Looking to turn your AK into something you WANT to take to the range or into the field? Here’s how to do it on a budget in under an hour…
by the ShootingDaily staff
Without a doubt, Kalashnikov-pattern rifles are the most common firearms on the planet. There’s an old saw that claims familiarity breeds contempt, but that certainly does not apply to the AK/AKM platform. They’re not the sexiest rifles around, but for out-and-out reliability, they’re tough to beat.
Unfortunately, AKs tend to fall into the, “Yeah, I got one but hardly ever shoot it,” camp. They’re historically a rough-and-tumble breed not known for long-range precision, and they have a look that only the most pragmatic gun enthusiasts can appreciate.
A couple of years ago, we picked up a 7.62x39mm AKM variant made by Blackheart Firearms. It’s a smooth-running, modernized twist on the familiar AK theme that we fully intended to take to the next level with some form of optic and a rail-mounted light. In short, we wanted a larger caliber, tactical companion to our AR. Then we were snooping around the Boyds Gunstocks website and came across their custom kits for the AK. Suddenly, our plans changed.
Boyds builds stocks and furniture kits for almost every common (and not-so-common) rifle and shotgun on and off the market. All are made from premium laminated hardwoods that are more durable and precision-fitting than most OE components. Best of all, you can choose from a variety of color and finish options, plus customize your stocks, depending on the model.
For the AK, Boyds offers a long list of colors and finishes to choose from, and they offer custom engraving so you can further personalize your rifle. These kits are based on the popular Eastern European AKM style (Romanian, Hungarian, etc.) rifles, which most new and remanufactured AKs currently sold in the U.S. are patterned after. For breathing new life into that old AK leaning in the corner of your safe or upgrading your recently acquired AK with more durable, better-looking furniture, Boyds has just what you need.
We figured we’d probably get more use out of our AK if we ditched the tactical idea and moved toward a hunting/bugout concept. The 7.62x36mm is, after all, a fine cartridge for deer hunting with the appropriate bullet, and while the AKM is no 1,000-yard tack-driver, for the typical 50- to 100-yard whitetail ranges, it’s right on the money. Thus, we opted to ditch our OE furniture and upgrade to a Boyd’s kit in Forest Camo. For hunting or heading for the hills if it all collapses, the Forest Camo motif combined with the Parkerized barreled action will give us a stealthy AK that will work great in the field and that we’ll be proud to tote to the range.
Upgrading your AK furniture with a custom Boyds Gunstocks kit is about as easy as it gets. Although some minor wood trimming may be required due to the inherent variances in AK fitment and tolerances, it’s all straightforward stuff that utilizes your OE components. We chose Boyds Forest Camo laminated hardwood color scheme. The kit comes with a padded buttstock (yay!) plus a new pistol grip and foregrips.
Our transformation rifle is a Blackheart Firearms 7.62x39mm AKM variant. Originally purchased with a “tactical intent,” we decided that the Boyds kit in Forest Camo would deliver the close-range-hunter/bugout personality we were looking for.
(Left) Before working on your rifle, be sure it is rendered safe. Remove the magazine, pull back the charging handle, and inspect the chamber and magazine well to ensure there are no cartridges in either. (Right) When you have confirmed that the firearm is safe and there are no live rounds in the receiver or chamber, remove the dust cover by pressing in on the recoil spring guide rod and lifting the cover off the receiver.
(Left) Remove the recoil spring assembly by pushing in on the recoil spring guide rod until it clears the rear trunnion, then slide the assembly out of the bolt carrier. (Right) Lift the rear of the bolt carrier out of the receiver, then remove the bolt carrier/piston assembly.
(Left) Rotate the gas tube release lever upward to release the gas tube/upper foregrip assembly. (Right) Pull up on the back end of the gas tube until it clears the trunnion and then remove the assembly from the gas block.
(Left) If you haven’t already done so, remove the cleaning rod. (Right) Use a pair of pliers to rotate the handguard bracket lever forward. The bracket secures the front of the lower foregrip to the barrel.
(Left) Pull the handguard bracket forward. (Right) Slide the lower foregrip forward and out of the receiver to remove.
(Left) Remove the two screws that secure the buttstock to the receiver. (Right) Remove the screw that secures the pistol grip to the receiver.
(Left) This is the pistol grip nut, which sits at an angle inside the bottom of the receiver, just behind the trigger guard. Be sure not to lose it when you remove the pistol grip screw. (Right) Remove the buttstock from the receiver. This may require some “persuasion” to get out.
Here is our disassembled rifle with the new Boyds Gunstocks wood furniture. Note that the Boyds AK kit does not come with any hardware except for a pistol grip screw washer. It’s only because our AK featured an aftermarket grip with a short screw that we had to purchase a new, OE-style screw, which we acquired from Blackheart Firearms (the rifle manufacturer). You can use your original pistol grip screw if you are simply swapping your old OE furniture for the new Boyds pieces.
(Left) There is only one way to correctly install the pistol grip nut, so check the orientation (as seen here) and insert it into its hole in the bottom of the receiver. We grabbed a few threads with our new screw and pulled it into place. (Right) While holding the nut in place with your finger, position the new grip behind the trigger guard. Next, install the screw and washer assembly and tighten to secure.
(Left) As with all Boyds products, their AK furniture is expertly shaped and inletted for optimal fit. We had no trouble sliding the new buttstock into the receiver. (Right) Although AK-platform rifles were designed to be mass-produced, the nature of a “pressed-on and riveted-together” firearm means that tolerances almost always vary from one rifle to the next. Such was the case with our setup. You can see, there is a slight gap between the wood and the rear of the receiver. This tolerance variance is not unusual and quite expected in the AK world, but we wanted things to line up just a bit neater. To do that, we decided to trim the forward shoulders of the buttstock.
Carefully placing our buttstock in a padded vice, we used a small (and sharp) wood chisel and a flat file to get the shoulders to match our receiver profile. It only took a little bit of shaving to set things right.
In keeping with the “mass-produced-but-every-one-is-a-custom” nature of the AK, Boyds rightly does not pre-drill the buttstock retaining screw holes so as to accommodate the slight tolerance variations of the AK. Fortunately, this is a simple task. (Left) With our buttstock installed in the receiver, we secured the rifle in a padded vice, marked and centerpunched the fore and aft screw holes, drilled pilot holes, then drilled holes slightly narrower in diameter than our screws. (Right) With the holes drilled, we secured the new buttstock to the receiver using our original screws.
The upper foregrip is seated firmly in the gas tube assembly, and removing it can sometimes be a challenge. On older rifles or de-milled military surplus rifles that still have their original wood, the foregrip is often brittle and can break when you try to remove it from the gas tube (just a heads-up in case you want to keep your old wood for sentimental reasons). (Left) To remove the foregrip from the gas tube, use an adjustable or suitably sized wrench and place it along the flats of the rear of the gas tube as shown. Securely grasp the foregrip with your other hand and rotate the grip 180 degrees to release it from the gas tube. (Right) Install the new Boyds piece in the reverse manner that you removed the old foregrip, rotating 180 degrees to secure it. Be sure to properly orientate the grip prior to installing it on the gas tube. If you are unsure which end goes where, mate the two foregrip pieces together so that the forward edge of the grips and the cooling slots are aligned, then position the forward end of the upper foregrip so that it points in the direction of the gas block tube.
(Left) We ran into another “fitment variation” when we test-fitted the lower foregrip with the handguard bracket. As you can see, it was necessary to trim down the wooden shoulder on both sides before it would slide into the bracket. A quick hit with a Dremel cutoff wheel and a light sanding of the edges made short work of this obstacle. (Right) A similar issue cropped up when we tried to insert the foregrip into the receiver. The tolerance between the front trunnion and bottom of the receiver was a bit too tight for the stock to fit, but a little wood shaving took care of that problem.
(Left) Once the new wood fits the old metal, you are ready to assemble the foregrips. With the lower foregrip seated in the receiver, position the handguard bracket over the end of the grip and use a pair of pliers or a nylon-coated hammer to rotate the lever into place. Be careful not to force the lever if it is being difficult. Ours did not want to rotate and lock. On inspection, we discovered that we needed to trim a small amount of wood off the foregrip’s shoulder for the bracket to slide back far enough for the locking pin to engage its slot in the barrel. (Right) With the lower foregrip correctly installed, mate the gas tube with the gas block, align the rear of the gas tube with the slot in the rear trunnion (make sure the cam lever is pointed up, as shown), and then push down to snap the gas tube/foregrip assembly into place.
(Left) Rotate the gas tube release lever to lock the gas tube/foregrip assembly into place. (Right) Moving to the bolt carrier and bolt assembly, turn the bolt carrier upside down and orient the bolt as shown. The bolt’s rotating lug must sit in the groove machined into the underside of the bolt carrier.
(Left) With the rear of the bolt flush with the rear of the bolt carrier, place the bolt carrier assembly on top of the receiver so that you can push it down into the receiver and mate the bolt carrier rail grooves with the receiver rails. (Right) When properly aligned in the receiver, move the bolt carrier assembly all the way forward as shown.
(Left) Reinstall the recoil spring assembly by inserting it into the rear of the bolt carrier and aligning the back of the spring assembly with its corresponding rear trunnion rails. (Right) Reinstall the dust cover to complete the assembly. NOTE: Always perform a function check after removing and reinstalling your AK’s recoil spring and bolt carrier assembly and before you shoot the rifle!
With the new furniture installed, our AK has an entirely new personality. That the transformation cost just under $150 and took about an hour to complete gives us more reason to smile.
Article copyright 2016 by ShootingDaily.com; promoted by Boyds Gunstock Industries, Inc.