR series rifles.

In Russia, it’s all about the AK.

3 Upgraded AK-47s
Upgraded AK-47s

And today, Pew Pew Tactical is all about the AK as well.

We are looking at AK series rifles, examining both the Russian family of Kalashnikovs and the closest we can get on the civilian side.

We’ll dive into the AK family with a focus on the Russian variants.

PSAK-47, California Compliant
PSAK-47, California Compliant

So, if you’ve ever wondered about the AK and its versions, keep reading. By the end, we’ll have you spun up on the most popular AK models.

Table of Contents

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Behind the Iron Curtain

Mikhail Kalashnikov started work on the Avtomat Kalashnikov in 1945, with the rifle formally adopted in 1949.

His creation took cues from the StG 44, eventually offering a long-stroke gas piston style capable of selective fire with an intermediate cartridge.

StG 44
StG 44

The Russians were the first to figure out that the average infantry fight was within 300 meters.

And the AK and its caliber were designed with that idea in mind.

Though the AK has changed calibers over the years, the general rifle remains the same — almost painfully so as the world of small arms advanced around it.

AK-47 with UltimAK
AK-47 with UltimAK

Since then, as we all know, it’s become a household name in the world of weapons. Not just a household name in the United States, but across the world.

It’s one of the most common service rifles, from conscript forces to professional soldiers.

Diving into the international market can be tough with so many small changes between each country.

Honestly, we could write a book on it…and, in fact, more than one book has cataloged the international AK market.

Jackson

But we’ll leave all the intricacies to the book writers and focus on the standouts instead.

Without further ado, let’s look at the O.G. of the AK family.

The Original AK-47

The original AK-47 series of rifles only served for a short period.

From 1949 to 1959, the AK-47 series of rifles utilized a milled receiver. There are three models of AK-47 series of rifles that vary slightly in receiver construction.

AK-47
AK-47

The AK-47 rifle offered a 16.3-inch barrel and measured 35-inches overall. At the time, the AK-47 was rather compact for its time.

(Americans wielded the mighty M14 with its 22-inch barrel and overall length of 44.3-inches.)

True milled receiver AK-47s are more often built than bought by enthusiasts.

Companies like Sharpe Brothers and CNC Warrior produce milled receivers, and parts kits are almost always available for a true AK-47 build.

AKM

The AKM is what most people mean when they say AK-47. When you see AK series rifles across the world, they are most likely AKMs.

This rifle used the stamped steel construction that made the AK so easy and cheap to produce by Russian factories.

AKM, Wikipedia
AKM (Photo: Wikipedia)

While some argue the merits of milled receivers, the stamped steel AK certainly lasts and has proven itself dependable in hundreds of conflicts across the globe.

The AKM was slightly lighter than the AK-47 but retained the same barrel length and overall length.

AKMs are the most popular type of AK rifle in the civilian rifle industry as well. These guns fire the traditional 7.62×39 rounds using the classic AK series magazines.

Assorted 7.62x39 (FMJ, Open, Soft, FMJ)
Assorted 7.62×39

Ultimately, the civilian user can purchase any configuration of furniture.

If you want a rock-solid AK-47 type rifle that maintains a traditional approach to the AK series, then the WASR 10 series rifles from Romania are the way to go.

They represent the classic AK series rifles that are frill-free but well-made and extremely dependable.

Classic Scrubs

In second place sits the PSA GF3 series of AK rifles, particularly the classic model with wood furniture.

Best Bang-for-Buck AK
559
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The GF3 series gets my vote due to the affordable price point and the fact the AK Operator’s Union’s own RobSki torture tested the GF3…and it passed his strict testing.

AK-74 & AK-74M

In 1974, the Russians saw the merit of a small-caliber projectile over the big 7.62 round the AKM series uses.

A lighter projectile meant lighter ammunition, allowing the average infantrymen to carry more rounds.

The Russians settled on the 5.45x39mm round, building a new suite of rifles and light machines to outfit military forces.

PSA AK74 Ammo Pile

This rifle retained the AKM ergonomics, the same barrel length, but introduced Bakelite magazines to lighten the load further.

Alongside this new, lighter round, they developed a very efficient muzzle brake that often makes it easy to identify an AK-74 series weapon.

The AK-74 series includes the AKS-74, a rifle designed for airborne troops that featured a folding stock.

Lancaster Arms Rough Rider AK-74 Loading Mag
Lancaster Arms Rough Rider AK-74

We also saw the AKS-74U, which shrank the AK-74 down to an extremely compact rifle with an 8.1-inch barrel, a muzzle booster, and folding stock.

The AK-74 became the AK-74M in 1991 and was part of a program to modernize the 74 platform.

AK-74M Russian Shooting
AK-74M (Photo: Виталий Кузьмин)

This modernization included a lighter bolt and gas piston that reduced recoil, polymer furniture, a side folding stock, and simpler production methods.

In the United States, the AK-74 market has always been rather small.

Imported guns were few and far between, and shooters preferred the more common 7.62x39mm round.

Popular 7.62x39 Ammo
Popular 7.62×39 Ammo

Arsenal used to produce the best 5.45 rifles, but sadly they seem to be discontinued.

The easiest-to-find AK-74, AKS-74, and AK-74M rifles come from Palmetto State Armory.

PSA produces various AK-74 series rifles that cover the classic model with wood furniture for those looking for a Soviet-Afghan roleplay.

920
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If the paratrooper model appeals to you, then PSA makes an AKS-74 style rifle with a side-folding triangle stock ready to deploy via Soviet parachute that works most of the time.

PSA AK74 Desert
PSA AK-74

But say you’re a modern man or woman with modern taste, then the AK-74M with polymer furniture and side folding stock is also available from PSA.

And if American-made AKs are not for you, there are the Polish Tantal rifles and the Romanian series rifles.

They aren’t true Russian clones but provide a solid base if you prefer European-made AK variants.

PSA AK74 Shooting Right Side
PSA AK-74

AK 100 Series

In 1994, Mikhail Kalashnikov lent his expertise to build a final series of AK rifles.

These are known as the AK-100 series and take cues from the AK-74M series of rifles.

Made for both internal service and exports, plenty of countries utilize the AK series of rifles, from the classic AKM to the more modern AK-74s.

PSA AK 103 Left Side
PSA AK 103

Russia’s biggest exports are suicidal authors and AK rifles, so it makes sense that they’d provide a modernized variant for export.

The AK-100 series all share the same polymer furniture, including the side-folding stock.

Additionally, these rifles come in either standard-sized AKs and shorter carbine-sized variants.

Rifle variants utilize an AK-74 style muzzle brake, while the carbines feature the muzzle booster made famous by the AKS-74U.

AK-101

AK 101
AK 101 (Photo: Allatur via WikiCommons)

The AK-101 is a 5.56 variant of the AK series of rifles.

These rifles were made for export and saw success among countries seeking standardization with western and NATO forces.

The AK-101 is a rifle variant with a 16.3-inch barrel.

AK-102

The AK-102 is a 5.56 AK rifle that acts as the carbine variant to the AK-101.

It utilizes a shorter 12.4-inch barrel.

AK-103

The AK-103 serves both Russia and the export market.

Plenty of Russian police and security forces and overseas military forces utilize the 7.62x39mm round.

And the AK-103 offered users a modernized AK variant chambered in the classic 7.62x39mm with a 16.3-inch barrel.

PSA AK 103 Prone Shooting
PSA AK 103

Since the AK-103 was made for both internal and export purposes, the AK-103 has several sub-models.

The AK-103 utilizes the traditional AK layout with a semi-auto and fully automatic option.

On the other hand, the AK-103-1 variant is semi-auto only. And the AK-103-2 variant features a three-round burst feature.

699
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

AK-104

The AK-104 provides the carbine variant of the AK-103, firing the 7.62x39mm round through a 12.4-inch barrel.

1099
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

AK-105

Another made for domestic use and export AK is the AK-105.

This carbine variant utilizes the 5.45x39mm round and fires from a 12.4-inch barrel.

It sits between the AK-74M and AKS-74U in size.

AK-105
AK-105 (Photo: Егоров Игорь via WikiCommons)

The 100 Series and the Civilian Market

In the world of the U.S. AK market, the 100 series are somewhat tricky to get hands-on — especially since the carbine variants are considered NFA weapons.

Kalashnikov USA produces the KR-103 rifle, an AK-103 clone.

1169
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

It does feature the muzzle device and black polymer furniture but lacks a folding stock like a real AK-103.

The Arsenal SAM7 rifles offer a high-quality modern AK, but the folding stock is a wire type rather than glass-filled nylon.

1799
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Arsenal AKs are extremely high quality and certainly well-proven among AK enthusiasts.

Palmetto State Armory produces the AK-104 series with a slightly extended barrel, a pinned and welded muzzle device, or a pistol without a stock.

They also make an AK-103 clone complete with polymer side folding stock and muzzle device.

699
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Those desiring an AK-101 or AK-102 type rifle are short on options. 5.56 AKs don’t seem to be too popular these days.

PSA AK 103 Shooting
PSA AK 103

The best you’ll get your hands on would be the Arsenal SAM5. This 5.56 AK doesn’t replicate the 100 series outside of the 5.56 chambering and black furniture, though.

Sadly, finding something in the vein of the AK-105 will be close to impossible.

The Latest: AK-12

The AK-12 represents the latest AK iteration for the Russian military, making some significant changes to the classic AK platform.

It’s worth noting, before going too far into this, that there have been a confusing number of iterations of the AK-12.

But the most recent version retains the 5.45 caliber but makes moves to modernize the AK…quite M4 like.

PSA AK74 545x39mm
5.45x39mm

The AK-12 utilizes a collapsing M4-style stock that also folds to the left, while its handguard incorporates rails at various positions for accessories.

You also get a dust cover optic’s rail on top and sights that are moved rearward as much as possible to improve sight radius.

The dust cover is redesigned and improved to ensure optics will retain zero.

AK-12 (Photo: Nickel nitride via WikiCommons)

Its safety, magazine release, and charging handle are still classic AK. So, ergonomically, it’s still a gun from the 1940s.

Barrel length remains the same, a new polymer magazine has been issued, and we see the Russians issue more optics than ever before.

The Civilian Variant?

Sadly, no company has tried to replicate the AK-12.

It doesn’t seem super difficult to do, but demand simply might not exist.

Shrug Don't Know

Kalashnophiles tend to be a little old school in the love of their AKs. So, a modern variant might not be super loved anyway.

On Gunbroker, you can find AK-12 handguards on occasion, but man, oh man, are they pricey.

What About SMGs?

Pistol caliber carbines and braced pistols are so hot right now. The United States firearm market loves PCCs.

This leads many to ask about 9mm AK series rifles and pistols.

Kalashnikov USA KP9 Left Side
Kalashnikov USA KP9

In Russia, they have the PP-19 Vityaz.

This 9mm submachine gun ditches the traditional long-stroke gas piston system for a simpler direct blowback design.

The PP-19 mimics AK controls and design, but inside it’s much different.

PP-19 Bizon.

Folding stocks are the norm on these guns, and they are quite compact and lightweight.

The PP-19 weighs 6.39-pounds and is only 27.8-inches long, with the stock extended.

A short 9.4-inch barrel ensures it’s quite easy to wield in close quarter’s situations.

Civilian AK PCCs

Russians use the PP-19 domestically and have exported it in significant numbers.

For the longest time, we were devoid of AKs in 9mm in the states.

The Chiappa PAK-9 came out, but that was an abomination. Then the Draco 9mm followed, but none resembled the PP-19…until recently.

AK Bolt Hold Open Draco
AK Bolt Hold Open Draco

Kalashnikov USA unveiled the KP-9 pistol, rifle, and short-barreled rifle.

It’s similar to the PP-19 but isn’t a perfect clone. KP-9 pistols use a shorter 9.2-inch barrel, but other than that seem identical.

Kalashnikov USA KP9 Shooting
Kalashnikov USA KP9

The KP-9’s downfall is its high price tag, seemingly limited availability, and proprietary magazines.

We recently took the KP-9 for a test drive. See what we thought in our full review!

1115
at Guns.com

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If you’re not too picky about your AK PCCs, then the PSA AK-V seems to be the clear winner.

It uses Scorpion mags, comes brace-ready, and even mounts modern Magpul AK furniture.

PSA AKV Groups Testing
PSA AKV

Plus, they are easy to find and quite affordable comparatively.

The AK-V uses a blowback gas system as well and certainly captures the AK subgun rather well.

789
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Conclusion

The AK world is huge and full of various models from Hungary, China, Romania, Yugoslavia, and so many more.

Field Stripped AK-47
Field Stripped AK-47

If you just want an AK, then the options are open. But if you want something akin to Russian service rifles…then things get a little trickier.

I gotta turn it over to the crowd. What’s the best option for those looking for authentic Russian firearms? Chime in and let us know below! Want more AKs? Check out our AK-47 Buyer’s Guide.

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9 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Michael D Langlois

    Love the article. Love my SLR95, a milled receiver version of the standard AK47. It has a
    Thumbhole stock and is the most reliable semi-auto 'Sporting Rifle" I own. It rattles off the 78 round drum no problems (except the government in the Peoples Socialist Republic of California), while I watch the AR platforms jam up 99% of the time when high capacity drums are used. I am learning the AR platform (14 builds this year) and how to fine tune it. Maybe I can get the AR to be as reliable as the AK platform. I still thing I would grab my 1950's era Ngant 7.62x54 if I had to run with one gun; bolt action, accurate and biggest bang we get short of the .50 cal!! Manic Mike

    September 13, 2021 9:42 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    JellyB

    Nice article.
    Just one more thing from a european guy.
    I bought myself this year the Izhmash Saiga TR3 which is the civilian version of the AK-12. Might be worth it to include this version the the article aswell.

    September 13, 2021 9:00 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    VR

    I am a little surprised that there was no mention whatsoever of the most important/unique feature of AK-107 and AK-112 - the counterbalanced design. Larry Vickers did a pretty good review of AK112 - Google/YouTube it.

    September 13, 2021 2:23 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    G Crown

    Please do another article on non-Russian type rifles that shoot the 7.62x39 rounds, such as the Ruger American Ranch, CZ'S, AR Style semi-auto rifle and pistols, etc., especially those with excellent accuracy at 100 yards.

    September 12, 2021 10:45 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Greg

    Can’t post the YT link here, so:
    Finland Red, Egypt White (Song by The Sisterhood)
    :)

    September 12, 2021 8:09 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Greg

    youtu.be/lADSB7OK4n0

    September 12, 2021 8:08 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    sound awake

    by far the 3 best ak add ons ever:

    1 ar 15 complete upper assembly chambered in 7.62x39

    2 ar 15 complete lower receiver

    3 4 c products 7.62x39 ar 15 magazines

    just add optic and sights accordingly

    September 11, 2021 8:52 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      tcopeland

      Excellent. Just skip the niceities and jump right to the AR-10. I'm with you, brother.

      September 12, 2021 7:23 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        sound awake

        the best part of the ak:

        the 7.62x39 round

        September 12, 2021 8:15 pm