Best AR-15 Lower Receiver for Any Budget: 2017

Why are some AR-15 lower receivers $45 and some $200?

How do I know what’s the best for me?

It’s not as intimidating as it seems, so don’t worry!

Skeletonized AR-15 Lower
Skeletonized AR-15 Lower

*UPDATED 2017*: Special editions

We’re going to cover the differences in manufacturing, materials, and weight to help you pick the best lower for your budget and build.

Can’t wait til the end?  Here’s our list of the best AR-15 lower receivers:

  • Anderson Manufacturing
  • Aero Precision
  • Battle Arms Development
  • 2A Arms Balios

Manufacturing Processes

The overwhelming majority of lower receivers are made of aluminum.

While there are other options such as steel, titanium, and polymer, we’ll only focus on the three ways aluminum is made into an AR-15 receiver.

But first, what are those numbers in front of the aluminum?

6061-T6 vs 7075-T6 Aluminum Receivers

There are two types of aluminum alloys that are used in making lowers.  6061-T6 and 7075-T6.

So, what’s the difference?

Simply: strength and corrosion resistance

7075 vs 6061, Proto Labs
7075 vs 6061, Proto Labs

7075-T6 is nearly twice as strong as 6061-T6.  Naturally, there will be a cost difference between the two.

However, 6061 is more corrosion resistant.  But unless your receiver is bare aluminum, this part shouldn’t affect your decision too much.

When planning your build, think about how much that strength is worth to you.

Want our advice?  The difference nowadays between 7075 and 6061 is so minimal that we like the piece of mind that comes with 7075.

But if budget dictates 6061…you’re fine too.

Now onto the three ways of manufacturing a receiver.

Cast Aluminum

The casting process is very basic.

Pour the molten aluminum into a mold and, once cooled, you have a lower receiver ready for final machining.

Aluminum Castings (Probably Not an AR Lower, US Castings
Aluminum Castings (Probably Not an AR Lower, US Castings

Since the aluminum is poured into the cast as a liquid the final product will have a loose crystalline structure making it the weakest form of the three types of aluminum.

It is still strong enough for the receiver to be perfectly safe without fear of malfunction.

However, it is the least desirable of the processes.

Billet Aluminum

The manufacturer is Michelangelo and the billet bar stock is the marble.

The lower starts out as a block of pure aluminum that ends up on various machines that mill it into a finished product.

Blocks of Aluminum, AR15.com (Shadow Grey)
Blocks of Aluminum, AR15.com (Shadow Grey)

It is just sculpting with metal.

Because the aluminum remains solid billet lowers are stronger than cast and have a finer finish.

If you’re looking to build a “show gun” consider a billet lower!

They also have the added benefit of being easily customized by manufacturers since they start with raw aluminum.

Billet Lower Receiver, Hunter Rifleworks
Billet Lower Receiver, Hunter Rifleworks

This allows for creative changes to be made such as: a skull shaped magazine well, built-in trigger guards, and extra machining for weight savings.

This Seekins lower ($250) shows what cool things can be done with billet.

Seekins Gen2 Billet Lower
Seekins Gen2 Billet Lower

Forged Aluminum

The strongest and most common of the three types.

Take some aluminum and hammer it into submission.

That’s essential what’s going on in this process.

Machines press a block of aluminum into the desired shape and then it gets machined to finish it off.  The compression of the aluminum increases its strength.

Anderson Arms AR Lower
Anderson Arms AR Lower

Even though it is machined like a billet lower, the compression creates a less refined lower.  This is ideal for an AR-15 you plan on using often and hauling around with you.

What Type is Best For You?

Most websites are going to tell you to weigh it out and decide on your own.

Here at Pew Pew Tactical, we’d rather show you some examples and talk about them.

Frankly, we won’t cover cast lowers.  For two easy reasons: they’re weak and I think they’re ugly.  Never have I used a cast receiver in a build and don’t think you should either.

Now let’s get on with our top picks!

Anderson Manufacturing

Here it is, the Honda of lower receivers.

Anderson Lowers are cheap ($49 for stripped and $120 for complete), they’re forged 7075-T6, and they’re often available.

Anderson Arms AR Lower
Anderson Arms AR Lower

I have used their lowers on countless builds and have had zero issues with them.

If this is your first build, I highly recommend you go this route!

If you scratch it while building, who cares?  Do not let the price fool you, these are quality basic lowers good for 90% of your potential builds as a hobby shooter.  I have four of these in my safe right now just waiting to be built.

Aero Precision

Aero Precision Lower
Aero Precision Lower

Aero Precision lowers ($90) are just like Anderson’s (forged 7075-T6) but their logo is better looking.  You can pair it with an Aero stripped upper receiver too which is our current favorite.

Aero Pew Pew Lower
Aero Pew Pew Lower

And every once in a while Aero will release their Pew Pew lower ($105).  Don’t worry it doesn’t automatically make you able to switch to Pew Pew Pew…though I can dream.

Battle Arms Development

BAD Lightweight Upper and Lower
BAD Lightweight Upper and Lower

The B.A.D. lightweight lower ($269)  looks like something from Starship Troopers.

How cool is this?

Lightweight builds are all the rage right now.  Compare the BAD weight of 6.84oz to Anderson’s 10.88oz and you’ve shed a quarter pound in just the lower!

Also made of 7075-T6 aluminum, this lightweight beauty would be great for someone building a race gun.

2A Arms Balios

Balios Lite Lower Receiver
Balios Lite Lower Receiver

The Balios Lite ($292 or $499 for upper/lower set) is without a doubt my current favorite lower on the market and will be on my next build.

I first came to recognize it on the first place guy’s rifle in local competitions.

It is one of the more expensive lowers, but it is jam-packed with options.

This billet lower is only 6.5oz and is also made from 7075-T6.

Some of my favorite features include contoured front for a more ergonomic grip, a slightly angled mag well to aid in faster reloads, and a built in trigger guard.  The reduced weight, contoured receiver front, and flared magazine well are important features for the unique side-charger Go-Bag gun I will build with this lower.

However, it’s hard to find and even the company site says it is normally several weeks in backorder.

Other

But the ones I see at the gun store are not on the list?

Lots of Lowers, Precise Shooter
Lots of Lowers, Precise Shooter

To provide you with information and direction, the above recommendations were selected without persuasion.

There are countless other places who manufacture and machine lower receivers.  There are three things you should keep in mind when shopping around for them: material, process, and reputation of the manufacturer.

A good place to start for manufacturer reputation is with our AR-15 Buyer’s Guide.  If their complete rifle is good…chances are their lowers are good too.

You can then cross-check against what is in stock at your local store so you can save on shipping.  Or check out the full list of lowers from Brownells.

Conclusion

Ultimately you’ll get a feel for each company and find favorites, as I have.

Some people prefer different logos or roll marks, some have brand loyalty, and others only worry about price.

There are many who choose a forged lower over the pricier billet lowers using the simple mantra “a lower, is a lower, is a lower.”

That’s what Uncle Sam taught me was the KISS method: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Dwight KISS
Dwight KISS

Now that you’re armed with enough knowledge to help you sort through the haystack and narrow your search get out there and find what works for you.  And let us know what you ended up choosing!

 

17 Comments

  1. hi Eric. this will be my first ar so looking into a budget build. I may take your recommendation of going with the Anderson mfg complete lower. just wondering what you would recommend for a complete upper assembly that will mate it the best. don’t want to spend over $400 for the upper. also, have you any input on Palmetto brand? thanks in advance!

  2. Used anderson lowers in 5 builds now great quality never had a prob. And I agree aero uppers best bang for your buck hands down

  3. I currently own a built AR with Anderson lower. I recently bought a Seekins billet trigger guard to replace the flat one that came with it, and it will not fit…a hair too long. Is this common with the Anderson lower?

    1. Not all billet items fit mil-spec recievers. You have to read and see if its compatible with what you are building. Seekins precision usually only fits billet recievers.

  4. I’m currently in the middle of a build using a new companies receiver set. So new in fact the serial number is 0000023 It’s a local manufacturing company called rss defense the receiver weighs in at just over 7 ounces. That’s both upper and lower and was priced at 250. I’m very impressed with the rifles they make so I decided to make one using their Receiver.

  5. Well written article. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I run a YouTube channel called Green Light Shooting and am doing my first AR build on there. I’ll be sure to send the viewers to this link for more info on lowers.

    Chad
    youtube.com/greenlightshooting

  6. My first build was a 16″ .223 that started with an Anderson complete lower. Love it! Now I’m building a 8.5″ .300BO pistol starting with an Anderson stripped lower.

  7. Anderson all the way, 356 Builds by Customers in Standard and RF-85. Can’t go wrong and why pay more..K.I.S.S. fro a FFL and Operator

  8. I have done several builds off the Aero Precision upper/lowers. Really like there M4/M5 Enhanced upper, strong & makes a simple build. If you want to get a little wild go with the C.O.P upper. Did one build with this. Look out for there specials or shop dealers & you can beat the web site retail.

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