At a Glance: The 6 best AR-15 80% lower receivers
Comparison of The six best AR-15 80% lower receivers
Our Top Pick
|Precision Reflex – AR-15 A1 80% lower receiver||View Latest Price|
Our Top Pick
|Polymer80 – AR-15 80% polymer lower receiver & jig kit||View Latest Price|
|Anderson Manufacturing – AR-15 80% lower receiver||View Latest Price|
Building your own AR-15 is an appealing task for many shooters, as it lets you choose all the specific components to make a rifle that is unique and optimized.
Purchasing an 80% lower receiver can give you a fun DIY project to work on, that is, customizing and completing your very own firearm. As well as giving you a great sense of achievement, building from an unfinished receiver can save you money and can help you avoid some legal formalities.
Our list of the 6 best AR-15 80% lower receivers on the market
If you’re looking to build your own AR-style rifle then you will want to find the best 80% lower receiver on the market. To help you construct the very best AR-15 possible, I have reviewed and tested the 6 best AR-15 80% lowers in 2020.
All the products on this list are from trusted industry manufacturers and use the highest quality materials. I have put together the pros and cons of each product, allowing you to choose the one that’s best suited to you.
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Precision Reflex – AR-15 A1 80% lower receiver
The AR15 A1 Lower Receiver is forged from 7075-T6 forged aluminum and has a black anodized aluminum finish. This receiver from Precision Reflex is machined to mil-spec tolerances.
As it has an anodized finish, when you mill out the trigger pocket it will return to white. To get around this, I grip blasted the inside of the pocket and then painted it with Cerakote.
In terms of fit and finish, this product shows that it is a budget option. I found the rear of the receiver was constructed very well, however, the front was a little rough and the edges. Nothing you can’t sort out, though. Other than that, it is aesthetically pleasing and good value for money.
- Made with high-quality forged aluminum
- Machined to mil-spec tolerances
- Looks good aesthetically
- A good value product
- It has to be painted after milling due to the anodized finish.
- The fit and finish on the front end is a bit rough.
- A basic and simple 80% lower with no jig set or tools included.
Polymer80 – AR-15 80% polymer lower receiver & jig kit
Polymer80 are specialists in what they do and the value they provide in their products is hard to beat. All Polymer80 lowers are made in the USA and come with a lifetime warranty.
This AR-15 80% lower is very lightweight, weighing just 0.3 pounds. For a polymer receiver, it is pretty durable thanks to its composite solid core design, although still not as durable as aluminum options. It has a reinforced buffer tube housing, an integrated trigger guard, and a stiffened mag well, resulting in a strong and long-lasting product.
If you’re into customization this is the lower for you. It’s available in many colors, including FDE, green, gray, purple, white, neon zombie green, pink, and black. This allows you to construct an AR-15 that truly stands out from the rest.
This 80% lower comes with a complete jig set, which consists of almost everything you need to complete your lower. Some of the tools and parts you will find in this set include a screw bolt, a catch pin, a pistol grip nut, a pistol grip screw, and a dowel pin for the bolt catch.
The jig set also includes one of the highest-rated AR-15 jigs and an end mill for the fire control pocket. Moreover, for drilling, there is a drill bit for the safety selector as well as one for the hammer and trigger pinholes.
Polymer is an easy material to work with and the included jig kit makes it even easier. For that reason, this is one of the best AR-15 80% lowers for novices. Moreover, for a receiver and full jig kit, the price is extremely low, offering the best value for money out of all the lowers on this list and a top choice for builders on a budget.
- Lightweight product weighing just 0.3 pounds
- Available in a variety of colors
- Easy material to work with
- Comes with a complete jig set including a high-quality jig
- A great option for novice builders
- Excellent value for money
- Not the most durable lower on the market
- Some of the detent holes are not completely drilled
Anderson Manufacturing – AR-15 80% lower receiver
This 80% lower receiver from Anderson Manufacturing is forged from 7075-T6 aluminum for a superior custom build. This receiver stands out as one of the best for a .223 caliber AR-15.
This receiver has been designed to mil-spec standards and is made in the USA, guaranteeing high quality. It comes unfinished, allowing you to stain it however you want to create the look that you desire. Another great thing about this receiver is that it is compatible with virtually all aftermarket AR-15 parts.
It’s an extremely strong and durable receiver, but because of its strength and hardness, it’s not the easiest lower to work with and you will need to go slow while machining. Unfortunately, a jig is not included so you’ll have to buy one separately.
For the quality of this receiver, it’s an incredibly low price option. It may not be the easiest receiver to work with, and perhaps not the best option for first-timers. However, if you have a bit of experience, then this will be a brilliant option for you. When I tested this receiver, I was able to drill the holes without experiencing any issues with oversizing or over-drilling.
- Very well-machined
- Durable material and construction
- Unfinished so you can finish it to your preference
- A low price receiver
- Does not come with a jig set
- Not the easiest to work with, requires a steady hand and patience
James Madison Tactical – AR-15 80% Gen2 lower receiver
The James Madison Tactical Gen2 lower is one of the most popular polymer AR-15 lowers. The 80% lower has a black finish and is made with a proprietary high-grade polymer-fiber blend. This makes it lightweight and much more resistant to corrosion than metal lowers.
The construction is great. This mil-spec lower has a pre-machined rear pivot pinhole, bolt release cavity, and buffer tube threads. It has been machined to fit most upper receivers. Furthermore, serrations along the front of the mag well provide a better grip for your support hand and it has an integrated rounded trigger guard for improved ergonomics.
I found the Gen2 80% lower to be thicker than many other receivers. For extra durability, it’s reinforced at weak points and areas that experience a lot of stress, such as the bolt release posts, the upper receiver interface points, and the magazine well. I would say this is the most durable polymer receiver I reviewed, and it even rivals the aluminum ones!
This receiver is easy to work with and comes with a jig and helpful instructions. It will best suit AR-15 owners that shoot .223 rounds and it is a great choice for those who want a receiver that is high quality and compatible with all kinds of AR-15 parts.
- Compatible with a lot of upper receivers
- Easy and quick to install
- Accepts most standard lower receiver parts
- Integrated rounded trigger guard for improved ergonomics
- Thick and durable with the ability to withstand stress
- Compatible with .223 caliber AR-15 components
- Includes a jig and instructions
- Not the cheapest on the list
- Only comes with a jig and not the tools needed for completion
Brownells – AR-15 80% lower receiver jig build kit
Brownells offer the ultimate kit to easily finish up your lower in the color of your choice. The set consists of an AR-15 80% lower receiver, a jig, a lower parts kit, a mil-spec buffer tube assembly, and a Brownells Aluma-hyde spray in your choice of color.
The lower is made from forged 7075 T-6 aluminum. It’s extremely strong and durable with the ability to take a lot of hits, and therefore, will last a long time. Despite its strength, it’s still light in weight. On top of that, it’s multi-cal and will fit any standard AR-15 upper receiver.
The receiver features a built-in takedown lug pocket for added convenience, plus a built-in broached magazine well. Brownells has an excellent reputation in the gun industry. This particular product comes under their “Guaranteed Forever” return policy, however, this guarantee does become void once you start to modify it.
This is a great option for beginners looking for an all-in-one kit. You can also purchase this as a stand-alone 80% lower receiver with either a black finish or unfinished. For that reason, this is also a good option for AR-15 users who are looking for an upgrade from a default lower, or as an addition to a rifle building project.
- Constructed with strong, durable aluminum.
- A universal receiver that accepts all AR-15 upper receivers
- Built-in takedown lug pocket and broached magazine well
- Complete kit with everything you need
- Comes with an aluma-hyde spray in the color of your choice
- Comes with a lifetime guarantee
- The manufacturer guarantee is void after modifying
Noreen Firearms – AR-15 80% Lower Receivert
Noreen’s 80% lower receiver is machined from a solid piece of billet aluminum, ensuring maximum precision & material quality. It comes unfinished allowing you to finish it to your preference.
Manufactured in the USA, this is a high quality and durable receiver which features a broached magazine well and an integral trigger guard. This lower is built like a tank and I found it to be one of the most well-made lowers on the list, having the most accurate dimensions out of them all.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a jig or any tools for the finishing process, therefore, you will need to purchase a jig separately. It’s important to note that it is compatible with the Modulus Arms 80% jig but not with the Anderson jig. Another downside is that there is no rear takedown pocket which makes the milling process a bit more time consuming
- Made in the USA
- High-quality material
- It comes without a finish so offers the ability to customize
- Broached magazine well and integral trigger guard
- Does not come with a jig or any tools
- Not compatible with all jigs
- No rear takedown pocket
What is an AR-15 80% lower receiver?
80% lower receivers are partly finished lower receivers, which are essentially the fundamental building blocks of an AR-15. They require the user to do some milling and drilling to make them functional. As the name suggests, they are approximately 80% finished in the overall milling process.
- An 80% lower receiver will not yet have holes punched for hammer pins, the trigger, or the selector.
- The part where the trigger assembly is installed is solid and will need to be drilled and machined to convert it into a stripped lower receiver.
- As an unfinished item, it has not yet reached the stage of manufacture to be considered a firearm under the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA).
- 80% lowers are legal and are often referred to as “paperweights.” This means that they can be delivered straight to your house without the need to pay Federal Firearms License (FFL) fees.
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Stripped versus 80% AR-15 lower receivers
A stripped lower receiver is a serialized lower receiver entirely completed by the manufacturer. If you’re wondering whether you should purchase a stripped or an 80% lower receiver, here are the pros and cons of both, to help you decide what is best for you.
- Stripped lowers have been finished on a CNC machine, thereby providing tight tolerances and a precision fit and finish.
- With a stripped lower receiver you’re able to install your lower parts kit straight away without any milling work.
- A stripped lower is subject to all laws covering an FFL transfer.
- This means you’ll be required to complete the necessary paperwork before you can take possession of it.
- An 80% lower gives you the personal satisfaction of creating and finishing your AR-15 build.
- While you won’t be able to install it immediately, completing an 80% lower is not that difficult and can be finished quickly and economically, especially if using a precision jig.
- You can purchase an 80% lower without the need for any FFL fees or paperwork.
- Purchasing an 80% lower will save you a bit of money, both in the sale price and in the FFL fees, however, the price difference isn’t huge.
The choice between a stripped lower and an 80% lower really comes down to how much personal input you would like in the finished product, and whether you want to undertake a DIY project or purchase a lower that’s already finished and is ready to be assembled.
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Legal requirements for registering an AR-15 80% lower receiver
Legally, an 80% lower receiver does not have to be registered or have a serial number. They can be sold to anyone with or without an FFL. However, when constructing your gun from an 80% lower, you’ll need to ensure that you meet some legal requirements.
- The style of construction and configuration is legal within your state.
- You are making the gun for personal use only.
- You are legally eligible to own a firearm in your state/county/city.
As all states have different laws, it’s vital to check the laws of your specific state before constructing a firearm. As long as you meet the requirements above, you do not need to have an FFL to build a firearm.
As a private individual finishing an 80% lower for personal use, you do not need to register it or get a serial number. However, it is helpful to have one in case it gets lost or stolen.
If you intend to sell or transfer an AR-15 that you have built, then you will need to register it and obtain a serial number for it. The laws around sale and transfer are quite confusing so again, check your state’s laws first.
What to look for when buying an AR-15 80% lower receiver
There are a few factors you’ll need to carefully consider in your search for the best AR-15 80% lowers. These include:
Lower receivers are generally made either of aluminum or polymer.
- Aluminum can be further divided into billet and forged, and into 6061-T6 alloy or 7075-T6 alloy.
- Billet is more of a general-purpose material.
- Billet is usually more expensive than polymer or forged options and can be heavier too.
- Billet is very easy to assemble, and more malleable.
- 7075-T6 is a higher quality aluminum and the most durable material for a lower receiver.
- Aluminum typically lasts longer than Polymer.
- Polymer lower receivers are a relatively new option.
- Polymer is very affordable and normally comes with its own jig kit.
- Polymer is a softer material than aluminum, requiring less effort in the milling and drilling process.
- You can machine polymer components very easily, and the finishing process can be done with ordinary hand tools
80% lowers are generally type II or type III hard-coat anodized which makes them abrasion and corrosion-resistant. Many lowers have other kinds of finishes such as cerakote and duracoat.
There is much debate over whether it’s worth purchasing a lower receiver with a hard-coat anodized finish. When you’re milling and drilling the receiver to customize it, the inner layers of the metal, which are not anodized, will eventually become exposed. This means you’ll need to get the lower receiver anodized after finishing it. Therefore, I believe it’s best to go with non-anodized or simple aluminum 80% lower.
In my experience, I have found most small manufacturers to be hit or miss with 80% lower receivers. This is because these products often lack the precision of stripped or comlete lowers.
Because 80% lower receivers need to be drilled and machined to be completed, they must have tight tolerances and precise working points to enable this. To ensure you do not experience any problems when constructing your new rifle, buy from a reputable and well-known industry manufacturer for confidence and peace of mind.
Lastly, you will want to consider the color, design, and any engravings on the 80% lower you’re purchasing to ensure that it matches your aesthetic needs. Some receivers are available in a variety of colors, and some come with a spray-on finish in the color of your choice. Whilst this is not as important as the previous points, the aesthetics of your lower receiver will play a role in your satisfaction with the final product.
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How much time and effort does it take to assemble an AR-15 80% lower?
Assembling an AR-15 80% lower is not for first time DIYers. Nevertheless, if you have experience with DIY projects and love a challenge, then you should be able to complete your lower without too much struggle, or time spent.
Here are a few pointers to help you understand what to expect from the process:
- You can convert this piece of metal into a finished receiver by using a variety of different methods and tools, including tools you probably already own, like a drill and a router.
- To finish your lower as easily and economically as possible, it’s best to use a manual end mill or a drill press.
- A precision jig will make this process significantly easier.
- The process will take longer and may also be more difficult with an aluminum lower compared to a polymer lower. This is because of the difference in the hardness of the material.
The complete process of assembling and installing an AR-15 can be broken down into 3 phases:
- Phase 1 is milling the 80% lower.
- Phase 2 is installing the lower parts kit and buffer assembly into the lower.
- Phase 3 is assembling with the upper receiver.
For a beginner, phase one can take between 2 and 3 hours, phase 2 will require 1 to 2 hours and phase 3 will need an additional 1 to 2 hours. That’s a total of 4 to 7 hours. Of course, for those with experience, the process will most likely be much quicker.
Considering these points, the time and effort it will take to complete your own AR-15 rifle will depend on the tools you use, for example, whether or not they are manual or automatic, along with your skills and experience in similar projects.
Tools needed to complete your AR-15 80% lower receiver
Before you start the assembly process, you will need to ensure that you have all the necessary tools. What tools you’ll need will depend on whether your 80% lower receiver comes with a jig kit or not. In my opinion, purchasing an 80% lower with a jig set is the best option as it means you will already have many of the tools required.
That being said, some things may not be included in your jig kit which you will probably need. These are:
- A vise
- A drill press
- A hand drill
- Jig screws
- A set of hand files
- Some painter’s tape
- Precision needle files
If you do not have a jig kit, you may find that you already have some of the required tools laying around. In general, here is a list of components and tools that you’ll need for the assembling process of your AR-15.
- Set Screw Bolt Catch Pin
- Dowel Pin for Bolt Catch
- Pistol Grip Nut
- Pistol Grip Screw
- Allen Wrench
- AR-15 Jig
- End Mill for fire control pocket
- Drill Bit for the safety selector
- Drill Bit for trigger & hammer pinholes
- Drill Bit for pinholes & trigger hole
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How to finish an AR-15 80% lower receiver
Here is a simplified step by step process to finishing an AR-15 80% lower receiver such as the Polymer80 lower using a drill press and a hand drill. Personally, I think these are the best and easiest tools for beginners to use to get started.
Of course, this process will differ slightly depending on the type of receiver you are using, the material your lower is made from, and the tools you are working with. For example, using a proper mill rather than a drill press will result in a much cleaner overall finish.
Take your time with the process and do not rush. You’ll be glad you paid the additional attention to detail once your lower is completed.
- Secure the vise
- Attach the vise to your drill press. Secure your lower to ensure it is held firmly.
- With the jig properly aligned your 80 percent lower receiver, fix the jig tightly into your vice in the standard upright position.
- Drill the side holes with your hand drill
- Drill through the marked outside holes on your jig with the relevant drill bit. Specifically, these are specifically the trigger pin, hammer pin, and safety selector holes.
- Drill out the fire control pocket with the drill press
- The way I like to do this is with the plunge cut method. First, make successive dips and drills into the pocket.
- Once you’ve plunge-cut enough, move on to using the action of the cross slide vise, with the drill press, to mill out the sides.
- Drill out the trigger pocket
- Take the jig out of the vise and flip it over so that the jig is upside down. Then vise it up in this position. Before you start drilling, it’s helpful to use tape in the vise to keep the guide secure.
- Then, with your relevant drill bit, drill out the trigger pocket. The vise may need to be adjusted slightly to get the full pocket completed.
- File it down
- Using a drill press can result in the outcome looking a bit messy. However, you can file it down with a set of hand files to get a good uniform finish.
- Additionally, using some precision needle files will help to smooth out and clean up the finish too.
So, what is the best AR-15 80% lower receiver on the market?
After testing and reviewing these six 80% lowers, I was most impressed with the Polymer80 80% lower receiver and jig kit. The easy-to-use material along with the included complete jig set certainly makes this receiver the most beginner-friendly. Out of all the lowers on this list, this one was the easiest to put together.
Along with its ease of use, this particular receiver rated high in durability, despite being polymer. It’s also very lightweight. As most AR-15 shooters choose to construct their own guns to have control over the construction and design of the firearm, the fact that the Polymer80 lower comes in various colors is very appealing.
Finally, for value for money, the Polymer80 80% lower and jig set is completely unbeatable.
As you can see, this receiver ticks all the right boxes for me. However, we all have our preferences and I know many AR-15 builders who will only opt for aluminum receivers. If that’s the case for you, I would recommend the Brownells AR-15 forged aluminum 80% lower receiver because of the high quality, durable metal it is constructed with.
Just like the Polymer80, Brownells’ 80% lower comes with a complete jig build set, but also gives the option to purchase the receiver as a standalone product too. This is a good option for those who already have a jig and the tools for the job.
I hope this article gives you a clearer understanding of the process of completing an 80% lower, as well as confidence in finding the best AR-15 80% lower for you.