The topic of a mass-produced, American-made AK is one that never fails to upset the hornet's nest of die-hard AK enthusiasts on the internet. Admittedly, their reaction isn't entirely unjustified. Some of the earlier attempts by American companies to produce domestic AKs were riddled with various metallurgy, design, and quality control issues. When it was possible to buy a brand-new WASR for less than $600, that was often the default choice. However, this state of affairs may be changing. The prices of imported Russian and Eastern-Bloc rifles — not to mention the imported ammo for them — have been increasing over the past decade, and the war in Ukraine has only accelerated that trend. At the same time, Palmetto State Armory has worked hard to address known issues and solidify the reputation of their American-made AKs. No matter how you look at it, the PSA AK is steadily becoming a more viable choice for those who are currently in the market for a new AK.
Those of you who follow our magazine and/or web site consistently may recall our “blue collar” AK project from a few months ago. That project was based on a PSA GF3 AK with a triangle side-folding stock, “cheese grater” handguard. MSRP for this setup, as seen above, is currently $949. We modified that rifle while maintaining a relatively traditional aesthetic, including custom Kalashnicarver wood furniture, a cantilevered flashlight mount, and the original triangle stock.
After taking this setup through a 3-day Haley Strategic D5 Kalashnikov class (writeup coming soon) I found that I liked some aspects a lot, and wasn't as fond of others. During the class, I was able to shoot respectable groups out to 200 yards. The gun ran reliably through 1,000 rounds of steel-case ammo without a single malfunction, aside from those we deliberately induced for training purposes. Functionally, the PSA AK was off to a solid start.
However, it wasn't exactly comfortable for me. I'm well over six feet tall with long arms; on an AR-15, I typically run the buttstock almost fully-extended and place a foregrip close to the front of the handguard. On the AK, the short length of pull of the triangle stock and the placement of the wood handguard left me feeling like I was shooting a rifle made for someone half my size. I needed more length of pull and more handguard real estate, so I decided to take the PSA AK in a new direction.
Starting with the most glaring source of discomfort, I began looking for a full-length handguard that would allow me to move my support hand forward. At SHOT Show 2022, I learned that VLTOR had released an M-LOK version of its CMRD (a.k.a. “Comrade”) AK handguard. The VLTOR CMRD is made from three pieces of 6061-T4 aluminum with a hard-coat black anodized finish, and it spans the entire length from the front of the receiver to the back of the front sight post.
Surprisingly, this significantly larger handguard only weighed 4 ounces more than the 10-ounce wood handguard and “cheese grater” that had been on the PSA AK before. Installation was relatively easy — aside from using a Dremel to cut off the sling loop from the original lower handguard retainer, it simply bolted together.
The VLTOR CMRD features a variety of M-LOK slots on the top, bottom, and sides, as well as some 45-degree slots on the front portion of the upper handguard. I used these to install a JMac Customs HRD Extended handstop and Arisaka Defense 300 Series flashlight. There was no need for a cantilever mount this time, so it's attached on an Arisaka inline mount.
I also added three rubber B5 Systems M-LOK rail covers to improve grip and insulate my hand from the heat of the barrel and gas tube. The muzzle device — a JMac Customs RRD-2C 14F X37 brake with a BDS-37 blast shield — remains unchanged from the last phase of the build.
Moving to the midsection of the rifle, I decided to try a different optic setup. American Defense Mfg. recently released a new lower-third QD mount for the Holosun 510C, so I used it to attach a green-dot Holosun optic to the Sabrewerks KOP system that was already on the rifle. I like the heads-up position of the optic and the wide, unobstructed field of view it provides. The shake-awake feature and solar backup also ensure the battery will last a long time, and if it does, the QD lever will allow me to remove the optic and use the backup iron sight notch built into the KOP rail.
Since the wood handguard was gone, the wood pistol grip was swapped out for a Magpul MOE AK+ rubberized grip.
Finally, in search of extra length of pull and a more comfortable stock, I swapped the standard triangle folder for a JMac Customs ST-6 Folding Stock Mount (specifically, the PSA GF3 side-folder requires a 4.5mm pin version). It features a lightweight, skeletonized 6-position tube machined from 7075 aluminum, and has integrated QD sling loop sockets on both sides. Installation was as simple as using a small pin punch and mallet to knock out the pin from the original folding mechanism, dropping the adapter into place, and tapping the pin back in.
The JMac ST-6 will accept most AR-style stocks and braces, but I went with a B5 Systems Bravo stock. This offered the ability to achieve a maximum length of pull of 14.5 inches, a full inch and a half more than the 13-inch LOP with the triangle stock. It provided an instant improvement to comfort, since I no longer felt like I was shooting an undersized gun, and it had a rubber butt pad unlike the hard metal triangle stock. Better yet, the telescoping stock can be adjusted down to an 11.25-inch LOP, so it'll still be comfortable for shooters with much smaller frames.
Although I'll continue using the Bulgarian steel mags seen in the previous configuration, these XTech MAG47 polymer mags from GunMag Warehouse match the modern aesthetic a little better.
I'm happy with these changes, since they made the AK feel much more comfortable and balanced in my hands. Weapon ergonomics, not to mention the shooting stance that accompanies them, have come a long way since the 1940s. We no longer live in an era where weapons have to be configured for “one size fits all.” The addition of an adjustable, interchangeable stock and M-LOK forend allow the weapon to be configured for a specific user.
Although I'm aware that some purists will sneer at this PSA AK because it's made in the USA, that doesn't bother me a bit. It has thus far proven itself to be reliable and (relatively) accurate, even under the stress of running three days of back-to-back drills during the aforementioned Haley Strategic class. I shot it prone on a surface of fine Arizona dust that coated every nook and cranny, including the inside of the receiver (and the inside of my lungs). I used various types of polymer and steel mags, and ran a case of Tula 7.62×39 through it without so much as a periodic wipe-down or a drop of oil. I watched other students' imported AKs malfunction on the line, and yet the PSA GF3 kept plugging away.
Obviously, this is my sample size of one, and issues could always crop up in the future, as they can for any weapon. But for now, I'm satisfied. Regardless, it still won't be the first rifle I reach for in a defensive situation — that'll always be an AR, a platform with which I'm much more familiar and proficient.