Introduction: 3D Printed Skateboard Wheels

Working [hard] at Instructables means I have access to a ton of equipment, such as laser cutters, water jets, and 3D printers. Recently, I've been intrigued by the fleet of 3D printers we have sitting in Pier 9. Knowing that I have access to the printers and materials, I asked myself a question that has probably been asked millions of times: "What should I make?"

On my free time, I've been skateboarding around the beautiful city of San Francisco. But, there is a downside to this. More skateboarding means more accumulative damage to my skateboard; the trucks, the deck, the bearings, and the wheels. To my knowledge, we can't 3D print with metals at Pier 9 [yet], so printing skateboard trucks are out of the question, even though titanium skateboard trucks would be badass. What about the skateboard deck itself? I don't enjoy having to pay $45.99 (before taxes and excluding griptape) for a new deck every time I need a new one, but it's an essential. I could just make one with a vacuum cleaner if I wanted to, but I support Toy Machine all day, everyday.

So, what's left? Hardware and bearings aren't too expensive, so let's cancel those out, too. That leaves us with the wheels. Skateboard wheels are most commonly known to be made with polyurethane, which unfortunately is not an available material that we can 3D print with. If I could 3D print with polyurethane, I would be the proud CEO of many polyurethane based business, and I'd be wearing suits all the time. Tuxedos as well, but less frequently. 

After messing around a bit with 123D Design (thanks to Artist in Residence M.C. Langer for teaching me!), I whipped up a couple of models and started taking them to the 3D printers. Feel free to use the included .stl files as guidance if you plan on making your own wheels of a different size.

All wheels were printed with VeroWhite & Tango+, switching around with different density levels for stronger or softer wheels.

Test #1 - 52mm cruiser wheels, 53mm regular wheels

The width of the wheels wasn't wide enough, and the inner radius was a bit too small. I had to use a Dremel to widen the inner diameter about x1.5 the size.

The cruiser wheels (52mm) didn't hold up too well, having somewhat of a flex to them. As soon as pressure is applied to the top of the skateboard, the wheels would squish down, blocking the bearing from spinning properly. The regular wheels (53mm) did well, unfortunately flatspotting a bit easily. These were a bit too soft still, so in the next test I will be choosing a denser setting.

Test #2 - 52mm cruiser wheels, 53mm regular wheels

The regular wheels (53mm) were awesome; PP-like material, all white (with no transparency!), no flatspotting (well, 95% of the time), impact doesn't damage the wheel at all Only downside: too slippery. I'll be adding grip in the next set of wheels. The cruiser wheels were great; strong with no flex. Still just a wee-bit too soft, so I think for future wheels I feel be using the same density level as these 53mm wheels.

Test #3 - 54mm regular wheels + ridges with .1mm & .2mm spacing

Some skateboard wheels have lines all around the circumference of the wheel for grip. You can see what I'm talking about in this image. New to 123D Design and 3D modeling software in general, I wasn't sure if there was an easier way to add these lines, almost like threads on a screw, so I set out to space them out manually. Let's call this method "Mikey's Way".

Both wheels did awesome as expected. The grip worked great at first, but after about an hour or so of skating, dirt and other gross things of the tough thug San Francisco streets started to accumulate on the wheel, making the grip worthless and unnoticeable while skateboarding. The wheels then again became slippery like the previous set, but only on certain surfaces; mostly tile or smooth brick. The .1mm spaced out wheels are still holding up fine (I'm actually writing this as I'm skateboarding on them to the grocery store), but if you look at the photos above, you'll see what happened to the thinner 54mm wheel (with .2mm spacing).

I also happened to be testing the wheels out on Gregg's (aka frenzyKeyboard Skateboard the previous night going down Market St. in Downtown San Francisco. I guess you could say this was my [failed] attempt of "breaking them in". The sidewalk of Market Street is unfortunately made up by uneven (but somewhat smooth) brick tile, as shown here, which is also set up in a strange diagonal pattern. Therefore, when skateboarding down Market Street, I have a bit of trouble going as fast as I'd like to because the cracks in the brick tend to slow you down. If the bricks were lined up straight with the direction I'm headed and evenly leveled out, I'd be zipping down that street faster than the star power-up you get in Super Mario Kart when you're trying to beat your best lap on Moo Moo Farm. Yes, that's right, faster than that. I suspect the cracks in the bricks may have weakened the wheels quicker than they would've during normal use, but there's only one way to find out: print more wheels!


kinnikunky made it!(author)2015-08-03

Great work! I'm planing to try the same but instead use the 3d print to make a plaster or silicon mold. Then cast polyurethane wheels from the mold! If anyone here is interested, I'd be willing to take photos and send them via pm? If you'd like, you'd be welcome to use the pictures and info to make your own instructable, no credit required.

Mihsin made it!(author)2015-01-21

If I give a broken toothed plastic gear to a 3d printing shop, can they easily replicate it? and can the replica withstand work load pressure? This gear belongs to a food processor.

Best regards

darrenhall made it!(author)2014-09-14

Was thinking about 3D printing - why not print a mold instead - use poly for the wheel and make some rad designs - - hey maybe put together some cheaper versions of the shark wheel too.

Great instructable.

jermani+eaves made it!(author)2014-08-16

do they actually ride

dsirotic made it!(author)2013-05-12

I wish i had money for a 3D printer...

astral_mage made it!(author)2013-12-12

just make 1 from parts. yes it can take tyme , but itill help u out in the long run of things.

AgentMulders made it!(author)2013-05-14

Have you considered using this 3D printing process to make "wet weather" wheels? You could give them a bit of a tread like you get on car tyres.

There's so much scope for cool stuff here. Why not make some larger diameter wheels with air pockets in them? Or try some exotic shapes and sizes? How about round instead of flat tread wheels?

spiceyweasel made it!(author)2013-05-12

I sure wouldn't trust anything 3D printable with my life. None of the 3D stuff has proven to be durable at all. In any event, you need to do a cost analysis of what your 3D material and machinery cost is as opposed to buying a new deck, too. I hope some day they can produce consumer grade goods with this technology but, for now at least, it just isn't feasible for me.

Barrettkg made it!(author)2013-05-13

Well the nylon particle material is one story but there are multiple other 3-D printed materials such as titanium.

iiianydayiii made it!(author)2013-05-12

You could 3D print the trucks and then sand cast them in a fashion similar to lost wax casting. The plastic burns out only at at a slightly higher temp than casting wax.

ac-dc made it!(author)2013-05-12

It's sad that someone makes the mistake of pimping tech just to write an article. DIY was supposed to be about making an effort to product a superior result but you have failed. Surely you will try to defend a position, but it makes no difference.

rf made it!(author)2013-05-12

Trying new things is important. Most of the things we use in today's world began as experiments. Often multitudes of experiments.

eng_Andy made it!(author)2013-05-12

Maybe you could make the printed wheels slightly smaller, then paint them with a decent coat of liquid latex and let that dry to give them some shock-resistance and grip. You may even be able to renew the coat later on, although I guess dirt would need to be cleaned off first.

At the same time, or alternatively, you could try printing with some kind of biopolymer blend: Polycaprolactone (PCL), a biodegradable thermoplastic that was one of the first materials tested in the RepRap project, was found to be inappropriate for printer parts because it melts at 60C, which thermoplastic extrusion 3D-printer parts can easily be exposed to. Because its glass transition temperature (the point above which it stops being brittle) is -60C, its softness at room temperature may actually be of benefit here for shock-resistance, although it's probably a bad idea on its own if you go for a long ride in summer as the wheels could easily melt (trucks act as a heatsink to a small extent, but possibly not enough for this).
Polylactide (PLA) for comparison has its glass transition temperature close to PCL's melting point, and its melting temperature at around 180C, so it is quite stiff at room temperature while being quite strong as far as cheap polyesters go.
These may be interesting to test individually, but if you can find any supplier that will produce a blend of them, that might work wonders.

P.S. were you printing at 100% infill on all those occasions, or using any kind of line infill? I tried specifically designing spokes into the interior of printed PLA castor wheels and they work wonderfully for lightweight furniture but I haven't tested them on something as high-stress as this. I would suggest wearing pads when testing experimental wheels that have every chance of failure, but if you love skating then I guess you already know how to take a fall. :)

Tomdf made it!(author)2013-05-09

I wonder if they would hold up better if you paused the print and inserted some metals rings or wire inside the wheels. Or, you could totally make a mold of them and cast them in concrete reinforced with wire mesh!

Litez made it!(author)2013-05-11

Wouldnt be a bad idea. Most of modern wheels are cored. You could also center or offcenter the core.

Litez made it!(author)2013-05-11

Heard there is some `thane for printing?

thoughtfission made it!(author)2013-05-07

Why not fill the spaces with a soft material? Will give you more lateral strength, less wear and better grip.

nerfrocketeer made it!(author)2013-05-07

XD nice intro pic

randofo made it!(author)2013-05-07

You should post some video of you riding. These wheels lasted much longer than I thought they would. I was impressed by that.

M.C.+Langer made it!(author)2013-05-07

You made an awesome job Mikey!

And thanks for the credit :-)