Dear TOR, I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but I'd appreciate it if you could do a blog sometime about the different AK-47s. I saw a MIL channel story about Mr. K and how the AK-47 (and later AK-74) came about. I've also read a lot about its functionality, low maintenance, etc., but I've never seen anyone comment on the differences between countries of manufacture. Are Chinese AKs better than Romanian? What about Ukranian? Others? Are Russian-made the best - and if so, where can you get one? Are the differences significant to anyone other than an African warlord?
What features are most useful? What kind of gear have you put on yours? Do you like the larger 7.+ ammo or the 5.+ better? Why?Would you recommend an AK for a small woman (like me), vs an AR-15? What are the differences in the way they handle, reload, etc.? Does it matter? I have an AR (Bushmaster) and would like an AK, "just because," but I don't really "need" one. Should I just stick with the AR? That way I won't have to stockpile a different calibre of ammo.
Comments? Recommendations? Thnx.
TOR here: I will try my best to answer all these questions. As for the difference in AK's from different countries. AK's are sort of like anything else made by dozens of countries over many decades in factories too numerous to count, let alone mention. While the design is pretty standard they vary in all sorts of ways. Think of it like eggs benedict. If you go to a hundred places and order eggs benedict and it will never be quite the same. Some are great, most are good or at least OK and a few are just bad. Certainly they are all different.
Making AK's in the good old USA even more complicated you aren't getting an AK from a given period, made in a certain factory in a given country. You are getting an AK with all those variables that was potentially stored for decades, sold off in a huge lot, taken apart and shipped across the world to be reassembled with some new parts.
So are Chinese AK's (they are called MAK-90's) better than Romanian AK's? I would say yes. The Norico MAK-90 is a darn good gun. My uncle had one a decade ago and it was a great rifle. I've heard there were some QA/QC issues with them but that is fair to say about most all AK importers. The Romanian AK's are (to be brief, I will revisit it later) not at all bad guns though their fit and finish could be said to leave something to be desired. If I was in the market for an AK and saw a gently used MAK-90 and a gently used WASR-10 or SAR-1 for the same price I would get the MAK-90.
As for the various Eastern European AK's on the market. I am disinclined to try and rank order the AK producing countries and then break it further down by commerical models. You ask "Are the differences significant to anyone other than an African warlord?". That is not the question you should be asking. The question you should be asking is "are the differences significant to anyone other than a fanboy in some forum or a collector?" The answer is probably not. Assuming the individual weapon is reliable a scenario where a higher dollar AK will keep you alive but a WASR-10 won't doesn't exist. Fit and finish varies but that is really just superficial. If you have the extra cash to get nicer fit and finish and it is important to you then go for it. Think of it like a Colt revolver versus a Ruger or a Taurus. Both are totally functional weapons, while the Colt has a lot better fit and finish you do pay for.
For features I would say you need a good sling, a bunch of mags, plenty of ammo and something to carry your mags. If you feel like getting fancy a red dot/ reflex sight and a tac light are always nice for close up work. I haven't gotten fancy with mine yet. Just a rifle with a sling, mags, ammo and assorted web gear.
As for the AK 47 in 7.62x39 or the AK74 in 5.45x whatever. Personally I own and like the AK47 in 7.62x39. No real deep reasoning behind it. It is a very nice round inside the ranges where civilian combat could happen, most military conflicts happen and the AK can actually hit stuff at. Also 5.45 is almost identical to 5.56 which I already had lying around. I am not going to say 5.45 AK's are bad. In the real gun owning and shooting America 7.62x39 AK's are all over the place. Also milsurp and cheap import 7.62x39 ammo is available. Commercial 7.62x39 ammo exists though the market is small because it is impossible to outprice Wolf and Tulla. For my AK47 if ammo imports stopped tomorrow I could get Walmart white box or a variety of other makes it would just cost average centerfire rifle prices. Deep stocking would be expensive but shooting a few hundred rounds a year to keep familiar would be doable.
In 5.45 ammo is stupidly cheap which is nice because it is frickin impossible to buy it anywhere except mail/ internet order. While I haven't exactly been looking for it I can't recall seeing milsurp or commerical 5.45 ammo in a single brick and mortar store. I am not saying you shouldn't get an AK74 though if you do get one order CASES of ammo. In general I am quite content with 3k rounds of ammo for a defensive rifle. If I was an AK74 owner it would be at least double that. They haven't caught on enough to justify (as far as I can tell) any real commerical offerings of ammo If the milsurp supply was cut off, by say executive order that would mean they wouldn't catch on more and thus ammo would not likely become commercially available.
AK's are probably better for a smaller person than an AR because their length of pull is shorter. They are designed to consider 'nutritionally challenged' conscripts and central Asian troops of compact stature. AK's aren't much heavier than AR's so that is a wash. Handling of AK's is simpler than AR's because they require less manipulation if just because the only controls are the safety, bolt and trigger. Mag changes are different than an AR because they are 'rock in' mags. Just like a Mini-14 or an M1A. Not a big deal, just something to get used to. The AK recoils noticably more than the AR but well so does everything else. The AK has a very comparable cartridge to the 30-30 Winchester and weigh's almost 50% more than a Winchester 94 which I don't think anybody considers a bruiser. If need be then get a recoil pad but familiarity and training is the real issue.
If you want an AK and can afford to properly equip one (to include mags and ammo) without skimping somewhere important then get it. An utterly reliable rifle that can take a beating and is cheap to practice with has a place in every collection. Most folks who get past all the hype and actually start using AK's like them. Worst case you can probably sell it for very close to what you paid.