Back From Bubba’s Brink on a Budget

Here is an AK as prepared by Bubba the Gunsmite. It has been given a good gun smiting, both in its tacticool appendages, and in its horkworthy finish. That paint job — is Bubba actually blind from a bad batch of white lightning?

bubbas_ak-74

It was posted to Arfcom by a guy wondering what it was, and whether he got a good deal swapping a police trade-in Glock worth maybe $350 for it (and a bunch of low-quality mags). The AK is a Bulgarian kit with its original barrel, built up on a high-quality Nodak Spud LLC receiver. (Yes, their AK stuff is just as outstanding as their AR stuff). Apart from the sprayed on crapkote finish, front rail with a questionable VFG, and love-it-or-hate-it Hogue grip, the 5.49mm rifle has a homemade bumpfire stock, on a cheap plastic (polyethylene?) “buffer” tube held on with (we are not making this up) a wood screw. The new owner wanted a “tactical” AK with rails and all, but didn’t want an eyesore. 

As bad as the gun looks in overview it’s worse close up:

Bubbas AK-74 action

You could call that the “Been there, done that, got tagged by a Bronx graffiti ‘artist'” look. But as bad as the outside of this Bubba job was, the inside was worse yet:

Bubbas AK-74 internals

The collective wisdom of the Arfcom thread was to strip and refinish it — or have a pro do it — and install Magpul Zhukov furniture in a Bulgarian-like plum finish. The Zhukov allows the use of a top rail only.

AK-47 (not 74, obviously) with Magpul Zhukov furniture in black. Magpul photo.

AK-47 (not 74, obviously) with Magpul Zhukov furniture in black. Magpul photo.

But the guy was on a tight, tight budget. He couldn’t swing the Magpul stuff ($200 plus shipping)

Can you heal a sick AK in a tiny home workshop, on a rock-bottom budget?

Here’s what Adam decided to do:

  1. Strip the old finish;
  2. Refinish with a modern coating. He chose Norell’s MolyResin in semi-gloss black;
  3. Replace the Bubba-built bumpfire rig with a conventional stock, perhaps a Magpul CTR in due course;
  4. And do it all himself.

Skip ahead to Results

Here it is “afterward,” still well endowed with tactical gingerbread, but at least not so badly finished as to make Mikhail TImofeyovich weep:
De-bubbad AK74

Although, not exactly well finished either:

De-bubbad 74 2

But still, let’s compare that to the status quo ante: 

Bubbas AK-74 action 2

Not so bad in that light, eh? Really, this thing started out looking like all five of the Lee Sisters — Ug, Home, Ghast, Beast and Gnar. Indeed, the finish was so bad it made the underlying metalwork look bad (which it wasn’t): for example, the rear trunnion rivets look like they’ve got a “smiley” on them (a common result of using an undersized set tool) but it’s just an optical illusion produced by the paint and wear.

The bare metal pins were an oversight, but — that’s the way they are on a factory AK-74, either bare metal or blued.

The finish was done with Norell’s MolyResin ceramic-metallic coating, and the orange peel can caused by a variety of things, including too much paint to quickly, not preheating the work to 100ºF or so, and not properly preparing the work. For any spray-on coating, metal needs to be prepared a little differently than it is for a soak-in coating like Parkerizing. Norell highly recommends abrasive blasting. (Or, if you’re equipped to do it, you can simply parkerize the bare-metal firearm — but you need to remove the old finish first).

Here’s how Adam did it. The longest journey begins with a single step, disassembly. Fortunately, the gun-disassembly tricks and tips that were gunsmith secrets a generation ago, are now available to anyone with a computer. Of course, this has just made more work for gunsmiths as guys (sorry ladies, it’s always a guy) who can’t follow instructions or a video, take short cuts, break things, or can’t reassemble them continue to bring them in — in a basket, or a brown paper bag. If you see a guy in Market Basket tonight answer the checkout question with “paper,” he’s probably bringing us his Glock in the morning.

Bubbas AK-74 disassembly 2

Here he is using the Tipton Gun Vise in the one role for which it’s really suited, a photo stand.

When we see the tight spaces guys like Adam work in, we are more grateful for our second-class (at least) workshop, which we don’t have to share with a water heater. (Or an F150, or lawnmower, snowblower, washer and dryer, or any of those other things we see guys working around). Having lived in small apartments and government quarters we will say that when you have to work in a small space, it helps a lot to keep it picked up and organized — that makes it seem bigger even though it takes a lot of time to be constantly shuffling things in and out of “put away.” We believe that in the end, organization saves more time than it costs.

Here’s another view of the AK at about the same stage of dismantling.

Bubbas AK-74 disassembly

And here it is further along, after most of the weird paint job has been stripped. It clings grimly to the trigger guard and internal parts, but you can see the factory blued finish on the Bulgarian barrel and trunnions, and the Parkerizing on the Nodak receiver. It looks like it took a little scrubbing (note how shiny the rivet heads are).

Bubbas AK-74 semi stripped

At this point, if you want to strip the finish, you have no options but bead blasting and/or chemical warfare. Adam went all chemical. He made a solvent trough out of a section of steel gutter from the hardware store, two end caps, and epoxy to hold them in place (in fact, he used leftover Brownell’s glass bedding compound. It worked fine). He lay the AK barreled receiver, with the barrel plugged at both ends, in there, and added a gallon of acetone. Almost immediately an black chemical began to swirl away from the barrel, like an octopus squirting ink. As the acetone evaporated away, the remaining chemical turned purple with the “octopus ink” that’s the old bluing salts leaving the barrel.

If you look real closely, there's an AK in there.

If you look real closely, there’s an AK in there.

With the old finish off, he resprayed it with MolyResin black semigloss, and baked the finish on, with the results you’ve already seen. In a few days’ part-time work he’s removed an unwanted personalization from a Bubba’d gun and made one that is not only more to his own tastes, but also more readily sold to the next owner, and certainly worth more than the $350 value of the Glock plus the ~$150 value of the materials he bought for the project (some of which, like the stripping solvent trough, are reusable).

Some suggestions, if he ever does it again:

  1. Using a more reliable thermometer than the one built into any non-industrial oven. They’re built to a price, not to a quality level, and the difference between 300º and 325º F matters a lot more to a MolyResin job than it does to a pork roast.
  2. More cycles of stripping and baking the firearm. It’s amazing how much gunk hides in the little interstices of a
  3. Completely stripping the firearm, until there are no vestiges of earlier paints, bluing, or parkerizing.
  4. Thoroughly removing all the finish solvent. This usually suggests another round of baking.
  5. Metal-preparation in accordance with the intended finishing medium. For bluing, you want a high gloss. Norell’s makes very specific recommendations for media-blasting pre-MolyResin. Those are based on many years of experience — it’s a lot faster to learn from their experience than from your own.
  6. Pre-heating the gun before application of MolyResin. (This depends on the specific MR product and degree of gloss you’re shooting for).
  7. Using an airbrush instead of an HVLP sprayer (although Norell’s recommends either).
  8. Very thin coats, not trying to get the thing to finish color in one application.

Still and all, the post-refinish AK is considerably better than the original Bubbafied state. And one has the impression that the owner will not be content with this stage of affairs, but will further improve the firearm.

36 thoughts on “Back From Bubba’s Brink on a Budget

  1. Dave

    Is it just me, or does the front half of that bad boy look canted a couple degrees downward from the back half?

    1. Hognose Post author

      According to Adam, it’s an artifact of the camera. Enough people asked him that that he applied a straightedge to it. The gun was a commercial build.

  2. Doug

    Even Somali’s be like WTF?!

    Speaking of WTF, anybody read the context of H.R.4269?
    Somebody who know guns very well had a hand in fabricating this work of tyranny. Somebody sharpened their pencil, they even break the lists of permitted and prohibited weapons down to manufacturers models subgroups, weapon by weapon. No loopholes seems to be the idea.

    I’d say somebody with a phone and a pen is rather peeved he is having a bit of a problem disarming us bitter clingers.
    Molan Labe Bitchez!

    https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/4269/text

    1. Doug

      I like the very last parting shot of total wonton hubris in this bill of attainder:

      SEC. 8. SEVERABILITY.

      If any provision of this Act, an amendment made by this Act, or the application of such provision or amendment to any person or circumstance is held to be unconstitutional, the remainder of this Act, the amendments made by this Act, and the application of such provision or amendment to any person or circumstance shall not be affected thereby.

      “held to be unconstitutional”
      Pal, you don’t know what “unconstitutional” is. Only total functional tyrants with a totalitarian bent on ruling with impunity in a constitutional republic could have the arrogance to write that paragraph.
      Me thinks those who fabricated this act of can’t fix stupid are gonna wish they had a constitution to protect them before this crap is over.

      1. Mr. AR-10

        “held to be unconstitutional”

        This is complete bullshit full stop. If you a55holes aren’t sure that the stuff you are legislating is constitutional or not, how can you propose it as a law in the first place? This practice of including severability clauses in laws itself is unconstitutional in my opinion. If you think it might not be constitutional when proposing it? Then go back to your smoke filled rooms and get the erasers out. That is to say, when proposed the legislator must believe the law to be constitutional (and perhaps he should be made to support that also with references and citations), and when voted on by congress, they vote on the entire bill as it stands; thus if part of the bill is found to be faulty, then entire thing should be struck down.

        Why should there be anything in this process designed to make it easier for legislators? That should be no consideration at all, in fact the process should be designed in whole to be exceedingly difficult.

        One amendment I’d like to see is this; ‘no bill shall exceed the number of words in the constitution in length’.

        1. Doug

          Interesting there is nothing specific about home workshop building your own, 80% receivers or “Ghost Gunner” machining centers.
          If they are serious about disarmament, they got to know when you make all those rifles “illegal” for free men you make everything perfectly legal and outlaw your legitimacy as a government actor.
          Where are they really going with this is what I’m trying to figure out.
          Even as radical statists, they have to have some sense you don’t pull the plug on the most important component of the document that governs the rule of law, even if your the most lawless actors in that government. No amount of narrative, crisis as a means or just plain lying changes that truth.
          All I can think is there is something coming, and that bill is a prepositioned political resource to be used in a miraculously timely and convient event. That seems to be these clowns SOP.
          The cultural marxists have been signalling like demented idiot savants who repeat the same thing over and over. “I’m a very good driver…” “common sense gun laws”…”I’m a very good driver…”

    2. William O. B'Livion

      Now, I come to understand that some/most of you folks are in the liberal/progressive enclaves where a majority of your neighbors are gun fearing wusses.

      But I drove from Colorado to almost Illinois last week and gun stores, billboards and billboards for gun stores and ranges the whole way.

      Well, except for eastern Colorado/western Kansas where there ain’t nothing but wind.

      Between Thanksgiving and Cyber monday enough guns were sold to re-outfit the Marine Corps.

      That’s THREE DAYS.

      Next year is an election year. Less than 1/2 the democrats in the house live in districts where they can safely vote for any sort of anti-gun legislation. So there is 0 chance of it passing the house, 0 chance of it passing the senate.

      This is just those 1/2 the democrats who *are* safe posturing.

      What “we” need to do is to paint ALL the democrats as anti-gun wusses.

  3. Ken

    I would like to have an AK but when I start looking at them I get confused about what is what. Supposedly the Arsenal ones are about as good as you can get? They are pricey and they all seem to have polymer stocks. I like the wood ones.

  4. Arsenal 762

    I have an Arsenal SLR-107F and have owned a Yugo M70AB in the past. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have.

  5. Doug

    Anybody know of 5.56 AK bolt heads for sale?

    I ‘d like to build me a 5.56 nato AK converted to use AR mags, a precision machined flip to the side bolt cover with indexing that doubles as a scope mount to retain your optics zero, peep style tritium night sights, a nice Green Mountain Rifle made barrel, chrome lined of course, standard threads, with that handsome Zukov furniture. That would be a practical rifle to me. Best of both worlds.

    FYI, any body interested to know, I can tell you after putting Green Mountain AR barrels on my M4orgeries, the accuracy improvement I obtained is fantastic. I think their 14.5 inch barrel with the extractor blowout pin worked best accuracy wise. I pinned and plug welded on a long A2 style flash suppressor, the handling with 1.5 inch less overall length was surprisingly noticeable.

    1. Mr. AR-10

      Sounds like you have that planned out well!

      I don’t think I’d be very good at riveting, even though they do look fun (the AK’s not the rivets :-).

      1. Doug

        Funny you say that about riveting. I think Mr. WM said it best when gunsmithing, Do No Harm, its one of those things where the trick is you have to take your sweet time, don’t rush it, get everything set up right. All you have to do is get it right one time, so working with that thought in mind helps. They are really press fit pins, with mushroom heads to retain the sheet metal on the barrel trunnion. The trunnion has enough mass and rigidity its fairly straight forward once the head space is established. The cross rivets behind the mag well use spacer tubes, you can feel the rivet bottom out. What makes the difference is reaming everything spot on. Get that right and everything follows.
        Thats what I’ve found works best for me.

      1. Doug

        Negative on the Sig, want me sum good old trusty Russian engineering, that shoots common battle field pick up ammo and mags.

        AK Builder has Bulgarian 5.56 bolts and barrel trunnions. The bolt fits 7.62 AK carriers. Those guys emailed back they can set me up a kit, I’ll do the mag conversion myself. Have to figure out a boolit ramp, should be pretty straight forward. They even have chrome lined 5.56 american made barrels. You have to drill the gas port. Not a problem.

  6. John Distai

    The whole dedicated workshop thing is a big deal, at least to me. I believe that the lack of dedicated workshop space is causing an identity crisis in the American male. At least in this one. Where can the American male explore their creative and tinkering sides other than the workshop? What are we to do with ourselves without it? Watch sports on TV? Take guitar lessons? Play video games? Learn how to cook?

    Growing up, all the houses had “ready made” workshops in the form of unfinished basements. And they had garages that were large enough to hold F-150’s. Men would have space for workbenches, model railroads, and other creative tinkering hobbies. The basement was always available for this, and you could park your F-150 and lawnmower in the garage at the same time.

    Nowadays, at least where I live, houses with basements are a rarity. And homeowners that have them often “finish” them so they can have a “home theater”, a weight set (they’ll never use), or a mother-in-law suite (for the mother-in-law they’ll never host).

    So that leaves the garage, right? It seems the legal definition of a 2 car garage is now 19′ x 19′. So builders are now building to the minimum size spec and calling it a “2 car garage”. I recently saw a real estate listing that had a 22’x22′ garage and the Realtor called it a “2 1/2 car garage”. Having the minimum amount of space to open my car door while my spouse’s car is parked beside it doesn’t count as another “half car”. It’s a joke. And if you need to park a lawnmower and a car? Forget it. You an park your car outside the garage, if your HOA allows it.

    So the workshop thing has become an existential crisis for me. I suspect it has for many other American males. Hognose, feel thankful for your space. I could lament further, but Giada at Home is on.

    1. Ken

      Here, in the deep south, most people park their cars in the driveway and fill the garage up with worthless crap.

    2. Quill_&_Blade

      Maybe bad form, but…this is a two part reply.
      First, I’ve been reading this blog for a couple weeks, and it’s addictive. Beyond the information presented, there’s the style; a sample:
      “Using a more reliable thermometer than the one built into any non-industrial oven. They’re built to a price, not to a quality level, and the difference between 300º and 325º F matters a lot more to a MolyResin job than it does to a pork roast.”
      That’s great. As for needing workspace, I guess it’s like a long term game, like a convict who’s got time on his hands to plan an escape. About 7 years ago, I rented an old ‘shotgun’ style farm house. The landlord was grouch #1, so I had to be careful what I did. As for the house, I’m a patient man, in some areas; I tried over and over to figure out the beyond Bubba repairs and modifications. “If that part of the house was sagging, as indicated by the Red Cedar tree trunk reinforcement in the crawlspace, then this hallway repair would have bee added after the rest of the paneling; but that’s not possible because of the way that trim overlaps this paneling over here, which matches the wood type back there, which…” It was the methods which were a curiosity, not the materials, Easter Red Cedar is rot resistant,and a fine resource when finances are strained, which is often here in Appalachia.
      I really wanted more work space. I examined the house for months, then realized that the ceiling joists were big rough sawn boards on 24 inch centers, with 1″ X 4’s as ceiling boards. In a hall closet there was a small attic access hole, sheetrock had never been applied in there; the 1 X 4’s were exposed. I was able to remove those boards the length of the closet. This allowed a short aluminum extension ladder to be put in the closet, and the opening was just big enough to walk right up. I was careful not to interfere with any load bearing aspects. That attic was great. A heavy duty extension cord powered fluorescent lights and a radio. Getting full 4′ X 8′ sheets up there was about impossible, so more planning. I realized that the back gable wall was vary basic, with aluminum siding outside. I took a digital picture of that wall from the outside, imported it into Corel draw, and drew a proposed door in place just below the gable peak, and above the kitchen door.
      Exported the drawing as a raster (JPG) had it printed in color. Waited till the landlord was in a better mood, and asked about making the door. Timing must’ve been right, they agreed. Then it was great. Had a place to cut, sand and paint things out of the rain and wind.
      The place we’re at now had an old chicken coop that was falling over. Actually the building was in decent shape, but the block wall foundation was collapsing. The tin roof had all these strange little rips in it. Eventually I realized that they were sideways shotgun pellet holes that the previous Bubba had inflicted. Black roof goo fixed those. My brother in law supported about 2/3 of the building with numerous 4 X 4 posts, where it wasn’t too high off the ground. I didn’t want to get serious about tool and paint storage until the tallest back supports were in place. I read online about tension and compression when designing a bridge, and, with some massive telephone pole sections given to me, supported that back wall. Painted the building green with my airless, and now I am again out of the rain.
      A bit of verbiage for a first post, but the point being…persistence.

  7. DSM

    Aesthetically speaking such things are always, well, questionable, but the bottom line I’d be concerned with is whether or not it’s safe, functional and accurate enough. Some time back, I think on SSD, there was a picture of a Kurd and his AK that had a busted grip and a cheapo handguard or some other forward grip on it. Everyone took their turn poking fun of it. But I thought, heck, that’s probably all he’s got and he’s making it work. His rifle doesn’t have feelings or an ego to bruise. It either works or it doesn’t.

    I’m glad he was able to work his way back closer to where he wants it to be. I’d just stick with simple furniture on it but that new Magpul gear does look pretty good and that folding stock adds compactness to the party.

  8. Tim, '80s Mech Guy

    Seems like a lot of gun snobery in the air of late. IMHO if you want to pimp your rifle, be it AR, AK or Mosin, good for you. The aftermarket parts, finishers and gunsmiths who un-fuck the many errors gotta eat too. You guys are plenty ready to bust on Bubba but everybody starts somewhere. Anybody seen Swensons first 1911?

    On the other hand please refrain from posting your labor of love for sale for retail plus the cost of your time spent. I’ts just silly.

  9. jim

    I acquired a Yugo SKS in trade for a low mileage Chinese Makarov awhile back. The SKS had been nicely refinished and is really quite accurate. Functions flawlessly. The only downside was the previous owner had decided to try to replicate the look of an RPK..who knows why. Well an RPK with an AR style non collapsing collapsable stock, with the AR style grip of course. Connecticut not allowing that sort of thing. I cant say what brand of plastic stock it had as I cant remember exactly where I flung the thing. Along with the fixed 30 round mag and ridiculously heavy bipod that was clamped onto the barrel. Luckily the guy had the original wood stock and mag, minus the small upper handguard. So i did reuse that when I de-tacticooled the thing. After returning it to the reasonably light handy rifle it was meant to be, I figure I made out pretty good on the deal. The Mak was a fun range toy but with so many better options, I think I may have only carried it once or twice over the years. Everytime I see one of these Bubba’d out guns I wonder if any of these guys have ever carried them any further than from their car to the bench at the range. Or off their back porch. The SK wont ever be as light and handy in the woods as say, my old Model 94 Trapper, but at least I dont feel like I should be towing it behind a Jeep anymore.

  10. Toastie The Coastie

    What in heck is going on with the magazine on this guy’s AK? Is this as retarded as it looks? Picture is from a Texas rally.

    1. Hognose Post author

      His magazine’s in ass-backwards, yes. Looks like a ban-era Norinco from the thumbhole stock. Neither is a marker of a high functioning individual, in my “gun snob” opinion.

      What are the odds his left hand is holding a spit cup? And he is the guy that the news gatherers gravitate to, and put on Ma and Pa’s TV as representative of gun owners.

      Sigh.

      1. Tom Stone

        It takes a real operator to insert a mag bassackward and still look cool.
        And give him credit for having the flag rightside up…

      2. Joe

        My guess is Yugo import from five years ago or so … I think I remember seeing them with black plastic furniture/thumbhole stock …

      3. Miles

        And he is the guy that the news gatherers gravitate to, and put on Ma and Pa’s TV as representative of gun owners.

        Like moths to a flame, but it’s not mindless, and the Higgs field didn’t have anything to do with it either. The Bubba Narrative must be confirmed! and ‘that guy’ fit.

        As we always said: “Don’t be ‘that guy’.

    2. Red

      I wasn’t even aware that was possible. Gotta love this site, I learn new things every time I visit.

  11. Dyspeptic Gunsmith

    I have a headache after reading this posting. I’m going to bed. Then I’m going to get up in the middle of the night, chug a half bottle of whisky, and go back to bed, hoping to end the nightmares.

    After this, I think I know what I’m going to do in my retirement. I’m going to shave my head, done a saffron robe and become an itinerate gunsmith monk. I’m going to develop the gunsmith-fu to sniff out Bubba from a mile or more away, and I’m going to hike my wrinkled ass over to his basement, and beat him upside the head with my hickory staff, and tell him to quit molesting perfectly innocent guns.

    Oh, my eyes. They burn…

    1. Hognose Post author

      There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, although the angles are better with something like the AFG, for most people. But it’s really not necessary.

      The first version (Knight’s) became popular circa 2000-01 because we had four pounds of lightweight arrayed around the other 270º of our handguard rails, and they gave you something to hold on to, if you didn’t have a 203.

  12. Docduracoat

    I am so happy to see that you have finally done an article on home gun refinishing!
    As you can see from my screen name, I am a doctor and I like to paint guns.
    I have moved on from krylon to duracoat and then to other finishes, especially cerakote.
    Adam there did a good job for a first timer, with an ” orange peel” dimpling problem on the finish. He could try hand sanding the finish and see if he could smooth out that dimpling.
    As you said in the article, prep is everything and multiple degreasings are key.
    I have had good results applying cerakote and duracoat over the factory finish on brand new guns, just degrease and spray.
    The factory finish on the average used AK can be removed very easily with 220 grit sandpaper and hand sanding. Just be sure to get in all those little areas around the rivet heads and the sights.
    Duracoat and cerakote c ( air dry) are childishly easy to do.
    I recommend to do it yourself…it comes out great!
    Try it on some AR or AK magazines to start with.
    Next time, buy stencils from Bulldog Firearms and camo your gun!

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