[Guest Post] Customizing the SKS carbine

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[ This guest post was written by Drefizzle. ]

Hello everybody. Today we are going to take another look at an old favorite: The SKS carbine or Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova.

SKS Carbine (Photo CC szuppo)

This carbine was originally designed and manufactured in Soviet Russia and was adopted into service in 1945. After that, many other Soviet Bloc nations also manufactured and adopted it into service as well, including Yugoslavia, Romania, Albania, East Germany, China, North Vietnam, and North Korea. Being so prolific it has found its way into many conflicts and in the hands of many countries and forces.

“Customized” SKS recovered by US forces

It fires the 7.62×39 cartridge and while it might not be the most accurate weapon around, it certainly has proved to be extremely reliable and durable.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, these rifles began to be imported into the states by the thousands. They were so many of them on the market at once that I have seen ads in old catalogs for a never fired SKS $90.00. They were only $70.00 a piece if you bought them by the case! Oh how things have changed…

Today the carbines have found their way into the hands of American hunters and sportsman alike. Some people use them for home defense, while some only have them for weekend plinking as the ammo is very affordable. I personally know many people who used an SKS to take their first deer.

That’s a little bit of the history of the SKS but, the title isn’t History of the SKS Carbine is it? No, it’s Customizing the SKS Carbine.

We are here to talk about turning any old SKS into YOUR SKS.

Before we look at products we have to ask ourselves a few questions:

What is my intended use after I have customized it?

Because there are so many aftermarket accessories for the SKS, it is wise to narrow down your selection by catering to your intended use.
If you are looking for a hunting rifle, you could start by looking at different scopes and mounts. It might also be a good Idea to look at replacement stocks, slings, and possibly a bipod.

For something more tactical, the first thing I would do is replace the stock with something with a pistol grip and rails for attaching accessories. Folding stocks are available as well. A detachable magazine would speed up reload times. Or possibly a red dot optic and some way to mount it if you expect a lot of close quarter engagements. Finally, a laser and flashlight would complete the setup.

Perhaps you just want to restore your old war horse to its former glory. Old wood can be refinished. Scuffs and scratched metal can be polished out and re-blued. And you would be surprised how much a good cleaning can improve function and reliability of the weapon.

Will this depreciate the value of the gun and am I OK with it if it does?

While most SKS’s are not “collector grade”, there are a few out there that are. Before any modifications are made to any military surplus firearm, it is always a good idea to do a little research and try to find out exactly what you have. You never know, some collector grade war trophies can fetch a pretty penny if sold to the right buyer. If you have an SKS that turns out to be worth a good deal of money, you can always sell it to a collector, use that money to buy another, and use the extra to pay for any customizations you might make. WIN – WIN!!

In the end, it is completely your decision to add aftermarket parts to your gun. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Am I capable of installation or will I need to take it to a gunsmith?

Being employed for an online retailer of aftermarket accessories I can’t tell you how many times I have seen someone drop a couple hundred dollars on aftermarket parts only to receive them to find out that they are not familiar enough with the weapon to install them. While this is sad this can be easily prevented by just taking your time and learning about your gun and the products before you make any purchases. Just remember, if you don’t think you are capable, you probably aren’t. Lucky for you, parts like these are well within the skills of any competent gunsmith, generally at a nominal fee. Also you can almost always call the parts supplier or manufacturer and they will usually answer any questions you might have.

Most aftermarket parts for the SKS are pretty much drop in but some very key areas are not. Things like gas tubes, receiver cover scope mounts and replacement bolts usually require very delicate fitting. While with time, patience, and a willingness to learn, anyone can install them, they must be done properly or you may end up turning them into paperweights.

Finally some variants of the SKS (Albanian, SKS-D, and SKS-M) are rarer and may not be within the same specs as the more common versions (Chinese or Russian). While most parts are designed to accommodate this, some are not and will usually specify what models it either will or will not fit.

How much can I afford to put into it?

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Some upgrades can get downright expensive, while some upgrades are only a few bucks. Take your time. Figure out what you want the gun to be. Look at what’s out there and seriously explore all of the options you can. In the aftermarket parts industry, I have found there is always more than one way to get the exact same job accomplished. Use common sense and find the parts that work the best for you, within your budget. Most of all have fun with it.

Here are some pretty fine examples of some customized SKS’s sent in by some of my customers and maybe a little inspiration for your next project:

I hope I have given you a good idea of what to expect when customizing your SKS rifle.

Until then, remember, all good things come to those who shoot straight.



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  • btr

    Please don’t let Tapco rape your SKS.

    Changing a gun to make it uglier and less reliable (mag swap) is not good thing

  • 2Wheels

    I guess I’m the kinda person who thinks that if you want an AK, buy an AK… I know the SKS is cheaper in the beginning, but then you go and spend your cash buying tactical folding stocks and other whatnot in an effort to make your SKS more “tactical”.

    Plus, aftermarket SKS mags suck. Because your average SKS wasn’t meant to take detachable mags, those 30 rounders are really annoying to deal with, given that long extension on the front of the mag.

  • WeaponBuilder

    Wow… Nothing mentioned about 922R Compliance? :-/

  • Dan

    Mags on a SKS are just bad. I have never seen one that was reliable. A non-reliable gun is a worthless gun in my book.

    Now that forward mount scope. . . . I might have to look into that. I never use mine past 200 yards and the open sights really work fine for that, but I do love a forward mounted scope. If I can do that without all the tacticool mounting systems hanging off the gun, I will be really happy.

  • GMC70

    There’s always the bullpup mod.

    http://sgworks.com/

    There are others, too. Check it out.

    But don’t cut up a beautiful old military shooter. If you’ve got a beat up SKS that someone has already tried to “sporterize,” great. Otherwise . . .

  • zincorium

    Oh man, and I was drinking coffee when he used the phrase ‘close quarters engagements’ in the context of a civilian owned gun. Had to clean my keyboard.

    Drefizzle, are you aware of the term ‘mall ninja’?

  • David Calhoun

    Can’t say I’m a fan of the SKS. My local Los altos gun range does not allow a SKS to be loaded with more than 3 rounds due to their tendency to go full auto when the disconnector wears out. That’s no fun!

  • Big Daddy

    I have read that the VC during the Vietnam war preferred the SKS to the AK47. It was more accurate and they did not really like the full auto feature of the AK47. They also liked the M2 carbine and M16 over the AK47.

    I almost bought a SKS many years ago. I should have……

    It’s a beautiful rifle and I would probably prefer the Russian made ones to the ChiCom. I do remember how nice it felt in my hands as did the Garand I was looking at. Both were nice since the only rifle I fired was a M16 in the service which I thought was a POS. I also handled an old Springfield from WWI when I was a kid and again the feel of wood and metal beat plastic any day.

    IMO if you have a beautiful wood stock untouched SKS leave it that way. It’s like taking a really nice looking woman and doing what they do in Hollywood with plastic surgery and botox, it ruins what was a naturally beautiful woman.

    I play guitar, blues guitar and I see what some chumps do their nice wood guitars by making them in Frankenstein POS things. I wouldn’t do it with an SKS or any other gun like that. It’s different if your life depends on your weapon, in that case a SKS is not something you want anyway.

  • Joel

    That’s just wrong. If you must customize an SKS buy one that someone else has already screwed with. These rifles will be way cheaper than a stock model, because someone has already thrown away the good parts and replaced them with junky plastic stocks and injection molded rails. Also, you won’t be destroying another fine SKS that in a few years you will sell for a loss because nobody wants your Bubba’d rifle. The vast majority of aftermarket parts for the SKS are complete garbage because when someone goes out and buys an SKS for $200 (a couple of years ago) they don’t want to drop $150-250 on a stock for it. This is constant among all mil-surps that are available for good prices (ie Mosins). Also, with all of the cheap WASRs available now for around $350 you can get an actual AK pattern rifle (granted at the lower end of the quality spectrum) for less than it would cost you to buy and SKS and try to turn it into an AK. Also, when you try to tacticalize your SKS,you’ll run into issues, like a mag release that seems to go the wrong way, and less than reliable magazines (especially compared to AK mags), plus it’s going to turn into a heavy rifle too. Leave the gun stock, get some stripper clips, and have a good time. Don’t try to turn it into something it’s not.

  • Lance

    The SKS is a classic weapon DON’T mess with it if you want a Black eastern bloc weapon get a AK-47 and get some black furniture for it. A SKS should be left alone for what they are worth.

  • J.T.

    I am with 2Wheels, if you want an AK, buy an AK. It is cheaper than trying to make a SKS “taticool”. Why? because with an SKS, if you make any modifications (like adding a hi-cap magazine or pistol-grip stock) you then have to make the rifle 922r compliant which means shelling out even more money for compliance parts. For the price it would take to buy an SKS, pimp it out, and make it compliant; you could have gotten an AK and enough ammo for a day at the range.

  • mmathers

    I’m surprised that there’s a whole post about SKS customization and not a single sentence about 922r compliance.

    Before you swap out any parts and make the gun “non-sporting”, you should do a tally to see if you are in compliance with federal law.
    http://gunwiki.net/Gunwiki/BuildSKSVerifyCompliance

    Sure, there are some folks that like to say “noone has ever been convicted of a standalone 922r violation” (vs. a tack-on charge to other violations) but for the savings of one replacement part on a cheap gun, is it worth the possibility that you will be the one the feds decide to make an example out of?

    -mm

  • M.G. Halvorsen

    I’ve had a stone-stock Chinese Type 56 Carbine since around 1992. I took it out of the wrapper and cleaned cosmoline for DAYS! To date, it has been, without a doubt, the most reliable semi-auto that I’ve ever owned. Now, I know that there are owners of other, more expensive, more reliable rifles out there…but, for the low price I (actually my wife) paid for this (I think it was $149), it has stood the test of time…and crappy ammo…and bad weather. So far,I have never had a malfunction, misfire, stovepipe, jam…heck, never anything but a satisfying BANG! and relatively good accuracy…3″ groups at 100 yards. Good by any military standards and AMAZING, considering it’s homeland, the PRC.
    I’ve put probably 5-10 thousand rounds downrange, without so much as a hiccup. I subscribe to the old notion that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”… So I’ll just leave it as is…Just sayin’…

  • jamie

    If you love sks and the cash sure go for it. I have a norinco 1956 sks, I have had it since 1992. Its mostly original I have a williams fire sight on it, and wouldn’t mind a bill springfield trigger job, possibly a choate drago stock since it is one piece and has pistol grip and I can add spacers to the butt stock.

    I have two convertes saiga aks, if one wants 30 rd mags and tactical gear one should consider the ak unless they are dead set on the sks.

    The sks is 90% the gun the ak is at $200 used its the best battle rifle in existence in original stock form.

    It can quickly become a $600 ak wanna be that loses sks function, and falls short of the ak it is trying to become.

    Most would be better stock or close to it with night sights, tech sight apeerature sight, or trigger job. Spend $300 total, then go buy a $369 wasr ak.

  • Pliskin

    I really liked the Tapco stock I had on my SKS. Although I’m not sure that top rail would hold zero or not. The 20rd mags were 100% reliable for me over about 7-800rds. However I did trade it for a pistol but I plan to get another and keep it more original looking. Never had an AK but I shot a couple and I think I like the SKS better actually. Still like ARs better than both designs though. Anybody seen those new SKS wood stocks from Timbersmith? They look really good in monte carlo style, not a big fan of thumbhole stocks though.

  • RollTide

    Tapco stock= good. Aftermarket mags= bad. Keep the stripper clip set up. Ditch the stock, they are generally too short and unwieldy,add what ever you want to the rails on the tapco stock and burn some cheap commie surplus ammo. This is a low/ medium range battle weapon so accuracy is marginal but acceptable for plinking or putting holes in paper or medium sized game(predators/nuisance type). I classify this as a “fun” rifle or truck gun. Still plentiful and rather inexpensive.
    Oh yea the 30 rounder may look cool but it’s function is terrible.

  • Nathaniel

    Yugo SKS: $270

    Tapco Intrafuse stock: $60

    Tapco SKS magazine (x3): $45.

    Total: $375

    Romanian WASR-10: $379.

    Butbutbut! It doesn’t have any RAILS!!!!

    *rolls eyes*

  • jamie

    Nathaniel one would still need more 922r parts to be compliant.

    Also compare fail proof $9 surplus mags to the quoted price.

  • JamesD

    Congratulations! You have broken 922r and posted it for the world to see!
    I think it’s time to push for a repeal.

  • cc19

    Tricked out SKS’s and 12 GA pistol grip pumps, have for some reason, always been sort of like coming of age, tacticool weapons – very popular among teen males. I suspect mainly because they’re, “affordable,” at that point in their life for the most part.

  • Mark Hillard

    Here’s my custom SKS bullpup

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    About six months ago, I purchased an SKS in virtually mint condition for $350 at my local FFL dealer’s shop. It was a rifle that had been traded in by it’s previous owner for something else. The SKS in question had been fully “tacticalized” with a Tapco kit and looked very similar to the one in Photo #4 ( from the top ) in this article, complete with a Picatinny-railed dust cover, clamp-on muzzle brake and 30-round duckbill magazine. Fortunately, the previous owner had probably recognized the potential value of the OEM components, and had included them in the trade to my FFL dealer. The long and short of it was that I was able to easily return the SKS to its original configuration complete with folding spike bayonet, which I much prefer from a historical standpoint anyway, and set aside the Tapco kit as an “extra”.

    This particular SKS is a late-model Norinco, and is an extremely well-made weapon with excellent fit and finish. The only exception to a full OEM restoration has been the use of a Tapco 20-round duckbill magazine, which not only fits very well but has also proven to be just about the best higher-capacity magazine I have ever used on any SKS regardless of price — solid and reliable with consistent feeding in the worst possible field conditions, It is also short enough to be completely manageable when firing from the prone position while still providing the benefits of a higher-capacity magazine. Don’t get me wrong — I have on hand the original 10-round integral magazine and a large number of stripper clips which I can swap into anytime I decide to go 100% OEM, and I fully appreciate the many practical advantages and historical value of doing so. But I also have to say it is really enjoyable trying out various configurations ( such as the 20-round magazine ) while still retaining the traditional furniture and accessories, while knowing that a full OEM restoration is only a short step away.

    Judging by the comments I have read so far, there seems to be a mixed bag insofar as the opinions on the SKS’ trigger pull is concerned. I can only add that the trigger pull on my SKS is superb for a military trigger, very crisp and clean ( it breaks at an even 4.5 lbs. ) with no hint of creep and virtually no over-travel. At first, I thought the previous owner might have had a trigger job done on it, but subsequent investigation revealed otherwise — this was simply a great OEM trigger set-up from Norinco. Perhaps I got lucky, but then again it might have been the result of a good production run.