Re-Fang a Mak-90 - Part 1 - Chu Wood
If you have a Chinese Norinco Mak-90, the thought and desire of "un-neutering" it to its intended configuration has most likely crossed your mind!
The Chinese Type-56 Kalashnikov variant is highly desirable among AK enthusiasts for its unmatched quality. Thicker metal, high quality blued finishing, modified front trunnion rivet pattern, and full hood front sight are just a few pointers that quickly standout. The sight block/bayonet combo, dubbed "the Spiker", has also helped elevate the rifle to an iconic status.
Unfortunately, these well crafted tools are hard to get, but other members of their family have been and can still be more easily attainable!
The MAK-90 abbreviation stands for; "Modified AK 1990". The MAK-90 was a variant put out for export to the United States, designed to skirt new anti gun laws implemented at the time. The design essentially stripped the Chinese AKM of its "Evil Features" such as the bayonet or means to mount one, the "scary" pistol grip, and the threads on the muzzle. The result was a high quality Chinese made AKM variant with a thumb-hole style hunting type stock that replaced the traditional grip and stock. The threads on the muzzle were turned down, and the front sight block did not have the means to mount a bayonet.
The term 'Re-Fang" as it relates to the Chinese MAK-90 Imports refers to the restoration of the rifle to the traditional Type-56 configuration or as close as one can get. We will attempt to do just that in this series of articles on a Norinco MAK-90 we stumbled upon last summer at a local gun store. Our copy had already parted ways with the thumb hole style stock prior to joining our family in favor of a Romanian bakelite grip, and a traditional wood stock. There is no set order for the "re-fang" process, but as our replacement stock had a darker brown finish making it appear wildly out of place, it seamed to be the most appropriate starting point.
Norinco Chu Wood
Chinese Kalashnikov rifles were almost entirely outfitted with Catalpa Bungei, commonly referred to as Manchurian Catalpa, or Manchurian Chu Wood. Chu Wood is a straight grain, light weight wood that is quit soft and very resistant to moisture. Because of these traits, Chu Wood is popular for wood turning and furniture creation and makes it a great choice for use on the AKM variants.
Unfortunately for MAK-90 owners, Chu Wood is very difficult to get a hold of. The tree is available in a limited region of China and is not exported. This leaves very little options for the MAK-90. The first option, is to find a full set that was removed from another rifle and available of purchase. This is feasible with grips which pop up frequently on places like Gun Broker, Arms List, or the AK Files, but not likely a stock. You probably have a better chance of seeing a unicorn, but it is still an option. Option two, is to find other objects made from Chu Wood, and clone the Stock and Grip on a stock duplicator. This is a great option if you have access to a duplicator however it can be tricky to source a Chu Wood part large enough to clone the other parts. The original thumb hole stock is the first obvious choice for this and can certainly make a couple grips, but not likely the stock. The third option is to get a similar grain stock and match the appearance to the Chu Wood. Of course this isn't the perfect scenario for the purist, but it can help you sleep at night while searching for Chu Wood!
As our project already had a replacement stock with similar grain pattern, we opted for the third option with the intent to duplicate a stock in the future if appropriate Chu Wood finds its way into our hands! We did find and purchase an original Chinese made grip for this project from the AK Files.
Matching Stain to Chu Wood
With the grip replaced, it's time to match the stock. Our stock had an existing brown stain of some type that needed to be removed so we started off a bit aggressive with 220 grit sandpaper. Once the big stuff was taken care of, we progressed to 400 grit, and 800 grit to smooth things out a bit being careful not to do to much as our existing hand guard isn't overly smooth. This step was more of a back and forth process of sanding, comparing, then sanding again and continuing until the stock matched as close as possible to the hand guard.
Once the stock is sanded and cleaned, its time to match the color. Most Type-56 wood components were lightly sealed with some type of oil or shellac which brought out the yellowish orange appearance of the wood. Later copies tend to have a stronger orange appearance than the earlier ones.
For our project we decided to use Zinsser's Bulls Eye Amber Shellac. We rubbed the Amber Shellac on in light coats. After each coat we compared it to the hand guard until we reached our desired tone.
Newer furniture or furniture that has been well maintained has a fair amount of shine to it. The Amber Shellac alone may not work for some projects. Comparing off of our hand guard, ours was such case. To match the gloss of the hand guard, we rubbed the stock down with coats of Tung Oil, again comparing to the hand guard between coats until we reached our desired effect.
Finally, we are left with a nicely matched furniture set that will more than suffice for now. Our MAK-90 has taken on the appearance of the Type-56 and is well on its way to re-birth. The next steps in this project will include matching the bottom metal to the blued finish of the rifle, installing a "Spiker" bayonet, and re-threading the muzzle.