The AK-47 TYPE ONE: Still Working After All These Years

Photos © claymore. Commercial use is forbidden.

This article was written by Claymore.

Hold onto your seats TFB readers you are about to see something that I’m 99.9% sure has NEVER been seen before.

Like most people interested in firearms I was working under the incorrect impression that the first AK-47s came with a “milled” receiver. I was an NFA and FFL firearms dealer and had researched this subject just to learn more about my passion “NFA firearms.

I was soon to learn just how wrong that impression was.

In the late 80s my partner and me had just returned from the Pakistan/Afghan border region where we were working for an NGO, doing training and administration chores for Afghan freedom fighters, when we got “the call” To see if we would be interested in doing the same thing for Hmong freedom fighters.

We, being the “adventurous” types, we agreed and we were soon on our way to the area where we would be working on our new adventure in South East Asia.

It turns out we would be working with General Vang Pao (who died earlier this year, RIP). To learn more about General Vang Pao and his Hmong fighters search the web for something along the lines of “the secret war in LAOS“.

Our training course was soon set up and while one of us was teaching the other was free to wander around the area doing our “other” jobs. One of my jobs was weapon evaluation and repair, so I was always looking at the vast hodgepodge of weapons used by the Hmong.

One afternoon I came across this AK-47 looking weapon (see title photo above) and it had me scratching my head as to just what it was.

It sure looked like an AK-47 model of some type but I had never seen one with half sheet metal and half milled receiver before. If you look closely at the photo above just forward and above the magazine well there is a portion of milled receiver bulging out and that is what had me puzzled.

I asked the Hmong owner of the firearm if he knew anything about and and the only thing he knew was “OLD”. He will never know just how accurate that description is.

I took a couple more photos so when we went home I could investigate it a bit more to try and find out just what is was.

AK-47 Type One TFB

In the photo above the milled bulge can be seen in greater detail. This strange weapon had a straight wooden stock which would become more interesting later in this article.

AK-47 Type One TFB

To me personally the most interesting thing about this “mystery firearm” was the serial number that was stamped into the bulge. 729 was my police badge number at the time and that is the serial number on this firearm.

If you look very closely at the selector lever you will notice small “holes” or dimples instead of the more recent “slots” that you normally see on AK family of weapons. These holes would help me identify it later.

We went about our training and evaluation mission and soon were back in the USA and I started looking through my big pile of firearms reference books and military field manuals to see if I could identify this “mystery firearm”.

I came on a very few mentions of the TYPE ONE AK-47 and began to think I had come across a VERY rare weapon still being used in active service about 50 years after production.

The few mentions I came on were very short but at that time in the early 90’s the web wasn’t yet the stock pile of info that it is now so I had to rely on reference books in my quest.

Finally I found a mention with a line drawing, if I remember correctly, was somewhere buried in the “Smithsonian museum” material somewhere. So there it was the very first version of the infamous AK-47 and it did indeed have a sheet metal receiver and this was the same type firearm still being used a long long time after it’s manufacture. This reference made mention of the dimples for selector position.

I was amazed that I had taken photos of a firearm that had never shown up in any reference I could find anywhere, at the time, including the famous Jane’s firearms references.

Cased closed as one would say in “Cop Talk” but I was soon to be given another chance to see another TYPE ONE in person. I passed this information along to the “appropriate agencies” that might be interested and no one had seen one also.

My partner and I ran a few more missions with VP and his people but got a call from “someone” who asked if we wanted to do the same thing with another group of Hmong Freedom fighters.

Our introduction to the “Chow FA” (sky soldiers in Hmong) was “interesting” to say the least.

We were advised that the leader of this group of Laotian Hmong PA Kow Her ( he was assassinated in 1993) had worked for the USA in Vietnam but had been abandoned there like many of “our” people had been in our rush to get out.

Pa Kow walked from Vietnam back to Laos and the name Chow FA came to him when it was just him and the sky when we was making the very long on foot trip back to Laos.

We would be the very first “Americans” to make contact since his abandonment, at our hands, and it was unknown what kind of welcome we would get would he still be holding a grudge or not was the question we had on our minds while making the trip into his area of operations.

After a long hump through the mountains we got to the area where they were fighting with the Lao government and our welcome couldn’t have gone better much to our relief.

Like our other missions we soon got down to business of training and evaluating the Chow Fa and as usual I was walking around looking at weapons when I came upon this ANOTHER TYPE ONE AK-47 in the hands of Hmong fighters.

AK-47 Type One TFB

I couldn’t believe my luck here was another one right here in my hands and it had a folding stock. I was ready this time because I already knew what I was looking at and I took a bunch of photos this time.

AK-47 Type One TFB

This photo of the early “open top” butt plate shows it is a very early version. The sheet metal extension of the lower section of the receiver that comes upward and closes the rear of the receiver shows that this is a true folding stock model not a straight stock cut off modification.

AK-47 Type One TFB

Here is a much better shot of the small “holes” or dimples that stop the selector lever in the correct spot rather than the familiar “slots” in later models.

This photo also shows much more detail of the milled bulge.

It also has some weird looking hieroglyphics for the selector makings. They are faint but the top one looks like a 6 or a “G” clef used in music.

AK-47 Type One TFB

Anyone out there reading willing to hazard a guess why this one is “different” than the straight stock one?

Give up? “Look ma no serial number” on this one where the other one is marked.

So which is correct or is this one a clandestine “sterile” model given to the Hmong.

AK-47 Type One TFB

But the commies forgot the serial numbered parts inside. It looks like these two are from the same run because the first one is 729 and this one is marked 769 on the bolt.

It’s internal surfaces show very little wear even after about 50 years of service. And the Hmong is keeping his firearm nice and clean.

AK-47 Type One TFB

These photos were taken with a good old fashioned 35mm then scanned so in this one I was concentrating on the springs and working parts. Unfortunately that puts the markings near the chamber out of focus. But you can make out the very optimistic 800 meter marking on the rear site.

AK-47 Type One TFB

We are at the end of our journey with this one showing the internal parts still looking shiny and clean after 50 years of service.

So that is the story on how you readers of The Firearms Blog got to be in on the first ever public showing of these very rare photos of not one but two type one AK-47s.

All photos the property/copyright of claymore and any commercial use other than this site is forbidden.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • SCAxman

    Seven or one? I think it may be an even earlier gun than you think. Not to lesson the synchronicity.

    It strikes me as very Russian to test a new design with a remote set of observable users.

    • MrSatyre

      I gotta agree with you, SCAxman. When I read “729” I thought surely that must be a typo as it looks like “129” to me.

      • claymore

        It could be I was put wrong in my thinking it is a 7 hoping it was my badge number and now that I look at it you may be right BUT look at the numbers on the bolt of the second one that one really looks like a seven. Guess we will never be sure as the Hmong are all “in the wind” avoiding the Lao army and finding this one guy would be tough. But I bet these AKs are still in use with one of them.

    • Brandon

      I agree, when I looked at it I thought “That’s a crappy 7. I would have said it was a 1”

  • PatrickPM

    Bravo! A great gun article on a great blog!

    • Thank you Patrick–it is a fine article and interesting in the extreme. A lot of history in those guns. Wouldn’t you like to know where they’ve been!

  • Doc

    Claymore, an excellent article… and your stories bring back memories, some good, some bad of the phoenix rising from the ashes, if you know what I mean. Keep the faith brother, we made it. I miss the highlands, but not the bugs!

    • claymore

      Funny that you mention that, Pa Kow was working for SOG while in Vietnamn. And one of the people involved in our missions was a one time exo of the same.

    • LOL—I know what you mean by the Phoenix.

      • claymore

        Must be a bunch of us “Old Guys” on this site LOL.

  • Lance

    We will see AKs AKMs and SKS solder on for most of this century probably.

    • I would bet on it!

    • rossmum

      I’d imagine several centuries, honestly – as long as there is ammunition and the rifles are not so worn as to be unusable.

  • USSHelm

    Wow. Great article.

  • Joe Schmoe

    Well here is something interesting you didn’t notice.

    I was looking at the top picture for a while and I thought I saw something, so I ran it through photoshop and sure enough, it was there.

    The selector marking on you top AK are labeled “1” and “2” respectively. Which would make it different than your follow on below.

    Here is the modified image:

    I’ll try to run your other AK through Photoshop to clear up the marking there.

    • claymore

      Nice job when I had it I didn’t have anything to look real close and with the naked eye you couldn’t see those numbers.

      Anybody with the skills is welcome to “do your magic” on the photos to see what else we can find.

      How about trying to enhance the selector marks on the second one they are almost clear with the naked eye.

      • Joe Schmoe

        I was looking at the second one through photoshop and it really looks more like a “6” than a “G”, so I decided to go word hunting and sure enough this turns up: “быстрый” – “Rapid” in Russian. That would be my best guess to the top symbol. The bottom one is anyone’s guess since it looks like a lot of it was scratched/worn out:

        • claymore

          Good work on finding that. Rapid is probably what they were going for as the top position is automatic fire not semi.

          The bottom one is probably something similar to slow or repeat in common Soviet terms.

          • Joe Schmoe

            How about that, “Slow” in Russian is: “замедлять”; which matches the bottom symbol pretty well.

          • claymore

            Ha you should hire out and do photo interpretation.

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            Great in-depth investigative work, Joe! You have a very good eye for minute details which helps contribute to the common knowledge pool and separate hard facts from assumptions — thank you for sharing.

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    We’ve received photos from current conflict zones of two Type 1s and been advised of a 3rd, though none with such a low serial.

    Rare is relative in the AK world; if I recall correctly c80k Type 1s were built.

    • claymore

      I think in my research 80k might be on the way high side because the AK-47 we all know with the milled receiver was out very soon after the type one. But my research was back in the pre-web days so more could have been learned since then.

      • Jonathan Ferguson

        I can’t confirm the reference as I don’t have a copy to hand, but pretty sure that figure is from ‘The Grim Reaper’.

      • Jonathan Ferguson

        Pretty sure that figure is from “The Grim Reaper”. Need to check.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      80,000 examples of the Type 1 AK might seem a lot at first glance, but when one takes into account the attrition rate in almost continuous active, ongoing battlefield combat over time as well as the overall millions of AK-type weapons produced — even allowing for the AK’s legendary durability — 80,000 is still a relatively small number, enough to make the Type 1 fairly rare.

      Having said that, I am perfectly willing to concede the point if it is discovered that more Type 1’s than anyone anticipated have survived in service to this day.

      • Jonathan Ferguson

        Precisely what I meant by ‘relative’. These finds are perfectly consistent with that figure. I still need to check the book though.

  • claymore

    In a short sidebar story these early AKs came with a “slab side” type magazine. They are the same shape as the modern ones but the long sides of the mag had NO “Ribs” pushed into to metal. They look like the modern “plastic” smooth side mags similar to AK-74 style.

    I knew they were valuable because at a local gun show someone was selling one for $500.00 way back in the 90’s.

    As I was doing my evaluations I finally found a guy with one in great shape. Normally they got tossed pretty quickly because with no ribs the mag sides would dent very easily so a lot of them got tossed out.

    I tried everything I could think of to trade or buy that mag offering up a lot of modern military “goodies” in trade but he wouldn’t budge an inch unless I came up with a new AK mag.

    Since we were out in the boonies and mags were so scarce soldiers would trade off their mags to others going out on patrol I never did get that “slab side” and have to smile every time I see one on sale at a show.

    I don’t have any photos but they can be found with a websearch.

    So any of our readers currently in conflict zones keep an eye out for them as they are worth their weight in gold back in the USA.

    • Johannes Axner

      What a rip-off. You can easily find original Russian slabsides for under $50 in Europe. No idea if you can import, but from what I see Russian magazines seem to be sold in the US at about 10 times the price they cost in stores in Europe. At military shows you can find them for half that price.

      Case in point:

      • claymore

        That would be a money maker if you could get some into the states.

        • Johannes Axner

          I know several people who buy cheap mags in Europe, especially bakelites and RPK ones, and sell them insanely expensive on American forums. Good money if you lack a conscience. 😉

          • claymore

            They are only meeting market forces so I see nothing wrong with that if Americans that can’t get them think it is worth the price they are paying. If the price was too high they would not sell.

          • Cymond

            Lack a conscience? How so? What is wrong with supplying rare collectibles to collectors?

  • sturm44

    Shame it couldn’t be a bring back for historical purposes.

    On a related note, there are pictures of Yugoslav paratroopers using the German MP-44 until at least the 70’s.

    • Steve (TFB Editor)

      Interesting photo indeed!

  • Justapasserby

    Great little article, amazing that these old AK-47 Type 1s are still working given the pressure issues that forced them to return to the milled receiver.

    • claymore

      True but then they returned to sheet metal so they must have solved the problems.

    • Thiago Kurovski

      My understanding is that the problems were only found in manufacture (the sheet metal receivers mostly wouldn’t pass inspection), not in use. Otherwise they would have noticed it in the trials…

  • michael

    great article!

    did I miss it but why was the original with a straight stock?

    • claymore

      Most military styles start out with full stocks for regular troops and get modified shorter for specialized troops like parachutists.

  • Rusty Longsword

    Doesn’t LAV own one of these? For some reason I thought he did and had some pics taken of it.

  • saiga556

    Want one. Wonder if there are any more versions out there no one really see or knows about. It would be cool to check out some official records, if suc

    • saiga556

      * such a thing exists

  • Nicholas Mew


    • claymore

      Nice video and it has a good shot of the slab side mags.

  • Anders Albertsson

    Nice article, but do people REALLY not know about Type 1 AKs? I mean, it’s the 3rd freaking result when you google image search “AK-47″….

    • claymore

      Cool but I was doing this in the 90’s and if I remember google wasn’t open yet. And most of the photos are the same ones and most results are from the 2000 onwards

  • Nathaniel

    “Like most people interested in firearms I was working under the incorrect impression that the first AK-47s came with a “milled” receiver.”

    Ummm… It’s in the Wikipedia article:

    “The first production models had stamped sheet metal receivers. Difficulties were encountered in welding the guide and ejector rails, causing high rejection rates.”

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    An incredibly interesting write-up with the rare benefits of personal interaction and insight — thank you, Patrick! The sheer durability of the AK in combat continues to amaze, even for one intimately familiar with the weapon. C.J. Chivers highlighted the same enduring characteristics in his seminal book, “The Gun” ( Simon & Schuster, 2010 ), an in-depth history of the AK-47 and its enormously profound and far-reaching socio-economic impacts on entire societies. He specifically mentioned first-run, original-production AK’s that were still doing yeoman service in the hands of various Taliban and Mujahideen factions in Afghanistan up through 2010 ( the time of writing ).

  • Tommygunn

    Hey the reason for the ANGLED stock ?? Anyone ?? The reason for the ANGLED stock on the type 1 was simple. They were originally intended for armored troops. APC’s etc. When you shoulder a TYPE 1 the aim is AUTOMATICALLY DOWN…TO AIM AT THE GROUND.. Due to the shape of the stock…later as the AK was given to all troops, that was changed to the standard angle that is in the on the AK,AKM ,AK-74

  • petru sova

    According the the book “The AK47” by Ezell the first AK’s were designed for a stamped sheet metal receiver but since Russia was still using WWII Technology and not the newer stamped sheet metal technology they started to make them with milled receivers instead.

  • ak4774

    There is a type 1, type 2, and type 3 AK47. I never seen a folding stock type 1 until this article so thanks. I know the fixed stock version of the 1st has a flat rear receiver while the type 2 has a slant and flat end like the under folder in the picture with a boot connecting to stock the the receiver which i thought was interesting. I know the first models were the weakest of all AK’s ever produced so this just goes to show you how reliable the really are if some 1st models are still popping up in war zones. Also for the later type1’s, all type 2’s, and early type 3’s, will have mix matching parts from other models to help production time.

  • Guest

    In Darra Adem Khel, these are called ‘AKs with wings’! and yes I myself would go for its collectors appeal; they are considered as the lowest in quality hence selling for about $600.00 for a NEW piece and even less depending on condition.