Rifle Dynamics AK Builder & Armorer Class, Part 3: Day of Reckoning.

[Read Rifle Dynamics AK Builder & Armorer Class, Part 1: Theories and Rivets, and
Rifle Dynamics AK Builder & Armorer Class, Part 2: So You Wanna Build an AK?]

Burn in! Rifle Dynamics students torture their newly finished guns by firing them as fast as they can without a drop of oil or a hint of grease.
Burn in! Rifle Dynamics students torture their newly finished AK-74s and AKMs by firing them as fast as they can without a drop of oil or a hint of grease in them. Some shooters used ear plugs instead of muffs for hearing protection, though they didn’t show very well in some photos.  Photo by Gene Higdon.

While the first day of the Rifle Dynamics builder/armorer class was about Kalashnikov design theory and riveting, and the second day of the class was all about building the AKM and AK-74 rifles, the third day of class was all about the moment of truth… would the rifles we’d just completed the night before run as intended? We’d completed building the rifles Saturday afternoon, but were told not to put any sort of lubrication on them, so this was a real concern.

We assembled once again at Progressive Service Die Company Sunday morning, and then convoyed out to a private shooting range to shoot rifles.

Guerrilla Armament and Military Hardware generously supplied us with ammunition, and the first order of the day was the “burn in”.

Jim Fuller and Billy Cho of Rifle Dynamics explained that the first thing that we’d be doing at the range was loading a 30-round magazine for a mag dump into the range backstop, just as fast as we could pull the trigger, as shown in the photo above. There’s a method to the madness. We’d be looking to ensure that the rifles were ejecting in the 2 o’clock to 3 o’clock direction (forward and to the right to directly to the right), and that the parts, pins, and furniture weren’t working loose.

I was part of the first group of shooters. When Fuller called “Burn ’em out!” the sound of 15 rifles dumping a total of 450 rounds in less than 15 seconds was simply a roar. Being a long time AR-15 rifle shooter used to having a hand guard much longer than that of the ’86 Polish AKM I built, I slipped my support (left) had up to where I would normally have placed it on my AR… which just so happened to be where an AKM barrel rapidly heated to hundreds of degrees was waiting. I must have imagined it, but I swear that I heard the sound of bacon sizzling as the heat registered and I jerked my hand away from the hot barrel. It was a stupid mistake born of too much familiarity with another weapon system… and I was paying the price.

I cleared my rifle and had it verified clear before returning to the back of the range where the pile of ammunition and a cooler full of iced-down drinks was located. I grabbed a chunk of ice and held it in my burned hand, feeling the heat and the ice at the same time.

It wasn’t all that fun.

The skin on the author's "I don't like you" finger immediately blistered up and wrinkled from negligently grabbing a hot barrel. Kids, don't try this at home.
The skin on the author’s “I don’t like you” finger immediately blistered up from negligently grabbing a hot barrel. Kids, don’t try this at home.

The next order of business after the burn-in was getting our AKM rifles sighted in at 25 yards (the AK-74 shooters would come later, zeroing from 50 yards), and I managed to embarrass myself yet again.

The author, checking his fresh burn before rounds of fire. Photo by Gene Higdon.
The author, checking his freshly toasted fingers between rounds of fire. The lovely and talented Melanie Fedraw of Rifle Dynamics is in the background. She’d show us how to shoot later in the morning. Photo by Gene Higdon.

I’m still not precisely sure how I did it, but when we loaded a magazine with three rounds to start zeroing our AKMs at the 25 yard line, I got a good sight picture (the Fuller Rear Sight Mod is a vast improvement over the Kalashnikov original) and fired three carefully aimed shots that should have hit dead-center if my sights were on target. I was more than a little stunned as I walked up and discovered that I hadn’t hit paper… not once.

Billy and Jim looked at the target, looked at me, and back to the target. I turned my rifle over to Billy, who quickly looked it over and then loaded a magazine, racked the bolt, and proceeded to ring the steel target behind our targets repeatedly.

A little concerned that I wasn't on target at all, Billy Cho picked up my AKM and rang steel with every shot. Photo by Gene Higdon.
A little concerned that I wasn’t on target at all, Billy Cho picked up my AKM and proceeded to ring steel with every shot. Photo by Gene Higdon.

Billy smiled and made a joke along the lines of “if you can’t shoot, write.” He seemed to have a valid point.

"If you can't shoot, write." Photo by Gene Higdon.
“If you can’t shoot, write.” Photo by Gene Higdon.

I quickly pointed out that I described myself in my writer bio as a shooting enthusiast, not a shooting expert. Billy just smiled and handed me back my rifle.  It was time to have another go at sighting it in.

Rifle Dynamics students sign in their rifles. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Rifle Dynamics students sighting in their AKM rifles. Photo by Gene Higdon.

Though I made no sight adjustments at all and held the exact same sight picture, the next three shots were in the black, four inches left of center and several inches down in a respectably tight group. To this day I can’t figure out where those first three sighting shots went. Nonetheless, it was now simply a matter of getting the sights dialed in. Jim came by and adjusted our sights.

Jim Fuller on sight adjustment duty. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Jim Fuller on sight adjustment duty. Photo by Gene Higdon.

The next three shots were centered, and so I went back to ice my burned hand, hoping to keep the blistering to a minimum.

This shooter, an Army officer, kept his nose in the dirt when zeroing his AKM. He's going to start building AKMs soon as a business, which is what Billy and Jim want their students to do. Photo by Gene Higdon
This shooter, an Army officer, kept his nose in the dirt when zeroing his AKM. He’s going to start building AKMs soon as a business, which is what Billy and Jim want their students to do. Photo by Gene Higdon.
This shooter, a retired Marine and co-owner of Military Hardware, used a .50 caliber ammo can, some foam, and duct tape to create a very clever rest for signing in his rifle. Photo by Gene Higdon.
This shooter, a retired Marine and co-owner of Military Hardware, used a .50 caliber ammo can, some foam, and duct tape to create a very clever rest for signing in his rifle. Photo by Gene Higdon.

Once all of the AKM shooters were zeroed at 25 yards, it was time for the AK-74 shooters to get their zeros at 50 yards. The AK-74’s 5.45×39 bullet is much flatter shooting that the 7.62×39 round that our AKMs were shooting. Fortunately for us, there were only two AK-74 shooters, so it didn’t take much time.

Once they were sighted in, we pulled the paper targets and set up steel targets for what remained a “hot” line for the rest of the morning. While there was no way for me to know precisely how many rounds each of us fired, I’d wager that each of us shot at least 150 rounds, and there were a couple of eager souls that probably shot 210 rounds or more. We also had some other rifles make their appearances.

Melanie Fedraw of Rifle Dynamics runs a 5.45x39 AKS-74U, which has somehow become known as a "Krink" or "Krinkov" in the united States, for reasons unknown. She knows these rifles well, and shot like a boss.
Melanie Fedraw of Rifle Dynamics runs a 5.45×39 AKS-74U,  a short-barreled rifle (SBR) under the National Firearm Act which has somehow become known as a “Krink” or “Krinkov” in the United States. She knows these compact rifles very well, and shot it like a boss.

Quite a few of us took turns with the Rifle Dynamics AKS-74U “Krink,” a short-barreled rifle that would soon belong to a customer just as soon as his paperwork cleared the ATF’s absurdly long paperwork backlog. It was light, with very little recoil and it pointed very quickly. It was one of the few rifles that I’ve ever felt confident that I could fire just as fast as I could pull the trigger and hit with it reliably. It’s size and Kalashnikov ruggedness would make a phenomenal “truck gun” and it’s decently accurate out to 200 yards.

One of my newly-made friends in the class, Ben, talked of little else during lunch than trying to figure out how he could afford to buy one. I can’t say I blame him in the slightest.

"Mean Gene" Higdon, founder of High Speed Gear, gets some trigger time with the LVOA, which itself is the subject of a future Bearing Arms article.
“Mean Gene” Higdon, founder of High Speed Gear and the gentleman responsible for taking so many pictures for this series of articles, gets some trigger time with the War Sport Industries LVOA carbine.

One of the other rifles to make an appearance at the range was the War Sport Industries LVOA carbine. It is, first and foremost, a combat weapon designed for the unique needs of the special operations community.  We’re very impressed with this rifle, and will be reviewing it in a future Bearing Arms gun review.

By the time late morning rolled around the steamy Carolina heat was starting to work on us. We posed for a group picture, and then it was time to break for lunch. After splitting up to hit various area restaurants for lunch, we’d converge back at Progressive Service Die Company to spend the afternoon going through the armorer’s section of the course, where we’d tune our rifles and make minor adjustments to the few guns that had shown issues.

The "class photo" from the  Rifle Dynamics Jacksonville NC event. Photo by Gene Higdon.
The “class photo” from the Rifle Dynamics Jacksonville, NC event. Photo by Gene Higdon.

I filled up on a venison burger and fried pickle chips with a couple of new friends, then it was time to run back to the shop to tear down our guns to see what story they would tell us. I’d fired roughly 180 rounds through my rifle, and some of our fellow students had fired in excess of 200 rounds… all without a hint of lubrication in the rifles.

The very first thing we did after removing the top cover, carrier spring, and bolt carrier assembly, was to take a close look at the hammer to make sure that it was ground and mounted correctly. Evidence would come in the form of wear marks from firing the non-lubricated gun.

A hammer with little sign of  wear marks, or wear in the center is properly tuned.
A hammer with little sign of wear marks, or wear in the center is properly tuned. Photo by Gene Higdon.
A hammer with wear marks on the diagonal might need to be reground. Photo by Gene Higdon.
A hammer with wear marks on the diagonal might need to be pulled out and reground. Photo by Gene Higdon.

At least one shooter discovered at the range that his front sight post was slightly canted, and some moderate AK surgery was in order. This would require driving the pins out of the front sight block, resquaring the block, and repinning it in the correct position.

The first step of resquaring the front site post is ensuring that the the front sight post is the actual problem, by ensuring that the gas block is squared up with the receiver.
The first step of resquaring the front site post is ensuring that the the front sight post is the actual problem, by ensuring that the gas block is squared up with the receiver. Photo by Gene Higdon.

Once we had an idea of how far out of square the front sight post was, it was a matter of driving the pins out and adjusting the front site post so that it would be square. Once again, it was a matter of working on an AK being more like blacksmithing that gunsmithing. Jim put a a long-handled screwdriver through the post, and put a good deal of force into shifting it subtly into position while the rifle was gripped in the jaws of the vice.

Though the pins had already been driven out, resquaring the front site post required a decent amount of brute force to tweak it into position.
Though the pins had already been driven out, resquaring the front site post required a decent amount of brute force to tweak it into position. Photo by Gene Higdon.

Once the front sight post was squared up, it was time to install new front sight post pins to lock it into place.

Chasing the holes for the adjusted front side post. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Chasing the holes for the adjusted front side post. If the barrel block looks like a hockey puck to you, there is a good reason for that: it is a hockey puck, comrade! Photo by Gene Higdon.
Driving the pins into the front sight block is not a matter of delicacy.  This "AK blacksmithing" in action. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Driving the pins into the front sight block is not a matter of delicacy. This “AK blacksmithing” in action. Photo by Gene Higdon.

For most of the student in the class, tuning our rifles to smooth out the action was a much more simple affair. We looked for wear areas on all moving surfaces and polished them using 200-grit sandpaper, and then dabbed these wear areas with lithium grease.

The rails on the interior of this AKM were polished with 200-grit sandpaper to smooth out the action. Photo by Gene Higdon.
The rails on the interior of this AKM were polished with 200-grit sandpaper to smooth out the action.
Checking the bolt for wear areas to be polished. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Checking the bolt for wear areas to be polished. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Putting lithium grease on areas that show wear. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Putting lithium grease on areas that show wear. AKs run hot, and many gun oils simply bake in place or burn away. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Final touches: a student/armorer completes the fine-tuning of his AKM. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Final touches: a student/armorer completes the fine-tuning of his AKM. Photo by Gene Higdon.

Once we were done adjusting, polishing, greasing, and otherwise fine-tuning our rifles, it was time to put them back together and rack the bolt several times to distribute the grease. The actions were very smooth, the triggers crisp, and overall our rifles were “just right.”

My completed 1986 Polish AKM.
My completed, tuned 1986 Polish AKM.

Jim then offered advice and answered questions on some of the more common accessories and upgrades for the AKM and AK-74 platforms, offered some opinions on some popular products that we might want to use—and others that we might want to stay away from—and suggested that we use our new-found knowledge of how to build AKs to go into business for ourselves.

Jim’s theory is simple: the more competent AK builders and armorers there are out there building good AKs that will run for hundreds of thousands of rounds, the more the American people will come to respect the platform the way the rest of the world already does. The larger the overall AK market, the more potential customers there are, the more opportunities for innovation there are, and the better the platform can be. Like any passionate teacher, Jim Fuller teaches AK building with the hopes that one day his students will not only achieve his level of skills, but will hopefully one day surpass him.

Graduation:  students took home a  heck of a lot of knowledge, a professional grade rifle, nice Rifle Dynamics swag, some new friends, and a nice certificate to frame for their own AK shop walls. Photo by Gene Higdon.
Graduation: students took home a heck of a lot of knowledge, a professional grade rifle, nice Rifle Dynamics swag, some new friends, and a nice certificate to frame for their own AK shop walls.

Up until class began I had always been an AR-15 guy. I’d fired them in .22LR through .50 Beowulf, semi-automatic and selective-fire, from personal defense weapons to carbinesm to designated marksman rifles and tricked-out long range competition guns capable of 1,200 yard shots. I’d developed a bias in favor of the Stoner platform, and a bias against what I assumed to be an inferior Soviet design. It was all based upon my limited experience with poorly-constructed bargain basement imports, and second-hand “knowledge” that was little more than gun forum horror stories.

In the course of 2 and a half days, my perception of the platform changed to one of admiration. The AKM may be slightly less accurate than the AR platform inside 300 yards, but makes up for it with reliability, resiliency, and simplicity of both operation and construction. In every way that matters, the AK-74 is the equal of the AR-15, and when it comes to short-barrel rifle variants of each platform, I think there is a case to be made that the AKS-74U is a superior firearm when compared to AR-15 SBRs with pistol length gas systems, being just as accurate out to 200 yards, and far more reliable and softer shooting.

Jim Fuller and Billy Cho taught us a great deal in a very short amount of time, and I’m happy to say that I know at least one of the students from this class is taking their training to heart, and is opening up his own AK manufacturing shop here in North Carolina.

If you’d like to experience this class for yourself—and I’d personally recommend it—there are two more classes left in their 2014  schedule that haven’t sold out yet. At $1,900 it isn’t a cheap class, but one that everyone  in the class seemed to think was worth every penny.

Now, about that rumor going around that Rifle Dynamics is going to be offering an advanced class in 2015… boys, deal me in.

The Rifle Dynamics  class crew: Billy Cho, Jim Fuller, and Melanie Fedraw.
The Rifle Dynamics class crew: Billy Cho, Jim Fuller, and Melanie Fedraw.

[Previous: Rifle Dynamics AK Builder & Armorer Class, Part 1: Theories and Rivets, and
Rifle Dynamics AK Builder & Armorer Class, Part 2: So You Wanna Build an AK?]

May 17, 2021 1:30 PM ET