Gun Review: Century Arms WASR-10 (Romanian AK)

“Loose is good.” I think. Since that’s really just a hunch, I did the easiest most journalistically-thorough thing and Googled the phrase. My results? Well, let’s just say they stuck a collective finger in my gut: nearly every hit involved Weight Watchers. Then I repeated the search with the SafeSearch™ filter off, at which point I’d rather not say where the collective finger was sticking. Regardless, other than loose-fitting jeans (and, uh, loose-fitting other things), nothing I could find supported my contention that my friend’s loosey-goosey AK-variant, the WASR-10, is superior to its less-wobbly alternatives. But I still think it is.

Apparently, I’m not alone.  I’ve always heard that the AK-47 – the poster rifle for relaxed construction tolerances – is the most common firearm in the world. Also, I’ve always heard that it’s “the rifle of the revolution.” No civil unrest awaits this particular gun, though. This one is simply “the rifle of Todd.”

My pal Todd (owner of the example featured here) is certainly no gun nut. He’s a well-educated and well-rounded critical thinker (and an engineer by trade). As such, he carefully assessed his firearms needs and decided his best bet was the ultra-affordable AK variety known as the Century Arms WASR-10.

What makes an AK-47 a WASR-10, you ask?  Check out William Montgomery’s TTAG article for the broader AK story. Now that you’re back, here’s the skinny on this branch of the family tree . . .

In the early Sixties, the Romanian military put a pistol grip on the front hand guard directly beneath the barrel of the then-current AKM version of the Soviet AK-47. They called it the “Pistol Mitralieră model 1963.” Decades later, a U.S. company called Century Arms decided to meet U.S. Kalashnikov demand by importing these ultra-cheap AKs. However, several key pieces of 1990’s legislation got in the way.

First, a federal law known as 18 USC 922R stipulated that at least ten major components of any gun categorized by federal law as a “semi-automatic assault weapon” had to be produced domestically. Then, in 1994, the infamous Federal Assault Weapons Ban mandated that such weapons could only be sold with 10-round (max) magazines. Bummer.

Because of these legislative shenanigans, most of the WASR-10’s internal components (bolt, trigger group, gas mechanism, etc.) had to be produced in the U.S. and installed before the gun could be sold stateside. Also, WASR-10s sold during the Assault Weapons Ban (1994-2004) received a magazine well modification which narrowed the opening, restricting the gun to a ten-round, single stack magazine. Double bummer.

All this nanny-state compliance might make you think that the WASR-10 is not quite representative of the true AK-47 personality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Todd’s gun is actually a “post-ban, pre-ban” model. In other words, it was one of the many WASR-10s produced with the narrowed magazine well. However, since the wretched assault weapons ban has gone back to hell where it came from faded from the books – and since exactly no one wants an AK with a ten-round magazine – Century Arms has un-narrowed the well. With a Dremel. In the dark. While they were drunk.

Okay, maybe the mag well isn’t that maligned by the virginity restoration reversal. But the magazine retention dimples common to most other AK receivers are completely AWOL and the resulting lateral motion of fully-seated 30-rounders is a little . . . disconcerting.

What’s not disconcerting: everything else about the WASR-10. Given the relatively low cost and relatively high degree of post-manufacture modification, I halfway expected a jacked-up looking gun that shot jacked-up looking groups. What I experienced was a very authentic-looking AK that fired consistently decent groups and felt as comfortable as a well-worn pair of (loose) sneakers.

Yes, the gun’s general laxity did take some getting used to. In addition to the magazine well situation, the bolt felt a good bit freer than other rifles I’ve fired lately – more of a “slick-slack” than a “click-clack.” And the trigger seemed a little light, like it traveled a bit too far before the sear broke. However, the quickly-but-progressively building tension just prior to the break is positive enough that the shot won’t ever surprise you. And the 7.62X39’s recoil never feels excessive.

Other than several of the commonly-kvetched-about AK annoyances – like a short sight radius, a loud-ass “alert-the-enemy” safety switch, a bolt that doesn’t stay open once the gun is empty, and an Oompa-Loompa-short stock (common to most original AK variants) – firing the WASR-10 was no problem at all. Honestly, Todd and I had a blast, without a single malfunction all afternoon (and we used only the cheapest factory ammo). Finally, as you’ll see in Todd’s video, field-stripping the AK is a breeze.

For some folks, a gun that feels so unbound that it could possibly be a Transformer hiding in your gun safe just won’t cut the mustard. Others will admire a design so ruggedly brilliant that ultimate precision wasn’t needed to achieve effectiveness. Although I tend to agree with TTAG’s Martin Albright about the SKS being better than the AK in a number of ways, the Century Arms WASR-10 delivers almost-comparable accuracy and absolutely-comparable ergonomics for a similar price – with the added benefit of a detachable, high-capacity magazine. That formula appealed to Todd, just as it’s appealed to several hundred million other users.

Specifications:

Model:  Century Arms WASR-10 (Romanian AK)

Action type: Gas-opearated, rotating-bolt semi-automatic

Caliber: 7.62X39 Russian

Capacity: 30-round detachable magazine

Barrel length: 16.39″

Overall length: 34.25″

Weight: 6.9 lbs. (unloaded)

Stock: Hardwood

Sights: Hooded post front; tangent leaf rear, graduated from 100 to 1000 meters

Finish: Blued receiver, barrel, gas tube and magazine

Current Value: $300-$550 depending on manufacturer/condition

RATINGS
(Out of five stars)

Style * * * *
Menacing (especially with the owner’s 40-round magazine), but I doubt anyone would call it “beautiful.”

Ergonomics (carry)  * * * * *
It’s a carbine with a pistol grip that’s just the right size for non-shoulder fire.  If you might need to get a long gun into action quickly, this classic is the one for you.

Ergonomics (firing)  * * * *
Slightly numb trigger, slightly short stock, and I wish the bolt stayed open after you’ve fired the last round.  Other than that, it’s great (provided you don’t have unrealistic accuracy expectations).

Reliability * * * * *
Uh, it’s a Kalashnikov.  Enough said.

Customize This * * * * *
If the AR-15 is the Ford Mustang of the gun aftermarket, then the AK is the Chevy Camaro.

OVERALL RATING * * * * *
The WASR-10 proves that Mikhail Kalashnikov came up with such a fantastic design that even a low-cost importer who has to cheaply modify it in order to comply with ridiculous government regulations can’t screw it up.