Updated: May 6
An often-misunderstood topic in regards to Darra-E / ‘Khyber’ AK’s, is the type or variation of receivers that are produced in the Pak-Afghan, FATA, tribal region. Particularly noted are a variation of milled receiver that are machined and fashioned in such a sense, they imitate a standard stamped receiver so well that at a glance you would not be able tell if it was a genuine stamped receiver or not.
Once people find out that this receiver is made as such, the recurring question asked is why this occurs and why, even though stamped receivers are more commonly available due to their longer period in mass-production, these milled copies are ever so present in one form or another from the ‘Khyber’/FATA region. Even though AK pattern rifles are built in the area in almost the exact same way as any other mass-produced AK, there will always be questions as to how or why things are fashioned or produced in a certain way due to the nature of the conditions people associate with them. I will dispel some of the myths and/or misconceptions in regards to the receiver types and explain all of that to you right here.
To start with, the thinking behind these milled, faux-stamped receivers is simple and actually not complex in any way. These variations were simply made as milled receivers due to the ease of manufacturing them as a solid milled or CNC machined piece rather than making them from stampings. The gunsmiths in the region however much talented of individuals they are, currently aren’t proficient enough with stampings and the success rate for them, much like the original Type 1 AK-47 stamped receivers, is very low. Another lesser reason is also that the local people who buy these guns, prefer the longevity of the so-called ‘double-body’ milled receivers but want a newer looking rifle (AKM and newer). These receivers are the best of both worlds, they have that milled receiver durability and they look almost identical to the stamped variation! I agree that yes, stamped receivers are easier and cheaper to produce than a milled one in most instances however the production of the stampings is harder for the gunsmiths in the current condition they are in and with the tooling they are set up for, it takes more time and labour work to correctly fabricate one than simply having a receiver CNC machined or milled. A stamped receiver, exact spec, quality made copy can be achieved but these are around double the price of a bog-standard milled/faux-stamped receiver AK rifle, due to the factors mentioned above. This also helps in driving up the popularity and demand for the cheaper, more ‘durable’, milled variations.
On to the milled, faux-stamped receiver copies. As seen in the video above, the actual milled receiver is internally milled to the specification of the standard milled AK-47 but modified slightly to work with the external features that they have added. The gunsmiths have milled small ‘dimples’ to imitate the spot-weld marks on the stamped receiver AK’s, plus have milled a cut above the magazine well in the shape of a stamped receiver dimple to imitate those found on a stamped receiver, finally they have also drilled rivet holes and crushed rivets into place within them to produce the riveted stamped look. Their ingenuity is astounding, yet even though those rivets are non-essential and hold nothing in (as the internal dynamics of a milled receiver incorporate the entire inner working within it apart from the trigger pins and selector lever), they have gone the whole length to imitate the stamped receiver.
A copy of a Bulgarian AKS-74 ‘ AK100 series with milled, faux-stamped receiver. Note the polymer side-folding buttstock and furniture, not originals but made in the region too.
Next in line is the standard stamped variation which is clearly not as fascinating as the milled type seeing as it is just more of the same old thing we are used to seeing. As shown in the video, the stamped rifle is clearly identical to a stamped receiver one, however the one shown is a cheaper finished copy. Don’t get me wrong. it is still a quality build and looks like an original rifle but less care is taken in final finishing so the rivets are not always uniform, the selector stops for each setting have not had as much time into them so are blemished and finally the markings are the same but still are not identical to the actual Chinese fonts. This gives it away as being a copy once a discerning eye is cast over it and sees those inaccuracies. The stamped receiver isn't the interesting thing about the Khyber AK builds, it always come back to the milled, faux-stamped receiver and the ingenuity behind it.
Don’t forget, these gunsmiths will make you anything you ask for (within reason), if you wish markings to be a certain way or you want them to create a unique piece (even the legendary AKMSU in the National Firearms Centre, Leeds), engrave your guns, fashion new parts, they will do it! One last thing which we will go into greater detail on at a later date is the way these AK’s are built and the way parts are made and assembled. All the parts are made individually with some shops fabricating certain parts entirely themselves and some shops making a specific type of part and providing these to other shops where they assemble and finish the final product. An old variation I did talk about in a previous video I did was one with parts that looked as if they were machined directly to the barrel, this was the case with that particular rifle and I have not seen another like this at all so is not indicative of the quality or builds that are made in general within Darra or the greater Khyber / FATA region.
Something to note is a current trend that seems to be appearing where people are rearing themselves away from the stamped and moving back to milled as can be seen in some European and North-American firearm communities outside of Pakistan. I believe that this type of receiver is sure to be popular within the AK communities if it was ever introduced and I can say that even though stamped receiver AK’s are all-around a better design due to their lighter nature and also because that is what they were designed to be, this is indeed a step in a more interesting direction for firearms design.
Here are examples of both receiver types: A Type 56-2 copy with a milled, faux-stamped receiver (top) and a Type 56-1 copy with standard stamped receiver (bottom).