Building a Better AK?

Can you build a better AK? Should you even try? Some in the firearms community would cry “foul” or “sacrilege”. Before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, allow me to remind you that the modern Russian AK is not the one that Mikhail Kalashnikov birthed 80 years ago.

The rifles turned out today by the Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash) have been upgraded and modified numerous times by the rifle’s parent company. Therefore, it is really not a sin or sacrilege to suggest that the Kalashnikov rifle could be improved or made better.

Brian Keeney and his company, Occam Defense Solutions, put building a better AK as their core function. During this review, we will consider the ODS-1775, a Kalashnikov-style rifle and see whether Occam is meeting their goal.

AK Occam Defense 1

The ODS-1775 Kalashnikov-style rifle from Occam Defense; a better AK.

ODS-1775 Kalashnikov Rifle – Who is Occam and What is the ODS AK?

Occam Defense started out providing parts for rifle and pistol builders, specifically those building AK’s, and moved on to being a full service firearms manufacturer. Their primary firearm products as of this writing are the ODS-1775 rifle and a nearly identical but shorter, ODS-1775 pistol. Both are chambered in 7.62x39mm.

ODS naturally stands for Occam Defense Solutions. The 1775 part comes from April 19, 1775 and the shot heard ‘round the world. Brian believes that the events of April 19, 1775 are as important as those that occurred later in 1776 with regard to American Independence and liberty. We wholeheartedly concur.

The ODS AK Platform.

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Let’s consider the heart of the ODS rifle that we will be reviewing in detail here. The receiver is a stamped Childers Mil-Spec Polish design. A forged European parts kit is used. For the barrel, Brian chose a 14.5 inch Nitride version with a 1:9.5 twist. They weld on a muzzle device to make the total length 16 inches so the gun is NOT an NFA item. A very crisp, ALG trigger group is installed as well. The manual safety on this gun is a Krebs Custom enhanced version.

Surrounding the barrel of the ODS rifle is a MERC free-float hand guard. This aluminum hand guard is M-Lok compatible and, compared to standard aluminum rails, it is very lightweight. The MERC hand guard, an ODS patent, eliminates the need for traditional front and rear AK sights. This hand guard extends over the dust cover and secures to the rifle with zero movement or play. The end user can install iron sights or an optic with complete confidence that their sight zero will be maintained.

The specific rifle featured herein was custom built for Student of the Gun. The stock is a Magpul MOE black polymer version. The pistol grip is a Tango Down version that was stippled in the ODS shop. Onto the barrel, Brian attached a Dead Air Silencers flash hider muzzle device that also functions as a suppressor adapter. Currently, Occam Defense has a variety of options available on their website including color options and add-on accessories.

The Kirkham Shelf on the Occam AK.

One of the more unique options that Occam Defense offers on their AKM rifles and pistols is The Kirkham Shelf. This design warrants some explanation. Jeff Kirkham is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who spent most of the last eighteen years fighting overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. While stationed in Afghanistan, Jeff led a commando unit staffed by Afghan patriots, their primary arm was the AK/AKM. Jeff carried and employed the AK for years in combat and has some serious real world end user thoughts about the weapon.

While the Kalashnikov is a fine battle rifle, one of the main complaints, particularly stamped receiver models, is the occasional difficulty one has when reloading under stress. Those who have experienced with imported, stamped receiver AK’s will know the struggle. A solution that Jeff formulated was to weld a “shelf” or a “guide” onto the bottom of the receiver at the mag-well opening. This would allow the end user to index the mag-well with a magazine rapidly, even in low light or darkness, and speed up the magazine installation process.

Getting the Kirkham Shelf onto an AK.

After much frustration attempting to get major AK makers to adopt the modification, Jeff met Brian Keeney. Brian is an engineer by trade and immediately realized the value of the design. This led to a partnership and The Kirkham Shelf is now an option for those who order either an ODS-1775 rifle or pistol. Before you ask, the shelf is affixed on the right side of the receiver. This does not make the gun “right handed”. The end user can use the index shelf whether they are using their left hand or right hand to load the rifle.

The Kirkham Shelf is one of those firearm modifications that you really have to experience to truly appreciate. Words cannot really do it justice. For those who have used finicky stamped receiver AK’s in the past, you should instantly appreciate the simple genius.

One note, the Kirkham Shelf works with standard AK magazines; both steel and polymer. However, the shelf does prohibit the use of drum magazines. If you plan to use drums with your ODS-1775, skip the shelf or you can still put 40 rounds RPK mags in the gun for bonus freedom seeds.

AK Kirkham Shelf ODS1775

The Kirkham Shelf speeds reload for stamped receiver AKs. (orange paint applied the author)

Range Time with the Occam Defense ODS1775.

For my range testing, I used steel surplus magazines and polymer Magpul PMAG Gen 2 and Gen 3 models. The Gen 3 models have a steel mag lip and locking tab and an orange anti-tilt follower. The ammunition was the green and gray cased 7.62x39mm from Red Army Standard.

Onto the MERC rail I decided to mount a Holosun HS403R mini red dot that I purchased from Brownells. Thanks to the MERC set up, you do not need the AR riser attachment and can mount the optic lower to the gun thereby reducing the bore to sight offset.

Since this is an AKM style gun, I decided to go with a metric BZO of 25 meter. It took me all of five rounds to zero and confirm the red dot sight at that distance. I was pleased to see that my confirmation shot group had two of three shot holes touching and the third one less than a half inch away.

Despite having a full sized aluminum hand guard, the gun is not at all front heavy, a problem that many rail systems produce. The balance of the ODS-1775 rifle was superb. After the zero I worked on cardboard silhouettes from 50 yard to contact distance.

Every round, from every magazine ran through the rifle with zero issues. The only thing I did to the rifle before range time was lube up the bolt and carrier with EDC Lube. Before I sat down to pen this piece, I put a few hundred rounds successfully through the Occam rifle. My previous experience has been running a friend’s ODS-1775 pistol which was a dream to shoot as well.


The MERC handguard eliminates need for traditional AK sights and holds zero 100%.

Parting Shots and Recommendation.

Yes, I most certainly recommend the ODS-1775 rifle. I have been working with AK and AKM guns for somewhere in the neighborhood of three decades now and I appreciate how Brian and his company have taken a good gun and made it better.

Are the ODS guns cheap? No. Whether rifle or pistol, the ODS-1775 firearms are custom built to your specifications. If you can appreciate the rhino tough AKM action combined with 21st Century engineering, I would suggest giving them a serious look. Remember, buy once, cry once. That’s always best the solution.

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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