by Rob Kay
As everyone knows, last year marked the death of Mikhail Kalashnikov, the designer of the legendary AK 47. Even if you didn’t see the ubiquitous press coverage of Kalashnikov’s demise, you’d have to be living in a cave for the past 50 years not to understand how pervasive the influence of his rifle was.
At SHOT 2014, the mother of all firearms industry trade shows, you couldn’t go anywhere on the floor of the Sands Convention Center without bumping into an image of General Kalashnikov, his chest brimming with decorations. The fact that he was a cold war hero of the Soviets didn’t seem to bother anyone at the show.
On the contrary, he was and is recognized for his iconic rifle which has captured the imagination of millions of Americans. Although it first entered service in the late 1940s, it wasn’t available to people in this country in any great quantities until the iron curtain fell. Since then, many people in this country have become true believers.
Demand has increased over the last few years and one observer, And with good reason. Americans are a pragmatic people and know a good thing when they see it. As soon as the AK became popular in this country, people started making accessories.
One long time observer, Rob Ski, founder of the AK Operators Union Local 47-74, recently commented that 2014 will be the year of the AK. The overall quality of AK rifles built in this country, says Ski, has improved dramatically from what he experienced in the 90’s. He’s set for a boom. (Like Mr. Krebs, of all the AK variants out there, his preference is the Saiga).
So what will the future of the AK platform be?
It’s hard to improve on Mr. K’s creation, but technology always evolves and the AK is no exception.
Enter the subject of this interview, Marc Krebs, founder of Krebs Custom.
In the world of contemporary AK innovation, it’s no exaggeration to say that Mr. Krebs is one the most influential and respected gunsmiths around. Born in Seattle and raised in San Francisco and Mexico, his parents were in his words, “Beatnik” artists. They named him after one of the most famous artists of the 20th century, Russian-born, French painter, Marc Chagall.
Mr. Krebs’ artistic pedigree serves him well. His father, a painter, was also an inveterate tinkerer and that gene definitely got passed down to his son—along with the creativity quotient that characterizes the artistic process.
A gunsmith, is by definition part machinist, engineer and artist. Not only must everything operate optimally and dependably but it should also incorporate a quality of industrial design that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. In the case of a Krebs Custom-designed gun, you get a combination of utility and aesthetics.
At his Wauconda, IL shop, Marc and his team craft some of the most sought after AKs on the market. He also produces proprietary handguards, sights, muzzle breaks, safety selector and other items.
In this first of two part series, we hope to convey something about the development of Marc’s career as a gunsmith and how his name became synonymous with the legendary AK.
We’ll also pass along some of his recommended third party add-on’s that AK aficionados will surely want to take note of.
Q: Tell me about you and your company. What exactly do you do?
A: We make modernized AKs. Our guns are made for running—that is competition and shooting classes or just having fun. We’re dedicated to upgrading the platform and making it more useful for today’s shooter. We build niche guns for people who like gorgeous stuff. If you’re looking for real world equipment, we try to make our stuff as strong as the military. We also make a variety of accessories that are also geared for the same audience.
Q: How did long have you been in the gun business?
A: I’ve been in general gunsmithing for about 10 years. I built custom 45s and shotguns. We worked on over 11,000 repairs. Following that I really started getting into
(IPSC) match pistols for about another ten years. I eventually got burned out. I was working six days a week and shooting a match on the seventh day and did that for seven years straight. I spent a lot of that time was spent making ergonomically correct guns for “practical accuracy” as opposed to “technical accuracy”.
Q: What’s the distinction between the two?
A: We fit guns really tight. A match IPSC pistol in a ransom rest that we’ve worked on should shoot a 3” group at 50 yards. You could call that“technical accuracy”. However if a guy is shooting a 10” group with that gun at 30 feet, his issue is “practical accuracy”. What we can do to improve his shooting is to improve the trigger and sights—the ergonomics. If he can improve target acquisition through an enhanced sight picture and call his target with better trigger, those would be components of practical accuracy.
Q: How did you get into AKs from more “conventional” arms?
A: After this long period with 45’s, shotguns and eventually match pistols I literally got ill. After I recovered I realized dealing with high pressure IPSC guns was more than I wanted to deal with. Shooters were always pushing the limits on their guns which created problems such as failure to extract. It was a real hassle to be working with these kinds of guns that were so temperamental. I thought it would be better to work with a gun that’s more reliable, that millions of people own. I figured I could make products and sell them.
Q: So it was a career shift that happened organically?
A: Yes, you could say that. I got familiar with the Saigas. I really enjoyed those Russian AKs. I started working on them—converting them. My friends thought I was crazy to be fooling around with AKs.
Q: Why did they think that?
A: I was on the top end working with custom guns—high end craftsmanship was my business. They thought “Oh man you are really lowering your standards to be working on AKs.” I didn’t see it that way. This was the most reliable weapons platform on the planet and that’s why I thought this was an excellent gun. Also with these high end guns, if you needed a replacement part and it cost more than the gun, well that’s crazy. I really liked customizing the AKs. The sky’s the limit.
Q: How long have you been working on AKs professionally?
A: About 18 years.
Q: Please tell us about your newest creation, the KV 13. Is it a genuine replica of the state of the art Russian government-issue model?
A: The whole idea is to make a gun as close to factory as possible. Even though it’s on the heavier side, it can do anything you want as far adding accessories. (Note that Krebs Custom is back ordered on this rifle and no longer taking names. For information on ordering it and see a review go here).
Q: For the purposes of customizing AKs I note that your website states you prefer Saigas and VEPRS. Are there other variants you like?
A: I prefer to stick with the Russian guns. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other good guns out there such as the Bulgarian guns and the Arsenal guns. The guns we like to work on are factory guns with factory barrels. Say we get an Arsenal in. What we generally do at the shop is “blueprint” them—make sure they are straightened out, re-coat them, do some trigger work, dehorning and give them some TLC that the factory didn’t get around to.
Q: What if I want to customize an AK for pig hunting and plinking at the range? Any suggestions on how to set it up?
A: All you need is a red dot scope on your gun. If you are plan to hunt at night or use it for self-defense I would also suggest putting a flashlight on as well. Not only will you be able to spot your adversary but you can blind them. If you do plan to go hunting I would suggest you get a quick release mount for the scope. Anytime you mount a scope on a gun and there’s a possible threat—and hunting hogs there is—you must have a quick release on the scope. Mud, rain, fog and accidents say busting the scope, happens. If anything happens to the scope your gun is useless.
Q: So what’s the best solution?
A: You can either put a quick release mount on your scope and put it up front on the rail or get a RS scope mount and put your scope on it. I think it’s the best scope mount out there.
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