Accessorizing your AK

Posted in: AK
accessorizing your ak

For an experienced do-it-yourselfer, tricking out AKs is all sorts of fun. It can be a little daunting for someone new to this hobby or coming into the AK world after tinkering for years with ARs (the latter was my trajectory). You see, with AR-15s, we have the mil-spec core components and most accessories out there designed within that specification range are essentially interchangeable. That’s the benefit of the AR-15 platform used by the US military. Interestingly, since large frame ARs are not standardized in the same way, re-configuring those can get a lot more involved. With the AK platform, depending on the geographic origin and vintage of the rifle you are working with, it is like a box of chocolates: you never quite know what you are going to get. It is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is not uncommon to have to make small modifications to various accessories for a better fit. Some AKs (like Yugos) are known for being different and have a whole set of accessories designed just for them. Those are quickly identified, which helps. With the ones coming from other Eastern European countries, it is a bit of a crapshoot. There are, of course, a few US-based manufacturers of AK-pattern rifles, and the significant advantage of those is that there is someone to call and ask about compatibility. In the pictures below, two of the four rifles are made by Palmetto State Armory precisely because I wanted to make sure I have some factory support available (which has not been needed yet).

There are some genuinely mind-blowing AK modifications out there, but they require either a good gunsmith or serious dedication. A lot can be done without going to extremes, which is well within the range of an average hobbyist. You have to think about it a little before deploying the Dremel tool when something does not fit.

The range of “accessible” AK modifications can be broadly divided into the following categories:

AK Trigger Modification

Let’s start with AK triggers since that will take the least amount of time for two reasons: 

  • There are not too many options 
  • They are usually out of stock  

Having tried a few different ones out there, I tend to stick with CMC and ALG. The CMC AK Elite trigger is excellent but pricey. Still, if you are looking for an option with a flat trigger, this is your best bet. CMC comes with three different trigger shapes, and all are high-quality single-stage designs. I am not sure a reliable aftermarket two-stage AK trigger exists, but there are a couple of good options with single-stage designs. If you are not looking for a flat trigger shoe, I’d probably save the money and stick with ALG. A couple of my AKs have these, and the feel is vastly improved compared to conventional comblock designs. Equally importantly, there is no trigger slap, and reliability has been 100%.

AKs are often maligned for their supposed lack of accuracy. That is deserved when talking about particularly rough specimens. However, many modern AKs, both 7.62x39 and 5.4x39 variants, are surprisingly accurate when fed good ammo and equipped with a good trigger.

That was one of the major revelations of my AK-tweaking journey: I was trying to make them more comfortable to shoot quickly, but ended up also extracting a lot more accuracy out of them than I expected.

Top: WASR-10 with FAB Defense Vanguard Handguard, PDC rail cover, Magpul Zhukov stock, Crimson Trace LiNQ light/laser

Middle: PSA AK-74 with TDI handguard, Master mount, Vortex Spitfire Gen2 5x36 scope, Crimson Trace CWL-202 flashlight

Bottom: PSA AK-E with Holosun Paralow HS503G on a Texas Weapon Systems mount and Aimpoint 6x magnifier in RS Regulate mount. Magpul Zhukov furniture, FAB Defense AK-Podium

Right: Bone stock Yugo AK

AK Furniture

A significant part of this shootability argument is AK furniture. There is undoubtedly a lot of nostalgic appeal to a classic AK with wooden furniture, and if that’s your thing, more power to you. None of the standard AK stocks and grips fit me well, nor were they designed to. The original AK-47 furniture was designed for a fully automatic weapon intended for volume fire by many poorly trained conscripts wearing heavy winter coats and mitts. The way the buttstock is angled, for example, is designed to have the weapon naturally aiming at the ground about 75 yards in front of you. The idea was that a fully automatic burst would move the muzzle up and right so that if you naturally start low, you might hit something on the way up (the whistle tip muzzle device is supposed to help control that muzzle rise). All of that is doing a disservice to how capable modern AK's are. Thankfully, there is a good number of different options out there.

As far as plastic furniture goes, the two names that come to mind are Magpul and Fab Defense. Both offer a capable and comprehensive assortment of stocks, handguards, and grips, but there are certainly other options out there such as Palmetto State Armory's line of Ak furniture

Magpul offers a couple of different AK stocks: fixed MOEkov, fixed Zhukov-S, and folding Zhukov-S. Both are better than serviceable, with the Zhukov offering a lot for the money given that it fits most AKs out there. It also folds and has an adjustable length of pull. One potential weakness of this design is that it sits close to the same height as the original stock. That makes it well-positioned to use iron sights, but a little on the low side for most optics. Magpul has an optional clip-on cheek riser, which helps with optics, but the stock is a little high for iron sights with the riser. The riser itself is not adjustable, so it is either on or off.

An alternative way to add a more modern stocks to an AK is to use either a 1913 rail adapter, which makes your AK compatible with a variety of MCX-type stocks, or an AR-15 buffer tube adapter which opens up an entire world of collapsible and adjustable AR stocks.

PSA AK-74 with Definitive Arms AKM4 stock adapter, Magpul ASAP endplate and FAB Defense GL-Core CP stock

With a modern AR stock like the GL-CORE CP from FAB Defense, you get to adjust the length of pull and cheek weld without having to remove any pieces. In addition, there is an assortment of different endplates with every type of sling attachment point known to man. I happen to favor Magpul’s ASAP since it works equally well whether I am shooting strong-side or support-side.

Note that the Definitive Arms buffer tube adapter raises the stock axis compared to Magpul Zhukov

Another aspect to consider is that some AR-15 stock adapters, like the one from Definitive Arms, raise the stock axis to align better with the barrel. Aside from making it easier to line up behind a riflescope, it also helps mitigate muzzle rise and recoil recovery.

There is of course a good variety of authentic-looking stocks out there, from wire underfolders to simple triangle stocks, plastic fixed stocks and more. They can be all made to work and are a good option if you try to achieve a particular look. However, it is hard to beat an M4 stock adapter or Magpul’s Zhukov-S from the standpoint of functionality and flexibility.

Grip preference is exceedingly subjective. Stock AK grips tend to be relatively thin and narrow, presumably, so they are still usable with thick winter mittens for many different anatomies. For a while, I wrapped the grips with McNett tape but eventually replaced them altogether.  

It started out with FAB Defense’s AK-Podium. I was not looking for a new grip but rather for a more stable way to shoot my AK. Since AK handguards are not free-floated, they suffer from occasional impact shifts if much pressure is exerted. Besides, AKs look downright silly with a bipod hanging off the front. AK-Podium replaces the grip and integrates a support structure under the grip and trigger guard. I was not fond of the AR version of it due to magazine interference, but it works very well with AKs. It also leaves the handguard uncluttered.

PSA AK-E with Magpul Zhukov-S stock, MOEkov handguard, and FAB Defense AK-Podium

The AK-Podium did not initially look promising since the legs are right under magazine well, but it turned out to be surprisingly stable with the ease of steep angle shooting being an extra benefit. When not in use, the legs fold out of the way. Even with the support legs folded, my gun handling improved simply because the grip worked better than the wrapped originals I was running.   

Since then, I have gone through several different pistol grips and settled on FAB Defense’s Gradus as my preferred standalone grip. It is a little more vertical than the original, which works a little better with transition drills. Magpul’s MOE-K2 was a close second in my testing, but Gradus was more secure with wet or oily hands. In principle, grips with pronounced finger grooves are even more secure, but most of them really do not fit me well, so I stick with rubber over-molded designs.

Next is the issue of the handguards. Honestly, with AK handguards, sometimes less is more, and if it wasn’t for the need to attach flashlights, sticking with the original wooden or plastic handguard might not be a bad idea. Handguards on the AK are relatively short and generally for a good reason. It is a good idea to keep your hands from getting too close to the gas block. It gets hot, and touching it with your bare hand at the wrong moment is relatively memorable.  

There are both plastic and aluminum handguards available for the AK platform, with most of them being roughly the same length as the original. Some extend a lot further forward to give you more space to attach things. I tend to stick with the shorter ones myself, but the GKR-10MS from RS Regulate would be my choice if I were looking for something with more real estate. RS Regulate products are exceedingly well machined, and this particular model is also relieved for the sling loop. Many competing designs require that you file off the integrated forward loop.

With shorter aluminum handguards, the better options out there are TDI, RS Regulate, and MI. All are well made, but the fit varies for different guns, so do your research.

It is a good practice to avoid handguards with non-removable picatinny rails sticking out all over the place. All those sharp edges get old pretty quickly. Handguards with M-Lok slots are much nicer to hold onto and easy to attach accessories to. 

An excellent example of a well-executed standard-length aluminum handguard is TDI’s AKML. It attaches to the same mounting hardware as the standard handguard and has M-Lok slots on the sides and bottom for attaching accessories. It has a built-in QD sling attachment point toward the back, but it also leaves the original sling attachment loop exposed.

PSA AK-74 with TDI AKML handguard, Crimson Trace CWL-202 light, and Sling Devil paracord sling attachment loop

AK Flashlights and Lasers

Speaking of flashlights and lasers: note that the flashlight does not leave a whole lot of space on the handguard if mounted this way. Unless you prefer to place your support hand right by the magazine, an offset M-Lok adaptor can help move the flashlight forward. Note that with AKs that have a traditional front sight tower right behind the muzzle, the flashlight must be mounted at the 6 o’clock position or very far forward to avoid reflection from the back of the sight tower. There is some shading due to the barrel, but it is not distracting. However, the reflection from the front sight housing will immediately disrupt your eyes’ night adaptation and produce enough flare to make aiming difficult. The added benefit of mounting the flashlight underneath the handguard is the horizontal symmetry of the light spill, whether you are shooting a strong or support side.

With the AK’s short handguards, mounting a conventional pressure switch is not always convenient but certainly doable. There isn’t too much space for cable routing though, so one interesting alternative is a wireless system like Crimson Trace’s LiNQ. The wireless activation switch for the light/laser is on the grip, which keeps the whole setup nicely streamlined.

Crimson Trace LiNQ grip with a pressure switch on the front

WASR-10 with FAB Defense Vanguard handguard and Crimson Trace LiNQ light/laser on an offset M-Lok adapter.

With plastic handguards that also provide M-Lok slots for accessory mounting, there are a few different options as well, but as I mentioned earlier, I tend to stick with either Magpul or FAB Defense. They provide a similar function but have slightly different philosophies. FABs Vanguard system is quite slim and narrow with M-Lok slots on both lower and upper handguards. ON THE OTHER HAND, Magpul MOE’s lower handguard half is a little larger as it wraps around the upper half somewhat and extends slightly below the sling loop on the bottom. It is a bulkier but more hand-filling design.

PSA AK-E with Magpul MOE handguard 

One of the advantages of this wraparound design is that the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock M-Lok slots are positioned slightly higher so that whatever is attached to them does not interfere with the grip. It also provides handstops front and back to provide location points for the support hand or support structure. For example, shooting off of the barricade turned out to be surprisingly comfortable with this handguard.

AK Optics

Lastly, we get to the always contentious subject of sights, optics, and optics mounts. AK iron sights have stood the test of time from the durability standpoint, and they work surprisingly well if you have eyes young enough for that. Still, for most of us, they are best relegated to backup use. Even then, I can acquire the target much faster if I replace the rear notch sight with an aperture like the one produced by GG&G. With the front sight, there are many high visibility options. XS Sights’ Tritium Stripe Front is a worthwhile investment if you are an iron sight shooter for low light use.

GG&G Rear Ghost Ring sight

As far as optics go, most disagreements usually center on mounts rather than on the optics themselves. There are plenty of good options if your rifle has an adequately aligned and riveted side rail. If it does not, there are still good possibilities.

One of the most common is replacing the gas tube with one from UltiMak that has a picatinny rail on top. It works adequately well, but there are a couple of problems. The red dot sight is a little bit too far from your eye. The optimal position for a red dot sight is just behind the rear sight tower of an AK, not in front of it where the gas tube is. Another is that there is a lot of heat going up from the gas tube. This problem is a bit overblown since most of us are not doing ten mag dumps in a row, but it is still a potential concern.

The most flexible solution is probably FAB Defense’s PDC replacement dust cover. It requires no tools and is compatible with most standard AKM rifles. PDC uses a clever method to cinch it down to the receiver, and it has not shifted on me despite some admittedly unfriendly treatment. I was inquisitive to see if it would stay zeroed, so I tortured tested it a bit over several months. Keep in mind that it extends a little bit behind the receiver, interfering with some stocks and stock adapters.

WASR-10 with FAB Defense railed PDC dust cover

It had no issues supporting various optics, from tiny red dots to a reasonably hefty LPVO. I lean toward relatively compact optics on AKs, so the scopes that spent the most time on the PDC were various compact prismatics from Primary Arms since they can be mounted reasonably low. If you mount an optic in an AR-appropriate mount, it ends up sitting very high for an AK. That would require a stock with a very tall cheekpiece. For example, with the excellent Mepro X4, even the chin weld was pretty marginal without a raised stock.

WASR-10 with PDC and Mepro X4. Note how high the scope is above the stock.

One of the advantages of the PDC is how little it weighs. It only adds around 4 ounces compared to the standard dust cover. Also, it does not return to perfect zero after removal, but it is more repeatable than I expected. Return to zero was well within the “minute of plate.”

Optic mounts attached to the side rail are usually heavier but offer some advantages: the previously mentioned return to zero. Even inexpensive eastern block mounts return to zero surprisingly well. A word of caution about eastern block mounts and optics for AKs: unless you are going for an authentic look, I would stick with modern Western options.

Original POSP scopes are essentially spiffed-up 1950s designs that are also quite heavy. AK's are great handling guns until you add three pounds of optics and mounts to them. Also, since many of those optics are integrated with the mount, you can’t adjust their position for optimal eye relief. They were designed to work with the original stock and the statistically average Russian soldier. For everyone else, some adjustment is an excellent thing to have. There are some modern designs like the PO4x17, but they are pricy with very questionable factory support if something goes wrong.

Even eastern block side rail-to-picatinny adapters tend to be a little higher than necessary.

Belorussian BP-02 mount with Aimpoint on it

They stay zeroed and return to zero well, but the height and the weight are not ideal. Thankfully, there are several very capable US-made sidemounts and rear sight mounts.

The most effective system overall is probably the one by RS Regulate. They cleverly split the mount into upper and lower halves, so you can mix and match them to get the exact configuration you want. Ideally, they return to zero, and the way the locking lever is integrated does not get in the way.

Master Mount is a little less modular, but it is robust and lightweight. It also supports both Picatinny clamp and ACOG-type optics. Their locking lever is similarly located to the one on RS Regulate, so it does not get in the way.

Midwest Industries mounts use a very different clamp mechanism, and the locking lever protrudes down, so it is partially to the side of the trigger guard. It is not terribly intrusive, but it is less slick than the RS Regulate, and Master designs clamp. Check out the MI AK scope mount with Picatinny rail

MI (Midwest Industries) AK mounts. 30mm ring with Bushnell 3x Magnifier (top) and full picatinny rail with Hi-Lux CMR 1-4x24 (bottom)

PSA AK-74 with Master Mount picatinny rail with Vortex Spitfire Gen2 5x (top) 

PSA AK-E RS Regulate 30mm ring with Aimpoint 6x Magnifier and TWS BDM rear sight mount with Holosun Paralow (bottom)

The simplest and most flexible way to mount an optic of your choice is indeed to get a mount with a picatinny rail on top of it and then set up whatever optic works best for you on it. The downside of this approach is that it raises the sightline a bit compared to iron sights which introduce some modification for the stock. Still, it is a pretty good way to go, especially if you are looking to utilize one of the excellent prismatic scopes recently introduced. Having spent quite a lot of time with LPVOs on AKs (like the Hi-Lux in one of the pictures above), I developed a lot of appreciation for how flexible they are, but I'm not too fond of the weight. It noticeably impacts the handling of the rifle.

A compact prismatic like Vortex Spitfire, Burris RT3, SwampFox Trihawk, or Primary Arms GLx with a piggy-backed red dot weighs significantly less and gives you almost comparable capability. However, recently, my preferred way to set up optics on AKs has been a combination of a rear sight mount with a side mount. For example, a rear sight mount like TWS’ (Texas Weapon Systems) BDM positions the red dot sight right behind the rear sight block, which is just about the optimal distance from your eye. With an Aimpoint or many Holosuns, the optic co-witnesses with the iron sights in the lower 1/3 of the FOV. That gives you a quick-handling setup with some redundancy. When the situation requires some magnification, you can have a magnifier set up in a side mount. It turns out that the 30mm ring of RS Regulate and MI mounts lines up perfectly behind a red dot sight in TWS’ BDM mount. Any magnifier with an outer tube diameter of 30mm will work, and there are several available from Aimpoint, Bushnell, Burris, Primary Arms, and a few other manufacturers.  

With a conventional side-mounted optic, you are back to an iron sights only setup when you remove it to cut down on weight. With this approach, the red dot sights stay on the rifle permanently with only the magnifier going on and off.

In Conclusion

While not as simple as modifying AR's, modifying your AK is a perfectly reasonable project, but it does require some planning and research before you start spending money. With AKs, it is essential to know your rifle and have a good idea of where you want to take it before you start. However, nearly any AK can be accessorized into a modern rifle that, within 400 yards, will give almost any other design a run for its money.

Thanks for the comprehensive info,much appreciated.
Great article and thanks for the links in there as well.
jesse lutton
how about info on a ak47 safety selector replacement... mine broke and I can't find one for an m70 ab2 yugo made by century... no reply from century.. that's why I'm asking you.
Allen Dye
Any should work. Get a modified switch which allows easier engagement with one finger. Like a lot of AK stuff, you MAY have to file the tabs down for clearance, but perhaps not. YouTube is your friend. Order it right here from PSA.
Nicely done. I believe you should have included something about the plethora of very fine muzzle breaks/devises that are available however.
remberto sanchez
Robert Bruning
Bought a good supply of Serbian AK mags..none will lock in place...only PSA brand mags will work...Korean junk will not lock up either...or...Bulgarian/Romanian......
Lisa Demelfi
Thanks for the very detailed streamlined my search/s by hours.
Great ???? information Thanks
Would it be possible to do headspace barrel kits without the receiver? I'd be willing to utilized PSA parts for "80%" AK builds.
Unfortunately we do not have any plans at this time.
Hand guard mod question: There is a note on the RS Regulate site regarding compatibility issues with there GKR-7MS hand guard. They state the PSA hand guard retainer cast is a different dimension. Is everything else in spec where a different retainer from a listed variant would make the GKR-7MS installable? I have a GF5-5 barreled receiver on the way.
Do you sell the barreled receiver kits from the Romanian parts builds you do? Like the gr3-R but just barreled receiver.