This guest post was written by Lindy Y.
Let’s start this with full disclosure: I used to be one of those guys that mocked people for making “tacticool” AKs. The eternal debate of classical versus modernized seems to have pervaded the AK community to a greater degree than with any other family of firearms. As a historian myself, I understand the anger of the “rifle is fine” crowd; the ubiquitous Kalashnikov is one of the greatest symbols of the Cold War era, of Soviet aggression, of the ever looming Red Scare. Covering an AK in polymer rails and cheap Chinese optics creates a glaring anachronism for these often outspoken individuals.
Yet most AKs on the US market are new-production models manufactured specifically for American civilian consumers. They are, ironically, the polar opposite of the Communist Peoples’ rifle some envision them as. Regular Car Reviews’ explanation of signifiers versus the signified sums up the problem perfectly. In short, once the historical significance of the platform as a whole is stripped away, much of the reason to keep an individual rifle historically accurate disappears.
What we’re left with is a tool, one that stands in need of functional upgrades. Plain handguards and a single mounting rail riveted to the receiver don’t exactly leave the end user with many options for optics or accessories. And whether due to lack of consumer demand, perceived cheapness of the platform, or the inherent foreignness of the AK itself, development of quality US parts has been sporadic at best. Magpul’s recent offerings mark a new increase in large-scale domestic development for the platform, but most dedicated optic mounting solutions are still supplied by small companies.
Enter Zenitco. Originally available only in small quantities through a few enterprising individuals, adoption of the brand by community members like Larry Vickers and AK Operators Union has made their furniture more widely available to the US market. Part of the brand’s gaining popularity among the community can be attributed to its increasing usage by active Russian military forces, lending it an air of legitimacy above its domestic competition. The desire to “clone” military loadouts has always been popular, and Zenitco now presents the newest level to match for the platform.
So does the product live up to the hype? For the most part, yes. I recently picked up a full complement of Zenitco furniture for a newly finished AK-105 build, and decided to see if the brand actually lived up to expectations. The total parts lists ended up as:
B-30 Extended Lower Handguard
B-31S Extended Upper Handguard
B-33 Hinged Dust Cover
A-1 Rail-Mounted Sling Mount
As the handguards were purpose-made for AK-105 style rifles, I expected them to offer a greater degree of functionality than any similar options on the market. By this criteria alone, Zenitco certainly passes the test. For any AK with a combination gas block/FSB setup, there are few other alternatives on the market that offer the user as much rail space without being overly bulky. The handguards extend to just short of the muzzle itself, a feature extremely common among the AR-15 platform but fairly new to the AK market. This allows for much greater freedom for positioning of accessories, as well as hand placement. Installation also requires no modifications to the rifle. This is a major benefit over similar railed units like those offered byTexas Weapons Systems, which requires removal of the standard handguard retainer.
Where Zenitco’s lineup truly shines is with the B-33. Mounting optics to the B-33 allows for any left side folding stock to be locked in place without their removal, a nearly impossible feat when relying on the standard receiver mounted scope rail. The hinged cover also gives easy access to the rifle’s internals in case of cleaning or malfunction without needing to remove attached optics. While other companies have previously released dust cover mounted rail systems, reviews concerning zero retainment are often mixed. Installation again requires no modification to the rifle, while competing dust covers often replace the rear sight leaf. With the B-33 both tensioned against the rear sight block and attached at four points to a Zenitco handguard, zero retainment and overall lockup are flawless.
Aiding in this lockup is the tightness with which Zenitco products fit, yet this is also where the negatives of their equipment begin. Their parts are naturally designed with Russian AK-74m specifications in mind. Wide variances in AKs rifles from differing countries of origin means hand fitting will almost certainly be required. The parts used for my AK-105 were all Bulgarian in origin, and significant fitting was needed to install the lower handguard into the receiver. In addition, Russian AK-105 style front sight blocks place the detent pin in a higher elevation than Bulgarian blocks. This means the front right locking tab of the upper hand guard requires significant slimming, if not outright removal. The handguard still locks up solidly with only three retention tabs, to the point of having negligible impact on lights/lasers/BUIS units. However, it is still something to keep in mind considering the much greater prevalence of Bulgarian parts compared to Russian ones within the US.
Fit and finish of the parts are stereotypically Eastern European. Tooling marks are noticeable, and the finish is lacking in durability compared to hard anodizing or commercial firearm coatings like Cerakote. This is a purely cosmetic issue and will have no impact on performance, but given the price of the parts, can be rather bothersome.
Speaking of the price, the cost of outfitting an AK with Zenitco gear is probably the single greatest negative against the brand as a whole. Total market value of the parts used in my build was well over $600 USD. Pricing of the extended handguards is nearly on par with the similar models from Troy or Texas Weapons Systems, but the dust cover is far more expensive than its competition. The cover’s excellent lockup to any Zenitco handguard also means that you will, at the very least, be purchasing two of the more expensive parts from their catalogue, making any build utilizing the B-33 a rather costly venture.
Let’s get to the bottom line: is Zenitco’s gear right for you? If you’re serious about the platform and have any plans of utilizing Western optics, lights, or forward grips, I certainly recommend investing in at least the dust cover and a lower handguard. This goes doubly so if you have a left side folding stock or AK-102/4/5 length barrel. If you just want to clone the latest kit from Russian military personnel, there are certainly worse products out there. If you’re on a tight budget, the rather high cost of the parts would likely be better spent on the rifle itself. For the price of a low end AK and full complement of Zenitco furniture, you could instead pick up an Arsenal and simply mount an optic on something like an RS Regulate rail. As the most glaring detractor for Zenitco products as a whole are their price, your budget for the rifle is going to be the major determining factor in whether or not they fit your needs.