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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Of all the rifles made by Arsenal Inc of Las Vegas, Nevada, I have come to believe that the SA M7 Carbine is the ultimate AK.

When Arsenal first introduced the standard SA M7 several years ago, people were initially pleased by its milled receiver, polymer furniture, and overall high quality, but some people personally would have preferred that Arsenal had left off the permanently-attached muzzle brake and had stuck with the shorter Warsaw Pact length buttstock. The SA M7 Carbine comes both with a plain muzzle and this shorter stock. It is probably the closest that most of us will ever come to the now-legendary Arsenal SA M7 Classic.

Since the SA M7 Classic is largely unobtainable, a lot of people (myself included) would have liked the SA M7 Carbine to have been Arsenal's basic model, rather than the standard SA M7 with its "extras."

So I was very pleased when Arsenal began producing the SA M7 Carbine. Whether or not production of the milled Carbine will continue given Arsenal's new direction toward producing stamped models is anyone's guess, but even in its heyday the SA M7 Carbine was only produced in seasonal production runs. Those more knowledgeable may chime in to correct me, but I believe that the Carbines were produced only during the first two or three months of each year. If a run sold out, you had to wait until the next late winter/early spring to have another chance at one.

Having said that, over the course of a couple of years, I managed to acquire three of the Carbines. One I plan to leave new and unfired; it has a receiver with serial number AB 02 xxxx, meaning that the receiver was made in 2002.

The other two are the subject of this review, and for the sake of this review, I have named them Carbine #1 and Carbine #2 respectively.

Carbine #1 was acquired in the late summer of 2003, and represents the latest version with the most up-to-date US-made fire control group as reviewed on a number of threads on K-VAR's forum. Although I did not buy it until just a few weeks ago, Carbine #2 was made in the same production run as #1 (as evidenced by the dates in the owner's manuals being within days of each other). Both rifles have serial numbers AB 03 xxxx, meaning the receivers were made in 2003.

Both rifles have a perfect black powder coat finish over grey phosphate. This finish is TOUGH. Minor scratches do not penetrate even the black paint very readily, much less the parkerizing underneath.

The overall impression of the rifles is excellent, with fine machining and overall high quality in evidence throughout. This is not a rough Romanian SAR or WASR. In fact, the finish of the Las Vegas-made Bulgarian AK's is finer even than the imported Bulgarian rifles I have owned. The finish on my SLR95's and SLR101 became scuffed and scarred almost immediately.

Even after owning, shooting, carrying, bumping, and scraping these rifles against my gear for several shooting sessions, neither rifle's finish has so much as been disturbed except on "natural" wear areas like the scratches made by the selector and gas tube latch, etc.

Those of us who have done much shooting with AK's have become accustomed to that "rattly" old Kalashnikov, i.e., we are used to the rifle's parts loosening up with use with regard to receiver covers, gas tubes, forearms, etc. Having said that, I think both rifles are still more precisely fitted than most other AK's I have owned. I only remember an IMI Galil having been more carefully fitted than an Arsenal AK. I remember some of my Chicom AK's back in the day with parts that rattled enough to make you wonder if they were safe to fire!

Although the manual says that the sights are precision-sighted at the factory, I found that I had to drift the front sight windage slide a little to the right on both rifles, as both rifles started out shooting several inches to the right. I should point out that I don't generally shoot paper targets; soda pop cans are my target of choice. To adjust the front sight's windage, I simply carefully took note of the "divots" in the side of a hill plowed up by the impacting rounds, and measured the distance to the target from the divots. After adjustment, both rifles were consistently right on target.

When adjusting the windage at the front sight's lateral slide, a little goes a long way! I have years of experience with AK's, so I wasn't afraid to take the plunge. The slide is a press-fit, so you'll need the AK/SKS sight tool for sale in many places. Move the slide in the direction OPPOSITE the direction of the desired point of impact; in other words, if the rounds are impacting to the right, move the front sight to the right. I suggest you test the rifle with a few rounds every time you barely budge the sight. You'd be surprised at how much the point of impact moves even if you've moved the front slide almost imperceptibly. Both rifles required considerable force with the sight tool to move the front windage slide.

The elevation post on Carbine #1 was extremely tight. Even with the sight tool supplied in the cleaning kit, it took a little effort to rotate the post. Carbine #2 was a different story. The elevation post was loose enough to turn by hand. Deciding it was too loose, I performed a quick fix, and the sight was more than adequately tight from then on. I won't go into detail; the thread on my sight "fix" is detailed here: http://www.gunco.net/forums/showthread.php?t=3577

Both rifles easily held their zero once sighted in and Carbine #2's front post was "fixed."

Functioning of course, was flawless with all kinds of ammo, including Wolf FMJ, Sapsan hollowpoints, and Wolf soft tips. Having watched more than one Romanian SAR fail to extract on several occasions, I was pleased to once again hold a 100% reliable AK-47. Carbine #1 was sighted in and test-fired with approximately 100 rounds of ammunition, then cleaned, oiled, and put away as a backup for my new shooter: Carbine #2. Carbine #2 has now digested some 300 rounds without cleaning. My only "tender loving care" heaped on this rifle was to let it cool slightly between magazines.

The trigger pull on both rifles is, to put it simply, buttery smooth. The let-off regularly surprised me! The lightness and smoothness of the trigger pull compares favorably to a finely tuned Smith and Wesson revolver fired on double-action, but with a slightly perceptible lighter weight of pull. The lightness of the trigger pull took some getting used to, but was certainly a welcome change from crunchy SKS and AK triggers I have experienced on other weapons. Looking inside the receiver, even after 300 rounds through Carbine #2, the hammer was barely scuffed. Contrast that with the sometimes soft Century hammers in the Romanian rifles that were dinged and dented after a similar number of rounds. These Arsenal fire control groups are GREAT! I have no doubt they will last the life of the rifle.

The polymer stocks are not some cheesy aftermarket plastic stocks. I was of the opinion that the paper-thin stocks on the old SLR95's were woefully inadequate, but not this one! This is the actual polymer stock used by the Bulgarian Arsenal on their military-production rifles. You can't do any better than that. The pistol grip, forearm, and upper handguard are marked "US" for section 922(r) compliance, but from all indications appear to be just as rugged as the genuine military buttstock. I remember an aftermarket Choate stock I once installed on a MAK90. After a few weeks of use in the field, the plastic had already begun to "peel" and feather. These stocks, after a similar amount of time, don't even show so much as a scratch!

The selector levers on both rifles were somewhat stiff. I like to move the safety with the middle finger of my trigger hand and not take my hand off the pistol grip, so my personal preference is toward a light safety. I removed the safety from the rifle. Then I rested the inner side of the selector plate on a hard surface, and pressed down on the safety with my thumb in the middle, thereby slightly flexing the selector lever outward, thus making it rest not as tightly against the receiver when installed. Yes, this takes some strength, but I suggest you DO NOT place the selector in a vice and bend it against the rotating lever: you could easily loosen the riveting this way. By pressing only against the sheet metal plate, you flex only this part. Make sure if you lighten the tightness of the safety that you do not make it so light that firing the rifle makes it "jump" out of the detent on the receiver in the fire position, and it is not so light in the safe position that it can easily be knocked off "safe." Again, I have years of experience with AK's, so I knew about how much to adjust the selector plate to get the feel I wanted.

Some final observations:

I like the chrome lining of the gas block that these AK's have, just like all Bulgarian AK's. I also like the overall "strength" of the weapons. It's a subtle thing, but put an Arsenal AK side-by-side with a Chinese and you can immediately feel the stiffer, more robust spring tension in the magazine catch spring and recoil spring. These Arsenal AK's are built to last! I seem to detect also that the receiver covers on an Arsenal AK are "hardened" moreso than on other variants. My Arsenal receiver covers have survived bumps that have put dents in Chicom receiver covers. At one point, I accidentally knocked Carbine #2 over and the front sight ears slammed into the side of my heavy steel gun safe as the rifle tumbled over. Other than scuffing the paint slightly, the front sight didn't crack like a "cast" AR-15 sight I once saw. These rifles are tough!

The shorter stock does take some getting used to for some people. The longer stock of the standard SA M7 is more "comfortable" from the standpoint of length of pull. The shorter stock of the Carbine makes you feel like the receiver cover is going to smack you in the face, but being a fan of a rifle that is handier in the bush, I'll take the shorter stock any day! The shorter stock is also more "authentic" in terms of the actual AK-47.

My overall impression is, that if you like an AK that looks like an AK and want the best, get an Arsenal SA M7 Carbine. The muzzle brake and longer stock of the standard SA M7 may be fine for some, but give me the plain muzzle and the shorter stock any day.

Since most of us will probably never own an SA M7 Classic, I hope that Arsenal will continue to produce the milled SA M7 Carbine. In my opinion, it too should be a classic!
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Now that some of the "newness" has worn off, there ARE little things about the rifles I don't like.

Although I think Arsenal may very well make the best AK on the planet, they just seem to have little quality control problems, while, not affecting safety, are certainly disgusting in such an expensive rifle.

I'm a little perturbed that after making claims to "laser boresight" each rifle before it leaves the factory, both my shooter Carbines were so badly sighted in that the front sights had to be moved all the way to the right to be zeroed. I looked down the rear sights and they are very clearly canted off to one side on both rifles, making the front sight off in relation to the rear sight. I also think that the loose front sight should never have escaped quality control. In one Carbine I later noticed that the shepherd's hook spring was badly twisted, although I haven't had a problem with pins backing out. I ultimately decided that one of the selectors was not only WAY too tight but also wasn't quite locking all the way into the "safe" position. I replaced it with another from K-VAR.

Truth be told, although the Bulgarian receiver covers seem to be "harder" than Chinese, they are also more "rattly," and in general moore poorly fitted. Both the receiver covers on my shooters started out tight, but as they began to wear, obvious fit problems became evident: they have more than a little fore and aft play, not to mention that they rattle around the axis of the recoil spring guide more than the 100% Bulgarian SLR95's I used to own. My shooter Carbines now both have Chinese receiver covers, which miraculously fit with very little fitting and are in fact tighter than the originals.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that now that the "new" has worn off I'm less satisfied with my Carbines than I initially was. They are fine rifles--don't misunderstand me--but loose sights, poor sighting in, and the other little quality control problems just don't belong on a high-dollar rifle.

In Arsenal's defense, I looked at one of their new stamped SLR105's (AK74) over the weekend. It's mostly made in Bulgaria as opposed to Las Vegas, Nevada, and my initial impression is that the fit and finish is visibly better than the US-made milled rifles.

The receiver cover was good and tight with no fore and aft play (something that almost ALL the milled ones have). The front sight was tight (could not be moved by hand), the sights were straight, etc. In general it just makes me think that the US-based Arsenal factory has some "catching up" to do with the quality of the purely Bulgarian Arsenal.
 
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