By Thomas Conroy
But there are still plenty of AKs and parts kits from places like Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, just about anywhere from the old Soviet Bloc and their allies.
Even before the import ban on Russian AKs, building your own Kalashnikov was becoming more popular, and will probably become even more so, now with the current ban in place.
Jim Fuller with Rifle Dynamics has tapped into this interest, hosting “Build Your Own AK” classes all over the country. He also has an outstanding AK Armorer’s video out. You can get his video, along with the AK-Builder.com tools used in those classes from several quality vendors, including Brownells.
I haven’t had the pleasure of attending one of Jim Fuller’s classes, but I am building my own AK. And I’ve learned by doing what tools are really helpful in building your own Kalashnikov. You’ll need more than just five tools – things like drill bits, big hammers and headspace gauges –and if you insist on building from a receiver flat, you’ll need a Receiver Bending Die, too.
In my case, I chose a fully-formed AK receiver with rails and center post already installed, as I wanted my first building experience to be relatively simple.
Do not forget to familiarize yourself with 922r rules about building from a parts kit. This website has a handy calculator to let you see which US made parts you’ll need to add to a foreign AK parts kit to stay in compliance.
But here are what I’ve found to be the absolutely most useful tools for building an AK.
My Top Five Tools For Building An AK
5.) AK Trigger Guard Riveting Jig
The very first rivets I ever crushed were those holding the trigger guard onto my AK receiver. Lots of first-time American AK builders just don’t have much – if any – experience riveting things. The AK Trigger Guard Riveting Jig makes this task simple and straightforward. If you’re trying to rivet the trigger guard onto a receiver that already has the rails welded in and the center post installed, like mine, the kit even comes with the extra post and plate for that.
4.) Barrel Press Kit
Pressing the barrel into place is a real “Moment of Truth” in building your AK. I’ve seen videos of all sorts of homemade contraptions to accomplish this, but the AK-Builder Barrel Press Kit seems to be one of the best tools for the job out there. It’s a very-well thought out kit that has all the parts, including a brass muzzle-alignment nut to protect the muzzle of your rifle against marring while it’s being pressed.
3.) Riveting Tool
Riveting the front and rear trunnions into place is another very important step in building your own AK. If the front trunnion isn’t straight, your rifle will be crooked, neither reliable nor accurate. If the rivets are not tight and secure, the rifle could literally come apart in your hands while firing, which could be truly catastrophic. The Riveting Tool makes it easy to get those rivets exactly where they need to be, and ensure they are well-crushed and tight. This tool also lets you dimple the rivet holes in the receiver – helping the receiver and trunnion to “stick” together – and can also install the center post, if you’re building from a receiver flat that doesn’t yet have the center post installed.
2.) A Good Drill Press
You will wind up needing to drill new holes, or to modify existing holes to put your AK together. Some receivers require you to locate and then drill all the holes for both the front and rear trunnions. The receiver I used had pre-drilled holes that aligned perfectly with the trunnions, but they were just too small in diameter to accept the rivets. I used a drill press to enlarge them. When you do press in the barrel and headspace it, you’ll have to drill another hole that just scallops the barrel for the barrel pin. No matter what, you will wind up drilling holes in metal.
Drill presses are not specifically gun-related, but if you’re going to take on projects like building AKs, you’re going to need one, or at least be on good terms with the neighbor who has a well-equipped home shop in his garage or basement. Drill presses are just plain handy for all sorts of jobs. You might as well get one. Start with Amazon, or look for garage sales or check local online listings for used items if you need to go cheap.
1.) 12-ton Shop Press
Without a doubt, the single most important tool you’ll need is a 12-ton shop press. Just like the drill press, it’s not a specifically a gun-related tool. But without it, none of the really awesome AK-Builder tools and jigs will do you much good. Yes, there are plans and suggestions out on the Internet about using modified bolt cutters for crushing rivets and such. But the shop press is just so versatile that getting one is worth it. Or persuade five of your buddies chip into get one so you can all build AKs together. Or rent time on one from a neighbor – a cold six-pack is still an internationally-recognized currency. C’mon, you’re creative, right? I mean you’ve just decided to build an AK from scratch, didn’t you? Figure out some way to either get yourself a shop press, or at least get access to one.
Just Do It
It can be complicated to assemble all the tools you’ll need to build your own AK. It might even seem a bit expensive. But the time and money spent will seem cheap compared to the knowledge you’ll gain, and the satisfaction you’ll feel when you take that rifle – that you built all by yourself – out to the range for the first time. And I’ve heard that building AKs is like eating potato chips. It’s hard to limit yourself to just one. I can’t wait to find out if that’s true, once I get the barrel pressed into my first homemade Kalashnikov.
Thomas Conroy is a firearms aficionado and writer who lives in the Midwest.