Magazine Breaking the Rules: JK Armament and the VersaX Silencer Dave Merrill 1 Comments, Join the Conversation THE REINVENTION OF JK ARMAMENT AND THE VERSAX SILENCER [This article is from RECOIL Issue #64] Aluminum? On a rifle silencer? Like a real one?” I said over the phone, the incredulity apparent and impossible to hide in the voice because it seemed so ludicrous. “Yes,” JK Armament founder and namesake Jake Kunsky stated with the confidence of someone who did his own research and design, “Come see for yourself.” After growing up on the farm, Kunsky got his start with weapons in the U.S. Military, and in fact hit his 20th year of service shortly before we touched down in Idaho. Kunsky was active duty for a decade before he went active reserve to start designing and engineering in the firearms industry. He ultimately did four tours in Iraq, was the head armorer for a special forces group, and worked and produced patents (a dozen and counting with his name on them) for the likes of Nemo Arms, Gemtech, and Maxim Defense before he started JK Armament himself. JKA was founded during the salad days of solvent traps (see DIY Guns, Volume 1) but shifted gears once it became plain that ship was sailing. But even with that pedigree, we still had to see it for ourselves. Skeptical but intrigued (and still skeptical), we found ourselves driving down I-84 in Idaho to do just that. And while we’re at it, we’ll check out the expanding operation, new products, and some surprisingly familiar faces. The dry air and high plains of Idaho pass by in the car window. This is the land of potatoes, alfalfa, cattle, and silencers. Like the state of Georgia, Idaho has produced several major suppressor manufacturers. In fact, Idaho is the state with the highest percentage of residents employed by the firearms industry as a whole. The nondescript steel building on a country road is former home to Maxim Defense’s R&D facility MukWerx, and current home to JK Armament. Instead of 3D printers churning out experiments like the Maxim days, the door opens to reveal the warm hum of Haas machines, the squeal of cutting metal, a compressed-air system kicking on and off, and far more employees than you’d anticipate by seeing the building. There’s an occasional deep thrum of ordnance in the distance, felt more than heard; nearly 20 miles away the U.S. Military has a bombing range, where they’ll mostly only disturb the open air among meandering cattle pastures. We also toured a new facility that’s significantly larger, with plenty space to expand operations. The administrative and engineering spaces have windows to the factory floor, with local new-hires already beginning work. There were some non-locals too, more than one recognized from some other popular silencer manufacturers. It’s clear Kunsky is putting together a serious team. Over lunch at a petrol station/convenience store/hotel combination that’s emblematic of small-town Idaho, there were a few more surprises beyond the expanded staff, equipment, and talks of aluminum. Ron Martinez, the man most credited with bringing Gemtech into the limelight before the sale to S&W half a decade prior, is there. Martinez is now president and partner of JK Armament, his non-compete with S&W’s former parent company, American Outdoor Brands, ending just days before. And bigger news, at least to those in the know, Dr. Phil Dater (see RECOIL Issue 42), godfather of the modern American silencer, is also on the team. JK Armament is now the third company where Dater and Kunsky have worked together. Dr. Phil Dater Adding another famous name among this list of famous names, acclaimed firearms trainer Chris Costa (see RECOIL Issue 4) of Costa Ludus and formerly of Magpul, is also now on staff at JK Armament. Not as some kind of Instagram influencer, but serving as the director of evaluation and future development. Chris Costa of Costa Ludus Later, on the range, a 7.62×39 AK with the new all-aluminum JK 155 VersaX 30 mounted is pressed into service. It’s just fine, but 7.62×39 is relatively low pressure. Then 5.56, followed by .45-70, a smattering of other pistols, subguns, and rifles — and a Nemo Arms .300WM large-frame AR. Our ears didn’t even ring, let alone explode. “Don’t feel too bad,” Kunsky says, “Our distributors didn’t believe it until they saw and heard it either.” We had to ask: “Can we run four mags through a VersaX with an SBR on full auto?” “If you want to break it for YouTube,” Kunsky replies with a laugh. “If I put Porsche tires on my truck, I can’t complain that it no longer hauls as well, and I can’t blame the quality of the tires either,” Kunsky explains. “For normal range time and hard training, it’ll be A-OK.” With attention already grabbed by the likes of Dater, Costa, and Martinez, what’s now needed is an explanation of how the hell it’s even possible. ALUMINUM? ALUMINUM. It’s here we note the skepticism regarding aluminum and silencers isn’t only from reading opinions online, but personal experience. We’ve seen threads buggered, galled, and deformed with aluminum before. Once-modular silencers permanently seized tight by high pressures and bulged cores, produced fly-by-night manufacturers. Bad experiences leave lasting impressions, and also sometimes erroneous conclusions. Famously, metal-injected-molding (MIM) has a bad name and a pang of low-quality within some circles in the firearms world, despite MIM parts being used in jet engines, helicopters, and spacecraft for decades. All because one manufacturer once used poorly MIM’d parts in an incorrect application, it still remains a dirty word. There was a point when titanium, one of the most oft-used materials in modern suppressors, was scoffed at for the role. After all, when titanium heats up (which happens at a rate of about 7F-a-shot when hanging from the muzzle end of an M4) it erodes quickly. “It’s only good for precision rifles” gun forums and internet groups repeated by rote, until they didn’t. If you just repeat words without questioning or reexamining, at some point you just end up confidently making declarations that are no longer true. The old way of thinking is that aluminum was only good for low-pressure or low-volume roles like .22LR, or now-antiquated pistol silencers produced two decades ago. This thinking has been questioned in the past, and indeed we first saw aluminum used in specialized centerfire rifle roles such as dedicated hunting silencers like the Griffin Armament Sportsman Ultra Light and the Gemtech Tracker. We know the JK Armament silencers work, we’ve seen it firsthand, so the real question is why they work where others have failed. There isn’t one single reason, but a confluence. Many previous attempts used the cheaper, softer 6061 aluminum over T6-7075 and either weren’t anodized or were improperly coated. The base material of 7075 itself has also gotten stronger in recent years thanks to advances in materials science. But the bulk of it comes down to design and using the right one for the job at hand. JK Armament isn’t simply using anodized T6-7075 in the same dimensions as their 17-4 or titanium parts for the JK 155 VersaX 30, but instead tailoring designs to the base materials. The baffles are produced with 7075 in mind as well as the type and taper of the individual baffle threads themselves (JKA tells us the style of threads is one of the most important parts). Kunsky has never seen a burst or a break on the serialized portion of their silencers, including the sub-$500 all-aluminum VersaX 30 that was put through the paces on the range. But there are really two very big reasons that even the still skeptical in the crowd will like: The baffles can be rotated away after use to spread the wear around, and JK Armament has a lifetime unconditional and unlimited warranty. If you do manage to blow out a baffle and break something, they’re going to replace it quickly. COMMON FEATURES The words that kept being repeated was “tone technology.” While the name may invoke visions of lab coats, what it boils down to is that the engineers at JK Armament took considerable effort determining what they consider ideal internal volumes and pressure for their silencers; too much and you experience a lot of first-round pop (FRP) from the initial blast eating internal oxygen, too little and the pressures can become unbearable. Specifically, they shot for lower tones in-use to reduce perceived noise level. A lower tone with a more-gentle curve may have the same decibel level as a higher, sharper one, but is far more comfortable for the shooters themselves. An extreme example of this effect would be an earthquake versus a shrieking baby. Each Versa X silencer ships with what they call a Tone Tuner, which allows the user to increase expansion space, using their ear as a guide. JK Armament makes modular silencers, though the word “modular” means different things at different times within the suppressor industry. The first mass-market American modular silencer was the Gemtech Multimount, first released back in 2008. You wouldn’t call it “modular” in the 2020s, but maybe “proto-modular.” The Multimount was a 9mm silencer that simply had a swappable barrel mount so it could easily be switched from a booster on a pistol to an HK 3-lug and everything else between; commonplace now, but was the first of the breed. In later years, we’d begin to see replaceable endcaps (especially useful not only because endcaps are common places for bullet strikes, but also for caliber optimization), stackable baffle sections to customize the quiet, multi-caliber advertising, and the now-universal 1.375×24 TPI HUB mount. The JK Armament silencers share all of those modern modular features, and though they certainly have their own mounts available, you have a bevy of options out there. HUB mounting not only means consumers have far more choices in terms of muzzle devices and systems, but also from manufacturers themselves. More than one company has either gone under or discontinued devices, leaving their consumers with only what they have on-hand or forcing them to send off these silencers to be reworked (see Curtis Tactical in RECOIL Issue 52). At the time of this writing, there are two dozen companies putting out HUB mount parts, giving users hundreds of options. Each removable part has wrench flats for easy swapping with adjustable wrenches or JK-produced tools, and you can even nab an STL file from them to print your own if you’d like. Weighing just 3.7 ounces in the shortest configuration, the JK 155 VersaX is available with three different bore sizes: 30-cal to cover everything from 5.56mm to .300 Winchester Magnum; 9mm for 9mm (of course), .300BLK, all the way to 350 Legend; and 45 for 10mm, .45ACP, 45-70, and even .450 Bushmaster. NOTEWORTHY But not everything at JK Armament is aluminum. Along with the VersaX 30, we sent plenty of rounds through others. The current top of the pile at JK Armament is the 155 SBRX. As the name suggests, this suppressor is specifically designed for use in short-barreled rifles and has a 1.55- inch diameter. The most costly at just under $1K, the SBRX is configurable from 3.3 to 6.6 inches, has a titanium serialized component, a 17-4 stainless steel blast baffle that takes the brunt of the pressure, followed by four configurable titanium baffles and finished with a titanium endcap. There are flash cut, flash hider, and compensator endcaps available as well as some that are caliber-specific (though the latter will change the level of backpressure). We’ve put a preproduction SBRX through multiple SOCOM Table II firing schedules and it faired just fine, though if it didn’t the SBRX carries the same warranty. The 9mm JK 105 CCX, previously featured in CONCEALMENT, is a booster-less silencer small enough to carry if you want to go full James Bond or outlaw biker. It doesn’t use wipes, sounds best when run wet (we like petroleum jelly), and really takes the edge off until all of the ablative burns off; call it about 10 rounds. Definitely not one for a subgun, but riding a nightstand is a different thing entirely. We also got eyes-on with some shiny and new while on the factory floor, but we have to keep mum until the beginning of 2023. LOOSE ROUNDS We’re soon to hit a point, if we haven’t already, where basically anyone can produce a passable silencer. There are N+1 titanium “universal” .30-caliber silencers out there, most using designs Dr. Dater scribbled on a napkin sometime in the 1990s (“Dater did it first” is a common refrain). What separates average from excellent is a conscientious approach, serviceability, and a willingness to step outside the norms and ask what actually works. At JK Armament, it’s not a revolutionary process, not really, but a single focus on constant iteration and testing. The aluminum certainly won’t be for everyone, and for us the JK 155 SBRX holds the highest honor for a reason. But at $499 the VersaX would make a helluva first or fourth silencer. No, it’s not going to be good for your belt-fed, but if you have one of those, additional cost and weight are hardly going to be your first considerations. JK Armament has gone all-in with their expanded team and new production capability. While Kunsky is generally reserved and as methodical as only an engineering Idaho farmer First Sergeant can be, Martinez is a different story. “Oh just you wait,” an enthusiastic Martinez says with a big laugh and a large smile, “They don’t even know what’s coming.” [You can find JK Armament online here, as well as Silencer Shop and Capital Armory] Explore RECOILweb:Car Camping with Gear ScoutRECOILtv Shot Show 2019: Rosco ManufacturingHolster OptionsWar Sport Industries at SHOT NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included). Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. 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