*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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 $75.00 SKS, so I'm
plenty happy with my choices.
Cleaning The AK
(Picture Article About Cleaning The AK-47)
The AKs are similar to the SKS' to disassemble. At
the back of the bolt cover there's a square piece of
metal sticking through. Push it in with a finger while
lifting the cover off. Now push the same piece forward
and lift it out of its groove (you'll now see its the
main bolt spring). Pulling out the spring, the
bolt/piston assembly will also slide out easily now. The
gas tube/upper handle removes the same way as the SKS.
That's it! Disassembly and assembly takes less than a
Reinstalling the bolt cover may take a time or two
to get the hang of it, but you will soon be able to snap
it on with the slap of a hand. Its easy to tell if a
person is familiar with this style rifle according to
how effortlessly they can reinstall the bolt cover. If
a dealer has a hard time putting it back on, he probably
hasn't shot one.
The MAK-90s don't have a hole in the stock to
accommodate a cleaning rod whereas the SA-85 does.
Neither has a hole in the butt stock to keep the
cleaning kit in.
Real Life Results
|SKS - pinned||$ 80-$125.00||3-5 inches||Good|
|SKS - screwed||$ 80-$150.00||3-4 inches||Good|
|SKS - Russian||$150-$250.00||1-3 inches||High|
|MAK-90 stamped||$225-$325.00||4-6 inches||Good|
|MAK-90 forged||$250-$325.00||3-5 inches||Good|
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
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
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
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
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
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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