How To: Fix Suppressed Blowback with Cheap AR-15 Mod

There is no question, shooting a suppressed rifle is far more enjoyable than firing one with a bare muzzle. The sound reduction notwithstanding, suppressors can also increase a shooter’s proficiency by reducing felt recoil. Unfortunately, these advantages are often diminished by the unpleasant effects of increased gas blowback, especially in AR-15 style rifles. One reason ARs can be particularly troublesome when suppressed is that the charging handle opens up a large exit port at the back of the receiver. Even when locked closed, there is often some room for gas to escape around the part. Typically, shooters will drop $40 or more dollars on a specialized charging handle to cut down on these effects. Fortunately, some enterprising enthusiasts have devised a far cheaper and equally valid solution.

Note the gap between the upper receiver and the charging handle

Note the gap between the upper receiver and the charging handle

The concept is simple; we want to remove the “play” around the rear of the charging handle and provide a good enough seal with the upper receiver that gas blowback finds easier routes to escape the rifle. On my SR-15, I noticed that the charging handle had as much as 1 mm of fore and aft movement, even when locked. These tolerances meant that when I used my Specwar 556 with the rifle, my face was sprayed with hot, smelly gas after every shot. The incredibly cheap solution for this issue involves using a small amount of silicone (found near the adhesives at your local hardware store, Permatex RTV Black is best for this) to close the gap at the top of the charging handle where it meets the receiver.

The photo below illustrates this fix. Readers will note that I only used a very small amount of silicone to seal the gap. As far as application of the silicone is concerned, I caution readers to go slowly and apply the product in thin layers. It may take as many as 12 hours for the silicone to dry between layers, but we want to make sure we do not add too much as an excess with prevent the charging handle from locking in the forward position. Once complete, the millimeter or so of play between the handle and the receiver should be eliminated. Additionally, the handle may require some slight force to lock closed, but should easily return to the locked position when the bolt carrier is released.

Ugly, but simple: I used clear silicone to help seal the charging handle.

Ugly, but simple: I used clear silicone to help seal the charging handle, but most folks will recommend the durability of Permatex RTV silicone, which comes in black.

Some shooters may find that preliminary attempts to seal the back of the receiver are not successful. Indeed, it is easy to leave small gaps in the silicone application that might allow gas to exit the firearm. For those who have poor initial results with this method, I recommend adding additional (small) amounts of silicone until the proper seal is achieved. While this solution may not address all sources of unpleasant gas blowback, it is certainly the cheapest option and will work with the appropriate amount of patience.

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How To: Refinish Your AK’s Metal Parts Using Appliance Epoxy

As a Kalashnikov enthusiast, I cannot think of any topic more aggressively researched or argued than how to appropriately replicate Soviet/Russian AK metal and wood finishes. Possibly a result of language and political barriers, gathering information on Kalashnikov manufacturing and finishing processes has been a challenging hobby to which many serious collectors have devoted countless hours. Because of this reality, you may understand my astonishment two or three years ago when some enthusiasts began to praise Rust-Oleum Appliance Epoxy as an excellent match for Russian paint. At the time, I only owned a Saiga rifle that already had its original Russian finish so I was not all that interested in testing the new theory. However, my outlook began to change as soon as I acquired my Romanian AES-10B RPK. The bland, flat gray parkerized finish on this Romanian behemoth simply did not cut it for me and only looked worse after I refinished the rifle’s wood. I had to give the appliance epoxy a chance.

The first step in any refinishing project is to completely field strip the rifle and remove all furniture. For Kalashnikov variants, this is a simple process, but some firearms might need additional tear down. Once the rifle is disassembled, set the bolt aside as there is no need to paint it and doing so could affect the AK’s reliability.

AES-10B disassembled

AES-10B disassembled

Chances are good that at this point your hands will be rather greasy. Since I anticipated an eventual refinishing project, I took care to use only as much oil as needed on my AES-10B. Even so, the rifle was built on a Romanian military parts kit and the Romanians are no strangers to the frustratingly wonderful preservative grease known as cosmoline. In order to ensure proper paint adherence, it is critical that we completely de-grease and de-oil the firearm.

Removing the oil and grease from the rifle can be accomplished in a multitude of ways. Chemical solutions such as mineral spirits, alcohol, or soapy water all have been used before and are known to work. Another option is to bake the rifle (no hotter than 400 degress Fahrenheit) in order to melt any hidden or caked on grease. For this project, I chose a combined heat and alcohol approach.

After preheating my grill to 400 degrees, I laid out some aluminum foil on the grates, placed the rifle on the foil, and closed the lid. Since the AES-10B is a very long rifle, I did have to bake the barrel and receiver separately, but total bake time should be no more than 90 minutes. After removing the rifle from the grill or oven, you may notice that it has begun to “sweat” around the barrel components and inside the receiver. Take care to avoid burning yourself, but remove this liquid grease and oil promptly as it will be easier to clean while still viscous.

Once the rifle cooled, I then took it to the garage for a quick chemical cleaning session. For this, I used denatured alcohol that I had left over from refinishing this rifle’s wood. As a word of warning for those who do use denatured alcohol, it is a toxic chemical and even skin contact should be avoided so please use gloves. Despite these risks, I like using alcohol as a cleaning agent for refinishing projects because it dries very quickly and leaves no residue. When you are satisfied that no oil is left on the rifle, either hang it up for painting (recommended) or set it on trash bags or newspaper with the other parts. At this point, avoid touching the firearm with your bare hands as skin oils could affect the final product.

Hanging out, ready for paint

Hanging out, ready for paint

The next couple of steps are not absolutely critical, but I have found that they help to ensure consistency in results. The first is that I highly recommend placing the can of epoxy in warm water for at least 5 minutes prior to spraying. My experience has shown that this prevents clogged nozzles and promotes a more even spray. The second recommendation is to use a heat gun or bake the rifle and parts again (at around 200 degrees) just before painting. Warming the surface of the firearm will expedite the paint’s drying process and will help to preempt the overly glossy finish that can result from using appliance epoxy. Before painting, be sure to tape or otherwise cover the gas piston and plug both barrel ends. I found that paper towel works fine for both of these applications.

Keeping the rifle warm between coats with a heat gun. This is not absolutely necessary.

Keeping the rifle warm with a heat gun. This is not absolutely necessary.

When it comes to actually applying the paint, the desired end result will largely drive our application technique. On this rifle, I was looking to replicate the inky, satin finish found on most Soviet/Russian Kalashnikovs. In order to achieve this look, I applied three light coats of paint to the firearm. For reference, I recommend keeping the nozzle at least 14 inches away from the rifle while spraying. Be careful while spraying the epoxy. It is a much different beast than enamels or other common spray paints in that it comes out very sticky and is highly unpleasant to breath in. Make sure you wear gloves and have good airflow in your work area. Each coat should be mostly satin in appearance, just slightly glossier than our desired final product. The baking process will tone down some of the paint’s sheen, but a borderline reflective finish cannot be baked out completely. It is also important to wait at least an hour in between coats to ensure the most consistent finish.

After second coat. The rifle was a bit glossier than I wanted at this point.

After second coat. The rifle was a bit glossier than I wanted at this point.

Small parts coated

Small parts coated

After three light coats have been evenly applied, the rifle should be dark satin or semi-gloss black. Ideally, the paint will have a slightly rough texture. This is caused by partial drying as the paint is sprayed onto the rifle. Regardless, I feel it is important to wait at least 12 hours before handling the firearm at all.

Just after applying the final coat

Just after applying the final coat

Notice the slightly textured finish. This is caused by holding the spray can at least 14 inches away from the rifle.

Notice the slightly textured finish. This is caused by holding the spray can at least 14 inches away from the rifle.

Another look at the final coat

Another look at the final coat

Once the paint has fully dried, it is time to bake it. If your firearm will fit in your oven, go ahead and preheat it to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. For those of us who cannot squeeze our rifles into the oven, a gas grill will work nearly as well. With a little adjustment, I was easily able to achieve 400 degrees using the lowest gas setting on all four of my Char-Broil grill’s burners. This setting will vary from grill to grill, so be conservative and watch the temperature, especially in the early part of the baking process. If the grill is too cool, we can always bake longer or adjust the temperature. A grill that is too hot may render our new finish brittle or even damage the heat treating of the parts.

In my case, I had to bake the receiver and barrel separately. In order to do this, I once again set foil on the grill’s grates and initially rested the receiver on this surface with the barrel protruding through the grill’s side. I baked the dust cover, selector lever, gas tube, and bolt carrier with the receiver. After 50 minutes to 1 hour of baking these parts, I removed all but the barreled receiver. I then placed the barrel and bipod on the foil and closed the grill lid with the receiver outside of the grill. A good area to divide the rifle for these purposes is just behind the handguard retainer. If this area is scratched or does not bake properly, it will be covered by the lower handguard and not visible when the rifle is assembled. If you were able to bake the whole rifle at once, you are done after the first hour. If not, the process will be complete after both the receiver and barrel have been on the grill or in the oven for 1 hour.

After “cooking” the rifle, the finish will be almost completely cured. Obviously you will want to give it time to cool, but once the AK is safe to handle, feel free to reassemble it. You should notice that the finish is considerably flatter than it was before baking and it should be a very nice match with the paint used on Soviet or Russian AK parts, but will likely be much more durable.

Finished rifle

Finished rifle

Finished rifle

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Rifle pictured with Russian Izhmash side-stamp magazine (original finish)

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How To: Correct Last Round Feed Issues with the 1911

Never before have there been so many quality options for collectors looking to purchase “shooter grade” 1911 handguns. For the most part, these budget offerings from companies like Rock Island, Shooter’s Arms, and Tisas are reasonably accurate and impressively reliable, especially considering their  sub-$400 price tags. That said there are a few areas where these pistols frequently require some attention or tuning. One very common issue is that the included magazines can jam when feeding their last round. This is a foible that can tarnish otherwise fantastic shooting experiences with these 1911s. Let’s take a look at why some 1911 magazines are less trustworthy than others.

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The magazine on the left is a Colt manufactured, original-style 1911 magazine. It features a flat baseplate and holds 7 rounds. The one on the right came with my ATI FX 1911, a Shooter’s Arms pistol.  It holds 8 rounds with its extended baseplate. Beyond capacity, observant readers will notice another, less obvious difference: the followers. The Colt magazine uses a more reliable, split nose style follower that is similar to the original 1911 design. The reason for this split is twofold. First, the left side of the follower must sit low enough to properly engage the slide lock when the magazine is empty. If this side sat as high as the right, the magazine would lock the slide with a round still left to be chambered. Second, the right side of the follower sits higher to support the final .45 ACP round as it is being fed into the chamber. This feature is critical to the magazine’s reliability. Not only does it help to ensure consistent last-round feeding, but it also prevents follower tilt at all load levels.

On the other side of the equation sits the Italian ACT-MAG magazine that was included with my American Tactical Imports 1911. So far, the pistol has been an amazing addition for me, but this magazine has been somewhat of a disappointment. Unlike the follower in the Colt magazine, the ACT-MAG product uses a follower that has a 100% recessed nose. Because of this, the follower reliably engages the slide lock when empty, but it does not sufficiently support its final round as it enters the chamber. A lack of follower support causes this final .45 ACP round to “nose dive” into the 1911’s feed ramp and locks the entire action, a malfunction that requires magazine removal to clear. While it has yet to cause an issue, this follower is also more prone to tilt when loaded/feeding. In some situations (depending on firearm, ammunition, etc), this could lead to failures beyond those experienced on the last round.

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Given my experiences with the ACT-MAG magazine, I strongly encourage 1911 owners to pursue magazines that properly support the final round into the chamber, like the Colt ones I recently acquired. These are truer to the original design and have proven more reliable in my testing. Shooters with ACT-MAG and similar magazines are not out of luck, however. New followers are easy to install and can be found at places like Midway USA and Brownells for less than $10 each.

How To: Convert a Saiga to AKM Configuration

Over the past two or three years, I have seen several collectors asking about the feasibility of converting a Russian Saiga 7.62x39mm rifle to AKM configuration. As a sporting style rifle that has been built on an AK-100 series action, turning back the clock on the Saiga is no simple task. However, as someone who has nearly completed this time travel journey, I can say that it is absolutely possible to make an AKM out of a Saiga and the end result can be very rewarding.

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If you’ve done a standard Saiga back end conversion before, the process is no different for the AKM conversion.  To begin, simply drill out the old trigger pins, remove the riveted plate that covers the AK trigger hole, and remove the trigger guard. If you are lucky, the square hole for the pistol grip nut will already be cut. If it is not make necessary measurements (approximately 2 millimeters forward of the old trigger hole) and I recommend tracing a pistol grip nut as a guide for the hole itself. Cutting the hole can be done with a Dremel if you are careful and go slowly. I also recommend removing the magazine release and obtaining a proper AKM unit, which can be riveted through the same holes as the original Saiga part. While it is possible to retain the original trigger guard and either weld it to the magazine release or feed its previously riveted foot underneath the original magazine release, replacement is far and away the cleanest option. Once this back end conversion is complete, weld up the resulting holes for a cleaner look. I used a Tapco G2 AK trigger with a retaining plate for the pins in my conversion and like this configuration very much.

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Those looking for a proper AKM clone should remove the optics rail. AKMNs weren’t/aren’t very common, so if you do not plan on using optics and want a true AKM replica, remove the rail. Furthermore, the Saiga optics rail is a much more modern version than what would be found on an AKMN. I have not had this done to my rifle yet, but plan to have the rail removed at the same time I have the conversion holes welded.

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Two of the simplest changes for this project are swapping the receiver dust cover and rear sight leaf for original AKM parts. I purchased both of these parts from Oleg at Rusmilitary.com and both are original Soviet examples. Removing the rear leaf can be challenging, but I have had success using a screwdriver to push the front portion of the part down while pulling it out from the rear. Installing the new one can be accomplished by firmly pushing it in from the rear through the channels cut into the sides of the rear sight block. This step may not be necessary if you plan to replace the whole rear sight block with a proper AKM one. The main difference between the Saiga rear sight block and an AKM one is the chamfer that surrounds the sight leaf. Most people will not notice this unless they are actively looking for differences. The dust cover should go on just like the original part, however I have found some new-old-stock Soviet dust covers are a tight fit compared to the Saiga’s. Fortunately, this stamped steel cover is easily bent to fit.

Tula AKM rear sight leaf

Tula AKM rear sight leaf

Like any Saiga conversion, a bullet ramp/guide must be added for the rifle to properly feed from a standard AK magazine. I used a guide from a Bulgarian AK-74 for mine, but the Dinzag Arms version for Saigas is a better choice. Dinzag offers a kit with the proper drill bit and tap to install the ramp, I would go this route if I were doing the conversion today.

Changing the barrel parts is the most difficult part of the project. Before starting, you will need an AKM front sight block, a 45-degree AKM gas block, an AKM handguard retainer, and an AKM rear sight block (optional, for absolute accuracy) . The original barrel parts will need to be pressed off and the new ones pressed on. This is essentially impossible to accomplish without at least a 12-ton press. After all original parts have been pressed off the barrel, press the AKM rear sight block on first. It is reasonably likely that you may be able to use the original pin hole to set this in place. Next, use an end mill or Dremel grinding wheel to cut alignment grooves into the barrel for the handguard retainer. These should be at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions on the barrel, just behind the step where the barrel thickens under the handguard. You should also make a channel for the retainer’s lever at the 12 o’clock position, perpendicular to the barrel, and with a center 5 millimeters behind the step.

Channels cut for handguard retainer

Channels cut for handguard retainer

After the above steps are complete, the original gas port should be welded closed on the barrel. Placement for the original hole will likely fall just above the rear pin hole in the block. AKMs have a 45-degree port that is drilled just behind the bayonet lug. This means that the two holes are a little over half a centimeter apart. Measure approximately 6 millimeters forward of the original gas port and drill a new one using a 1/8″ cobalt drill bit. I recommend countersinking this hole somewhat to allow for some flexibility in gas block placement. Also note that it is not necessary to drill the gas port at 45-degrees like original AKM barrels, a 90-degree gas port will work fine with the 45-degree gas block. Press the new block on so that the front of it matches the position of the forward edge of the old block. You can check gas port alignment by sticking a pipe cleaner through the hole in the gas block and into the barrel. If the cleaner makes it through into the barrel, your alignment is likely good. Next, drill new holes for the pins and hammer/press them in.

Relative gas port positions for 90-degree and 45-degree gas blocks. Port positions are represented by the yellow dots. Image credit: http://www.theakforum.net

The last major piece to add is the front sight block. The only real consideration here is that you will need 6/10 or 3/5” of space for threading forward of the block. Once you have it pressed on to this depth, put the whole rifle in a vise and check alignment through the rear sight. You can make adjustments using a brass hammer on either side of the front sight block to eliminate cant. The front sight block does not need to be perfectly straight, eyeballing it will usually be sufficient, but it is a good idea to use a level to check your work. Once it is aligned to satisfaction, drill new pin holes and hammer or press the new pins in.

Gas block on right, front sight block on left

Gas block on right, front sight block on left

Once all barrel components have been installed, clean up the work by welding the old, now exposed pin holes closed and grinding the welds flush. Threading the barrel is an easy home job using the 14×1 AK threading kit from CNC Warrior. This kit includes a die, thread alignment tool, die handle, and cutting oil. Beginning the threading process is as simple as partially screwing the alignment tool into the die and sticking the alignment post into the muzzle. As the die is rotated around the barrel, the alignment tool will eventually be backed off the rear of the die. Do not thread the barrel too quickly; after each 1/4-1/2 twist of progress, the die should be partially backed off and metal shavings should be cleared from the tool and the barrel. Make sure to use plenty of oil to prevent binding. The whole process can be summarized as twisting the die on a little, backing it off a little, and twisting it back on a little further repeatedly until the 6/10” of exposed barrel has been fully threaded. Once complete, add a slant brake and you are done.

Hand threaded barrel using die and thread alignment tool

Hand threaded barrel using die and thread alignment tool

After the barrel is complete, obtain a correct AKM or AK-74 style gas tube with handguard. I like to add this part towards the end of the project because fitting will be required to get the spacing correct for the new gas block and rear sight block. There are flat surfaces on the rear of the gas tube that can be filed to fit the piece if it is too tight and cannot be pushed or lightly hammered into the rear sight block. The gas tube should fit into the front of the rear sight block relatively easily, but should not rattle.

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After all the conversion work is complete, purchase a set of AKM furniture. I highly recommend real Soviet wood from somewhere like Rusmilitary.com, but availability can be spotty. Ironwood Designs does an adequate job of replicating Russian AKM wood with real arctic birch laminate if authentic parts are not available. Any AKM or AK-74 cleaning rod will work for this project.

That is pretty much all there is to converting a Saiga to an AKM clone. On my rifle, I went to extra lengths to ensure that as many of the new parts were original Soviet examples. Outside of 922(r) compliance parts, the only non-Soviet part on my rifle is a Romanian handguard retainer. Since I wanted to replicate a late-1970s AKM, I sought a cast Izhmash gas block and cast front sight block with a squared lightening hole. Cope’s Distributing has recently had some complete rear sight assemblies and trigger guards that originally came from Soviet AKMs. My laminate furniture came from another collector and is unissued Soviet replacement wood. For those wondering, my compliance parts are my muzzle brake, gas piston, trigger parts, and magazine follower.

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While the Saiga to AKM conversion process is highly involved and perhaps more difficult than simply building an AKM from the ground up, I feel it was a worthwhile endeavor. The conversion allows me to retain the original Russian cold hammer forged barrel and Izhmash receiver, both of which are excellent quality parts and really are the heart and soul of the firearm. I will concede that the rifle is not 100% accurate in terms of rivet placement, bolt carrier profile, dimples (or lack thereof), and a few other minor differences, but these should not detract from what is a very nice example on the whole. Having begun back in 2008, this project has certainly been time consuming and has taken extensive help from AK experts, but the end result is something I am truly proud of and is a centerpiece of my collection.

How To: Cheap and Easy Barrel Blocks for Muzzle Device Work

Sitting here on this snowy March afternoon, I got to thinking about how my SilencerCo Specwar 556 suppressor is likely to be approved this week. For months now, I’ve had the included flash hider sitting in my gear cabinet waiting to be installed on my SR-15 barrel, but I have never gotten around to actually installing the device. Since today’s snow brought us around 4 inches on top of what we already had, I decided that something had to be done to get this rifle ready for the new can. I recently mounted my vise to my workbench, so all I really needed now was some way of holding the barrel still while removing the current A2-style flash hider and while tightening the supplied SilencerCo flash hider to the barrel.

Those who are well versed in AR-15 rifles will know that Knight’s Armament’s SR-15 is a little different than your typical AR pattern rifle. One of the most noteworthy improvements over standard rifles is the SR-15’s unique bolt with radius-cut lugs. This modified geometry helps to prevent shearing, but renders the barrel incompatible with popular barrel tools, like Geissele’s reaction rod. Since upper receiver clamps are not recommended for barrel work, SR-15 owners are limited to barrel blocks or KAC’s proprietary reaction rod style tool. Frankly, I cannot not justify the $80 price tag for this tool as I only own one KAC upper receiver assembly and rarely change muzzle devices, but I also did not want to pay for something as simple as barrel blocks and be forced to wait for their arrival. Fortunately, I had some extra scraps of 2×4 lying around that are the perfect size for this application.

Making the barrel blocks is simple and requires few supplies aside from the blocks. Using digital calipers, I found the SR-15 barrel to be approximately 0.625” in diameter. This meant that a 5/8” boring bit would be perfect for this project. These bits can be easily found in any hardware store for around $3. To give the wood some added “grip”, I also grabbed some friction tape to place on the inside walls of block. Friction tape is similar to hockey tape and both products can be used interchangeably here. The roll featured here cost less than $1.

Necessary supplies. Please pardon the poor photos, I was using my phone for these.

Necessary supplies. Please pardon the poor photos, I was using my phone for these.

With the supplies in hand, it is time to turn our 2×4 into proper barrel blocks. As a warning, the examples I make in these photos actually broke while removing the flash hider. While boring them out, I was not thinking and chose to cut the bore in the same direction as the wood grain. When the blocks were then placed in the vise and torque was applied, the wood split on one of sides along the grain. My second set was cut across the grain and proved much stronger.

Clamp the blocks down in the vise.

Clamp the blocks down in the vise.

After the bore has been cut, line it with two or three layers of friction tape.  This tape is not very sticky, but once it is pressed against the barrel and locked into the vise, it will stay in place. I also tightly wrapped the barrel in a layer of the tape for additional resistance. This process is similar to taping the grip on a tennis racquet or hockey stick. Just make sure it is pulled tightly onto the barrel.

Bore of the blocks. This set broke because I cut it with the wood's grain.

Bore of the blocks. This set broke because I cut it with the wood’s grain. Once again, please pardon the poor photo.

Friction tape is a godsend here.

Friction tape is a godsend here.

Once the tape is in place, simply join the block halves around the barrel and place the whole unit in a bench-mounted vise. Do not be afraid to snug the vise jaws down very tightly; your barrel will not be damaged. Standard AR-15 flash hiders and muzzle brakes have 3/4” wrench flats. Any quality armorer’s tool will have cut-outs for these flats, but a standard wrench can also be used.

Clamped in and ready to rock!

Clamped in and ready to rock!

How To: Refinishing Your AK or RPK’s Wood

Let’s face it, some firearms are just plain ugly. Whether it’s awkward ergonomics, bad finishes, or just generally disjointed aesthetics, there are plenty of guns that have no business anywhere near a beauty pageant. For some firearm designs, this homeliness comes naturally, for others it is earned through poor care and haphazardly applied (or simply missing) finishes. Contrary to some very wrong opinions, ugly AKs fall into the latter category. Indeed, there is no reason an AK or RPK cannot be just as beautiful as any other wood-stocked rifle; the biggest challenge is that so few of these rifles receive proper finishes to bring out their natural luster.

Unfinished RPK is ugly RPK

Unfinished RPK is ugly RPK

In this first tutorial, I will outline the application of a semi-proper Russian-style shellac finish on the wood of a Century Arms AES-10B. The AES-10B is a semi-automatic variant of the RPK made in Romania. These rifles are relatively high quality builds that are usually reliable shooters. However, they are also spartan in appearance. In this guide we will address the unfinished furniture and in an upcoming tutorial, we will talk about painting the rifle.

Supplies

In order to replicate this finish, make sure you have the following supplies:
– Zinsser Amber Shellac
– Denatured alcohol
– Small canning jars
– Coffee filters
– Medium and fine or very fine sandpaper
– Rit Dye colors Scarlet Red, Tangerine Orange, and Dark Brown
– Economy stain brushes (2-inch)

Supplies

Supplies

Prepping the Finish

Preparing your finish is one of the most crucial parts of this process. Because it can take a while, the first thing you will want to do is begin dissolving your dye salts in denatured alcohol. This is where the coffee filters come in handy. Since the salts will only partially dissolve in the alcohol solution, we use the coffee filters to strain out the undissolved salts that could disrupt our final finish if mixed with the shellac.

Dye salts in coffee filters

Dye salts in coffee filters

Dissolving the salts (I think I made a mess)

Dissolving the salts (I think I made a mess)

After a sufficient quantity of dye has been created (I like to strain out around 1/4 cup of dye for each color), we can begin the blending process. For my base Russian-style finish, I like to start with the following mix:

65% Amber shellac
15% Denatured alcohol
15% Scarlet Red dye
5% Dark Brown dye

There are several reasons for my color choices and approximate ratios in this mix. First off, the Scarlet Red will mix with the amber color of the shellac to create a burnt orange blend. In order to tone down the brightness of the solution, I add a small amount of Dark Brown.

Jar of ready shellac

Jar of ready shellac

The second major reason for these ratios is that the resulting shellac solution will be approximately a 2-pound cut. Cut is a measure of the amount of shellac flakes dissolved in a given quantity of alcohol. The standard for measurement is 128 fluid ounces of denatured alcohol (a 2-pound cut is 2 pounds of shellac flakes per 128 fluid ounces of alcohol). For reference, Zinsser makes their shellac in a 3-pound cut which is too thick for our purposes. Thus, we must further dilute the solution using dye and pure denatured alcohol until we achieve a more “brushable” 2-pound cut.

Preparing the Wood

While not as important as our shellac, making sure our wood’s surface is clean and smooth will result in a cleaner final product and will prove helpful when we apply the shellac. My AES-10B fortunately came with bare laminate that did not need to be stripped. In order to prepare this set for finishing, I simply sanded each piece with medium grit sandpaper to remove dirt and some of the oils that had soaked into the grain. As you can see, some oils simply won’t come out without extensive effort.

Sanded wood

Sanded wood

Applying the Finish

Brushing the finish onto the wood is relatively simple, but the process does require care. Using the stain brushes, dip only the very tip of the bristles into the shellac solution. Then, use only enough shellac to lightly coat the surface of the wood. I use cheap economy brushes for these projects because they have coarser bristles than more expensive brushes. These coarse bristles leave brush marks in the finish that resemble those found on real Soviet furniture.

Ready to rock. Notice the cheap brush.

Ready to rock. Notice the cheap brush.

You will notice that as this first coat dries, the wood will return to a matte finish. Do not worry, this is why we will apply 5 or more coats to achieve the desired glossy sheen. After applying the first coat (and any subsequent coat) it is absolutely crucial to wait at least an hour before the next application. Failure to do so will cause streaking and clumping in the shellac. These issues stem from the fact that our solution is rather heavy on denatured alcohol and if we attempt to apply more solution to a wet or sticky sub-coat, we will also partially dissolve this previous layer.

After 4 or 5 coats, you should start to notice a drastic change in the wood’s appearance. By this point, the furniture should be semi-glossy or glossy and should have taken on the color of the mixture. For deeper coloration or better durability, additional coats can be added.

Reassembly

Before putting the firearm back together, be sure to wait at least 4 hours (24 is preferable) after the final coat. This will give the shellac time to cure and should cut down on any remaining stickiness. After reassembly, I prefer to wait 5 to 7 days before taking the newly refinished rifle to the range.

Keep in mind that this guide and my solution are far from the only ways to replicate the Soviet-style look. Those looking for a darker, Tula-like finish might want to add some plum or black to the dye mixture. Likewise, those aiming for a lighter Izhmash shellac will probably need to add some orange or yellow to lighten the mix. In truth, the Soviets did not even dye their shellac as the red-orange coloration came from the flakes themselves. Still, this guide should point novices in the right general direction to achieve a close replica of the finish.

Finished rifle

Finished rifle

Clubfoot stock with new shellac finish

Clubfoot stock with new shellac finish

Handguards with new shellac finish

Handguards with new shellac finish