Build your own board or buy a pre-built one? This is NOT a simple answer. The question should be: Why do you want to build your own board? If the only reason is cost, then we recommend you to go buy a pre-built board. Yes, the good quality boards are expensive and yes, the low-budget boards are made in China. But it should be noted that the good quality boards are trending down in price and quality is improving with the low budget boards along with a handful of them providing good customer support.
The quality of a board is dependent on the sum (and the integration) of its parts. The parts sourced by the Chinese manufacturers will always be cheaper than what you can get because they can leverage volume. Then you have the cost of your time as well as the risk of making critical mistakes which may lead to blowing up your motor(s) or frying your batteries. If you are really good at putting things together, you may come out with a lower cost and have better performance numbers than an Evolve Board with the same quality of parts. At the end of the day though, the cost difference will most likely be in the range of 10-15%. For a $1500 - $2000 USD skateboard, you are saving probably $200 - $300 USD. But consider that you have no warranty nor customer support if things go wrong post-build.
Electric Skateboard Build
If you decide to build your own board, then you should educate yourself as much as possible. It is not an easy decision, but you need to know what you are getting into. You are designing and building a custom-made electric vehicle. So if you do not understand the intricate details, many things can and will go wrong. As this field is also a growing part of the esk8 industry, we will do our best to continue to develop helpful content in this area.
Let's assume that you are like most DIYers and do not have the equipment to build your own motors and machine your own parts. For starters, one should understand the scope of the work involved and a rough budget of cost and time involved. As a first step though, below is a sample parts of list and a rough budget for beginners. Please note that it is a sample list and it does not mean we are recommending or endorsing any of the parts themselves. Building an electric skateboard is not simple and there are numerous parts to choose from. Unless your goal is just to get your feet wet and do a cheap test build, picking the parts should neither be the first nor second step in the process. Careful consideration must be given to the design accounting for various factors such as motor configuration, terrain usage, operational usage (i.e. daily commute in crowded areas or less dense paths?), and battery storage.
As a beginners 101 course, let's build a belt-drive longboard targeted for recreational use on concrete surfaces that can also be used for daily commutes in less dense areas (rural environments).
Sample Build List
Loaded Vanguard Deck. Made in California, USA.
High end, high quality 42" x 8.5" deck made of bamboo and fiberglass.
If you already have your own longboard, then this becomes an added cost.
$40 - $250 USD
Caliber II 180mm, 50 degree Reverse Kingpin Trucks. (Comes in 10 different colors)
For a longboard, you want reverse kingpin to shorten wheelbase and enable a tighter turning (carving) radius.
$40 - $60 USD
3 mm (1/8") Riser Pads
May be needed to obtain greater wheel clearance between board and trucks. Especially when carving, the board may flex too low and impact the wheels which may cause injury.
$2 - $10 USD
The most recognized brand and possibly the best rated. Maybe included in the wheels or trucks when purchased.
$15 - $20 USD
Orangatang Kegel 80 mm Wheels. Made in California, USA.
Very few skateboard wheels will work with belt-drive motors. What makes these wheels work are the holes in the hubs which provide the spacing to connect to the belt and motor mount. With some mounts the holes may not align and you may have to drill through.
Skateboard Motor 6355 190 kV.
kV is RPM/Volt. 6355 means width and length of motor in mm. Numerous variations exist in motor types for electric skateboards, but this size and kV is typical.
$80 - $100 USD
Motor Mount for 63mm Motors and Integrates with Caliber Trucks
Motor Mount which connects the motor to the trucks using a belt pulley system.
$40 - $60 USD
36T 12mm Pulley Kit. 12mm Belt is 265mm.
36 teeth 12mm Pulley connects to the wheel, Smaller 12 mm pulley connects to the motor. In this case, it can be 14 teeth for more torque (uphill) or 16 teeth for more top speed.
$45 - $60 USD
VESC (Electronic) Controller
VESC is Vedder Electronic Speed Control. This is a huge improvement from a standard hobby ESC, which means that you can modify its parameters to fine tune the performance of the board (i.e. smoother acceleration, braking, etc..)
$90 - $110 USD
This one has two channels and is chargeable over USB. Remote interfaces with the VESC to control the skateboard's acceleration and braking.
$40 - $60 USD
Male to Male Servo Connector
Connects VESC to Remote Control Receiver.
89 Wh Lithium Ion Battery Pack. (6S2P Samsung Cells - consist of 12 18650 cells (6 in a series x 2 parallel). Includes 2A charger, % charge LED indicator, On/Off switch, built-in BMS, 2 USB ports, and enclosure.
Batteries capacity run from 99 to 600 Wh (Watt-hours). The larger the capacity, the greater the skateboard's range. For air travel, note that 100 Wh is usually the limit. Cheaper alternative would be LiPo battery packs
$100 - $200 USD
216 Wh Lithium Ion Battery Pack. (12S2P Samsung Cells - consist of 12 18650 cells (6 in a series x 2 parallel). Includes 2A charger, % charge LED indicator, On/Off switch, built-in BMS, 2 USB ports, and enclosure.
Optimal battery pack for the parts on this list.
$250 - $350 USD
12S 4A Battery Charger. Shortens charge time by 50% (1-2 hours vs. 3-4 hours)
Many vendors sell the standard charger with the battery pack, but not a fast charger.
$20 - $70 USD
Loop Key Battery On/Off Switch
A couple variation of the battery on/off switch, usually a manual loop key or electric on/off switch. Some vendors sell this as part of the battery pack.
$25 - $60 USD
Battery and Electronics Enclosure
Typical enclosure of 12S2P Battery Pack. It is crucial to get a weatherproof enclosure to protect your electronics from all the dirt that id splashed onto the board constantly at high velocities. Do not follow the advice of many to make your own enclosure.
$20 - $50 USD
Just the Beginning...
Assuming you already have an existing longboard and that you will need new wheels, bearings, and trucks, you could put together a high quality, single belt-drive electric skateboard for about $650 USD (excluding shipping although you can probably get that for free with some vendors). This assumes a travel-capable battery of 88 Wh (~8 km (5 mi) range) with the board being capable of exceeding 40 km/h (25 mph). At $800 USD, you can increase the battery storage to over 200 Wh and increase the board's range to over 16 km (10 mi.).
As mentioned earlier, the DIY market is vast and varied. Some will surely recommend (and we agree) that a better quality build would be a dual belt-drive version of the same board. Still others will comment (and we agree as well) that it would be cheaper using LiPO batteries or building your own battery pack using Lithium-Ion cells, connectors, and a solder gun. Another growing area are the DIY boards using hub motors instead of the traditional belt-drive motors. Last but not least, a market generating a lot of excitement is the DIY conversion of mountain (all-terrain) boards (i.e. Trampa boards) into electric boards. These are all future topics which we will cover in subsequent posts.