AK47 or VZ 58 charging handle/safety on wrong side, sight radius too short?


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leadcounsel
November 2, 2010, 08:00 AM
So, I've often thought that the AK47 style platform (and VZ58) are generally well designed and very good platforms, near the top of the food chain.

However, it has often occured to me that the charging handle and safety location on the right side was poorly thought out. Most shooters are right handed. There are benefits to designing on the left side for ease of use with the left hand. I have praticed techniques to reach over and under the weapon with the left hand, but it is slower and more awkward.

I have also seen a product that creates a forward (G3-like) left side charging handle on the AK platform, but I'm not interested in it.

I've also wondered why the rear sight was placed at the mid section of the weapon and not further rearward. While the receiver cover is not stable, it seems that a solid base could have been fashioned to post a rear sight on the original design.

I know there are aftermarket products out there, but these design "flaws" (if you will) seem like glaring errors on an otherwise great platform.

Is this nit-picking or do others feel the same way?

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benEzra
November 2, 2010, 08:10 AM
Unfortunately, the AK (and many other rifles of that the 1930's through the 1960's, such as the SKS, M1 Garand, M14, M1 carbine, etc.) were designed when charging with the shooting hand was in vogue, perhaps a holdover from the days of bolt-actions. Even the original AR-15/M16 was originally designed for right-hand charging, which is why the charging handle doesn't hold up so well to extended charging with the left hand unless you upgrade to a handle designed for it, e.g. the BCM Gunfighter.

I do agree that loading and charging with the support hand makes far more sense, whatever platform you are shooting.

ultradoc
November 2, 2010, 08:13 AM
In the past couple of years I got interested in AKs. I was always an AR man but a buddy introduced me to AKs [thanks!]. It took a little while to get use to having the charging handle on the right side of the AK. I also wasn't used to the bolt not staying open when the last round was fired.

GunTech
November 2, 2010, 08:28 AM
The sight think always bothered me, but keep in mind that the Soviets viewed the AK as product improved SMG, not a rifle. Doctrine was to unmount their BMPs and engage the enemy at 50 meters or so. In this context, the sights on the AK make sense.

The Finns and Israelis adopted the AK with a rear peep sight. The Israelis also addressed the charging handle by bending it vertically to make it easier to access with the left hand, and added a selector switch on the left hand of the receiver.

Perhaps you just need a Galil. :)

http://guntech.com/galil/golani_fastfire-1.jpg

leadcounsel
November 2, 2010, 08:35 AM
I also wasn't used to the bolt not staying open when the last round was fired.

There are special AK mags that have a last round bolt hold open feature (so I'm told).

kwelz
November 2, 2010, 08:37 AM
There are a couple of things to consider here. All of them having to do with the intended purpose of the rifle and the time it was developed.

First off remember that this was made to be a simple rifle for simple people.
You don't work the safety a lot. You flip it off before combat and start shooting. No fancy Safety off, engage, safety one, repeat.

Secondly The charging handle should not be on the left side. Most shooters are right handed. This means a left handed CH would be flying at their face all the time and if they gripped the rifle badly, could damage the support hand.

Finally the sights. Tactics were changing. Nobody was sure where this whole armored warfare thing was going to take is. The idea at the time was that Russian troops would ride up in an APC and get out within 50 Yards of the enemy. When you are that close to the enemy you don't need peep sights that work out to 600 yards. In fact remember that while Stoner created a 20 inch Rifle, Mr. K created a 16 inch Carbine. It could be argued that in this regards the AK was a much smarter design.

Sam1911
November 2, 2010, 08:58 AM
There are special AK mags that have a last round bolt hold open feature (so I'm told).


There are, but they're about half useless. Yes, they let you know (if you're paying attention) that the gun ran dry, but since the bolt is just hung up on a protrusion of the follower, as soon as you drop the mag, the bolt slams shut. So you have to rack the charging handle again when you get the new mag in anyway.

sturmgewehr
November 2, 2010, 11:08 AM
Secondly The charging handle should not be on the left side. Most shooters are right handed. This means a left handed CH would be flying at their face all the time and if they gripped the rifle badly, could damage the support hand.
There are rifles such as the FAL that have the charging handle on the left side. It's a matter of design/engineering to make this both safe and practical.

Then you have rifles like the G36 that has a charging handle that can be accessed with either the left or right hand.

As to the Vz.58, the safety is pretty easy to manipulate compared to the safety of the AK. The index finger can easily engage the safety with very little practice. It forces the user to remove their trigger finger from the trigger, which isn't entirely a bad practice on a rifle meant for conscripts.

kwelz
November 2, 2010, 11:35 AM
True but remember the biggest thing about the AK was ease of production. They wanted something as basic and durable as possible.

What part of Indiana are you from by the way?

EAJ
November 2, 2010, 02:01 PM
There are special AK mags that have a last round bolt hold open feature (so I'm told).

There are, but they're about half useless. Yes, they let you know (if you're paying attention) that the gun ran dry, but since the bolt is just hung up on a protrusion of the follower, as soon as you drop the mag, the bolt slams shut. So you have to rack the charging handle again when you get the new mag in anyway.


Yugo mag's have this feature. It's not a completely useless feature when you're shooting at a range that requires the firearm to be unloaded and bolt open (cold range). :)

Z-Michigan
November 2, 2010, 02:37 PM
Most of it has been said already, but just keep in mind, the AKM was designed above all for:
-simplicity
-reliability
-low cost
-ease of mass production in enormous numbers with the resources of a barely developed nation

Considering when it was designed, I think the design has held up extremely well. And I do agree with the apparent defects you've identified; just see my first paragraph though.

Sam1911
November 2, 2010, 02:52 PM
... when you're shooting at a range that requires the firearm to be unloaded and bolt open (cold range).

As long as the range's definition of "unload / show clear" allows mags to still be in the gun.

I'd rather use a bore flag. Actually, I'd rather be on a "hot" range, but that's a different subject.

Wispa
November 2, 2010, 04:07 PM
While it doesn't really bother me I don't know why they haven't started using a different safety lever described below.

As you've said, there are aftermarket parts to correct some of these things. For example, the safety lever that's made with a bolt hold open cut out and extended finger tab. With the extended tab it's not hard to use your pointer finger to flick it up to the safe position. Some places with modify an existing lever if you send it in. Something like this would make sense to install right at the factory.

benEzra
November 2, 2010, 07:50 PM
As you've said, there are aftermarket parts to correct some of these things. For example, the safety lever that's made with a bolt hold open cut out and extended finger tab. With the extended tab it's not hard to use your pointer finger to flick it up to the safe position. Some places with modify an existing lever if you send it in. Something like this would make sense to install right at the factory.
I like the finger tab, but not the notch for the charging handle. The AK's safety serves the same purpose as the ejection port cover on an AR, i.e. to help keep sand, mud, and other debris out of the action when the gun isn't being fired. Cutting a big notch in that cover may make sense on a competition gun, but I wouldn't personally want that on mine. Being able to work the safety with the index finger is a big help, though.

briansmithwins
November 2, 2010, 07:55 PM
The charging handles for the M1, M14, SKS and AK are on the right side for one reason: The bureaucracies paying for those weapons wanted them that way.

I suspect that that reason was trying to keep with generations of experience using repeating rifles, most all of which are operated with the left hand. I do recall from a book about Garands that the design required the rifle to be operable as a straight pull action in case the gas system was rendered unserviceable.

The Germans invented the first mass produced assault rifle and as far as I'm aware, were the first to put the charging handle on the left side. That the FAL followed that design cue is not surprising.

Of course, left side charging handles are not without problems too: Either you make the charging handle reciprocating and possibly have it hang up on the body of the shooter if firing from odd positions or make it fixed, which is going to require you to add another part (or more) and probably won't be as tough as a charging handle that's machined out of the body of the bolt carrier.

As far as the bolt hold open goes: It's another design choice the AK shares with the G3 and SLR (British FAL) all of which lack automatic bolt hold opens. The original (metric) FAL design has a bolt hold open but the British found that during trials soldiers were moving (and falling down) with empty rifles that had the bolts open. As a result debris were getting into the rifles and causing stoppages. The Brits modified the design to eliminate the automatic bolt hold open feature but retained the manually operated version.

The sights are pretty much state of the art tangent target sights, for 1890. Same basic design as the Mosin-Nagant rifle and various machine guns the Sov used. They work and are simple and rugged. About sight radius, tangent sights don't work if the rear blade is too close to the eye as you can't focus on it. Personally, I'll take the squared off post and notch of a AK every day of the week over the inverted V in a V of the Mauser design. How those guys ever hit anything with those sights is beyond me.

BSW

Z-Michigan
November 2, 2010, 08:49 PM
It's another design choice the AK shares with the G3 and SLR (British FAL) all of which lack automatic bolt hold opens

The G3 design is not readily compatible with the standard way of running a last shot bolt hold-open. Maybe with some funky mechanism it could be, but not easily. Just another sign of the questionable compromises on that most holy grail of HK awesomeness.

But I digress.

stubbicatt
November 2, 2010, 09:05 PM
If you look at the evolution of these designs, first in US, you have the 1903 which loads from chargers or stripper clips. These are manipulated with the right hand, as is the bolt handle on the bolt action. Advance a generation, the M1 Garand, also loaded with clips, this time en bloc clips. Enter the M14, initially equipped with a charger slot for loading the magazines in the weapon. Arguably a detachable box magazine type rifle, the charger was in place for use by right handed riflemen to top up the magazine. Both the Garand and the M14 have the bolt handle on the right side, as the method of loading favors the strong hand, which is for most riflemen the right hand.

The M16 changed that, but it was primarily and solely a detachable box magazine.

Same with the Soviets: Mosin Nagant: stripper clip. Tokarev rifle? Stripper clip. Simonev Carbine? Stripper clip... all right hand bolts. The carryover training from any of these rifles to the Kalashnikov would of course suggest a right hand charging handle.

Or so it seems. :)

Hatterasguy
November 2, 2010, 09:32 PM
Well you have to remember when they were built and what for, the AK is a 40's design, when most military's were using bolt and sub guns. The STG44 only beat it by a couple of years. This is way before Stoner even dreamed about building the AR, so just about everything was right hand charging and loaded with stripper clips.

The safety wasn't a big deal, it wasn't meant for tactical building entry, quick flip on, than off. Its primary purpose is to keep dirt out of the action. You rode up to the front in trucks, and when you got close enough to shoot your took it off and started shooting. It wasn't designed to be engaged and disengaged every 5 minutes.

As for the right charging handle that's a throwback to bolt guns and it works just fine if you use it properly. Shoulder the rifle, charge with the right hand. Or just charge the weapon before you shoot it.

The Russians never really gave much thought to ergonomics with all their military equipment. Ease of manufacture and reliability were by far the most important. The solider was expected to adapt to the rest.

briansmithwins
November 2, 2010, 10:11 PM
As far as ergonomics goes, the AK is actually pretty good: All the controls are close to each other and easily worked by the right hand.

With a AR it's like you're playing a piano: Right hand gets the trigger and mag release, left hand works the bolt release, safety, and charging handle.

BSW

Vertical453
November 2, 2010, 10:35 PM
Right hand gets the trigger and mag release, left hand works the bolt release, safety, and charging handle.

Right hand gets the safety!

Carl N. Brown
November 2, 2010, 10:45 PM
With autolaoding firearms, usually the charging handle track is an extension of the ejection port, so you would want those gas-leaking openings opposite the shooters face. For right handed shooters you want the left side of the receiver solid. (IIRC, BAR and FN FAL and Remington Speedmaster put the charging handle on the left, but the charging systems of those guns are more complicated than the AK.)

The right hand charging handle also forces people to take the finger off the trigger when chambering a round. Intentional or not, it helps prevent AD/ND.

Yes, the sight radius is short, but with the AK design the only thing solid with the barrel to which to attach a rear sight is the barrel trunnion.

GunTech
November 2, 2010, 11:46 PM
Don't forget that a reciprocating charging handle also works as a forward assist. A non-reciprocating one requires a more complicated solution.

Yes: The AK, M1 garand, M1 carbine, M14, etc all have 'forward assists'. You hit the charging handle with the palm of your right hand. The nonly thing unique about this feature in the M16A1 and later is that it is a separate mechanism. The Israeli FAL had a modified charging handle that allowed it to also function as a forward assist.

Maverick223
November 3, 2010, 11:59 AM
IMO the AK is the most un-ergonomic rifle devised...the poorly designed safety being the primary culprit. OTOH I consider the VZ.58 to be much improved (but still not as good as some designs). The sight radius is a problem for both, and one that could have been easily corrected in the design phase.

:)

Wispa
November 3, 2010, 12:09 PM
I like the finger tab, but not the notch for the charging handle. The AK's safety serves the same purpose as the ejection port cover on an AR, i.e. to help keep sand, mud, and other debris out of the action when the gun isn't being fired. Cutting a big notch in that cover may make sense on a competition gun, but I wouldn't personally want that on mine. Being able to work the safety with the index finger is a big help, though.

I agree. Mine still has its stock lever as I don't see a need to replace it for the BHO feature, but I like the tab idea too. Someday I may replace it with an extended tab version. I just wanted to throw out options for anyone who may be interested. :)

briansmithwins
November 3, 2010, 01:15 PM
Right hand gets the safety!

You are correct sir. I was thinking about shooting a AR with non-standard ambi-safety switch and how that safety hits your right hand. A standard AR would have the safety removed with the right thumb.

As for the AK's safety, a better way to run the safety on that rifle is with your right hand forward with your thumb on the safety, like the guy in the pic below. That also puts your hand in a convenient position to run the charging handle if you were carrying the rifle with the safety on and an empty chamber.

BSW

http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y3/briansmithwins/entersite.jpg

akolleth
November 3, 2010, 02:09 PM
I for one like my charging hadle right where it is (on the right) My right hand is my dominant and its what I feel more comfortable using to rack an action.

Try racking the action on a Fal with your off hand with a new stiff spring set. It is quite unpleasant to say the least.

Robert
November 3, 2010, 02:18 PM
Secondly The charging handle should not be on the left side. Most shooters are right handed. This means a left handed CH would be flying at their face all the time and if they gripped the rifle badly, could damage the support hand.
Unless you are say FN, and have figured out that the charging handle need not reciprocate with the bolt in say the late 1950's. The ergonomics and control locations on the FN FAL are perhaps the best of any battle or combat rifle ever. Big statement I know. But having had to clear numerous jams, my fault, and mags it is simple to do with the left hand while the right hand easily controls the rifle.

Maverick223
November 3, 2010, 02:19 PM
I for one like my charging hadle right where it is (on the right) My right hand is my dominant and its what I feel more comfortable using to rack an action.I feel the same way. I generally "sling-up" which effectively ties up my left arm/hand, making my right the primary hand for controls. If not slinging up, I can just reach over (this is aided by the tilted handle on the VZ.58). Works for me.

OTOH, I like the FAL, and can operate it pretty well too...IMO it just comes down to training.

:)

stubbicatt
November 3, 2010, 09:08 PM
Neat rifles. I have no issue with the Kalashnikov, but then I think everyone who has used a weapon in a deep doo doo situation and comes out the other side thinks highly of it. The short sight radius is not an issue. I mean really. If I can reliably hit a bleach bottle at distances greater than 400 meters with a Kalashnikov from unslung kneeling position, how much more accurate do you need? That's a headshot fer kripes sake!

Ah well. To each his own.

Dumptruck
November 3, 2010, 11:28 PM
The Polish decided to add a thumb safety to try to make the AK more user friendly.

Polish Beryl

http://img369.imageshack.us/img369/407/deb07ym3.jpg (http://img369.imageshack.us/i/deb07ym3.jpg/)

Uploaded with ImageShack.us (http://imageshack.us)

Wish we got kits in the U.S.

Dumptruck
November 3, 2010, 11:31 PM
Another Beryl image.

http://img167.imageshack.us/img167/1183/5149960nc.jpg (http://img167.imageshack.us/i/5149960nc.jpg/)

Uploaded with ImageShack.us (http://imageshack.us)

Carter
November 3, 2010, 11:34 PM
I know there are aftermarket products out there, but these design "flaws" (if you will) seem like glaring errors on an otherwise great platform.


Your stated flaws are reasons why I think the XCR is a great platform that is underrated. It brings together all the great aspects of a FAL, AK, and AR.

Problem solved.

Also, if you look for videos of specialized AK training and practice, the AK flaws really aren't that bad. Very different and unneeded with newer rifles though.

nalioth
November 4, 2010, 04:16 AM
The Polish decided to add a thumb safety to try to make the AK more user friendly.Actually, that's not a safety.

The safety on the Polish Tantal and Beryl is in the usual position (where Mr. Kalashnikov put it). What you are referring to is the fire selector lever, which allows the shooter to choose between single shot, 3 round burst and full auto.


AFAIK, only the Israelis have installed a right side thumb safety (http://world.guns.ru/assault/galil-arm-l.jpg) to their Kalashnikov derivative.

John Locke
November 4, 2010, 05:10 AM
Why is everybody saying that the AK has a short sight radius? It's exactly the same as on an AR-15.

Tirod
November 4, 2010, 08:23 AM
Another aspect of right side charging handles completely missed in this discussion is that they are much more easily manipulated and opened when standing in ranks for inspection. The Old School Army had much more drill and ceremony in the daily schedule, open ranks inspection was frequent, and with weapons inspection, much more easily done with a right side charging handle.

From side lock muzzle loader, to bolt action, to gas action, multiple generations of soldiers were taught and passed down the rituals of Inspection Arms, and considered it to be important that the weapon conform to easy manipulation. Tactical requirements in the field have always been slow to adopt and hard to document and justify.

What is now appreciated is that a left hand charging receiver can be cycled by the off hand while the weapon is held up and aimed. Much of the reason is that it's not an 11 pound .30 caliber - try holding any 50's battle rifle by the right hand and shoulder only. It's not really feasible - but with the light assault rifle pattern with pistol grip, much more so. A rapid bolt cycle is not only possible with the sights on target, present tactics use it more often because the soldier is upright and moving over ground wearing armor, not prone, covered, and protected enough to take the time.

What you are seeing is 1930's battle tactics vs. 2010. Look at the modern carbines introduced for sale, adopted for use, and track the overwhelming trend for a left hand charger upper. With some design elegance, they even swap sides and allow lefties the same ability, trigger hand on the grip and off hand cycling the bolt.

Why even bother? Because more shooters DON'T use the handle as a forward assist. The reaction response to a jam is jack that round out and even replace the magazine. You can do that faster, and the likelihood of returning to 100% effectiveness is much higher. Figure out what's wrong with it later, there are shooters aiming at you. Pushing a bolt forward on a reluctant round is much more likely to make things worse than better.

Modern designs have off side charging handles and controls that help the shooter stay in the fight, shooting, with frequent mag changes and a lot of rounds going out. Tactics have changed, weapons are changing with them.

GunTech
November 4, 2010, 09:19 AM
The sight radius on an AK is 3 inches shorter than an M4. It's 7 inches shorter than an AR-15/M-16. I think the primary complain is that it doesn't have the peep sight under the shooter's eye, which is not a failing in a 'superior SMG' but does not lend itself to precision shooting. Of course this type of sight was also used on the Mauser 98, SMLE MkIII and M1903 and 1903A1 rifles, so go figure.

Hatterasguy
November 4, 2010, 09:24 AM
Its a machine gun first, the sight radius is fine.

Carl N. Brown
November 4, 2010, 11:34 AM
I find the Yugo mags have the same advantages and dis-advantages as the M1 carbine 30 shot mags.

On the Yugo mags at matches, last shot hold-open alerts me to end-of-string and allows me to insert a yellow CMP flag without fighting the bolt handle.

While I anticipate no combat, the bolt locked open would be a better alert to empty mag than a *click* for those in combat.

Maverick223
November 4, 2010, 01:40 PM
I find the Yugo mags have the same advantages and dis-advantages as the M1 carbine 30 shot mags.Agreed. While I like the BHO feature on the M1Carbine magazines for range use, I find they are of little utility for serious use. OTOH they do have a different feel due to the the shorter recoil as the bolt hangs up. I am sure the Yugo mags are the same.

:)

HorseSoldier
November 4, 2010, 10:31 PM
Some observations on the strengths/weaknesses of the AK:

1) The sights -- I disagree with everyone who argues that accuracy wasn't a consideration, or it was meant as a bullet hose, etc. As briansmithwins already noted, the sights are the same pattern that was used on the Mosin-Nagant rifle and, if I'm not mistaken, every other service rifle/musket ever fielded by the Russian military. There's no acceptance of degraded or less capable iron sights on the AK, the Russians just used what had been working for them for decades.

2) The ergonomics on the rifle have nothing to do with ease of manufacture. They may have a lot to do with ease of training or, more specifically, insuring that troops with limited firearms training have to remove their finger from the trigger when doing any other control manipulations.

You rode up to the front in trucks, and when you got close enough to shoot your took it off and started shooting. It wasn't designed to be engaged and disengaged every 5 minutes.

Russian troops are actually trained to use the safety any time they are up and moving except in a final assault/overrun sort of scenario. For fire and maneuver type situations, safety comes off after you reach cover/concealment, you shoot, and then safety back on before you come back up to move again.

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