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!
*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
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-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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
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.
But the ones I see at the gun store are not on the list?
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.
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.
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!