Shimming The Loose Handguard on my IMI Galil / JRA Gallant

Second on the list of things I needed to fix right after the buttstock was the loose handguard.  It’s a personal preference thing but I don’t like handgurds that wiggle and this thing could move front to back as well as side to side.  The reason this happens is usually because the handguard retaining slot on the barrel was cut too far forward such that the cam lever on the retainer couldn’t push the handguard far enough backward.

I expected thiss. Classic Firearms, and presumably James River Arms (JRA) were up front in the product listing that the handguard would probably be loose and it was.  Thankfully, from years of working on AK rifles, I knew I had a number of options:

  • I could weld the handguard retainer channel closed on the barrel and cut a new one.  Pro – the right way to do it. Con – would take more time than I wanted to invest.
  • Some guys will add layers of epoxy liquid or putty inside the retainer but I am not a huge fan of that one due to the epoxy getting warm and likely breaking down under the relatively sharp edge of the sheet metal nose of the Galil handguard.
  • I could extend the front edge of the handguard retainer by building it up with small welds.  Pro – easier than redoing the barrel channel. Con – would take more time than I wanted plus it’s really hot out and welding did not sound pleasant.
  • I could fabricate some shims and insert them into the handguard retainer. Pro – an age old method with soliders putting everything from  wood and gum wrappers to folded steel and aluminum cans in there Cons – can fall out when you remove the handguard.

I opted for the fourth one and decided to make shims.  You’ll notice a common theme – I do not have a ton of time and am dancing around the battle worn theme with the rifle leaning more towards the newer end of the spectrum vs. extremely worn.

To shim a handguard, I prefer a metal vs. wood, paper or plastic as they tend to all break down with time.  An age old trick on the AK community is to take an aluminum soda or beer can and then cut either into strips or in an approximate shape that fits inside the retainer.

The shape of the Galil handguard added a bit of a challenge in that it is a “U” shaped piece of sheet metal that slides into the retainer.  The front edge is relatively thin vs. the old days of a big thick piece of wood or plastic going into the retainer. This approach can be seen elsewhere also such as in modern Bulgarian and Russian handguards.

So, given the shapes of the handguard and the retainer,I decided to cut two strips that would closely fit between the barrel and the inside lip of the retainer and also be sufficiently think to secure the handguard.  Given the “U” shape I was betting that I would get enough support from the left and right sides and that I would not need to worry about supporting the bottom.

I measured the gap from the barrel to the inside wall/edge of the retainer on the left and right sides and it was about 6mm (0.236″).  That meant I needed something that either started at a 1/4″ and grind it down or find something closer to 6mm.

My first try was to look for 6mm wide shim sets and none was to be had. A shim set or shim assortment is a collection of steel of varying thicknesses so you can combine whatever thicknesses you neeed to get your final thickness plus you cut them to what is needed.

I ordered in a steel shim assortment set as I haven’t needed any for quite a long time.  I also scrounged around for what sheet metal I had in stock.  I had some rediculously thick 16 (0.0598″) and 18 (0.0478″)  gauge pieces plus a good sized piece of 22 gauge (0.0299″) sheet metal.  I decided to start with the 22 gauge set and fine tune with the shim assortment but a bigger question was forming – what did I have to cut this stuff cleanly that wouldn’t make a big mess.

Good old fashioned sheet metal shears / tin snips were an option but I’ve never been that consitent with the things.  I had an air nibbler that I could set up with a straight edge to cut strips … and then it dawned on that I had a Harbor Freight 14 gauge swivel head double cut sheer (item #92115) that might do the trick and – here’s the plus – it cuts a metal strip out of the source stock to avoid deformation. 

I dug the thing out and lubed the cutter. It had probably been at least a year since I had used it. Guess what?  That “waste” strip turned out to be about 6mm and gave me what I needed.

Here’s the business end of the double cut shear. Note the strip it cuts out. I just ran it into the stock with a straight edge just to keep the donor sheet clean and had all I needed and then some in a few seconds of actual cutting.

Plain 22 gauge sheet metal is 0.029″ thick and I knew I had a fair sized gap to address so I tried folding it in half and then trimmed to to fit in each side of the handguard. The best way I found for test fitting was to clamp the whole rifle with the muzzle down in my big woodworking vise. From there I could rest the shims in the handguard retainer, insert the handguard and pull up on everything trying to get the locking lever to flip.

Much to my surprise, that double thickness of the sheet metal worked perfectly. I had expected to get close and then keep adding pieces of shim stock until I had a solid lock up.

The next thing I had to consider was how to hold the shims in place when I normally assembled the rifle. I decided to keep things simple – I super glued them in. My reasoning was that I rarely take off handguards and if the two shims fell out in the future I could glue them back.

These are the two shims. Notice I made them as long as I could for each siide but I did not make one for the bottom and that has not proven to be a problem thus far.

Now one thing was still bugging me – there was too much movement left to right in the retainer as well. What I did to fix that was to glue a shim on on the outside edge of one part of the metal handguard’s front steel U-shaped nose.

Here is the single 22 ga shim I needed to stop lateral movement.
It turned out that the shim was visible in the gap between the retainer and the handguard,  I wound up painting it with some of the Rustoleum Satin Black pain also.
With the shim painted black, you don’t even know it is there.

The Results

The handguard is now rock solid. I decided not to change the wood at all. I really like the coloring and for me it’s really part of the iconic look of this rifle.

With the handguard done, next up was to switch the fire control group to an ALG enhanced set so I can have the appropriate 922r parts count and be able to use some of the cool IMI surplus mags that are out there.


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