Palmetto State Armory JAKL Review


Palmetto State Armory JAKL
Palmetto State Armory JAKL

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The Palmetto State Armory JAKL was first introduced several years ago, but is now hitting its stride with consumers. The JAKL is an adjustable gas, long-stroke piston operated AR-15.  The JAKL has been billed as a “truck gun” by many.

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
The JAKL has been billed as a “truck gun” by many.

It has taken a couple years to really get off the ground, and even had a couple QC and parts compatibility hiccups along the way.  Palmetto State Armory now seems to be delivering everything that was initially promised, with multiple calibers and barrel lengths available and more on the way.

One note as we get started, I wasn’t sent a full firearm, rather the complete upper and the parts needed to convert a mil-spec lower to be JAKL compatible.

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
This is all it takes to convert a mil-spec lower to JAKL compatibility

Is it everything I’d hoped?  Read on.

Gun Background

The direct impingement system of the AR-15 platform of rifles has long been seen by some as its Achilles heel. Bleeding off gas from the barrel to push the bolt rearward results in faster buildup of carbon. Converting Stoner’s design to a piston system isn’t a recent idea, many companies have offered retrofit conversion kits over the years. Some have designed their own standalone systems, which is where PSA’s JAKL falls in line.

The JAKL bolt release (left) has a thinner paddle than standard (right)

The piston design makes the buffer tube unnecessary, so now the whole wide world of folding stocks and braces becomes available. The recoil assembly living inside the upper receiver also means you can fire the JAKL with the stock folded, or with no stock at all.

The JAKL also features a forward, nonreciprocating charging handle, similar in position to an Mp5, minus the HK detent for the HK slap. The handle can be switched from right- to left-handed if you’re weird.

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
The handle can be easily switched from right- to left-handed.

The lower you use (whether PSA JAKL branded or your own) is a standard mil-spec unit.  All you need to convert the lower is a modified bolt catch and JAKL buttcap/recoil buffer, which includes the rear 1913 picatinny mounting rail. Assembly onto a standard mil-spec lower takes about two minutes for the buttcap assembly and the usual time needed to install a bolt catch.

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
1913 Picatinny buttcap

First shown off at SHOT Show in 2020, I was one of the first to see the JAKL outside of PSA. It looked distinctive, it promised a working piston system (minus the bolt shear and carrier tilt issues that plagued other designs), bottom line? I was excited. But all the looks in the world can’t save a gun that can’t shoot. Charge on!

Review

Besides a couple issues regarding the JAKL’s gas system in early models, the one common complaint I heard in early models was a significant drop in accuracy once a suppressor was attached. It wasn’t a good look for a gun with so much potential as a suppressor host. So, how did my JAKL work out?

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
Gas adjustment knob

I started with six types of ammo, from 90-gr. supersonic rounds to 220-gr. subs. I shot groups with each ammo type, both suppressed and unsuppressed. I was happy to see my gun favor the Barnes 110-gr. T-TSX, my preferred hunting and home defense round.

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
The JAKL performed well with a wide variety of ammo.

Overall, the gun shot between 1MOA and 3MOA, not liking the Federal Fusion 150-gr. round that much for some reason. The smallest groups with each brand of ammunition came with the suppressor on, which is consistent with my results on every other AR platform rifle I’ve ever shot.

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
The design of the JAKL makes it a little front heavy, especially with a suppressor, but was barely noticeable when shooting.

I found the JAKL to be reliable, as long as the gas setting is correct. Federal Power Shok 120-gr. ran fine on one setting, but Barnes 110-gr. needed another notch opened up to function at peak performance. It’s important to know your ammo and which setting it likes, or to err on the side of excess and run one position further open than expected, unless you run into overgassing.

Running the JAKL through some CQB drills was enlightening. I figured the front heavy nature of the JAKL (especially with a suppressor) would stand out in a negative way, but it wasn’t a major detriment. It kind of feels like it’s already front heavy, so I might as well choose this gun to host my heaviest suppressor.

The balance stands out when I’m hefting it in the gun room or while hiking, but much less so at the range.  One could further balance the JAKL out by choosing a heavier stock/brace, but I didn’t mind it too much. I enjoy shooting the JAKL, off the bench, tripod or in some light run-n-gun drills. For a longer hunting hike, I’ll certainly be using a sling.

Adjusting the gas block is easy. The knob sticks out past the handguard and rotates easily, no tools needed. The .300 Blk version is six-position knob with a spring loaded detent preventing the knob from going into the disassembly position.

The piston-operated design means there’s a lot less carbon fouling coming back into the receiver. If you’re not running a suppressor, there’s a decent chance you haven’t run into serious fouling issues unless you’re a high-round count kind of shooter. With a can on, the backpressure means a lot more crap spewing into the receiver. Nearly every round I’ve shot through the JAKL has been suppressed. The receiver is not only clean-ish, but the original batch of lube I put on the rifle is still there, a testament to the lower operating temperature a pistol receiver experiences versus a DI receiver that has blazing hot jets of gas shot in again and again.

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
A couple hundred rounds of suppressed fire usually results in a lot more build-up

Recoil is lower than in comparable short-barreled AR rifles and pistols in .300 Blk. I’ve run about two dozen guns in this caliber, with barrels from 4.75 inches to 16 inches. Being able to dial down the gas so easily means the bolt carrier can be running at a significantly slower velocity, reducing recoil by a wide margin. It certainly beats my current favorite, a Noveske Ghetto Blaster, in the recoil department.

The big difference in the recoil impulse is that you have a heavier carrier group traveling much slower, versus a direct impingement AR with a lighter BCG traveling much faster.  The JAKL has a slow push, versus the quick snap a standard AR sends.

Also, the JAKL feels solid. A monolithic upper really makes this feel like a well-built gun.

 

I’m a fan of the charging handle, which is nonreciprocating and, as mentioned, is reversible. This is really the only ergonomic difference between the JAKL and any other mainline AR. With one hand you can easily bring the bolt back and lock it in place, negating the need for ambi-controls or a BAD lever style addition.  While the charging handle lacks a detent that would give you the “HK slap,” it is functional and ergonomic. A definite improvement over the standard AR platform charging handle location. There have been a few complaints about the charging handle hitting the front of its channel when it slams forward causing a minor cosmetic blemish. Mine is starting to show this. It’s pretty minor, though probably of concern to owners of “safe queens.”

Palmetto State Armory JAKL
Charging handle “damage” to the forend shown at the top of the channel.

Besides the weight of the JAKL (which is totally subjective, as any “hit the gym bro” will tell you), the only real downside for me right now is the limited aftermarket. Handguards are some of the most commonly customized parts on an AR. I’m not saying PSA’s handguard is a huge issue, but if it isn’t to your liking you don’t have many options. A magnesium forend from V Seven or Dark Hour Defense would be a great way to cut weight, but this gun will be a little “chonky” regardless.

Tech Specs

  • Operating system: Long-stroke piston with 6 gas settings (.300 Blackout), or 4 settings (5.56)
  • Trigger: PSA brand mil-spec
  • Caliber: .300 Blackout, 5.56mm available
  • Stock: None. JMAC Customs TM-8 (SBR) and PSA Triangle Brace available. Compatible with all 1913 stocks/braces.
  • Barrel: Nitride 4150V Chrome Moly Steel. Twist rate 1:8 in. (.300 Blackout), 1:7 in. (5.56)
  • Threads: 5/8×24 (.300 Blackout), 1/2×28 (5.56)
  • Muzzle device: A2 flash hider
  • Barrel length: 8.5 in. (.300 Blackout), 10.5 in. (5.56)
  • Overall length:  18.125 in. (from flash hider to rear of 1913 adaptor, no stock or brace since lengths vary)
  • Weight: 5lbs, 8oz
  • Price: $649.99 for the complete upper, $99.99 for the parts to convert a mil-spec lower to JAKL compatible.
  • Visit: palmettostatearmory.com

Ratings (out of Five Stars)

Accuracy * * * *

While not a precision rifle, my JAKL meets and exceeds the standard for guns in this price range.

Ergonomics * * * *

The front-heavy nature of the JAKL is the only real detriment. I’d like a bigger cut out around the bolt lock/release paddle to allow for more non-proprietary options. The charging handle is excellent. Earlier QC issues that others have run into seem to have been ironed out.

Reliability * * * * *

The caveat that comes with options is that you have choose the right one. When I run my JAKL on the right gas setting, it is not only reliable, it performs with even less recoil than a direct impingement AR.

Overall * * * *

Palmetto State Armory is working overtime on Research and Development.  In the time I’ve had this T&E gun, they’ve already offered more barrel lengths, handguard options and have announced a .308/7.62×51 version.  A bullpup lower has even been announced, using the lack of a buffer tube to convert the JAKL upper into a different category of gun. QC and engineering issues have been resolved pretty quickly, and look to be all but ironed out. If storage space is a concern, or if you feel like the piston system is the way of the future, or if you just want a SCAR/ACR at home, the JAKL is worth checking out.

 

For more articles and reviews by the author click on Jens “Rex Nanorum” Hammer or to follow him on social media visit @Rexnanorum.

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