So shortly after purchasing my Saiga 7.62x39mm rifle, I got a hankering to convert it to a quasi-AK configuration. I decided to take pics along the way. There are plenty of guides and tutorials out there, so this isn't intended to be a complete manual of every step....I just wanted to hit the high points and the low points, as it were.
This is what I started out with. A Saiga rifle, a buttstock, a pistol grip, and bags of parts.
I've begun the basic disassembly here. Buttstock and foregrip are off, dust cover is off, and the bolt and mainspring are out.
When you don't have the luxury of a real shop, you have to be creative when approaching problems. In this case, I need some way of supporting the uneven shape of the rifle while I was drilling. I had a block of hard foam handy, so I trimmed it to shape and it worked perfectly.
This is pretty much the point of no return. I've drilled out the shoulders of the Saiga trigger pins and tapped them out with a punch. There's no easy way to reassemble the rifle in its original configuration at this point, so I have to go forward.
Drilling out the pins allowed me to remove the internals, so I moved on to the trigger guard. The trigger guard can be reused if you are careful. You can see I've drilled through the front and rear rivets, and also through the spot weld immediately in front of the trigger guard, and I've managed to do it without completeing fubaring it.
And once those rivets and that spot weld are drilled through, the trigger plate comes off. Underneath you find the original trigger hole and pistol grip nut hole, and bare metal.
That bare metal has to be dealt with before you can move on, and on the recommendation of several folks I tried some Rustoleum High-Temp BBQ spray paint. It's not a perfect match, but it's tough, rated for high-temps, and will mostly be covered up anyway. After masking off the rest of the receiver, I did several light coats over a few hours, then "baked" it under a hot lamp overnight to make sure it was completely dry before I moved on.
Here you can see I've moved the trigger guard forward. Many folks said you only had to bolt the rear of the trigger guard down, and that the pressure would be enough to keep the front in place underneath the magazine release. This is probably true, but I figured while I was here I might as well do it permanently. I carefully drilled through the magazine release. Lining up the screw and nut underneath the mag release was one of the hardest parts of the process but I am pleased with the results. You can just see the allen head through the mag release.
With the trigger guard attached it was time to install the new pistol grip. This is an ErgoGrip brand pistol grip that I found the closeout section of their website. I like the shape, but I'm not wild about the open bottom of the grip, or with the fit against the trigger guard, but it'll do for now.
It was at this point that I started reinstalling the FCG (fire control group), and then I realized -- I was missing some parts. Brian at DinzagArms had forgotten to toss in one little bag of e-clips, and I was stuck. He apologized profusely and promised to send some out immediately. Since I couldn't get any further with the FCG, I decided to skip ahead and install the bullet guide. Stock Saiga magazines have a taller front lip that guides the round into the chamber, and using regular milsurp AK mags won't work unless you install a guide to fill the gap.
Brian at DinzagArms offers a bullet guide kit that includes a drill bit, a tap, the bullet guide and screw. I was extremely nervous about this process, as the "Woops!" factor is fairly high here, but I made a nice deep divot in the center of the trunnion, drilled a good straight hole, and then went REALLY, REALLY SLOW with the tap. I also dripped a few drops of oil into the hole as I was tapping it, and when I would feel it start to bind I'd back it off a half turn to break up the chips.
Here's the bullet guide, nicely centered.
Rather than wait on the e-clips to arrive in the mail, I headed to Lowe's and test-fit some e-clips until I found the right size. This allowed me to forge ahead with the FCG, and after a LOT of fiddling, everything was back in in place. I will mention that a lot of guys abandon the bolt-hold-open lever at this point, but I decided I wanted to retain it so I carefully ground down the lever to an inconspicuous size, and then reinstalled it.
Once the FCG was finished, I was able to install the new KVAR NATO-length buttstock. I also received the forearm I was waiting on, so that went on too. It's a Surefire (not to be confused with the flashlight company) railed grip that fits directly on the Saiga without any handguard retainer. It's extremely solid and I'm very pleased with it.
The finished product, with the stock Saiga mag.
And a "just for show" pic with a 30 round Promag.
As soon as I get some milsurp AK mags, I'll carefully file down the magazine release to fit those. I have no intention on using the Promags, so I figured I wouldn't mess with the magazine release until necessary.
This was a moderately challenging process, but it was great fun and I learned a lot about the inner workings of my Saiga (there aren't a lot of inner workings, but what there are, I learned). I'm much happier with the length, balance, and feel of the rifle now, and I'm very pleased to be able to legally use any milsurp AK mag now.
The most helpful resources for this project were:
Cross-Conn Saiga Conversion Guide
rjs3484's Youtube Saiga Conversion
The Saiga 12 forum
If you are thinking about buying a Saiga, or converting one you already own, I highly recommend it.