Last year, I came across a Ukrainian company called Crook (Крук, means “raven”) and wrote a short article about their Mosin-Nagant chassis. Several months ago, I learned that this company has released a new aluminum AK handguard. I reached out to the folks at Crook asking for more information about this new product and they replied with an offer of submitting a review sample. So in this article, I’ll present you the review of this new M-LOK AK handguard.
Now, why a Ukrainian product review should be interesting for my readers who mainly reside on the other side of the pond? Because Crook ship their products to the US, too. Purchasing this rail for the US customer is a matter of placing an order on their website (www.crook.com.ua) or shooting them an e-mail ([email protected]) or contacting via their Facebook page. The payments are accepted via PayPal.
Currently, this handguard/rail system is only compatible with the AKM and AK-74 pattern rifles with stamped receivers. However, the company also develops a version for the milled receiver AKs as well as a similar handguard for the Vz. 58 rifle.
Here is what you’ll see after unboxing the package with the Crook CRC 1U004 AK handguard.
On top is the actual lower handguard that extends all the way to the front sight block. The part with a Picatinny rail is the gas tube cover. Two U-shaped brackets (let’s call them U-brackets) are used to attach the gas tube cover to the lower handguard. The other small part with a couple of half M-LOK slots is installed at the very front of the lower handguard to bridge its top slot. Because we’ll be talking about this part a lot, let’s call it “the bridge”. The handguard also comes with all the hardware (4mm screws and Allen wrenches) necessary to install it.
The lower handguard comes with a preinstalled rear aluminum insert which is the attachment point with the receiver of the rifle. There is also a pre-installed middle insert which is responsible for fixing the original AK handguard retainer in place. Inside the rail, there are also reinforcing ribs (one piece with the rail) going all along the corners which are also used as reference points during the installation. The cutout on the left side of the lower handguard allows using the unmodified AK handguard retainer without the need to cut the sling loop. So, it is a true drop-in accessory in that it doesn’t require any permanent modifications to the rifle.
The dimensions of the Crook handguard are as follows: length – 14.2″ (360mm), width – 1.8″ (46mm), height – 1.7″ (43mm). There are six M-LOK slots on the left side of the handguard and seven slots on the right side. The bottom portion has seven full-size M-LOK slots and one half-M-LOK slot on either end. The gas tube cover length is 3.9″ (100mm) and it features a six-slot Picatinny rail. There is also one M-LOK slot machined on each U-bracket. As I mentioned above, the bridge also has two half M-LOK slots. The thickness of the lower handguard is 3mm (about 1/8″). The overall weight of all the Crook rail components is 14-1/4 oz which is about 9 oz heavier than the standard AKM wooden handguard and gas tube cover that weigh 5.3 oz.
The Crook CRC 1U004 AK handguard is made of two types of aluminum – 6082 T66 and 2024 T6. We are normally used to see 6061 and 7075, right? So I asked the manufacturer how these alloys compare to the more known ones. They told me that the 6082 is similar to 6061 and the reason they don’t use the 7075 is that this alloy is excessively strong for this application and would result in an unnecessarily high price of the final product.
The lower handguard itself is a machined extrusion. All other parts are machined out of billet aluminum. The Crook handguard is available with either black anodized or Cerakote finishes. The Cerakote comes with one of the following color options: Coyote Tan, Armor Black, Forest Green. This particular review sample is in Coyote Tan Cerakote. The finish option is the only feature that affects the price of this product. If the anodized version costs $161, the choice of Cerakote increases the price to $204. The shipping cost from Ukraine to the USA is $20.
When preparing to send me the handguard, the company told me that they’d also like to send a couple of their M-LOK attached Picatinny rail sections. I asked them to send rail sections of colors other than the Coyote Tan so that they won’t blend with the handguard and make a false impression that they are one piece with the handguard itself. They answered that they get the point and will send me a couple of rail sections in “funny colors”. Behold the funny colors!
The Crook CRC 1U004 AK handguard is a drop-in part. Its installation does not require any special tools or advanced skills: if you can tactically operate a hex wrench, you can install it. Here is how it is installed.
Step 1: Disassembly
First of all, you need to field strip your rifle, remove the original lower handguard as well as the gas tube cover by rotating it 180-degrees around the gas tube. If you opt to keep your existing gas tube cover or if you have a railed gas tube that you want to retain, you can do it by simply not installing the Crook gas tube cover. You’ll have to say goodbye to the cleaning rod because the Crook rail’s middle insert won’t allow installing the cleaning rod back underneath the barrel. You may also need to temporarily remove the muzzle device if it is something large like a blast diverter or a suppressor.
Step 2: Installing the Bridge
At this point, you need to slip the front portion of the Crook lower handguard over the barrel (between the front sight block and gas block as shown in the image below) to be able to install the bridge.
When sliding the bridge in, make sure that it rides on the top internal ribs of the handguard like in the image below.
Once you have slid the bridge in, you should align it with the screw holes on the handguard and fasten the screws. You may not want to tighten the bridge screws all the way to make its disassembly easier in case if you find out that the rail needs minor fitting or if you have to remove it for any other reason.
The distance between the front sight block and gas block is roughly 3.5″ or 90mm – something to consider if you plan to mount an accessory on the bridge such as a laser or a light mount. The Crook 5-slot “funny colored” rail fits there perfectly.
Overall, the purpose of the bridge is to reinforce the rail. If you try to squeeze the very front portion of the lower handguard in your hand (before installing the bridge), you’ll notice that it will flex ever so slightly which is not a design flaw – you can’t have that long of a part (made of that particular material and with the mentioned thickness) with a slot milled all along its length and expect it not to flex. However, once the bridge is installed in place, the whole assembly becomes rock-solid.
Step 3: Installing the U-brackets
In an installation video published on the company’s Facebook page, they suggest to install the lower handguard first, then install the U-brackets. It is quite a tricky operation because you need to reach between the barrel and handguard to hold the U-bracket nuts while you are tightening the screws. I found that if you preinstall the U-brackets on the handguard, that will make the things much easier.
The U-brackets slide into the slots cut in the rail and rest on the two bottom internal ribs of the handguard. Make sure to have the beveled sides of U-brackets facing outwards. At this point, all you need is to hold the square nuts inside the handguard and fasten the screws from outside. Don’t tighten them all the way but to the point when they start becoming snug.
It is important to mention that the company suggests using medium strength thread locking compound (e.g. blue Loctite) on all the screws. However, all the preinstalled screws (like those on the lower handguard inserts) already have thread locker so you won’t need to disassemble those to apply a thread locking compound. It is also a good idea to degrease the screws and threaded holes before applying the thread locker. The manufacturer doesn’t specify the torque value necessary to tighten the screws, so I guess the good old method of tightening them until the long arm of the hex wrench starts to flex will work just fine.
Step 4: Fitting to the Gun
Install the lower handguard as a normal AK handguard by inserting the lug of the rear insert into the receiver cavity right below the front trunnion. You’ll need to move the AK handguard retainer back and forth to make it fit into the cutout in the rail. Once the rail is firmly seated against the receiver, pull the original AK handguard retainer over the middle insert of Crook rail and fix it in place via rotating the AK handguard retainer lever.
At this point make sure that everything is seated well and there are no gaps between the receiver and the handguard as well as make sure the handguard retainer is not rattling. If you find out that the AK handguard retainer is loose, you can apply additional pressure to it by tightening the two set screws inside the middle insert (see the image below).
Once everything looks good, go ahead and tighten the three screws on the rear insert as well as the screws on the middle insert. Now you can also secure the bridge in place by tightening its 4 screws all the way.
The tolerances of different AK models may vary. That’s why you may (or may not) need to gently tap with a mallet to seat the handguard into the receiver or seat the AK handguard retainer over the middle insert. If it requires more force, then probably something is wrong and you better show it to a gunsmith or contact the manufacturer. In case of my rifle, the handguard fit into the receiver as if it was custom made for it – nice and snug requiring only a little bit of hand pressure. However, the AK handguard retainer was quite tight on this rifle and pushing it down over the middle insert of Crook rail required some tapping with a wood dowel and mallet.
Step 5: Installing the Gas Tube Cover
The gas tube cover is a symmetrical piece and it doesn’t matter which end you install towards the muzzle or stock. This part actually doesn’t even touch the gas tube itself. It rests on the U-brackets which on their turn are attached to the lower handguard. The installation of the gas tube cover is a matter of aligning it with the U-brackets and installing its four screws. Make sure that the U-brackets have even and seamless connection to the gas tube cover.
Now it is time to tighten the bottom U-Bracket screws all the way. Then tighten the screws attaching the gas tube cover to the U-brackets.
Because you may need to remove the gas tube cover to get an access to the gas tube and gas block, the screw holes in the gas tube cover have steel inserts which will allow to unscrew and install back the gas tube cover screws multiple times without worrying about wearing out the threads which could be a concern if they were aluminum threads.
Aaand … voila! The Crook rail is installed!
Now it is time to accessorize it.
I have to say that I am really impressed with the fit and finish of this product. The tolerances and dimensions are designed perfectly. All the edges are nicely chamfered, too. Just look at the fit with the receiver and contact points of different components of this handguard.
The handguard also has a just right size … at least for my hands that I guess are mid-sized. It feels great – it is not too large and not too small. It extends all the way to the front sight block allowing for a lot of space for grabbing it. The bridge also works great if you want to exercise a C-clamp hold by wrapping your thumb over the bridge.
The gas tube cover sits quite low and it won’t interfere with the iron sights. With this particular red dot, you won’t have a co-witnessing with the iron sights. However, the front sight post protector wings slightly protrude over the LED housing making a sight picture like this.
I tried to reinstall the original AK sling. You indeed can do it but it is quite a bit trickier process than when attaching the carabiner on the original AK handguard. Due to the Crook rail thickness, the handguard retainer’s loop is about halfway exposed. The removal of this steel carabiner was even more tricky and I ended up using a pair of pliers and scratching the finish a little bit.
I took the gun to the range to zero the red dot and see how the handguard will perform. As of now, I have about 200 rounds fired with the Crook handguard installed and I can see no signs of parts coming loose. Everything is still perfectly aligned and tight and the zero is retained, too. The manufacturer claims that they have 5,000 rounds through their test rifle and they discovered that as soon as you have a medium strength thread locker, there won’t be any issues with the handguard.
The rail also performed flawlessly with the bipod. I deliberately tried to apply excessive force on the gun when shooting from the bipod to see if the rail will flex, but it performed just fine.
Pros and Cons
Below I’ll put down a short list of pros and cons of the Crook CRC 1U004 AK handguard.
- Drop-in part. No need of any permanent modifications
- Exceptional fit and finish
- Well thought out dimensions and geometry
- Rigid construction
- Access to gas tube requires undoing the 4 gas tube cover screws
- You can’t have the cleaning rod installed under the barrel
- As in the case of any other aluminum handguard, it will get too cold or hot in extreme environmental temperatures
- Being a skeletonized part and having a lot of M-LOK slots, it will trap a bunch of dirt and debris
As you can see many of the pros and cons really depend on the end user’s personal preferences. For example, the inability to mount the cleaning rod under the barrel may not be an issue for some of you or the possibility to retain the original front sling loop may not be a huge advantage for others.
Overall, I am really impressed with the quality and well thought out design of the Crook CRC 1U004 handguard. It works great for me. I’ll keep it installed on this gun and later when I have a significant amount of round count through it, I’ll add an update to this article reporting the long term use results of this product. Thank you for reading!
“Nyet, the rifle is fine” comment in 3, 2, 1