Book Review: How To Buy An AK-47, By Rob Kay

So you want to buy an AK, but don’t know where to start, eh? Well, don’t worry about it because as the kids say these days “there’s an app for that”.

The famous Soviet Kalashnikov rifle has become something of a redheaded stepchild on the American commercial market, receiving neither the attention nor the market support of the ubiquitous aerospace-engineered AR-15 rifle. However, as time goes on this has become less and less true, beginning perhaps with the use of less expensive and locally-sourced AK rifles by US private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. These users of the venerable Kalashnikovs wanted to update and improve the rifle, and this helped catalyze the nascent AK market with such products as the Ultimak sight mount and the ACE folding stock. This support in turn fostered increased interest in “the enemy’s rifle” at home on the US civilian market.

Although the AK market is not as broad as that for the AR-15, it’s no less dizzying. Because the Kalashnikov is an older design built by distributed factories with no real unifying standards other than the magazines and ammunition, stepping into the world of the modern fighting AK is a daunting prospect, despite the fact that some questions like “what’s the best sight mount for my purpose?” may have straightforward answers. For the first-time AK buyer, Rob Kay has created a comprehensive buyer’s guide covering all aspects of AK buying and modification. The layout of How to Buy an AK-47 is best suited to helping the buyer tackle a specific problem (e.g., “what optic should I use with my AK at a given price point?”), as the book is laid out in distinct sections that cover their subjects comprehensively. In keeping with the theme I have already established, when the reader turns to the chapter on AK optics and mounts, they are treated to discourses on every facet of the subject, covering every major AK sight mount on the market, paired a thorough optics treatise by the inimitable Timothy Yan, and thoughts by the author on achieving the elusive perfect AK cheek weld. In fact, the coverage of information within each section of the book is so thorough that reading the book cover to cover is highly redundant; the book has been written so that the reader can zoom in on exactly the information they need and receive everything the book has to say about the subject, even if that information is repeated elsewhere in the book.

A section of How to Buy an AK-47 gives readers something that I don’t usually see included in other books of its type: A collection of interviews of experts on the AK platform. I appreciated that Kay chose not to make these interviews personality affairs, but straight-to-the-chase advice from experts like Jim Fuller and Marc Krebs for the reader on the subject of buying and modifying the Kalashnikov rifle.

Rob graciously shared an excerpt of the book for TFB’s readers, reproduced below:

Taking the Minimalist Approach—a Lesson Learned



This Krebs AC-15 7.62×39 which features a shortened barrel with pinned muzzle brake, helps keep the weight down. (Courtesy Atlantic Firearms).

by Rob Kay

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from How to Buy an AK-47–How to purchase, maintain and customize an AK rifle, published recently on Amazon.

When it comes to adding handguards and other accessories, less can be more. Like many first-time AK buyers, when I got my rifle I started adding third-party parts and went overboard on the “tacticool.” This included items such as a full-length handguard, optics, fore grips, scope mounts and the like. Before I knew it, I was drowning in paraphernalia.


This handguard system from Arsenal is super light. The lower section is only (4.1 oz.) and has a stainless steel heat shield.

The lesson was that adding some of these components may make sense in some circumstances, such as home defense, but you need to be wary of “mission creep”. Loading up your rifle with gewgaws has its practical limits. For example if you’re going to be proficient at shooting offhand, shouldering a 10-pound rifle gets old very quickly.

(My epiphany is hardly original. One of Larry Vickers’ maxims is “seriously resist the urge to over-accessorize the gun”.)

Given my own experience, I’ve become a proponent of minimalism.

Custom builders such as Rifle Dynamics, Krebs Custom, Definitive Arms and others strive to keep the weight down by using a combination of polymer furniture (often from Arsenal) and in some instances, even chopping the barrel two inches.


The Bolton Block, designed by Venom Tactical, combines a gas block with a front sight. Additional weight savings on this rifle come from a shortened barrel and an UltiMAK M1-B optics mount. (Courtesy Rifle Dynamics)

Jim Fuller of Rifle Dynamics takes the weight reduction process a step further by employing the Bolton Gas Block, a proprietary product manufactured by Venom Tactical.

This cleverly designed product is the latest incarnation of a technology used by the Israeli Galil, the Finnish Valmet RK62 and other rifles, combines both the front sight and gas block into a single weight-saving assembly.

By placing the front sight atop the gas block, the barrel length can be shortened. With the proprietary gas block and a shortened barrel, he can take off as much as a pound from the front end. It doesn’t sound like a lot but in practice it’s very significant.


The AK-UFM KeyMod lower handguard from Krebs Custom is only 6.6 oz., including the add-on Picatinny rail. (Robert Kay)

If you’re going to use an optic on your minimalist rifle, there are other ways to keep the weight down. The $98 UltiMAK M1-B optic mount integrates both the handguard and the gas tube in its design which ends up adding less than an ounce to the rifle.

You can get also a wide variety of lightweight polymer handguard sets from K-Var.

KeyMod handguards, such as the AK-UFM model for AKM rifles manufactured by Krebs Custom, are made from aircraft aluminum and they are really light. At 6.6 ounces (including the Picatinny rail) it definitely falls into the “minimalist” camp.

Another weight saving measure is to change out your buttstock if you’re using a collapsible, AR 15-style system. There are a number of lightweight units available including the Rogers Super-Stoc, the Mission First Tactical “Minimalist” model and the CTR from Magpul.

The lesson is to think twice before you buying add-ons, such as a full-blown tactical handguard/rail system. If you can eschew adding stuff that you don’t really need, or replace your existing gear with something lighter, by all means do so.

With AKs less is always more.


How to Buy an AK-47 is available in Kindle format from for $9.99 (which is about the price of a surplus Communist rifle sling), and takes full advantage of the ebook format, with embedded hyperlinks throughout the text to online resources, manufacturers’ pages, and sales outlets. For those new to the wide world of AKs, these can save quite a lot of time, cumulatively speaking.

If that sounds like you, then I would definitely give How to Buy an AK-47 a shot.

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


  • Matt

    “So you want to buy an AK, but don’t know where to start, eh? ”

    Simple, buy a Valmet.

    • danny

      You spelled VZ58 wrong

      • ostiariusalpha

        But… the mud, danny, the mud…

        • DIR911911 .

          don’t need to worry about mud , just make sure you answer the door holding it and wearing only underwear . . .Jehovah witness did the fastest about face you ever saw

    • Reef Blastbody

      I’ll settle for my Golani Sporter. 😀

  • Anon

    Another good book would be Where Not to Start: Buying an AK. It would be a single page with the single word, IO.

    • Nashvone

      The magazines suck but I haven’t had a problem with the rifle.

      • Paul Joly

        Factory ak mag (from Warsaw Pact countries except Albania) are top notch, well build and very well designed.

        • Nashvone

          The IO magazines came with my rifle. They’ve quickly disappeared.

        • J.T.

          I have 8 Albanian mags and have had zero issues with them.

  • tb556

    Simple guide for anyone who wants an AK: Buy a Zastava N-PAP, 3360 rounds of M67 (3 crates), 10 new Croatian 30 round steel mags, an Otis cleaning kit, CLP and patches. For about $1700 you will have enough good ammo to learn the rifle and shoot it well.

  • Bear The Grizzly

    Where is the chapter on how to turn your sh@t shovel into a receiver?

  • John

    They broke the mold with the U.S.A. made Arsenal SAM 7 R1. JMHO

    Sadly, no can get no more.

    • Pretty sure the SAM7R is still available…

      • Anomanom

        It is available. I’m planning to get one this year.

        • You won’t be disappointed. The Arsenal guns are excellent.

          • Robert F. Kay

            According to the folks I interviewed Arsenals were consistently rated as some of the best production rifles on the market. There are some good up and comers though like DDI.

      • John

        The U.S.A. version is gone. The new ones are all Bulgarian made, which is great, just not “Made in USA”.

  • Pete Sheppard

    While we’re singing The Fanboi Song, here’s my stanza:
    “WASR10. WASR10, WASR10-10-10!!” 😀

  • Cal S.

    Where to start: Put the money you invested in this book toward an AR-15 and forget about it.

    Yeessss… Let the hate flow…

    • iksnilol

      10 bucks can get you what? Not even the charging handle.

      • Cal S.

        One can be had for $20. However, ARs these days are getting as cheap as AKs. Well, unless you’re one that believes that only Ruskie AKs are real AKs, and then you’ve got a whole host of good AR options that open up to you for the same or lower price…

        • iksnilol

          to be honest:

          I want to make an AR out of soda cans. Do the whole manure shovel thing only in the AR style.

          • Cal S.

            A steel AR? Now that would be interesting!

            Don’t know how you’d do it without melting the shovel down first, but…

          • iksnilol

            No no, not steel. Aluminum, soda cans.

            Melt them down, pour them in appropriate mold.

          • And we’re back to the terrible cast-receiver AR-Like Objects of the 1990s and 2000s, I see…

          • iksnilol


        • Guido FL

          Entry level AR’s now cheaper than AK’s and have been for some time , amazing.

    • Vanns40

      I always considered my SAR 1 as my throw around, beat to hell rifle and my AR with a 6.8 upper as the rifle I take care of and add a few modifications to. That’s just me. (I still take care of the AK, I just don’t worry about it)

  • DW

    VEPR should be on the list, it is the only Russian AK I know of that is still imported.

    • Bart

      I had to laugh at the title and subtitles (though this is probably a pretty good book)
      “How to buy an AK” – Go to a (1) gun store any gun store (2) pawn shop (3) outdoor sporting store, and buy an AK. It takes about 10 minutes. Where I live, almost any store selling guns will have some AK’s.
      “How to maintain and AK” – That is the beauty of the AK. You don’t have to maintain it. A little basic cleaning and lubrication every once in a while is a good thing.
      “Customize an AK” – It is an AK. You don’t have to customize it. It is an AK!
      Again, kind of kidding. I have a Saiga variant and I customized it a bit. I added a U.S. made foregrip for 922 compliance so I can run U.S. made 30 round mags. I also added a side mounted scope mount and a basic Bushnell TRS25 red dot site. I also have a sling. That pretty much does it for me.

      Now the VEPR you mentioned. I’d sure like to get one of those in 7.62X54R to be friends with my Mosin.

    • Robert F. Kay

      VEPRs are featured in the book big time..

  • 1leggeddog

    it’s easy you make a macro in the console: bind “PGDN” “buy m4a1; buy ak47”

    • Mike Lashewitz

      Video game?

      • 1leggeddog

        Yeah its a Counter-Strike reference 🙂

        • Mike Lashewitz

          Thank you! I am clueless about video games I do not have the time…

  • Bob

    At first I was thinking “How to Buy an AK”? Why bother? I bought my Wasr10, stuck a mount and scope on it, have learned to shoot it about as well as you can expect at that price range, what more I need comrade?

    However, your description has me somewhat intrigued. For $10, I have an impulse purchase feeling coming on….

    • Robert F. Kay

      I would say you have good instincts!

  • Guido FL

    Shorting the barrel of AK’s and AR’s is the rage but that affects bullet velocity. Then pinning a muzzle brake on negates the whole length reduction. Myself I just add a short muzzle brake of which there are many out there. Want a short barrel AK ? Get a Draco and be done with it.

  • Mike Lashewitz

    I like my old WASR10 that I paid $225 for it is accurate at 100 yards with iron sights and simply fun to operate.
    When I see these new modern fandangled $699 American made ones I cringe at the cost. I will buy them all day long at $300 but $700 nope….

  • Dixie Shooter

    When I started looking for an AK I did a lot of reading and a lot of looking. In the end I bought a Romanian WASR10/63. I handpicked through every one the gun store had. You have to pay attention to the front sight and make sure it isn’t canted. The one I picked out had a muzzle nut welded on the end of the barrel. I took a small dremel tool and carefully cut through the weld and took it off and replaced it with an AR style cage flash hider. I put a small 3-9 x 42mm scope on it. I also put a bipod on it and it made it a lot heavier than I would like for it to be, but most of the shooting I’ve done with it so far is off a bench rest. If I was going to carry it and shoot of the shoulder I would take all the accessories off. I might have to leave the scope on it though due to my great eyesight. I have put a lot of rounds down range some single fire and some as fast as I could rip it with a 47 round mag in it and I have yet to have any kind of a malfunction. It goes bang every time with any brand of clip and ammo I put in it.