Best AR-15 Lower Receivers [2019]: 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. Palmetto State Armory
  3. Aero Precision
  4. Battle Arms Development
  5. 2A Arms Balios
  6. F1 Firearms

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.

Best AR-15 Lower Receivers

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.

Most Affordable
49
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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. Palmetto State Armory

Simple forged lowers for a great price, they also offer a host of complete lower options for basically every type of AR-15 you can think of.

40
at PSA

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

We’ve used and reviewed just about every AR-15 and AR-10 rifle that PSA makes and their lowers have never given us even a hint of a problem.

They even have some awesome limited edition lowers, such as their “Space Rider” stripped lower!

PSA Space Rider Lower
PSA Space Rider Lower

3. 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.

Editor's Pick (Forged)
60
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Oh…and now we have a full review on Aero’s M4E1 uppers and build kits using…you guessed it…Aero lowers.

Check out the full review of the M4E1 and all the parts used in the build.

What’s your take on Aero lowers?

Readers' Ratings

4.94/5 (283)

Your Rating?

4. Battle Arms Development

How cool is this?

Best Lightweight Lower
269
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

5. 2A Arms Balios

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

499
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

6. F1 Firearms

This might not be the lightest at 9.4 oz…but it’s definitely the coolest looking.

Most Lightweight Lower
230
at Rainier Arms

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

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.”

If I had to choose one lower for the rest of my builds…I’d go with the Aero.

Editor's Pick (Forged)
60
at Brownells

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

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.

42 Leave a Reply

  • Joe

    7075 80% lower for the win, for sooo many reasons.

    2 weeks ago
  • DENVER V JOHNSON

    I HAVE AND ESSENTIAL ARMS RIFLE THAT HAS A CAST LOWER RECEIVER FROM KROTZ SPRINGS LOUISIANA I WAS THERE WHEN MR. VON JOHNSON STARTED MAKING THESE LOWER RECEIVER BACK THEN THERE WAS NOT BUT A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE MAKING LOWER RECEIVER BACK IN THE EARLY 80 AND I HAVE DROPPED THIS WEAPON AND ABUSED THESE WEAPON TO SEE EXACTLY WHAT AND HOW IT WOULD HOLE UP AND I ALSO HAD A COLT SPI THAT I DID THE VERY SAME TEST TO AND THE COLT SPI ENDED UP HAVING A CRACK IN THE MAGAZINE WELL AS FOR AS THE ESSENTIAL ARMS LOWER RECEIVER ESPECIALLY WERE THE MAGAZINE WELL WAS WAS THICKER IN WIDTH THAN MY COLT SPI IF I AM WRONG PLEASE SET ME STRAIGHT BUT THE LOWER RECEIVER HAS NO PRESSURE ON IT UNLIKE THE UPPER RECEIVER AM I RIGHT ARE WRONG BECAUSE I HAVE USED THIS WEAPON FOR EVERYTHING THAT YOU YOU COULD IMAGINE WITH ABSOLUTELY NO PROBLEM AT ALL FOR OVER THIRTY PLUS YEARS NOW AND WHEN I WAS IN THE GUN BUSINESS THESE LOWER WERE IN VERY HIGH DEMAND THE DALLAS TEXAS SWAT TEAM ACTUALLY STARTED USING THESE LOWER RECEIVER ESPECIALLY WITH THE 20 ROUND MAGAZINE OVER THE COLT LOWER RECEIVER BECAUSE WHEN IN TRAINING AND THE OFFICER HAD TO DROP TO THE GROUND IN A HURRY AND THEN 20 ROUND MAGAZINE WOULD HIT SOMETHING HARD LIKE CONCRETE OR A ROCK OR ANYTHING HARD THE COLT LOWER RECEIVER WERE CRACKING IN THE MAGAZINE WELL CAUSEING SEVERE PROBLEMS MR. VON JOHNSON OF ESSENTIAL ARMS RETRIED BECAUSE OF MEDICAL PROBLEMS AND THERE WAS NO ONE WHO WANTED TO CONTINUE WITH THE BUSINESS I KNOW IN THIS ARTICLE ABOUT LOWER RECEIVER IT IS SAID CAST TO BE THE WEAKEST OF THE THREE RECEIVER AND I AM REALLY NOT DISPUTING THAT BUT AS FOR AS MYSELF I NEVER EVER HAVE HAD ANY PROBLEMS AND HAS OF THE THE OVER ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND PLUS THAT WAS SOLD I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NEVER EVER HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT ANYONE SENDING ANY LOWER RECEIVER BACK AND WE WERE CLOSE FRIENDS BUT I KNOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED WITH BETTER TECHNOLOGY BUT AS FOR MYSELF I WOULD PUT MY LIFE ON THESE LOWER RECEIVER BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN USING THESE LOWER RECEIVER SINCE THE EARLY 1981 OR 1982 SO AFTER ALL THESE YEARS THEY ARE STILL GOING STRONG BUT I WOULD STILL APPRECIATE IT IF YOU ARE ANYONE WHO IS READING THIS TO GIVE ME THERE OPTION OF WHAT I HAVE AND WHAT THEY THINK NOW THAT MY CLOSE FRIEND IS NO LONGER IN THE GUN BUSINESS I WILL BE LOOKING FOR THE NEWEST VERSION OF THE LOWER RECEIVER AND I HAVE ALWAYS APPRECIATED THE OPTION OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE WRITING THESE ARTICLES I AM AND OLD DISABLED VETERAN AND I REALLY LOVE TO SEE ALL THE NEW GUN PRODUCTS THAT ARE COMING ON THE MARKET THANK YOU FOR SUCH A GREAT ARTICLE ON LOWER RECEIVER AND ALL THE OTHER ARTICLE THAT I READ ON A REGULAR BASIS AND HAVE A VERY BLESSED DAY THANK YOU DENVER

    3 months ago
    • Jason

      I found it interesting enough, he says cast was good enough for him and Dallas Texas SWAT. Just imagine some humble guy at a hardware store parts counter is writing it on the checkout computer with his pointer finger.

      1 second ago
    • Randall S McKenzie

      I won't read anything written in all caps with little to no punctuation. Why do people do this?

      3 weeks ago
    • Roc

      Breath...

      1 month ago
  • Ryan

    Any reviews on the polymer lowers that are coming out now?

    5 months ago
    • David, PPT Editor

      I've heard amazing things about GWAC, the only poly lower I have is a Tennessee Arms lower. I'm not a huge fan, mine had a lot of fitment and finishing issues.

      5 months ago
  • Steve

    Beware of American Muskets Billet Lowers - I have one, it is basically an expensive AR lower shaped paperweight - they have ZERO customer service skills and use childish memes when you contact them about their defective product. The hole for the front pin is slightly too low, so an upper cannot be properly mounted. It is off just enough that you can see through the gap between the upper and lower at the rear when you hold it up to the light. Tried 6 different manufacturer's uppers on it with the same results.

    6 months ago
  • Brad Cobb

    It is true, as you've noted in the article above, that cast aluminum is not as strong as forged aluminum, but did you know that in the 1950s and 1970's they developed zinc aluminum alloys?   These are much better for making lowers, and are designed for the sand casting methods that most DIY Homebrew hobbyist foundries use.   When comparing zinc aluminum alloys with forged aluminum, forging has no particular advantages, and with home DIY anodizing and etching, it's possible to come up with a lower that's every bit as good as a Factory forged aluminum lower.   As far as the finish that you come out with, this depends upon what anodizing process you use, and the level of polishing that you want to apply.   I like the look of a dull, black-matte finish, but that's my personal preference; to achieve this effect, you would use drain cleaner (lye) to leach into the zinc aluminum, and black RIT dye in the anodizing process, using a battery charger as power supply, witness the plethora of YouTube DIY videos on this subject  :-) FYFI https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zinc_aluminium

    11 months ago
  • 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.

    1 year ago
    • David

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

      1 year ago
  • 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 the highest "quality" one can buy. But I'd rather have an AR for each family member when we go shoot than a $1000 AR that I don't want scratched or touched. I'm helping 2 buddies build AR's they both opted for the Anderson lowers. In your review of the Aero Precision lower you state they are just like the Anderson lowers but their logo is better looking. WHAT?! Really? $33 for an Anderson or $90 for an Aero? I'll save the $57 and buy 7 or 8 CPD aluminum mags.

    1 year ago
  • 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.

    1 year ago
    • 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.

      1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      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.

      1 year ago
  • 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

    1 year ago
  • Stuff

    F1 skeletonized receivers are heavier than standard milspec.

    1 year ago
  • George Quintanilla

    Does any AR Lower fit any other brand upper and viece versa? Are do they have to be by brand only? I need an answer, please..

    1 year ago
    • Todd

      You might want to buy your upper and lower together. Even from the same maker you can have fit and finish problems. I have Anderson Lowers and Anderson slick side uppers. They fit and work, but there is an EXTERNAL spot where the two don't exactly jibe with each other. The problem also exists with the Spikes lowers I have. It's something funky with the uppers. It's purely cosmetic, but if you have ODC it'll drive you nuts. Finishes also vary, but you can match up your upper lower and handguards with Cerakote or Durakote and give everything a uniform finish and custom look.

      1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      It almost always will if they are mil-spec. Fit/slop might differ though.

      1 year ago
  • Rich

    I know you can't touch every company but was curious if you looked at Mega Arms and if there was any reason they weren't mentioned. great article. Thanks,

    1 year ago
    • Onidah Arms

      I have built 2 builds on the Mega, Great sets! They have sold out now and my goto is Zev Tech. or Aero.

      3 months ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Rich, I've heard of them but simply have never used one.

      1 year ago
  • John B

    Thanks for the write up...do you know who machined the "model skeleton "lower in the photo ?

    2 years ago
  • Miguel

    I really really love New Frontier Armory's C-4 Billet set. You can purchase the set for a mere $230 ish. The lower features an integrated trigger guard, upper-to-Lower tension screw, threaded bolt-catch screw, and a threaded plug for take-down hole. The lower weighs in at 10.4 oz & the upper at 12. oz, not ideal for a lightweight build but definitely great quality for an affordable billet set up which I believe this set to be just as good as the $500 sets. They also make a polymer ar 15 receiver set which is supposed to be very durable. They also make 9mm, 80% & forged receivers. Want an upper receiver with a side charging? They make em in 9mm & 556. I'm currently building an ar 15 battle rifle using New Frontier Armory's C-4 Billet receiver set and I'm very pleased with the quality & look.

    2 years ago
  • Tony

    Hi Eric, I've rapidly become a fan of your articles and advise - thank you! I'm a huge fan of the AK platform's ability to shrug off any and all environmental factors and still go bang every time. I'm considering building my first AR platform rifle and I have a question for you: What feature(s) or component(s) should I put the most money/focus into in an attempt match this level of reliability? Thank you!

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hey Tony...we're working on a series of the best parts/features for a custom AR-15 build with a couple tiers of different budgets...so stay tuned!

      2 years ago
  • Wesley

    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.

    2 years ago
  • M71

    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

    2 years ago
  • Austin

    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.

    2 years ago
  • Chad

    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

    2 years ago
  • Dustin

    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.

    2 years ago
  • Brian

    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?

    2 years ago
    • jay goode

      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.

      2 years ago
  • Travis

    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

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Awesome!

      2 years ago
  • Justin Schmidt

    Wow this was a pretty awesome and in depth article. One of the best I've read. Thank you!

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're welcome Justin...glad I could help!

      2 years ago
  • Peter

    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 years ago
  • DanLewis

    Now that Ruger is selling stripped lowers and you can get sig saur stripped lowers those would be my primary choices.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Thanks for your input!

      2 years ago
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