August 07, 2020
In 2017, we saw an explosion of interest in pistol variants of various rifles and carbines. This was spurred by a letter released March 21, 2017, by the BATFE titled, “Reversal of ATF Open Letter on the Redesign of “Stabilizing Braces.” On page three of this letter, the BATFE states, “To the extent the January 2015 Open Letter implied or has been construed to hold that incidental, sporadic, or situational “use” of an arm-brace (in its original and approved configuration) equipped firearm from a firing position at or near the shoulder was sufficient to constitute “redesign,” such interpretations are incorrect and not consistent with ATF’s interpretation of the statute or the manner in which it has historically been enforced.” This letter reversed the position that simply shouldering a pistol equipped with an arm-brace would turn it into an NFA firearm. In doing, so it opened the floodgates of interest in arm-brace-equipped pistols.
While 2017 was, at best, a dismal year for the firearms industry, sales of AR, AK and other similar pistols was one bright spot shining through the otherwise dark clouds. Today, companies large and small are offering a variety of pistols factory-equipped with stabilizing braces. One new offering is the PD-18 AK pistol from Krebs Custom. Chambered for the popular Russian 7.62x39mm cartridge, the PD-18 has a host of well thought-out features. I first had the chance to see and handle a PD-18 in October of 2017, at the Big 3 East Media event. During my time there, I interviewed Marc Krebs, the founder of Krebs Custom, about this new model and had a chance to try it on the range. It appeared to be a quality firearm with many contemporary features well suited for self-protection or recreation. It looked like a perfect truck gun.
I received a pile of emails from readers regarding my “Truck Gun—Things to consider before tossing a firearm into your rig” article, and knew the PD-18 would be of interest to many of you. So I requested a review sample for a more in-depth look at its features and performance. Like the AR-15, Kalashnikovs have noticeably evolved in the 19 years since I began writing. The PD-18 has a number of interesting features many are looking for in a modern AK. So, while it will not appeal to a traditionalist, many others will appreciate what it brings to the table.
The PD-18 is the work of Marc Krebs, who is well known to those who appreciate the Russian Kalashnikov series. I first met Krebs some 18 years ago when he was just starting to work on imported Russia Saiga rifles. A graduate of Lassen College in Northern California, he studied under Master Gunsmith Bob Dunlap. Shortly after graduating in 1985, Marc began building and customizing the venerable 1911 for carry and competition. His pistols became well known nationally due to the quality of his work. Also known for his innovation, he developed the attractive, yet functional “Snakeskin” front-strap popular on 1911s.
While he gained fame as a pistolsmith, in 2000, he returned to his original interest, military small arms. He studied and researched the designs of Mikhail Kalashnikov in particular. In September of 2001, I made my first trip to Izhmash Arsenal in Izhevsk, Russia, and Krebs accompanied me. During this trip, we had the opportunity to visit Kalashnikov at his summer home. While studying the design of the AK series of assault rifles, Krebs became duly impressed by its simplicity, nuances and reliability. During this time period, he began producing custom AK-103 clones, using Russian-built Saiga sporting rifles as the foundation.
Thinking back, it doesn’t seem so very long ago, but 18 years have gone by. Down through the years, Krebs became very well known for his custom AK work. Eventually, his custom shop could no longer keep up with demand. So he made the decision to stop doing custom work, and he transitioned over to production work.
Today, Marc Krebs is looked upon as one of the early pioneers of custom AK work by the younger generation of gunsmiths who have come to love this Russian design.
After having examined and briefly shot a PD-18 at Big 3 East, I was interested in having a chance to thoroughly test one. A short time later, a package arrived at my FFL dealer, Quantico Tactical. Inside was a good-looking 7.62x39mm AK pistol with Krebs Custom’s distinctive logo emblazoned on the side. While in the past, Krebs built his rifles using Russian Saiga and Vepr sporting rifles as his foundation, these have been banned from import. So the PD-18 is built using an American-made stamped steel receiver manufactured by either Morrissey or Childers. The pistol is assembled using new Polish WBP parts. Pinned to the front trunnion is a 10.6-inch cold hammer-forged barrel. This is chrome-lined and has a twist rate of one turn in 9.4 inches. So, the foundation of the pistol is pretty straight-forward.
When you move beyond these basic pieces, things begin to get interesting. Instead of a traditional Russian or Combloc muzzle device, Krebs fits its Interchangeable Muzzle System (IMS). The IMS does exactly what its name suggests; it allows the shooter to easily swap out muzzle devices to fit his needs. The system consists of an effective flash suppressor, which acts as a mounting base for a family of muzzle devices. The flash suppressor remains on the pistol. Different devices can then be quickly attached or removed to/from the flash suppressor to tailor performance as desired. Most importantly, all this can be done without the need for tools.
The foundation for the IMS system is an open four-prong flash suppressor. This is 2.9 inches long, adds 1.95 inches in length to the rifle and weighs 4.5 ounces. What is unique about this design is it features 24x1.5mm external threads and a spring-loaded detent. This allows you to thread on another device by hand over the flash suppressor, and securely lock it into place. To remove, you just have to depress the detent and spin it off by hand.
Included with the flash suppressor is a simple compensator. This weighs 1.7 ounces and has an overall length of 2.46 inches, adding just .22 inch to the base unit. It threads easily onto the device and features three oval ports at 9, 12 and 3 o’clock. It is notched at the front to allow a cleaning rod or similar device to be used to aid in its removal if badly fouled. When installed, it aids in reducing muzzle movement while keeping the flash signature to a reasonable level.
A better option, in my opinion, is to add an effective muzzle brake. Krebs offers two interesting designs as accessories. Both are made specifically for the IMS system and both are machined from U.S.-made Grade 5 Titanium with a black cutting-edge TB-41 diamond-like coating. The “Short” brake weighs 1.9 ounces and adds .36 inch to the overall length of the flash suppressor. A two-baffle design, it sports a large and small port at 3 and 9 o’clock. The “Long” brake weighs in at 3.1 ounces and adds 1.4 inches to the overall length. This impressive-looking piece sports five baffles and features four large and one small port at 3 and 9 o’clock. Both are handsomely finished, nicely knurled and appear very well made.
Directly to the rear of the IMS is a Krebs Custom Front Sight Gas Block. This is machined from 4140 steel, heat-treated to 40 Rockwell and chrome-lined. It is locked into place by two Allen screws and one steel cross-pin. A pair of steel “ears” or “wings” protects a standard A2-style AR-15 front sight post. Unlike on a Soviet pattern gun, the front sight is adjustable only for elevation. This is easily accomplished using a standard M16A2 sight tool or the tip of a cartridge. Using an AR-15 front sight allows any of the many aftermarket front sight designs to be installed, if the owner so chooses.
Surrounding the barrel is Krebs Custom’s proprietary KeyMod handguard. This two-piece system mounts securely to the pistol. Machined from 6061 T6 aluminum, the rail system is intended to add flexibility, but not weight, to the pistol. The upper handguard has a modified M1913 rail machined at 12 o’clock for mounting optics or accessories. The fore-end features KeyMod slots at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock, as well as numerous lightening/cooling slots.
The KeyMod system was developed by Vltor Weapon Systems, and first released through Noveske Rifleworks before being published in the public domain in July 2012. KeyMod consists of a ‘key-hole’ shaped slot in the surface of a fore-end. The slot features a larger diameter through-hole combined with a narrower slot. The second part of the system is the KeyMod nut, which is designed to interface with the key-hole-shaped slot. The end result is a system that allows accessories to be fitted directly to a fore-end, with no need for a MIL-STD-1913 rail interface. By eliminating the rail sections and replacing them with key-shaped slots, a noticeable amount of weight is removed from the fore-end. This allows manufacturers to produce very lightweight designs in this configuration. If your accessory requires a 1913 rail, though, short rail sections can also be easily attached.
In place of the standard Kalashnikov tangent rear sight is a short steel scope mount. This bolts securely to the pistol and is machined from 4140 steel and heat treated to 40 Rockwell. It features 1913 cross slots to facilitate easy low mounting of a red-dot sight. The optic mount sits above the front of the top cover. It is positioned low enough so that a red-dot sight can be mounted to co-witness with the iron sights, yet high enough so that the top cover can still be easily removed.
The pistol’s rear sight sits towards the rear of the top cover. This robust piece features a protected A2-style AR-15 rear sight with a large and small aperture. On the right side of the sight assembly is an A2 windage knob. The top cover is reinforced at the rear and fit to the receiver. It mounts tightly on my review pistol with no perceptible movement. The sight radius is just over 15 inches, which is slightly longer than a full-size AKM rifle.
The controls on the rifle have also been improved. The magazine release is extended to provide more leverage. This aids reloads. Plus, the pistol is fitted with Krebs Custom’s Mk6 Enhanced Safety. The Mk6 features an extended and contoured tab to allow manipulation of the safety from a firing grip. Just push down or up with your trigger finger to place the pistol on Fire or Safe. The Mk6 also has a cut-out notch to manually lock the bolt back. To use this feature, you merely pull the bolt back until the bolt handle lines up with the notch and push the safety up into the Safe position.
Inside the receiver, I found an ALG trigger group. Krebs Custom states these are machined in-house to its specifications. The ALG trigger bow is wide and comfortable, while the single-stage trigger is very light, approximately 3.5 pounds. The trigger is smooth, breaks very cleanly, and has a short reset. While it is an excellent-feeling piece, the ALG trigger may actually be a bit too light for some. As far as trigger feel, you experience some smooth movement and it breaks. A Magpul pistol grip is standard.
At the rear of the receiver are a folding hinge, Krebs Custom buttstock adapter, Gear Head Works arm-brace tube and a Mod 1 “Tailhook” arm-brace. When not needed, the arm-brace tube folds to the left side of the receiver. This reduces the overall length from 31.2 inches to just 22 inches. The Tailhook is machined from aluminum and bolts securely onto the arm-brace tube. Distance from the front of the trigger bow to the rear of the Tailhook is 13.5 inches.
For those of you not familiar with it, the Gear Head Works’ Mod 1 Tailhook was specifically designed as a compact stabilizing arm-brace. It is less than an inch thick and weighs just 4.5 ounces. To use, you simply depress the release button and unfold the “hook.” When I first saw it, I was reminded of the arm hook on the old SPAS 12 shotgun. You then place your fore-arm in the hook and grasp the pistol grip. The hook then helps support the weight of the pistol, allowing relatively easy one-handed shooting. When not needed, you merely fold the hook back up until it snaps into place. The design is very well-executed.
I have a somewhat unique view of stabilizing braces compared to most of my colleagues in the firearms media. I was crippled in both my shoulders back in 1998, underwent surgery on each and then some 18 months of physical therapy. At the end of it all, I was told I would probably never lift more than 25 pounds again. Two decades later, I have limited range of motion, live with constant pain, and, while I have no problem lifting 25 pounds, I am limited on what I can do. So, I approach the use and value of a stabilizing brace with a bit of a different perspective than most that purchase one. But, I’ll get more into this a bit later.
Out of the box, the PD-18 looked good. The bolt operated smoothly, Combloc surplus magazines inserted and locked into place easily, and the trigger was very good. The arm-brace tube folded smoothly and locked solidly into place when extended. Everything looked good. My only complaint was that the safety lever could have used a bit more tension. This took only a few seconds to remedy, by bending it slightly to provide the proper tension.
In my hands, the PD-18 felt good, but it’s no lightweight. Krebs Custom lists the weight at 6 pounds 12 ounces, but simply picking it up told me that was not correct. On my scale, it came in at 7 pounds 4 ounces without a magazine. Balance point is about an inch forward of the very center of the magazine well. I’m a fan of the Magpul pistol grip and find it very comfortable, but this is an individual thing. I also found the fore-end comfortable in width and contour. It fits nicely in the hand.
Personally, I do not care for the aesthetics of the arm-brace tube. It looks like what it is; a piece of aluminum pipe screwed onto the end of the pistol. If the back had a removable plate allowing storage of cleaning gear or Twizzlers, I wouldn’t mind so much. But it doesn’t. Plus, I’d rather have a slightly shorter tube that indexed the Tailhook a bit further forward on my forearm. But again, these are personal opinions.
After my initial examination, I hit the range. Conditions were cold, 0 degrees F with the wind chill bringing it down to -12 degrees F. Perfect weather for testing a Kalashnikov! I selected four 7.62x39mm loads for testing. These consisted of American Eagle’s 124-grain FMJ, Hornady’s 123-grain SST, Winchester’s 120-grain PDX-1 Defender and Wolf Performance Ammunition’s 123-grain FMJ. Plus, I also included one subsonic 220-grain FMJ load from Engel Ballistic Research. I checked accuracy by firing four five-shot groups from the bench at 100 yards.
Bench testing was uneventful; the pistol shot acceptably well and functioned flawlessly. Best accuracy was obtained using Hornady’s 123-grain SST load, which averaged three inches at 2,033 fps. If you peruse the accuracy chart, you’ll notice muzzle velocity for the supersonic loads was just over 2,000 fps, with one exception. The Winchester load ran a bit slow at 1,862 fps from the short barrel in the low temperatures. Accuracy ran between three and 4.5 inches, which is good for a 10.6-inch 7.62x39mm AK pistol using a red-dot sight. The very light trigger aided accuracy, and the PD-18 proved very comfortable to shoot. Recoil is mild, the report not bad and the muzzle blast not overly offensive. The only issue was that the EBR subsonic load would not cycle properly.
Moving from the bench, I unsnapped the Tailhook and tried this feature shooting with one and two hands. I did this plinking at a ShootSteel.com silhouette at 100 yards. I quickly found the Tailhook works very well. It is quick and easy to use, and does an excellent job of supporting and counter-balancing the weight of the pistol.
When used as designed, it is a very practical accuracy aid that provides a real benefit. Very different in design than its competitor from SB Tactical, I found the Tailhook friendlier to use. There is no Velcro to mess with or tighten, and no need to strap it to your arm. Due to this, it’s much faster to put into use. You just open the hook, place your forearm on it and shoot. When you are done, move your forearm out of the hook and snap it shut. As it’s a solid aluminum piece firmly bolted in place, it also makes for an effective rest if you want to occasionally fire the pistol in other ways. Yes, it does work very well from the shoulder, which is perfectly legal to do.
The PD-18 carries easily and handles well, due to its small size. The safety is within easy reach from a firing grip, and the extended magazine release is a plus. Some will like the KeyMod rail, while others will curse it for not being M-LOK. That said, it does simplify mounting accessories, such as a white light. Downside to all aluminum rail systems is they are uncomfortable to hold onto in very cold weather and can get very hot during prolonged firing. The scope rail proved solid and worked well teamed with a compact red-dot sight. The iron sights co-witnessed through the low-mounted red dot and provided a very usable sight picture.
The PD-18 made short work of some steel silhouettes placed at 100 yards. I made easy hits with both supersonic and subsonic ammunition at this distance. I just held slightly over the silhouette with the subsonic load, and manually cycled it after every shot. I was able to make consistent hits at 200 yards from the prone position. Past 250 yards though, it became much more difficult to connect. From two to 50 yards, the PD-18 was in its element and chewed up paper B-27 silhouettes. During this portion of testing, I mounted the short muzzle brake and it did make a noticeable reduction in recoil and muzzle movement. A night fire showed the Krebs flash suppressor to be very effective at reducing the flash signature.
All in all, the Krebs Custom PD-18 performed well. Its chief drawback is its very expensive price tag of $2,150. That’s a lot of bread for an AK, even a fancy one. If your wallet opens that wide though, the PD-18 would make a fine trunk or truck gun and a fine recreational plinker. You can view my interview with Marc Krebs about the PD-18 here.
Krebs PD-18 AK Pistol Specs
- Action: Long-stroke gas piston with rotating bolt
- Caliber: 7.62x39mm
- Barrel: 10.6 inches cold hammer-forged, chrome-lined
- Rifling twist: 1 turn in 9.4 inches
- Overall Length: 31.2 inches w/brace extended, 22 inches folded
- Trigger: ALG single-stage
- Feed: 5, 10, 20, 30 and 40-round detachable box magazines and 75-round drum
- Arm-brace: Flat dark-earth, lightweight polymer
- Weight: 7 pounds 4 ounces without magazine
- Finish: Matte black
- MSRP: $2,150
- Manufacturer: Krebs Custom, 847-487-7776, www.krebscustomak47.com
Krebs PD-18 AK Pistol Accuracy Chart