If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance fun is in your future. Even if you’re not planning to build your own go kart, there’s plenty of excitement and satisfaction to be had building any project from scratch. Building something yourself is a great way to acquire new skills and a sense of accomplishment. In this case you also end up with a go kart!
If you don’t think you can build these kinds of projects because you don’t have the necessary tools or materials, we’re hoping after reading this article you’ll see there are plenty of options to overcome that. With companies like SendCutSend and McMaster Carr you can accomplish much more than you think.
In this article we’re going to go through the process for building your own go kart, but a lot of what we’ll cover can be applied to any project.
5 Steps to Start Building Your Go-Kart With Laser Cutting
Step 1 – Plan
All good projects should start with some planning. How much you plan is up to you, but at the very least you should decide what you want your kart to do when you’re done. Having a good plan will help you when purchasing materials or tools. It can help you stick to your budget, or if you don’t have a budget it can help show you what the build might cost. You may decide to figure it out as you go, or you may want to design every detail before you ever touch physical material.
Coming up with the plan is also a great time to decide what’s important to you during the build process. Do you just want to get to the end as quickly as possible or are you trying to learn some new skills along the way? For example if you’re hoping to improve your 3D modeling skills, plan to do a lot more of the design up front. If you want to learn to weld, plan to fabricate parts you can weld together. Hate cutting out parts with an angle grinder? Design your parts to be laser cut by SendCutSend and spend your time on the fun stuff.
Let’s look at just a few high level areas of the design to consider during the planning stage.
- Size – How big do you want your kart to be? Should it fit in the bed of a pickup truck? Does it need to be stored in your garage? Who will be piloting the kart? Building a go kart for a 60 lb child is probably going to look a little different than building for a 200 lb adult. Maybe you want both to be able to drive the same kart in which case you might plan for some adjustment in the seat position or controls. Will it be a single-seater or a two-seater? Go big and carry four! It’s your design, there’s no wrong answer.
- Performance – How fast do you want the kart to go? Are you after acceleration or top speed? What kind of terrain do you want to drive on? Are you planning to go 70mph on a smooth kart track, hit jumps and hills off road or just cruise around in the backyard? The design for all those scenarios might push your build to use certain parts. Consider what type and size of engine you’ll use. Will it be a 6hp gas engine, a 200hp superbike engine or maybe you want an electric go kart? Do you want to manually shift gears, in which case motorcycle and ATV engines/transmissions are a great choice. What about suspension? Smooth track racing karts usually don’t have any suspension, but if you’re building an off road go kart suspension is critical. Tire size and gearing can also play into the performance of your kart.
- Budget – Building a go kart yourself doesn’t necessarily mean it will cost less than buying a kart, but what it does mean is you get exactly what you want for the money you spend. The only compromises in the design are the ones you decide to make. Maybe you’re fine with a low powered engine, but you want a comfy kart seat and some cup holders? Spend your money where it matters to you. Another benefit of building a kart is that you can choose where to use brand new parts and where used parts might be acceptable. If you want the best performance bang for your buck look for higher quality used components. If you’re new to projects like this some of your budget might be set aside for “education”. We put that in quotes because that could mean extra materials to practice or experiment with or it could mean doing something twice (or sometimes eight times, we all make mistakes).
- Build Process – Unless you’re assembling a kit, there’s going to be some fabrication involved. Whether this is the fun part for you, or the part that worries you most, it’s a good idea to plan ahead for this. Your plan should include some thought for how the parts will be fabricated or purchased. Design the parts for the way you want to build them. You may need to get your hands on some components to measure them before you can design mating parts. With some upfront planning you can get those parts early so the build process doesn’t come to a halt waiting for parts.
If planning and design isn’t your thing, there are tons of go kart plans and even go kart kits available to purchase. Just find the one that fits you best.
Step 2 – Gather Materials
You’ve done your planning (or you’re fine winging it), the next step is to start collecting parts and materials. This can include raw materials like tube and plate, components like a seat, wheels and even nuts and bolts. Even with the best planning, you’re likely to need to order more parts or materials during the build. SendCutSend is a great resource for custom parts you don’t plan to build yourself. For general components you can use websites like McMaster-Carr and Grainger. When it comes to more specific components, there are plenty of go kart related sites like Go Power Sports and BMI Karts. You may be surprised what you can find on Amazon or Ebay.
Step 3 – Check Tools
Building your own go kart is a great excuse to add new tools to your collection. Depending on the level of fabrication you plan to do, you’ll probably want a basic set of tools at the minimum. Plan your build around the tools you have, tools you intend to get, or tools you have access to. With all the services SendCutSend offers, the list of tools you have access to grows considerably. For inexpensive tools, Harbor Freight is a good source, especially for tools you only need for one or two projects.
Step 4 – Build
This is a pretty broad step that we’ll cover a little more later in this article. This can include everything from bending and welding tubing, to bolting in seats and motors. We’d suggest keeping assembly as temporary as possible at first. Tack weld and loosely bolt pieces in place until you confirm everything fits. You may need to make adjustments and move a bracket. If you plan to finish your kart with paint or powder coat, it’s best to have as much of the fabrication complete, then disassemble the parts to finish.
Step 5 – Test
Before you go nuts and jump the creek behind your house, test the major systems to make sure everything is working. You may even want to do some testing before you take it back apart to paint it. Here are a few areas to check.
- Welds – It’s common to tack weld parts together early in the process, but that also means it’s not uncommon to forget or miss a weld. Double check that the joints on your go kart frame are fully welded.
- Brakes – The faster your kart, the better your brakes should be. Make sure they work well at slow speeds so you don’t find problems at high speeds.
- Steering – Can you control the kart? Does the steering bind at any point?
- Electrical – Are the wires secured and not rubbing against any sharp edges?
- Fluids – You checked all your fluids, right? Everything is topped up with no leaks.
- Safety – Maybe you included a seat belt or harness, maybe you didn’t. Check that all the parts are tight and aren’t going to come loose while driving. This includes your seat, the steering wheel, the wheels, suspension components. Just give everything a final check.
What You Will Need to Build a Go-Kart Using Laser Cutting
Building the kart yourself means you get to choose what to build it out of. We’ve compiled a list of commonly used materials.
- Steel tubing – Either round or square tubing is a popular choice for the frame. Avoid pipe, it’s made to transfer fluids, it’s not meant for structures. The size you use should fit the application.
- Steel plate and sheet – Sheet and plate are great materials for making brackets to attach components to the frame. They can be bent to all sort of shapes.
- Aluminum plate and sheet – Can be used to make switch panels and body panels.
- Wood and plastic – Can be useful materials to have on hand for a variety of tasks, such as building inexpensive jigs and fixtures, even something like cardboard is great to have for mocking up parts.
- Hardware – Bolts, nuts, washers, spacers, bearings, bushings, heim joints, etc. The size and variety of the hardware you’ll need will depend on your design and the parts you use.
- Kart parts – There are parts it makes more sense to buy than build, although you’d be surprised what you can make if you try. Items like wheels and tires and motors are probably easier to buy than make yourself. They can be purchased new or sourced from other vehicles like ATVs, mini bikes or riding lawn mowers. Items like seats and steering wheels can be bought, but plenty of SendCutSend customers have made great looking examples using laser cut and bent materials.
We discussed tools previously, but in this section we’ll get a little more specific.
- Measuring – A tape measure and caliper cover a wide range of parts you might need to measure. A level can also be useful to help align parts.
- Cutting and shaping – Angle grinders can be fitted with cutoff wheels, grinding discs, wire wheels to help cut, shape and clean metal. A jigsaw, band saw or even a simple hacksaw can also be useful tools, but not completely necessary. On the other end of the spectrum is a plasma cutter which can make quick work of cutting.
- Drilling and tapping – A handheld drill or drill press along with a set of bits. For larger holes or to cope tubing you may want hole saws or annular cutters. A tap and die set could also be useful for creating threads.
- Welding – Beyond the most basic of go kart designs you’re going to need to weld parts together. An inexpensive 110v MIG welder is powerful enough for most go kart designs. A higher end welder will have more capability like welding aluminum or thicker materials.
- Bending – Not entirely necessary, but the ability to bend tubing, sheet or plate can open up a new level of parts fabrication. Tube benders, press brakes and even sheet metal brakes can be bought or if you’re up for another project, they’re not too hard to build yourself.
The Must-Haves for Your DIY Go-Kart
Building a go kart from scratch obviously requires go kart parts. Let’s discuss some of the must-have parts.
- Frame – The frame is the foundation of the kart, it holds everything else together. Most of the structure and brackets are part of the frame. You can buy a prebuilt frame, but where’s the fun in that? The frame can be a simple rectangle with connection points for other components or it can be a complete cage of tube work to provide protection to the driver. The heavier or faster your kart will be, the stronger and stiffer your frame should be to match. Build your frame to put all the other components in the right places. Depending on the complexity of your frame, you may want to build a fixture to help build your frame. A fixture is simply a way to hold pieces of your frame in the right places as you weld them together. A fixture can also hold other connection points for components like suspension or motor in place as you connect them.
- Powertrain – The powertrain includes everything to make the kart go. There’s the motor, but also everything between the motor and the wheels. This might include a transmission or be a direct drive. With automatic transmissions, centrifugal clutch types or CVTs (Continuously Variable Transmission) are very common. Manual transmissions can be adapted from other vehicles like motorcycles or ATVs. Out of the transmission you need to transmit power to the rear axle, usually with a chain/sprocket, belt or shaft. Then there’s the axle itself, it may be a solid shaft connecting both wheels, or it may be multiple pieces. Consider whether or not you’ll have suspension when connecting power to the wheels.
- Brakes – Brakes are often overlooked. People tend to think about more power for speed, but not about being able to stop from higher speeds. The heavier or faster your kart is, the better your brakes should be. This is one area you don’t want to be under designed.
- Steering – Unless you’re building your kart to run on railroad tracks, you probably want to be able to steer it. Like brakes, this is one area not to skimp. A good steering design will make your kart handle much better, be more controllable at higher speeds and can even make your tires last longer. In its simplest form, you can make a steering system from steel rods and flats, but a significant upgrade is to use a steering rack.
- Controls – The driver is going to need a place to sit and a way to control the kart. At the very least this will include a seat, steering wheel and controls for going and stopping. Going and stopping are usually pedals, but nothing says your kart can’t have hand controls if that’s your preference. A seat can be anything from a DIY plywood seat to a full race seat with a safety harness. You may want to include a dash panel with gauges or switches to control starting, lights, whatever other cool stuff you add. This is a good place for a kill switch too so you or someone else can quickly cut power in an emergency.
- Everything Else – Want to drive in the dark? Throw some lights on your kart. Need to haul stuff around? Add a luggage rack, a cargo bed or even build a small trailer your kart can tow. It’s your own kart, your own design, have fun with it.
Assembling Your Go-Kart in 5 Steps
Ok, you have everything ready and it’s time to put it all together. Where do you start? There’s no rules you have to follow, but here’s an example of what the build process might look like.
- Build your frame – Start with the frame, that’s what the rest of the parts will attach to. Just like we discussed above, a fixture might be useful, but it’s not completely necessary.
- Attach your wheels – Once your wheels are attached to the frame, it’ll be easier to move the frame around as you continue to assemble the rest of the parts. This is likely to include more than just the wheels, like control arms, brakes, axles, etc.
- Bolt in the motor – The motor is usually one of the bigger/heavier components to install, so it’s probably easier getting it in position early, before other components are in the way.
- Assemble the cockpit – Bolt in your seat and other controls. This is your opportunity to sit in the seat and make vroom vroom sounds.
- Connect everything together – Connect your steering wheel to the steering shaft, tie rods and spindles. Connect your brake pedal to the rest of your brake system. Connect your throttle pedal to your motor with a throttle cable. If you have more controls, like wiring for lights or a cappuccino maker, go ahead and connect those up. We’d suggest leaving the main power source (usually a battery) disconnected until the end just for safety.
Our partner, TimWelds, has a great video tutorial on how to build your own go kart with laser cut parts.
FAQs Around How to Build a Go-Kart
That will depend on what you build. If you’re trying to replicate an existing go-kart it’s probably cheaper to buy unless you’re willing to use less expensive or used components. If you already have some components you can use like a motor, you might start to tip the scales in your favor. Where building it yourself shines is getting exactly what you want and maybe building some new skills and having fun along the way.
It’s harder than making a sandwich, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. If you take your time and do it one step at a time, you’ll be surprised what you can build. Plus you have all the resources of SendCutSend to make custom parts for you.
There are a lot of factors involved in how long it might take. The complexity of your build, how much time you can spend on it, your skill level all affect how long it will take to finish. It’s not out of the question to build a simple kart in a few weekends, but if you’re new to this you should budget a little more time. On the other end of the spectrum, a team of experienced builders could take a month or more to assemble something like a high end production cross kart.
You’ve come to the right place. Whether it’s laser cutting, bending, tapping, finishing or any of the other services SendCutSend offers, we’ve got your back. From prototype to powder coat, we can help you make the parts you can’t (or just don’t want to) make yourself. If you need some inspiration, head over to our project examples page to see what kinds of parts other people are making with SendCutSend.
When you finish your homemade go kart, send it to us or tag us on Instagram!