Archive for the ‘childhood’ Category

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.


Lower control arm ready for it's anchor bolt.

As I noted earlier, all of the parts from this project are readily available at most hardware stores. At this point I have my frame more or less together. Prior to squaring it I had to temporarily mount the upper and lower control arms. Once that was done I then removed them and drilled the holes for the king pins (or spindles). The spindles are used as a mounting point for the wheels, but also will provide roughly 40 degrees of turning radius. Go karts are definitely much more fun if they do more than just go straight.

The spindles each consist of 1/2″ galvanized pipe T fittings and are anchored in place via 3/8″ to 1/2″ pipe connectors. It’s really quite a simple and clever setup.  First, I set a center point 1/2″ in from the end of both the lower and upper control arms and drilled a 7/8″ hole about 1/4″ deep using a hole saw fitted to a hand held drill. In rummaging through the endless drawers of my Dad’s tools I realized he had a number of these which made me wonder, why? Some of them had wood bits still within them from the various projects he had done over the years. Luckily for me he wasn’t one to hesitate to run out and buy a specific tool for a task that he would use only once.

After I drilled the larger, outside hole, I then drilled a smaller hole the same size as the threads of the pipe nut in the photo. The idea here is that the nut would be carefully threaded into these holes. Once threaded down the nut would sit nice and flush in the control arm. To get that nice and flush fit took quite some time since I had to sand, and file carefully to slightly enlarge the hole otherwise the control arm would crack or split altogether. You will want to thread this bolt through so that a few threads are exposed on the opposite side of the control arm. At one point I wasn’t able to easily thread it far enough so rather than push it and risk cracking the control arm I took the hole saw out and drilled down a bit further, allowing the bolt to sit slightly lower in the hole.

At this point the thought did enter my mind as to whether or not this would be strong enough for the boys to ride on, let alone to even drive. I figured that the existence of these plans at least implied it was tested after being built, so I put that thought in the back of my mind and pressed on. In all likelihood the overall structure will only get stronger as more of it gets assembled… right?

Bottom control arm with both spindle holes set.

Bottom control arm with both spindle holes set.

Next I mounted the lower control arm back onto the frame. You can see the holes in the top of the frame rails where I had previously mounted the arms for squaring up the frame. From here you can also see the narrowing of the frame to accommodate the turning of the front wheels. I’m not sure how critical having the frame narrow like this is, since the result is that the back is a few inches wider. The plans call for this so I’ve gone ahead and followed it verbatim. As I quickly realized later, that narrowing is a bit of a pain for a number of reasons but I’ll get to those soon enough.

Before I follow up with the upper control arm I need to now insert the T fittings that get sandwiched in between them. First the large connector nut is carefully screwed into all four holes; two on the lower and the two upper.  Next I insert the T fitting into each nut on the bottom, carefully not forcing it to turn too far, and keeping it slightly loose so that it can turn easily. I’ve also added a bit of white grease to the threads for good measure. The easier these turn back and forth the easier the overall turning will be for the kart, so it’s important to spend the time here to get this right.

In addition to the goal of  free spin here, I found I also needed to account for the vertical space limitation. That is if I had the threads backed off too far the control arms wouldn’t mount back onto the frame without a big gap, but if I threaded them in too tight they wouldn’t turn freely enough. I could always insert a shim or something to account for that extra space, but I really didn’t want to do that.

After an hour or two of sanding, threading, some “Dad is the go kart done yet?“s, more sanding and more threading I was able to get the nuts through and the T fittings in place comfortably.

T Fittings mounted in lower control arms.

T Fittings mounted in lower control arms.

With the T fittings mounted onto the bottom, and enough play to both spin, but tight enough to fit in the space between the two control arms I then mounted the upper control arm back into place. Once the arm is in place and screwed back onto the frame you realize that there really isn’t anywhere for the T fittings to go. Even if they were to completely unscrew (which is virtually impossible since they’d be attached to tie-rods) the control arms have them sandwiched in place so again, a simple and pretty clever assembly overall. My Dad would be proud. 🙂

Once both control arms are in place you can see where the threads on the top of the upper control arm, and bottom of the lower control arm, come through just a bit.

Upper and Lower Control Arms with T Fittings in Place

Upper and Lower Control Arms with T Fittings in Place

The plans call for a 1/2″ electrical conduit lock nut to help to secure these in place.  Although these would do the trick they’re not very attractive. You could also use a galvanized pipe cap, but I realized that a brass garden hose cap fits perfectly and could be polished up quite nice. You can see the brass cap here in this picture with everything all in place nice and tidy like.

So far we have our frame, we have our upper and lower control arms, and spindles all mounted. I’ve even gone so far as to drill the holes into the spindles allowing for me to mount the wheels.

Oh wait, wheels. That’s right this thing needs to roll!!??



I recently stumbled across the site CycleKarts. This is a site that basically has been put together by some kart enthusiasts that aren’t so much into going fast, but really more into the overall nostalgia aspect and in general having fun approach.

These karts are nothing short of flat out awesome. They’re built with a steel box frame and recycled motorcycle wheels. Since the wheels are larger, about 17″, with the proper detailing at a glance you would mistake these for true original race cars from their heyday. These typically have a small 6 hp engine mounted in the back, but the addition of a false exhaust pipe down one side makes them look all that more accurate.

I’ve always been a huge fan of open wheel racers of the 1920s and 1930s so what better than to build a kart in that style. Although I would love to build one of these, I don’t really have the room to drive, or equipment to weld up something like this. In addition the fact that my boys are pretty young I figured I’d start with something a bit more easy to manage. Maybe I’ll revisit this or something like it at a later time. I know, I know… why someday? For now I’ll be focusing on something that is just more kid friendly.

Bugatti Pedal Car

Bugatti Pedal Car

As it turns out the same guys that have the Cycle Karts site also sell some plans for building a pedal car. They have some great plans available to build a car based on a Bugatti Type 35. The plans are noted as easy to follow and are based on materials that are readily available at most hardware stores. After a bit of poking around I’ve found a great example of one of their other projects, an MG TC. This too is a pedal car.

To get an idea of how the plans with the MG differ, and to see the real world results, I’ve been following a project that is in process with this car at The Norwood Home/Blog. Mark has done a great job with his car, keeping the original look and primarily using the plans, but adapting it to use small bicycle wheels. I too wanted to use bike wheels, but was thinking I wanted something a bit more than a pedal car, but less than a full on racer like the CycleKarts I noted earlier.

Armed with a garage full of tools I went ahead and ordered up the plans and anxiously awaited their arrival.


Posted: August 13, 2009 in childhood
Tags: ,
Even in this photo, I swear I was dreaming of a go kart.

Even in this photo, I swear I was dreaming of a go kart.

The year was 1976 or 1977, or as my late grandfather would have said “nineteen hundred and seventy six”. I was five or six years old and my parents had recently split up.

Like scores of kids before and since, my sister and I had entered the “every other weekend” pattern. One Saturday after work my father had come to pick us up. I said “Dad, come here I want to show you something.” I proceeded to lead him to the side of the house where I had been collecting various odds and ends. Loose boards, shopping cart wheels, and some cast iron electrical pipe..think Junkyard Wars for kids. You know, extremely valuable boy stuff.

Hey Dad” I asked, “Can we make a go kart with these things?

At this point I wasn’t even being picky, I just wanted something that rolled that I could sit on and I would have been thrilled.

Hmm, no you don’t have enough wood here, and if you weld this pipe a poisonous gas is given off. Afraid we can’t build a go cart with what you’ve got here.

I was crushed. At this point I wasn’t sure if he was implying he would get some material and we could then build one, or if he meant I should raid some construction sites (not to say that’s where I got the wood I did have).

“Oh, darn”  I said, although I was thinking much more along the lines of “Well that sucks.”.

“We’ll make one someday.” he said, and off we went to his place for the weekend never to hear of it again.

Sometime later one of the neighborhood boys showed his dad that the front wheel on his Big Wheel had split down the center. A bummer for sure, but just the result of many a day of doing burnouts. His dad told him “Oh no big deal, let’s just make a go kart out of the rear wheels!” In the course of one afternoon lo and behold he had his go kart. We pushed each other all over the neighborhood. I had a blast with that kart, all the while wishing I could build my own.

My dad was a mechanic for 30 years, certainly he had the tools and where-with-all to make one right? I was by no means a deprived child, but as anyone who was ever a kid can relate, I always wanted a go kart.

Fast forward thirty some years. I had initially headed down the same career path as my father, spending a few years in auto mechanics all the while amassing a collection of my own tools. Dad always told me “Never sell or get rid of your tools, you never know when you’ll need them”. As I changed careers I always kept that in mind. My dad passed away a few years ago, and clearly he had kept his own advice. Now I have a garage full of tools; his plus my own. I also now have three boys of my own.

As I experience the adventure of fatherhood and tackle the challenge of a go kart myself I realize that this isn’t just about my boys having a go kart, nor is it sadly realizing that my father isn’t around to see his grandchildren grow up. I suppose it could be the fact that Dad isn’t here to build the go kart he said someday we would make, but I guess it’s really just fulfilling a childhood dream and of course having some good fun in the process.

A go kart is much more than four wheels and some lumber. It’s whatever you want it to be; a racecar, a rocket, or an airplane. For me it’s all of that and more, but most importantly I guess it’s just about bringing about “someday”.

May you build your go kart sooner than later.