The AK-47: The Rifle That Took The World By Storm

The AK-47 History and design

There is just something about the AK-47 that will draw you in. I do not know if it is the look of the weapon or all of the legendary stories that you might have heard.

The Russians are not known for their style or aesthetic when it comes to firearms, but they sure know how to create something that will do the job.

The name of the AK-47 comes from Avtomat Kalashnikova (where the AK comes from) and also the year 1947 in which the gun was finally created (which is where the 47 comes from).

The AK-47 History and design I bet you did not know that 🙂

In this article, I covered topics which are related to its specs, design, history, it’s track record and also some of the variants that were made from this rifle.

Let’s get started.

AK-47 Specifications

Please keep in mind that some of the specs will vary because of the difference between the various models manufactured.

  • Weight: 7.7 up to 9.5 lb
  • Length: 35 inches
  • Barrel length: 14.5 – 16.3 inches
  • Capacity (standard): 30 rounds
  • Action: Gas operated with rotating bolt
  • Peeking sight: Adjustable iron sight
  • Caliber: 7.62×39mm
  • The rate of fire: 600 rounds/min
  • Effective range: 400 meters
  • Muzzle Velocity: 710-715 m/s


The AK-47’s was designed in such a way so that it was inexpensive to manufacture and easy to use. This rifle is one of the most reliable and durable guns of its time. I even heard stories where people would bury it in the mud and it could still be used after a couple of months. 

The enhanced reliability is a result of looser tolerances in the design of the gun which will result in less accurate shots. The AK-47 has over 60 parts, but for the sake of simplicity, I will only cover 8 of the most important ones as described by the image below.

AK 47 design

It is also effortless to assemble and disassemble this rifle because it does not have that many moving parts. The recoil of this rifle is modest and could be used by almost anyone. It is also known for rebel warlords to equip this rifle to children because of the lower entry-level experience required.

It can also be used for firing automatic and semi-automatic rounds. The cartridges of this weapon are relatively small and do not place a heavy burden on the soldier regarding ammo. Let’s start with each of the parts that make up this revolutionary weapon.

a) Trigger mechanism

As mentioned before, the AK-47 can shoot both automatically and semi-automatically. The trigger mechanism is therefore responsible for the preferred shooting method.

For semi-automatic, you will need to put pressure on the trigger for the firearm to fire a shot. It will only shoot one round even if the pressure is not released. For the second shot, you will need to release the pressure on the trigger and then repeat the process.

In automatic mode, the firearm will continue to fire fresh rounds until pressure is released or if the magazine is empty. If the first shot is fired in automatic mode, the hammer is released which drives the firing pin against the primer of the cartridge. This action will then fire a shot.

The propellant will ignite, and the bullet will be released as a result. Gas pressure will then build up inside the barrel and will then push the gas piston back. The gas piston will force the bolt carrier back, ejecting the empty casing and then driving the hammer down.

The tentioned recoiled spring will then push the bolt carrier forward which will cause the bolt to feed a new cartridge into the chamber. In automatic mode, the auto sear will be tripped by the bolt carrier which will then drive the firing pit for the next shot in the series. Please watch the video above if none of this made sense.

b) Receiver

The receiver is the part that connects the stock, trigger, magazine and the barrel in a homogenized manner where each component will form part of an integrated function.

The receiver is made out of a solid block of steel that has been drilled and cut into shape ready for assembly. The receiver was initially formed from stamped sheet metal which caused functional problems.

The receiver will play an integral role in feeding bullets to the barrel from the magazine and to work alongside the trigger and hammer to fire the shot. The ejector is also built into the receiver to eject empty casings to safely make space for fresh cartridges.

c) Gas operated piston

It is because of the gas operated mechanism that an AK-47 can shoot automatically. Once the propellant inside of the cartridge is ignited, the bullet will be released from the cartridge. This effect will create a gas build up which will then be released once the bullet passes by the gas port.

Gas piston operated reloading

The released gas will then drive the gas piston to push back which will result in the bolt carrier to also push back. This will result in the bolt to unlock which will allow the empty casing to eject from the receiver to make room for the next cartridge. The bolt carrier will also push the hammer down to prepare for the next shot.

d) Barrel

The barrel is the long cylindrical part in which the bullet will travel through before exiting the rifle. The barrel will also have a small hole that will form part of the gas port. Some of the older version is lined with chrome while some of the newer version is lines with fenocite. The barrel is approximately 16.3 inches long.

The end part of the muzzle area is threaded to make it easier to install several devices. The inside of the barrel is also rifled which means it has grooves which are a spiral in nature alongside the length of the barrel. It is also this feature that will give the bullet a spinning motion which will, in turn, make it more accurate.

e) Sights

The AK-47 makes use of a traditional iron sight where the front sight can also be adjusted for elevation and distance. The front sight needs to be in alignment with the rear sight to aim effectively.

The front sight makes use of the metric measurement system. The metric system measures in meters and not in yards. It is important to remember this because 100 yards will be equal to 91.44 meters. The front sight will have 11 distance markings which include marking “P” and then “1-10”.

The “P” position is most commonly used to zero the rifle. Marking “1” will represent 100 meters, and “2” will represent 200 meters in distance. It goes up to “10” which will represent 1000 meters or 1 km. As a rule of thumb, each marking numbered from 1-10 will be in increments of 100 meters.

The front post sight can also be adjusted either to the left or right with the help of a Magna Matic tool. I have written a guide on how to handle firearms, and there is also a section on how to zero a gun.

f) Magazine

The magazine of this firearm is probably the most iconic part of the weapon. It has a curvature which allows for the cartridges to feed smoothly into the receiver.

bakelite AK 47 magazines

Most magazines can hold up to 30 rounds, but there are also larger round drum magazines which can house up to 75 rounds. There are also smaller versions that can also hold up to 10 rounds. The magazine is very similar in physical appearance than the StG44.

The magazine has a reinforced metal lip which makes this weapon more durable and reduces the chance of the gun jamming. This metal lip also makes the magazine incredibly reliable and rugged.

The earlier magazines were made out of steel and weighed around 12 ounces. Modern magazines are made out of lighter materials which can bring the weight down to 6 ounces in weight.

g) Dust cover

A dust cover is a component on top of the firearm to protect the moving parts that are inside. This component also helps at preventing dust from entering the weapon. Dust will cause extra friction inside of the firearm and is also responsible for the jamming of the gun.

There are many variants available such as dust covers that are also a rail which will enable you to attach a scope to your rifle.

h) Buttstock

The buttstock has many names which can include gunstock, shoulder stock and simply a but. It is the part of the rifle that comes into contact with one of your shoulders. It is tough to shoot a high powered rifle such as the AK-47 without any support. 

The stock provides support when it is being rested against one of your shoulders which will also give you more control over the rifle.

It can also transmit recoil to your body which will make your shot more accurate. Most buttstocks will be made out of wood especially the older models. The modern buttstock is made of a lighter and stronger material. Some of the contemporary buttstocks can be folded, adjusted, help with recoil reduction.

i) Ammunition

The AK-47 makes use of a 7.62×39mm round which was also the original cartridge which can also be used today. There is also the 5.45x39mm round which replaced the 7.62×39mm which is shorter and even lighter. The casings of the cartridges can also be made from a variety of materials which include copper washed steel, brass and also lacquered steel.

7.62×39mm round

This round also has a Soviet origin and was designed during WW2. The bullet makes use of a combination of steel and lead and is copper plated. This feature gives it an excellent penetration ability and does not fragment. Currently, there are modified versions available that are armor piercing, heavier and also expanding.

Some of your modern models also use a 5.45 caliber bullet that is lighter and faster. The velocity of the 7.62×39mm is also between 710-715 m/s.

AK 47 History

a) It’s origin

The AK-47 was finally introduced into the Soviet army in the year 1949 just after World War 2. The second world war officially ended in the year 1945, and the Soviet Union started to run several trials for arms development two years after in 1947.

It was from the year 1947 which the AK-47 was developed and accepted, but was not yet officially introduced. During the end phase of the second world war, the Soviets clashed against the German forces which also exposed them to the latest developments in the arms race.

AK 47 history

They were introduced to the German Mauser stg44 which was widely used by the Germans in the last world war. This weapon was also the first one categorized as an assault rifle. You will even notice that the AK-47 looks very similar to the stg44. What made the stg44 so compelling was that it was compact and can be single-handedly used to cover fire which degrades the performance of an enemy force below optimum levels.

The main idea of the AK was original while each part was borrowed from other weapons. This resulted in a gun that was lightweight and also very durable. Kalashnikov had access to previous gun designs and took the ones with the best features to create his brilliant end product.

The primary weapon used by the Soviet Union before the development of the AK-47 was the SKS carbine which is a semi-automatic rifle developed by Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov. The Soviets also made use of the Degtyarov RPD and the RPK which was also designed by Kalashnikov.

b) The man behind the AK 47 (Mikhail Kalashnikov)

The man behind this weapon is Mikhail Kalashnikov which was born in 1919. He was a tank mechanic in the red army and later became a tank commander in WW2. It is also known that he worked on 150 different firearms designs. Some people also see him as a man who lived a simple lifestyle who designed the worlds most successful automatic rifle.

Mikhail Kalashnikov on the left

Mikhail Kalashnikov on the left

Kalashnikov was also part of the battle of Bryansk in September 1941 located south of Moscow as he was part of the 24th Tank Regiment. He suffered a wound to his shoulder after an attack on his tank and later became obsessed with creating the ultimate firearm. He wanted to become a designer for agricultural machinery, but the Nazi’s reverted him to become a gun designer.

Over his lifetime, he received several honors such as the Hero of Socialist Labor and Stalin Prize. His AK-47 invention also never got patented which it made free for anyone to manufacture. He dreamt of poetry and also wanted to become a writer. This made him write his first six books to help guide the next generation on their path.

In the year 1971, he earned a doctorate in technical sciences and designed more than ten weapon designs after that. He took pride over his weapon designs and did not favor the massive distribution of his weapons. He passed away on 23 December 2013 in the age of 94.

c) Development process

The AK-47 was not developed overnight and had several years of design and testing before it came to be one of the most efficient rifles to ever exist. The process started from 1943 up to 1949 which was a 6-year process. It is also important to note that several upgrades and variants were made after the official launch of the rifle.

The Chinese made their version, and there is also a modernized version available. The table below will show you each year in which a significant step was made.

AK 47 Progress History

  • 1943 – The Soviet Union provided Kalashnikov with 7.62×39mm cartridges and instructed him to design a new weapon that will match this M43 cartridge. This round can function well in extreme temperatures which can range from -50 up to 55 °C which makes it ideal for mid and eastern Europe climates. This round can also be used in a range of infantry weapons.
  • 1945 – The Soviets launched a design competition at this time where at least 10 firearm designs were submitted. This contest happened after the 7.62×39mm cartridge was developed. A long list of prototypes was developed alongside the AK-47 which include the AS-44. Other weapon designers such as Fedorov, Shpagin, Tokarev, and Simonov participated in the competition.
  • 1947 – This was the year in which the final design of the AK-47 was submitted to the contest by Kalashnikov, and it was also the winner. The competition ended two years after the end of WW2, so the production of this firearm was delayed.
  • 1949 – The AK-47 entered the production lines and was mass produced. , and the fixed stock version played a part in active service and the military.
  • 1956 – The Chinese started to produce their version of the AK-47 which was called the Type 56. This firearm also used the 7.62×39mm round. The receiver of Type 56 is also made out of thicker metal than that of the Ak 47. The front sights are fully enclosed compared to the open version of the AK 37. It also lacks the threaded muzzle. Type 56 also lacks the side mount plate which is located on the AK 47.
  • 1959 – The AKM is the modernized version of the AK-47 and stands for Modernized Avtomat Kalashnikova. During the manufacturing days of the AK-47, the manufacturers made use of a milled steel receiver which takes more effort to produce while the AKM’s receiver is stamped which made the weapon lighter and more accurate. It is also much lighter overall than the AK-47. 
  • 1974 – In this year the AK-47 started to use the 5.45x39mm round. This smaller cartridge made it easier for the foot soldier to carry more ammunition. M. Sabelnikov and other known designers produced this cartridge. There are also several variants to this size cartridge.

The AK 47’s track record

WW2 only played a role in the development of the AK-47, but they never used this rifle during that time. In this section, I am just going to go into important events in which the AK-47 played a significant role.

a) Cold war (1947)

This was the first real war in where the Soviet Union got to test their new and sought after rifle against the United States. This was also the time in which nuclear weapons could have changed the course of the war. The Soviets also sent some of their AK-47’s and building plans to some of their allies and even to enemies of the United States. The AK-47 was less accurate than the M16, but its durability was incredible.

b) Vietnam war (1955)

The Vietnam war was fought in the Vietnamese jungles where the AK-47 flourished. The Americans were also the first to get a taste of this weapon’s effectiveness. The Soviet Union supplied the inexperienced Vietnamese farmers with the AK’s which also proved it’s ease of use.

Vietnam war AK 47

The AK-47 was more superior over the M-14 used by US soldiers. The AK-47 also proved to be very useful in guerilla warfare. The defeat in Vietnam played a role in the development of the AR-15 which later became the M-16.

c) Revolution in Hungary (1956)

Hungarian rebels were the first to use the AK-47 against its creators which were the Soviets. A Revolution broke out when thousands of citizens formed into militias to combat the Hungarian People’s Republic which was heavily influenced by the Soviet forces. The Soviet troops entered Hungary from the east where armed revolutionaries set up barricades to defend Budapest.

d) Munich Olympics (1972)

The birth of modern terrorism with the AK-47 has begun. A Palestinian terrorist group of eight called “Black September” disguised themselves as athletes and entered the Munich village along with their AK-47’s. They seized 11 Israeli athletes and killed them along with a police officer. Only five of the terrorists was killed while the other three was taken captive.

e) Anwar Sadat Assassination (1981)

Members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad killed Anwar Sadat in Cairo during a victory parade for the Yom Kippur War. There was several layers of protection for the president but did not prove to be enough. The leader of the terrorist attack Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli hijacked one of the trucks that towed the artillery. Once the truck was in front of the stand, the terrorists jumped out and ran to the stand and also threw a couple of grenades into the crowd. They also emptied their ammunition on the president and surrounding individuals.

f) Uganda (1981)

General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni from the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebelled against the Ugandan government from where they launched a terrorist campaign. They kidnapped children and equipped them with AK 47’s to supply their army with soldiers. The AK-47 was the first choice because it is inexpensive to manufacture and very easy to use.

Ugandan Civil war

g) Iraq War (2003)

During the early stage of the Iraq War, the US soldiers again came into contact with terrorists that fired with AK-47’s. The war was initiated to end the rule of Saddam Hussein and also to disarm Iraq of any nuclear weapons. The 9/11 attack also fueled the conflict.

Variants of the AK 47

As of today, there are probably more than 20 variants to the original AK-47. Other designers have reworked the original AK to be more accurate, durable and reliable. The original AK-47 only serves to provide a base form in which to work from.

AK 47 variants

I already discussed the difference between the milled and stamped receiver. Below you will find 8 of the most common variants know.

a) AKS

The AKS version does not make use of a standard wooden buttstock but instead uses a foldable buttstock made out of steel. This feature makes it easier to transport the rifle which makes it more compact.

b) RPK 

This version of the AK also uses the 7.62×39mm but has a longer and heavier barrel for increased accuracy. The barrel is also fixed to the receiver and cannot be removed. This weapon is best used in a prone position to make use of the bipod. It can also be used with a 45 round or 75 round drum magazine to increase the duration of the suppressed fire.

c) AKM

The AKM is the modernized version of the AK-47 which has a lighter receiver that is also stamped instead of milled which makes them lighter and even easier to manufacture. The recoil is also much more forgiving than that of the AK-47.

d) AK-74

The AK 74 is was designed and manufactured during the early ’70s or 1974 (where the “74” comes from within the name). The main difference between the 74 and 47 models is that the 74 makes use of a 5.45×39mm cartridge which is smaller than the 7.62×39mm.

e) AK-101

The AK 101 came into the service of the US in the year 1995. The rifle makes use of the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge. The US also wanted to have their reliable gun that could fit with their NATO round which was most commonly used. Other models such as the AK-102, AK-103, AK-104, AK-107 and AK-108 are variants that encompass variants that include carbines and different cartridge sizes.

f) AK-12

The AK 12 is one of the most modern AK variants that was designed by Izhmash and accepted at the end of 2012 by the Russian Army. There are also many variants to this specific model as well. It primarily uses the 5.45×39mm cartridge, but other variables also support the 7.62×39mm round. It also offers a Picatinny rail which enables it to fit tactical scopes onto the rifle.

g) IMI Galil

The Galil is the Israeli variant of the AK-47. The Galil is made to use either the 5.56×45mm NATO or 7.62×51mm NATO cartridges. It also has other variants such as the 7.62mm Galil Sniper which is used for long range shooting. The gun itself also has a lot of variants originating from it.

h) Type 56

The Type 56 is one of the earliest variants to the original AK-47 rifle. It is a Chinese variant that uses the 7.62×39mm cartridge and manufacturing started in 1956. This weapon was vastly transported to many other countries which also include Vietnam during the Vietnam war. The main differences between the Type 56 and AK-47 are the open front sight and foldable bayonet.

Final thoughts

As you can imagine, the AK-47 has some serious design and history to it. It is one of the best firearms on the market today. There is also a lot of customizations done which created a long list of variants. This weapons also has a massive death toll to its name which proves it’s effectiveness.

What do you think about the AK?

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