Homemade Headset Installation Tools

Last year, I had the opportunity to write a how-to article for the good folks over at C.I.C.L.E. Since then, I have amassed a small collection of hardware (about $15.00 worth) that makes a truly universal homemade headset cup press and crown race installer.

The parts of my handy dandy headset press:

The parts of the basic press include a selection of large washers, a piece of 3/8″ threaded rod (sometimes referred to as “allthread�?), a pair of flange nuts and two thick nylon washers to reduce friction between nuts and press-washers.

Don’t forget the nylon washers — it makes things a whole lot smoother:

As in the previous article, I must set out this disclaimer — I didn’t invent this…the concept of a homemade cup press has been around for a long time. I’ve seen versions using only washers and versions using sections of PVC pipe as cup adapters. However, I have discovered a piece of hardware in the plumbing department of my local home-improvement store that really makes this setup a piece of cake to use — some type of copper reducing fitting. Here is the heart of my system:

These little beauties taper down from about 2″ down to about 7/8″. Since they’re made of copper, they are way softer than the typical cups you might find in a vintage or modern headset — even lightweight aluminum cups. And, they are universal — they’ll fit the tightest vintage 1 inch threaded headset…oddball 1 1/4 inch headsets from the mid 90s…modern 1 1/8 inch headsets…heavy-duty One Point Five downhill headsets…even old one-piece bottom bracket cups (Ashtabula) found on cheap beach cruisers and old BMX bikes!!

The press is set up like this: grease up and place the headset cups in the top and bottom of the frame’s headtube. Grease and insert the copper fittings and stack appropriately-sized washers on top of those copper fittings. Pass the allthread through the headtube, slip the nylon washers down onto the washer stacks and thread on the two flange nuts. Here is a picture of how the assembly should look:

Then, it is a simple matter of cranking the nuts down with an appropriate wrench (sometimes you will need two wrenches if the cups are really tight). The copper fittings help to keep the headset cups straight as they enter the headtube. Go slowly — sometimes the washer stacks will slip to one side and they should be pushed back into place with your fingers. Crank those cups in until they bottom out and you’re done!

Now, all that remains is to assemble the rest of the headset and ride away into the sunset…but wait! What do you do about those stubborn fork crown races? Well, back to the plumbing department — you’ll need a length of PVC pipe and a plastic endcap. Bring your fork with you to make sure the pipe fits over the steerer. I wound up using a piece of 1 1/4″ thinwall pipe for this fork. Wrap the bottom 2 inches of the pipe with electrical tape to keep it from splitting, slip the crown race down, slip the pipe on and pound it down with a hammer like so:

When the bottom of the pipe becomes mushroomed and beat up from pounding, simply saw off a half-inch and rewrap with tape. I’ve used this same pipe for about 10 headsets…it’s steadily getting shorter, but the whole thing only cost about a dollar. Remember also that if you have to hit the pipe more than 5 or 6 times to seat the crown race, it’s better to take the race off and “dress” the base of the fork’s steerer with a needle file to remove excess paint and weld splatter — the crown race should just pop on and should NOT require brute force.

There, you’ve saved a bunch of money by doing it yourself — no expensive tools required, no trip to the bike shop. Doesn’t that feel great?



  1. Doug April 15, 2008 7:04 pm 

    This worked extremely well! Thanks – I think you are dead on with the copper reduction fittings, much better than PVC. This worked so well I don’t know why anyone would ever buy a pro press, complete waste of money. I like this site for some other DIY headset related tools, esp the cup removal pipe and crown race setter:


  2. Chris April 27, 2008 5:38 am 

    Thanks for the helpful instruction on making the headset press. Do you have a link or any info on where to source the copper reducers. I’ve turned up nothing useful in searches thus far.

  3. Chris April 30, 2008 11:15 am 

    Thanks for the response and link. I shoud have perhaps explained im in the UK so if anyone reading this has any info on suppliers here please reply.

    Using your link those 2″ x 1″ fittings are $20 each making the tool at least $40 to make or am I missing something?

  4. Ghost Rider April 30, 2008 12:01 pm 

    Hmm…I didn’t notice the price. I paid less than $3.00 each for the fittings in the U.S.

    Perhaps a trip to a plumbing stockist (is that the correct term?) might be in order to see if something similar could be located.

  5. Aaron June 15, 2008 2:44 pm 

    I made one of these years ago and it’s really handy to have around. I never thought about the flanged nut, though. Nice touch!

  6. RL Policar June 16, 2008 2:24 pm 


    I skipped the whole copper thing, they were $3.87 a piece at Home Depot.

  7. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 2:29 pm 

    But you only need two…and they make lining the cups up every bit as effortless as the stepped cup guides on an expensive “real” press. Sure, you can do the job without them, but believe me, that $8.00 is money well-spent.

  8. RL Policar June 16, 2008 3:11 pm 

    When I worked at the shop, I always pressed my cups one side at a time. So with that in mind I figured that I really didn’t need them to line up.

  9. RL Policar June 16, 2008 3:15 pm 

    Wait what I meant was, I do need them to line up. But since I’m used to doing one cup at a time, I wasn’t too worried about them lining up.

    I did this with Chris King sets…making sure that I did the bottom first, having the KING face the front then the top cup.

  10. Ghost Rider June 16, 2008 3:40 pm 

    I always do them one at a time, too…but the photo above shows that they can be done together.

    One at a time just really makes things a lot easier, and the reducer fitting helps keep things from getting cocked.

  11. RL Policar June 16, 2008 4:50 pm 

    hehe…you said “cocked”

  12. Build a homemade headset press for bike building @ Mountain Bikes Apart June 20, 2008 4:24 am 

    […] The article was posted over on bikecommuters.com which is a site I only recently came across but seems to have a lot of great info. The press itself is a little more reliable looking than the standard home-made efforts and, unique for a DIY headset press, it doesn’t involve one block of wood in the process! The parts seems pretty cheap and easy to get hold of so why not give it a go if you’re feeling brave. Again, headset installation is tricky though and can easily kill your frame so don’t hold me responsible if it all goes pear shaped, i’m just passing on the info, I don’t know how well it works outside my own experience! You can check out the full article at Homemade Headset Installation Tools […]

  13. Blue Collared Headset Press and Crown Race Setter « December 15, 2008 11:34 pm 

    […] Before I get started, you should know these are not my own original ideas, but they are ideas that have been done before by many others.   For this specific project, I got help from:  Bike Commuters Blog. […]

  14. PS March 10, 2009 11:12 am 

    Nice work!

    There seems to be some confusion about the size of the fitting…by my reckoning, it’s a 1/2″ by 3/4″ reducing female adapter. There are 1/2″ by 1″ ones, but they do seem to cost more than twice as much.

    I look forward to putting one of my own together.

  15. ajdfhjkads April 16, 2009 12:18 pm 

    why not just use a block of wood and a hammer like any normal person! ha jk thats how i build all my frames but this is alot better idea

  16. Living For The City » Easy Like Sunday Mornin’ June 28, 2009 8:15 pm 

    […] mean, sure, I could buy one of these for $150 US or I could drop under $10 on something more like this. I normally just use a wood block and a hammer but you don’t wanna risk messin’ up a […]

  17. quietcornerrider September 3, 2009 2:45 pm 

    I made a couple tweaks:

    Replace the upper flange nut with the double offset knob http://www.mcmaster.com/#6049k32/=3h42l3 for 3/8″ rod

    and replace bottom flange nut with http://www.mcmaster.com/#catalog/115/3166/=3h4330 for 3/8″ rod.

    This will give you a quick release nut for the bottom, so all that hand threading is gone, and the double offset handle gives nice consistent pressure.

    It does make the tool a BIT more pricey, but I thyink it’s well worth it.

  18. Garrett November 18, 2009 12:08 pm 

    FYI, I just got back from home depot where i was going to get the female copper adapters. The ones I needed to install my 1-1/8″ headset cost over $11 each. The smaller ones are much cheaper and may work with 1″ headsets. I’m going to make custom fit spacers out of 1/4″ thick aluminum instead.

  19. ian January 12, 2010 3:16 am 

    I’m going to try this with the copper reducers. Nice work. Thanks!

  20. Nick January 31, 2011 2:22 pm 

    For the crown race installation, I use the same method as described above, but instead of pounding on the pipe, I just turn the whole deal upside down (fork facing up) and pound the pipe down against the floor. The fork’s own weight seats the race without you putting undue pressure on the fork ends and marring the paint. This is how I have seen it done at shops, albeit with the “proper” tool.

  21. CorsicanaRider November 9, 2011 5:27 pm 

    Nice rig. Have been looking for a way around paying $95+ for a headset press.

    It also looks af is you could use a small section of copper pipe that the female adapters could slide down as they are pressed, to act as an internal alignment guide.

  22. Digifun March 25, 2012 7:48 pm 

    Will this work on a newer Chris king inset headsets? Looks like I wont
    Need that copper adaptor as the bearing are pressed in

  23. Ghost Rider March 25, 2012 9:32 pm 

    @Digifun — I’m not too familiar with that particular headset, but I just looked at the Inset owner’s guide. As long as the washers or the copper reducers don’t press on any part of the bearing itself, it should be fine. When you press on the bearing rather than the cups, though, they can be damaged easily.

  24. peter June 28, 2012 12:42 pm 

    It looks like this design will press the bearing in by the inner race, instead of putting the pressure on the outer race, which seems exactly the opposite of what you want. Am I missing something?

  25. Ghost Rider June 28, 2012 12:47 pm 

    Peter, yes, this method presses on the inner race…which in theory could be bad but in practice is perfectly fine for this application. The copper flanges are much softer than even lightweight aluminum cups, and I’ve never had a problem installing headsets using this method (I’ve done 30 or more with this exact setup).

  26. James Mason August 22, 2012 9:28 pm 

    I’m in Dutch Harbor Alaska, 900 miles from the nearest Campy tool kit. However, plumbing and hardware stores are excellent because of all the ships that call here. Instead of an allthread I bought a long bolt with a nut on one end….I could have bought a cheap one but I blew $30 on one in stainless steel! You only live once!

  27. Nico April 26, 2013 5:48 am 

    The picture links don’t seem to work anymore..

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