Not just a hobby – an art

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Hrair H. Palyan
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
There are those who devote themselves to mastering an art, and as a result, their body of work stands above all others.

Thus is the case for Master Sgt. Monte Ealy, 28th Civil Engineer Squadron readiness and emergency management NCO in charge, who has been building AK-pattern semi-automatic rifle replicas for more than seven years.

Ealy built his first AK-pattern rifle, a Yugoslavian rifle with an under folding stock, in 2005. In the years since then, he's built, rebuilt or modified in some way more than 24 rifles, four pistols and one shotgun.

As he builds his most recent project, an Egyptian style AK-M clone, Ealy explains each step he takes to make sure his rifle is pieced together properly.

"The rifles I build all have stamped sheet metal receivers where the barrel and trunions are riveted into the receiver," Ealy said. "The barrel is press-fit into the trunion and then pinned into place. Before I pin the barrel, I always check headspace with go and no go gauges. Too much headspace, and the results could be catastrophic."

Like a surgeon explaining each step of his intricate procedure, Ealy explains the vivid imagery of the processes he has done over and over again.

"Once the headspace is set, I pin the barrel, and finish up by installing the fire control group, safety or selector lever and pistol grip," said Ealy. "As with any firearm that has been newly assembled, it must be function-checked and test fired to ensure that the reciprocating parts don't bind, the weapon is safe, and that it won't blow up when fired."

Ealy said the process of building and testing rifles can be challenging and time consuming.

"A lot of it is just trial and error," explained Ealy. "Sometimes, not all the parts I order go together the way I would like them to. Most of my builds require a little bit of custom fitting to get parts to go together like they're supposed to."

The master sergeant who heralds from Gillette, Wyo., said rifle building requires a good amount of ingenuity, along with the right tools - a drill press, a 12-ton shop press, bench grinder, Dremel tool, rubber and brass hammers, chisels, various punches and some build-specific tools that every craftsman acquires over time.

"There's a sense of pride and craftsmanship in spending a few hours putting together a jigsaw of parts and getting a functioning firearm out of it when it's all over," Ealy said. "To this day, I get the same sense of accomplishment when I finish a rifle as I did when I started."