Hand guards are like a steering wheel for your gun. They are the interface between your hand and the gun. In this third installment of this series on updating the AK, we will be taking a look at hand guards.
The AK has two hand guards: an upper hand guard that contains the gas tube and a lower hand guard that protects the user from a hot barrel. There are many upper hand guard optic mounts but we will concentrate on those in a later post. For the purposes of this post, we will be discussing hand guards as a weapon control and accessory mounting platform only.
Lower Hand Guard
The lower hand guard is much larger than the upper hand guard and represents the majority of your gripping surface. Thankfully, AK users have more choices than ever when choosing a hand guard, but, as with any other firearm accessory, you should be cautious of what you spend your hard earned money on.
If the AK is your primary rifle you may want to consider adding a lower hand guard rail. A railed hand guard will give you more flexibility to mount vital accessories like a white light and sling. You can also consider adding a vertical or hand stop if you are so inclined, but care should be taken that the vertical grip does not interfere with rocking a magazine into the magazine well. Midwest Industries makes a very nice and very reasonably priced rail system for the AK. Ultimak makes an excellent extended rail system that helps shooters who like to run their hand out further than the standard hand guards allow (it also alleviates the issues with running a vertical grip on the AK platform by allowing you to run it out closer to the muzzle).
If the weight and cost of AK rail systems turn you off, there are other options. I choose to run the standard polymer hand guards on my AKs because I don’t want to spend the money for a rail on a weapon system that isn’t my primary. I start with quality plastic hand guards that have a metal heat shield and stipple them for increased grip. I use the increased grip to aggressively pull the AK into my shoulder much like I would with a vertical grip. I use the standard sling mount and mount my white light on the upper hand guard.
Upper Hand Guard
The standard upper hand guard’s main role is to shield the user from the heat of the gas tube. Aftermarket railed upper hand guards have additional functionality, like allowing you to mount optics.
I prefer the Ultimak M1-B optic mount for my upper hand guard. It places a micro Aimpoint (or an M2/M3 with a low enough moutn) low enough that it cowitnesses with the iron sights. It is also long enough to offer plenty of space for mounting a light in an offset mount.
I should note that the offset light mount that you use should be made from metal and sit very low on the rail. I wouldn’t trust a plastic mount to handle the heat of the Ultimak, and if it is too thick it will obstruct the view through your Aimpoint. I have found the VLTOR offset scout mount to be excellent. This one from KZ works if you are on a budget, but it sticks out from the rail more than I prefer.
White lights and slings are a must on any defensive rifle. Choosing the right hand guard set up makes mounting them easy. If you choose your hand guard set up wisely you can improve the way your weapon handles, the speed at which you can drive the AK, the ease of mounting accessories, and it doesn’t have to cost a ton.