Although the plastic hand guards with Picatinny rails would work fine on just about any AK rifle, the thing to remember is that plastic, like any material, is subject to fatigue and stress when under load. It will break, crack, melt, chip, or disintegrate at much less stress and load parameters than metal, including aluminum.
The reason the original Russian polyamide hand guards could take more abuse is simply because they were steel-reinforced. For AK shooters who would like a more rigid mounting option that still involves the hand guards, there are several products made out of aluminum that offer just that.
Because the lack of elasticity in metal is simply the nature of the beast, almost all metal or aluminum AK hand guards require a mechanical mounting on the gun. They have to be securely bolted in place for a rigid installation because the upper part of the set that replaces the original AK upper hand guard is usually affixed to the lower hand guard with bolts. And since the lower hand guard is bolted to the gun, the aluminum hand guard system, as a general rule, offers a far better platform for mounting optical sights on the upper rail.
I have already highlighted several aluminum hand guard options in the “Mounts” section of this book, but I wanted to describe them in detail so that the reader gets a better idea how to install them and how they fit the AK rifle.
The first hand guard I would like to cover is Midwest Industries’ AK47/AK74 Universal Hand guards in Quadrail. I have been using this rail and its variations for years now. It is a solid piece of equipment that once installed, will last for a long, long time.
The lower portion is rigidly attached to the barrel of the rifle and the upper part bolted to the lower. The beauty of the Midwest Industries AK hand guard system is that shooters can choose an optic specific upper instead of the 1913 rail. There are several variations to accommodate the most popular optical or collimator sights and their copies. There are several variations of the original Quadrail hand guards now that the company released over the years. All had to do with different ways to install the “mission specific” 1913 rails instead of the integrated quad rail, thus reducing the weight and size of the hand guards.
There is an SS model that smaller two-inch rail sections can be attached to using screws. The SS model was followed by the more advanced KeyMod hand guard, and later an M-LOK version.
I have tested all of these and they are good-to-go no matter which one is chosen. They all attach the same way and accept the same top covers that are interchangeable. The Midwest Industries AK47/AK74 Universal hand guards do not require any irreversible modification to the gun and can be removed and replaced at will. The AK front sling ring stays untouched. However, most of the Midwest Industries AK hand guards come with built-in QD sling attachment.
The Midwest Industries’ AK47/AK74 Universal Hand guards offer pretty good flexibility for mounting accessories on an AK. However, their longer AK47/AK74 Extended Hand guards offer even more.
Unlike the Universal hand guards the extended ones do require the permanent modification to the AK’s lower hand guard retainer. Again, it has to do with the front sling attachment that must be removed. I said it before and I will say it again: the benefits far outweigh the small mod to remove a redundant part. Apart from the standard quad rail configuration, the extended hand guards come in SS and KeyMod versions.
In addition, Midwest Industries offers several variations of their AK hand guards to fit just about any AK rifle model that is available on the market today. Having had a chance to work with these I would consider them to be second-to-none and among the absolute best AK accessories.
As I’ve mentioned before, Krebs Custom offers two types of their own AK hand guards. The Krebs Quad-Rail Fore-End for standard AK rifles is similar to aluminum hand guards with integrated Picatinny rails from other manufacturers, but with one exception: Krebs Custom has come up with a very solid attachment to the gun that does not involve the barrel.
The Krebs Quad-Rail hand guard is a very good option for an AK rifle. However, for those who don’t like the “cheese grater” effect of the quad rail hand guard, Krebs Custom has released their latest AK-U.F.M. AK hand guards. These are perhaps one of the best aluminum AK aftermarket hand guards available today. The AK-U.F.M. hand guards install on the rifle similarly to the Quad-Rail and sits solidly on the rifle. The accessory rails attaches to the hand guards with the KeyMod mounting system on the side and the bottom.
The top part of the hand guard, however, has a four-inch integrated 1913 rail. The new AK-U.F.M. AK hand guards from Krebs have rounded corners and feel just right in the shooter’s hand. The smooth and slick form makes even an ancient AK rifle look like a modern fighting carbine. The hand guards’ KeyMod system offers a necessary flexibility for mounting mission-specific accessories. The Krebs Custom’s AK-U.F.M. hand guards are definitely one of the best aluminum AK hand guard solutions available on the market today.
The last option for an aftermarket AL aluminum hand guard replacement comes from Troy Industries with their AK47 Bottom Short Rail. Troy’s rail is a one-piece replacement for a lower hand guard and works with either the AK’s original upper hand guard or an aftermarket replacement.
I have already described Troy Industries’ AK47 Top Rail as a replacement for the AK’s gas tube in the “Mounts” section of this book. Together, the top and bottom rails make a complete and very flexible hand guard mounting solution for any AK.
The Troy AK47 Bottom Rail is made entirely from aluminum. It is long enough so when installed on the gun it goes from the front of the receiver all the way forward past the gas block covering it. With the added length, this hand guard not only provide an adequate space to mount any combination of tactical implements, but it also gives the shooter more gripping surface, which AKs usually lack to begin with.
The hand guard itself is rounded in its cross section, mimicking (to the point) the longer rounded AR hand guards. The shape and length of it is conducive to improved handling of the rifle, resulting from a better grip. The necessary rail-mounting holes are provided along the entire length of the hand guard. This allows any number of rail sections in different sizes to be installed if the need arises. Although this is a longer hand guard it does not require any permanent modifications to the rifle. It installs in minutes in place of the AK original lower hand guard using the same retention system. It comes with an Allen key wrench to tighten the tension on the hand guard retaining bracket. No other tools are necessary.
There are other options that come from small and large manufacturers of AK accessories. The ones I have described above are the ones I have personal experience with. Whichever option is selected, the shooter must make sure that practicality is driving his or her decision on what accessory to use on the AK rifle.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Gun Digest Shooter's Guide to AKs.
The AK-47 rose from the ashes of post-war Russia to become one of the modern era's most reliable, potent and intriguing firearms. Gun Digest Shooter’s Guide to AKs arms enthusiasts and collectors with the knowledge to realize the full potential of these iconic rifles. The practical guide covers the major points of the many variants of the AK-47 and AK-74, detailing their development and impact on history. But author Marco Vorobiev does much more than tell the backstory of these incredible firearms. The former Soviet Spetsnaz (Special Forces) member also details the key areas modern shooters need to understand to buy, operate, maintain, train with and customize the Kalashnikov. Get yours now