The lower receiver makes up almost half of the AR-15 rifle, yet it is often brushed off as the best place to save money on your rifle build. While the lower receiver does not have many moving parts and is less prone to have reliability issues, simply getting the cheapest lower receiver you can find on the market is not the best idea.
The two things you would want from your lower receiver to enhance your overall shooting experience is to ensure it is a good fit with quality finishing. You need to remember that almost all the ergonomics of your rifle come from the lower receiver and that is why the connection between your upper receiver and lower receiver should be clean and tight for your rifle to function properly.
However, just by searching online, you’ll know that there are plenty of options available online covering various budgets. This can get quite intimidating but the process to pick the best one for you shouldn’t be too complex as long as you know what you’re looking for. Before we go down to the top lower receivers available on the market, here are a few things you need to know about lower receivers.
Stripped vs Complete vs 80% Lower Receiver
There are different types of lower receivers out there, namely stripped, complete, and 80%. Below we shall briefly discuss each type of lower receiver for your understanding.
Stripped Lower Receiver
A stripped lower receiver is the serialized portion of the AR-15 and it is also the only part that needs to be purchased through a licensed dealer (FFL). This part is essentially a piece of aluminum that you can add the other parts of the lower to create a complete lower receiver.
Obviously, if you’re building your own lower receiver, you’ll definitely need this part. Building your own parts not only lets you customize it the way you want, but it can also even help you save some money compared to purchasing a complete lower receiver.
Complete Lower Receiver
However, if you’re not too confident in assembling everything, you can always get one with all the lower parts installed. A complete lower usually comes with a buffer system, stock or pistol brace, pistol grip, safety selector, trigger assembly, trigger guard, bolt release, and a magazine release.
While it seems much more convenient to purchase a complete rifle instead of buying a lower and upper receiver separately, it can help you avoid paying firearms excise tax and to also provide you with the flexibility of getting a higher-quality part than those available in a complete rifle.
80% Lower Receiver
As the name suggests, 80% lower receivers are partially finished with missing drilled holes used for installing a trigger and safety selector. Although it is legal to purchase and have it shipped directly to your door, you should always conduct some research before handling 80% lowers. Make sure you do not mistakenly get one instead of a stripped lower.
Lower Receiver Materials
Most lower receivers you’ll see are made from aluminum. This is mainly because this material is lightweight, strong, and also affordable. However, there are different alloys used in the fabrication of aluminum receivers and they are 6061 (T651) and 7075 (T651).
So, what’s the difference?
As you can see from the table above, the main difference is the strength and corrosion resistance.
The 7075-T651 is almost twice as strong as its 6061 counterparts and, obviously, it also comes with a higher price tag. However, the 6061-T651 is much more corrosion resistant than the 7075 aluminum. But unless you’re getting a bare aluminum receiver, this should not have too much impact on your decision.
Lower receivers made from polymers are a good option for concealed carry pistols. With that being said, it’s not always the best idea to get a polymer lower even though they’re much cheaper.
Unlike pistols, AR-15 rifles will introduce a lot more stress on your lower receiver and there will be a higher chance of the polymer material breaking apart. Just a simple search on the internet for “broken polymer lower” will lead you to plenty of sites and forums about how easy they can break due to all the stress from the buffer tube.
Titanium & Steel
These are very rare on the market and, frankly, there isn’t really much point in getting them. Of course, they’re much stronger than aluminum but they also come with unnecessary weight and a much higher price tag. Some may even feel that titanium and steel are a little overkill as aluminum is more than strong enough to “bombproof” your rifle.
The Manufacturing Process for Aluminum Lowers
Now that we have shortlisted the ideal lower receiver material to be 7075-T651, we will also have to know how they’re made and what are the differences between them. The three types of the manufacturing process for aluminum lowers include cast, billet, and forged.
Casting is when molten aluminum is poured into a mold. Once it’s cooled, you’ll have a lower receiver ready for final machining. This is a fairly basic process and cast lowers are usually much cheaper than the rest.
However, since the aluminum is poured into the cast as a liquid, the final product tends to have a loose crystalline structure that makes it weaker than the rest. In any case, it is still strong enough for the receiver to work safely without the fear of malfunction.
Billet aluminum lower receivers are cut from solid blocks of pure aluminum. These blocks of metal will then go through a various milling process to turn into a finished product. Since the aluminum remains solid during the manufacturing process, billet lowers are much stronger than cast aluminum and even have a nicer finish.
Billet aluminum also has the added benefit of being customized by manufacturers such as adding a skull-shaped magazine well, built-in trigger guards, and extra machining for weight savings.
This is the strongest and most common of the three types of lower receivers. Forced aluminum lower receivers are hammered into shape by compressive forces and machined to finish off. The compression of the aluminum even works to increase its strength on top of creating a less refined tower. Getting a forged aluminum is the ideal choice for an AR-15 if you plan on using it often and hauling it around with you everywhere.
Top 7 Best AR-15 Lower Receivers Review
Without further ado, here are the top seven options among many that will certainly help to improve your overall shooting experience.
1. Aero Precision AR-15 Gen 2 Stripped Lower Receiver
Best Overall AR-15 Lower Receiver
If you need a reliable lower receiver to go with your AR-15 rifle, then you simply cannot go wrong with the Aero Precision AR-15 Gen 2 Stripped Lower Receiver. This is a no-frills workhorse of the lower receiver market.
This lower receiver is made from one of the toughest materials in the field – the forged 7075-T6 aluminum to better strength and durability. In fact, the Aero Precision AR-15 Gen 2 Stripped Lower Receiver is strong enough to be used as a base for various calibers such as the 5.56mm, 6.5mm, 300 Blackout, and the 9mm AR-15s.
However, the Aero Precision AR-15 Gen 2 Stripped Lower Receiver is built with a mil-spec form factor. So, you’d expect it to have very basic aesthetics and functions with no integrated trigger guard. This doesn’t make it a disadvantage though; you get the flexibility to customize and add parts onto the receiver with what works best for you.
The Aero Precision AR-15 Gen 2 Stripped Lower Receiver also comes with a receiver tension adjustment screw at the rear of the lower receiver to let you snugly adjust this unit to your upper receiver. This means that you can ensure a tighter fit to your rifle for more precise tolerances and much less rattling.
Although there isn’t much to boast about the Aero Precision AR-15 Gen 2 Stripped Lower Receiver in terms of aesthetics or added ergonomics, this lower receiver is still a very well-built piece of equipment that can be trusted to deliver outstanding performance in almost any context.
If you need a solid lower receiver to go with your AR-15, then you must give the Aero Precision AR-15 Gen 2 Stripped Lower Receiver a closer look. This is easily the best all-round lower received available on the market that offers excellent value in terms of price, features, and quality.
- Forged aluminum construction makes it very strong and durable
- Compatible with any AR-15 caliber
- Includes adjustable upper receiver tension for a better fit
- Does not come with an integrated trigger guard
- Standard mil-spec form factor
2. Radian Weapons Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower
Most Complete AR-15 Lower Receiver
If you’re looking to get the complete package with one purchase, then the Radian Weapons Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower Receiver is the perfect all-in-one option you can get online. Not only is it completely ambidextrous, but this lower receiver even includes most of the AR-15 controls in one equipment.
Milled from 7071-T6 aluminum, this lower receiver has even been specially designed to feature weight-reduction cutouts into their magazine well to ensure it does not add on too much weight to your rifle. This is great as it would make it much easier to lug it around with you all day as you’re out hunting.
While the lower receiver isn’t ready to fire, it does include almost any controls you can think of for your AR-15 rifle. In just one package, you also get a magazine release button, bolt release, and a fire selector switch. These controls even feature an ambidextrous design to be used by both left and right-handed shooters with ease.
In addition to that, the Radian Weapons Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower Receiver even gives right-handed shooters the ability to lock the bolt to the rear without needing to take their firing hand off the weapon. This is extremely convenient and works to ensure you have full control of your rifle at all times.
To strengthen the already outstanding ergonomics, Radian Weapons even designed their magazine well to be flared for quicker reloads and a serrated receiver front for a better CQB support handhold. The manufacturer has also ensured that the integrated trigger guard is rounded for much easier trigger access as well.
In terms of fit, the Radian Weapons Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower Receiver comes with a self-adjusting receiver tensioner that uses a spring pin to help you automatically adjust the upper receiver tension. This means you can easily achieve an exact upper receiver fit without the hassle of turning any screws.
The Radian Weapons Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower Receiver also features a mil-spec hard coat anodization. Although this is a good and reliable coating, we do find it a bit thin for a receiver at this price tag. It would definitely be better if the manufacturer could provide a slightly thicker coating which ultimately translates to better durability and longevity.
In any case, this is just a small disadvantage – if not merely a slight inconvenience – compared to a whole load of other benefits you get with the Radian Weapons Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower Receiver. Overall, this is an outstanding lower receiver option for those who want a truly ambidextrous option without needing to purchase additional hardware and accessories.
- Includes all ambidextrous control hardware
- Good ergonomics with an integrated trigger guard
- Automatic upper receiver tension adjustment
- Mil-spec coating may be a little thin
- May be expensive for some
3. Battle Arms Development BAD556-LW Lower Receiver
Best Lightweight AR-15 Lower Receiver
If you need something that is light to make it easier for you to carry your rifle around all day, then the Battle Arms Development BAD556-LW may just be worth looking into. This lower receiver is specially designed with a reduction in weight without sacrificing on its performance.
Constructed from 7075-T65 billet aluminum, you won’t expect it to be as strong as those made with forged aluminum. Nonetheless, the Battle Arms Development BAD556-LW is still durable and strong enough to work with almost any AR-15 caliber.
As mentioned in the title, this is a lightweight option weighing at only 6.84 ounces. In fact, the Battle Arms Development BAD556-LW is easily one of the lightest lower receivers you can get your hands on now. Many shooters opt for this lower as its reduction in weight makes it ideal for carrying the rifle without introducing too much burden on their shoulders.
Similar to the lower receiver discussed above, the Battle Arms Development BAD556-LW features a flared magazine well for quick reloads and a relief cut for an ambidextrous fire selector switch. Other than that, the lower receiver even comes with a trigger guard.
The integrated trigger guard has been rounded off to accommodate shooters with gloves. However, the Battle Arms Development has also made it a point to remove any sharp edges by hand to ensure that shooters using their rifle without gloves on won’t have to experience any discomfort.
Battle Arms Development has even thought out the design of the BAD556-LW lower receiver to ensure easier assembly. The lower receiver features a roll pin as a bolt catch pin while the rear takedown pin detent spring is a capture.
Lastly, the Battle Arms Development BAD556-LW comes with a hard coat anodized finishing that is thicker than the mil-spec as seen on the Radian Weapons Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower Receiver. Overall, the BAD556-LW by Battle Arms Development is an excellent lower receiver for tactical shooters, competitors, or anyone looking for a lightweight build for extended shooting sessions.
- Very lightweight build
- Excellent ergonomics and ambidextrous compatibility
- Integrated trigger guard
- Upgraded bolt catch pin and captured rear takedown pin detent spring
- Thick hard coat anodized finish
- No integrated ambidextrous bolt release to go with the selector switch cut-out
- May be expensive for some
4. Seekins Precision SP223 Billet Lower
Best Ambidextrous AR-15 Lower Receiver
Designed for ambidextrous controls, the Seekins Precision SP223 Billet can be comfortably used by both right and left-handed shooters alike. Aside from this, the lower receiver also comes with a slew of other advanced features to make it an option that many right-handed shooters would also benefit from.
Constructed from 7075-T6 billet aluminum, the Seekins Precision SP223 Billet has been specially designed with milled cutouts in the magazine well to reduce its overall weight. This makes it a good lower receiver for those who love to take their rifle out for extended periods of hunting in the woods.
Since it is created to be used by all kinds of shooters, the Seekins Precision SP223 Billet comes with a left-handed bolt release. However, you’ll still need to install a standard bolt release and an ambidextrous fire selector switch to achieve full functionality. In any case, Seekins’ ambidextrous bolt release is still one of the least bulky and gimmicky ambidextrous options you can find on the market.
Many shooters prefer to put on gloves as they go off on their shooting adventure. With that in mind, Seekins has designed their integrated trigger guard to be slightly oversized to ensure a much easier trigger access for those shooting with gloves.
Other than that, the Seekins Precision SP223 Billet also features a flared magazine well for faster reloads with a curved and serrated front lower for a high-and-close CQB support hand position.
For a better fit, the Seekins Precision SP223 Billet removed the upper receiver rattle with the inclusion of an upper receiver tensioning screw. The manufacturer has even added in a trigger reset screw for shooters to adjust and achieve a tighter trigger group fit.
Aside from that, Seekins has also replaced all the roll pins with the screw-in dowel to ensure enhanced durability and reliability of the overall lower receiver. Although Seekins Precision SP223 Billet features a thicker and more matte finishing compared to other mil-spec coatings, it does not exactly exceed mil-spec standards. But overall, still pretty good.
All in all, the Seekins Precision SP223 Billet is an excellent option for left-handed shooters or just about anyone who prefers a lower receiver with better ergonomics than a standard mil-spec piece. However, do take note that it is slightly on the pricey side compared to the rest.
- Includes ambidextrous bolt release
- Excellent ergonomics
- Adjustable upper receiver tension
- Screw-in dowel pins instead of roll pins
- Milled cutouts for weight reduction
- May be expensive for some
- Does not include all ambidextrous controls
5. Spikes Tactical AR-15 Mil-Spec Lower Receiver
Best Full-Auto Lower Receiver
Okay, so the Spikes Tactical AR-15 Mil-Spec Lower Receiver is not a full-auto lower receiver straight from the factory. However, this is certainly the best one you can get to legally convert an AR-15 to a full-auto firearm.
First off, as the name suggests, the Spikes Tactical AR-15 Lower Receiver is a standard mil-spec form factor that does not come with an integrated trigger guard. Also, you only need takedown pins to establish the upper receiver fit with this lower.
One thing we really liked about the Spikes Tactical AR-15 Mil-Spec Lower Receiver is that it provides an amazing fit with very little occurrence of rattling when installed to a completed rifle. Other than that, the manufacturer has also included a decent finishing for enhanced longevity.
The ruggedized, hard coat anodized finish is certainly much thicker than what you’d see from a standard mil-spec. It even has a nice matte appearance to not only improve your rifle’s durability, but also its looks.
Although the Spikes Tactical AR-15 Mil-Spec Lower Receiver features a full-auto selector icon, you’ll still need to get a full auto trigger group, a drill press to make this lower full-auto. Don’t forget, you’ll also need to get a federal firearms license (FFL) to convert a firearm to full auto without getting into trouble.
The Spikes Tactical AR-15 Mil-Spec Lower Receiver is constructed with forged 7075-T6 aluminum, easily the strongest type of material you can find for a lower receiver. This way, you can stay confident that this part will be able to hold up all the abuse a full auto-build will throw in its way.
Overall, the Spikes Tactical AR-15 Mil-Spec Lower Receiver is the best choice for those looking to convert their rifle into a full auto thanks to its super durable material and outstanding finish for even better durability. Shooters who want the novelty of the full-auto selector icon may also opt to pair this mil-spec power receiver with their rifle.
- Excellent upper receiver fit
- Thick, durable anodized finish
- Full-auto compatible
- Includes a full-auto selector icon
- May be a bit expensive for a mil-spec lower
6. James Madison Tactical AR-15 80% Polymer Gen2 Lower
Best Polymer Lower Receiver
The polymer material is a fairly new addition to the AR-15 lower receiver industry. Although it is not as tough compared to aluminum and steel, high-quality polymer lower receivers are still strong and durable enough to fit most applications. And the James Madison Tactical AR-15 80% Polymer Gen2 Lower Receiver certainly sets the standard for polymer AR-15 lower receivers.
Before we go any further, one thing you need to note is that this lower from James Madison Tactical is only 80% complete, meaning you may need to make further modifications to it to work. This is where its polymer material becomes advantageous. A polymer lower is definitely much easier to complete than an aluminum lower as it is easier to machine and drill a polymer.
When you purchase the James Madison Tactical AR-15 80% Polymer Gen2 Lower Receiver, you’ll also see a jig and instructions included to guide you on the drilling and machining process to turn it into a complete lower receiver. However, you’ll still need to get the necessary drilling and machining tools to finish this piece.
Just because it is made of polymer doesn’t mean you should brush it off as an unreliable piece. In fact, it is evident that James Madison Tactical has put plenty of thought into its design to ensure its lower receiver is able to handle a lot of stress and abuse from frequent usage.
With special structural reinforcements along with the magazine well, bolt release posts, and at the upper receiver interface points, the James Madison Tactical AR-15 80% Polymer Gen2 Lower Receiver is definitely rigid and durable with a good upper receiver fit. This means that you won’t have to worry about your lower receiver breaking down after firing off a few shots.
For added ergonomics, the manufacturer has even rounded the integrated trigger guard for better trigger access with gloves on as well as a serrated front magazine well for better support. These two are pretty common features among many other lower receivers and is nothing worth shouting about.
Nonetheless, the James Madison Tactical AR-15 80% Polymer Gen2 Lower Receiver is still an excellent option for those who need a lightweight lower receiver that is still able to hold up against the heavy impact of heavy usage. If you don’t mind doing a little machine work to complete your rifle, this is without a doubt a very good polymer lower receiver to go with your AR-15.
- Lightweight build
- Integrated trigger guard
- Basic features but useful and ergonomic
- Structural reinforcements for durability
- Requires machining tools to complete
7. Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 Stripped Lower Receiver
Best Budget AR-15 Lower Receiver
Just because you’re working with a tight budget doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice on quality. The Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 Stripped Lower Receiver is like the Honda of AR-15 lowers. Despite the affordable price tag, this piece of equipment is durable enough to last you for many years.
On top of featuring a forged 7075-T6 aluminum material – which is the toughest one you can find on the market, the Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 Stripped Lower Receiver even comes with a mil-spec hard coat anodizing for extra corrosion resistance.
Since the form factor is a standard mil-spec, don’t expect to see an integrated trigger guard. You’ll have to find one and attach it to the Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 Stripped Lower Receiver yourself. However, this may not necessarily be a bad thing as you get the flexibility to pick one out that suits you better.
Another thing worth noting is that the Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 Stripped Lower Receiver does not come with tension adjustment for you to tighten the connection with the upper receiver. However, the standards are exact, so you don’t have to worry about rattling once your rifle is completely assembled.
Overall, the Anderson Manufacturing AR-15 Stripped Lower Receiver is definitely the best choice for anyone who needs a solid platform to build their AR-15 rifle without spending too much money. This is definitely a good quality lower receiver that won’t burn a hole through your wallet.
- Outstanding quality for the price
- Mil-spec hard coat anodizing for corrosion resistance
- Good upper receiver fit without any adjustment
- Does not include an integrated trigger guard
- Absolute most utilitarian aesthetics
With so many choices available on the market, ultimately, you’ll definitely get a feel for each company and find a favorite soon enough. Some prefer to have different logos or roll marks in their AR-15 build, some prefer to stay loyal to one brand, while others may only worry about the price. So, picking out the best lower receiver for you truly depends on your own intentions and purposes.
Hopefully, the guide today has armed you with enough knowledge to help you sort through the haystack and narrow your search to find the best lower receiver that will work best for you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Do I need an FFL to buy an 80% lower?
No, you do not need an FFL to purchase an 80% lower receiver. FFL is required by those in the business of manufacturing, receiving, and selling firearms. And the reason why an 80% lower does not need to be shipped with one is because it is essentially considered as a chunk of aluminum instead of a weapon. An 80% lower does not meet the criteria to make it a firearm since the fire control cavity is not milled and it cannot be readily converted to expel a projectile.
Do I need an FFL to buy a stripped lower receiver?
Yes, you do need an FFL to buy a stripped lower receiver as they’re considered a firearm. Even though they can’t fire a live round, the stripped receiver is a component of the AR-15 rifle’s platform. This is also an essential part of the weapon that is responsible for making it function as it houses the trigger and lower parts kit on top of acting as the mounting location for the upper receiver and the buffer tube.
Can any AR-15 upper match with any AR-15 lower?
Almost any AR-15 upper can match with any AR-15 lower. Any part sourced from a respected manufacturer with a mil-spec design should physically go well together. One well-known exception to this rule is the Colt rifles made before 1991 and after 2009 where the guns have smaller takedown and pivot pins.
What is an 80% lower receiver?
An 80% lower receiver is a receiver blank, an incomplete firearm that cannot be operated without additional modification. This type of lower receivers cannot accept a trigger or parts kit, so it can’t be made to fire. This is also why 80% lowers and receiver blanks are not considered as firearms by the ATF.
Are polymer lower receivers good?
Yes, polymer 80% lower receivers are actually quite good. Despite its reputation for being more fragile than the aluminum and steel material, the polymer material is preferred for 80% lower receivers as it is easier to drill and machine them. Also, high-quality polymer lowers are capable of taking some real abuse, as any good AR should.
Is billet or forged lower better for AR?
Forged lower is usually better for AR. A forged aluminum is much stronger than billet since it experiences pressure applied through the hammering process which compresses the aluminum and makes the metal grain run in a homogenous direction. Other than that, forged lowers also tend to be lighter than billet lowers as they don’t often come with extra material from proprietary design differences.
Is it hard to build an AR-15 rifle?
Building an AR-15 rifle from scratch can be a difficult experiment, especially if you’re not particularly mechanically inclined. While it is not incredibly challenging, mistakes can easily be made. Although getting your own parts may help you save some money in the long term, but you may not be creating a very good rifle for all your troubles. Some prefer to just get a completed rifle that they can rely on.