How to Build Your Own Go-Kart DIY-Style
Did you watch the Red Bull Soap Box race last year and think “I could do that”?
Living fast and outrageously isn’t as hard as you’d expect. Like those champions on the track, you can make your own go-kart with the right parts, a bit of ingenuity – and no welder.
A lack of welding tools and skills is what stops too many daredevils from taking to the streets. But no more. We’ll show you a few of the options at your disposal to build your own go-kart DIY-style.
Break It Down Into 3 Parts
You’re going to need to tackle three major components of a go-kart before you hit the road. They include:
- Main frame
- Steering system
- Drive axle
If you’re of the persuasion, you might also choose to add the A-arms (the cage over the body) to the build, but it’s not always a requirement. Though, the A-arms make the go-kart safer and easier to transform into a pair of wacky wheels, if that’s your end goal.
1. Choose the Materials for Your Main Frame
You’ve got several options for building the main frame of your go-kart.
One of the simplest options is to use a wooden frame. You’ll need simple lumber planks that are nailed together to create a small platform seat. Putting together a wooden go-kart is straightforward. You’ll use 4” planks to build the main chassis with one long plank extending between the front and rear axle. There is no critical distance to aim for between the front and rear axles. Just be sure there’s plenty of room between the front axle and the seat to steer without running the tires into the body.
There are plenty of plans available online to follow if you need step-by-step instructions. But it’s perfectly possible to make your custom go-kart. In fact, one of the benefits of a wood go-kart is that it is infinitely customizable because it’s easier to tear apart and put together than metal go-karts.
A few notes for making the most of a wood chassis:
- Clinch any protruding nails for extra safety
- Avoid wood glue for easier dismantling
- Choose dimensions according to the availability of wheels
- File down the axles to meet the wheels rather than endlessly searching for wheels
One of the downsides of choosing a wooden go-cart is the difficulty in finding wheels suitable for the vehicle. Spoked wheels are most commonly chosen, but they often need to be ordered from further afield. Indeed, this issue makes it difficult to replace one if it breaks. Because of these difficulties, it may be easier to buy the pneumatic wheels first and file down your axles to match them rather than looking for wheels to match your axles.
Steel Frame Go-Karts
The sky is the limit with a steel-frame go-kart, and you have plenty of choices when choosing the most appropriate steel for your project.
It’s recommended to choose lightweight steel that offers enough stability to remain safe in the event of a crash. Choose your steel based on weight and whether the steel requires you to weld the chassis. There are options for weld-free metal frames, so be wary when choosing plans.
For a racing chassis, consider using chromaloy steel (often AISI 413) for your chassis. It’s recommended to avoid using this steel even though it is used by popular go-kart manufacturers unless you have the craftsmanship and tools to mimic the manufacturing processes that often accompany the chassis available on the market.
If you’re looking for a similar professional/racing grade material, consider double drawn MS tubes. These don’t require the precision of AISI 413 and are easier to find on the market. Keep in mind that these tubes require welding.
Note: CIK-FIA requires the use of magnetic steel on all vehicles used in its events. If you intend to race it, make sure you’re choosing a 4130 or an equivalent.
No-Weld Go-Kart Frames
Have only a simple tool collection but still want a motorized go-kart? There are no-weld frames available. Instead of using a welder to shape your go-kart, you’ll use a 25mm bi-metal holes and a 20mm metal drill bit as well as an angle grinder for shaping the metal and creating the required holes for the axle.
To buy a steel no-weld frame, you’ll need a steel flat bar and plate in various sizes, 2” x 2” steel box section, and 25mm x 25mm angle iron. These are shaped by common tools without sacrificing too much on durability.
If you’re buying sheets of metal, we recommend following a specific set of instructions. Every single piece needs to be measured and cut perfectly, or it won’t fit.
2. Choose Your Steering System
Unless you’re building a fancy racing go-kart with shocks, your steering system is a simplistic one. The end product should feature a steering wheeled attached to a steering rod with a Pitman arm sitting at the end of the rod for changing direction.
Steering wheels can be bought new or sourced through other, cheaper means. Here are the other parts you’ll need:
- Tie rods
- Pitman arm
Assembling the steering system is straightforward. You’ll want at least 1/8” for the arm but expect to replace it soon if you choose something that thin. Remember, there’s no reason not to spring for a sturdier steering system because it will keep your go-kart up and running longer.
3. Choose Your Drive Axle
Your drive axle is the rear axle. You can choose from several types of axles depending on where your interests lie. Are you more concerned about:
- Steering, or
Fixed Axle Drive for Steering
If you want more steering power for on-road driving, choose a fixed drive axle for single wheel drive. With a single wheel drive system, you’ll run a chain directly between the drive wheel and the engine clutch leaving the other wheel to spin free.
Single fixed axle drive is easier to drive for new learners and racers alike as long as you keep it on the road or on hard packed dirt.
You might also like the single fixed axle because it’s easier to put together. If you’re buying parts, you’ll often find your brake, sprocket, and the fixed axle in a single combo package, which makes the build much easier. It’s possible to buy parts independently, but you’ll need to ensure the parts match (among bolt hole patterns, etc.).
Live Axles for Traction
A live axle system employs both rear wheels at the same time. Both are endowed with the same power and speed, so you’ll take off faster and have more traction. With the grip of two tires, you’ll find it easier to stay upright and drive with more accuracy even when you’re working with sand.
Live axles solve the off-roading problem, but they present a new one: every turn is a rough one. Because you don’t have a free wheel, you’ve got to turn both wheels operating at the same speed. Usually, the outside wheel will move at a faster clip than the wheel on your turning side.
The only instance this isn’t required is on very slippery surfaces where the outside wheel can catch up. Turning is less of an issue on the sand and very loose dirt, but the only option for driving on the road is to keep going straight.
Choosing a Differential
If you want to provide a combination of single and live axles, a differential system might solve your problems. These systems are more complex and better resemble automobiles. With a differential, you’re powering both wheels, but you can also turn at speeds over 2 miles per hour.
Cars use this system to some extent. Because cars are powered by both back wheels, they need a way to relieve the inside wheel to make turning significantly easier.
You’ll benefit from the live axles without sacrificing turning power, but you will sacrifice any serious off-roading.
Where to Buy Go-Kart Parts
Go-kart parts are easy to source from local sources.
Lawnmower supply stores are a great place to start if you’re looking for individual parts or combination packages like a fixed axle set. You may also find go-kart parts in motorcycle shops, but these are more likely to be pre-fab DIY kits, which are often expensive. Additionally, motorcycle shop parts tend not to jive well with other DIY parts.
The internet is a natural second port of call. If there is not a Northern Tool branch near you, you can order parts from the Northern Tool website. Other supplies include:
- MFG Supply
- BMI Karts
- Go Kart Galaxy
Cross the Finish Line in Your New Go-Kart
Buying a go-kart may be tempting, but there’s nothing like driving a fully-customizable go-kart, particularly if you have a burgeoning interest in racing.
There are plenty of decisions to make before you begin the build, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each style carefully. Remember to fit your customizable parts to the rare parts and not the other way around.
What’s your DIY ride like? Share tips and photos in the comments below.