Setting up for the first time? Skateboards can feel like a complex puzzle, but they are quite simple to solve once you break things down into sections. The anatomy of a skateboard really just consists of a handful of components, all of which should be relatively interchangeable. There are a couple of caveats however, which we will cover further in the article - so sit tight and come for the ride.
Before we start, it would be wise to get all the necessary tools rounded up - most skate tools will have everything you need pre-built into a convenient T-shaped wrench. But for those who don’t have one on hand, a range of regular wrenches (3/8”, 1/2” and 9/16” sizes), an allen key or phillips head screwdriver (depending on what your bolts take), a file and a razor blade should be a sound replacement.
Once these are on hand, bring the parts together that make your setup: the deck, griptape, trucks, wheels, bearings and hardware. Identifying these pieces will become common knowledge over time. There is no objectively correct way of putting things together, but it often works best to grip your deck first and then mount the trucks on for a sturdy base to work with.
As we break down the steps to complete your setup, there are a few nuances that may help with the process. The procedure shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes, including potential adjustments to optimise the feel of your ride. Access to a screwdriver drill will make the process even faster.
The first thing you’ll want to do is grip your deck - you can usually get your skate shop to grip your board for you. But if this hasn’t been done, the process starts with laying the deck on a table, graphic side down. Any padding between the deck and table (i.e. a towel or mat) can help to stabilise things and prevent scratches to your graphic.
Now you quite simply peel off the backing to the griptape and apply it slowly from nose to tail (or vice-versa), making sure to keep it even and avoid any bubbling. Any air bubbles that do appear can usually be popped with a pin or just pushed outwards with brute force. Once the griptape is fully applied to the top of the deck, take the file and run it around the edges of the board to create an outline. This is a cutline for your razor blade to cut around. Trim off all the excess griptape and then come back with the file to smooth out the edges.
Lastly, get your screwdriver/allen key and gently tap into the holes on the underside of the deck to mark where these mounting holes are. You can then use the same screwdriver/allen key on the top side and push straight through these marks to leave 8 clean holes.
If you don't know which deck is right for you, check out our beginner's guide on how to choose your first skateboard deck.
These holes are where you will now insert your bolts, with the heads on the top going inwards. It usually works better if you tilt the deck 90 degrees onto its side. You can then line your truck holes up with the bolts with the kingpins facing inwards. Any riser pads will go on at this stage too, before the trucks are fastened.
You should now be able to let go of your deck as the trucks will keep things standing on one side. Screw the nuts firmly onto the underside of the bolts using a combination of screwdriver/allen key and wrench until your trucks are fully secured.
Deciding which trucks to get for your skateboard, check out our guide on the best skateboard trucks for beginners.
From here, you can combine your wheels and bearings before getting them onto the trucks. The bearings go into the rounded indent of each wheel, both in the front and back. Any bearing spacers should be put inside the wheel now at this point, before you close off the interior. Both bearings should have the shield-side facing outwards.
This step usually takes some force, so most people opt for some help from a truck axle. While the deck is still sideways (from the previous steps), unscrew the axle nut of your trucks and put a bearing in (shield side down). Then place the wheel on top and push downwards to pop it in place. Repeat with the other side for all four wheels, and then locate the truck washers and place them in-between the bearing and truck axle/centre on both sides. Finally, fasten the wheels into the axles using the provided nuts and tighten them securely. Just shy of the whole way is best practice - you don’t want to choke the wheels and limit their ability to spin.
If you have any trouble deciding which wheels and bearings to buy, check out our helpful guides on how to choose your first skateboard wheels and how to choose the right bearings for your skateboard.
Your setup should be fully assembled at this point - just make sure to check that everything is secure. The trucks shouldn’t be wiggling at all, and the wheels should be spinning freely. The bearings should all be sitting flush inside the wheels. Find somewhere stationary to stand on the deck first and make sure it all feels as it should.
You can then rock back and forth to get an idea of the looseness and adjust the trucks to accommodate your preferences. Tightening the kingpin will make your ride more rigid and precise, whereas loosening them will allow for greater flow and sway.
Some of these might sound silly, but simple mistakes are usually the most common. If you are still a bit lost after following our guide, here are some things to check:
From here, you can adjust things to your taste. Stickers are a common add-on for aesthetics, as well as custom griptape. Printed graphics are available but it is more common to cut custom shapes out of blank grip. The added benefit of this is identifying deck orientation (front and back), especially if the design is asymmetric. Coloured bolts also fit this purpose, with some people even taking out one entire bolt instead (this shouldn’t significantly affect the setup).
Facing your wheels inward (so there is no graphic showing) will make your setup more clean and neutral, but note that this is only fine to do as long as the wheel is relatively symmetrical - some models are contoured in one direction to lock into grinds better. Another similar modification is taking the shields off your bearings - some people like the aesthetics and sound that this offers, but be aware that it will shorten the life of your bearings as it allows more dust to get inside them.
One final modification comes in the form of board rails, giving your setup an authentic old school vibe. These will slide around coping with ease while preserving the lifespan of your deck graphic.
Regular maintenance should keep your bearings spinning fast, wheels uniform and deck springy. The first step is to avoid anything that can damage your deck in the first place. Dirty and dusty areas will make bearings seize up faster, while also potentially leaving marks on your griptape. Water will do the same thing for your bearings, while also waterlogging your deck if it seeps into the inner plies. Even storing your deck in damp conditions can lead to decreased pop as it softens the wood over time.
Your deck will be more prone to snap if you don’t land tricks on the bolts. This is not something that you can entirely control but is still worth mentioning. Razor tail is a more gradual issue that occurs from extended contact with concrete. As the tail gets thinner it will affect the feel and pop of your deck, eventually needing replacement. Any time you replace the deck, it is simply a case of taking the bolts off and then bolting a new deck on.
Bushings and kingpins will naturally get worn and snap respectively over time. Luckily, these can both be replaced relatively easily. The process is swap-and-go, with replacement parts readily available in one conventional size. Kingpins usually need the entire baseplate unscrewed and a hammer to get the kingpin base out. A new one can then be hammered in and the truck be put back together. Bushings need just the kingpin nut to be unscrewed entirely to access - these can be replaced for a softer or harder ride too, not just when they flatten out.
For broken bearings, it’s a simple case of unscrewing the axle nut and removing the defective part. Utilising the axle can be useful in prying the old bearing out. For long-term maintenance, it may be worth investing in a specialised kit to clean your bearings - particularly if you own an expensive set. In either case, the process involves flushing out excess grime with a non-water-based cleaner and then re-lubricating the interior contact points.
Your wheels will also naturally wear down and potentially flatspot too. These inevitably need replacing when things get too small or bumpy. Lifespan can be extended to a degree by picking models with improved durability technology. High-end manufacturers often offer specialised formulations that can even prevent flat spots if you like to powerslide often. It is a straightforward task to switch your wheels over to a new set, just unscrew them and migrate the bearings to your new set.
If you follow these guidelines, you should get things right the first time and have an easy time keeping your setup maintained. And less time fiddling means more time riding.
Looking to buy a new skateboard? We have included everything you need to know in this complete skateboard buyer's guide written by our skateboard pros. Check it out now!
And if you're interested in building a skatepark in your backyard check out this page over on Porch.com
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