What should I choose, and Why?
Since its inception in 1956, and civilian accessibility in early 1964; the AR15 platform has become a favorite for hunters, sport shooters, and outdoorsman alike. Due to the modularity of the AR15 platform; the aftermarket has exploded in recent years, and the consumer can now fully customize everything from stock to muzzle brake. When formulating a new AR build, I always find it best to start with the heart of the AR15: the lower receiver. Like all other parts that are available for the AR, the consumer has almost endless brands, styles, and prices to choose from when picking their lower receiver. However, there is one choice that the consumer MUST make before deciding on the previous lower receiver options: forged or billet.
A 20% Forged Receiver. This has been stamped, but not yet finished by a CNC
A forged AR15 lower is essentially a block of high grade aluminum that is super heated, and then hammered into the shape of a lower receiver. The forging process hammers the molecules of the aluminum together, thus making it incredibly strong. In conjunction, forged lowers are typically lighter (though marginally) due to their design differences and tolerances when compared to billet lowers. Forged lowers are also easy to find, as well as the most commonly sold style of lower.
A finished (and anodized) 80% forged receiver.
As with any product, there is give and take when choosing a forged lower. Perhaps the most important, is tolerance. During the forging process, aluminum is displaced when subjected to heat and pressure. This displaced aluminum often creates imperfections in the lower, and will need to be taken off. When taking off this excess aluminum, too much or too little may be taken off, causing imperfections in the fit and finish of the lower. These imperfections most commonly cause loose fitment when mated with the upper receiver, leaving gaps and spaces. The forging process also creates issues when the consumer wants a unique look to their rifle. Short of engraving; the forging process does not allow much possibility for unique styles, shapes, or designs that the consumer may want incorporated into his or her build.
A Raw 80% Billet Lower. Many people choose an unfinished option and will paint or coat themselves once it's finished.
A billet AR15 lower starts its life as a solid block of high grade aluminum, where it is then milled out by a CNC machine to form the final lower design. Due to the milling process, billet lowers are kept in extremely precise tolerances: typically measured microscopically to a millionth of an inch. When paired with a billet upper, the consumer can rest assured that the fit will be tight with no gaps between upper and lower. These tight tolerances aid tremendously in accuracy, while simultaneously making it harder for debris to enter the rifle. In addition, since the billet lower is striped of material instead of pounded into shape, it is highly customizable. Customizing a billet lower is as simple as plugging in a design to the CNC machine. No shape, design, or style is off limits; giving your build that “one of a kind” completely custom look that will have your range buddies second guessing their builds.
Just like with forged lowers; billet lowers do have some draw backs. Billet lowers tend to be heavier due to the excess material left on for design or aesthetics, however the weight difference when compared to forged is minimal. Most consumers tend to agree that the custom look of the billet is worth the ounce or so of weight gain. Billet receivers are also typically more expensive; due to more material and labor needed to produce the lower when compared to forged--add on an additional cost if you have a completely custom design on your billet lower. Billet lowers are also technically not as “strong” as forged lowers, however unless you plan on testing your rifle to superhuman tolerances, neither the biller or forged lower will ever fail.
The “forged or billet” argument is one as old as time--or at least it feels that way. You will hear different parties swear by either one for a number of reasons, with each reason usually boiling down to personal preference. Sure the forged is technically stronger, and the billet is usually a little more expensive, but the forged is stronger in a “ Superman vs. Hulk” kind of way; and the billet is more expensive in a “why would I buy steel when the brass casings are only $.02 more” kind of way. It all boils down to personal preference, and how YOU the consumer wants your build to turn out.