How to buy an AK, Part 2–Q&A with Mike Owen of Meridian Ordnance

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by Rob Kay

Learn what you need to know about buying an AK. I don’t think there’s ever been a more informative interview on this subject in this column.


We continue with Part 2 of our interview series with Mike Owen of Meridian Ordnance LLC. 


Q: We’ve talked at length about how to buy a new AK? What about buying a used rifle?

A: Most people who own a quality AK know it, so finding that great used AK deal can take some time. You will likely weed through hundreds of jacked up and overpriced offerings for every fair deal you see, and great deals are even scarcer. Good deals on Russian VEPR rifles are hard to pass up when encountered, but I personally believe the biggest “sleeper AK deals” on the market right now lie in the Clinton-era Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) firearms imported from ’94-04, although they are drying up. Examples would be rifles such as the Chinese MAK90, NHM91, Romanian SAR series, or Egyptian MISR or MAADI for instance, often seen with thumbhole stocks and neutered parts. No, these are not going to be WASR-priced by comparison but often you can snag one for a fair price and sit on it while gathering funds to fully de-ban the rifle appropriately. In the end you’ll have something unique and more collectible, as well as a good shooter typically.

A properly de-banned Romanian SAR 1 will appreciate in value exponentially faster than even the best made WASR on the market in addition to being of higher quality and a closer representation of an AKM. I get a great sense of satisfaction from de-banning these AWB rifles and the results are decent investments for their owners. A used AK can also be a great option as a donor rifle for custom work such as creating a registered shot-barreled rifle under the NFA.

CLEAN-WHTonBLKQ: You’ve mentioned to me that there are QC issues with WASRs, especially in the area of proper heat treatment, which in the long term can result in malfunctions. Those rifles always seem to be the least expensive. Are they a serious option for first time buyers?

A: For the budget buyer, yes. The WASR has always been an option simply because of price and that price makes it popular. Their known issues have given them a bad reputation, one that’s not entirely misplaced. I have seen a handful of egged axis pin holes and stress fractures that can be attributed to improper heat treating in the series. If you are a serious first time AK buyer, don’t fall to impulse, understand your own needs/expectations and then train-up a bit before going with any given AK.

Q: What caliber of AK do you recommend for the first time buyer who is primarily a plinker and maybe will use the rifle for home self defense?

A: 7.62x39mm Russian M43. It’s obtainable, well proven and comes in many loads from many manufactures. From bulk WPA to Hornady, there are lots of great options for every need, from the range to defense. It’s an AK. Don’t over-think what you’re feeding it. I know guys who carry over experiences with $3k+ bench rest rifles and try to apply that same thinking to an AK platform. It’s just misplaced, like a GE jet turbine in a T34. But I’m not going to get out in the weeds on that one.

AK-47 cartridges from Russia, China and Pakistan–photo by Todd Huffman

5.45x39mm is a fine light load as well, and contrary to what some people think the EO banning 7n6 Russian did NOT kill 5.45, as it is far from dead. It’ll still be imported and made domestically, but never in the quantities or selections 7.62×39 is available in. Finding it in an emergency situation may also present some problems depending on where you live.

5.56NATO is a distant third choice. The Romanian SAR3 and it’s brief history with hammer geometry issues gave the .223/5.55 AK in America a bad rap early on, but those days were long ago and few people even know about it today. New offerings in 5.56mm such as those from Arsenal are pretty squared away rifles. My personal complaint with any 5.56mm AK is simply that the diversity of 5.56mm AK magazines and their availability/cost will keep it from being a major contender on par with 7.62×39.

From the East German Weiger to the .223 Saiga, there is a big selection of different original and aftermarket mags and not all of them are interchangeable of course. The Definitive Arms AR mag adapter conversions seek to solve that problem and do so very inventively and surprisingly well. Though one could make the argument if you’re running an AK in 5.56 NATO with AR mags, the ergonomics, modularity and replacement parts benefits of a gas piston AR outweigh the benefits. That all depends what camp your in. 7.62 NATO or .308 Winchester rifles are really relegated more to the battle rifle category and in the AK suffer the same magazine diversity issues as the 5.56 NATO, although there are certainly some interesting ones out there such as the M77B1 or VEPR offerings.

Even the expensive rifles don’t always get the best paint jobs. You can see where Arsenal did not quite finish the job on this barrel.

Q: What kind of finish do you recommend for an AK. Can you talk about blued, vs powder coat, vs cerakote, etc. How do they wear? Which is better at protecting the metal?

A: There’s a slew of finishes on the market now to augment the traditional stuff we’ve seen for decades such as hot bluing and zinc or manganese phosphate parkerizing. Cerkote is of course a big name in the newer coatings and quite popular for good reason, but I mention Cerakote here because they have done a fine job testing a number of these old and new finishes side by side. Some folks may question if Cerakote is a bit biased, but from what I’ve seen that claim has no merit and their tests were well conducted. As such, I generally point anyone looking for a good comparison of firearms finishes to their studies and videos showing abrasion, corrosion and chemical resistance testing among many other trials.

That said, from the standpoint of someone who does a lot of refinishing, including Cerakote H-series work; I personally prefer John Norrell’s Moly Resin for an AK. It is more forgiving and simpler to apply as far as the applicator is involved so I can process jobs more efficiently. But more importantly, it is a closer match to the Russian “squid ink” acrylics and similar finishes used on many AK rifles so it makes a good historical match for those who want a more correct AK or wish to only refinish certain parts and preserve the rest. The flat black option of Moly Resin is also a good match to manganese phosphate parkerizing. One downside is that Moly Resin does not come in the vast array of colors that Cerakote H-series comes in. Moly Resin is a very durable finish and in my opinion the only one on the market that holds up on par with a product like Cerakote H-series. The only way to entirely remove either of these finishes is with abrasion blasting.

This Russian 1988 AK74 builda Moly Resin custom sheen black finish from Meridian.
This Russian 1988 AK74 build has a Moly Resin custom sheen black finish from Meridian.

Bluing is a decorative finish and does nothing to protect steel, but is often the right historical choice. Likewise, parkerizing is simply a porous finish so once any oils in it have bled out over time (accelerated by heat or moisture) it will do nothing to inhibit rust or corrosion. Powder coating is generally not an option for firearms as it will not hold up to the really tough solvents and chemical abuse over time. Of the many other spray-on air cure or oven cure finishes out there, there are many decent ones such as Duracoat or KG Gun Kote that are available for the DIY crowd and professionals alike. The results of using these products will be entirely in your preparation just like anything else, but some are a bit better than others. We simply have had the best results, are most impressed and most satisfied with Moly Resin and Cerakote for our needs and AKs specifically.

Q: What are the pros and cons of having a gunsmith build you a rifle from a kit from scratch? What’s the price range?  

A: Well, you get exactly what you need. Not an off the shelf model you have to modify later at greater cost or settle with as-is. Gunsmiths and professional builders such as ourselves assemble your rifle to-order, often based on a given set of specifications to suit your needs, wants, or mission. Many military pedigree kits carry with them history, character and a unique appeal for those seeking hard to find variants. Other buyers want the satisfaction which comes with knowing a specific kit is their own basis for a higher quality AK, be it a museum worthy reproduction or practical modernized Kalashnikov system they may depend upon with their life.

The downside is it takes time to build each individual firearm for its owner, to source parts or dig up that one small detail that brings the whole project together; so it’s not a pay and go option. Our basic AKM kit building services start in the $260 ballpark and go from there. Obviously if a person has a kit they purchased years ago for less than what the same kit would run today, their total cost is going to be lower. Just to get an idea of average cost, there are still many great AK parts kits on the market today in the $200-500 price range.

A Norinco MAK90 conversion by Meridian. Sometimes it’s best to let the gunsmith do the dirty work…

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

A: When buying any AK, consider your intended tasks and goals, how you will be using it and what your realistic expectations are. If you plan to modify or accessorize it, be equally critical of that process and the parts and features going into your firearm. If you’re just doing it for fun then by all means have fun. However a $500 Romanian WASR with another $500 of bolt-on aftermarket accessories will not render a $1000 rifle in terms of performance, service life or investment value. Be realistic. There are no more $300 Poly Tech Legends, so don’t expect $300 to net you the same quality on today’s market. Do your research and you will always find that you get what you pay for. Remember that even the best custom built firearms will not inherently make you a better or faster shooter without practice. Train hard and train often.

Lastly, and most importantly, consider putting just a fraction of what you may spend on guns, gear and ammo each month towards a pro-Second Amendment organization of your choice and getting involved politically. Doing so will pay dividends down the line and help to keep us all out of these undesirable anti-gun legislative situations which we find ourselves in all too often today.

Photos courtesy of  Meridian Ordnance LLC.

Questions?  Comments?  Contact us at

 Rob Kay writes about firearms for Hawaii Reporter and is the author of How to Buy an AK-47.

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  1. it's crazy how our government is trying to take away our rights to own, or purchase guns as individual citizens but the same government is giving weapons away to ISIS and al Qeuda factions and selling weapons to every tinpot dictator in the world.

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