Surplus Review: March 1998

By Frank Iannamico

The SKS Carbine

As interest in military firearms began to rapidly grow in the U.S. during the early 1980s, prices on popular models of “assault rifles” started to escalate, due mainly to supply and demand. Soon, government bans and new laws raised the prices even further, and created new terms like “pre ban” and “post ban” models. The popular Chinese SKS carbines prices, however, still remained low, primarily due to the seemingly unlimited supply. In the 1990s, with the collapse of Communism in Europe, new sources of SKSs soon emerged. Now formally rare Russian SKSs were available, as well as a limited supply of East German and Yugoslavian guns. These versions of the popular SKS were priced competitively with the prolific Chinese models. Recent laws and restrictions have stopped importation and now prices on these formerly plentiful carbines is rapidly climbing.

In 1990 new laws were enacted by our elected officials that prevented guns from being manufactured or imported if they were equipped with certain “undesirable” features. Some of these features were folding stocks and a bayonet or a bayonet lug. This law of course applied to the bayonet-equipped SKS carbines, placing them in the “dreaded assault rifle” category. All SKS carbines imported after September 1990 could not be equipped with bayonets and no bayonet could be added either. Doing so would be committing a federal crime.


Those who served in the Vietnam conflict became familiar with the SKS carbine and its 7.62x39 cartridge long before they were common place in the United States. These carbines (along with AK47s and a proliferation of other combloc weapons) were used by the NVA and Viet Cong against U.S. Troops in Vietnam during the 1960s and 70s. Most of these weapons were of Chinese origin. Some of these SKSs were captured and brought home as war trophies by returning vets. The condition of many of these liberated carbines was rather poor due to exposure to the humid tropical climate of Southeast Asia. The 7.62x39 ammunition for these rifles was practically non existent in the U.S. until the mid 1980s when semiauto AKs and SKSs began to be imported in large quantities from China.

The typical Chinese or Russian SKS weighs 8.8 pounds, and has an overall length of 40.16”. The barrel length is 20.47”. The non-detachable magazine has a 10 round capacity, and was designed to be loaded through the receiver with stripper clips. The standard M43, 7.62x39 cartridge has a full metal jacket with a 123 grain projectile. The velocity reaches 2410 feet per second from the SKS barrel. Barrels are chrome-lined to resist the effects of corrosive primed service ammunition. The front sight is a hooded post, while the rear sight is the tangent type, graduated to 1000 meters.


A loose copy of the German assault rifle, the SKS45 carbine was designed in Russia by Sergei Simonov in the early 1940s. The very first limited production of the SKS was in the mid-1940s. The SKS carbines first saw service when they were sent for field testing to the ByeloRussian Front during the latter part of WWII. It was the first rifle produced that was chambered for the 7.62x39 M43 cartridge. The rifle performed satisfactorily under battlefield conditions and was an improvement over the then current Soviet issue semiautomatic rifle, the Tokarev SVT 40. The Tokarev SVT38/40 rifles fired the full power 7.62x54 rimmed Russian round, and was very prone to breakage. The SVT40 was a complicated design, difficult to manufacture. In the years following WWII, the 7.62x39 SKS carbine would eventually be adopted by twenty-one communist influenced nations, and manufactured by six countries. Over four million would be produced.

The conclusion of WWII in Europe ended the need for any new military weapons. In a few short years after the end of WWII, the cold war between the East and West began to heat up. SKS production in the Soviet Union soon resumed, with slight modifications, in 1949. The rifle was only issued as a front line infantry weapon in the Soviet Union for a few years, until it was greatly overshadowed by the adoption of the select fire AK47 assault rifle, which went into production in 1951. The SKS was soon relegated to secondary status, although production would continue for several more years. The SKS had two antiquated features, it was semiautomatic only, and worse, it had a fixed 10 round magazine.

Due to the Soviet’s usual secrecy in their weapons production, it isn’t known for sure exactly what year SKS production concluded in the Soviet Union. Some earlier production models had the year of manufacture stamped in the receiver top cover, along with an arsenal stamp identifying the factory that manufactured the rifle. The top covers were also serial numbered to the rifle. The last year marked in this manner was 1955. It is believed that carbines manufactured after 1955 were only marked on the left side of the receiver with the serial number and a smaller arsenal stamp. The Russians used their Cyrillic alphabet letters in their serial numbers reportably to designate the year of manufacture. Using this system it is believed that there were carbines produced up until 1957.

The SKS was manufactured at two Russian factories, Tula and Izhevsk. Tula arsenal’s stamp consisted of a star with an arrow inside it, This star and the year of manufacture were stamped on the receiver top cover. This was subsequently changed to just a star, stamped on the side of the receiver along with the serial number. The Izhevsk arsenal stamp was a triangle inside a circle, with an arrow inside the triangle. The Tula produced models are the most commonly encountered.

The Russian SKSs were originally finished in a polished, deep blue color. The bolt assemblies and bayonet blades are a flat silver color. Russian SKSs are equipped with a blade style bayonet. Most parts are numbered to the receiver. A hardwood or laminated stock was also serial numbered to the receiver. The stocks on mismatched rebuilds will have the original serial numbers lined out, and the current serial number added. While undergoing the rebuilding process, maintaining matching part numbers apparently wasn’t a priority.

The first Russian SKS carbines were imported into the U.S. in the early 1990s. All of these Russian imports, unlike some of the Chinese guns, were all genuine military surplus. Most of these carbines had been rebuilt and stored as reserve weapons in Russia. A few brand new unissued and unfired carbines were also discovered. Virtually all the Russian guns imported were in very good condition. Along with the Russian guns limited amounts of East German and a very few Yugoslavian models were briefly imported. These latter guns are seldom seen today. The Russian guns, like the Chinese, are equipped with folding bayonets. With the Russian guns however it is legal to retain the bayonet, partially because the Russian guns are on the BATF’s Curio and Relics list!


The most common of the SKSs available in the U.S. are the Chinese versions. Importation began in earnest in 1986. It is estimated that over a million were imported. Almost all of the SKS carbines in the United States prior to that time were limited to veteran’s war trophies. All Chinese SKSs were originally equipped with folding bayonets. The early guns had the blade type, the later guns were equipped with the spike version.

The first Chinese SKSs that were being brought into the country were actual military firearms that in most cases were arsenal rebuilt, and had been stored for many years. These carbines were bargain priced and the ammunition was inexpensive as well. For about $200 you could purchase an SKS carbine and a thousand rounds of 7.62x39 ammo. The carbines were so popular that soon the Chinese ran out of surplus guns and began manufacturing SKSs specifically for the U.S. commercial market. All the Chinese SKSs imported were manufactured in government operated weapons factories

U.S. Importers and distributors even began offering special modified Chinese SKS models that would appeal to all types of shooters; Paratrooper models featuring shorter barrel lengths, target models, scoped models, folding stock versions, saddle guns, and other non military variations were available. Accessories of all sorts were being introduced to upgrade or enhance the SKS. A few SKSs were manufactured to accept the AK47 30 round magazines. These were marketed as the “SKS 30” or the “Model D”. Some people thought it quite ironic that the Chinese, who had formerly supplied the North Vietnamese with weapons, were now making money selling them to the very people that they were used against in the Vietnam War.

The Chinese manufacture of the SKS began after the Russians considered the weapon obsolete in 1956. The Chinese nomenclature for the SKS was the Type 56 Carbine, not to be confused with their Type 56 Rifle (The Chinese version of the AK47). For the Chinese, the SKS carbine was easy to manufacture, reliable, and fulfilled their requirements for a military rifle.

Chinese SKSs are finished in a flat black color. The wood on Chinese carbines is a type of hardwood indigenous to China. Original military guns will have the receiver serial number stamped vertically on the stock. A number of maroon colored fiberglass stocks and hand guards were also manufactured for military use in tropical climates, such as Vietnam. Serial numbers are located on the left side of the receiver, along with a manufacturer’s code, usually a number inside of a triangle. A common code on recently imported guns is a number 66. This is the factory code for Norinco, a large exporter of SKS Carbines, AK rifles, and Tokarev pistols. The date of manufacture of Chinese military SKSs is a numerical code in the serial number. Military Type 56 SKSs were manufactured until sometime in the 1970’s.

Early Chinese SKS carbines were identical to their Soviet counterparts. In later production, in an attempt to expedite manufacture, a new style receiver and barrel was adopted. This new barrel was pressed and pinned into the receiver, rather than screwed in like previous versions. The sheet metal receiver AKs also feature this type of barrel installation.

The Chinese took SKS development a step further, and introduced several select-fire versions, the Type 63 and the Type 68. These models featured a 20 or 30 round magazine and adjustable gas regulator. The mode of fire selector is located in front of the trigger guard. Although they are similar in appearance to a common semiauto SKS carbine, they differ internally. One interesting difference is that they feature a rotating bolt much like that in the AK series of rifles. The Type 68 also features a sheetmetal receiver.


The East Germans produced a variation of the SKS known as the Karabiner-S. It is very similar to the Russian gun. It is recognized by its unique stock that has a slot cut in it to retain the sling, much like WWII German K98 rifles. A few other minor differences are the lack of a cleaning or knock out rod stored under the barrel,and the fact that the buttplate is solid, without provisions for storing a cleaning kit. Serial numbers are located on the left side of the receiver. Very few East German SKSs were imported, and they are quite rare today.


The Yugoslavian version of the SKS is the Type M59/66. It differs from other versions of the SKS in that it has a permanent, barrel mounted grenade launcher, and folding ladder type grenade launcher sight. There is also a gas shutoff valve. A rubber recoil pad is also fitted to the stock. Sights are similar to other SKS models, except they are luminous night sights. The M59/66’s grenade launching attributes bring the weight of this version up to 9.63 pounds. Very few of the Yugoslavian SKSs were imported and they are highly sought after today. They are one of the highest quality manufactured SKSs.

As popular and common as the SKS imports once were, they are now slowly disappearing from the surplus advertising pages and the classified ads. The SKS carbines will never again be as plentiful and inexpensive as they once were.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N6 (March 1998)
and was posted online on August 11, 2017


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