Best AR-15 Lower Receivers [2018]: Budget to Baller

We know what you’re thinking right now:

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

Couple AR Lowers
Couple AR Lowers

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, One-Off (sorry)

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 till the end?  Here’s our list of the best AR-15 lower receivers:

  1. Anderson Manufacturing
  2. Aero Precision
  3. Battle Arms Development
  4. 2A Arms Balios
  5. F1 Firearms

Table of Contents

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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 peace 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

Think of it this way, 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!

1. Anderson Manufacturing

Here it is, the Honda of lower receivers.

Budget Pick
Anderson Lower Receiver

Anderson Lower Receiver

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 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.

My accuracy testing lower uses the Anderson and Hiperfire trigger (Best AR-15 Triggers).

Testing Vortex Viper PST II
Anderson Lower

2. Aero Precision

My buddies and I have built at least a dozen AR’s with Aero lowers.  They are all running just fine.

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.

PLUS…there’s an adjustable screw for Gen 2 models that makes a tighter fit with your upper…no more rattling around!

Aero Lower Gen 2 Tension Screw
Aero Lower Gen 2 Tension Screw

My newest competition build utilizes an Aero FDE Gen 2 lower receiver.

BSF Barrel Testing, Round 2
Aero FDE Lower

Can’t wait for some future builds with more of them…my personal favorite for most builds.

Forged Editor's Choice
Aero Precision Lower

Aero Precision Lower

What’s your take on Aero lowers?

Readers' Ratings

5/5 (41)

Your Rating?

3. Battle Arms Development

How cool is this?

Best Lightweight Lower
Battle Arms Development Lightweight Lower

Battle Arms Development Lightweight Lower

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

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.

4. 2A Arms Balios

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

2A Arms Balios

2A Arms Balios

Prices accurate at time of writing

The Balios Lite Gen 2 ($499 for upper/lower set) is without a doubt my current favorite lower on the market.

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.

5. F1 Firearms

This one has to be the lightest.

The Featherweight
F1 UDR-15 3G Style 2

F1 UDR-15 3G Style 2

Prices accurate at time of writing

I’m having trouble finding the weight of it but look at how much weight it has shed.

But one thing is for sure…F1’s billet lower ($230) brings some style to the competition shooting game.

Couple it with an even more insane upper receiver to save a ton of ounces.  Just don’t get any dirt in there!

F1 Receiver Combo
F1 Receiver Combo

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 and Rainier Arms (for cooler billet ones).

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!  And check out more of our favorite guns & gear at Editor’s Picks.

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John Cavanaugh
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John Cavanaugh

I did not see any AR 10 lowers. I have shot AR 15 in competition for some time and decided to move to 308. I am currently owning an M1a that is accurate and a Precision semi 308 which is a great rifle. I would like to build a very good 308, My other rifles are very good I just want to build a 309.

David
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David

This is our picks for best AR-15 lowers. We have a separate article for AR-10 lowers.

Jared Stull
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Jared Stull

I have 3 Anderson lowers on all 3 of my builds. All 3 very tight matchups with my uppers no slop, no play. I paid $33 ea not including shipping and FFL transfer fee’s. None were “scratch & dent” specials either. I did very extensive research before I did my builds and I agree that Anderson should get top pick for “Best bang for your buck” I’ll probably never need a, “High Speed Low Drag, super Tacticool” AR-15 so Anderson it is! My AR builds individually cost less than the 2A Arms Lower. I’m sure the 2A Arms is of… Read more »

George Quintanilla
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George Quintanilla

I want to buy an Anderson Lower first and then an Upper. But not at the same time because of budget. Can I buy a Lower now and then get an Upper 2 months later and will they fit. It’s all because of my budget. Cannot afford to get them at the same time. . Hope you can help me.

Eric Hung
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They will almost 100% “fit” if mil-spec but might have some slop. It won’t affect accuracy or anything but you might have some movement/sound that bothers some people. Even if you buy together unless it says matched pair you might still have the same problem.

Chuck
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Chuck

I just built my first AR. I picked up a Anderson lower. A month later fuck the rest of the upper and lower build kit from PSA. All the parts I got for it fit like a champ.

Keith
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Keith

I believe so, just makes sure of what you have and buy accordingly to the extra parts.. Meaning Mil spec, or not. Those parts do not match. It’s either one or the other

Stuff
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Stuff

F1 skeletonized receivers are heavier than standard milspec.