The age old question that comes to mind when talking about go karting is steel versus wood for your go kart frame. Well maybe not an age old question but definitely a question that surfaced when metal tubing became readily available at the turn of the century. For many generations, including my father and his father, a go kart frame was made from wood. It was cheaper, and metal was not readily available.
Now with technology, and an ever increasing surplus of resources, many people now choose to go with a metal frame when building their first kart.
The main question is, “Which is better metal or wood?”. One might argue that wood is cheaper than steel, and to some degree that is true, but, as you start adding on different pieces of the puzzle, such as engines, steering wheels, braking systems and suspension, a wooden frame can be just as expensive as a steel one.
So know that you have seen both options, and you know their costs can be comparable, you have to look at other attributes that will help you make your decision on choosing a wood or steel go kart frame. In my opinion the first and foremost is safety. There are safety issues with both and mainly it comes down to what you are personally comfortable with.
The center of gravity on a wooden chassis will typically be about 8″-12″ higher than on a steel chassis. This higher center of gravity can increase the chance of rollovers. Also because of the wood, it is much harder to put a roll bar or cage on the kart, whereas, with a steel frame you could add one easily. With a steel frame, the weight is less and therefore the overall speed can be greater which in turn can result in more accidents caused by speed.
Another thing to consider is that a wooden chassis will typically last a fraction of the time a steel one will. For example, as the engine vibrates, the stress on the screws and fasteners is much greater than with a steel frame.
One disadvantage of a steel go kart frame is that it requires a greater knowledge of assembly. Most steel chassis will require you to have some knowledge of welding, whereas a wooden one requires basic knowledge of woodworking tools. You could easily build a wood go cart and be racing around in one weekends time. With a steel frame you could be looking at a week or longer depending on how much time you can devote to fabrication.
As you can see, there are advantages, and disadvantages of both wood and steel go kart frames. Ultimately the decision comes down to your budget, skill set, and preference. Whichever you choose I know you will have many hours of fun, not only building but racing in your new go kart frame.
Now go build that kart, start racing, and let me know how it goes.