Some Things To Consider Before Building Your Own Electric Skateboard

A lot of people ask the question “should I just build my own board?” when they first decide to dive into electric skateboarding.  The answer to that question depends on a lot of things. It depends on your budget, your level of patience, and don’t forget about your level of skill. Most people choose to buy a mainstream commercial board because they just want to ride. The decision for which new board to buy is usually based on a number of factors such as price, reviews, customer service, reliability, individual riding style and perceived quality of the products available. And, believe it or not, these are all the same things you should be considering when you build your own from scratch. The parts you buy matter, who you buy the parts from matters, and how you ride matters. This will not be some lame buzz-feedish top ten things list, but you may be “shocked and surprised” nonetheless.

Building your own board is not less expensive, most of the time, for most people, in real life.

Let’s just get that out of the way now. Building your own board will in fact not cost less money than buying a comparable commercial board for most people, most of the time, when its all said and done. This assumes that you are building a board to meet or exceed the expectations of a particular commercial model, and not simply trying to beat it on price alone by building something with less capability (a single drive instead of a dual for instance). It also assumes that you are new to this whole build-your-own-personal-electric-vehicle scene.  “But but but here’s a list of parts from ali-hobby-baba-king and I can get them all for $400 and then just duct tape it to my deck I already have, right?” Wrong. Say you have a $600 budget and zero fabrication ability. You have some money and no way to make the parts fit on your board the way you want to. For example, you don’t have the ability to make or modify an enclosure that fits your deck, and there doesn’t seem to be anything available to fit your needs. By the time you get your drive system, remote, matching front trucks and deck together you’re almost over budget and you still don’t even have a battery or anything to put it all in.

All of that assumes you actually did hit up hobby-baba or where the hell ever and got whatever cheap crap you could find. You still need to find a battery, enclosure, and some kind of switch. Even assuming you use large LiPo packs and don’t spend $400 or more on a proper 18650 based lithium-ion pack, you’re still way over budget. But here’s another thing: do you have all the tools you need? Probably not, and nobody ever thinks about that. You are the one that is building this, so you need all kinds of sort-of but not-really expensive little things like wire strippers and soldering irons and heat shrink tube and hot glue. By the time you get done with buying parts and tools, you’re already over budget and you still don’t have a finished board yet.

Of course, all personal rage aside, there are always exceptions to everything, as one of our editors has pointed out to me. Lets take a Boosted Stealth for example. If you were trying to build a dual rear drive board with a 24mph top end and 15 miles of range for under $1500 in parts, it could easily be done by someone with sufficient skill and expertise. Another example would be an Evolve Carbon. For much less than $2000 you can gather all the parts required to build something that would utterly destroy it.  But the chances of you, a total noob with only the internet for help, putting a board together that was as reliable as that tested, commercially developed board with a team of engineers behind it on the first go without breaking things and blowing shit up and replacing stuff and losing parts because you forgot to tighten some shit are slim. Slim enough for me to write the first two paragraphs of this section without being too melodramatic.

On the up side, however, times are always changing, and parts are now becoming less expensive and higher quality as more people step up to fill in the gaps. They are also slowly becoming more plug-and-play, which is probably not the best use of that term as you still have to configure settings for your needs.  That being said, it may soon be less expensive overall to build your own one day soon because the parts will be better and easier to install and the configuration will be easier, meaning you may soon make less expensive mistakes which overall will bring the cost down.

But the question of which is more expensive still remains, because we also have to consider that even commercial boards are not beyond failure, and often they have to be returned for repairs at the owner’s expense. So which is it? Spend around $1500 in quality parts to build the most kick ass board ever and then blow more than the rest of the difference on trial, error, tools, and passion and then keep spending on it because why not spend money on things you love? Or buy a commercial board for about $2000 or more and have decent range and speeds on a board that will probably give you issues sooner or later anyway costing you money to ship it around, and also still cost you money on cool shit to make it cooler? If you’re more confused than ever, then I’m just glad I could help. It’s almost as if this is a personal decision that requires a lot of thought and consideration about who you are and what you want. Because it is.

Building your own board is not easy

By now you’re thinking I’m writing all of this to just talk people out of it. I mean after that first bit about how expensive it is, you’re probably thinking about buying an Evolve. Well hang on because I’m about to pile it on even more. There is nothing easy about building your own electric skateboard. You are building a personal electric vehicle with the power to destroy you and even take other people or things out with you. Granted, you may not be building the kind of wild fucking animals my friends and I build, but you are going to build the dopest ride possible for your means. If you aren’t, then what’s the point?

You are going to spend days and even months researching. You are going to change directions in your plan so many times you’ll begin to hate your boss, which, of course, is you. You’re going to decide to use a part and then that part is going to sell out and become unavailable for months or even years. You will buy the wrong part. You will destroy the right part by doing the wrong thing with it. You will burn shit up, break shit, and generally get shit horribly wrong. All of that is money down the drain, and none of it was mentioned in my previous diatribe regarding expense. You will do all of that, and nobody will be to blame but you. You will need to bring your A game, your confidence, your willingness to pick yourself up and keep moving. Despair will be lurking behind every corner and it looks hungry, so be ready and sharpen your sense of opportunity. There is always a silver lining, even if you have to make one up to keep from crying.

The silver lining is, of course, that ultimately you will have a ride that is built for you, specifically for the way you ride, and you did it all by yourself. You get to decide what direction your build goes at any point, and it will never be completely done because you will always have another idea. You are in total control of your board. Not ever being done is another part of the money sink, but I can tell you this for certain: no commercial board I’ve ever seen was done either as far as the owner was concerned. Riders are passionate and they dump cash into headlights, under-lights, stickers, cool gear, and all kinds of other stuff. Really, that’s not too far from the typical DIYer behaviors, and often commercial boards can become the gateway drug to the world of rewards that is DIY.

You are not yet prepared for the tool addiction

You’re looking around your meager workspace thinking to yourself that you probably have everything you need. Allow me to sincerely assure you that you are not at all close to having everything you need. Or maybe all that you want, it is so hard to tell wants from needs at this point. You have some electrical tools such as a soldering iron and some wire strippers and cutters, you have some basic things like sockets and hex keys and one of those all in one screwdriver sets. Truthfully, 90% of the time that’s all you’ll need. You’ll probably find yourself down at Autozone or Advance Auto Parts at some point paying too much for a gear puller or something along those lines, but you could get away with what most people already have for the most part. That is, until you can’t.

Inevitably the lust will set in. After scrolling through drone shops all day looking for high output lipo battery packs you will somehow find yourself on eBay looking up battery welders and nickel strips. Just remember that this kind of behavior is not your fault, but it will extend into every facet of your tool collection. Suddenly the $8 wire stripper/cutters aren’t enough and you’ve got a $45 set of higher end multi-gauge strippers in your cart on Amazon and they don’t even have cutters built in. But man, are they easier! Somehow. Why did I buy these again? At some point you’ll figure out that contractor grade screw guns are the shit and now you need every kind of hex, torx, and socket bit for it. And I won’t even mention the X-Carve or Glow Forge or that awesome 3D printer you dream about every day. Because you need to machine your deck to fit a pack on it, right? And lasers to etch things? And wheel wells and wire management? Custom parts for all of my boards I’ll build one day? I mean its a need and not a want, so that’s an adult responsibility, right? What the hell have I done? Now the bank keeps calling me!

It will not stop. The more you grow and learn as a builder, even in the midst of your very first build, you will want to grow faster and more furiously. Just be ready for the unbridled esk8 lust is all I’m saying. It will consume you.

You are not yet prepared to be completely consumed

But wait, there’s more! It doesn’t stop with the tools. The lust attacks every other aspect of your life. As you do your research, you will find things that will trigger you, like pictures of my garage or images of battery builds people have done, or footage of esk8 races, or that picture of an electric skateboard build shaped like a sword somebody sent you (don’t look at it, just delete it).  Those things will do to your now older and more financed body what porn did to you as a teenager. It will confuse you, bewilder you, and make you want it so badly that it hurts you in the pants. It will also make you wonder how that shit is even possible. What parts are they using? Where did they find them? Who made that? How fast is it? Are those parts available? These are the problems you ponder while in meetings and on the phone with people who think you’re paying attention. You will not be paying attention. You will be thinking about that three hour video you watched while you were supposed to be working, the one about how field oriented control works in motors and what motor controllers actually use it and weather or not you should even worry about it and what about sensors because sensors solve everything, right?

Your partner is not yet prepared to be totally consumed

Your partner had better be a patient person. They are about to share you with an all consuming lifestyle choice that may or may not involve them at all. It can go two ways: They can join you, or miss you dearly. Because when your board breaks down, and it will break down and probably often, nothing in the world will be more important to you. You will be up until 3am fixing that board. And bizarrely enough, not even the prospect of sex is enough to drag you away from your meager workspace which has, over only the first three months, already consumed the entire dining area. You know, where you and your mate once shared intimate conversations over food.

At some point this new passion will become a filter. Your partner will invariably show their true colors. Lets hope they really love you. I’ve heard awesome stories about how one person got into building boards, then they built rides for their girlfreinds/wives/husbands/boyfreinds etc. and lived happily ever after. Then there’s the other side. Other people get the snide remarks, the belittling, and the eventual decay of affection. Its going to go one way or the other, there is zero room for middle ground here. Be ready. You’re affecting a massive change on your life and it will shake up more than your own.

There is help, and you are not alone

Ha! At this point you probably thought I was going to offer links to some kind of board building addiction hotline. You were wrong. Again. That’s what, two to nada now? Sucker! The kind of help I’m talking about is the kind that will feed your addiction. There are hoards of us out here waiting to answer your stupid questions. They won’t be stupid to you; they’ll be critical. But to us they’ll be “yawn, yeah yeah do this” and we’ll try to be nice about it. Fortunately there’s a massive forum that people like me try to maintain located at www.electric-skateboard.builders that is so full of information you can basically stop googling the rest of the internet and just google it instead. In fact, there are so many people out there just like you trying to build boards for themselves and their friends that most of my email is answering people’s questions about things that are covered on that forum. Most builders like me are answering those kinds of emails, and the demand for information is so great that we decided to start this site as a way of complimenting the raw user input on forums.

You will get hurt and it will happen a lot

There is no end to the injuries you will endure. I hope you have insurance. You are now dealing with very dangerous tools, tools beyond mere screwdrivers and wrenches. Hot lead, hot plastic, high voltage, I mean I could go on. But that’s not all. You’re going to want to step foot on your creation before its done, and you’re going to try this and try that. And when you do, you’re going to fail and fall. You’re going to hit the street a lot, so wearing gear is of utmost importance. You are building a high voltage, high speed death stick. Everything about it is dangerous. Skateboards are dangerous. Adding high-powered motors to them is even more dangerous. The tools to build them are dangerous. Doing it in your garage or house is dangerous. You will get hurt, and sometimes it will be serious.

Did i mention gear yet? I’m talking about pads and a full face helmet. Oh yeah, that’s going to add on to the cost. there was no mention of that earlier because much like in this article, in real life it is a cost that doesn’t immediately present itself. You see, that little half shell isn’t going to cut it when your power cuts out for no good reason or you brake too hard or you hit a rock and you street your face. You need a proper downhill helmet that will protect your entire head, including your face. Also, you’re going to need pads, gloves, and maybe even kevlar shirts and pants.

You’re also going to need to take some time to learn how to roll out of a fall. Learning how to roll properly will literally save you from broken limbs, concussions, and even allow for less intense abrasions. You will get hurt learning how to not get hurt, of course. But its worth it.

Conclusion: It is so totally and completely worth it

You heard me. The pain, the suffering, the burns on your hands, the fire you almost started on your bench, the BMS you blew up, the ESC you burned out, the motors you tried that sucked, the mounts that broke and forced you to buy better ones, the boxes that cracked and taught you not to use cheap shit boxes, the deck you tried that didn’t fit everything right, the wheels that chunked, the battery that puffed, the volt meter that only says “boob” now, the broken tools, the credit card debt, the sleepless nights, the broken arm, the bloody ass cheek, the arguments with your partner, the torn rotator cuffs and twisted wrists and smashed helmets and every single shock, poke, prick, and scrape will all totally and completely be worth every nanosecond the minute you get on that board and experience what you have built. The wind in your face, the flapping of your shirt, the feel of raw power that you put under your feet all by yourself in your garage. It’s phenomenal. Unforgettable. I’m getting emotional just writing this.

So get out there and start doing some building. Step off the cliff and dive into this journey with the rest of us. You will find out what you’re made of, what your partner is made of, and what your friends really think about you. And if none of that turns out good, tell them all to fuck off. You have new friends now. Welcome to the family.

 

damon wood

Damon is a professional electric skateboard builder of over four years and builds under the brand Long Haired Boy Fine Electric Skateboards (LHB, LHB FES) and is also an active member of and leader in the electric skateboard building community. He's also a traitor and rides an electric unicycle, so don't fall in love just yet.