*The SKS and AK Rifles*

(Warlord's note... This was found in the Files Section of an old pro-gun Bulletin Board Service (BBS) that I ran many years ago... It was written in May of 1994, so keep in mind that it's VERY dated. No name was attached to this article, so I can't give credit to the original author.)

I got interested in the SKS when you could buy a new unissued one and a 1000 round case of ammo for $150.00. A dream come true for plinkers, but like everything else, all dreams are not created equally.

If you're considering buying a SKS, MAK-90, or SA- 85, or just wondering what the differences are, this article should cover most questions.


The three most common surplus variations of the SKS semi-automatic rifle are the pinned barrel Chinese, the screwed-in barrel Chinese, and the Russian SKS. Most of the Chinese models on the market were made in the 1970s whereas the Russians were made in the early 1950s.

You can quickly tell which gun is pinned or not by looking at the bolt. On the right side, behind the bolt handle, if its a pinned barrel, the bolt will be smooth. If its a screwed-in barrel, there will be a shallow milled rectangle in the bolt. As far as I know, all SKS' can be identified this way. The Russian bolt is milled the same as the screwed-in Chinese version.

These are mainly unissued rifles, still in new condition except for some scratches and dings due to long term storage. Each one will require a good deal of cleaning before use. The Chinese models often come packed in the most slimey goop you could imagine and its all over everything including the stock. I've found that removing the stock and letting it sit on some newspapers in the sun for several days will help dry out the wood to where it isn't too slippery to hold.

The Chinese rifles all come with a chromed bore, so cleaning the barrel is no problem. The Russian isn't chromed, but has much better rifling. However, the Russian SKS may need some scrubbing with a brush to get the exterior finish over-spray out of the bore. The bore may look terrible until you get it cleaned. This appears to be a normal for about half of the Russian rifles I've seen.

The pinned barrel Chinese version is the cheapest in price and quality, but still a decent rifle. Accuracy is not great, but you can expect 3-5 inch groups at 100 yards. The barrel will heat quickly and throw off your aim. I've found that during rapid fire, once the barrel is sufficiently hot, point of impact will close to groups of under an inch. Each rifle is different, so it'll just take practice to learn how your SKS will perform.

Experimenting with the stocks, I've sanded and filed to see if I could relieve the pressure on the barrel. It does make a lot of difference! If you get a SKS that shoots funny, you can carefully remove some wood, especially at the front of the lower stock where it fits to the barrel, and should be able to improve accuracy.

In my neck of the woods (Texas panhandle), the wind is rarely ever under 15 mph, and most of my shooting is done in winds of 15-30 mph, so your accuracy results should be much better.

As with all Chinese models I've seen, the feeder arm of the magazine isn't aligned properly and will result in an occasional jam. The cartridge being stripped from the magazine will miss the barrel hole and slam into the front of the receiver, leaving you with a bullet about an eighth of an inch shorter. Its no problem to free the jam, just turn the rifle upside down and pull the bolt back to let the bullet fall out, but its serious enough to not stake your life on. The problem can be fixed by heating the feeder arm and bending it back into the proper alignment, or just buying a new one not made in China.

The trigger had a rough three stage pull on it when I first got it. After a few thousand rounds, its smoothing out pretty well now. There are some books on the market that describe how to improve the trigger, so you may consider buying one to improve your's.

The screwed-in barrel version is a little more accurate, giving groups of 3-4 inches. Same problem with the feeder arm, but a little better built over all. Both Chinese versions have a sling ring on the left side of the stock right where my cheek rests. You may consider removing the sling ring to prevent unpleasant facial bleeding during firing. Installing a synthetic stock is the best bet, since all SKS stocks are a couple inches too short for most full sized Americans.

The Russian SKS looks almost identical to the screwed-in barrel Chinese version except for the much better wooden stocks. The Russian model can also be found with a laminated stock, but really isn't better looking in my opinion. The Russian however isn't even close to the same quality of the oriental cousins, its far superior in every way.

The Russian was manufactured with tighter tolerances, better fittings, smoother trigger, no jams, and, well, just everything is better. Accuracy tells it all, with normal groups of 1 to 2.5". My dad is far sighted and can see 100 yard targets pretty well, (he can see those little 3" targets while I have a hard time making out where the red 6" dot is), and so it isn't uncommon to see him grouping under an inch. Even comparing the Russian with modern rifles, the Russian feels smoother and of more quality than just about anything you can find. I love my Russian SKS!

Now SKS rifles weren't designed with scopes in mind. First of all, the barrels will warp quickly when heated, so naturally the scope is almost useless after a couple shots. If you can ever get your scope mount steady enough, and you only fire one round an hour, you may be able to get some decent groups, but these aren't target rifles and don't expect fantastic results. The Russian is much slower to warp, and a fast 20 round firing with a scope gives me a group of 1 inches high by 3 inches wide, which is decent enough for rapid fire. After the pinned version gets good and hot, its point of impact stays fairly close. One group I was shooting was perpendicular with the bulls eye, but each shot drifted to the right one bullet hole's width (each shot was touching the other). It looked interesting to see such a pattern, but this group was about 4 inches off of where it shoots when the barrel is cold.

All SKS' will hold the bolt open after the last shot. To close the bolt, you must release the fixed magazine catch and then rework the action.

Cleaning the SKS

(Picture Article About Cleaning The SKS)

The SKS' disassemble very easily. The manuals that come with them are pretty good, except for one major detail, and that's how to get the trigger assembly out. You must remove it to replace the stock or to properly clean the rifle. It isn't hard once you discover how it works.

Put the safety on (makes it easier to remove the trigger assembly and all). Push the lever at the back of the bolt cover straight up, and then slide it out as far as it will go (it doesn't come all the way out). Lift and remove the bolt cover. Slide the spring out. Slide the bolt and firing pin assembly out. Turn the rifle upside down.

I prefer to use a medium sized phillips screwdriver, but most any small punch will work to remove the trigger assembly. Behind the trigger guard is a small round catch with an indention in it. With the rifle resting upside down, I put a phillips screwdriver in the indention and then whap the handle with my hand, pushing the springed catch forward. The trigger housing should then pop up by itself and is free to be removed.

The fixed magazine will also now slide out. The gas port tube is removed by sliding the catch just to the rear of it upwards like for the bolt cover. You now have the rifle just about completely apart. Turning the gas tube catch further back will release the spring loaded piston in the receiver. If you don't hold it in with your finger as your push the catch further up, it will fly!

Complete disassembly and reassembly usually takes around 3-5 minutes. Its more complex than some guns, but once you've done it a time or two, its no big deal.

All models have a hole in the rear of the butt stock to keep the cleaning kit in. If you install a synthetic stock, you'll have to drill holes in the front of it to accommodate the cleaning rod. Personally, I like keeping the cleaning rod with the gun. Makes it easier to clean while at the rifle range. The synthetic Monte Carlo stock also may not have the groove for the bayonet to rest in. No big deal, but its just something to know before you buy.

AK-47 Variants

Like the SKS, the Chinese make two popular variations of the AK-47, the Norinco model MAK-90. A stamped receiver (folded and riveted sheet steel), and a forged receiver (machined and milled). Both are fun to shoot, and in keeping with Chinese tradition, are not of the highest quality, but are inexpensive and plenty good for their intended purpose. Then there's the Hungarian made SA-85. The differences between the Hungarian and the Chinese is exactly like that of the Russian SKS versus the Chinese.

The visual difference between the different receivers is that the stamped receiver will have a small oval shaped indention on the sides whereas the milled receiver will have a 3" shallow rectangle milled out on both sides. Pulling the bolt back, you'll be able to see the differences in thickness between the two different styles.

The stamped receiver works well. I don't know of any problems with the Norinco rifles beyond accuracy and appearances. The Mak-90 will normally group under 6" at 100 yards. Not great, but plenty adequate for its purpose. I view these little rifles as excellent self defense weapons around the ole' homestead, not long range sniper grade works of art, so in my opinion, they live up to their expectations. Most all AK-47 style rifles have stamped receivers, so even though it may not appear to be of the highest quality, literally millions have served well in various wars.

These rifles have the new style ATF approved thumb-hole stock. I don't know whether to say its an ugly butt stock or a butt ugly stock, but either way, it ain't the prettiest thing in the world. Despite the looks however, the stock is actually an improvement over the old pistol grip style. Its easier to hold and aim, but I still have a sudden sense of repulsion every time I take hold of it.

The forged receiver model is tighter for sure. The weight is about the same, but the rifle has a heftier feel. After running several thousand rounds through mine, I've yet to experience any malfunction whatsoever. Accuracy is a little better with groups of under 5".

Perhaps the only thing I would really recommend is that you buy East German or Russian magazines instead of Chinese. The oriental mags are thin and easily bent. The German ones however are thick, strong, and flawless. Prices are about the same, so get the better deal.

If the SA-85 were candy, it'd melt in your mouth. Its a wonderful little rifle. I'll never tell my wife of course, but this little gun is more fun than sex! (I have priorities ya' know...)

It has the stamped receiver like the cheaper Norinco, but that's where the similarity ends. The blonde colored wood thumbhole stock is still ugly to me, but it feels better and allows you much better control. The trigger is a delight, and everything works without a thought. Accuracy? Well, it is somewhat better of course, with groups of under 2 inches (even from me!). I'd wager that a good shooter on a calm day could easily do groups of under an inch all day long even with iron sights.

The barrel isn't chromed like the Norinco, but it has the better rifling like the Russian SKS. Right after I bought my SA-85, prices almost doubled, so I waited months before shooting it, trying to decide whether I should keep it for an investment, trade it for a Dragunov, or whatever. The main thing I was afraid of was that it may not be any better than a Norinco, and I'd have hated myself for having fired it and ruined its resale value. Now that I've run around 50 rounds through it, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Its going back into the gun safe, not to be used much, but to be kept for if/when I may need a gun I can bet my life on.

I did experience a minor problem with the trigger after about 40 shots. It would sometimes catch and not travel all the way back forward after a shot. This wasn't a big deal, since with a slight push with the finger, the trigger would pop forward. After inspection, I found that the wire spring that holds the trigger pin in was out of place, letting the pin slip out and put the trigger in a bind. It took about 30 seconds to correct, and now everything's great.

The MAK-90s do not have any system for holding the bolt open after the last shot, or anytime. The SA-85 has the ability to hold the bolt open, but it must be done manually, and it won't do it for the last shot automatically like the SKS'. At the rifle range, where we are asked to open all bolts while the range master is changing targets, I do prefer the gun to have the capability rather than having to stick a spend cartridge inbetween the bolt and receiver to keep it open a little.

I've seen an ad for some 20 round magazines that are supposed to hold the bolt open after the last round. This is something I plan to check into.

FEG, the Hungarian manufacturer, has stopped making the SA-85, so its going to rise in price over the next several months. If you can get one, get it now. The Egyptian Maadi is supposed to be a good rifle too, but I haven't had the opportunity to check one out, but its price isn't much more than the MAK-90s.

Its become apparent that even when rifles are designed and made the same, there will still be a lot of differences in quality and performance. All of these rifles would serve you well for plinking, target practice, and close range self defense (100-200 yards). I've had fellahs at the rifle range with mega-buck sniper rifles shoot worse than my $75.00 SKS, so I'm plenty happy with my choices.

Cleaning The AK

(Picture Article About Cleaning The AK-47)

The AKs are similar to the SKS' to disassemble. At the back of the bolt cover there's a square piece of metal sticking through. Push it in with a finger while lifting the cover off. Now push the same piece forward and lift it out of its groove (you'll now see its the main bolt spring). Pulling out the spring, the bolt/piston assembly will also slide out easily now. The gas tube/upper handle removes the same way as the SKS. That's it! Disassembly and assembly takes less than a minute.

Reinstalling the bolt cover may take a time or two to get the hang of it, but you will soon be able to snap it on with the slap of a hand. Its easy to tell if a person is familiar with this style rifle according to how effortlessly they can reinstall the bolt cover. If a dealer has a hard time putting it back on, he probably hasn't shot one.

The MAK-90s don't have a hole in the stock to accommodate a cleaning rod whereas the SA-85 does. Neither has a hole in the butt stock to keep the cleaning kit in.

Real Life Results

ModelPrice rangeAccuracyQuality
SKS - pinned$ 80-$125.003-5 inchesGood
SKS - screwed$ 80-$150.003-4 inchesGood
SKS - Russian$150-$250.001-3 inchesHigh
MAK-90 stamped$225-$325.004-6 inchesGood
MAK-90 forged$250-$325.003-5 inchesGood
SA-85$500-$850.001-2 inchesHigh

With the recent gun bans and ban scares, prices have gone up and down, so the actual price you pay will depend largely on the feeding frenzy at gun dealers and shows. Olympic Arms came out with an AR-15 pistol chambered for the 7.62x39 cartridge, and seeing that the BATF had declared that steel core ammo in pistols are 'cop killers', prices of ammo have went sky high when the Norinco steel core ammo was banned. Ammo went from $80.00 per case of 1000 to over $350.00. As of this writing (May, 1994), prices are still in the $175- $250.00 range, and although cheaper than most other calibers, I expect the prices to drop back down to normal this summer.

I've tried every brand of ammunition I could find in my guns, and in every case I found the Norinco to be the most accurate. I keep some high quality hollow points around for my pistols, but for plinking, the cheap-o Norinco stuff is about the best in the 7.62x39 and 9mm. I have some Russian hollow point 7.62x39, and it shoots fine, but still not as accurate.

I've been around guns most all my life, and for the past few years I've been keeping an eye on defensive guns such as the AR-15 and AK-47 types. I've had lots of different guns, from Rugers to Winchesters, so I have a fair idea of what to expect. Accuracy is 75% shooter and 25% equipment. Under stress, that changes to 99.9% shooter. Get a gun you're comfortable with and do a lot of practice with it. Those fancy $4500.00 sniper rifles are great, but if you can't afford to plink away $5.00 bullets, you may not get much practice.

If war were to break out tomorrow, and I had the choice of only one gun, I'd probably see the scoped Russian SKS and hesitate, but pass it up for the SA-85. At this point in life, I can afford any gun I want, but I keep choosing those that are comfortable in my hands and fun to shoot. The AR-15 is said to be better, but I've never found anyone that can shoot one better than I can shoot my SA-85, and I've never found any semiautomatic rifle as dependable and durable as the Russian SKS and SA-85 for my area. The Texas panhandle area has blowing dirt, deep snow, mud and sand, endless miles of flat prairie land, and every kind of weather imaginable, often within the same day. The SKS and AK-47 styles are famous for their dependability in adverse climates. Exactly what I need.

I rate a gun on three things, feel, fun to shoot, and usefulness. The SKS' feel pretty decent when in a Monte Carlo synthetic stock, and the AK style has a good balance for me. When ammo is too expensive, it can really take the fun out of shooting. The 7.62x39 should always remain one of the cheapest center fire calibers in the world. The SA-85 and MAK-90 are a blast to shoot, whether one shot at a time or thirty. Usefulness of the SKS is pretty much limited to target shooting, minor self defense, and possibly small game hunting. The SA-85 and MAK-90's major usefulness is in their capabilities for self defense. If I wanted to shoot sub 1/2" groups all day long, I'd stay with a mega buck bolt action sniper rifle, but to me, that isn't very useful in real life.

Should you buy a SKS or AK? A .22 is better for rabbits, a 12 gauge pump with a short barrel is better for in-home defense, a 9mm pistol is better in the car, and a .308 bolt is better for deer, but if/when it comes down to your life, and defending your family's, your choices suddenly become very limited. I feel that every home should have at least one high powered, high capacity defensive rifle. Of those most readily available are the AR-15, AK-47, and the Ruger Mini-14. Although I think most Ruger products are great, the Mini-14 has suffered a lot of bad publicity, and I'm not one to take the risk. The AR-15 is supposed to be a good little rifle, but its extremely awkward to me. If the AR-15 doesn't fit you, or you just don't care to pay the $750-$1500.00 price tag, take a serious look at an AK-47 variant or possibly a SKS with a 20 or 30 round fixed magazine.

I always buy American whenever possible, but when its something as important as defending my family's lives, my choice is determined solely on what will work best for me. I can shoot apples at 100 yards all day long with the SA-85, whereas I can't with any other semiautomatic rifle of any quality.


The number of dealers selling accessories for SKS' and AKs is huge. Shotgun News has at least 30 dealers selling stuff in every issue. You can get stocks, muzzle brakes, sights, scopes, scope mounts, new trigger assemblies, repair parts, magazines, just about anything you can think of.

Remember to buy German or Russian whenever possible. The BATF laws are unclear as to the legality of some stocks and magazines, but the selling dealer should be able to tell you the latest. As of this writing, congress is working on the latest gun bans, so check everything out beforehand.

You can replace the SKS fixed magazine for a removable one if you have the Monte Carlo style stock and cut off the bayonet lug. Some people have opted for this, but I personally prefer the fixed magazine. Its a whole lot easier to carry 400 rounds in a couple bandoliers and load the SKS with speed clips than to lug around 10-13 heavy magazines.

A SKS with a 20 round fixed magazine appears to me to be very close in firepower with a rifle with a detachable magazine. In a time of need to fire perhaps a whole case of ammo at one time, the fixed magazine SKS will definitely win over having to reload removable magazines.

I say don't waste your time looking at those full- auto conversion books and all. The SKS is best shot semi anyway, and the AK, well, anyone with an IQ high enough to tell the difference between up and down, and has looked inside an AK, knows there's no need to say anything else. Going full auto is very illegal and totally politically incorrect. Save your ideas for a time when your life may really need them.

With the impending gun bans, you'd better buy what you can, like right now! Sure, you may never need an extra 4 magazines, but if you ever do, they'll be priceless. That $40.00 is cheap insurance.

I've been buying a little here and there for about a year now and have most everything I want. Compared to today's prices, I saved over 50% by buying early. Buying this month will save you 50% over the prices of this summer.

Buying a scope can be an expensive learning experience. The Chinese Red Star 4x20 scope works so-so, but getting a mount to work right can drive you nuts. We've tried four different types of mounts, and none were what I'd call acceptable. The only ones that will hold true require that you drill holes in the receiver, something I refuse to do to any of my rifles.

There are bolt covers available for AKs that have a scope mount already installed. I've never used a scope on an AK, but this method doesn't sound like it'd be too dependable. There's a fair amount of play on bolt covers, and although you might do ok, I'd wager you'd do just as well with iron sights.

If you're serious about a scope, get a copy of Shotgun News and find the ads for the newest quick mounts. Really, if you're going to buy a scope, buy anything but Chinese. Even a Simmons 2.5x20 shotgun scope is better, and at the same price. Be prepared to spend more for a scope setup than you paid for the rifle itself.


It will soon be illegal to buy any semiautomatic rifle that is capable of serious self defense. You're lucky if you've never been surrounded by a mob threatening to kill you. The feeling is unlike anything you can prepare for. When your time comes, which I hope for you it never does, your pump shotgun will suddenly seem worthless and a liability.

For your sake, and your family's, even if you don't plan on ever shooting it, buy at least one SKS, AK-47, or other such rifle. If it keeps one mugger out of your home, it'll have already paid for itself many times over in saved hospital costs (not to mention pain and lost work).

History repeats itself like clockwork. England banned guns, and the Americans soon won independence. Mexico banned guns, and the Texans soon won independence. Hitler banned guns, and the world kicked his butt as well. The 70 year cycle is coming due, and guns WILL be banned again.

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