PSA AK variants have been on the market for several years now and have since earned a very mixed reputation. Are these American-made rifles worth considering?
PSA AK Models:
- PSAK-47 (Flagship PSA AK, 7.62x39mm Rifle, Several Variants)
- AK-P (7.62x39mm Pistol AK, Several Variants)
- AK-E (7.62x39mm Rifle, “Enhanced” Model Built With Higher Quality Parts, Several Variants)
- AK-103 (7.62x39mm Rifle, Aesthetic Copy Of Russian AK-103)
- AK-V (9mm Copy Of Russian Vityaz SMG, Several Variants)
- AK-74 (5.45x39mm Rifle, Several Variants)
After their founding in South Carolina in 2008, it did not take long for Palmetto State Armory to become a household name within the shooting community. Their proclaimed mission statement is to “maximize freedom, not our profits”, and it shows. No matter whose gun safe you crack open these days you’re likely to find a PSA AR-15 staring back at you. As someone who also believes in an armed populace, I have great respect for PSA as a company that put decent quality ARs in the hands of so many Americans. I wish I could tell you that the same was true about the PSA AK, but unfortunately, that would be a lie.
PSA first revealed their plans to domestically produce their own Kalashnikov variant at Shot Show 2015, where the announcement was met with both excitement and skepticism. Their supporters anticipated an AK of similar quality and price as PSA’s ARs, while detractors predicted that the project would crash and burn like every other previous attempt at an American AK. As it turned out, neither side of the argument was entirely correct.
As the Kalashnikov continues to grow in popularity in the U.S., PSA has seemingly established itself as one of the market leaders. Immune to import bans and 922r restrictions, PSA is in an excellent position to compete with foreign AK manufacturers. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, PSA AKs aren’t going anywhere, so let’s talk about where they’re at, where they’re going, and if a PSA AK is worth adding to your own collection.
PSA AK Quality: Past And Present
Before discussing the quality of PSA’s AKs, we should establish that making a good AK is hard. Most AK-producing factories were run by governments and received assistance and technical data from the Soviet Union. Obviously being a privately-owned American company, PSA is fighting an uphill battle in comparison to factories like Cugir or Arsenal.
There were several attempts to make American AKs before PSA entered the ring, and even their first-generation AK was a notable improvement over some previous companies’ efforts. PSA’s flagship AK series of 7.62x39mm rifles has gone through about five generations of improvements since its release in 2015. The first two generations used cast trunnions—something that’s considered a big no-no when it comes to AKs as all original military models were made using forgings. Their third generation was the first to be given the “GF” designation as the GF3. The change in name was due to the addition of a forged front trunnion. Unfortunately, the rear trunnion was still cast and users reported that they were still prone to cracking. Looking online one can find pictures of PSA AKs with bent pistons, loose rivets, and general QC issues with a plethora of components. Even the newest generation of GF5s have had reports of out-of-spec firing pins destroying primers.
While each of these generations had issues, keep in mind that PSA had to start building their AKs from the ground up and have only been at it for about five years. Each of these generations has been an improvement in some way over the last, so I remain optimistic that their AKs will continue to get better with time.
Many of their customers’ issues have been resolved using PSA’s lifetime warranty. While warranties are nice, it's better to not need one at all, and purchasers of PSA’s AKs seem to need it more than anyone else. If you end up with a PSAK-47 you can rest easy knowing that if you do encounter any issues PSA will likely fix it for no cost, but do you really want the hassle?
Credit should also be given to PSA for their innovative and creative ideas within the AK market. Ignoring their quality issues, several models of PSA's AKs are far cooler and more interesting than what any other AK manufacturer is doing. Perhaps because PSA is an American company themselves, they can be more tuned in to what American AK enthusiasts want.
That’s why PSA has released short-barreled pistol AK variants, 9mm AK “Vityaz” clones, their own AK-74s, and other oddities. They already have an AK-103 inspired rifle for sale and they’ve even teased that they’re going to make a Chinese Type 56 AK clone and possibly even their own SVD.
PSA has also started making some AK accessories and builder components here in the U.S., many of which seem direct responses to market demands. Besides being a new domestic source for some parts like gas blocks, wooden dong handguards, and rear sight leaves, they also make some interesting original creations like their triangle folding pistol brace.
The answer to this is entirely dependent on why you want to get an AK to begin with. If you’re looking for an AK-shaped object just to admire, hang on your wall, or casually shoot once in a blue moon, then a PSA may serve your needs just fine. While the quality of certain parts remains questionable, nobody ever denigrated PSA AKs’ fit, finish, or general appearance. These rifles certainly look like nice, classic AKMs, complete with magazine dimples and a glossy black finish.
While they may look the part, the real appeal of a Kalashnikov is that you know it will go bang every time you pull the trigger. Unfortunately, there are plenty of documented user reports and reviews that show this just isn’t the case with PSA’s AKs. While they have been improving, even the newest generation PSAK-47 GF5 rifles have some issues that you simply won’t encounter on something like a WASR or a ZPAP. When PSA first entered the AK game the American firearms market was much more normal than it is today, and their original AKs were priced to undercut their foreign competition—something which is no longer true. As I’m writing this, PSA’s cheapest GF3 rifle is selling for virtually the same price as Romanian-made WASRs on another site. GF3 models with fancier furniture even rival the prices of Serbian-made ZPAPs which are also regularly in stock.
For me to recommend someone a PSA AK, they would ultimately have to either cost much less or imported AKs would have to cost a lot more. At the current price point of available AKs, I, unfortunately, see no reason to choose a PSA. If they were still priced like the entry-level, casual shooters’ rifles that they really are, I would be happy to recommend one to someone looking to dip their toes into the AK world. However, when PSA AKs cost virtually the same as rifles coming from storied government factories that have been making military rifles since the ‘60s, I see no reason to not choose the latter instead.
PSA’s AKs aren’t necessarily bad guns, but they should not be mistaken for being true, military-grade Kalashnikovs like WASRs or ZPAPs. I have respect for what PSA has done for the AR market and what they’ve attempted to do with the AK market, but I can’t bring myself to recommend one of their rifles to anybody until either their price goes down or their quality goes up.
For more information on PSA, please visit palmettostatearmory.com.
Competing AK Manufacturers And Models
- Zastava Arms Of Serbia (Formerly Yugoslavia)
- The Zastava ZPAP M70 AK Rifle
- Cugir Arms Factory Of Romania
- The Cugir WASR-10 AK Rifle
- WBP Of Poland