A Mischief of Maks - The Baikal Makarov Air Pistol
Many new Co2 repliguns appeared in the 90's. Barely noticed in amongst the Daisy, Gamo and Crosmans one little air pistol arrived - from Russia.
Baikal was already known for shotguns and target shooting. The manufacturer Izhevsky Mekhanichesky Zavod or Izhmekh also made military weapons. Their original single stack 9mm PM or Pistolet Makarov had been around for decades, then a revamp brought the PMM or Pistolet Makarova Modernizirovannyy (for modern) with its larger mag capacity. This heritage was the basis for their new air pistol. Installing die-casting machinery to make alloy castings never crossed their minds, everything was to be in steel.
The new Baikal Makarov MP-654k was an sa/da bb Co2 pistol with a drop out steel combination magazine, fed by a 12gr bulb and 13bb's. We take combo mags for granted now but this was two decades ago. The new Mak came with either blued or plated nickel slides, a reseal kit, a steel cleaning rod , a steel multi-tool, an owners booklet and a bag of bb's. Early examples came in either a plain card box with brown rust-proof paper or a Baikal branded plastic case. Fully field strippable too, a phrase used on many airguns that don't field strip. You can dismantle anything if you have the time and don't mind rummaging for parts in the grass. The Mak however strips down in seconds, in the dark, in any weather, under water, with your hands behind your back.
*Frame and trigger guard coating is according to Technical Requirements of the assembly drawing for the product.
All versions are equipped with the sealing element intended for the mechanism of capsule piercing and with the clamping screw without a swivel having a screwdriver slot.
For a bb gun it had a bored out solid steel barrel with added rifling. Effective sealing too – the original valve head on each mag had a milled slot on the left corresponding to one of two arms on the breech block. The left arm had a hook that located into this slot and on insertion the mag was pulled to the breech against a large seal.
An anti-glare strip lies between the rear sight blade and the milled out foresight. Lower frames and trigger guards have a parkerised finish except to the left side thumb area for the serial number. The slide locks back fully and there’s a full authentic safety preventing the trigger, slide and hammer from moving which can also decock the hammer. Some authenticity may have been down to cost as a powerful military spec. recoil spring on an air pistol is overkill. Legend has it that many other bits were gleaned from real Makarov parts bins. The illusion or delusion that Maks are basically real 9mm Makarovs has persisted as an urban fairy tale.
Original valve head with slot , right later Gen 5 without slot , left
A fan base followed online over many countries and a tuning scene developed. A puzzling vocabulary grew due to creative errors in translating the many languages involved. Moons, Beards, Bulbs, Gens, Benz, Saddles and Passports. A dictionary doesn't help!
In Mak-talk the Valve is only the valve stem and the Saddle is the threaded valve end cap through which the stem protrudes ready for the hammer strike. Saddle? Well it fits over so… accurate enough if you think outside the box - one big enough. The piercing assembly is a separate unit on the magazine and referred to as the Bulb. This was re-engineered larger by aftermarket tuners so increasing the volume of gas but being bigger, shorter 8gr bulbs are needed.
The valve stem can have two or more ports giving lower or higher FPS. Customised or after-market stems have greatly enlarged ports to aid gas flow with some having only two huge ports. These are tagged as Moon or Benz valves indicating bigger and best, the latter from a country where obviously Mercedes are seen as tops – and easily recognisable.
Whilst some tuners can amaze, achieving this work is fiddly so the new retail valve stems from Italy and Russia are possibly worth their cost. These, the enlarged piercing assemblies and alos bored out valve body casings will bring gains. A longer hammer pin is also now available to maximise on the already strong hammer spring. With these aftermarket parts, further D.I.Y work can then be kept to simpler customisation. One old Co2 tuner's trick was to remove the mesh filter in the piercing assembly to allow better gas flow; the obvious ramification of which is that fragments of steel debris from the piercing process may work into the seals. One recent addition however to the Co2 owners kit bag is the refillable gas bulb and this may offer help in this respect. As with any pro or amateur tuning and modification work, access to a chronograph is essential to ensure legality, and also critical assessment of any work achieved.
In examining the valve note that the saddle or valve end cap seal can leak when the valve stem refuses to bed against it. One fix is to use heat then reassemble the valve quickly whereupon the valve spring under pressure will bed the metal stem onto the plastic seal.
Two breech arms steady the Mag . Hook to the left arm locks it
Longer barrels increase FPS and hopefully accuracy, so originally the electric trigger Baikal MP661k or Drozd had its long barrel nabbed for use on the Mak. On most Mak the barrel is punched at the breech block to prevent it working loose, making removal by hand difficult. If removable, aftermarket long barrels are available now, some threaded for shrouds. Cheap machine made or modified ex-surplus wood grips appeared and then custom grip makers took interest. Early Maks had a proper toggle used to tighten and pierce the Co2 bulb. About 15 years ago it was the rage to replace this with a slotted screw to give a more authentic look. Whilst common sense finally prevailed amongst Makavites - later Maks were eventually released with this feature.
Toggle then slotted screw piercing
Each unit's serial number is prefixed by a T and a two number code indicating production year ie T06 5***** being made in 2006. Earlier units have only five serial numbers ie T00 7****. Production differences were broken down loosely by Makavites into series or Generations with 1st Generation or Gen1 then Gen2 and so on - although in the Russian Federation there appears to have been a more accurate separation possibly even between production batches with for example references existing to the differences between 654k-32's and 654k-35's.
Differences occur everywhere - a collector's nightmare
Minor changes have occurred throughout production and are possibly more to do with cost. Grips varied - from early grey plastic with a grippy finish, to later hard shiny black plastic, then authentic brown-red grips, some with Soviet star emblems. The top slides differ, allegedly going from milled steel to cast steel and back again. On each, the anti-glare milling varies in width and the muzzle shape can differ. Someone too late one night thought the earliest muzzle resembled a beard so that’s how we got Bearded Maks, proving it’s never a good idea to chat online after sampling cheap Russian vodka. Hammers, rear sight blade width, magazines valve heads, piercing assemblies and even the steel cradle can all show variations.
Left to right : Early chamfered or Bearded , sort of standard and Standard muzzle
People started to collect rather than just appreciate the Mak with early T00 and T99 being sought out and first release T98's becoming rare. Some seek matching serial numbers on the frame, slide, magazine base, box and the Owners Manual, referred to by the maker as the Certificate booklet and by Makavites as the Passport. Magazines can however have no serial numbers if they were bought as highly desirable spare units.
Boxed up with all the bits - even a genuine rusty Owners Manual! This one an HW Germany import
A re-invented Mak was drawn up around 2012/13 with some major differences and this is referred to as the Gen5 model. These can have a letter H for Russian 'новый' meaning new, to the end of the serial number. Based on the older PM single stack Makarov the barrel was counterbored for authenticity and the top slide had a cosmetic extractor slot added. Being narrower it needed a new matching mag unit - incompatible with all previous Maks. The frame was chopped in the handgrip allowing some flex. This was seen as a downer but it did not affect performance. Worse, the breech was modified. No claw hook to draw the valve head to the seal. What seal? - there was none, it was metal to metal now but being well machined, performance was maintained. Production later returned to the original design with minor cosmetic additions such as the extractor slot being retained. Oddly it will be the Gen 5 Mak that may become more collectible.
Rarities and custom oddities do exist. Engraved factory specials only found in Russia. Larger calibre ball and pellet firing 'Spetsial'nny' Maks. A Mak with a moving barrel as a frontal hammer that sealed against the valve face by trigger pressure, similar to that seen on American and also the Russian Anics A Series bb pistols.
A mystery too - one early T00 owner's booklet states “the pistol is available in two versions depending on the magazine design”. Yes TWO models, one totally unseen by Makavites. Illustrations show the mag with an external side lever to aid piercing the bulb. The booklet is dated 07/00 then later date stamped 06/02 for preservation indicating lengthy storage pre-export. An enquiry was made to the factory and the Head of their R&D Department, Aleksandr I. Kalugin replied with the following answer which is shared here with thanks. Production started in mid 1998 but a second 654k with this cantilever arm mag had the design work completed in 2000 and a small batch of 100 units were completed in 2001, then - this parallel project was dropped. How it came to be referenced in early manuals is a mystery in itself.
The mystery 'other Mak ' with its unique Magazine
As working air pistol Maks can seem clunky with stiff triggers and older units being run in can be sweeter. Maks are steel so they rust. The mag release is stiff, it's the turned-over end of the long hammer spring that stretches down the backstrap frame. One trick is to tie a lanyard onto the end. Early nickel slides can suffer with plating problems, but being seen less are still desirable. On some magazines there is slight misalignment in the bb stack. The follower spring pushes the top ball out of alignment with the bore and valve exhaust. It still gets blasted out but scuffs. A new tune is to drill and tap a hole through the top of the valve body in-line with the bb channel then use a grub screw to set the bb stack back into alignment.
Off-centre bb 's on some magazines
As for ammo the owners booklet for an early T00 states “4.5mm steel balls” but Maks have rifled barrels. Quality steel bb when tested in one unit just rolled out the barrel. Some owners have opted for lead ball and 4.5mm Gamo etc will load in through the valve face and down the bb channel on many mags, but on some early heads the hole can be smaller. Lead ball is still available in 4.4 and 4.46 but in theory 4.5mm should give less rattle and better FPS. Opening the hole ever so slightly may well help any loading issues. Incidentally soft lead can get squished by the steel bb follower and the very stiff follower spring. This can result in jams, especially if the ball is tight in the bore. One old tip was to load one steel bb into the mag first followed by lead balls.
The MP654k was ahead of its time yet underappreciated when even Daisy's fired pellets. Today older Maks are eagerly sought out. Many diecast Makarov derivatives have appeared since; some with fancy blowback but the original all steel non-blowback MP 654k is still going strong. Novices used to 'shoot 'n’ hoot' blowback claim the Mak would be so much better with this feature. This rankles real Makavites such as this author collecting and using the 654k since the early 00's.
Collating notes in 2017 and submitting a finished article on the Mak 654K to a magazine in early 2018 but without publication success, saw the unbelievable occur during this period. It now appears the Russians had been developing Co2 bb Makarovs – with blowback!
The Makarov 4.5mm MP-658K and also a 6mm version called the MP-659K both surfaced slowly bearing 'T17' and 'T16' serial codes. These had over-sized lettering to the slide and typical brown-red grips. Now 'T19' are appearing on general sale with traditional discrete laser etching and black grips. Unusually, trademarks are also roll impressed to the underside of the slide's muzzle. However to date there is still no mention of them on the Baikal website nor the umbrella Kalashnikov Concern website.
So a real Mak with blowback, not an out-sourced rebrand from the Far East? All images so far available appear to show a proper steel Mak, however one translation gave back 'alloy' metal. Also noted were claims that even with blowback the power is between 110 and 125 m/s. Unless Izhmekh/Kalashnikov employ magicians instead of gunsmiths - how?
Aleksandr I. Kalugin, Chief Small Arms Designer under the Baikal banner has again helped out with some much-needed clarity. The images and data he’s sent over are shared here, again with gratitude. Specs. for the 658 show 70mps or 230fps and healthy power at just over 2ft/lb which bearing in mind is in blowback is not too bad at all.
The recoil slide appears much thinner and the military surplus recoil spring has been replaced with a much lighter one, finally after 20 years. The last time the slide on a 654K was cycled in the garden the neighbour's cat ran squealing across the lawn. That cat's been dead for 5 years. So a little refinement at last!
Refillable Co2 avoids debris
The drop-free combination magazine has been 'dropped' and the valve assembly is attached to the frame. The bb magazine drops out and appears to be in plastic but now with 18 shot capacity. Its long base plate neatly hides the new Co2 tensioning screw. Rather than blasting a bb off the tip of the magazine stack , the valve appears to have a moving hollow probe.
Without actual examination this appears not unlike the Umarex Walther P38 and the non-blowback Umarex Makarov in style. Here it’ll most likely be activated by pulling the trigger, pushing a bb off the mag into the breech rather than being dragged back and forth by the top slide.
Microscopic Mak - the Valve Stem
A 12g bulb slips into the grip cavity after first removing the usual Mak grip by unscrewing the original backstrap fixing nut - giving a more secure attachment to the frame than some of the 'slip 'n’ slide' grips seen recently. A benefit of this, if the new frame hasn’t changed then surplus military and 654k custom wood grips should in theory fit – time will tell.
...and tuners open these holes more?
The year ahead will surely see this new Baikal Makarov cause a lot of interest possibly overshadowing the iconic MP-654k. Some purists however may be running to the garden shed for a sulk…
Text & Images Copyright @ Jonathan Young Aug 2019
Acknowledgments: Aleksandr I. Kalugin, Baikal