Chapter 8: Steering down the road of life.

Posted: August 29, 2009 in building a go kart, childhood, go kart steering, Go Karts
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When I was kid, as millions of others, I had a Radio Flyer wagon. Because this wagon had four wheels, I could sit on it (sometimes daringly even with a passenger), and it was somewhat steerable, it was essentially my go kart.

I say somewhat steerable because anyone who has ever ridden on a wagon, and has used the handle as a steering wheel can tell you that it is incredibly unstable. The slightest turn at even low speed would spell disaster and result in more Band Aids than you can shake a can of Bactine at.

Although I can’t guarantee there won’t be any injuries with our kart, I can say for certain it will be more stable to steer than that old wagon was.

Pieces of pipe that will make our steering column.

Pieces of pipe that will make our steering column.

Unlike a single pivoting front axle on my old wagon, here we’ll have a solid, secure, steering column that turns each wheel on their own axis. As with our spindles, the steering column will be based on galvanized pipe components. The pieces we’ll be using here include 24″ of straight 1/2″ pipe, a T fitting, a floor flange, as well as a coupling, extension and a cap.

The first thing I did was lay all the pieces out to get a clear idea of how it would all fit together. As with many steps in this project I’ve been piecing it together in my mind over and over and over, so I was happy to see it was more less as I imagined it.

Now that I have a good picture of what I’m doing I then drilled out a 1″ hole into the mark we made on the bottom of the grill in Chapter 7. This mark was made earlier with the aid of our PVC pipe. I drilled the hole about 20% through into the back of the grill. I then drilled a 1/4″ hole through the center of this hole, but making this smaller hole go entirely through the grill. We’ll be using this hole to attach the column in place.

Hole in lower backside of grill to hold steering column in place.

Hole in lower backside of grill to hold steering column in place.

On one end of the pipe I then attached the T fitting. Next I drilled a 1/4″ hole through the center of our pipe cap. Once that was done I then ran the 1/4″ bolt into the hole, from the inside of the cap, with the threads sticking out through the top of the cap.

On the threaded side I placed a nut on and ran it tight against the pipe cap, securing the bolt in place in the cap. Next I placed the cap onto the bottom of the T fitting we had attached to the 24″ piece of pipe.

I then turned my attention to the other end of the pipe.  The pipe turns out was the perfect length to fit up to the dash, and through the hole we had drilled through earlier.  I inserted the pipe through the hole, and on the other side I threaded on the coupler (basically an extension).

I added this coupler so that I could position the steering wheel a bit further away from the dash. If I didn’t have this spacing it would be really easy to hit your knuckles against the dash. Afterall, as you find yourself barreling through a corkscrew the last thing you would want to do is accidentally change the radio station!

To determine if the steering wheel position was going to work out I again asked one of the boys to come over to check it out. Jake sat inside and pretended to be holding a steering wheel at the end of the pipe. This position seemed like it would be just about right. While he was sitting there he seemed to be really thinking about something. I could really see the wheels turning.

He said “Dad, when this go kart is finished, and I’m a teenager, I’m going to sneak out at night, and I’m going to drive it and I’m going to go get tacos.”.

I didn’t know whether to be angry for something he didn’t (and likely never would) do, or be happy to hear he was looking forward to driving his kart.

I just said “I’m glad you’re looking forward to driving it… but rather than sneak out, why don’t we go together? I like tacos too!”.

He thought about it for a minute and said “Yeah, you’re right. But could we go to Sonic instead?”. Ahhh to be seven years old again I thought to myself.

Assembled column all in place.

Assembled column all in place.

At this point we’ve got the basics of our steering column all assembled (albeit loosely) and in place. So far we’re lookin’ good. Now to connect it up to our pivoting spindles that we mounted earlier.

Next I turned my attention to a couple of pieces of hardware that I didn’t get from my local Home Depot. In all likelihood I could have probably managed to make some crazy concoction of eye hooks to work here, but I opted to order some specific connectors that are ideally suited to go karts and the like.  I went ahead and ordered a couple of tie-rods from

To this point I’ve been quite happy at the availability of all the parts to build the kart. In this case however I wanted to be able to easily adjust the toe-in of the wheels and these adjustable tie-rods are ideal for doing just that. They have a bit of give in all directions which also helps account for any slight measurement differences from one side to the other. They were delivered in a couple of days and at the time I purchased them were less than $10.00 plus shipping, so to save yourself some headache I recommend them or something similar.

Tie rod end and the threaded rod to connect them both.

Tie rod end and the threaded rod to connect them both.

The tie-rod kit I purchased came with a single threaded rod, and the two tie-rod ends themselves. This would be ideal I thought, but then I discovered that the rod itself was too short. Easy, I’ll just go to Home Depot and buy a longer rod right? Wrong. This rod was 5/16″ fine thread, whereas all I could find was course threaded rod at Home Depot.

After driving to a few different places I realized the solution was to buy that course threaded rod afterall, and tap out the tie-rod ends to fit. To be honest I was bit frustrated with myself that I ordered what I thought would be ideal pieces that would work as is, only to find I had to re-thread them. In hindsight it wasn’t a big deal. So I’d recommend either buying a longer rod with your tie-rods, or be prepared to customize them to suit your needs.

Once I threaded the tie-rod ends, and bought and cut the threaded rod to length, I was ready to get the rest of the steering into place.

Lower portion of steering, connected to the tie rods.

Lower portion of steering, connected to the tie rods.

Before I attached the tie-rods to the threaded rod, I needed to attach the center piece that will provide the steering column to move the threaded rod (and effectively the wheels) from left to right.

I threaded a bolt onto the rod to just left of the halfway point. I then slid on a piece of bendable metal that I bent into the shape of  U. The ends of this U shaped metal had two holes allowing the rod to slide through.

It’s worth mentioning here that I didn’t have much luck finding the ideal bracket or metal at Home Depot, but was happy to discover that one of the pieces from our donated Spiderman bike would work perfectly. I was able to repurpose the bracket that holds the coaster brake against the frame.  You really have to love reusing as much as you can in cases like this.

Once I slide our bracket into place on the rod, I then threaded our tie-rod ends into place. The tapping out process went flawlessly and they threaded onto the new rod with ease. Next I attached each tie-rod end onto the spindles via a 2″ 1/4″ bolt.  Once both ends of the rod where attached to the spindles securely I could move one spindle and the other would turn. It was great to see it all turn so smoothly, so I sat back opened a soda, and admired my progress so far.

With both tie-rod ends attached to the spindles, I then attached the center of the steering column to the metal bracket I mentioned. This bracket will give the column the ability to convert what is essentially a circular motion (rotating approximately 180 degrees or so) to a side to side motion that enables the threaded rod to move back and forth. It’s elegantly simple. We’ll have to see how durable it turns out to be, but for the moment it looks just fine.

Left tie rod end and center column visible.

Left tie rod end and center column bracket visible.

With a bolt and washers attached to the bracket to hold it in place I could now actually see the turning of the pipe translate into turning the wheels. As with other points in this project I was thrilled to see the result. I told my wife “You have to come see this work of art!”. OK, maybe that was an exaggeration and I can’t really blame the lackluster response she gave (she was on the phone afterall) but I was happy nonetheless.

At this point the only thing remaining to be done with our steering system was the steering wheel itself. Earlier I had sketched out the general shape of the wheel onto some scrap 1″ pine wood stock. The plan notes to use 1/2″ but I opted for the thicker wood so I could focus on finishing it out smoothly, rounding it off, etc.

Outline for wheel drawn out and ready to cut.

Outline for wheel drawn out and ready to cut.

After sketching out the wheel I then drilled holes in the corners as starter spots for the jig saw.  The wheel will be a half-wheel mainly to give plenty of room for the rider’s knees. Also, since the wheel won’t turn a complete 360 degrees there wouldn’t be much benefit in having a big wheel anyway.

I dug into the wood with the jig saw and cut the perimeter, and then cut the center sections away.  The outer portion really just felt too thick, but again I’ll be gradually narrowing it down with a Dremel, filing, sand paper, etc. later. Remember this is just the rough cut.

Cut out wheel ready to be finished and mounted.

Cut out wheel ready to be finished and mounted.

I’m already thinking in my mind the way the wheel will end up looking when I get to the point of the finishing work (painting, etc) with the kart. How many times have you glanced in a car, say a classic car, and you think “Wow, look at that steering wheel.” Now the wheel could be huge, at which point you may think it would be akin to driving a bus, or the wheel could be incredibly advanced and full of gadgets, say like the Ferrari 458 steering wheel.

The steering wheel is one of the many points of a vehicle that provide that initial first impression, and once we get to the details this is definitely one part of the kart that won’t disappoint.

With the steering wheel cut out in rough form, I then took our floor flange and marked four spots on the wheel I needed to drill through. These will be our mounting points.

Wheel and steering column all mounted up.

Wheel and steering column all mounted up.

For the moment I just grabbed some extra 1/4″ bolts to mount it temporarily. I’m sure I can find some nice flush mount allen heads to finish it off nice and clean.

Once I mounted the wheel I secured the steering column a bit more tightly, albeit still temporarily, so I could see really how much effort will be required to turn the wheels in one direction or another.

I was surprised to see just how easily the wheels turned, considering the tires were still flat! Once I get the components all mounted permanently and the tires filled up it should be just fine.

A big smile is always the best test result.

A big smile is always the best test result.

To finish off our progress Luke insisted he get to sit in the kart. In fact at this point the boys were tripping all over one another and fighting to sit in it. It’s never good to see them shoving each other, but I have to be honest it was somewhat gratifying.  They are truly looking forward to this getting finished.

Luke asked if he could take it for a test drive. I said “Well there aren’t any brakes yet, and the tires are flat.” He smartly said “Oh yeah, that would be bad.”.

Over the next few days I’ll be getting the steering permanently attached with the use of cotter pins at points where we don’t want anything to come loose. As Luke would say “…that would be bad.”.

After that we’ll dive into the crank and drive chain which should be really fun.


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