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Beginner’s Guide to AK-47 Parts and Function

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There are few rifle designs that have captivated enthusiasts like the AK-47. Though it was designed over 80 years ago, it’s remained as one of the most efficient, durable, and popular rifle variants available.  

Part of its popularity is due to its robust design. Compared to an AR-15, the AK-47 is much more complex in its manufacturing. Instead of utilizing upper and lower receivers, or pins to hold most components in place, the AK-47 platform is either forged, or stamped with press fit components that are either riveted into place.  

No matter which component you examine, it can be challenging to discern its purpose without familiarity with the platform. We aim to fix that problem today. Below, we’re breaking down the key components and parts that make up the AK-47 platform: 

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History of the AK-47 

Though an iconic rifle, there are many enthusiasts who don’t know its origins. Some frequent questions asked are, “When was the AK-47 made?”, and “What does AK mean?”.  

The Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 was developed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1946. Upon its completion and successful test runs, it was put into production to be the new standard issue rifle for the Soviet Armies in 1947, henceforth earning the name, AK-47.  

Though its design has remained mostly the same, the AK has seen its fair share of changes has time. There’s been four main versions of the AK-47, the Type 1, Type 2, Type 3, and the AKM.  

Type 1: This variant utilized a stamped receiver, 16.3-inch barrel, and a unique front trunnion which had cheeks that hung on the outside of the receiver. Being the first variant of the AK, the receiver design was different than what you’re likely used to seeing, but this was mainly because of the trunnion that was used in the rifle. This model was short lived compared to its later iterations. The problem wasn’t with the rifle itself, but rather the manufacturing practices. At the time, machinery necessary for stamping sheet metal and riveting/welding components wasn’t too widespread, so they eventually switched to using a forged steel receiver.  

Type 2: The Type 2 AK-47 was the first variant to incorporate a milled steel receiver. Instead of using a receiver made from stamped sheet metal, the receiver, along with the core internal components, was milled from the same block of forged steel. It also utilized wood furniture for the stock and not just the handguard. While popular, the steel receivers were noticeably heavier than the original stamped receiver design, but it was easier to produce at the time.  

Type 3: The Type 3 was incredibly like the Type 2, but it had a more refreshed design. It was lighter than the Type 2 and included a different mounting method for furniture. Still, it was made with both under folding stocks and wooden ones. The Type 3 also lasted the longest of the original three AK-47 models, but like its predecessors, it would be succeeded by a revitalized design only four years later.  

AKM: The modernized version of the AK-47, the AKM is the rifle most enthusiasts think of when they picture the AK-47 and it’s also the model that’s lasted the longest, with it still in production in some capacity to this day. With the ‘M’ standing for ‘Modernized’, this rifle went back to using a stamped receiver and rivets to hold in the key components. It also became the basis from which every other AK variant would be based on. It was much easier to produce on a large scale, and the lighter weight made it easier for soldiers to carry when on patrol or in combat zones.  

Though it was first introduced in 1959, it’s still in production in some form by dozens of manufacturers with civilian versions being made both the U.S. as well as other countries. If you’re interested in adding one to your collection, we’re sure that you’ll be pleased to learn that the ever-growing popularity of the rifle platform has made them incredibly common to find. Brands like Zastava USA, Century Arms, and Texas Weapon Systems are among the most popular options, offering a wide array of AK variants for the U.S. market.  

AK-47/AKM Parts and Functions 

The anatomy of the AK is simpler than you might think, though it can appear daunting since it’s such a unique platform. Below, we have a breakdown of all the components and their functions: 

AK Receiver: The AK receiver is the main hub of the rifle that all subsequent parts connect to in one form or another. An AK receiver can be either stamped or milled. Stamped receivers are typically made from sheet metal that has been ‘stamped’ into shape, forged, and heat-treated. The core components, like the front and rear trunnions, need to be riveted into the receiver. These are a great, lightweight option for the AK, but some variants call back to the Type 2 and Type 3 by incorporating milled receivers.  

Milled receivers are made from a solid block of forged steel that’s then milled down to fit the components of the rifle. Instead of having separate front and rear trunnions that are riveted into place, like on stamped receivers, these core components are milled directly into the receiver. This option is more durable and robust since it’s made from a single block of steel, however, they are much heavier than their stamped counterparts.  

Out of the two, stamped receivers are by far the most common, but either option works incredibly well to serve as the heart of the rifle.  

AK-47 Furniture: AK Furniture is the colloquial term for the stock, handguard, and grip of the rifle. There are a few different types of furniture for AKs. The standard furniture that comes with most AKM models is typically made of either wood or polymer. Aftermarket furniture is available as well and can be made of wood, polymer, aluminum, and steel in some cases.   

COM Taxonomy AK stock

AK-47 Stocks: Stocks are responsible for providing stabilization and a proper cheek weld, enabling you to properly shoot your rifle. Depending on the type of rear trunnion your rifle has, it’ll either have a fixed, side folding, or under folding stock. As we mentioned before, most standard AK stocks are made of either wood or polymer. They feature a simple design and work well, albeit with no additional features in most cases. Aftermarket options like the Magpul Zhukov Stock have integrated folding mechanisms as well as adjustable lengths of pull. 

AK-47 Stock Adapters: A common upgrade many enthusiasts make to their rifles is in the form of an AK-47 stock adapter. These adapters allow you to run multiple kinds of stocks on your AK. One of the most popular is the M4 stock adapter. It mounts to the rear tang of your rifle and gives you the ability to use an AR-15 buffer tube to mount any AR stock on your AK. Another option is the 1913 adapter. It works the same way as the M4 stock adapter, but it enables the use of 1913 picatinny stocks.  

taxonomy 5056 AK Handguards

AK-47 Handguard: There are a lot of AK-47 handguards available for the AKM platform, ranging from standard wooden or polymer furniture to upgraded/custom wooden, polymer, or metal furniture. While standard handguard options often leave something to be desired in terms of overall comfort and accessory mounting, aftermarket ones solve these problems. Options like the Magpul MOE AK handguard, Midwest Industries Alpha Series handguard, and the Texas Weapon Systems handguard are some of the most popular and readily available ones. They each offer more in terms of overall grip and have integrated MLOK slots for mounting lights, foregrips, and other accessories.  

taxonomy 5058 AK Pistol grips

AK-47 Grips: Grips are one of the most important features on a rifle as they serve as the primary point of contact for your main hand. Like its other furniture options, AK-47 grips are often made of the same materials. Remember, there are many options available. It’s crucial to have a comfortable grip with good ergonomics. Magpul, Hogue, and Tango Down make some of the most popular grips available.  

AK-47 Magazines: Like other rifles, the magazine stores and feeds the ammunition into the rifle when it’s cycling. Most AKs available today will come with a steel or polymer 30-round magazine, but there are 10-,20-,40-, and 60-round magazines available as well. Some of the most popular AK-47 magazines are the Magpul AK PMAG and U.S. Palm magazines.  

AK-47 Safety: The AK-47 safety is on the right side of the receiver and is different from other rifle safety selectors. Instead of being a switch, it’s more of a lever and also keeps the action safe from debris when in the safe position. Traditionally, AKMs have 3 safety positions, and this is often still the case on many of the commercial models today, though there is no full-auto functionality.  

AK-47 Trigger: Like on all firearms, the trigger on the AK is responsible for initiating the firing sequence. Like on other rifles, it can be upgraded to have a faster reset and lower pull weight. Though there’s nothing wrong with the standard AK trigger, they often have heavier pull weights and long resets. Options like the Battle Arms Development EKG and the ALG Defense AK Trigger are among the more popular options available. 

AK-47 Muzzle Device: Traditionally, the AKM comes with its iconic slant-style muzzle break. When it was developed, it was designed to compensate for muzzle rise, specifically for right-handed users. Using a 14×1 left-hand thread pitch, the AK-47 muzzle device is threaded and held in place using a plunger detent. Because of this construction, it’s incredibly easy to remove the device to replace it with another one. 

AK-47 Recoil Assembly: Located under the dust cover, the recoil spring assembly is what pushes the bolt forward, chambering new rounds and cycling the action. This is one of the more important components of the rifle, so it’s important to make sure that it is regularly cleaned and taken care of.  

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AK-47 Dust Cover: Protecting the bolt, recoil spring, and trigger, the dust cover plays an important role on the AK. It’s held on into place by the rear lock on the recoil spring. Its removal is simple. By pushing in the rear tab on the recoil spring, the dust cover easily lifts and pulls away from the rifle, giving you easy access to the internal components of the rifle.  

AK-47 Barrel: The barrel is easily one of the most crucial components of your rifle. Usually, the AKM has a barrel length of 16.3 inches, though it can vary from model to model. Most of the imported AK models come with cold hammer forged, chrome lined barrels, with others having standard nitride coated barrels.  

Regardless, it’s important to have a good quality barrel that’s regularly taken care of and cleaned. Most 7.62×39 available on the market is either surplus or imported steel cased ammunition which can be notoriously corrosive. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to clean your rifle after shooting if you plan on running steel case ammunition.  

Something we want to point out is that, though AKs can be chambered in other calibers like the venerable 5.45×39, 7.62×39 is by far the most common. As of writing this, Russian Ammunition is hard to find since it is no longer being imported, so 5.45×39 ammo like surplus 7N6 and regular target ammo is getting harder to find. In contrast, there’s much more 7.62×39 available since a lot of producers in the U.S. and other countries are still making it. 

AK-47 Bolt Carrier Group: Like on an AR-15, the AK needs its bolt carrier in order to function. Responsible for the chambering and lock up, the bolt carrier group is one of the main components that enables proper operation. Once a round has been fired, the bolt rotates to unlock the bolt and allow it to reciprocate so it can eject the spent cartridge. 

AK-47 Gas Block: AKs are a gas operated firearm, and because of this, it’s necessary for the rifle to have something to redirect the gas to cycle the rifle. The AK’s gas block is what does this. Excess gas that’s been expelled from firing the rifle is redirected by the gas block into the gas tube. This gas pushes the piston back, allowing the bolt to cycle the action.  

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The AKM can appear to be a complicated rifle platform upon first glance, but when broken down, it’s so much simpler than it appears to be. With such a rich history and long lifespan, it’s no surprise that this rifle continues to surge in popularity, with multiple manufacturers bringing their take on the rifle to the market.  

No matter what rifle platform you intend to add one to your personal arsenal, it’s crucial to know what the key components of your rifle are. Knowing this allows you to understand how your rifle operates, giving you the best insight possible on how to disassemble and take care of it.  

AKs are an excellent addition to add to your collection, but many don’t know that there is a lot you can do with the platform. Check out our guide on modernizing the AK,  and the 5 best upgrades for the AK-47 to learn more.