The Pak-Afghan Side-Folding AK Phenomena

Over the past few decades, a certain style of AK-pattern self-loading rifle or more specifically an AK variant feature has come out on top to be nicknamed the iconic 'Khyber AK' style by arms enthusiasts outside the Pak-Afghan region. This was destined to be so, especially after being seen in the hands of the infamous Usama Bin-Ladin, which helped propel this AK style into the limelight. Although it would be incorrect to assume one specific style to be the definitive Khyber modified or built AK type self-loading rifle ‘design’ due to the multitude of styles and variants manufactured in the Khyber region. The AKM or an AK-pattern rifle fitted with the iconic Russian skeleton triangle side-folding buttstock found on the AKS-74 and AKS-74U, has become that iconic piece. Not only that, but it truly is also one of the more popular choices for a folding buttstock within the Pak-Afghan region in general.

Fig.1.1. Usama Bin-Ladin with an Izhmash/Izhevsk produced Russian 7.62×39mm AKM converted to a side-folder (Source: ARES ConMat)

In the early 2000s during the US-led invasion and subsequent two-decade-long war in Afghanistan, many 7.62×39mm AK pattern self-loading rifles were spotted and/or observed by foreign troops on-the-ground which were being fielded by local forces, with modifications to add this type of Russian skeleton side-folding buttstock - something which wasn’t originally an option on those AK variants. Since then, it has only blossomed and grown to become a phenomenon in many firearm communities outside the region, most notably in the USA where companies and individuals have mocked up and produced their own AK-pattern rifles to imitate this design using genuine factory parts. Although this has now come to be the case in other countries too, we must forget the foreign love-affair with this modification and concentrate on the region of its origin and its own fascination with this intriguing design.

The real question is; how did the fascination with the folding stock come about? Looking at the region overall, the actual local demand for such a versatile buttstock and mechanism was the initial driving force for it to be replicated in the Khyber region, leading to the manufacture of an identical, or near-identical facsimile of the original trunnion and hinge mechanism and an identical-looking buttstock. During the Soviet-Afghan War gunsmiths and dealers of the region came into contact with multiple side-folding 5.45×39mm chambered AKS-74 and AKS-74U pattern rifles, which were either to be repaired or sold into their markets. With this, enough interest and increasing demand from buyers and/or other people looking to modify their rifles to replicate the skeleton side-folding stock style, they eventually must have realised that this pattern was better suited to many situations than the commonly available standard fixed and under-folding rifles available while also proving to be extremely profitable, hence the manufacture of the necessary parts in quantity and the large number of AK-pattern rifles modified to use this pattern of buttstock.

This modification to a standard AK rifle elegantly transforms the rather lengthy rifle making it much more compact than a standard fixed stock rifle, along with being a more solid buttstock to shoot with as it roughly mimics the standard fixed butt compared to the under folding butt style which is considerably less comfortable to shoot with, especially when used firing rapidly and on automatic.

Fig.1.1. A late AKM type rifle modified to use the Russian skeleton side-folder with some embellishments – Afghanistan (Source: ARES ConMat)

Of these upgrade parts, including the buttstock and accompanying mechanism, being produced in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region, there are actually a number of variants available from a number of manufacturers. One of these mechanisms which in the opinion of myself and a number of our colleagues in the Khyber region is undoubtedly the best overall and is interchangeable with its original counterpart found on the AKS-74U and AKS-74, making them relatively easy to fit to genuine stamped receiver rifles, another is a modification to an existing rear trunnion and receiver where it allows the receiver to utilise parts already installed in the rear requiring less work and therefore cheaper, however, the lock-up and mechanism is less-robust – these were the ones most commonly photographed in Afghanistan by US and allied forces.

The other variant which is used most widely these days is fit to milled receiver AK rifles and involves welding the hinge-axis to the rifle body itself instead of using a dedicated trunnion/hinge-plate combination and these are a more crude way of going about it, however, they do work if done well. However, it is the interchangeable kit made for the stamped receiver that is the highlight here and this is the type we will look at now. Again, this variant comes in a few different qualities, some using low quality and frankly unsuitable materials for the cheap end of the market and some using suitable materials which hold up and are made to last.

Fig.1.2. An early AKM type rifle modified to use the Russian skeleton side-folder. Note the standard fixed-stock trunnion and its two rivets compared to the three rivet side-folding trunnion – Afghanistan (Source: ARES ConMat)

Fig.1.3. A very crude but interesting modification to a Type 2 AK rifle, this one ha been shortened and had a side-folding mod. done (Source: @CMUTKA | TheAKForum)
Fig.1.4. Another crude but interesting modification to a Russian AKM rifle, this one has a and had a side-folding mod. done (Source: @CMUTKA | TheAKForum)
Fig.1.5. Two Soviet/Russian AKM rifles with modified rear trunnions and almost identical buttstocks (Source: @CMUTKA | TheAKForum)

Fig.1.6. A Type 3 AK shortened and modified to resemble an AKS-74U or ‘Krinkov’ has the side-folding modification for the side-folder (Source: @CMUTKA | TheAKForum)

You can see a closer look at the modification done to the existing stamped receiver AK rear trunnion which is very similar to some of these, we covered it in an earlier Silah Report article and linked video.

Converting An AK to a Side-Folder

Looking at the components for the conversion, there are multiple steps needed to be undertaken for each of them to be viable for use. Firstly, the buttstocks are manufactured locally with the steel being pressed into the struts and shapes needed using hydraulic presses and a die for each specific part, once that’s done, it’s then welded together to form the unfinished final piece without a hinge-pin connection which is left for the gunsmith to fit themselves usually. Secondly, the actual trunnion and integral hinge plate are machined from roughly cut billet steel into an in-the-white part which needs to be cleaned up and fitted to the individual rifle by the gunsmith. Thirdly, the latch/hinge button itself is produced from a rough L-shape piece of billet which is turned on a lathe on two ends leaving a part untouched which is the actual L-shape locking part of the latch, its left to the Gunsmith to fit this to the trunnion/hinge plate. Fourthly, the front latch which locks the buttstock closed is either cast into shape and cleaned up or machined from a small piece of billet and this again must be fit by the gunsmith. The remaining parts such as springs and pins are either brought from spring/pin suppliers or the pins are fashioned from correctly sized round steel bars by the smith. Each part is heat-treated, polished and colour finished were needed once the initial fitting is done.

The parts are made individually in separate factories specialising in that specific part, so the trunnion would be made in one shop, the actual folding buttstock in another, and so on and so forth. Some parts like the pins and springs are also supplied by other shops. The actual trunnion/hinge plate pattern used follows the Russian Tula factory design of a 6-degree slant, 4.5mm pin style found on the AKS-74 and AKS-74U from which this is copied.

An example of an original Russian, Tula manufacture AKS-74U, the factory parts and work that are done for the side-folding buttstock. These images can be used as a reference and comparison to the following images you will see.

Fig.2.1. Right face: a factory AKS-74U and close-up of the mechanism. The rifle is a registered short-barrel rifle in the United States built from an original AKS-74U parts kit and an American receiver. (Source: Silah Report Research Library)
Fig.2.2. Left face: a factory AKS-74U and close-up of the mechanism (Source: Silah Report Research Library)
Fig.2.3. An example of a part of one conversion package Source: Khyber Armoury)

The following images are examples from one gunsmith of the skeleton buttstock plus the accompanying mechanism and some of the small parts, all manufactured locally in the main manufacturing town of Darra Adamkhel, located in the former Federally Administered Tribal Area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. The workshops located there have the machinery and tooling setup for the whole process and have been manufacturing this type of mechanism and skeleton buttstock since at least the early 1990s, if not the late ’80s during the Soviet-Afghan war when the AK variants sporting the buttstock type first came onto their radar.

Fig.2.4. AK upgrade/modification package for Skeleton side-folder (Source: Khyber Armoury)

In the image above, only the main parts of the package are displayed, however, the whole modification package consists of: the actual rear trunnion which houses the hinge mechanism, hinge/latch button, hinge/latch spring, hinge/latch & spring retaining pin. hinge-pin, front locking latch, front locking latch spring and of course the buttstock.

Fig.2.5. AK upgrade/modification package for AK-100 side-folder (Source: Khyber Armoury)

Recently, in the last three to five years, a new type of locally produced buttstock has been introduced to the market. This one follows the AK-100 side-folding buttstock design and is made from glass-filled polymer with the integrated hinge-plate/locking block being steel. Again, like with most things manufactured in Darra or for Darra based manufacturers, there are varying qualities of these buttstocks with some using cheaper materials and some using more higher quality ones. These were actually reverse-engineered from the AK-100 series type buttstock that came on commercial SAIGA and genuine military AK-100 rifles that turned up in both Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last decade or so. The conversion package is the same as the skeleton buttstock one but with a change in buttstock. Although the AK-100 series works with a slightly different 4-degree angle and 5.5mm pin size to the earlier design, the gunsmiths have managed to fit them to the standard mechanism already manufactured but this leaves the angle slightly off when locked open which is an eyesore to those who are clued up to as how the AK is to look.

Looking at what these components are called locally, there are a few different terms used as Pashto, Urdu and English is used within the region. As standard British English is such a widely used language, also being one of the official languages of Pakistan, many of these names are just said in English as standard.

The buttstock or folding buttstock is simply called the butt or folding butt in English, there are local Pashto terms that can also be used such as Qondaagh ( کنډاګ ) however the English terms are most widely used, even outside the KPK region. The actual trunnion and integrated hinegplate would be called the Takkar ( ٹکر ) in both Pashto and Urdu. The other parts such as pins and springs would be called just that, again directly using the English words. The latch button would also be called the button. Again, words can be different in various regions or languages but the most widely used terms used are listed.

Fig.2.6. AK upgrade/modification package when assembled together (Source: Khyber Armoury)

Once the rifle has been prepped to be able to accept the mechanism, as there is some modification such as extra rivet holes and latch holes to be cut, the mechanism then needs to be fitted to the rifle as there are generous and differing tolerances between AK type rifles, especially as they’ve been manufactured by a whole slew of countries over the years. The above image shows the mechanism assembled together post-fitting to a rifle and is now ready for its finishing and heat-treating. This particular trunnion that’s pictured looks to be straight cut and not at a slant like its factory counterpart and this may be due to a request for this type to be made.

Fig.2.7. AK upgrade/modification mechanism when installed (Source: Khyber Armoury)

The actual trunnion and hinge mechanism once installed will look similar to what is shown above but will be cleaner and have its colour finish reapplied if that’s what the customer wants to be done.

Fig.2.8. Bulgarian AK-74 pattern rifle converted to an AKS-74U using local side-folding buttstock and mechanism (Source: Khyber Armoury Database)

Due to the exorbitant prices of original Russian AK-74, AKS-74 and AKS-74U rifles, Bulgarian AK-74-pattern self-loading rifles, which are now more readily available at affordable prices, are converted to AKS-74U ‘Krinkov’ carbines and these conversions for the folding stock uses the locally manufactured mechanism and buttstock along with other local components such as the combination front sight/gas-block and sometimes the front handguards also.

Fig.2.8. AKS-74U ‘Krinkov’ raw form fitting stage of build on milled faux-stamped receiver with the side-folding buttstock and mechanism (Source: Khyber Armoury)

Fig.2.9. AK101/AK-74M copy with polymer side-folding buttstock and side-folding mechanism added to the existing milled faux-stamped receiver (Source: Khyber Armoury)

As you can glean just from the images themselves and the description we have given, this is no simple task that requires more than the so-called use of simple hand tools and hewing hunks of scrap metal into shape by hand which many still associate with gunsmiths of the region. This conversion is a complex task that calls for the use of heavy machinery, specialised tooling, moulds and dies. This brief overview gives you a rough idea as to what goes into making this conversion/modification a reality; a slew of parts, machined or modified and then expertly fit to the rifle by a gunsmith to achieve the goal of having your own AK converted to a side-folder.

As newer technologies arise and trends change or fade away with time, you will undoubtedly see these being used less and less with people deciding to switch from having this conversion done to having their firearms either converted to accept adjustable buttstocks in place of these or using Chinese plug-and-play ones as we can see happening already. The Khyber manufacturing scene is adaptable as we already know all too well and they will undoubtedly accommodate anything the market calls for.

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