13
Mar
2015

Is it Cheaper to Buy or Build an AK47

posted Friday, March 13th 2015 at 9:56 AM by

Cost of Building an AK47

The topic of home-building AK47 rifles comes up every now and then on various firearms boards, which usually leads to questions about the tools involved and the price to build.

The great question, however, is it cheaper to build an AK47 or just buy one off the shelf? I've been home-building firearms for a few years and the answer is simple, it depends...

Building VS Buying an AK47

First, lets be clear on what building actually means. Many people use the term building when they install a parts kit on an AR15 lower receiver. That's not really the correct term. A better term for that would be assembly, because all the parts are designed to fit together in a specific way and no machine work is required.

Building an AK47 (AKM) is much more involved. It is a true build.

An AKM built from an 80% receiver involves (but is not limited to) hydraulic presses, riveting, welding, heat treating, bead blasting, and parkerizing. Don't let the complexity scare you, while it is more involved than assembling an AR15 parts kit, its not terribly complicated.

Cost of Building an AK47

As mentioned above, you'll need quite a few shop tools, as well as some specialized tools just for the AKM rifle.

There are also a few methods for building an AKM, if you build from an 80% receiver flat, 80% receiver blank, or 100% receiver.

Finally, the information provided below is for a typical AKM. If you have a different AKM variant you might need an extra tool or two to get the job done.

AKM Parts Kit — $350-600$

If you want to build an AKM you'll need the parts. Typically parts kits range between $350 and $600 (including the barrel). There are quite a few surplus sites and action sites that sell them.

Keep in mind that this cost is in addition to the cost for tools and parts below.

Method #1, 100% Receiver — $537.99

This method can be used if your buying a 100% complete receiver from an FFL. You won't need to worry about spot welding, heat treating, or engraving. This makes it a pretty attractive method for new builders.

Tools Needed

Item Cost Purpose
Rivet Jaws $75 Install front trunnion rivets
24" Bolt Cutters $14.99 Install front trunnion rivets
Long Rivet Tool $125 Install rear trunnion rivets
Trigger Guard Rivet Tool $80 Install trigger guard rivets
Barrel Removal/Install Tool $90 Install the barrel
Total: $384.99

Note all the tools above are from Toth Tool (except the bolt cutter). These tools work by manually tightening bolts with a wrench in order to crush rivets, install the barrel, etc. AK-Builder makes similar tools that rely on a hydraulic press instead, I'll cover those in later methods.

Parts Needed

Item Cost Purpose
AKM Fixed Stock Rivets $9 Install trunnions, trigger guard
Center Support Rivet $7 Receiver
NDS-1 "EZ" Receiver $87 (+ FFL Transfer) Receiver
922(r) Compliance Parts $50+ (depending on configuration) 18 USC 922(r)
Total: $153

Keep in mind you'll still need to refinish (typically parkerizing) the rifle. I've covered the costs for those at the bottom of this post since it applies to all rifles regardless of how they were built.

Method #2, 80% Receiver Flat — $1,095.31

This method is more involved than a 100% receiver and involves bending a receiver flat and welding the rails to the receiver.

80% AK Receiver Flat Cost

Tools Needed

Item Cost Purpose
Hydraulic Press $129.99 Bending the flat, riveting
Flat Bending Die $234.95 Bending the receiver
Rail Alignment Tool $27.50 Welding rails
Spot Welder $169.99 Welding rails
Extended Tong $16.99 Welding rails
Trigger Guard Rivet Tool $65 Install trigger guard rivets
Riveting Tool $250 Riveting trunnions
Barrel Press Kit $95 Pressing barrel
Propane Torch $14.94 Heat Treating
Total: $1,004.36

Just a side note, the AK-Builder tools above use a hydraulic press. Some of those tools can be substituted for the Toth Tools covered in method #1, but the cost saving is only $25 and the hydraulic press gives significantly better results. Further, some folks with machine shop experience are able to fabricate their own jigs and tools (typically the riveting tools) and can reduce cost that way.

Parts Needed

Item Cost Purpose
AKM Fixed Stock Rivets $9 Install trunnions, trigger guard
Center Support Rivet $7 Receiver
Receiver Flat $24.95 Receiver
922(r) Compliance Parts $50+ (depending on configuration) 18 USC 922(r)
Total: $90.95

As with method #1, you'll need to refinish the rifle. I've covered the costs for those at the bottom of this post since it applies to all rifles regardless of how they were built.

Method #3, 80% Receiver Blank — $956.31

Using a receiver blank is similar to a receiver flat, except the bend is already made and a few different operations need to be completed instead.

AK 80% Receiver Blank Construction

Tools Needed

Item Cost Purpose
Hydraulic Press $129.99 Bending the flat, riveting
Blank Drilling Fixture $89.95 Completing the receiver
Rail Alignment Tool $27.50 Welding rails
Spot Welder $169.99 Welding rails
Extended Tong $16.99 Welding rails
Trigger Guard Rivet Tool $65 Install trigger guard rivets
Riveting Tool $250 Riveting trunnions
Barrel Press Kit $95 Pressing barrel
Propane Torch $14.94 Heat Treating
Total: $859.36

Just a side note, the AK-Builder tools above use a hydraulic press. Some of those tools can be substituted for the Toth Tools covered in method #1, but the cost saving is only $25 and the hydraulic press gives significantly better results. Further, some folks with machine shop experience are able to fabricate their own jigs and tools (typically the riveting tools) and can reduce cost that way.

Parts Needed

Item Cost Purpose
AKM Fixed Stock Rivets $9 Install trunnions, trigger guard
Receiver Blank $37.95 Receiver
922(r) Compliance Parts $50+ (depending on configuration) 18 USC 922(r)
Total: $96.95

Again, as with any of the other methods, you'll need to refinish the rifle. I've covered the costs for those at the bottom of this post since it applies to all rifles regardless of how they were built.

The Cost to Refinish an AK47 — $275 - $565.27

I included this as a separate cost, because it applies to all builds regardless of method. So, this cost is in addition to the cost of the build above.

Refinishing Services — $275

Many gunsmiths and shops offer refinishing and parkerizing services. These usually include all the prep and blasting work, as well as the finishing. Most costs I found were between $250 and $275 per rifle.

Do It Yourself — $565.27

The other option is to do it yourself. This definitely costs more, but if you're planning on doing a few builds the cost can be spread across several rifles. Also, if you already have any of the equipment listed, this may be a cheaper route for you.

Item Cost Purpose
Air Compressor $99.88 Surface preparation
Spray Gun $28.48 Surface preparation
100 Grit Blast Media $59.43 Surface preparation
Parkerizing Kit $337.49 Parkerizing
Portable Stove $39.99 Parkerizing
Total: $565.27

Cheaper to Build or Buy an AK47

Now that we've looked at the cost to build, we can compare prices.

Buying an AK can cost anywhere from under $600 for a WASR 10 to upward of $1,200 for an Arsenal. Building your own will cost anywhere between $1,200 and $2,200 depending primarily on three things, the cost of the parts kit, which build method you choose, and which finishing method you choose.

Based on that, its definitely less expensive to buy a single rifle than it is to build one. But there may be other reasons that make building an AKM more attractive than buying one, as well as some ways to reduce the cost.

Reasons to Build

Cost saving probably isn't an attractive reason to get into home-built firearms, but there are other reasons.

Pride in Ownership

People have a lot of pride in something they've built themselves. There is something special about spending time on the range and being asked, "Nice rifle, where did you get it?" and being able to respond "I built that."

Something to Pass to Future Generations

Home-builders can engrave their own firearms, so they can choose the model number and serial number. Passing a gift down to an heir engraved with something sentimental is definitely special.

Some People Just Like to Tinker

Some people are just engineering minded — they like figuring out how things work or building things as a hobby.

Building Something Custom That Otherwise Isn't Available

If you have an idea for a rifle that isn't otherwise available, home-building can be a way to build something that you wouldn't otherwise be able to get. Anything can be built from Short Barreled Rifles (SBR), to bullpups, to pistol builds.

That aside, there are still ways to make building an AKM more cost effective.

Reducing the Cost of an AK47 Build

Build With A Group

Some of the prices above can be reduced or eliminated by sharing tools. Sometimes groups of builders will get together to do group builds, where a few people bring their tools and allow other to share them in an all day (or weekend) event.

Not only are these events a great way to share tools, but also a great way to share experience. Seasoned builders can share their knowledge on everything from the best way to spot weld to the setting the magazine height properly.

Build Three

Most of the investment is in tooling, and that's a one time cost. Once you've made that investment, subsequent rifles can be built more cost effectively.

In fact it becomes cheaper to build than it is to buy right around the third rifle.

Cost to Build VS Buy AK47

Final Thoughts

There will always be more than one way to skin a cat. This information is intended to shed some light on the tools required, the methods, and the cost of building an AKM pattern rifle. If you're just starting out with home-building and doing some research, hopefully this has been helpful.

Got a question on one of the methods, or maybe something I didn't cover? Let me know in the comments below!

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View (7) Comments Post a Comment
  • Replying to Adam Konieska on Is it Cheaper to Buy or Build an AK47







  • choices
    Choices
    Sunday, June 7th 2015 at 2:43 AM

    Great Job Adam!
    Thanks for a very detailed explanation of the
    comparative cost choices building an AK.

    • Replying to Choices







  • jay
    Jay
    Monday, October 19th 2015 at 7:20 PM

    Thanks for doing this write-up. The parts kits are overpriced for what you're getting!

    • Replying to Jay







  • dns
    DNS
    Monday, November 30th 2015 at 1:39 PM

    You didn't figure cost of your time. We build AK types to sell as a manufacturing FFL. We have all the tools for press builds you mentioned plus other specialty tools, jigs, kiln for heat treatment etc. And all the tools for custom finishing. To take the typical cut up AK parts kit in a bag to a fully finished ready to sell rifle has at least 30 man hours. I estimate that to be our average start to finish. There is no way we can sell rifles for the same or less than what it costs to buy. However there are people who want something different than what you can find in a store and will pay.

    • Replying to DNS







    • Adam Konieska
      AK
      Monday, November 30th 2015 at 6:30 PM

      Good point. The article was geared toward hobbyists. Typically they're more concerned with their own craftsmanship and personal satisfaction than they are with time.

      • Replying to AK







  • lance d.
    Lance D.
    Wednesday, March 9th 2016 at 9:52 AM

    First off, your costs to build your own ak are a joke! If a person has any mechanical ability he can figure out how to build the project without all of the way over priced tools on the market! Doesn't take a genius to build your own "toth" barrel install and removal tool with scrap metal readily available from scrap yards or job sights everywhere. Allthread you can buy or I can bring it home from work in construction. Rivets can be set by hand with a ball peen hammer and patience. You just have to be willing to cut and drill and file or whatever it takes to make your own tools. They don't have to be store bought and they don't have to be pretty, just have to work. When I looked up some of the build tools online I had to laugh at the prices, sorry but I'll make my own and save my money. Common sense and know-how can save you a ton of money if you're willing to get dirty, most people aren't.

    • Replying to Lance D.







    • gus a
      Gus A
      Tuesday, October 10th 2017 at 10:26 PM

      You aggressively attack the article, which clearly states exactly what you're saying;
      "Further, some folks with machine shop experience are able to fabricate their own jigs and tools (typically the riveting tools) and can reduce cost that way."
      The author provides a benchmark for cost comparison by clearly articulating the market values for tooling currently available to the general public.
      Mechanical competence in the wider community is extremely divergent. If someone is not confident enough to fabricate their own tools, they can still get involved by purchasing what they need.
      It's a great article which will help people get involved in the hobby. In the end that's what's going to keep the industry alive, lots of people getting involved.
      Given how gifted you are, you should spend a couple of hours and smack together a bunch of tooling from a bunch of scrap, photograph the process and write a blog of your own on how it's done. Now THAT would be useful, way more useful than slagging off people who are trying to help.

      • Replying to Gus A







  • greg
    Greg
    Friday, May 6th 2016 at 11:46 PM

    Great article, thanks.

    • Replying to Greg