By Anthony Yeary
There are many great choices of modern defensive handguns available to us. Unfortunately, our selection of defensive carbines is not quite as broad. Quickly thinking of what is popularly available: the AR-15 platform, the Ruger Mini-14, the SKS, the M1 Carbine, lever-actions and the AK-47 platform. There are a few others, but this is just what comes to mind for me at this moment. Whatever one you choose, there is going to be a significant amount of money invested into it. There are very few affordable options, so if you’re on a tight budget, you may have to sacrifice on quality or capability. One way you can save money and still get a reliable semi-automatic is to purchase a post-2008 manufactured WASR-10 rifle.
What is a WASR-10?
The WASR-10 is a semi-automatic carbine based on the AK-47 platform. Specifically, they are a semi-automatic variant of the Pistol Mitralieră model 1963/1965, which is the Romanian’s take on the AKM (a modernized AK-47) originally made in the Soviet Union. They were one of many civilian variants manufactured for Romania’s Patriotic Guards, who were government trained and funded civilian militia members. The civilian versions of the AK-47 issued to them were semi-automatic and utilized 10-round, single-stack magazines.
After the Soviet Union dissolved, Century International Arms (C.A.I.) of Vermont began importing weapons from the new Russia. Most popular among these weapons are the Mosin-Nagant M91/30 and the SKS. When trying to figure out how to import AKs from Russia (especially after the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban), C.A.I. came up with an interesting solution: import the semi-automatic rifles once used by the Patriotic Guard and refurbish them here in America. Because they had to not only comply with the assault weapon ban, but also the international 1996 Wassenaar Arrangement, the refurbished Patriotic Guard rifles were named WASR-10. The name is an acronym for “Wassenaar Arrangement Semi-automatic Rifle” and the “10” represents their original 10 round capacity. I say original, because after the 1994 scary gun ban thankfully sunsetted, C.A.I. began modifying the receivers to hold standard capacity 30 round magazines.
To those who do not know, the WASR-10 is one of the most hated AKs ever. This derives from the fact that WASRs are imported here to the U.S. all original and refurbished in C.A.I.’s factory with American parts. For example, my WASR-10 featured here was made in a civilian Romanian arms factory in 1976 and was refurbished by Century in 2014. It’s about half original; the other half is a new trigger group, chrome barrel lining, rear sight, grip and furniture.
The first few years of the WASR-10 were plagued with quality control problems that included canted sights and gas tubes, horrible triggers that caused painful trigger-slap, poor riveting and non-dimpled receivers that allowed magazines to wobble around, sometimes to the point that the rifles wouldn’t work properly. WASRs are also very bare-bones carbines that originally offered few extras. So how in the hell does Century Arms keep making money from this shoddy product and more importantly, why should anyone buy these things? The answer is easy: since 2008, Century has vastly improved their quality control and has stopped using certain terrible surplus parts in their refurbishment. Instead, replacement parts are manufactured here in the United States by Tapco. The end result is a good-quality, budget minded rifle that can be customized to your needs with all of the fun that an AK-47 rifle offers.
What’s Not So Nice…
Custom dictates the bad news first, so here are the things that detractors have a right to complain about, beginning with the most obvious- the furniture. The furniture provided is less than stellar- you can’t miss it. It is rough to feel and the stain is cheaply done, not to mention it’s made of a very soft wood that is likely pine. Plus it lacks the trapdoor in the stock that stores the cleaning kit (if that’s important to you). From a short distance it looks totally fine and honestly, it works exactly how it needs to work.
If you really can’t tolerate it (like I couldn’t) there are alternatives. The easiest thing is to just purchase something better. Aftermarket companies make plenty of furniture kits that are more durable and functional than anything made of the wood that Century Arms provided. Not only can they be more impact and weather resistant, but they can be outfitted with accessory mounts too. Higher quality surplus parts are available that will retain the classic look, while being constructed of far higher quality birch. Or, you can do what I did to mine and sand the cheap stain from the wood and smooth the surface out, stain it properly and add coats of polyurethane to gloss it up and make it pleasant to the touch.
Something else that bothered me was the rear sling swivel. Instead of mounting it on the left side of the stock where it belongs, it was mounted underneath in a more traditional location. The problem with that is with the front swivel located in the correct position (left side, forward of the handguard) the sling will not work quite the way it should. It will hang twisted and will not wear comfortably on your shoulders. Also, the size of the swivel ring means that it will press into your forearm creating discomfort. To remedy the problem, I purchased a single point sling attachment that mounts between the grip and the receiver and then I chiseled the provided sling loop from the factory mount.
Another thing detractors complain about is the fact that the bolt on the WASR-10 is blued carbon steel –not stainless steel- and some consider that to be inferior. Personally, I don’t care about that at all and don’t consider it to be a big deal, but to each his own. Lastly, is the case of the grip that is offered with the rifle. It’s made of rugged plastic and works well enough considering the budgeted price of the weapon. There’s no denying it though, it really is subpar and only contributes to the AK platform’s reputation of poor ergonomics. The first modification I made was to replace this part with something much more comfortable. Finally, as it is a partially surplus weapon, there will be some Cosmoline to clean out, but not a huge amount.
What IS Nice…
The WASR-10 may be a bare-bones AK, but it does have a few features that they didn’t have to add, but I’m glad they did. The barrel is chrome lined for durability and longevity; it’s easy to clean and those who fire a lot of corrosive surplus ammo will really appreciate this. Old pre-2008 WASRs use the Romanian stock/surplus trigger group which was notorious for causing painful trigger-slap. Post-2007 WASRs have corrected this problem by replacing the Romanian junk with a new American made assembly made by Tapco (the G2 trigger group) that has a very smooth pull.
The left side of the receiver has been upgraded with an accessory mount so that you can mount a bracket for an optic. It’s an awesome addition as it really is the best way to mount such a thing on an AK. You can buy handguards that have Weaver style mounts, but they tend to hold the optic too far from your eye. There are also new dustcovers that have accessory mounts, but AK dust covers are not precision fitted and zero cannot be maintained on such a shaky foundation. Some WASRs (not mine though) come with a new gas piston made by Tapco that’s an improvement over the original which is a nice touch.
Myths and Misconceptions…
One problem that many people constantly complain about is magazine wobble. This is the problem identified when you insert a magazine into the magwell and it literally wobbles around loose even though it’s locked in. This issue comes from the rifle’s original configuration that utilized a single-stack, 10 round magazine. Because of the thinner, lighter magazine, the sides of the receiver were not dimpled to prevent movement. When they were imported to the U.S., the 10-round setup was retained due to the constrictions of the Assault Weapons Ban. When the ban ended in 2004, Century Arms began to modify the magwells to accommodate standard capacity 30 round magazines by cutting the magwell out larger. They never dimpled the receiver and the magazines would wobble causing the bad reputation that the WASR has. What a lot of people do not realize, is that the problem has been rectified as of 2008. They solved the issue by welding metal shims inside the magwell to prevent movement and everything is now as it should be.
Also solved in 2008 is the infamous canted sights and gas tube. This defect is identified by simply looking at the front sight post and gas tube on top of the rifle and checking to see if both are aligned in the “12 o’clock” position. If it’s horribly canted, do not purchase the rifle. Luckily this problem has been largely solved and it should be noted that minor deviation is fine as long as you can zero the windage of the rifle at long range. Pre-2008 WASRs may also have improperly shot rivets. They should not be smashed too flat or have crescent moon shaped cuts in the heads from the rivet set. Post 2007 WASR-10’s do not suffer from this problem though.
What to Look for When Buying Your WASR-10
Clearly, if you want a good WASR-10 you have to get a model made after 2007. Unfortunately, Century Arms doesn’t publish a list of serial numbers that you can use to identify the year of the one you want to purchase. It’s more than likely that they don’t even track this info anyway. There are some clues that you can look for to see if the one you’re eyeballing is worth dropping money on.
Does it have a Tapco G2 trigger installed? It will say so on the side of the trigger.
Does it have an improved gas piston manufactured by Tapco? It will be stamped as such.
Does it have the accessory mount riveted to the left side of the receiver?
Are the rollmarks on the receiver cleanly and neatly engraved? Old models were rollmarked with an electric etcher which looks terrible.
Does the serial number on the receiver match the serial number on the bolt carrier, and possibly the gas tube?
Is the front sight post and gas tube aligned properly and not canted?
If the WASR-10 that you are considering buying answers yes to all (or most) of these clues, then you have a good quality rifle assembled in the last seven years. Some were originally manufactured in a military factory instead of a civilian one and if it has the military factory stamp rollmarked next to the serial number, it may be of higher quality also. I consider this a matter of opinion though, because mine was originally built by a civilian factory and it works great.
When it comes to customization, the WASR-10 is similar to a flattop AR-15. Because it has so few features and many of the standard issues parts are so austere, you are unchained to custom fit it to your needs. In the accompanying photos, you have seen my modified WASR; here are the modifications I did to it with my limited budget and maybe this list will help churn your own creative juices:
AIM Sports 1” thick recoil pad to increase throw.
All furniture sanded smooth, properly stained with an ebony shade and coated with three layers of polyurethane.
Installed a new ergonomic grip from Mission First Tactical’s Engage series, which includes a watertight compartment with rubber battery organizer tray.
Sights painted white for better visibility.
Echo Nine Three (E93) three prong flash suppressor from Lonestar Tactical Solutions replaces thread protector nut.
Bulky rear sling swivel removed from rear butt stock and supplemented with an E93 V3 single-point sling adaptor attached between the receiver and grip.
Hybrid single/two-point sling from Red Rock Outdoor.
As a side note, surplus magazines, Tapco magazines and P-Mags work beautifully with my WASR. They feed reliably and do not wobble in the mag well at all. HOWEVER- Thermold magazines –although they do not wobble- do not feed reliably at all. Whether this will hold true with yours, I cannot say because all WASRs are a little bit different.
It can’t be denied, the WASR-10 is one of the most hated AKs on the market and that’s a shame because it can actually be a pretty sweet rifle. I bought it on sale for $550 and added around $100 worth of modifications. For that comparatively low cost, I now have a very reliable –and capable- semi-automatic that shoots 3 ½ inch groups at 100 yards. Not too shabby. In fact, it’s downright incredible. To those who wouldn’t give the WASR the time of day, I urge you to reconsider. Do some research and reevaluate. You may actually find that it’s not such an awful AK-47 after all. (For more information on the WASR-10’s role in the 1989 Romanian revolution, check out our special article here.)