If you’ve decided to build your first AR then you probably want to do it right. We’re building a firearm here, after all. You’ve saved the cash, read all the stuff, and debated the things, the last thing you want to do is mess it up with a cheap part purchased from Wild Willy’s Gun Parts eBay store. Let’s not leave anything to chance here and cover every detail. The popularity of building an 80% lower is through the roof right now and. That’s because the ATF treats an 80 lower as a big hunk of metal. The problem with that mentality is that it misleads some first-time builders into thinking that any big hunk of metal will do. Truth is, there are some key factors to consider when selecting your 80% lower. While the nuanced differences might seem small, let’s not leave anything to chance.
Rule #1 of Buying an 80% Lower: Buy American
This is more than a patriotic plea, it’s one that ought to appeal to your common sense. A gun is an investment as much as it is a tool – and if built from cheap stuff, it can kill the shooter instead of the target or the bad guy. Risking your investment by trying to save $20 bucks with the purchase of a shoddy, foreign-made hunk of metal is nonsense. When it comes to America’s favorite rifle, no one does it better than America. Beyond that, you’ll find that getting any sort of return or refund from some of these foreign builders is next to impossible. You’ll happily notice the big “Made in USA” disclaimer on all the 80% lowers we sell.
The truth is that when you purchase products like an 80% lower from foreign companies, it could simply be a middle-aged man in Singapore sitting in his room with a laptop, reordering what you ordered from some factory in China. He’ll have it shipped to you sometime between now and the turn of the century. When you are shopping, look for that “Made in USA” sticker. Trust us. We make and sell these things. We’ve seen the competition’s quality (or lack thereof).
Rule #2 of Buying an 80% Lower: Aluminum Only
Finally, buy aluminum. Make sure that alloy is at least 6061 series or 7075. Again, this great weapon you are building is an investment. You can buy polymer lowers and yes, you can get them in all sorts of pretty colors and designs. But if you can avoid the temptation of purchasing a “My Little Pony”-themed lower, go with good old-fashioned metal. Oh, and don’t forget a quality 80% lower jig and router to finish the job.
Rule #3 of Buying an 80% Lower: Billet or Forged
Despite being a big hunk of metal, not all 80 percent lowers are made the same – even American made ones. It’s important to check out whether the 80 lower was cast, billet, or forged. Each one can be a quality product, but each has unique characteristics. For a full breakdown on each one you can read more here Cast Aluminum vs Billet Aluminum vs Forged Aluminum.
The short version is that cast is when molten aluminum is poured into a mold. If done right it be a great product, but this version is most open to manufacturer error and we try to avoid them. Our Premium 80% Billet Lower is a top performer and features threaded bolt catch and rear takedown detent holes for easy assembly.
How 80% Lowers are Made
Billet 80% lowers are machined from aluminum bar stock (a large block of smelted and refined aluminum alloy) and the process can produce a very clean, consistent lower. Billet looks nice and it’s a little softer than a forged lower, making machining easier. Finally, forged 80% lowers are built the old-fashioned way: Hammers and heat. Pounding these bad boys into shape produces a dense, tough-as-Hell AR-15 lower. Most agree that forging produces the strongest firearm parts. Be sure to examine exactly how the manufacturer makes their lowers and choose wisely. Also, if a company is unwilling to back a big hunk of metal with a lifetime warranty, let that be a red flag to you.
Our forged 80% lower is a popular gold standard of the industry, featuring 7075 T6 aluminum in a mil-spec construction and finish. It’s as close as you’ll get to a real M4 lower (without the high price tag).
Recap: Buy American, Buy Aluminum, Buy Billet or Forged!
So there you have it. Buy America, buy quality and buy metal. If this is your first build then congratulations on your worthy venture. If you’ve been building ARs for years then we likely didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know, but we appreciate you sticking around to the end.