Tag Archives: AK-47

Shoddy Manufacturing Made the AK-47 Durable

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Image via NYT, this fully functional AK-47 is as old as my parents (made in 1954) and discovered in a Taliban gun locker in Afghanistan. Photograph by famed AK-47 expert C.J. Chivers

While researching a piece for Works That Work magazine on the endurance of the AK-47, I came across a very surprising little nugget of insight. You see, the AK-47 is like the living-dead of automatice rifles– you can abuse it, never clean it, throw it in a lake for a few weeks, bury it for a couple of decades. And then, just a little digging and minimal dirt removal later and pop! pop!! pop! pop! pop!! the AK will still spew bullets like water through a hose.

Don’t believe me? Just watch the clip below in which an AK-47 that has been buried for 18 years in the dirt of South Africa is excavated and fired.

Okay. Okay. So we all know that AK-47s are durable and all. But what I recently discovered is the reason.

Apparently in the mid-20th century gun manufacturers were concerned about making high quality parts with perfectly fitting components. Gun makers (especially in the US) would use precision machine tools to mill parts with exacting tolerances and little room for imperfection.

But Russian arms makers didn’t have the luxury of such machines. They had to work with relatively primitive assembly plants and a potentially inebriated workforce. So the automatic rifle that came off of the assembly line would rattle if the return spring was removed and tension between the parts was released. But this mediocre construction is the secret to the AK’s success!

From the NYT:

The very fact that its parts were “loose fitting, rather than snug” meant that it was “less likely to jam when dirty, inadequately lubricated or clogged with carbon from heavy firing.” “It was so reliable,” Chivers writes, that even when it was “soaked in bog water and coated with sand” its Soviet testers “had trouble making it jam.”

mind = blown

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Style over Substance: Re-Designing AR-15s To Undermine Gun Control Bill

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Above: AR-15 rifle with a telescoping stock and pistol grip. This gun is an “assault rifle.”

compliant ar15AR-15 with a compliant stock and no pistol grip. This gun is not an “assault rifle.”
(Photo by Cindy Schultz / Times Union) via Times Union

Oh, the futility of legislating gun styling! The NY SAFE Act signed into law by Governor Cuomo was created to limit the sale and ownership of assault weapons, primarily those based on the AK-47 or AR-15 design. However, the bill defines assault weapons not on their lethality but on the largely superficial aspects of military weapons such as bayonet mounts or a pistol grip on the stock. It’s like outlawing guns that are grey.

Gun makers are just going to change how they look and sell the same firearm for more money because it can “pass the ban.” As Rick Karlin in the Times Union so aptly observed:

The modifications aren’t particularly difficult for gunsmiths, who also point out that the AR-15-style rifle, first developed for military use in the late 1950s, has a modular design that makes it easy to add or remove different features.

I suppose that the law could function as a symbolic gesture expressing New York State’s preference for the elimination/control of guns that aren’t associated with hunting. There’s something to be said for affirming a group’s inclination to denounce the kind of weapons that we so often hear about in mass tragedies.

Perhaps the differences between hunting rifles and “assault weapons” can only be found in styling and cultural association. If the ban was based on lethality rather than military features, it would certainly impact more than a few dozen models of gun.

If you’re interested to learn exactly what counts as an assault rifle, here is an illustrated list (PDF) courtesy of NY State.

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