I believe the SKS may be one of the most under appreciated rifles of the modern era. The inexpensive and robust carbine, chambered for the ubiquitous 7.62×39 cartridge, is reliable, accurate enough, and easy to maintain. For the US consumer, its fixed magazine makes it legal in most states, and in many cases is more than enough gun for hunting, home defense and plinking. There are few guns as rugged and versatile for such a low price.
My first centerfire rifle was a Chinese Type 56 SKS in a synthetic stock that my father bought me for $80 in 1992. That gun spent many days with me at the range, it worked with 100% reliability.
Recently we ordered some SKS rifles to sell at our retail store. I paid a wholesale price nearly five times what my original SKS cost! These rifles were caked in Cosmoline and weren’t aesthetically pleasing. Once I cleaned them up and test fired them, I was transported back in time nearly three decades and found a renewed appreciation for the SKS. Doug (he runs the store) and I lamented on how we should have purchased some Chinese “paratrooper” SKS carbines back when they were in plentiful supply.
Of the 15 million plus SKS rifles produced, the Chinese made over 10 million of them. Many of these rifles, prior to import restrictions against China, made their way to the USA as inexpensive surplus rifles. Some, prior to being exported, were modified in China to have a 16.5″ barrel, in what was called the “paratrooper” configuration. A quick look on gun broker found these paratrooper guns demanding a premium of between $750-$950! I wanted one.
After a quick look at my beat up Type 56 SKS, I decided I should be able to cut one down and make my own paratrooper conversion.
Before we get to work, let’s take a look at the following disclaimer…
The contents of Rifleshooter.com are produced for informational purposes only and should be performed by competent gunsmiths only. Rifleshooter.com and its authors, do not assume any responsibility, directly or indirectly for the safety of the readers attempting to follow any instructions or perform any of the tasks shown, or the use or misuse of any information contained herein, on this website.
Any modifications made to a firearm should be made by a licensed gunsmith. Failure to do so may void warranties and result in an unsafe firearm and may cause injury or death.
Modifications to a firearm may result in personal injury or death, cause the firearm to not function properly, or malfunction, and cause the firearm to become unsafe.
For this project, I ordered the following items from Brownells:
This is the muzzle end of the donor rifle. In order to shorten the barrel, the front sight and bayonet’s mounting assembly will need to be removed. This assembly slides over the barrel and is held in place by two pins.
The pins can be drifted out of the front sight assembly by using a bench block and a punch. Unlike an AK, removal of the pins from this SKS was fairly easy.
The front sight assembly now needs to be pushed off of the barrel. Like many COMBLOC weapons, removal of this is best done on a press. While it may be possible to tap it off with a hammer, pressing it off works far better. I used two pieces of 1/4 plate steel to support the back side of the assembly in the press, then used a hydraulic press to drive the barrel out of it.
The front sight assembly has a fairly long bearing surface, once the muzzle is flush with it, it still won’t come off. For this, I used a socket that fit the inside diameter to drive the barrel out the rest of the way.
Success! The front sight assembly is removed from the barrel! If you take a look at the section of the barrel that the sight assembly was removed from, you’ll notice it is turned down to a diameter of .548″ and is drilled in two locations for the two pins that retain the sight assembly. This means we’ll have to turn down the barrel and drill two new holes.
I decided to leave myself a little extra barrel length in case I ran into any problems with the conversion so I made this barrel 17″ long. Most of the imports were around 16.5″.
Time to head over to the lathe. This is my favorite lathe, a Precision Matthews PM-1440GT. I love it.
In order to turn down the barrel, it needs to be mounted in the lathe. Rather than trying to unscrew the barrel from the receiver, I decided to mount the entire barreled action in the lathe. Due to the odd shape and size of the receiver, it wouldn’t pass through the headstock of my lathe; however, I was able to grab the rear of the action in the four-jaw chuck so I could machine the muzzle end.
With the receiver in the four-jaw chuck, I supported the muzzle end with a live center and a brass crown saver. These small brass inserts protect the steel of the rifle muzzle from the hardened steel of the love center. In this image you can see my dial indicator placement to finish setting up the barrel.
I added a steady rest to the lathe to further support the barrel and machined the tenon to .548″.
Before I removed the barreled action from the lathe, I test fit the front sight assembly on the barrel. The fit was absolutely perfect, the proper amount of friction present without the need for a hydraulic press to seat it.
At this point, it is a good idea to remove the bayonet. To remove a bayonet from an SKS, the base of the bayonet needs to be slid and held back. I do this by grabbing the bayonet shank with a pair of locking pliers. Now the screw can be removed and the bayonet can be taken off and reinstalled later.
The front sight assembly needs to be indexed then cross pinned to the barrel. Originally I had planed on doing this cowboy-style by eyeballing it and drilling by hand; but at the last minute, I decided to do this on the mill. I placed the barreled action on its side in the mill’s vise, then used a dial indicator on the side of the receiver to level it by sweeping along the y-axis.
With the barreled action leveled in the vise, I can now ensure that the front sight is properly indexed so it won’t appear canted on the finished rifle. To do this I used a small level and then swept along the flat part of the front sight with the indicator.
The factory pins were within .001″ of a #39 drill. I used the drill to locate the holes, then cross drilled the barrel in both sections.
At the bench block I used a punch to drive both pins into place.
The bayonet and cleaning rod both needed to be shortened as well. To do this, I installed the bayonet and marked it with a sharpie.
A quick trip to the bandsaw (these aren’t made of hardened steel) and belt grinder to shorten then copy the profile of the original bayonet.
At this point the conversion is complete. Note the full length rifle to the left, my conversion to the right, and the pieces of barrel, cleaning rod and bayonet that I removed. I did use a Manson Crowning Tool to finish the crown but forgot to take pictures of the process. When the rifle was fully assembled, I function checked it with steel cased ammunition and it ran with 100% reliability.
I’m really happy with the finished rifle. I found the conversion to be a lot of fun. While this is a worthwhile endeavor if you plan on working on your own rifle, I believe it is cost prohibitive if you were paying someone to do it for you.