Ever since the days of the crated, dirt cheap AK-47’s I’ve always wanted one of these but never bought one. Then one day while doing some online window shopping, I came across an Atlantic Firearms pre-order deal for used Iraqi Contractor WASR 10 AK-47’s at a reasonable price. What really tickled my fancy was the battle worn patina of these used weapons. A dulled and dinged wood finish and worn paint in high traffic areas told a genuine story of real-world battle fields. Like an old army Jeep, these rifles would make a great conversation piece with a history one could only speculate about. My only concern was the pre-order price was within $30 of the cost of the same rifle in new condition, a premium for a cheap rifle with a questionable maintenance and care history. Anything I buy I’ll want to target shoot and these AK’s are not necessarily the kind of collectible I’d want to restore as a historical piece just to have the “look” of military surplus battle wear. When it really came down to it, all I really wanted was a cheap, reliable good shooter with that battle worn look. It was about then that I came across a page by a guy who bought a new Romanian WASR and did just what I wanted to do. That sparked the idea of refinishing my own *new* AK and give it that desired “distressed” look.
Here is my new Romanian WASR complete with two magazines, a military surplus cleaning kit, an oil bottle and a used military surplus leather shoulder strap!!! I’m super excited about owning one of these classic rifles purchased at a great price from Classic Firearms! Only thing is I’m not a huge fan of the blonde furniture and the dull black finish. So even before I had an opportunity to fire it I was already digging into the project with a goal to refinish the wood in a deep red tone and age the somewhat glossy black finish. Here’s what I did.
First step was to disassemble the AK. As always, pay utmost attention to gun safety rules! Breakdown was really easy with this rifle. I found a good video showing the simple process of disassembling the rifle and removing the wood buttstock and upper/lower handguards. There’s plenty of publications and resources for dissasembly and servicing an AK-47 so I won’t cover that aspect of this project. If it’s your first AK, you’ll quickly discover the brilliant simplicity of the AK-47 and if you’re like me, you will come to appreciate the genius behind Mikhail Kalashnikov’s design that has remained for 60 years as the most popular and widely used assault rifle in the world.
The wood of this AK-47 from Century Arms (purchased through Classic Firearms) was lightly stained and sealed with what I assume was polyurethane. I want to stain the wood so the sealant has to come off. I used some varnish, stain and sealer stripper that I had laying around to do the job. Following the instructions on the container, I liberally coated the wood furniture with stripper and then left it sit for a few hours to let the stripper do it’s job. After a few hours, I used a few rags and some stainless steel pads to scrap off the stripper. From what I understand, you don’t want to use steel wool as it will leave black marks on the wood.
I left it dry over night, then the next day I used 150 grit sand paper to lightly sand off any glossy spots and left over stain. I gave the wood a nice once over for a satin finish. I didn’t want to make it too smooth so 150 grit will do the trick. I was intrigued to discover that the upper/lower hand guards are oil soaked, thus the darker color (after a water wipedown and letting them dry on wood stove caused the oil to leach out of the wood!) My guess is the oil is to keep the wood from cooking off from the heat of the barrel. The buttstock however was not oil soaked. In the photo to the left you can see on the butttstock the leftover stain where it would not be visible. I didn’t sand here to keep the tight clearances as is.
To the Hardware Store!
- Minwax Red Mohogany 225
- Minwax Tung Oil Finish
- Rit Scarlet Red Dye
- 70% Isopropyl Alcohol
A few other items you might need are some brushes (foam or bristle brushes), rags and latex gloves.
Staining the Furniture
Applying the stain is pretty straight forward. As with any staining, repeated coats and the longer you leave it on, the darker the stained wood will be. I put a few coats on, left it for 5-10 minutes and wiped it off. Not exact science, I did until I was satisfied with the tone of color. I also worked each piece of wood until it matched the tone of the other pieces. Let it dry for at least 24 hours to allow the stain to set into the wood.
Applying Red Dye
While the Minwax Red Mohogany 225 had an ever so slight red tone to it, it was by no means red enough for what I was shooting for. This is where the Rit Scarlet Red Dye comes into play. I mixed about a 50/50 of the Rit Scarlet Red Dye and the alcohol in a jar and brushed coat after coat of the red dye onto the hardwood. If you thoroughly let it dry it may develop some crusty crystals on the wood which you will want to wipe off before applying another coat.
I went through multiple sessions of applying the red dye and with each sessions, I’d wipe some of the excess off and apply again and again before letting it dry. Be careful not to let it pool into spots on the wood, which could result in heavy red spots. Keep it evenly coated. Once I had the tone of red that I wanted, I let it dry for several days. The result was a stunning, rich deep redwood color.
Applying Tung Oil Finish
I get varying stories about Tung Oil, what it is and what the finish will be. My goal was to seal the wood with a flat or semi-gloss sealant so that it will not leach the red dye or pick up dirt in the wood grain. The Minwax Tung Oil Finish seemed to fit the bill for my goal and with a little work it did a great job. After giving the furniture a few light coats of Tung Oil and letting it dry a day in between each coat, I then went over it with very fine steel wood to knock the glossed finish down. This Tung Oil is considered a semi-gloss finish but it had just a little too much gloss for my appeal. So a light brushing of super fine steel wool and it was down to an ever so slight semi glossed finish.
Distressing the Glossy Paint Finish
In my opinion nothing makes an old tool, truck or pair of jeans look better than a little wear. Same goes with an old military rifle. I’ve had my experience with distressing things just for fun so this wasn’t too difficult to think it through. Looking at some of the battle worn Iraqi Contractor WASR 10 AK-47 photos from Atlantic Firearms, I got some ideas for distressing the high traffic areas. I didn’t want the level of wear seen on these sandblasted desert survivors, instead I was looking for the “used but not abused” look to enhance the darker furniture. These are the tools of choice that I used to create the look of wear:
- Scotch Brite pads, light abrasive not the heavy
- 220 grit sanding sponge
- small pieces of 220 grit sand paper for some tight spots
First thing I did was give the metal finish a light once over with a scotch brite pad to knock off the glossy finish. Not too much though, it’s easier to take it off than to put it on so I went slow. Just to clarify, I did this while the furniture was off the rifle as not to damage my refined wood finish. The process of distressing or applying wear to the finish as it might be better described seems more of an art than a step by step process. Seeing the battle worn look of the Iraqi contractor AK’s did a lot to seed the ideas of where the wear would have occurred during heavy or long term use. So using that as a guide along with a critical eye, I proceeded to wear down the finish. Thinking about it wear will occur on the high spots like rivets, corners, edges, constantly brushed against or touched high traffic places on the rifle. Once I got the hang of it it wasn’t too difficult. I took my time, thought about it and did the minimal at first. Again it’s easier to take it off than to put it back on. I also took special care not to get too much sandpaper grit into the mechanics or the barrel and used compressed air to blow out any dust that got into the gun.
Reassembly, Final Thought, Photos
This is where it all came together. Re-assembling the rifle was just as easy as breaking it down. The upper and lower handguards re-attached without the need for tools while the buttstock re-attaches with two wood screws to the rear trunnion. After assembly I applied a good coat of CLP (Cleaner, Lubricant, Protectant) to preserve and prevent any rust from forming in the future. It also helped to enhance the appearance a little.
So How did it turn out? I’ll let you be the judge but I will say the final assembly blew me away. In only a few short weeks what started as a decent but economical, mass production rifle turned into a deep, rich, multi-depth piece of military history. This AK-47 looks like it has a history to tell. It has made a great conversation piece that begs to be taken to the range. When people see it, they want to know where it came from, where it was used, how I came into possession of it. When I tell them the story and show them the photos I get some amazed looks. For the investment in material it was well worth the effort and now I have something to be proud of at the range.
Updated Butt Stock
The final product of this furniture refinish was impressive including the original buttstock. I was hoping this particular Century Arms WASR-10 would have come with the battle tough laminated buttstock and handguards but this one didn’t on either end. A quick online search yield a military used surplus laminated buttstock from APEX Gun Parts for a mere $10! This included the spring loaded cleaning kit cutout with the trap-door end plate, exactly what this military tribute AK-47 needed to store the cleaning kit that it came with. This $10 buttstock got a quick dis-assembly, sanding and prep for the same stain, dye and Tung Oil re-finish as the original hardwood buttstock. After the Tung Oil was applied and given enough time to dry, the shine was knocked down with some very fine steel wool.
To remain 922r Compliant, I took inventory of the Century Arms installed Tapco parts and made sure I remained compliant even with the buttstock replacement. For 922r Compliance, you can have a maximum of 10 foreign parts of this list of 20 main parts. I’m not a lawyer so do your own research!
27 C.F.R. 478.39 lists 20 parts:
(1) Frames, receivers, receiver castings, forgings or stampings
(3) Barrel extensions
(4) Mounting blocks (trunions)
(5) Muzzle attachments
(7) Bolt carriers
(8) Operating rods
(9) Gas pistons
(10) Trigger housings
(15) Butt stocks
(16) Pistol grips
(17) Forearms, hand guards
(18) Magazine bodies
For more information on 922r Compliance read this.
I also picked up a few extra military surplus AK-47 items at great bargains including an extra battle-worn steel magazine, a Yugoslavian bayonet, which my opinion is the best match to this re-finished AK and a grenade spigot.
Smoothing the Action
While I was working on the rifle, I did a little smoothing of the action by sanding the rail and rounding the hammer. There are several good videos showing how to do this and in the end it made for a much smoother action than the stock as-is from factory. Well worth the effort.
Here’s a video showing how to smooth the action of your AK-47