Is the Polymer Lower a Good Idea?

By CTD Rob published on in Firearms, Reviews

In this industry, everyone wants to buy the highest quality products. However, in reality most people simply buy what they can afford. Our biggest sellers are not $1,200 ARs decked out with the latest gadgets. By a huge margin, our top sellers are the least expensive guns we can ship out. This is a simple fact of capitalism. Most major gun manufacturers tweak its assembly processes to reduce cost, thereby increasing profits. More plastic means less money required for investing in materials. You might notice that it is becoming more difficult to find a modern duty pistol that isn’t made of 50 percent polymer.

ATI Omni

ATI Omni

The AR platform is no exception. Traditionally, much of the AR is already plastic. However, recent developments are pushing the limits of AR design, and the polymer lower receiver is now commonplace. Many shooters will scoff at a polymer lower, but I think it shows some degree of promise. New Frontier Armory produced some torture test videos to show its plastic product, the LW-15, isn’t a junky ill-fitting gun part. Additionally, American Tactical Imports produces its Omni lower which has realized good deal of success on the market, despite a few wavering reviews on its ability to pair with mil-spec uppers. Since only a handful of owners reported problems, you can probably assume there was an out-of-spec run that made it past quality control.

The biggest question people have with polymer AR lowers isn’t usually the fit of the product, it’s the durability. In the 1980s, Glock faced significant market resistance due to the perception that plastic guns could never work. Today, Glock is the most popular choice by police departments around the world. The early versions of M16s had plenty of detractors both inside and outside of the Army’s weapons program. Much of this stemmed from the partial plastic construction. High-ranking brass were accustomed to large, heavy, .30-caliber wood and steel rifles that felt more substantial.

ATI HD16

ATI HD16

When you study the AR lower closely, you’ll notice the only part of the component that could face any real stress is where the buffer tube screws in to the receiver. If a polymer lower was going to fail, it would be there. While the recoil of a .223/5.56 NATO is minimal, that part of the lower still bears a significant physical load. Part of the reason polymer pistols work so well, is the lack of a buttstock component. Imagine a Glock pistol with a metal tube screwed into the back of the grip, which feeds into a buttstock. Much of the recoil force would cause stress on the point where the two components meet. That part of the AR lower has a similar role and there have already been a few broken polymer lowers floating around the Internet. Since we weren’t there to witness how they actually failed, we won’t know if this was caused by normal use, or by someone mounting a .50 BMG upper on a polymer lower and whining about it breaking.

My polymer lower comes in next week. If it breaks, then I’m out a little over $35. However, I really don’t think that is going to happen. We aren’t going to throw it around and run over it with a truck. The job of this rifle will simply be to shoot .223 downrange, and that’s all I expect out of it. While I wouldn’t consider using a polymer lower AR as my SHTF gun, I think the low cost and reduced weight make it a viable option for training or for a first-time owner. We’re going to see a lot more polymer lowers in the future, hopefully they’re up to the task—time will tell.

Tags: , , , , ,

Trackback from your site.

The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (120)

  • polymer lower receiver?

    |

    […] lower receiver? Is the Polymer Lower a Good Idea? Not sold on this one yet~ "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good […]

    Reply

  • Allan Sivell

    |

    I also have a Bushmaster Carbon 15 and have sent many rounds down range. I have had this weapon since 2006 and have not had any issues with it. It is a great hunting rifle also. By the way the Bushmaster carbon 15 is also a carbon (plastic) upper AR that functions just as well as an all metal one.

    Reply

  • DSLAM

    |

    @Randy
    You wrote: “I can get aluminum cheaper!!!!! NO THANKS”
    You dont seem to understand it is the whole lower receiver, complete, including butt stock, ready to pin in and fire with an upper.

    Reply

  • Randy

    |

    109.00?????? I can get aluminum cheaper!!!!! NO THANKS

    Reply

  • James Hathorn

    |

    I two A3 flat tops, 7.62×39 and 5.56 NATO and one lower S&W M&P 15. I got tired of changeing out the receiver so I bought a complete New Frontier (includint butt stock) for $99.00. I only use the LW-15 with the 5.56 but after over 500 rds have had not a bit of a problem. I does feel a little strange and it is noticably lighter but I cannot find anything wrong with it for target practice of home defense. I think it will be more common in ARs like plastic dash boards in cars.

    Reply

  • kent payne

    |

    I have a BUSHMASTER carbon 15 with about . 2000 rounds thru it mainly using a slidefire stock it still runs perfect

    Reply

  • DSLAM

    |

    I think polymer lowers are here to stay and I think it is a good thing, lowering the barrier to obtaining an AR. That stress test video was pretty convincing. By the way, where does one get a polymer lower for $35?

    Reply

  • barry

    |

    turn a few over to a Ranger Bn for 6mo; also, eventually somebody should try a longer recoiling bolt-carrier, i mean by INCHES; that would greatly reduce recoil (esp in AR10/762 versions), & wear on parts; obviously great for ARs w/ the straight, fixed stock config

    Reply

  • General Protection Fault

    |

    I’ve got a Keltek SU-16C in .233/5.56 with a polymer receiver… it uses the AR-15 magazines, sites, muzzle brakes, and many other accessories in common with the AR-15. The SU-16C seems to fill the role of a low-budget, light-weight trunk gun done quite effectively, and I see no reason why an AR-15 in those calibers or in pistol calibers wouldn’t work out just as well with a polymer receiver (I can imagine a polymer AR receiver would be a great match for a 9mm AR, for example).

    That would seem to be the sort of niche market that a polymer AR-15 would fill and compete in. I suppose I can see advantages to an actual AR-15 over the SU-16C.

    As for me, I’m probably not likely to be one of the polymer AR’s customers… I’m quite happy with the SU-16C for that purpose, and I own two forged aluminum AR-15’s as well that I’m also quite happy with, and see no reason to buy or convert to a polymer AR.

    And, I still have a soft spot for those old forged steel and hardwood battle rifles. In a world full of inexpensive, mass-produced black plastic and aluminum, there’s always something nice about handling those massive battle rifles built in a time when rifles were made by craftsmen more or less by hand from traditional materials. An AR-15 is a fine tool, but, for example, an old Mauser is like an old friend, or a favorite uncle or grandfather.

    In any case, I see no reason why a polymer AR wouldn’t contribute to a perfectly fine weapon.

    Reply

  • JiminGA

    |

    Most of us can’t or won’t spend the money to have both a plinker AR and a SHTF AR, and I’m one of those. Why have two when one good one will do both jobs? I’ll stick with forged aluminum, thank you.

    Reply

Leave a comment

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.

%d bloggers like this: