Below you will find information on the different parts of the skateboard and a little about what they do. This should help you when buying and puting together a complete skateboard.
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The distance between the trucks, measured from the board's inside mounting holes. More than anything else, this will determine the "feel" of the board. A shorter wheelbase will feel quicker when you need to whip the board around, but less stable when you are going fast. Longer wheelbases feel more stable, but are a little more sluggish. Most boards now have about a 14 inch wheelbase. Most oldschool boards had about a 15 - 15.5 inch wheelbase. There is a huge difference in the feel. Old freestyle boards had very short (like 12 inch) wheelbases.
The length of the board, from tip of nose to tip of tail. Length can be a deceptive measurment, since sometimes a "longer board" will have the same wheelbase as a shorter one, the extra length being added to the nose, tail or both. Nowadays, the length of the board shouldn't be too big of a factor, since they're all about the same.
the width is usually measured at the widest point of the board. Since modern boards have a "bandaid" shape, the width is pretty easy much the same up and down the board. Narrower boards are easier to do flip tricks, but feel a little less stable under big feet. Wider boards feel better under big feet, but are harder to flip. I consider anything under 7.5 inches to be narrow, 7.5 - 8.25 inches to be "normal", and over 8.25 inches plus to be a "wider" board. Oldschool board were normally about 10 inches wide at the widest point.
Most boards now are made of 7-ply maple laminate. Some decks are "slick" -- which means that the bottom of the board is covered with a plastic slick surface, which is supposed to make it easier to do boardslides. I personally don't like the slick boards, and don't know anyone who does. One problem with decks is delamination, which happens when the layers of wood in the laminate come apart. The layers are glued together. Sometimes the laminate is crappy, and comes apart. This is a manufacturers defect, and you can usually get the board replaced. On the other hand, its normal for a board to break due to really hard riding (jumping off high stuff, ramps, etc.). One sure way to break a board is to land with your rear foot on the very back of the tail and the front foot in the middle of the board. The board will usually break in a straight line, right in front of the rear truck.
This refers to the way the sides of the board curve upward. When you hear someone say a board has "deep" concave, that means the concave is very steep. A shallow concave would be almost flat, and a flat board has no concave. Most all good boards these days have at least some concave. The last board to have no concave were freestyle boards in the 1980s. The purpose of concave is to "anchor" your foot on the board. It just feels much better than a flat board.
On modern boards, the nose and tail are both "kicktails", which means they are angled up. Oldschool boards eventually evolved to have some "kick on the nose", although the noses were generally shorter than the tails. On modern boards, the nose is often a little longer than the tail, and is sometimes steeper too. Some people like to make a little cut in the grip tape above their rear truck, to help them tell which end of the board is which (since they look pretty much the same).
Is normally referenced by noting the wheel's diameter, in millimeters. In the old days, it was common to have wheels with diameters anywhere from 60-70mm. Freestyle wheels were usually about 57mm. Larger wheels seem to retain speed better than small ones, but they also accelerate a little slower. Larger wheels also roll over cracks, rocks, and other junk a little easier. Of course, larger wheels are also heavier, a little more sluggish, and make the board ride a little higher off the ground. With larger wheels (over 60mm), you will probably need riser pads under you trucks to prevent "wheel bite" (when your wheels rub the board during turns). Small wheels are lighter, quicker feeling, get stuck in cracks easier, acclerate faster, and lose speed quicker. Smaller wheels are ususally associated with more "technical skating". I personally like 57-58mm wheels. They seem to be a good compromise between the two extremes.
Is measured with a little gadget called a durometer, which applies a numerical scale to wheel hardness. The higher the number, the harder the wheel. These days a lot of manufacturers don't even tell you how hard a wheel is. Most skaters these days seem to like really hard wheels, like 97a-101a (the "a" refers to the durometer scale). Softer wheels give a smoother ride, absorb shock better, and feel "bouncier". On really smooth surfaces, you don't have to worry about that stuff, so a harder wheel is better. Harder wheels feel quicker, are faster (on smooth surfaces at least), and seem to wear down faster if you ride 'em on the street. I personally like a 95a wheel. They are fast, but still smooth on rough surfaces.
The trucks are the suspension and steering units of the board. The particular geometry of a truck determines its turning characteristics. Some trucks, Independents in particular, have been noted for great turning. Most trucks are made out of aluminum, though G & S made a truck with a chromolly hanger for a brief time. Tracker used to make really light magnesium trucks too (they were very expensive -- about twice the price of a normal truck).
Your trucks should be wide enough that when your wheels are on them, the distance from the outside of one wheel to the outside of the other is about 1/4 to 1/8 of an inch less wide than your board. Its OK if the wheel/truck unit is exactly the same width as the board, but I think it works a little better my way, because it give you a little more turning leverage, without making the board easy to tip over. You can adjust this by putting a extra washer behind each wheel. It is generally bad if your wheel stick out from the side of your board (at least with newer boards, it might be OK on an oldschool board with more curves), because this makes it much harder to flip the board, turn the board, and your feet will tend to hit the wheels when pusing.
This is the bottom of the truck--the part that is attaced to the board. In the past, there have been various attempts to make them out of lightweight materials, but aluminum has proved itself over time. The kingpin is the big bolt that sticks through the bottom of the baseplate, on which you put the suspension bushings (or grommets, or whatever you call them).
This is the main body of the truck. The axle run through it. Its what you grind on. The tip that sticks into the base plate it called the pivot. There's a plastic or urethane "pivot bushing" that fits over the pivot, preventing a metal-on-metal grinding pivot. When you turn, the truck pivots around - you guessed it - the pivot.
The two little donuts that the truck rests on. Some are rubber, some are urethane. Some are good, some are crappy. Crappy ones crack when tightened down, fail to rebound to the neutral position, and just generally suck. Unfortunately, most trucks come with shitty ones (Thunder trucks come with good ones though). Do yourself a favor and get some good ones. Replace 'em when they are worn out. Also, if you are pretty heavy and keep them tightened down really tight, consider buying some harder ones. In case you haven't figured it out, if you tighten them down by tightening the locknut on the kingpin, the board becomes harder to turn. Loosening the nut make the board easier to turn.
The little nuts and bolts that hold your trucks on your board. Not much to say about them, except it sucks when they break. When you put your board together, you want them to be tight, but don't crank down too hard on the nut or you can actually twist the bolt apart. Check your mounting hardware occationally to make sure its tight.
The rough tape you put on the top of the board to provide some traction for your feet. I guess there are a few brands -- just make sure its good and grippy and rough (I've actually seen some really terrible grip tape that seemed to have a textured plastic surface that provided practically NO grip). Most real skateboard shops sell only good tape.
Your wheels turn on precision bearings. Some can be re-lubricated, some have shields on only one side (the unshielded side goes inside the wheel), some are more expensive than others. I generally think that double shielded bearings are better for street skating. Save the others for skateparks and other fairly clean places. When putting bearings in your wheels, its important not to mash the shields in (if you do that, they will rub the ball bearings inside, causing the bearing not to roll well). Also, bearings tend to break a lot, so stock up.