The History of the AK

The History of the AK

THE AK-47 

When discussing the AK-47, two questions seem to always get asked more than others:

What does AK-47 stand for?

The first question, What does AK-47 stand for, is pretty simple. AK means Avtomat (Automatic) Kalashnikov (name of designer), and the numbers indicate the year of the rifle's design work being completed.  

Think of it as literally meaning Kalashnikov's Automatic Rifle from 1947. Nobody calls it that, but it's an easy way to remember it.

Why is the AK-47 so famous?

The second question, "Why is the AK-47 so famous?" is a bit more complicated.

Does the US Military use the AK-47? Not to a degree worth mentioning, if at all. says:

"These days, the U.S. does not field AK-47s, but some members of its military are trained to use them. Special operations forces from all branches might have to pick up an enemy AK-47 at some point because of the nature of their work -- sometimes help isn't coming."

So, why is it so popular if it's not famous for winning wars for America?

The simple answer is that it's a simple operating system that operates under really heavy stress for long periods of time, which is why the AK-47 is one of our biggest sellers. 

The AK-47 is one of (if not THE) world’s most popular rifles.

Designed by a young tank engineer in the middle of a brutal war, the AK-47 would become the most inspiring and ripped-off gun in the history of the world.

Its design was revolutionary, and the AK-47 took the gun world in a bold, new direction, resulting in thousands of new guns with direct or partial clones and/or variants of the AK-47 itself.

Chambered in 7-62x39mm, The Automatic Kalashnikov rifle was designed to be a workhorse rifle, built to withstand massive amounts of abuse but roll along unimpeded in the process. Loose tolerances and few moving and/or breakable parts helped the AK-47 quickly secure its reputation as a legendary battle rifle.


Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was born on November 10, 1919, in Siberia.

He grew up poor and persecuted. The son of displaced refugees who were expelled from their home by the brutal communist dictator Joseph Stalin.

His family was a part of society labeled as “kulaks,” a class of “prosperous peasants” deemed “hesitant allies” of the revolution. Stalin used class warfare to convince the population to divide and look to him for support.

According to the Encyclopedia of Ukraine

"In the Soviet period, the term ‘kulak’ became an ambiguous Party construct with a fundamentally negative connotation. At times it was applied to all well-to-do peasants; at other times, it was used to tar all peasants who opposed Soviet rule."

The Kalashnikov family was one of many that the Communist regime used to manipulate support from the poorer population.

The idea was that the “hesitant allies” (kulaks) were standing in the way of progress for those who had less and, therefore, should be run out and run over so that the political leaders could bring true prosperity to the people who needed it most.

Collective farming would replace the traditional family farm, the government seized control of not just the farms but the economy and all industry as well. 

The results were catastrophic.

“Hunger, disease, and mass executions during dekulakization led to at least 530,000 to 600,000 deaths from 1929 to 1933….”

Despite the government’s violence against his family, Russia called Mikhail up for service in 1938. Kalashnikov was drafted into service and assigned and trained as a tank driver.

He made himself an engineering standout after developing a tool to measure the power output from a tank engine. That design caught the eye of the powers-that-be, and Mikhail Kalashnikov soon found himself in Leningrad overseeing the production of this new instrument.

Wounded in the Battle of Bryansk in October 1941, Kalashnikov spent six months recuperating in a hospital. It’s said that during his time there he became aware of a strong dislike for the current service weapon issued to Soviet soldiers and began thinking of ways to make it better.

AK History Lesson

In 1944 the Soviet Union began trials for a new rifle for its soldiers.

After his recovery, Kalashnikov had begun working in the Matai Arms Depot and had spent some time developing ideas for a sub-machine gun that would fire the 7.62 x 25 mm Tokarev round.

The AK-47 was the Soviet Union’s response to the evolution of modern combat, and the advent of the German machine gun called the Sturmgewehr (pronounced: sterm-guh-veer) 44. You will see it written out as STG44 or StG44. This was the model baseline for the Soviet Union as it sought input from firearms designers and engineers on the next service weapon for Soviet soldiers.

The battlefields of World War I had shown that a new battlefield strategy was necessary. puts it this way: 

The German Blitzkriegs of 1939 and 1940 forced the opposing nations to rethink their tactics, as well as the place of the rifleman in battle. The famed trenches of World War I was all but obsolete. This was a new time, a new era of combat, where firing a well-aimed and well-timed shot from a fixed position had become a thing of the past.

To the Soviet Union, the new battlefield strategy required a new battle rifle.

Lucky for them, a young tank engineer named Mikhail Kalashnikov was looking for a new challenge.

By 1949, the AK-47 would fill that void.


The design of the AK-47 is genius in its simplicity. Kalashnikov is famous for saying,

“All that is complex is not useful, and all that is useful is simple.”

When you pull the trigger on an AK-47, the hammer strikes the firing pin which in turn strikes the primer and causes a small explosion.

The force of that explosion causes the projectile to go forward out of the barrel. The projectile is followed and propelled by the gas that results from the explosion.

Towards the end of the barrel, some of the gas that’s sending the projectile off to its final destination is expelled through a port in the barrel that is attached to a tube. In that tube rests a solid, steel piston.  The force of the gas pressure causes that piston to be driven back toward the receiver of the rifle. 

The piston is attached to the carrier that houses the bolt that contains both the aforementioned firing pin AND the extractor claw that will remove the empty casing that was once attached to the projectile that’s now headed downrange.

The extractor claw will latch on to the rim of the cartridge and pull it out of the chamber. As all of the gas dispels, the carrier will travel rearward and then return forward. As it heads back home, it will pick up a new round out of the magazine and place it into the chamber of the rifle.

Now you’re ready to pull the trigger and start the process all over again.


The AK and the AR both function in a very similar manner. Some AR rifles are piston-driven rifles that cycle and function in a way very similar to the AK.

The real difference comes down to tolerance and moving parts.

Brittanica gives this rundown of the AK-47:

“Built around a 7.62mm round with a muzzle velocity of some 700 meters per second, it had a cyclic firing rate of 600 rounds per minute and was capable of both semiautomatic and automatic fire. A long curved box magazine held 30 rounds, and a separate gas-return tube above the barrel held a piston that was forced back upon firing to activate the mechanisms that ejected the spent cartridge and cocked the hammer for the next round.” 

This design differs from the AR-15 for a couple of reasons. Most notably, the caliber size is about 30% larger (5.56 vs. 7.62), and the gas system differs. In an AK rifle, the gas resulting from the explosion following the firing pin slamming into the primer is expelled from a gas block affixed to the top of the barrel. When the gas releases from the rifle, it forces a piston rearward. That solid rod cycles the rifle’s action and allows the spent cartridge to be ejected and a fresh round to be loaded.

In an AR-15, the gas that expels from the barrel goes into a tube that pushes it back into the action of the rifle and allows the rifle to cycle out the old round and insert a new one.

There’s a reason the AK rifle can run despite contact with common impediments like dirt and sand.

There is a fair amount of space allowed for movement inside the receiver for the working parts - which, compared to an AR, are quite minimal.

If you pop open an AR and an AK and place them side-by-side, you will quickly notice the number of breakable parts in an AR. Pins, springs, and detents galore. The AK, not so much. A solid rod with a handle and a bolt containing minimal breakable parts should be serviced as needed.

The second feature that sets the AK apart is its loose tolerances. While the AR line of rifles commands a firm and precise fit for most parts, the AK is known for allowing parts “room to breath” and requiring filing and fitting parts that are added after manufacturing. If you had to file an AR part to get it to fit, you would be safe to say there was a problem somewhere. But if filing a part to fit AK seems odd, you would be considered the problem.

There’s a reason the AK can run as well as it does even after impediments like dirt, sand, mud, and sludge are introduced during the firing cycle, it’s loose tolerances allow the debris to get in and get out. Plus, the solid piston rod means particles are not interfering with one of the core components of the rifle’s functionality.


The AK-47 design is not overly complicated. AK parts are made from stamped sheet metal and steel, which has allowed many countries and companies to try their hand at building their own AK. The design is easy, and the parts are relatively inexpensive.

That's a perfect combination for creating an overly-abundant amount of variants.

The Israeli-made Galil is just one example, but its genesis helps prove the point. The Galil has been an Israeli-issued service rifle since 1972, and the RK62 heavily inspired its design.

The RK62 is a Finnish rifle from the 1960s that is essentially a copy of the Russian AK-47. Many more guns share a similar lineage. The AK-47 has inspired countless engineers who have designed countless guns based on the classic AK-47 blueprint.

For more examples, look at the Armenian K-3, the Chinese Type 56, the Ukrainian VEPR, multiple “M” models from Yugoslavia/Serbia, or check out the Croatian APS-95, which looks like what you would expect if an AR-15 and an AK-47 had a baby. 


Few people realize that there was never a time when the design of the AK-47 was NOT being examined for ways to improve. Within ten years of its introduction, the manufacturing process was evolving for the AK-47. By 1974 new machines, new materials, and hot new calibers paved the way for the AK-74, named appropriately for its 1974 introduction to the world.

While the two rifles look almost identical, the AK-74 differs from the AK-47 in a few ways.

While the operating system remains intact on the AK-74, the muzzle got an upgrade in the form of a dual-chamber brake that significantly mitigates muzzle rise on the AK-74.

The AK-74 gas block also evolved and moved from 45 to 90 degrees. Standing upright rather than leaning rearward.

But the biggest change lies in the caliber.

The AK-74 left behind the standard 7.62 x 39 round of the AK-47 and moved to the 5.45 x 39 round - a lighter, faster, more lethal round.


In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving shaky ground for the next government to build on. The arms subsidies that once flowed freely were gone.

Russia needed to make money.

The strategy was to court the global market by manufacturing an AK-74 variant that would rely on the ingenuity of the AK-74 design but leverage modern manufacturing techniques and materials to reduce cost. This new variant would also be designed around the 5.56 x 45 caliber in many of NATO countries.

This new line of AK rifles would be made for export and never issued to Russian service members. The rifles would be marketed to the NATO countries in the hopes of bringing in cold, hard cash to a newly minted Russian state.

A unique number system would distinguish this run of rifles. The first would be numbered 101, the second would be 102, the third would be 103, and they would continue up through 108 to be collectively known as the “Century Line” of rifles.

The AK-101 and AK-102 were chambered in 5.56 x 45 NATO rounds. The AK-101 had a 16” barrel and a folding stock, and the AK-102 had a 12” barrel and a “funnel-shaped compensator,” as was found on the AKS-74U.

The AK-103 was chambered in 7.62 x 39, just like the original AK design. A fixed stock option was also made available, originally offered with a folding stock. The AK-103 had a 16” barrel and weighed just over seven pounds.

The AK-104 was a short-barreled version of the 103.

The AK-105 was similar to the AK-102 but chambered in the 5.45 x 39 round.

The AK-107 and AK-108 are chambered in 5.45 x 39 and 5.56 x 45, respectively. These rifles introduced a “balanced recoil” system that helps reduce felt recoil. The 107 and 108 also used a squared gas tube.


With all this new knowledge, you may wonder why you should buy a Palmetto State Armory AK-103 above the other options (minimal as they may be at this time).

Palmetto State Armory has taken modern advancements to the AK build process and implemented them throughout their rifle. Palmetto State Armory has used forged internals where it matters, cold hammer-forged barrels, and a ground-breaking Aircraft Quality 4340 Steel front trunnion forged from the same materials used in airplane landing gears taken the workhorse AK and given it every new advantage available.

And we back it all with our 100% Full Lifetime Warranty.

You can shop our AK-103 offerings at or stop by any of our retail locations around the state of South Carolina to get hands-on when inventory is available.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post would not be possible without the constant reference to Joe Poyer’s KALASHNIKOV RIFLES AND THEIR VARIATIONS.  I leaned heavily on this book when researching the numerous AK designs referenced below. 

Any mistakes when citing that material is mine. 

All other sources have been hyperlinked, which should be treated as proper references; any mistakes made in interpreting them for use in this blog are mine.

- Kris V.

Mark Levinson
I really love my PSAK-47, it is an awesome rifle in every way!! Any chance Palmetto State Armory will be making a "Milled" receiver AKM?
We appreciate your business! At this time we do not have plans to make our AK's with milled receivers.
David Taylor
Is there a release date, and or, pricing for the PSAK5.56?? Any variables planed for hardware and options?
I do not have a timeframe other than that we plan on releasing the AK5.56 in 2021.
Kaiden Brittain
I saw that early this year at shotshow 2020, there was mention of the AKK or Aks-74u Krinkov Clone release this 4th quarter 2020. Is that something that is still planned or is there an expected release window? Has this rifles release window been pushed to 2021? There has not been much information given on the rifles shown at shotshow 2020. Thanks
We are expecting the Krink to happen early 2021.
James Slatton
I would like to know if PSA is going to start selling the AK-47 again.
We have at least one variant of our AK series in stock each day. They are just going very quickly due to demand!
Garth Dalson
I am on everyday checking. When is the website updated with the inventory each day? I check periodically all day. I literally clicked on every AK47 and asked for an email reminder when it comes in stock and I have not had one email letting me know any of them were ever available since I signed up for updates
I apologize for any frustration. Your best shot at getting one of our AK's is to join our Facebook group "Palmetto State Armory AK Owners." Most AK's are sold by the time any in-stock e-mail would be sent out. In this group they give a heads-up frequently when items go in stock.
Mace Hemphill
Any idea on a time frame for the akv9 to be back in stock?
We have them in stock during the week on a regular basis. Your best bet is to join our Facebook group "Palmetto State Armory AK Owners." The alert there on a regular basis as AK's are going in stock.
Drake Merrell
Any Idea when the 74s will be back in stock? Specifically the: PSAK-74 Classic Rifle with ALG Trigger and JL Billet Extended Rail?
I do not have an exact date at the moment, but we do put them in stock each week at about 4pm. Your best bet is to join our Facebook group "Palmetto State Armory AK Owners." They notify there when product is coming in stock.
I remember the “PSA SVD” and “PSA RPK” being mentioned in shot show 2020. Is there any tentative timeline on either of those coming to market? Or has that all been pushed back indefinitely?
They are still in the plans! I just do not have any timeframe at the moment.
Jonathan Richard
What’s the status on the AK-5.56
Any plans to bring out a PSL or Dragunov clone in the near future? I love the AK platform but want something a bit more potent than 7.62x39.
Possibly in the long-term future, but nothing in the short-term.
Every, "AK-47," pictured here is an AKM or variant of an AKM. AK-47s were not made from stampings, the receivers were machined from a solid block (excluding the Type 1 which never went into wide-spread service). The AKM entered service in 1959 after the Soviets perfected the metallurgy of stampings, forgings and leaded rivets.
Yeah, and your point being ?
Stalin’s rule began in 1924, five years after Kalashnikov’s birth in Siberia, so it wasn’t under Stalin that his parents were exiled, but rather Lenin. Great stuff nonetheless. I had the good fortune of firing AK-47, 74, and a variety of captured enemy goodies south of Baghdad not quite 20 years ago and training the Iraqis to use them about ten years ago.