The difference between a billet and a forged receiver is like owning an AK-47 versus the AR-10.
Both do the same thing, both are reliable but one can be embellished to the minutest component with accessories, whereas the other is a cheaper and more rugged option.
Let’s understand the differences and similarities in detail, and if one is better than the other.
TL;DR: Billet vs Forged Lowers
Sharp aesthetically great design
Extremely durable design
Pricier & Heavier
Not as precise in build
Billet receivers are great for people who want customization and aesthetics.
These are best for people who like basic and durable stuff at a lower price.
Relevant Characteristics Between Billet and Forged Lowers
Take a look at this brief table describing some important characteristics of billet and forged lower receivers.
6061/7075, T4 or T6 Aluminum
6061/7075, T4 or T6 Aluminum
Great aesthetics. Machine cut
Basic: Hammered and cut
Similarities and Differences
Answering the big question here, this section will cover the similarities and differences between billet and forged receivers to give you a better idea based upon how they are manufactured, their strength, cost, and other important factors.
Billet and Forged Lowers Differences
The first and foremost difference between these two is how they are manufactured:
Manufacturing process, design & weight
Billet lowers are manufactured using a chunk of aluminum metal that is put inside a CNC machine and milled down to precise tolerances. This precision machining ensures that all the corners and edges are sharp and the overall design is refined with no gaps or errors whatsoever.
Forged lowers are manufactured using a basic and older method of forming the rough shape of the receiver molds. Further hammering down the metal so the pieces combine really well on a molecular level.
Forged lowers are comparatively a bit crude in appearance than billet receivers. Plus, they’re also a bit lighter in weight.
Strength and Durability
Forged receivers or any other forged metal product for that matter are very durable and tough. That’s because of the hammering process that binds the metal together.
Hence these receivers are an edge above in terms of durability compared to billet receivers. However, if you are not planning to play polo with your AR-15, and neither planning to use it for eternity without changing parts. This won’t be a big concern.
Options for Customization
This one is a complete no-brainer. Since billet receivers are manufactured using complex CNC machines running software programs. Getting a more customized design is easier. That’s why you only find billet receivers with detailed stamping, artwork, custom magwells, and other characteristics.
Forged receivers on the other hand are more basic in design and don’t offer too much customization.
Forged receivers are mass-produced in bulk and do not undergo too much precision milling, along with lesser wastage of material due to preformed shapes. Hence keeping the production cost low.
Whereas billet receivers have to be individually shaped inside an already expensive CNC machine. Shaping billets wastes a lot of material. In other words, customization and precise machining come at a cost.
Billet and Forged Lowers Similarities
Whether it’s a forged or billet receiver. The standard material used for manufacturing receivers these days is 7075-T6 aluminum. Some companies also use the lesser durable 6061-T6 aluminum. But these are by far the most common materials.
While forged receivers are more economical, they also have to be machined down a bit to achieve a perfect fit and tolerances.
But an obvious question may rise inside your brain? If the material used for manufacturing both these receivers is the same. Why is there a difference in durability?
Well ! that has to do with the manufacturing process and not just the material.
A receiver is a receiver regardless of whether it is forged, cast or billet machined. These receivers are designed to fit respective upper receivers and constructed on standard design parameters.
Choosing between a forged on billet receiver will involve factors like durability, aesthetics, and price. But the eventual purpose will always be the same.
Advantages of Billet Lowers
Billet lowers are a tad chunky and aesthetically far superior to any other type of lower receivers. These lowers are shaped using CNC machines which are renowned for their precision. Hence ensuring that all the nooks and crannies are in perfect shape.
This aesthetic factor is why many people choose billet receivers despite their marginally high price and marginally low strength.
Apart from aesthetics, billet lowers also offer the liberty to customize the receiver the way you want. It can be a cool-looking engraving, an oversized magwell, a larger trigger guard, or any other major or minor feature.
The sharp design elements make these receivers look more clean and impressive. Which is a noticeable advantage for people who like to brag about their cool belongings.
One very useful advantage of billet lowers is the tight tolerances. Since these lowers are designed using computer-operated machines. The fit between the components upon assembling the rifle is perfect.
This prevents the receivers from rattling and also ensures that debris doesn’t seep inside the weapon causing further malfunctions.
A billet receiver can be your first choice if you are building a custom AR rifle and want every part to be built to your exact specifications. This can be the case with competitive shooters, marksmen, or tactical operators.
Since these lowers are more sharp in design with customization options. You can opt for a specific kind of finish to suit your needs.
Advantages of Forged Lowers
Forged lowers have been used since the development of AR-style rifles. These lowers are very easy and economical to manufacture. Which in turn keeps the cost low. A lot of receivers you’ll find on the market will be forged.
One very specific feature that makes these lowers more popular is their strength. Forged metal is more sturdy than other forms of metal designs. This is a proven and accepted fact by metallurgists.
Using a forged receiver ensures that you’ll have better chances of your rifle surviving extended service periods and other inclement factors that shorten the life of a rifle. With the economics and durability factors combined. It is no surprise that forged receivers are the top-selling type of receivers on the market today.
Another very specific benefit of forged lowers they are being manufactured to exact mil-spec dimensions. This ensures that compatibility with standardized aftermarket parts will never be an issue.
Sure this cuts out on the part of customizability. But it also eliminates the chances of mismatching of components. As an added benefit, forged lowers are also easier to find.
These lowers are also marginally lighter than billet lowers. But the difference isn’t significant. However, if a billet lower is extensively embellished with extra material, the added weight will matter.
After all, this comes the one very important factor, price. Forged receivers are already inexpensive compared to billet lowers. The reason being their easy mass production, lesser wastage, and lesser machining required for getting the final product.
Forged lowers can withstand higher pressures and harsher operational environments due to their better durability.
Combining the overall price, ruggedness, and quality. A forged receiver is a great option from the eyes of a manufacturer or a buyer.
What About Polymer Lowers?
Ah! Yes. Polymer lowers. Let’s squeeze this peculiar new kind of invention into the discussion. Afterall some people reading this might be in favor of these.
Polymer technology never ceases to amaze. Starting from a thick lump of foam to a jack-of-all-trades kind of material in today's world. The polymer has also proved useful in building lower receivers.
These receivers are manufactured from high-grade composite polymers. The advantages of these lowers are lightweight, low cost, and easy customization. Now those three features sound good, but they come at a price.
Polymer still has to prove itself as a reliable lower receiver material. Long firearms like the AR-15 work on higher pressure compared to handguns. Plus, the mass of the recycling bolt, operational conditions, and other factors play an important role to decide overall performance.
These lowers are prone to flexing that can cause accuracy issues, heat damage, and also buffer tube problems. Additionally, many users found issues with interface dimensions not being uniform.
A polymer lower is a cheaper and more customizable option compared to its aluminum counterparts. But make sure only the receiver is a polymer and not the innards (trigger assembly). A better alternative to full-polymer lowers is the hybrid lower.
This section is absolutely not a deterrent prompting the reader to refrain from polymer lowers. Some users have been employing these lowers to good and accurate use. But this technology is still in its early stages. Especially for the civilian market to put your bets on it.
Additionally, if the good ol' aluminum receiver doesn’t cost too much extra and adds up only a few ounces. It is a better choice for more dedicated uses like home defense, survival, or SHTF.
Billet and forged receivers are intended to be used for the same purpose. But the difference between their construction and design characteristics makes them suitable for one situation or the other.
Forged receivers are more durable due to their method of construction whereas billet receivers are more refined in terms of design due to their precise machine construction. Along with being more customizable hence opening more design options.
The difference in weight is marginal, and maybe a bit more in price. But it eventually drills down to your preference, the kind of features you want, and the money you want to spend.
People Also Ask
Find answers to a few important questions that may decide your course of action when going shopping for an AR-15 receiver.
Does Lower Receiver Affect Accuracy?
The lower receiver itself does not play any part in accuracy. But the trigger assembly housed inside is a big player in deciding the accuracy of the rifle. However, the lower receiver is the part that is legally considered to be the firearm.
How Long Do Lowers Last?
A lower receiver will outlive almost all the other components in the rifle. Since it is the part that handles the least abuse in any manner whatsoever.