Range Report: Century Arms VSKA

After putting the Century Arms VSKA through its paces at the range, Tactical Retailer finds an AK that is even tougher than the original.

Range Report: Century Arms VSKA

Century Arms produces the VSKA in the U.S. with high grade tough steel components, making an already robust design even tougher. This is an AK-style carbine with several improvements over the original design. (Doug Larson photo)

The AK-47 and its progeny have a well-earned reputation for being tough and reliable. That reputation is bolstered by battle zone stories of AKs being rarely cleaned, caked with crud and still running. And where the guns are made doesn’t seem to matter much because the design is so robust. The guns just keep running despite hard use and abuse.

Reliability overrides everything else when the discussion turns to using a gun for self-defense. So the fact that the AK is ergonomically challenged and not very user friendly is overlooked by most people. In fact, some shooters prefer the AK over the AR. And fortunately, there are plenty of models and makes of both from which shooters can choose.

But despite the reputation for reliability, what if the AK could be made even tougher? Wouldn’t that help sell the gun? Manufacturers have often made modifications to the design to make it a bit easier to manipulate, but using different materials to enhance the ruggedness and lengthen the service life of the gun is not the usual. 

Century Arms VSKA

Century Arms of Vermont now produces the VSKA, a U.S.-made AK that uses materials known for toughness and that are often used for tools such as chisels, excavation blades and jack hammers. It’s a gas-operated long piston stroke carbine just like the original AK-47.

VSKA (pronounced vis’-kuh) is an acronym for Vermont-Stamped Kalashnikov. It recognizes that the gun is made in Vermont and follows the pattern of the original designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov. It features the AKM-stamped sheet metal receiver, rather than the milled receiver used for a few years after the original stamped receiver was found to be unsatisfactory. The soviets long ago shifted from the milled receiver to save money and weight. Over the years they have found that the AKM stamped sheet metal receiver worked well without degrading the reliability of the carbine.

AKs are probably the most numerous of all rifles or carbines on the planet. They have been made in nearly every country and region on earth. There is no way to count how many there are. They have been used on both sides of conflicts for decades since being first adopted by the Soviet Union in 1947. The AK does not need much in the way of maintenance to keep it running. It can be maintained by poorly trained and uneducated war fighters under the worst conditions. Mud, dirt, grime, sand and dust have little effect on the reliability of the AK. It’s not a particularly accurate carbine, but it is accurate enough for its intended use.

The VSKA is a semi-automatic-only carbine with a 16.25-inch chrome-moly 4150 steel barrel and a slant style muzzle device to help reduce muzzle rise. It is chambered in the traditional AK round, the 7.62x39mm Soviet intermediate power bottle necked cartridge. The barrel is not chrome lined, as many AK style carbines are, but these guns are sold in the U.S., where non-corrosive ammunition is easily obtained so barrel corrosion is not a major concern. 

The bolt is made of 4140 steel which has been carburized. Basically, that means it has been case hardened to make the surface very strong while the interior is ductile enough so that it will resist breaking. The bolt carrier, feed ramp and front trunnion are made from S7 tool steel, which is a special shock-resistant, strong, hard steel that is used for chisels, jack hammer tips and other tools. The receiver is stamped from 1/16-inch thick steel.

Century installs its RAK-1 trigger, which has a long, smooth pull with no stacking and a surprise break at about 3.5 pounds. It is very easy to manipulate. Sights are typical of an AK, having a front post that is adjustable by drifting for windage and for elevation by turning the post. The rear sight is the common tangent notch graduated in 100 meter or yard increments – it is not clear which – out to a very optimistic 800. It also has a battle sight setting marked with an S. Although typical and expected on an AK, the sights are not very user friendly and good vision is needed to use them well.

The pistol grip is black polymer with light texturing on the sides and is like those commonly found on AKs. If you are used to the more hand-filling pistol grip found on the AR-15, you will think that the AK pistol grip is pretty thin. It also lacks the finger grooves often present on pistol grips, but it works and is adequate for holding onto the gun and controlling it under recoil.

The buttstock and handguards are American maple with a smooth finish. They are much nicer than the wooden furniture often found on many AKs, especially those of foreign manufacture. Metal parts are finished in manganese phosphate. Each VSKA is shipped with a 30-round capacity magazine. The one received with the sample gun was a polymer PMAG made by Magpul. Standard metal AK magazines worked with no problems and Yugoslavian magazines with a modified follower that holds the bolt open after firing the last round also worked well. During shooting, there were no malfunctions of any kind.

The butt plate is metal with ridges, but has no trap door for the storage of cleaning equipment as is found on some AK pattern carbines. Also absent is the cleaning rod that is often found stowed beneath the barrel. For most people though, the absence of those things is not a problem. A sling swivel is screwed into the toe of the buttstock and the forward sling attachment point is a loop that is about 0.75-inch wide and is found on the left side of the gun just aft of the gas port. 

Improvements From the Original

Century has made a few design improvements to the original AK pattern. The paddle magazine release is slightly wider than that of a stock AK, which theoretically should make the magazine release a little easier to manipulate. The lower front handguard has a hand-filling bulge that should make the front of the gun a little easier to hold onto. Some people will like it, others won’t care one way or the other. It certainly is not detrimental to handling the gun.

The bolt carrier has four lateral cut-outs forward of the charging handle that are not visible when the gun is assembled. Perhaps the most useful design change is a notch cut into the upper edge of the selector, or safety. When the bolt is retracted, the charging handle can be aligned with the notch to hold the bolt carrier to the rear to reveal that the chamber is empty. For those who shoot on controlled ranges, this can be particularly handy when the range safety officer patrols the line during a cease fire to make sure that guns are unloaded.

The VSKA displays good fit and finish, much better than some foreign made AKs that have been sold on the U.S. market. Mating of wood parts to metal shows attention to detail and the wood and metal finishes are evenly applied.

Century recommends certain maintenance procedures at different round counts to keep the gun working properly. Besides checking all parts for excessive wear, cracks and chips at each cleaning, the company recommends that extractor and recoil springs be changed every 3,000 rounds and the hammer and sear spring replaced after firing every 6,000 rounds. Century also says that excess carbon should be removed from the gas port every 6,000 rounds. Lastly, the magazine catch spring should be changed after every 12,000 rounds. It’s probably a good idea to keep track of the rounds fired from any gun so that the owner can replace parts periodically when necessary, but on the other hand, AKs tend to run forever with very little maintenance. It is best though to follow manufacturer’s recommendations.

Century Arms is an ISO 9001:2015 compliant company and the gun comes with Century’s lifetime warranty. It has a suggested retail price of $735.95 — not the least expensive AK on the market, but certainly not the most expensive either.

Century Arms sells direct online and has a Minimum Advertised Pricing program that it enforces to protect the margins of its retailers. Century also sells directly to retailers as well as through all the major firearms distributors. It offers retailers plenty of support with cooperative advertising money, training and trade discounts of 2 percent if paid within 10 days. The full net is due in 30 days. It also offers to add retailers to its online dealer locator list.


Caliber: 7.62x39mm

Barrel length: 16.25 inches

Overall length: 35.5 inches

Weight: 7.25 pounds

Stock: synthetic pistol grip, maple buttstock and handguard

Sights: rear notch, windage and elevation adjustable front post

Action: gas piston, semiautomatic

Finish: manganese-phosphate

Capacity: ships with one 30-round magazine

Price: $736


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