I started this project with my neighbors at the end of August, now already more than 3 months have passed. Progress has been slow, but pretty steady. We’ve met to work on it for 1-2 hours on 60-70% of the weekends so far. So, in all there’s been maybe 15-ish hours of work.
The first step was measuring building the frame. 2×4’s are super cheap, and wood is really forgiving to work with. In hindsight, I think it would have been nice to spend more time to design a lighter frame (ours turned out a bit heavy), but for now we’ll just finish with what we have. If there were desire to make an improved frame, I am confident we could again use wood to build a sturdy and economical version 2.0.
Its good to lay things out and verify that things will actually fit.
The boards were just screwed together. We used drywall screws, which are the cheapest screws available, you really don’t need much more. Pretty much all the cuts were 90 degrees and all the joints look like this:
In the front we used 2×3’s (actually 1.5×2.5). The 2×4 required some trimming to get to the same width as you can see. The reason for this reduced frame thickness is that we will have two plates sandwich this section to create the steering pivot for the front wheels. To clamp the plates, we will use 1/4″-20 bolts that go all the way through. 2.5″ is about the limit of how deep a standard 1/4″ drill will go.
This is one of my favorite tools ever, sometimes call a pre-drill and drive bit. It is a must have for anyone who has to install screws often. Or even for that one project, it will make things perfect. Or maybe I just love tools too much… Anyhow, as you can see, the insert has a phillips screw driver bit on one end, and a pilot drill and countersink on the other. And the insert fits either way into a quick change holder. Both drill and screw driver bit are replaceable. Any insert is only good for a specific size drill bit, so lots of pre-drill sets come with 4 different sized inserts. I’ve only ever had this one, so its all I ever needed.
Another great tool: soap. This is my dad’s trick, just scrape a bar of soap with the tip of the screw to get some soap on the first few threads, you might be surprised at how much easier it is to drive the screws in.
Here’s one of the few angled cuts – a piece of cake if you have a miter saw, but still pretty easy if you just use a hand saw like we did. The little piece of plywood is just so that the entire angled face has something to rest on, since the face of the 2×4 alone isn’t wide enough.
woohoo! The frame is done. This part is super fast, I think it only took us 2 meetings.
Next, we started working on the hardware. I ordered all the metal from Speedy Metals because its not too expensive and they cut to length, roughly (I didn’t have a bandsaw at the time we started this). If you have a nice saw, or a sharp hacksaw and determination, or a good local metal supply store, you can probably do better in price.
The first bits of hardware we tackled were the front steering mounts. Its important that the holes match up, since each pair is going to be bolted together (while sandwiching the front of the wooden frame). To match up the holes you just have to drill each hole through both pieces at the same time (well, except for the first hole…). As you can see, we used short bolts to hold the two pieces together as we finished drilling all the holes.
Before drilling the holes, its nice to mark them out and center punch then. A center punch (the pencil-shaped metal thing on the left of the photo below) is just a hardened steel rod with a 90ish degree cone at the tip. When you hammer it into things, it makes a dimple. Aluminum is so soft though that using a nail or even screw instead works great.
The two pieces of angle iron will be the pivots for the steering tube and the little 3/8″ thick block is where the rod ends of the tie rods will connect to the steering tube.
For drill bits I bought the cheapest number/letter/fraction set from Harbor Freight. These definitely aren’t lifetime tools, but for just wood, Al, or mild steel, they’ll get you pretty far for the money.
Harbor Freight also sells a 3-piece step drill set for around $14 ($11 if on sale!!), which is a pretty decent alternative to buying any drill bits over 1/2″ diameter. My drill press doesn’t really run slow enough to use these properly, so things get pretty hot. Step drills are intended for drilling through stuff like sheet metal, so something as thick as 3/8″ is way more surface area contact that they are designed for. Make sure you use some kind of cutting oil.
Then it looks like I forgot to take pictures for a few weekends, but I’ll make it up with lots of pictures of finished assemblies later on. Below you can see the steering spindles coming together. The steel angle iron is where the tie rod will connect to (tie rod hole not drilled yet in the picture). The hole in the side of the aluminum block is for a bolt that will serve as the front wheel axle. There are threaded holes on either end of the block that will pivot in the steering plates made earlier.
That brings us up to early November (when it was still warm enough to run around barefoot). More updates will have to come after the new year, since I’ll be traveling.
As always, let me know if you have questions or suggestions!