What So you’ve decided to hop on the e-board bandwagon; good for you. Walking is too slow, and old-school boards aren’t much faster. An electric skateboard gets you from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. More importantly, it’s a lot more fun than walking, and a lot cooler than those electric scooters everyone else is renting.
The only question now is whether you should buy a board or build one (and if so, how to make an electric skateboard?). It’s a tough choice and both options have advantages, and neither is right for everybody.
Quality electric boards are expensive. Take a look at this list of recommended boards. Several of their recommendations are well over $1000, and the only “budget” board they recommend is still $300. One of the boards they list is over $2000. The thing is, those more expensive boards might just be worth the money. They have more power, better battery life, higher quality materials, and a better build quality. The budget board is only listed for people who haven’t tried out electric boards yet and want to get a taste of what it’s like.
Still, even if they’re worth the money, that’s a lot to spend. If you build your own, you can create a board that’s every bit as good as the high-end, $1k+ models on the market for a fraction of the cost. As a bonus, you also get to put in all the features that matter most to you, without paying for anything you don’t want on your board. It’s a win-win, if you’re the sort of person who likes to take on this sort of project. If you don’t like DIY work, then it’s worth it to save up and buy a nice board.
If you aren’t sure whether you can handle a project like this or not, keep reading to see what it takes to build your own electric skateboard.
How do electric skateboards work?
If you’re going to build something, you have to understand how it works first.
An e-board is little more than a regular skateboard with a few extra components added. You’ll have a motor either a belt motor or a hub motor (more details on the difference between the two later), a battery to power the motor, an electronic speed controller, and a remote control for the throttle/braking.
You use the remote to control the speed. The remote, usually a Bluetooth device, tells the electronic speed controller (ESC) to start the motor and how quickly you want to go, and the motor turns the wheels. You steer like you would on a normal board: leaning left or right.
Building your own board allows you to really customize the board to your needs, and decided which components are more important to you. For example, a bigger motor will deplete your battery faster, but it also provides more torque which is helpful for climbing hills. Torque also affects speed, so if you want the board to be faster, that’s a consideration. Conversely, if you want to use your board to commute to work, you might value a longer battery life over getting the most speed out of your board, and a smaller motor might be better for you. You could also pack in a big motor and a big battery, it’ll just cost you more money. If that’s what you want, though, then go for it. You might be able to save money on other parts.
If you’re purchasing a complete board from a manufacturer, you don’t have these options. You’re stuck with the motor and battery that they want, and that means you may be paying for a bigger motor than you need, or you’ll have to pay a lot more than you want to make sure that your board has enough battery life.
What’s the best motor for an electric skateboard?
As mentioned before, there are two types of motors for an electric board: hub and belt motors. There was a time when belt drives were the only choice; hub drives are newer technology.
A belt drive is basically a pulley system. There’s a small gear on the motor, and a larger gear on the wheel, connected by a belt. The motor turns the small gear, which in turn pulls the belt, and the belt turns the wheel. You can see how it works in the picture below.
A hub drive, or direct drive, has the motor attached directly to the wheel. Often this means that the motor is embedded in the wheel itself, although some manufacturers simply use metal gears in direct contact with each other to connect the motor and the wheels.
There are many things to consider when choosing which drive to buy.
A belt drive will make it difficult to move your board using foot power if your battery dies, whereas with a hub drive if the battery is dead you can use it just like a regular skateboard.
A belt drive also has more moving parts, which means more potential for something to break. Yet, a hub drive is much more difficult to repair in the event of a breakdown.
Belt drives have more torque, and hence better acceleration, and better climbing on hills. At the same time, belt drives have less efficient braking.
Hub drives limit your choice of wheels more than belt drives, since most hub drives are embedded in the wheel and you’ll only be able to buy the wheels made by the motor manufacturer.
Hub drives are also much more prone to overheating, which in turn makes them less durable than belt drives. That said, hub drives are lighter, quieter, and more efficient.
Belt drives are much more difficult to assemble and install. You’ll need to attach the motor to the motor mount, attach the mount to the truck, and fix the belt onto the gear. Then you’ll need to attach the other, larger gear to the wheel. This is going to require you to drill into the wheel so that you can use a set of bolts to fix the gear to the wheel as firmly as possible. Once the gear is attached to the wheel, then you slide that onto the truck, and you attach the belt to the larger gear. Now, you still have to make sure that the gear on the motor and the gear on the wheel are properly aligned so that the belt isn’t pulled off the gears.
Hub drives are much simpler. Since the motor is embedded in the wheel, you just have to put the wheel on the truck and you’re all set. A lot of hub drives even come with their own trucks included, so there’s no risk of having mismatched truck and wheels.
If you want a quiet motor that will preserve your battery life, and is fairly easy to install, a hub drive is the best option.
If you want something that accelerates fast, or you live in an area with lots of hills, and you’re not intimidated by the extra work it takes to assemble and install, you’ll probably want a belt drive.
What electric skateboard battery should you use?
Once you’ve decided which motor to buy, you’ll want to look at batteries to power it. No matter how great the motor is, if you buy a low-quality electric skateboard battery pack, you won’t get much performance out of it. A low quality battery can experience significant voltage sag, which can slow you down or even bring you to a complete stop if you’re going up a hill.
Every battery will experience voltage sag, but the problem is much worse with low quality batteries, especially as the charge gets low. Better batteries will also last longer before needing to be replaced, so even if they cost more up front they likely will save you money in the long run.
Things you need to pay attention to when shopping for batteries are:
- Voltage. The industry standard is 36V. Higher voltage isn’t always better; your motor is only designed to handle a certain amount.
- Ampere. This is a measurement of the current the battery can continuously discharge. 30A is a typical minimum current.
- Ampere Hours. This is the charge that the battery holds. It’s measured in the amount of energy the battery would discharge if it were to discharge all its power in one hour. You’ll see this measurement prominently displayed in the advertising for every battery. This is a much more reliable measurement of the battery’s range than anything else.
There are also different types of batteries. Lithium Polymer, or LiPo, batteries are cheaper, and they have less voltage sag than most. They are, however, more prone to catching fire, and they have to be drained to a certain power level for storage, making them both a hassle and a hazard. It’s probably not worth the savings to buy a LiPo battery. This is another reason to build your own; many manufacturers use LiPo batteries to save costs. The high-end boards generally won’t do that, but if you’re trying to save money by buying a cheaper pre-made board, there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a LiPo battery.
Lithium Ion batteries are much more common. They are more prone to voltage sag than LiPo batteries, but they’re a lot safer. They also last longer, so even though they might be more expensive at first, you’ll be replacing them a lot less often.
Other batteries exist, but these are the two most common. It’s highly unlikely you’ll encounter another type of battery, or that you’ll want to pay the price for if you do. It’s generally recommended that you buy a lithium ion battery.
When shopping for batteries, you might find yourself overwhelmed with technical information you don’t understand. Before you start shopping, check out this handy guide for a complete walkthrough of everything you ever wanted to know about batteries for electric skateboards.
What electric skateboard esc (Electronic Speed Control)?
This part is what controls the speed of your board. It’s essentially a receiver that connects to the motor and regulates its power output based on signals it receives from the remote in your hand. It’s the brain of the eboard.
Be careful when you’re buying an ESC; most of the ESC’s on the market are designed for RC cars and other toys, not for a skateboard carrying a person. The cheap ESC’s you can pick up at any hobby store are dangerous for you, and for your board: they can’t handle the high currents and the heat generated by your motor. Be sure that you’re buying a quality ESC that’s made for skateboarding. Look at stores that specialize in DIY electric skateboarding, like this one.
Ben Vedder’s VESC is a popular option for a lot of DIY’ers building their skateboards. It’s an ESC designed for specifically for DIY builds, and Vedder’s goal is to make the best ESC possible but making it open-source, so anybody can create updates for it. This does mean that there’s some programming required; it’s not a plug-and-play option like most controllers you can buy. Vedder claims that the programming is simple, and new users shouldn’t be intimidated. Whether this is a good choice for you depends on why you’re building your board yourself. If you’re doing it because you a natural DIY-type who loves this sort of project, using the VESC might add an extra layer of fun for you. If you’re only doing this to save yourself some money, you may not like the added hassle of having to program your controller.
Transmitter and Receiver
Some ESC’s come as a package deal with a transmitter and receiver, but most don’t. You can use any RC controller for this, so if you already have one lying around it’s fine to use it. If you don’t have one, there are plenty of affordable options available, like this one or this one. The only major considerations when shopping for your controller are battery life and whether you want more than one channel. The controller should come with instructions for installation.
What decks should you look at?
If you’re planning on converting a skateboard you already own into an eboard, then you won’t need to shop for decks. If you’re building a board from scratch, you’ll want to consider the wheelbase, deck flex, and deck shape.
The wheelbase is the space you’ll have on the underside of the board for all your components: motor, ESC, battery, and anything else you want to attach. That includes all the wiring you’ll need, and that takes up more space than most people realize.
The deck flex can become a problem for your battery. You don’t want to mount solid parts where the deck flexes, but the flex is also crucial to a smooth ride. It’s a balancing act; you want enough flex to keep the ride comfortable, but you don’t want to damage your battery or motor. You can mitigate the potential flex problems by mounting the battery and motor closer to the wheels, since the middle of the deck is the area that bends the most.
Bear in mind that the more flexible the deck, the less responsive the board is at high speed. Your eboard is going to move a lot fast than a regular skateboard; you may not want much flex in the deck.
Deck shape will affect how you mount the parts and how the board rides. Concave decks are great for foot stability, but they’ll make mounting a motor and battery more difficult because of the curve. A deck with a large camber (the upward bend between the trucks) will present the same problems as a flexible deck, because decks with camber are inherently flexible.
A deck with a rocker shape is one that bends down between the trucks. This is off limits for eboards, because it would drag your expensive electronic parts along the ground.
Wheels and trucks
If you’re buying a hub motor, you likely won’t be shopping for separate wheels and trucks, as they’ll be part of the motor.
With a belt drive, you’ll want to make sure that you buy wheels that are compatible with your motor. This means checking the gear on the wheel and the size/height of the wheels and trucks to make sure the motor will have enough clearance.
A case covers your battery, ESC and wiring to keep dust and dirt out. Many cases aren’t pre-drilled, meaning you’ll have to drill your own holes for things like a charging port, power switch, and motor wires.
DIY electric skateboard kits
If you’re building your first electronic board, and you’re starting to feel intimidated or confused by all the different components you need to buy, you should consider buying a kit.
An electric skateboard kit will come with everything you need except for the deck, which you’ll have to buy separately unless you have an old board you want to convert.
A kit might cost more than buying the parts separately, and you won’t be able to completely customize your board, but you’ll know that you have all the parts you need and that they’re all compatible with each other. That’s a significant consideration for you if it’s your first build. If you buy the parts separately, you have to be certain that each part is compatable with every other part, and you have to take the time to research each individual component to ensure that you’re getting the right balance of cost and quality. A kit guarantees that every part will work with all the others and it saves you a lot of time researching the parts.
Kits should also come with a thorough installation guide, making it even easier for first-timers to use. This is a helpful buying guide if you’re interested in purchasing a kit.
Building your electric skateboard
You’ve purchased all the parts for your board, now it’s time to put everything together.
To start, set the deck top down and lay all the components on top of the deck, to be certain everything will fit in the layout you want. You may need to move the trucks if you’re using a shorter board; this will require you to drill through the deck.
The first step is to mount the trucks and the motors. This is all one step if you’re using hub drives. The video below goes into detail on the whole process of assembling and installing the drive train on your board, including a list of all the tools you need. Your motor probably came with an installation guide, but the video is useful for seeing assembly in action.
When attaching the motor to the motor mount, it’s helpful to place the mount on the truck so you can see the best way to affix the motor to the mount; there are multiple positions you can install it in depending on which direction you want the wires to go. It’s a good idea to use thread lock glue on the screws attaching the motor to the mount.
To attach the pulley gear to your wheel, you’ll probably need to drill a hole in the wheel for the bolts. Some wheels will have pre-drilled holes, but you may still need to widen them. Use thread lock on the bolts for the pulley gear, too.
Slide the motor into position on the truck, and slightly tighten the fastening screw. Put the pullet belt on the motor, and slide the wheel onto the truck. Slowly rotate the wheel while attaching the pulley belt to it.
If you’re using hub motors, the process is a lot simpler. The motor is embedded in the wheel, so you need to make sure that your motor/wheel will fit on your truck. If it fits, then it’s just like putting new wheels onto the truck. It’s even easier if you buy hub motors with their own trucks included.
Now you can finish installing your wheels and trucks just like you would on a normal skateboard. Then, you can start installing the battery and the ESC.
You’ll probably need to drill holes in your case for the wiring. Drill the holes small, and gradually widen them with larger drill bits to avoid cracking the plastic. You might also need to drill holes for a power switch and a charging port, depending on the case you bought.
Place the case in the exact spot you want it to be in the final build, and clamp it down. Once it’s secured in place, locate the built-in screw holes and drill through them into the deck. Once the holes are drilled drop screws into the holes to keep the case in place while you remove clamps to access the remaining screw holes.
It’s a good idea to use a countersink drill bit on each hole you drill. This ensures that each screw sits flush with the deck and won’t cause bumps in your grip tape.
Now, place the ESC and battery into your case. Connect the charge port to the battery, connect the power switch to the ESC, and then connect the battery to the ESC.
Next you want to feed the motor wires into the case through the holes you’ve already drilled. Connect these wires to the ESC. Make sure you test everything before you seal the case down. To do that, grab your controller and hold down the throttle; if you’ve done everything right, the motor should kick in and the wheels should spin.
If everything worked properly, you’re ready to seal up your case and start riding.
If you purchased a kit, and the instructions in the kit differ from the ones in this article, then definitely follow the kit.
Resources and Further Reading
If you have more questions, or you want to get the opinions of others who’ve done this before, these forums are a great place for that:
Each of these is full of helpful people. A lot of them have been building and riding their own electric skateboards for years. They have hands on experience with all the parts you’re shopping for and can offer the sort of advice based on experience that you’ll never find on a manufacturers website or the product description in a store. That’s not just true for the parts: they also probably have some tips for the assembly process. A lot them learned how to build their boards through trial and error, which means they know exactly what mistakes a first-time builder is likely to make, and they might just have some tips the pro’s would never think of.
It’s well worth your time to join one or more of those forums, read the posts, and ask any questions you have. Far better to spend a lot of time reading and asking before you buy parts and start building than to dive right in and make a costly mistake.