August 07, 2013
By Eric R. Poole
It's hard to keep a secret, especially for two years. For the last few weeks, Arsenal has been sending out newsletters and suggesting the SAM7SF will be the most finely tuned and advanced member of its SAM family the AK community has every known. The result of Arsenal's secret project, called "The Game Changer," was shown to the world on August 7th, 2013.
Before that date, a select group of evaluators at Guns & Ammo were given a first look at the very first sample. It's finished in black, wears a U.S.-manufactured Bulgarian-style handguard with gas tube cover, and looks like it should already be a member of the SAM7R family. But if you look closely, you'll see why Arsenal is particularly proud of this one.
We have yet to completely evaluate the Arsenal SAM7SF AK-47 on the range, but look for a full report in an upcoming issue of Guns & Ammo magazine on newsstands.
We've seen this metal stock before, but this one folds and locks to the right side. Push a Parkerized catch lever installed on the right-side milled receiver detent to unlock and extend the stock. Extended, it measures 38 inches. Folded, the SAM7SF loses almost 10 inches of overall length and measures 28 ½ with Arsenal's 7.62 muzzle brake attached.
Bulgarian AKs have been brought into the U.S. since the early 1990s. Unlike many AKs being imported, the Bulgarian type became known for having a milled receiver. Many don't realize that Arsenal starts out with a forged receiver blank that spends 5½ hours of cutting time on a machine. The bolt, bolt carrier, and double-hook trigger are also machined from Bulgarian forgings. A hot-die, five-ton hammer forge presses the steel material into the shape of a part, and it is then machined on Steyr-manufactured CNCs. Disregarding the folding stock assembly, the only stamped steel parts I found on the SAM7R is the top cover, the selector lever, trigger guard, mag catch, gas tube and its retaining lever, and magazine floor plate. This is a solidly built AK.
Bulgarian milled receivers are known for having first-rate machine work with a lack of tool marks, and this one, with steel parts finished in matte black enamel, is no different. The surface still reveals the grains in the steel, but, due to the forging-then-machining process, all air pockets, internal voids and small cracks that would deteriorate strength are eliminated. Today, those machines are CNCs rather than mills, and it's a very expensive process that affects the price of these rifles. You can recognize a milled receiver by the rectangular-shaped divot on each side just above the magazine.
'[The] Bulgarian military wanted to stick with milled receiver[s] because it was more dependable, ' says Vartan Barsoumian, CEO of Arsenal Inc. Arsenal set up high-speed cameras and compared AKs built on milled receivers with AKs built on stamped receivers to illustrate why stamped receivers are inferior to their forged-then-milled receivers. 'On this video, rivets and small parts were moving as the stamped receivers twist and flex, ' Vartan says. 'The Bulgarian military was convinced that it needed to stick with our milled receivers, but they demanded a more accurate AK. So we built them to shoot very tight groups; an inch and a half at 100 meters. '
Unlike classic milled Russian AKs that have a tapered gas block, the Bulgarian models feature the AKM 90-degree gas blocks developed in 1974. In this design, the gas port is drilled and aligned straight down into the bore. As the rifle is fired and the bullet passes this hole in the barrel, gas pressure is bled off into this port and has to make a right turn inside the gas block before it hits the face of the pushrod and causes the action to cycle. This isn't exactly true to the original AK47 classic, but it is still very functional and is the same as issued to the Bulgarian military.
The AKM-style handguards Arsenal uses are U.S. made and have a stainless steel insert that efficiently shields the support hand from barrel heat. Many handguards do not feature a stainless steel heat shield.
The 30-round magazine is made of a high-strength polymer and structurally reinforced with five pieces of steel. It has a waffle-pattern ribbing on its body, steel feed lips and floor plate. The follower is polymer, and a Circle 10 logo at the bottom indicates that this part is made in Bulgaria. The design of this magazine was tested using several different rifles so that end users could be confident in its performance regardless of what rifle they were shooting.
'It takes six times the effort to make our polymer magazines than other companies that mold theirs, ' Vartan asserts. 'An individual spends four to five minutes putting 10 components into the mold before it closes, and just two magazines are coming out of that mold. The magazine is then machined by 20 operations to complete it. That makes it the most expensive AK magazine, but we do it for unparalleled reliability. This is the most reliable AK magazine ever. '
When Bulgarian AKs like the SAM-series come in to the U.S., they are 100 percent sporting firearms per import regulations. This means that the receivers aren't cut to accept high-capacity magazines. Arsenal's facility in Las Vegas, Nevada takes these sporting AKs and remanufacturers them accordingly. Afterwards, a rifle like this SAM7SF will accept standard, 30-round capacity AK magazines, it is given a bayonet lug and a grenade launcher lug then built with the necessary amount of U.S.-made parts to be 922(r) compliant.
The Arsenal 7.62 muzzle brake isn't a new device and can be purchased
separately for $70. It is, however, a U.S.-made part that counts toward 922(r) compliance. It functions just like the famed AK74 muzzle device with three flash ports on top of the device behind the two-port brake. It all works together to reduce felt recoil and manage muzzle climb.
Side Rail & Scope Mount
Arsenal attaches a solid, one-piece side rail to the left side of its receivers and places it so that it sits as low as possible. Users that want to peer through a scope won't have to hold the head so high off the stock to see through it. This side rail will accept one of the many AK scope mounts on the market. We attached a new K-VAR KV-04S
one can buy for $98, which has been improved for use with Picatinny rail-mounted optics.
New Selector Lever
We're not talking about the traditional stamped piece of metal on the right side. Arsenal has engineered a new selector lever positioned above the left side of the pistol grip and just behind the trigger. It's as easy as using the thumb on a right-hand firing grip to push the lever forward to engage the safety, and you can work it without having to move your hand.
The barrel starts life in Arsenal's Bulgarian factory as a solid block of steel. It is not forged into shape, but rather it is machined. Areas where the sight block and gas block contact the barrel are given an evenly ground finish to alleviate stress points. Vartan suggests that by relieving this stress on the barrel has contributed to the accuracy Arsenal has been able to extract from its AKs.
To ensure a good first impression with its customers, Arsenal is using a laser system to test the alignment of its sights and testfires every AK for accuracy before it ships. There's a lot of pride riding on quality, and Arsenal is betting that the SAM7SF will become the new standard for comparing AKs.
We found no sight adjustment was needed at 100 meters, which we credit to the properly fit sight block, Parkerized leaf sight (0-800m), tight fit of true-spec parts and the Bulgarian-manufactured 16.3-inch cold-hammer-forged barrel. The barrel carries a 1:9.45-inch twist rate and hard-chrome bore and chamber.
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