The following is a special guest review submitted by KJ.
The USSR introduced the AK-47 into military service in 1949. In 1959, the Soviets began replacing original AK-47s with an updated model, the AKM. In the United States today, AKM-pattern rifles are readily available, usually referred to generically (if not quite correctly) as AK-47s. Most are built using a parts kit from a former Communist country, limited to semi-auto fire and completed with enough U.S.-made parts to meet legal requirements.
As a result, the majority of AK rifles in the U.S. come with old military wooden stocks and other furniture (handguard, grip). This furniture is well-proven and functional. However, it was designed to be cheap to make, and to fit all soldiers well enough, even when they were wearing heavy winter coats and gloves. Americans are likely to want different ergonomics. Over the years, various companies have attempted to fill this market, usually by retrofitting AR-15 stocks to go on an AK.
Enter the Magpul MOE and Zhukov stock sets. I’ve used most of both sets on my AKs, and thought I’d offer pros, cons and opinions of the various parts compared with each other and also compared with standard military wooden furniture.
All items in all sets are made of the same tough plastic, and come in various colors – black, flat dark earth, plum, gray.
MOE stands for Magpul Original Equipment. This is the lower cost, simpler, lighter-weight option.
The MOE stock is fixed-length, with a triangle shape for lightweight strength. It has (in my opinion) better ergonomics than the original wooden stocks. It includes a so-called recoil pad made of very stiff rubber. The pad is so stiff that the recoil benefits are minor, but, this is an AK … most people don’t find recoil from the 7.62×39 round to be an issue. It’s mainly a way to adjust length of pull, and can be swapped out for different thickness pads.
There is a small storage compartment under the cheek rest on top, accessible using a bullet to push a button. The compartment is big enough for some small cleaning products such as a boresnake, or can hold batteries for optics.
The stock can accept elevated cheek rests, sold as an optional accessory, for use with optics. The standard cheek rest is good for iron sights and low-rise optics such as red dots.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To some people, it will look refreshingly modern. To others, it’s an ugly piece of plastic taking the place of a classic wooden stock. If you’re reading reviews of it, you’re probably more in the first camp than the second.
I like the stock’s simplicity and sturdiness, and the price (around $60) is fair. But if I’m going to replace stocks anyway, I’d personally also want an adjustable stock. For that reason, I went with the Zhukov, which I’ll discuss below. If you don’t care about adjustability or if you don’t want to go past the $60 range, this may be the stock for you.
The MOE handguard (also referred to as a forend), like the original AKM wooden handguard, comes in two pieces.
The larger piece is held on by the handguard retaining plate and pushes into the receiver below the barrel for stability. It includes slots for the M-Lok rail system to allow attachment of accessories at three positions – 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, 9 o’clock. The rails you need to attach most accessories are sold separately, but are cheap and readily available. Inside is an aluminum heat shield.
The smaller piece goes on the gas tube. It rotates on just like the original. It provides no functionality beyond keeping you from burning your hand on the gas tube and is functionally identical to the original Soviet part, only made of vented plastic to cosmetically match the lower part of the handguard.
Compared with the original handguard set, ergonomics are generally similar. I think there are three important differences.
1 – M-Lok rail system.
2 – The handguard has a “lip” at the front that is both warning and defensive buffer to keep you from touching the nuclear-meltdown-hot barrel you’ll have after shooting a few magazines.
3 – Looks. If you are ok with polymer furniture instead of wood (and again, if you weren’t, you probably wouldn’t be reading this), this is a good-looking set.
It feels sturdy, with no wiggling on the two AKs I’ve tried it on. In fact, it was difficult to install the upper piece onto the gas tube I wanted to use, it was so tight. Once on, it’s difficult to remove.
This handguard works with the standard AKM handguard retaining ring. Price is around $35.
The MOE grip is a bit wider than the original Soviet grip, with more modern texturing. I can’t say it makes a difference in how I hold or fire the gun, and I’d consider it mainly a cosmetic addition to match the other pieces. However, it does include a small storage compartment, large enough for a battery or other very small item. There is no Zhukov grip; whether you decide to go all MOE, all Zhukov or mix and match, the grip will be MOE. Price is around $20. There is also an “MOE Plus” version for a few dollars more that includes rubber overmolding and finger grooves. The MOE picture above shows the standard grip; the Zhukov picture below shows the MOE Plus grip.
The name “Zhukov” refers to perhaps the most famous Soviet general from World War II. As far as I know, Gen. Zhukov had little if anything to do with AK-47 or AKM design. I imagine Magpul just thought it would be a good name for marketing purposes.
The Zhukov stock not only has adjustable length, but it also folds to the side. Both functions are robust, with positive lockup. To adjust length, pull up on the lever and slide the end of the stock. Release the lever and snap it into place. There are multiple length settings to fit nearly any shooter. To fold it, push a (rather stiff) button on the left and it’ll unlock. Then turn it to the right side and you’ll feel it lock into place. To unfold, simply pull on it until it’s straight and you’ll hear it lock into that position again.
The gun can be operated and fired with the stock folded. Somewhat unusually, it folds to the right, to avoid interfering with the optics rail on the left side of the gun. This means it partially obstructs the safety lever. You can still operate it, but it’s a little more difficult. You can still easily manipulate the bolt handle, and when properly installed, the handle will not collide with the stock during operation. One thing to add is, on one AK I tried this on (made by Palmetto State), the stock fit the rear trunnion snugly at the bottom, but had a small gap near the top. This resulted in enough of a tilt that the bolt handle collided with the buttpad while the stock was folded, gouging it. Make sure no gaps where the stock meets the gun and you shouldn’t have this problem. It’s fine on my converted Saiga.
Of course, the main purpose of a folding stock for many buyers is for storage purposes, and the Zhukov reduces the gun’s overall length as well as most folding stocks. When folded with a standard-length barrel, overall length is somewhere around 26” plus whatever you have threaded onto the muzzle.
Like the MOE stock, the Zhukov stock has a very stiff rubber “recoil pad in name only” that is more for adding to length. Also like the MOE, the pad can be swapped out for one of a different thickness.
One disadvantage of the Zhukov stock is that it has no storage compartment. Looking at the design, it’s easy to see why, as there is no wasted space that could be used for this purpose.
As someone who values the stock’s features, I can heartily recommend it if the features are also of interest to you. But if you don’t care about adjustability or folding, the MOE stock is a better bargain. The Zhukov stock costs about $95.
The Zhukov handguard is much longer than standard AKM handguards and is not compatible with the retaining plate. To use this handguard on most AKs, you will need to cut off the plate, a permanent modification that means standard-length handguards will never fit again unless you replace it. My converted Saiga did not have this plate to begin with, so no problem as far as I was concerned. But if you do have the retaining plate (and if you don’t know for sure … you probably do), this is something to seriously consider.
Like the MOE handguard, the Zhukov hand guard has slots for M-Lok rails at three positions. Also like the MOE handguard, it has an internal aluminum heat shield.
The Zhukov attaches a bit differently than the MOE. The MOE simply pushes into the receiver and then locks against the retaining plate like a standard AKM wooden handguard. To install the Zhukov, you clamp the heat shield to the barrel using included clamps, then you slide the plastic piece onto the heat shield and attach it with two screws.
The upper piece for the gas tube is identical to the one that comes with the MOE handguard.
There really is no difference other than length, but that is an important difference in that it affects how you hold the rifle, what accessories will fit, the weight of the rifle, as well as the question about whether to cut off the handguard retaining plate.
In my opinion – I like some aspects of the Zhukov, mainly that it gives more flexibility for how to hold the gun and where to place accessories, and it further reduces the risk of touching a heart-of-the-volcano barrel. But, I prefer the weight of the MOE version, and of course the MOE costs less. The Zhukov handguard costs about $95.
My opinion is that all of these items are of excellent quality, and offer reasonable value for what you get. I recommend them all depending what gun you have and what configuration you prefer – as well as, obviously, how much cash you want to put into this upgrade. A full MOE set will cost around $115-$125. A full Zhukov set (with MOE grip) will cost a little north of $200. That’s a considerable difference, so I’d only suggest the Zhukov options if the features seem like must-haves. In my opinion, the best setup for many users will be Zhukov stock and MOE handguard. With grip, that will cost about $150.
Whichever you pick, you will be adding robust, ergonomic furniture and a modern look, bringing a warhorse designed more than 70 years ago into the 21st century.