OK, so you have probably looked at the pictures below, and you’re thinking, “That’s a funny looking pistol…” And you’re right. But when Adrian-BP sent pictures of his latest replica from Thailand, it looked so good that I thought readers of the Pistol Place might be interested in hearing about it. So, not a pistol. But an interesting replica nevertheless. I’ll let Adrian-BP tell you all about it…
Wandering into my local airsoft emporium in Suphanburi a fortnight ago, I was immediately directed towards a stack of rather plain looking cardboard boxes lying along one side of the counter. “You’ll be interested in one of those!” exclaimed Khun Don, the owner of “BB Gun Zone”… and he was not far wrong!
Real Steel Background
Sergeant Mikhail Kalashnikov (1919 – 2013), who would later become Lieutenant-General Kalashnikov, started to design prototype guns whilst recovering from a shoulder wound received during the Battle of Bryansk in 1942. By the end of the war, he had commenced work on what would become his legendary “Avtomat Kalashnikova-47” or, as it is commonly known, AK-47.
This selective fire rifle first went into service in 1948. It uses a gas-operated rotating bolt and is chambered for the 7.62 x 39 mm cartridge. Accuracy was traded for reliability and the generous tolerances associated with the AK-47, along with a relatively large gas piston, meant that it could be depended upon to operate in the most appalling conditions and with very little maintenance required. It could also be mass produced quickly and cheaply.
The AKM is a “modernised” version of the AK-47 and was introduced in the 1950s. The main differences in appearance between the AKM and AK-47 are a longer, straighter stock, a stamped instead of milled steel receiver, raised grips in the wooden forend, rear sights graduated to 1000m instead of 800m, a slant-cut muzzle brake to help reduce muzzle climb during automatic fire and an integrated bayonet support collar with a hole for the cleaning rod. Although still in production today, it has been for the most part superseded by the AK-74 and its variants which are chambered for the smaller 5.45 x 39 mm cartridge.
The E&L Kalashnikov AKM (Model 1976) or “ELAKM”
For readers not familiar with “Automatic Electric Guns” (aka AEGs), they are replica guns which utilise an electrically powered gearbox to fire 6mm plastic ammunition down a smoothbore barrel with muzzle velocities typically ranging from between 300 to 450 fps (approximately 90 to 135 m/s) using 0.20g balls. This non-blowback AEG is a replica of an AKM, made in China by E&L Airsoft (ELAKM, type EL-A101).
Please note that this review has been written from the point of view of a keen shooter and collector of replica firearms and therefore will only touch briefly on the internal operation and mechanism of the gun. More information, including excellent photos and a detailed description of the gearbox and hop-up assembly, may be found at “team-black-sheep.com” (a link to which is given at the end of this review).
Capacity: 120(?) round, mid-cap magazine (although hi-caps may be used)
Propellant: Automatic Electric Gun (AEG); 7.4 volt (recommended ) or 11.1 volt (used) Lithium Polymer (LiPo) battery
Barrel length: Approx. 410mm (barrel not removed; measured from muzzle brake retaining pin to face of hop-up slider)
Overall length: 914mm = exactly three feet! (measured)
Weight: 4.0 kg (measured)
Sights: Adjustable rear for elevation only; screw-in front post
Action: Non blowback selective semi and full automatic
Packaging and Presentation 4 / 5
I was torn between the wooden stocked ELAKM and ELAK-74, but even though the latter was already reserved for another customer, I didn’t really mind as I was more interested in a replica of the original AK47, albeit in its “modernised” form. The gun, generously coated with oil, was well protected inside a heavy-duty plastic bag secured inside a sturdy cardboard box using 8mm wide tie-wraps. A second, smaller cardboard box contained the “mid-cap” magazine.
There is a detailed manual, in English, indicating the E&L range of AK-style AEGs. It contains instructions on how to operate and field-strip the gun; how to remove the hop-up, barrel and gearbox; an exploded diagram and parts listing and a factory test certificate with contact details on the back cover (this is without doubt the best airsoft manual I’ve seen and is, in fact, better than many airgun manuals as well).
Included… a detailed manual, in English, with a full description of muzzle velocity readings obtained at the factory (airgun, never mind airsoft companies, take note!)
I have since learned that on occasion there are included an authentic(?) green-coloured oil bottle plus a genuine AK cleaning kit housed in the stock. Needless to say, these two items being present would have resulted in full marks!
Visual Accuracy 10 / 10
Visual accuracy, as far as I can tell, is perfect! The first thing I was told about the rifle was that the company that makes them also manufacture and supply parts for real Kalashnikov rifles (this is also mentioned in their promotional video). Whether this is simply a crafty piece of marketing or not I don’t know, but the upshot is that this replica is the spitting image of the “real steel”!
I honestly cannot find any difference between this and a real AKM; even the circular indentations in the receiver are correct (although they appear a little less pronounced, probably due to my photography). The sling attachment in the stock is offset on the replica, but even this corresponds to later versions of the rifle. Having previously owned a Cyma AK-47 I find the longer, straighter stock of the AKM much easier to shoulder and achieve a proper sight picture.
You could possibly argue that the laminated wood used on the replica is a little darker than usual, but then I have shot many of my pictures using settings designed to highlight the deep colour and grain of the beautiful wood furniture. The pistol grip is made of some kind of plastic polymer correct in keeping with latter made AKMs. As mentioned above, there is even a spring-loaded storage space in the stock for a cleaning kit.
Photo courtesy of Gunpics.net (a link to additional pictures is given at the end of this review)
A spring-loaded compartment for the cleaning kit housed in the stock.
A star, “1976” and a unique serial number (which cross-references with the test certificate) are stamped in the correct place on the left hand side of the receiver just behind and below the rear sight block. One wonders at the choice of date as by the end of the 1970s the AKM was being replaced by the AK-74 (although they are still in service to this day). The spring leaf rear sight is adjustable for elevation and is graduated from “1” through to “10” (hundreds of metres).
Fire select markings using Cyrillic text for “avto” and “adin” (auto and single, middle and lower respectively)
With a little imagination… can you visualise a “round” being chambered into the breech?
Functional Accuracy 13 / 15
Obviously, before working on the gun the battery should be disconnected and removed along with the magazine. In fact, unless I am actually about to commence shooting, I always remove the battery as a kind of “fail safe” procedure.
Field stripping may be undertaken using the manual provided. No previous knowledge or special tools are required, although I had to resort to a pair of “grips” and a hammer to loosen a couple of parts that at first seemed disinclined to disassemble as they should! As “Team Black Sheep” states, “(There are)… no little parts here to break or get lost. All the parts are made out of steel so rest assured you will be fine.”
I had never field-stipped an AK before and so, based on the reassuring statement quoted above – along with the rather entertaining promotional video supplied by E&L – I set to work. I must admit I took my time over this and on a couple of occasions consulted the Internet on how it is done on a real AK… they are that close!
The cleaning rod is removed by (I was going to add “gently”, but like the rest of the gun it is made of steel) pulling it down and out of its seat at the end of the barrel (NB. It is to the end of this rod that the bore-brush is screwed should one be provided. However, this brush would obviously be much too stiff for use in an airsoft barrel and could in fact damage it; a cotton cloth pull-through or similar would be more appropriate for actual cleaning, but not for show!).
My first (and only real) issue was unscrewing the muzzle brake (although, strictly speaking, this does not have to be removed to partially field-strip the AKM) as I couldn’t get it to budge… out came the grips and a bit of cloth to assist in unscrewing it counter-clockwise with the locking pin pushed in (the end of the cleaning rod will do). It is still a little tough to get started, but can be managed by hand.
The end of the cleaning rod may be used to hold in the muzzle brake retaining pin. Note the hole in the bayonet support collar through which the cleaning rod is stored.
The gas tube retaining pin is then moved into a vertical position so that the upper handguard may be lifted up and out. I’d like to point out that the parts fit together well with the whole operation being much more fluid than the first time I tried.
The gas tube retaining pin moved up in order to remove the upper handguard and “gas tube”. Please note the rear sight is elevated for use at… 6yds!
It is interesting to note that the outer barrel has a hole drilled in it and the underside of the “gas tube” has a large piece cut out. This tends to indicate that although some genuine/ surplus parts may have been used to assemble the gun, great care has been taken to ensure they cannot be used with any kind of live ammunition whatsoever (and remember, once you go “beneath the bonnet”, there is no bolt carrier, piston or bolt… just a battery, gearbox and hop!).
The underside of the upper handguard and “gas tube” showing the large piece which has been cut out and the hole in the outer barrel. The forend cap retaining pin is shown moved forward ready for the forend to be removed.
The forend cap retaining pin is then rotated forward (this did take a while at first, requiring the use of an angled “Allen” or hex key and a small hammer to lever it up). I have since learned that pushing down on the cap allows the pin to be rotated since the cap is in fact “spring loaded” by a flat leaf spring attached to the forend. The cap then slides forward so that the forend may be eased forward and out. That is as far as I went.
My first attempt… note that tools are not really required. Please also note “Puff the Magnetic Dragon” sitting on the charging handle whose task was to check for any metal alloy… he found none.
Field-stripping thus far is only really necessary to check for rust (a problem exacerbated by a tropical climate and dripping sweat!) as obviously the “gas tube” is just for show… but if I said it was not interesting (and fun!) to field strip such a realistic replica then I would be lying!
The laminated wood used to make the upper handguard and forend is well crafted and very strong. All other parts are steel and there are no hidden springs to launch nor little bearings to fall out and roll into remote and inaccessible corners of the workshop!
The laminated wood is good and strong
On refitting the gun, I found that the forend cap has to be held tightly down on top of the forend (see above regarding the leaf spring) with the rifle held vertically so that the retaining pin can be easily swivelled through 180° and back into its locked position. This is now my third go at this… and the whole operation takes less than a minute!
The spring-loaded cocking or charging handle is not just for show since it is used to access the hop-up slider within. The hop-up is graduated and whilst easy to adjust holds its position once set. The manual describes the magazine as being a winding “high-capacity” type, but the one that came in the box is of the “mid-cap” variety (I prefer these since, no matter how good the gun looks, the rattle of a high-capacity magazine when you pick up the gun spoils the whole effect!). The magazine is made of stamped steel with the only plastic parts being where they interface with the plastic ammunition.
Sliding hop-up adjustment and 30A fuse
The manual recommends that either 8.4V or 9.6V NiMH batteries or 7.4V Lithium batteries are used. However, K.Don only had a 11.1V LiPo “stick” battery in his shop and that is what I have been using to date (please note that some batteries, even if they are of the “stick” variety for AK-style guns, may not fit inside the battery compartment of the ELAKM). The compartment is accessed by removing the receiver cover and sliding the battery into place. The gun is fitted with a 30A fuse and the wiring is neat and tidy.
The receiver cover removed in order to connect the battery
Shooting 30 / 40
A difficult section, this one. Naturally, someone used to shooting real firearms will find electric airsoft guns a tad disappointing once you pull the trigger! Conversely, from a skirmisher’s point of view, once the muzzle velocity has been reduced to comply with field limits (by changing the spring if necessary), then I should imagine this gun would receive top marks!
However, in this instance I’m looking from the perspective of the casual shooter or “plinker” as to how well this gun fares against soda cans, paper targets and biscuit tin lids in the garden (neighbours permitting!).
The magazine requires a speed-loader (surprisingly not supplied, at least with mine) to load the magazine. I haven’t counted, but at least one hundred 6mm balls may be loaded at a time. Another good thing with a mid-cap magazine is that it is easy to load just a few balls when experimenting with or deciding upon the optimum ammunition to use.
A “speed-loader”… it is going to take a while, otherwise!
6mm BBs are retained in the magazine by a spring. Once inserted into the gun, the balls are allowed to rise and sit tight against the nozzle (removing the magazine, even if it is “empty”, will result in these four or five balls dropping out… I usually have a hat available to catch them as they fall!). This evening (07th October) I experienced a “jam” in that a small rubber O-ring came loose within the magazine lip. I have since removed this O-ring and although it doesn’t seem to have made any difference, I will replace it at some point.
On firing, the sector gear not only compresses the spring, but also activates the tappet plate which in turn moves the nozzle backwards and forwards in order to load the balls. The gearbox is Version 3.
Version 3 gearbox (image courtesy of airsoftgi.com)
With the battery connected and a magazine fitted you are then good to go (NB. Pulling back on the charging handle is optional, but fun!). The magazine fits securely in place with the mag-release lever being stronger than I’ve experienced on other airsoft/ bb guns utilising this kind of mechanism (AKs and MP5s). Again, probably on par with a real gun and it certainly won’t allow you to release the magazine by accident!
Moving the fire-selector down from “safe” to mid-way results in full-auto; continuing down to the bottom gives you semi-automatic fire. The gun is fitted with a relatively powerful spring and will, according to the promo video, accept anything up to an M150 spring. Whilst I understand that even the one fitted as standard may be too powerful for skirmishing “straight out of the box”, it reinforces the fact that the internal parts (wiring, gearbox, gears, shims, piston, hop-up etc.) complement the exceptionally tough exterior, being of good quality and made to last.
If I had to pick one thing which really impressed me the most, then it would have to be the Quality Certificate on the back of the manual proving the gun has been tested before leaving E&L Airsoft.
I obtained the following readings using the same parameters as specified on the test certificate (although the temperature was a little higher at 26°C). Ie. 0.20g “Goldenball” BBs with the hop-up set to minimum (“full release”): 130.5 (1.70), 129.5 (1.67), 129.5 (1.67), 130.4 (1.70), 130.2 (1.69). Velocities are in m/s (muzzle energy in Joules).
Initially shooting nearly an inch to the left at 6yds and about 6 inches at 25m, I at first thought that the inner barrel may be out of alignment. However, on looking directly along the receiver, it was plain to see that the notch of the rear sight was very slightly off-centre. Being such a robustly made gun, any temporary adjustment (such as fitting a shim to the rear sight) seemed out of the question (and unnecessary) so I have used a fine metal file to increase the width of the notch by approximately 1mm to the right. The notch is now 2mm across, gives a good sight picture and is (as near as dammit) perfectly centred.
Some gentle filing in order to increase and centralise the rear notch
The two targets on the left were shot at dusk on 7th October using 0.30g FireFly BBs; the one on the right the following day using 0.32g GoldenBall ammunition. I think it is fair to say from these targets (about two hundred shots in all) that groupings of about an inch may be expected from rested shots at 6yds. However, I still have to aim off “a tad” (about ⅜ inch at 6yds). With no cross-wind, you can easily expect to connect with an 8 inch diameter target 25m away.
Targets shot rested from 6yds. The rear sight has been set to “eight” hundred metres for “eighteen” feet! Targets courtesy of the Umarex Boys Club new “Monthly Rifle Challenge”
I must admit I tend to be in favour of having the option of “electric blowback” where the charging handle and cover are connected to the gearbox, causing it to fly backwards and return forwards in a realistic fashion. This also has the added benefit of masking the “whirring” sound of the motor and wonder whether it might be included in the future (as long as there is the option to disconnect as it would increase battery consumption considerably).
Quality and Reliability 14 / 15
Dare I give it full marks? Best not to tempt fate, but less than fourteen would be churlish! The body is made of steel throughout, checked using a magnet. There are no alloy parts waiting to fail on this gun! The receiver is made of stamped steel true to an AKM of this era and even has the correct indentations either side of the magazine well to this effect (I assume the steel has been protected by some sort of bluing process, although I have a supply of Ballistol cloths to keep any unwanted tarnishing at bay).
The laminated wood is well crafted (by hand?) and not only looks good, but is strong too. The pistol grips are made of a plastic polymer material and are held securely in place (although I did give the screw in the base a slight tighten when I got the gun). All parts fit together seamlessly and well; there are no rattles or wobbles here. You might have to beware of rust, but that is it!
Of course, the internal parts could fail, but since it comes fitted with a relatively powerful spring as standard then they should stand the test of time (especially if power is reduced for use in the skirmish field). Even if something does fail, replacement parts for such a widely used gearbox (Version 3) are easy to find and E&L also advertise a variety of spares on their website.
Overall Impression 15 / 15
I had to give full marks as I am impressed to bits! If someone was to ask me my main reason for compiling this review, I would answer that it is an attempt to indicate to fellow shooters, albeit those unfamiliar with airsoft guns, just how exceptionally well made, realistic and downright “un-toylike” they can be 🙂
Even though the E&L range are a little more expensive than is usual for a gun “Made in China” (at around THB 10,000 as against to THB 6,000 for a similar style of gun), I have no qualms about paying the difference since it is not just well made, it is made to last. Proper factory testing goes a long way, too.
One wonders whether a version limited to semi-automatic fire might be produced for countries where such restrictions apply? In the United Kingdom UKARA registration or a similar valid defence for purchase would be required unless at least 51% is painted in a bright colour, blue or green perhaps, but please don’t even consider painting the wood! After all, there are also eight non-wood furniture ELAKs to choose from.
Living in Thailand, I often feel it is unfair that law-abiding enthusiasts in the UK have such overbearing legislation regarding the purchase of airsoft guns imposed upon them. However, I understand obtaining UKARA registration is one solution and one which, as well as being an exciting and rewarding experience in itself, would also provide an opportunity for meeting like-minded people and swapping ideas.
I think it is fair to say that E&L have set a new standard with their “ELAK” series of AEGs (“The Baikal Makarovs of the Airsoft World”!). From a collector’s point of view the ELAKM is an extremely well made, authentic replica of a legendary rifle; for those wishing to use it for skirmishing, well you are not going to break it!
Total Score 86 / 100
Guest review by Adrian-BP
Khun Don’s BBGunZone – Thailand: http://bbgunzone.com/?lang=eng