By Rob Kay and RN Price
No doubt, if you’re reading this, you’re aware of the recent sanctions placed on rifles imported from Russia.
If you’re lucky enough to have picked up a VEPR, give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve got one of the best, if not the best variant out there. The next thing on your plate will no doubt be to convert it into something that looks like a more “traditional AK”.
Probably the first items to go is the beautiful oak furniture, which comprises the stock and handguard. The reality is that there aren’t a lot of options as far as third party manufacturers that make parts specifically for the VEPR. Many AK parts don’t fit on a VEPR.
The good news is that you have a friend in Marc Krebs, founder of Krebs Custom. Krebs was one of the first gunsmiths in this country to take serious interest in the AK before it was “cool”. There was something about the AK’s minimalist aesthetic and legendary dependability that appealed to him.
He has built custom AKs of every stripe and was a pioneer in the design of safety selectors, forend parts, muzzle brakes and the like.
His UFM handguard for the AK and the VEPR is, in our estimation, the best option out there. Krebs puts this handguard on his custom builds, such as the KV-13 which will run you in the neighborhood of $2K or more.
There are several features that differentiate it from other products.
First off is its keymod configuration. The keymod is a relatively new phenomenon that first found its way on the AR platform. My first keymod rifle was from Barnes Precision, a high end shop based in North Carolina who started using them on his builds. I loved it and vowed that any other rifle I purchased would have this.
By definition keymod handguards are super light because like a lean T-bone steak, all the fat is trimmed. Constructed with 6065 T6 aluminum, there are no picatinny quadrails sprouting out. If you need to have affix a vertical grip or a light, simply slap your own rail and cinch it down exactly where you want it. (Krebs recommends Bravo Company products). I used one on the Krebs UFM for a vertical grip and it worked perfectly.
The need to save weight on a VEPR is not some abstract issue.
AKs are not bantamweights to begin with. With it’s stout barrel and reinforced receiver (stemming its RPK heritage) the VEPR weighs a pound more than the average AK. The UFM weighs about half of its polymer counterpart from SGM Tactical. If you are going to lug it around or shoot it offhand, you are really going to appreciate the weight factor.
The ergonomics on this handguard are also noteworthy. Unlike a conventional handguard/quadrail, which has all the comfort of a pineapple, the Krebs UFM is sleek, thin and quite comfortable to grip. It’s as if the handguard is an extension of the receiver.
It also doesn’t get hot when you are putting multiple rounds through it.
When we put it through its paces, it never got warm enough to even be uncomfortable.
If there is one issue with this product it would be the cost. At $269.99 it’s by no means inexpensive. There are other options for as little as $85 (from SGM Tactical) that do the job. Other companies such as Midwest Industries make decent products but they are not in the same class as Krebs.
On Target Hawaii was fortunate to acquire a UFM which we installed in a matter of about 30 minutes. The kit consists of allen wrenches, bolts, a barrel clamp to secure handguard and a couple of small angle irons that don’t quite look like they belong.
In install, start by field stripping the rifle right down to the gas tube. The original wooden handguard is easily removed by removing the small screw that retains the swivel. After you’ve got the oak handguard off pop the barrel clamp on the barrel. Once it’s in you’ll need to cinch it down by using a vise with the two aluminum angle irons acting as sort of bookends to protect the clamp. No need to tighten too much–it must be snug but at the same time allow for enough play so that it can slide up and down the barrel.
By closing the circumference of the clamp withe the vise you’ll then be able to screw in a bolt with the provided allen wrench and manually cinch down the clamp. Again, not overly tight–you’ll still have to move it against the gas block. Make sure the rifle is mounted securely and apply a level to make certain that the clamp is level with the receiver.
After you’ve determined that you’ve leveled the clamp and receiver, tighten the bolts down securely with some Loctite. To ascertain if you’ve done this properly (that is, not over-tightened the clamp down) take the original screw and see if it easily can be fitted in the threaded hole at the top of the clamp. If it goes in smoothly, you’re all set. If not you’ll have to back off on the clamp a bit.
The next step is to actually slide the handguard onto the barrel. It should fit squarely and firmly. The handguard (given that you’ve done your leveling job) should line up perfectly with the threaded hold at the top. Then use the original screw (with the swivel loop if you like) and cinch down the handguard. Use a little Loctite to accomplish this. Add the gas tube, the top cover and you’re in business!
A tremendous amount of engineering has gone into this product. The anodized finish is flawless and the fit (assuming you’ve done your part) is perfect. In our opinion Krebs Custom sets the standard for the best third party handguard for the VEPR.
As the old saw goes, you get what you pay for.
You can find it here.
Photos courtesy of On Target staff.
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