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Alternate Headset Installation Tools
by Michael Golding

There is no doubt that having your headset installed by a professional who uses professional tools is the best way to have your headset installed.  That being said, If you're like a lot of home mechanics, you want to do it yourself anyway.  Many bike owners have successfully installed their headsets with alternative tools.   If you're not comfortable with bike work, the best advice is to have a professional bike mechanic perform the installation.  If you'd like to do it yourself and need a bit of a refresher course, check out Leonard Zinn's bike maintenance books.  If you know a friend who's installed a headset before, invite them over and celebrate together when the job is done!   :-)

Instead of hammering your headset in place and potentially causing damage, here are some tools you can easily make to install a non-integrated headset.  With these tools, you won't be spending a lot of money on tools that you are not likely to use again.   Although these temporary tools aren't intended for repeated us, they are strong enough to pass on to a friend and will normally withstand at least several uses.

There are 4 main tools used in headset installation:

  1. Headset Cup Remover (to remove old headset cups)
  2. Crown Race Remover (to remove old crown race)
  3. Headset Press and adapters (to install new headset cups)
  4. Crown Race Adapter (to install new crown race)

Please see important notes and details below, but for now, here are the traditional and alternative headset installation tools:

Traditional Headset Cup Remover
Traditional Headset Cup Remover
Expands in the head tube, tap to press cups out
 


A plain old aluminum rod
A plain old aluminum rod
Use it to tap out the old headset, making sure you tap on the edge of the cup skirt, not on your frame.  Also, aluminum only, steel could case damage.

   

Traditional Crown Race Removal Tool
Traditional Crown Race Removal Tool

A plain old block of wood
A plain old block of wood
Nothing harder... a block of wood does the trick, or even use one block of wood on each side of the fork at the same time.

   

Traditional Headset Press
Traditional Headset Press
with cup press adapters
 

Alternate Headset Press
Alternate Headset Press
Made with 2 blocks of wood, a simple threaded shaft, nuts, and washers.
   

Traditional Crown Race Setting Tool
Traditional Crown Race Setting Tool
with crown race adapter.  Not much different than the alternate tool.  :-)

A plain old piece of PCV Pipe
A plain old piece of PCV Pipe
Get a piece longer then your fork's steerer tube, and the right size to fit your crown race while still clearing the crown race seat on the fork.


Unless there are some special needs with your installation, you can complete a perfectly good headset installation with these alternative tools.  As with any bike wrenching project, there are some things you should be aware of and some precautions as well.   If you feel comfortable working on your bike, take reasonable care and have a little patience, everything will be fine. 

I highly suggest that you use masking tape to cover painted and finished areas of your bike while you work on it.  It's best to put masking tape right up to the edge of where you're working, covering as much as the finish as possible for maximum protection.  Wrapping your frame or fork with soft cloth is also a great way to protect against an unintentional nick from an accidentally dropped tool. 

Please remember to never hammer any metal part with a metal hammer.   Use a block of wood between the hammer and the metal part, or use a block of wood as a hammer.  Metal to metal hammering almost always damages the metal part.

Also, it's always a good idea to read the headset manufacturer's instructions completely before installing your headset.  This will give you a perspective on any installation procedures that may apply to the particular headset that you're installing.

A good thing to keep in mind is that the alternate headset press works great with Chris King headsets, but other headsets may vary.  The alternate headset press will keep pressure off the bearings and keep it on the bearing cups.  If you aren't installing a Chris King headset, please check the manufacturer's instructions.  If the instructions require keeping the pressure off the bearings and on the cups, you should be good to go.

Reaming and Facing

Reaming and facing is the process of removing a small amount of material from the inside of the head tube where the headset fits into.   Reaming and facing is recommended, but the reality is that most headset installations are done without this additional step.  The installation comes out fine most of the time if your bike's head tube was prepared at the factory.  Reaming and facing is required if the inside of your bike's head tube is not perfectly straight or round.  To help prevent making your head tube irregularly shaped inside, press out the old headset cups as evenly as possible, and press in the new ones also as evenly as possible.

It is strongly suggested that you not try to ream and face your bike's head tube yourself, even if you have access to a reaming and facing tool.  Over reaming can make it so that a headset will no longer fit, or worse, make your frame unsafe for riding if too much material is removed.

If after installing your headset, you find that it binds, doesn't rotate smoothly or sticks in one spot, there are two likely causes.  First, check the crown race (base plate) to be sure it's seated properly.  It should be perfectly flat with the top of the fork and meet the headset bearings perfectly flat as well.  If that's not the cause of the binding, it's probably because the head tube needs to be reamed and faced.  Not a big thing.  Just remove the headset cups, have it reamed and faced by a good bike shop, then reinstall the cups. 

Here are some pictures showing the alternative tools in use:

Tap out the old cups
Tap out the old cups, making sure you're tapping on the headset and not on your frame.  Rotate around frequently to make the cup come out as evenly as possible.  Use masking tape to protect your bike's finish.

Tap off your old crown race
Tap off your old crown race (base plate) as evenly as possible.  Use 2 wood blocks if for more even pressure.

   

Tighten to press the new headset cups
Tighten to press the new headset cups into the head tube as evenly and straight as possible.  Stop when fully seated.

Use a piece of plastic pipe to seat the crown race
Use a piece of plastic pipe to seat the crown race.  Metal of any kind should not be used.  Cool... it does a great job!

Whether you use pro level tools or these alternative tools, one of the most important installation tips is to apply pressure evenly.  The headset cups should be pressed straight into the head tube, and the crown race pressed onto the fork evenly as well.

If you're installing a new fork, remember to assemble everything before cutting the steerer tube.  Measure twice, cut once!

So,,, am I saying that this is the way that you should install your headset?  No.  :-)  The way your headset should be installed is by a professional bike mechanic.  But for those rebellious adventurous types, you know who you are, I hope you found these alternative headset tools to be interesting at least.

Happy riding!