When I first got wind of the Rifle Dynamics Build Your Own AK course being held in Jacksonville, NC, I contacted the company to see if I might be able to come down and cover a day of the build class to get a flavor of what building an AK is really about, and to learn how their process differs from AK “build parties” that many of us have read about in both internet gun forums and in bed-wetting anti-gun news outlets.
Instead of just allowing me to come down for the day to take pictures and report, Rifle Dynamics graciously invited to attend the 2 1/2 day course and assemble an AKM with my own lily-white, non-calloused journalist hands… an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I arrived on Friday shortly before noon at Progressive Service Die Company, a machine shop that specializes in making things that make things. Though I didn’t know it until after I arrived, this is where Rifle Dynamics held their very first build class two years ago.
It was there that the attendees gathered, and we did the expected paperwork absolving those running the event of injuries or deaths that may result from screwing up during the build or the following shoot. and received our NoDak Spud receivers that would be the foundation of our builds. The receiver serial numbers each matched up to a black trashbag full of parts, where parts were further separated into five clear plastic bags by functions, holding parts that we’d use at different stages of the build.
We then sat down to listen to Jim Fuller, the founder of Rifle Dynamics, as he began to explain the history and build philosophy of the most heavily produced military firearm family in the history of the world.
Jim explained that the original “Type 1” AK-47 was a failure. The Soviets didn’t have the technology to consistently weld the rails inside the stamped sheet metal receivers, and they couldn’t perfect the heat-treating process needed to correctly harden the receiver. Many of these early receivers were rejected outright due to the welding issues. Many of those that passed initial inspection weren’t heat-treated properly afterward, and if the receiver metal was too hard or too soft, the gun would destroy itself—sometimes catastrophically—within a thousand rounds. Incidentally, this is still one of the most common cause of home-built AKM failures when rifles are built from receiver flats and they aren’t properly heat-treated.
To address these technological problems, the Soviets shifted to a thicker milled receiver for their “Type 2” AKs. Improvements continued to be made to this milled designed, and eventually became the “Type 3,” the last of the AK-47s.
The Type 2 and Type 3 AKs were also the first mass-produced AKs, though relatively few of them still exist.
Eventually, the technological deficiencies in welding and heat treating the preferred stamped receiver were overcome. In 1959 a much lighter and improved weapon based upon a new stamped sheet metal receiver was released. The Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizirovanniy or AKM is the basis of all modern AK-based firearms, and it is the AKM that has been mass-produced, copied, used on battlefields around the world.
It seems that the “AK-47” that we all know isn’t an AK-47 after all.