AKOU Tests The Faxon ARAK-21

A few months ago, I posted to my personal blog a brief evaluation of the ARAK-21 rifle that I conducted at Faxon’s Las Vegas shooting event, and it seems that since then more reviewers are getting the chance to take the rifle out for a spin. The AK Operators’ Union recently posted their review of the rifle to group’s YouTube channel, the video for which is embedded below:

The ARAK-21 the Union tested was chambered for the 7.62×39 cartridge, and while they did not report the rifle having any malfunctions under normal use, it did experience bolt closure failures during the dust storm simulation segment. Unusually among conventional-layout rifles of its generation, AKOU’s review sample features dual ejection ports, something that back in January was still a prototype feature. At the 2015 SHOT Show, Faxon representatives were very enthusiastic about the dual ejection port layout, as they felt this would substantially improve debris ingress resistance over a single port.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • Jolly

    No thanks.

    • Nuts!

      We hope our AR products including barrels may suit your interest. AK products will also be released in the future (we currently do barrels for OEMs).

      • Sianmink

        ARAK-21 gets all the press, but Faxon barrels are, by all reports, great, especially for the price. Probably going with those for both the builds I’m putting together now. (5.5lb 14.5″ .223 and .300BLK pistol/SBR)

        • Thanks!

          We do need to work on changing up the press side of it, but few are willing to review just barrels. They always want the rifle!

      • David

        Kudos for coming here, answering questions, and addressing comments and criticisms.

  • JQPub

    Good vid. AKOU rocks. I think it all comes down to caliber. ARAK gets pretty awesome reviews in 5.56, but I’m not sure what major benefit it would have over an AK in x39 to justify the offset in known reliability. Not sure I’d be willing to transition from the known quantity of a good AK to ARAK simply for the ergos (of a left side charging handle, ambi safety, etc) – and the fact that it doesn’t take AK mags, but those Frankenmags instead, is a deal killer for me personally. And also in 5.56, if I wanted to go piston, I’d probably go with a LWRC anyway, so ARAK is not really in my future plans. But it is pretty cool though.

    • Excellent feedback and concerns shared by many AK shooters. The magazine is a major hanging point, but we would not have released the kit if the magazines could not feed reliably (as shown by AKOU’s testing).

      What most people do not understand is that we have significantly changed the base feed ramp (we’re not a standard M4 ramp) and bolt shape to ensure reliable feeding. As such, if the magazine can get it up, the gun can get it in.

      To clarify in case we have not communicated well enough, the handle can be moved to either side, so can ejection by rotating the bolt.

      • JQPub

        Good info. Thanks for the response. Didn’t know you could rotate the bolt for leftie ejection. The 5.56 ARAK definitely looks like a winner from all I’m seeing. In regards to the x39 version and AK Mags, it’s mostly because I already have a bunch, so wouldn’t have to invest in a specific mag for ARAK in x39… Either way, Faxon gets kudos for coming up with something original. That’s not easy to do these days and we need more manufacturers like Faxon blazing new ground like this. Good stuff.

        • Our pleasure. We love the development process and have many great things to come in the future.

          The ARAK-31 in .308 and sister calibers coming soon!

          • JQPub

            Well, I’d surely be interested if you can get 300 blk to cycle reliably in a short barrel piston platform (although that might be asking for something of a magic trick from what I’ve seen out there currently). I definitely think there’s promise in .308 too – if it can take non-proprietary mags. That might be as popular as the 5.56 ARAK or even more so. It’s really just the x39 arena that I think it’s hard to beat AK – and especially without using AK mags.

          • We have a few designs on the 300 in the ARAK platform that does just that, but we’ll keep them close to the chest for patent reasons until paperwork is finalized.

            The ARAK-31 is the same design as the 21. Will mate to any DPMS Gen 1 lower and uses common PMAGs.

          • JQPub

            That’s good stuff, Nathan. I will definitely keep my eye out for ARAK in 300 then!

            I think the -31 will be a hit just like the 5.56 is too. I think many here can appreciate your fielding the tough criticism, and also what Faxon has done in pioneering a new platform. That takes stones. Good on you guys.

  • aka_mythos

    The main selling point is just the ease at which you can change out the barrel and bolt face to change calibers. This is a nice feature for the SBR/NFA crowd who don’t want to pay the NFA tax for multiple lowers and don’t want multiple dedicated upper receivers. Even if the ARAK in 7.62×39 isn’t as robust as an AK yet, I think its still a viable option for those who simply want to practice with the cheaper round. From what I’ve heard the felt recoil of the 7.62×39 in the ARAK is lower than that of a comparably long AK.

    Unlike most ARs it allows you to forgo a receiver extension tube, potentially allowing for a more compact form factor. A feature that Faxon needs to do more to exploit.

    • iksnilol

      It probably recoils less because it isn’t overgassed. AKs are by default overgassed.

      • Precisely. Adjustable gas with a dual recoil spring assembly and in-line recoil pulse make it a pleasant shooter.

        • iksnilol

          Oh… this is awkward. I sorta mentioned that as an endorsment of the AK. After all, it is cheaper and easier to put an adjustable gas block on an AK instead of getting a brand new rifle that uses new mags and has more expensive parts.

          I know, really awkward.

          • We’re not offended, just always look for a plug on the ARAK.

            Its all good!

          • iksnilol

            Phew, I was afraid for a moment I’d get enemies in the American firearms industry 😛

            Y’know, I was halfway expecting some Godfather level stuff. Like waking up with a blood covered adjustable AK gas block next to my head.

            Though the ARAK isn’t looking too bad. I mean, you can easily change it between 5.56 and 7.62×39. Running 7.62×39 in an AR isn’t really problematic anymore now that there are reliable mags easily available. Regarding barrel length, is it possible to get shorter than 12.5 inch barrels? I mean, 7.62×39 and 300 BLK are pretty good out of an 8 inch barrel. The lower, is it proprietary? Since I see you’re offering the upper as a standalone.

            Thought I’d ask some useful questions so I can contribute with more than bad jokes 😀

          • No, due to a fixed gas piston length, there is a minimum barrel length to get the needed dwell for functionality. We went as short as we could without risking unlocking too early.

            The lower is not proprietary. The ARAK fits on ANY AR-15 pattern lower, so you can keep your current trigger group or ambi lower without issue.

          • iksnilol

            Lemme guess, shortening the piston would void the warranty :P. I’d recommend looking into a shorter version, especially with 300 BLK and 7.62×39.

            It’s nice that the lower isn’t proprietary. Makes it more approachable.

          • We are also a fixed-length receiver due to the barrel mounting architecture. 12.5″ is as short as it goes!

          • JSmath

            From what I’ve seen, Faxon’s really cut out a piece of the market for their own, and as much as people praise 10.5″ for being a 300BLK sweet spot, I think 12.5″ is quite short enough for who they sell to.

            Maybe somewhere in a decade we’ll see an ARAK-21S that brings it down, but in the mean time, they don’t seem to have problems selling what they do. :]

          • iksnilol

            I was just thinking if I were to bother going with an SBR I would go for the shortest practical barrel length (8-10 inches).

      • Esh325

        I’ve always wondered why not many countries ever designed an AK with adjustable gas system. I suppose not having an adjustable gas system makes it simpler,cheaper, and more reliable?

        • Precisely. From a design standpoint, its impossible to “overgas” a fixed ejection firearm. The faster the bolt goes, the faster the casing gets out.

          Its on firearms like the AR and ARAK with plunger-style ejector that bolt speed becomes critical. When balanced correctly (like an AR and ARAK), its a great system, but can be vulnerable to stove-piping if not handled correctly.

        • iksnilol

          Maybe they didn’t consider it something that was needed?

          I am too confused by it, thankfully an adjustable gas block isn’t an expensive retrofit (and you can also make your own if you’re handy).

  • Joshua

    Practically every individual test I have seen for this rifle, when subjected to less than ideal condition, yet still a far cry from what is experienced in places like Afghanistan, the rifle has choked.

    At first I thought it was just that one testers rifle, but it seems to have a major failure to feed and failure to chamber issue inherent to the design.

    I even tested a friends with playground sand, which FYI is much larger granular than the sand the Military uses for dust testing, and I also experienced an alarming rate of failure to chambers.

    • Correct, as we use an AR-style bolt and chamber held to tight clearances for accuracy purposes. The ARAK failed as debris entered the chamber (note that they could rack the action, which indicated lugs were not inhibited once the stoppage was removed).

      Everything is a trade-off. We looked at the AK action (with non-enclosed locking lugs) and ultimately decided not to use it. Our design objective was for ambi operation and quick-change barrels.

      Sadly, the AK-style action does not allow for quick-change barrels as the lug (which is a component of headspacing) is not directly held to a specific distance from the barrel. Further, the bolt cannot be easily moved from one side to the other.

      So, the ARAK will not be as inherently reliable as the AK, but it is equal to and in most cases better than the AR. Over the standard AR, we use 8 radiused lugs instead of 7 square ones, dual ejectors, beefier extractor, no gas rings for added resistance and Nitrocarburization on all operating surfaces.

      • Joshua

        I disagree. I know this is yalls product and I’m glad to see y’all care. However I have spent plenty of time in the middle East(as stated above) with a M4A1 and a CQBR URG to know it takes a lot of sand to stop the AR system.

        You also cannot compare the sand or dirt in the US to the sand in the middle East. The composition over there due to the numerous wars and years upon years of bombs have created a very unique sand that is hard to mimic.

        Frankly the small amount of “sand” in the video and from what I have seen first hand would have not caused any failure to chambers on the M4A1(note: I use the M4A1 because I was issued one, and it has a heavier buffer).

        • We appreciate your feedback immensely.

          Nor do we compare the sand and dirt to that found in the Middle East. Having been there myself, we are intimately familiar with the conditions there and engineered the ARAK to handle that without issue.

          The interesting thing to see will be when AKOU runs this “test” on an AR, which we contend will fail just as quickly in the same way. . The issue is that the rifle is on its side, with HUGE amounts of debris entering the action in real time. This is far worse than any shamal I was in and not reflective of how a rifle would actually be employed (which is usually vertical or somewhere near it, in which the debris has significantly different behavior).

          So, we stand proudly behind the test and its results and look forward to seeing other rifles, including the AR subjected to it. Where the ARAK stands strong is the ability for the user to beat anything out in the field. The AR would likely have its charging handle break under that failure.

          • David

            How would the ‘covered’ ejection ports like the FNC & Sig 556 series fare in the ‘sandstorm’ test and would that be a way to mitigate some of the debris intrusion? This is certainly, from a reliability standpoint, fighting in a heavier weight class for anything that is not an AK.

          • It will help keep debris from getting behind reciprocating components, but does not project components when exposed (like during the sand tornado test).

            As such, they certainly can help!

      • BrandonAKsALot

        Clearing debris from the internals seems to be one of the biggest battles in firearms design. You could actually use an AK style bolt and lugs for quick change barrels. You would have to ensure precision manufacture for the bolt like you already do, so they are all the same and attach the trunnion to the barrel just like on an AR with the barrel extension. It’s been done by a few guys in the home build world. They just headspaced several barrels into trunnions and attached the to the receiver with (god help them) screws.

        Goes without saying you wouldn’t change a major design feature like that at this point, but it’s an interesting idea. I can understand the reasoning between going more AR style also.

        • The issue is not the bolt or lock-up lug(s), its the positioning of the barrel relative to these pieces.

          As AK’s use a press-in barrel, its very difficult to mechanically repeat the position of a barrel assembly that does not control the head-space in a quick-change system separate from the locking lug.

          • BrandonAKsALot

            I have spent way too much time headspacing AK’s, so I do know that press fit barrels can be tedious without specialty equipment. Like I said, I can understand the reasoning and even more since I saw your comment about the ambidextrous ejection. It’s still doable with AK style parts and using a threaded barrel like on the type II/early type III. It would just take some redesigning. The new Sig 556xi takes a similar approach on the quick change barrels, but uses an AR style barrel nut. I don’t have too much of an interest in quick change barrels, personally, but it’s interesting none the less. Wish you guys success and I’m glad to see your company takes such an interest in opinions of the consumers. I look forward to picking up an ARAK when I’m done with my obsessive AK collecting. Or maybe when I take a break from it.

      • Alex

        Hey Nathan, given that Faxon pretty much went to the drawing board to design a new Armalite upper, was there a particular reason that you folks retained the Armalite locking lugs and not the three-lug type from the Leader T2 Mk5(and derivatives)?

        • Now that is a great question and one we have never been asked before!

          That goes back to the need to ambidextrous functionality. The three lugs can be used, but would require a unique bolt for both right and left-hand shooting.

          We could have gone to four lugs, but found the 8 was a great balance and did not have to protrude so far from the center to get sufficient surface area. This helped when we expanded the bolt to the 7.62×39 version (which is larger, not just bored our larger).

          • Alex

            Thanks Nathan, that makes perfect sense.

            You guys made a really interesting upper. When I built my first rifle, I knew I wanted a side charger and AR lower compatibility. I hate the standard AR charging handle location and the AR platform lets us all be special unique snowflakes to scratch that gun hipster itch.

            The ARAK made it into the top three. I was concerned about weight since I wasn’t sure how I’d end up using the thing. Field fun rifle? Hunting tool? Saturday benchrest machine? Dear god that rifle has too much crap on it but it really impresses people that visit for dinner rifle? Lightweight 3-gun piece painted something that would normally be offensive? I ended up going with the Gibbz(actually NFA, but same source) upper since it seemed at least somewhat lighter.

            The rifle ended up being a saturday benchrest machine. New firearm owner, should have figured. Every now and then I see an ARAK online and feel a twinge of regret. My next rifle is going to be a lightweight that the better half of this household can comfortably manage, but one of these days…

            Thanks for the reply! Have a good one.

          • Sianmink

            That’s the same reason I have a lot of interest in the ARAK. Charging handle and sidefold stock on an otherwise AR platform. The easy-change barrel is just a bonus!

          • Hope our AR barrels (especially the pencils) can get you where you need to go until an ARAK is in the picture.

    • Sianmink

      What does the playground sand do to a standard AR15?

      • Joshua

        Nothing, unles s you lock the bolt back and fill it up. I’ve also spent plenty of time in the middle East with a M4A1 to know it takes a lot of sand to stop them from chambering as long as a small amount of lubricant is present.

        • Uniform223

          Having not issued or shot an M4A1 I have used the M16 and M4. From personal experience like yours sand/dust is almost a non issue for the M16/M4. Keep the dust cover closed or the bolt forward and sand and dust generally stays out. A soldier or marine has to almost intentionally expose the chamber and trigger group to foreign objects for the weapon to have a malfunction.

          • Same experience I have personally from my time in the Corps.

  • cat lover

    arak is whack, yo

    • GunKnowItAll

      Cats are whack.

      • cat lover

        “Crack is whack” – Whitney Houston

    • Its what happens when one mixes an AR, an AK, and some vodka.

      As such, we’ll take whack as a compliment!

  • Always a pleasure to see coverage from TFB.

    We will float around in the comments, answering questions. Feel free to ask us anything!

    • Can we get one for testing yet?

      • I wish I had better news. We continue to work to catch up to demand, even with increasing capacity. Soon!

    • Skittle Juice

      Some thoughts, The reason the AK is so forgiving to debris is because it has very loose tolerances and alot of open space within the reciever.

      In the desert, the Israelis had the FAL and realized it had a similar problem, this was fixed with some Sand Cuts on the bolt.

      Maybe a similar solution would be done by your company?

      This would also work for Sub Zero conditions as well.

  • Esh325

    Military and law enforcement in the USA and around the world have many more battle tested options to choose from big manufacturers that offer similar features. In a the civilian USA market that is dominated by the AR15, I can see the logic in making the rifle based on that, but at the same time I think they limited themselves in design options that way opposed to designing a rifle from scratch. Honestly, I think the market is too saturated for a rifle like the AR AK to succeed in the long run. It can’t compete with AR15’s, and not AK’s either, so it will probably end up fading into obscurity.

    • Perhaps a true statement, but we’ll fight like hell to ensure the ARAK does not fade into obscurity. (And also why we produce AR and other barrels for numerous OEMs in the industry).

      For now, we have more orders than we can produce and look forward to seeing what the future brings.

      • Esh325

        I like your honesty.

        • We love the feedback! We learn more from interacting in the comments on threads, forums, etc than we ever do from demonstrations, reviews etc.

          Some of our best products and ideas are inspired by the challenges that people bring up here and we cannot thank people enough for taking the time to share theirs.

          • Esh325

            It does take guts to address negative feedback. I don’t see many manufacturers do that.

  • LeverDude in PA

    ARAK is really getting some hot reviews out there – in 5.56. They did a good job. I think it will be a popular platform in that market space. My guess is that in 7.62 x 39, not so much. That is really the domain of the AK and it’s hard to beat a legend. Faxon has a great rep for their barrels and I think they blazed some new ground with this and were able to succeed where many others have outright failed.

    • We thought the same thing too, especially without the AK magazines.

      But, it turns out that there are many people with open minds and we have nearly as many orders for 7.62 as we do for 5.56!

  • BrandonAKsALot

    I personally think it’s a cool concept and I like that you can see a lot of progression in the design as they’ve listened to customers and fixed issues. It obviously still needs refinement in a few areas, but I think the ambition is really great to see in a new company. Even the barrels show great attention to detail.

    I love forward charging handle. I would really like to see more streamlined options for good quality folding stocks. I’m not a huge fan of the Ace and similar stocks. Something modern and adjustable like the ACR stock or a less rattly SCAR stock. I would definitely prefer a lower that accepted AK mags if I were going 7.62×39. I already have a ridiculous amount and I would enjoy something more modern that fired x39 cartridges.

    • Joe Ker

      +1. The only thing I’ve seen that’s done that successfully so far is the Mk 47 Mutant, but I’m not sold on firing corrosive x39 ammo out of a DGI platform, so that’s a non starter (for me at least).

      • BrandonAKsALot

        Supposedly, it’s not much of an issue with corrosive ammo. Add to that, if you have 7.62×39 ammo that’s corrosive, it’s becoming more collectible than shootable these days.

    • We looked at using AK magazines, but that presents is own set of mechanical challenges. It requires widening the bolt carrier and receiver which can then leave slop in the system for AR calibers.

      With the magazines reliability now established (after years of sub-par performance) and the ability to keep LRBHO, we opted for the AR-based magazines.

      We’ll agree that it sure looks goofy, but they keep on trucking!

      • BrandonAKsALot

        That’s understandable considering it uses an AR lower which was definitely a smart move. No need to reinvent the wheel. I’d rather see it work than try to jam in a feature that may end up being poorly done.

  • Wolfgar

    Rumor has it Faxon is going to make a rifle in 6.5 Grendel . Is there any truth to this?

    • That is correct. It will be a caliber conversion kit for the ARAK.

      We will also manufacture AR barrels at the same time.

      • Wolfgar

        Great news, do you have a barrel length and price for the AR barrels? Will the ARAK be using commonly available AR Grendel mags?

        • We have not solidified length and pricing, but it will be roughly in line with our current offerings.

          Yes, it will use common off-the-shelf magazines.

          • Wolfgar

            Thank’s Nathon, you made my day!

  • pun&gun

    I really like the design idea behind this platform, but I think you guys may be under-marketing a critical advantage over AR15s: the lack of buffer tube. I was very confused when you decided to sell your complete rifles with such plain lowers, when working in a folding stock would have offered something to differentiate the product. This is especially true given the increased height of the top rail; having something with a cheek riser would synergize perfectly, save weight, and offer a lot of functional compactness for your SBR customers.

    • A solid postulation. Our thinking is why increase the cost on an already expensive rifle?

      EVERYTHING on the ARAK is billet construction, which while rugged, does add cost. Folding stocks are not cheap, so we instead leave it to the customer to select which folding stock system benefits them the most.

  • Just a guy

    Faxon Firearms, I have heard a few different variations concerning your new 6.5 caliber arak barrels. I’ve heard some say 6.5 Grendel and some say 6.5 creedmore. As well as the new conversion will be for the arak 31 and not the arak 21, and vice versa. Can you guys clear that up for me? Also if you guys had any comment about plans for improvements based on AKOU’s torture tests, that would be interesting, too.

    • JSmath

      ARAK-21 would get the 6.5 Grendel, ARAK-31 (patterned to match DPMS Gen 1 308 lowers) should be getting 6.5 Creedmoor.

      • Correct. 6.5 Grendel and Creedmoor share the same tooling in the bore, which makes them easy to make next to one another.

  • Uniform223

    I remember reading an article about the ARAK in Recoil. The differences between the ARAK and most any piston AR type systems (other than the completely redesigned upper) is the the gas system. Most piston AR use a short stroke while the ARAK uses a long stroke commonly found in the AK (hence AR AK). Is there any real benefit between the two?

    • Generally speaking, piston operation is piston operation from a reliability stand-point. However, long-stroke does keep the number of moving parts down and has a single “pulse” to the rear instead of a dual-pulse (of the operating rod hitting, then the bolt hitting), which some shooters can be sensitive on.

      The long-stroke in the ARAK also has some advantages on the compactness, which we were able to build the recoil spring into the piston, which short-stroke has to find another location on the bolt.

      • Uniform223

        So a long stroke piston offers a smoother operating system? What about recoiling mass? Doesn’t that also effect overall recoil impulses? More mass moving back equates to more recoil? I am just curious about your platform is all. I’ve read and heard pretty much all the basics about it but nothing really in depth. Thank you for the time to respond to our comments and questions on here.
        By the way I like where the charging handle? I haven’t had the luxury to hold one or fire one yet but from the looks of it the charging handle location seems like its in a good position. I just wonder if you can change out the fixed charging handle to a folding charging handle.

        • Many things go into felt recoil, so my statement above was a general “all things being equal” such as the weight of the reciprocating components, etc.

          The ARAK only has the folding handle. It can however, be left in the deployed position.

  • MrPotatoHead

    I’ve got a 1st gen ARAK-21 upper. With the exception of a broken extractor, it’s met most of my competitive shooting needs. Nathan and crew were quick to get me an upgraded bolt for my troubles. My only regret is buying the 20″ heavy 556 barrel. If I had to do it again, I would have bought the 16″ medium or heavy barrel. I also have the 16″ 300BLK barrel and the balance and ease of use over the 20″ heavy is quite noticeable. The ARAK is my go to rifle for multi-gun competition (that wasn’t the original plan when I bought it) and the added weight makes a difference after a long day of shooting.
    Overall, very pleased with the ARAK-21. Looking forward to adding an ARAK-31 to the safe someday.

    • Woohoo!

      Barrels are available if you want to pick up something lighter. I shoot a pencil barrel in 3-Gun on my ARAK.

      • MrPotatoHead

        Unless you guys offer a trade-in service, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. Too many other toys to buy…