Building a battery pack out of 18650 batteries is not easy, but it ain’t hard with websites like EBIKE SCHOOL. We could never write an article like this, so we teamed up with Ebike School and ask them to share one of their articles about making proper 18650 packs. Note that article is complete copy of Ebike School article, we haven’t changed anything
Lithium 18650 Battery pack making
A lithium battery is the heart of any electric bicycle. Your motor is useless without all of that energy stored in your battery. Unfortunately though, a good ebike battery is often the hardest part to come by – and the most expensive. With a limited number of electric bicycle battery suppliers and a myriad of different factors including size, weight, capacity, voltage, and discharge rates, finding the exact battery you are looking for can be challenging and lead to unwanted compromises.
But what if you didn’t have to compromise? What if you could build your own ebike battery to your exact specifications? What if you could build a battery the perfect size for your bike, with all of the features you want, and do it for cheaper than retail? It’s easier than you think, and I’ll show you how below.
Now buckle up, grab a drink and get ready for some serious reading, because this isn’t a short article. But it will definitely be worth it in the end when you’re cruising around on your very own DIY ebike battery!
Safety disclaimer: Before we begin, it’s important to note that lithium batteries inherently contain a large amount of energy, and it is therefore crucial to handle them with the highest levels of caution. Building a DIY lithium battery requires a basic understanding of battery principles and should not be attempted by anyone lacking confidence in his or her electrical and technical skills. Please read this article in its entirety before attempting to build your own ebike battery. Always seek professional assistance if needed.
Note: At multiple points along this article I have inserted videos that I made demonstrating the steps involved in building a battery. The battery used in the videos is the same voltage but slightly larger capacity. The same techniques all still apply. If you don’t understand something in the text, try watching it in the video.
Tools and materials required:
- 18650 cells (more info on these below)
- Pure nickel strip
- Spot welder
- Hot glue gun
- Digital voltmeter
- Soldering iron and solder
- Kapton non-static tape
- BMS (battery management system)
- Short length of silicone wire (12-16 awg)
- Foam padding (optional)
- Large diameter shrink wrap or tape (optional, sort of)
- Heat gun or hair dryer (if using heat shrink tube)
- Electrical connectors
- Work gloves or latex gloves
- Safety goggles
18650 lithium cell options
18650 cells, which are used in many different consumer electronics from laptops to power tools, are one of the most common battery cells employed in electric bicycle battery packs. For many years there were only mediocre 18650 cells available, but the demand by power tool makers and even some electric vehicle manufacturers for strong, high quality cells has led to the development of a number of great 18650 options in the last few years.
These cells are distinctive due to their cylindrical shape and are about the size of a finger. Depending on the size of the battery you plan to build, you’ll need anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred of them.
There are many different types of 18650 cells out there to choose from. I prefer to use name brand cells from companies like Panasonic, Samsung, Sony and LG. These cells have well documented performance characteristics and come from reputable factories with excellent quality control standards. Name brand 18650’s cost a bit more, but trust me, they are worth it. A great entry-level cell is the Samsung ICR18650-26F cell. These 2,600 mAh cells should cost somewhere around $3-$4 in any decent quantity and can handle up to 2C continuous discharge (5.2 A continuous per cell). I get my Samsung 26F cells from Aliexpress, usually from this seller but sometimes I’ve seen a better price here.
Many people are tempted to use cheaper 18650’s sold under names like Ultrafire, Surefire and Trustfire. Don’t be one of those people. These cells are often marketed as up to 5,000 mAh but struggle to get more than 2,000 mAh. In actuality, these cells are just factory rejects, purchased by companies like Ultrafire and repackaged in their own branded shrink wrap. These B-quality cells are then resold for use in low power devices like flashlights where their weaker performance is less of an issue. If a cell costs less than $2, it simply isn’t worth it. Stick to the name brand cells, like my favorite Samsung cells, if you want to build a safe, quality ebike battery.
When it comes to buying your cells, you might be able to find a local source, or you can order them straight from Asia. I prefer the second option, as you’ll usually get a much better price going straight to the source, even when paying for international shipping. One caveat though: do your best to ensure that your source sells genuine cells and not knock-offs. Do this by checking feedback and using a payment method that ensures you can get your money back if the product isn’t as described. For this reason, I like to buy my cells on Alibaba.com and AliExpress.com.
For this tutorial, I’ll be using the green Panasonic 18650PF cells shown above. Lately though I’ve been using 18650GA cells like these, which are a little bit more energy dense, meaning more battery in less space.
Make sure to use only pure nickel strip
When it comes to the nickel strip you’ll be using to connect the 18650 batteries together, you will have two options: nickel-plated steel strips and pure nickel strips. Go for the pure nickel. It costs a little bit more than nickel plated steel but it has much lower resistance. That will translate into less wasted heat, more range from your battery, and a longer useful battery lifetime due to less heat damage to the cells.
Be warned: some less-than-honest vendors try to pass off nickel plated steel for the pure stuff. They often get away with it because it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between to the two with the naked eye. I wrote a whole article on some methods I developed for testing nickel strip to make sure you get what you paid for. Check it out here.
When it comes to nickel strip, I also like to use Aliexpress. You can also find it on ebay or even a local source if you’re lucky. Once I started building lots of batteries I began buying pure nickel strip by the kilogram here, but in the beginning I recommend you pick up a smaller amount. You can get pure nickel strip for a good price in smaller amounts from a seller like this one, but you’ll still get the best price by buying it in kilo or half kilo quanitites.
As far as dimensions, I prefer to use 0.1 or 0.15 mm thick nickel, and usually use a 7 or 8 mm wide strip. A stronger welder can do thicker strip, but will cost a lot more. If your welder can do 0.15 mm nickel strip then go for it; thicker is always better. If you have thinner strips then that’s fine too, just lay down a couple layers on top of each other when necessary to create connections that can carry more current.
Author’s note: Hi guys, Micah here. I run this site and wrote this article. I just wanted to let you know real quick about my new book, “DIY Lithium Batteries: How To Build Your Own Battery Packs” which is available in both ebook and paperback format on Amazon and is available in most countries. It goes into much deeper detail than this article and has dozens of drawings and illustrations showing you every step of designing and building a battery. If you find this free site helpful, then taking a look at my book can help support the work I do here to benefit everyone. Thanks! Ok, now back to the article.
Do I HAVE To Use a Spot Welder?
Well, let me put it differently: Yes, if you don’t want to damage your cells.
The first thing to know about lithium battery cells is that heat kills them. The reason we spot weld them is to securely join the cells together without adding much heat.
Sure, it is possible to solder directly to the cells (though it can be tricky without the right tools). The problem with soldering is that you add a lot of heat to the cell and it doesn’t dissipate very quickly. This speeds up a chemical reaction in the cell which robs the cell of its performance. The result is a cell that delivers less capacity and dies an earlier life.
Spot welders for batteries aren’t the same as most home spot welders. Unlike the large jaw spot welders for home workshops, battery spot welders have the electrodes on the same side. I’ve never seen them for sale in the US, but they can be found pretty easily on eBay and other international commerce websites. My full time use welder is a fairly simple model that I got here. A highly recommended source for a slightly nicer spot welder design (pictured below) with both mounted and handheld electrodes can be found here.
There are two main levels of spot welders currently available: hobby level and professional. A good hobby model should run about $200, while a good professional one can easily be ten times that price. I’ve never had a professional welder because I just can’t justify the cost, but I do own three different hobby models and have played around with many more. Their quality is very hit or miss, even on identical models from the same seller. Unfortunately the lemon ratio is quite high, meaning you could fork over a couple hundred bucks for a machine that just won’t work right (like my first welder!). Again, this is a good reason to use a site with buyer protection like Aliexpress.com.
I use my welders on 220V, though 110V versions are available. If you have access to 220V in your home (many 110V countries have 220V lines for clothes dryers and other high power appliances) then I’d recommend sticking with 220V. In my experience the 110V models seem to have more problems than their 220V brothers. Your mileage may vary.
The purchase price is often a turnoff for many people, but in reality $200 for a good hobby-level spot welder isn’t bad. All together, the supplies for my first battery, including the cost of the tools like the spot welder, ending up costing me about the same as if I had bought a retail battery of equal performance. That meant that in the end I had a new battery and I considered all the tools as free. Since then I’ve used them to build countless more batteries and made some huge savings!
Before you begin
A few tips before you get started:
Work in a clean area free of clutter. When you have exposed contacts of many battery cells all wired together, the last thing you want is to accidentally lay the battery down on a screwdriver or other metallic object. I once nearly spilled a box of paperclips on the top of an exposed battery pack while trying to move it out of the way. I can only imagine the fireworks show that would have caused.
Wear gloves. Work gloves, mechanic gloves, welding gloves, even latex gloves – just wear something. High enough voltage can conduct on the surface of your skin, especially if you have even slightly sweaty palms. I’ve felt the tingle enough times to always wear gloves now. In fact, my pair of choice for battery work are some old pink dish gloves. They are thin and provide great dexterity while protecting me from short circuits and sparks.
Remove all metallic jewelry. This is another tip that I can give from experience. Arcing the contacts on your battery is not something you want to happen ever, and especially not against your bare skin. I’ve had it happen on my wedding ring and once even had a burn mark in the shape of my watch’s clasp on my wrist for a week. Now I take everything off.
Wear safety goggles. Seriously. Don’t skip this one. During the process of spot welding it is not at all uncommon for sparks to fly. Skip the safety glasses and head for chemistry lab style goggles if you have them – you’ll want the wrap around protection when the sparks start bouncing. You’ve only got two eyes; protect them. I’d rather lose an arm than an eye. Oh, speaking of arms, I’d recommend long sleeves. Those sparks hurt when they come to rest on your wrists and forearms.
Ok, let’s build an electric bicycle battery!
You’re probably excited to start welding, but the first step is to plan out the configuration of your battery.
Most electric bicycle batteries fall into the 24V to 48V range, usually in 12V increments. Some people use batteries as high as 100 volts, but we’re going to stick to a medium sized 36V battery today. Of course the same principles apply for any voltage battery, so you can just scale up the battery I show you here today and build your own 48V, 60V or even higher voltage battery.
To reach our intended voltage of 36V, we have to connect a number of 18650 cells in series. Lithium-ion battery cells are nominally rated at 3.6 or 3.7V, meaning to reach 36V nominal, we’ll need 10 cells in series. The industry abbreviation for series is ‘s’, so this pack will be known as a “10S pack” or 10 cells in series for a final pack voltage of 36V.
Next, we’ll need to wire multiple 18650 cells in parallel to reach our desired pack capacity. Each of the cells I’m using are rated at 2,900 mAh. I plan to put 3 cells in parallel, for a combined capacity of 2.9Ah x 3 cells = 8.7 Ah. The industry abbreviation for parallel cells is ‘p’, meaning that my final pack configuration is considered a “10S3P pack” with a final specification of 36V 8.7AH.
Most commercially available 36V packs are around 10Ah, meaning our pack will be just a bit smaller. We could have also gone with a 4p configuration giving us 11.6 Ah, which would have been a slightly bigger and more expensive pack. The final capacity is totally defined by your own needs. Bigger isn’t always better, especially if you’re fitting a battery into tight spaces.
Next, plan out your cell configuration on your computer or even with a pencil and paper. This will help ensure you are laying out your pack correctly and show you the final dimensions of the pack. In my top-down drawing below I’ve designated the positive end of the cells in red and the negative end of the cells in white.
This is a very simple layout where each column of 3 cells is connected in parallel and then the 10 columns are connected across in series from left to right. The BMS board is shown at the far right end of the pack. You’ll see how the pack represented in the drawing will come together in real life shortly.
Below is a video I made showing how to design the cell layout of a battery.
Prepare your cells
Now that we’ve got all that pesky planning out of the way, let’s get started on the actual battery. Our work space is clear, all our tools are on hand, we’ve got our safety equipment on and we’re ready to go. We’ll begin by preparing our individual 18650 battery cells.
Test the voltage of each cell to make sure that they are all identical. If your cells came straight from the factory, they shouldn’t vary by more than a few percentage points from one to the next. They will likely fall in the range of 3.6-3.8 volts per cell as most factories ship their cells partially discharged to extend their shelf lives.
If any one battery cell varies significantly from the others, do NOT connect it to the other cells. Paralleling two or more cells of different voltages will cause an instantaneous and massive current flow in the direction of the lower voltage cell(s). This can damage the cells and even result in fire on rare occasions. Either individually charge or discharge the cell to match the others, or more likely, just don’t use it in your pack at all. The reason for the voltage difference could have something to do with an issue in the cell, and you don’t want a bad cell in your pack.
This is why I always use name brand cells now. The only time I’ve ever received factory direct cells with non-matched voltages is when buying unbranded cells.
Once I’ve got all the cells I need checked out and ensured they have matching voltages, I like to arrange them on my work surface in the orientation of the intended pack. This gives me one final check to make sure the orientation will work as planned, and a chance to see the real-life size of the pack, minus a little bit of padding and heat shrink wrap.
Prepare your nickel
I like to cut most of my nickel strip in advance so I can just weld straight through without breaking my flow to stop and cut more nickel. I measured out the width of three cells and cut enough nickel strip to weld the top and bottoms of 10 sets of 3 cells, meaning 20 strips of nickel that were each 3 cells wide, plus a couple spares in case I messed anything up.
The nickel is surprisingly soft, which means you can use an ordinary pair of scissors to cut it. Try not to bend it too much though, as you want it to remain as flat as possible. If you do bend the corners with the scissors, you can easily bend them back down with your finger.
Prepare your parallel groups for welding
You’ll need someway to hold your cells in a straight line while welding, as free-handing is harder than it looks. I have a nice jig (that I received as a free ‘gift’ with the purchase of one of my welders) for holding my cells in a straight line while welding. However, before I received it I used a simple wooden jig I made to hold the cells while I hot glued them into a straight line.
Either way works, but my orange jig saves me one hot glue step which just makes for a cleaner looking pack. Of course it’s all the same after the pack gets covered with shrink wrap, so you can use any method you’d like. I’ve even found that some of those cylindrical ice cube trays are perfectly sized to hold 18650 cells. Cutting off the top would leave it clear for welding. I’d add some strong neodymium magnets to the backside to hold the cells in place like my orange jig has, but other than that it’s a perfect jig almost as-is.
Time to start welding!
Alright, here’s the moment everyone’s been itching for. Let’s weld up our cells.
Now the game plan here is to weld parallel groups of 3 cells (or more or less for your pack depending on how much total capacity you want). To weld the cells in parallel, we’ll need to weld the tops and the bottoms of the cells together so all 3 cells share common positive and negative terminals.
There are different models of welders out there but most of them work in a similar way. You should have two copper electrodes spaced a few millimeters apart on two arms, or you might have handheld probes. My machine has welding arms.
Lay your nickel strip on top of the three cells, ensuring that it covers all three terminals. Turn your welder on and adjust the current to a fairly low setting (if it’s your first time using the welder). Perform a test weld by placing the battery cells and copper strip below the probes and lifting up until the welding arms raise high enough to initiate the weld.
You’ll see two dots where the weld was performed. Test the weld by pulling on the nickel strip (if it’s your first time using the welder). If it doesn’t come off with hand pressure, or requires a lot of strength, then it’s a good weld. If you can easily peel it off, turn the current up. If the surface looks burnt or is overly hot to the touch, turn the current down. It helps to have a spare cell or two for dialing in the power of your machine.
Continue down the row of cells placing a weld on each cell. Then go back and do another set of welds on each cell. I like to do 2-3 welds (4-6 weld points) per cell. Any less and the weld isn’t as secure; any more and you’re just unnecessarily heating the cell. More and more welds won’t increase the current carrying ability of the nickel strip very much. The actual weld point isn’t the only place where current flows from the cell to the strip. A flat piece of nickel will be touching the whole surface of the cell cap, not just at the points of the weld. So 6 weld points is plenty to ensure good contact and connection.
Once you’ve got 2-3 welds on the top of each cell, turn the 3 cells over and do the same thing to the bottom of the 3 cells with a new piece of nickel. Once you’ve completed the bottom welds you’ll have one complete parallel group, ready to go. This is technically a 1S3P battery already (1 cell in series, 3 cells in parallel). That means I’ve just created a 3.6V 8.7Ah battery. Only nine more of these and I’ll have enough to complete my entire pack.
Next, grab another 3 cells (or however many you are putting in your parallel groups) and perform the same operation to make another parallel group just like the first one. Then keep going. I’m making eight more parallel groups for a total of 10 parallel groups.
Below is a video I made showing how to perform the spot welding steps on a battery.
Assembling parallel groups in series
Now I’ve got 10 individual parallel groups and I’m going to assemble them in series to make a single ebike battery pack.
When it comes to layout, there are two ways to assemble cells in straight packs (rectangular packs like I am building). I don’t know if there are industry terms for this, but I call the two methods “offset packing” and “linear packing”.
Offset packing results in a shorter pack because the parallel groups are offset by half a cell, taking up part of the space between the cells of the previous parallel group. However, this results in a somewhat wider pack as the offset parallel groups extend to each side by a quarter of a cell more than they would have in linear packing. Offset packing is handy for times where you need to fit the pack into a shorter area (such as the frame triangle) and don’t care about the width penalty.
Linear packing, on the other hand, will result in a narrower pack that ends up a bit longer than offset packing. Some people say offset packing is more efficient because you can fit more cells in a smaller area by taking advantage of the space between cells. However, offset packing creates wasted space on the ends of parallel group rows where gaps form between the edge of the pack and the ‘shorter’ rows. The larger the battery pack, the less wasted space is taken up compared to the overall pack size, but the difference is negligible for most packs. For my battery, I decided to go with offset packing to make the pack shorter and fit easier into a small triangle bag.
When it comes to welding your parallel groups in series, you’ll have to plan out the welds based on your welder’s physical limits. The stubby arms on my welder can only reach about two rows of cells deep, meaning I will need to add a single parallel group at a time, weld it, then add another one. If you have handheld welding probes then you could theoretically weld up your whole pack at once.
And I’d be theoretically jealous of you.
Since most welders have arms like mine, I’ll show you how I did it. I started by hot gluing two parallel groups together in an offset fashion, making sure the ends were opposite (one positive and one negative at each end, as shown in the picture). Then I snipped a pile of nickel strips long enough to bridge just two cells.
I placed the first parallel group positive side up, and the second parallel group negative side up. I laid the nickel strips on top of each of the three sets of cells, bridging the positive caps of the first parallel group with the negative terminal of the second parallel group, as shown in the picture.
I then put one set of welds on each cell end of the first parallel group, effectively tacking the three nickel strips in place. Then I added another set of welds on each of the negative terminals of the second parallel group. This gave me 6 weld sets, or one weld set for each cell. Lastly, I followed up those single weld sets with another couple welds per cell to ensure good contact and connection.
Next, I added the third parallel group after the second, hot gluing it in place in the same orientation as the first, so the top of the pack alternates from positive terminals to negative terminals and back to positive terminals along the first three parallel groups.
Now this step is very important: I’m going to turn the pack upside-down and perform this set of welds between the positive caps on the second parallel group and negative terminals on the third parallel group. Essentially, I’m welding on the opposite side of the pack as I did when I connected the first two parallel groups. Skip down a few pictures to see the completely welded pack to understand how the alternating side system works.
Why do we alternate sides of the pack during the welding process? We do it because in this way we connect the positive terminal of each parallel group to the negative terminal of the next group in line. That’s how series connections work: always positive to negative to positive to negative, alternating between the two.
When we add the fourth parallel group, we’ll again hot glue it in place in the opposite orientation of the third parallel group (and the same orientation of the second parallel group) and then weld it on the opposite side as we welded between the second and third group (and the same side as we welded between the first and second group).
This pattern continues until we’ve got all 10 parallel groups connected. In my case, you can see that the first and last parallel groups aren’t welded on the top side of the pack. That is because they are the “ends” of the pack, or the main positive and negative terminals of the entire 36V pack.
Adding the BMS (Battery Management System)
The battery cells have now been assembled into a larger 36V pack, but I still have to add a BMS to control the charging and discharging of the pack. The BMS monitors all of the parallel groups in the pack to safely cut off power at the end of charging, balance all the cells identically and keep the pack from being over-discharged.
A BMS isn’t necessarily strictly required – it is possible to use the pack as is, without a BMS. But that requires very careful monitoring of the cells of the battery to avoid damaging them or creating a dangerous scenario during charging or discharging. It also requires buying a more complicated and expensive charger that can balance all of the cells individually. It’s much better to go with a BMS unless you have specific reasons to want to monitor your cells by yourself.
The BMS I chose is a 30A maximum constant discharge BMS, which is more than I’ll need. It’s good to be conservative and over-spec your BMS if possible, so you aren’t running it near its limit. My BMS also has a balance feature that keeps all of my cells balanced on every charge. Not all BMS’s do this, though most do. Be wary of extremely cheap BMS’s because that’s when you’re likely to encounter a non-balancing BMS.
To wire the BMS, we first need to determine which of the sense wires (the many thin wires) is the first one (destined for the first parallel group). Look for the wires to be numbered on one side the board. Mine is on the backside of the board and I forgot to take a picture of it before installing it, but trust me that I took note of which end the sense wires start on. You don’t want to make a mistake and connect the sense wires starting in the wrong direction.
Make sure to consult the wiring diagram for your BMS, because some BMS’s have one more sense wire than cells (for example, 11 sense wires for a 10S pack). On these packs, the first wire will go on the negative terminal of the first parallel group, with all the rest of the wires going on the positive terminal of each successive parallel group. My BMS only has 10 sense wires though, so each will go on the positive terminal of the parallel groups.
Before actually wiring the BMS to the pack, I hot glued it to a piece of foam to insulate the contacts on the bottom of the board and then hot glued that foam to the end of the battery.
Then I took the sense wire labeled B1 and soldered it to the positive terminal of the first parallel group (which also happens to be the same as the negative terminal of the second parallel group, as they are connected together with nickel strip).
When soldering these wires to the nickel strip, try to solder between two cells and not directly on top of a cell. This keeps the heat source further from the actual cell ends and causes less heating of the battery cells.
I then took my second sense wire (or your third sense wire if you have one more sense wires than parallel groups) and soldered it to the positive terminal of the second parallel group. Again, note that I’m soldering this wire to the nickel in between cells to avoid heating any cell directly.
I continued with all 10 sense wires, placing the last one on the positive terminal of the 10th parallel group. If you aren’t sure about which groups are which, or you get confused, use your digital voltmeter to double check the voltages of each group so you know you are connecting each wire to the correct group.
The last step of wiring the BMS is to add the charge and discharge wires. The pack’s positive charge wire and discharge wire will both be soldered directly to the positive terminal of the 10th parallel group. The negative charge wire will be soldered to the C- pad on the BMS and the negative discharge wire will be soldered to the P- pad on the BMS. I also need to add one wire from the negative terminal of the first parallel group to the B- pad on the BMS.
You’ll notice that for my charge wires I used larger diameter wires than the sense wires that came with the BMS. That’s because charging will deliver more current than those sense wires will. Also, you’ll notice the discharge wires (including the B- pad to the negative terminal of the pack) are the thickest wires of all of them, as these will carry the entire power of the whole pack during discharging. I used 16 awg for the charge wires and 12 awg for the discharge wires.
You’ll also notice in the following pictures that my charge and discharge wires are taped off at the ends with electrical tape. This is to keep them from accidentally coming in contact with each other and short circuiting the pack. A friend of mine recently tipped me off to another (and probably better) option to prevent shorts: add your connectors to the wires first, then solder them onto the pack and BMS. Doh!
Below is a video I made showing how to add a BMS to a lithium battery.
Sealing your DIY ebike battery with heat shrink
This step is somewhat optional. You should seal your battery somehow to prevent it from shorting on all of that exposed nickel, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be with heat shrink wrap. Some people use duct tape, plastic wrap, fabric, etc. In my opinion though, shrink wrap is the best method because it not only provides a largely water resistant (though not water-proof) seal, but also provides constant and even pressure on all of your connections and wires, reducing the risk of vibration damage.
Before I seal my batteries in heat shrink, I like to wrap them in a thin layer of foam for added protection. This helps keep the ends of your cells from getting dinged if the battery receives any rough treatment, which can happen accidentally in the form of a dropped battery or ebike accident. The foam also helps to dampen the vibrations that the battery will experience on the bike.
I use white 2mm thick craft foam and cut out a shape slightly larger than my pack. I wrap it up and seal it with electrical tape. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just has to cover the pack. Your next step will hide the foam from view.
Next comes the heat shrink tube. Large diameter heat shrink tube is hard to find, and I got lucky with a big score of different sizes from a Chinese vendor before his supply dried up. Your best bet is to check sites like eBay for short lengths of heat shrink in the size you need.
A quick note: when you get into large sizes of heat shrink, the method of quoting the size often changes from referring to the diameter of the tube to referring to the flat width (or half the circumference when in a circle). This is because at these large sizes, it’s not so much a tube anymore as two flat sheets fused together, sort of like an envelope. Keep that in mind and know what size is being quoted when you buy your large diameter heat shrink tube.
There are formulas out there for calculating the exact size of heat shrink you need but I often find them overly complicated. Here’s how I figure out what size I need: take the height and width of the pack and add them together, and remember that number. The size of heat shrink you need when measured by the flat width (half the circumference) is between that number you found and twice that number (or ideally between slightly more than that number to slightly less than twice that number).
Why does this formula work? Think about it: heat shrink (unless stated otherwise) usually has a 2:1 shrink ratio, so if I need something with less than twice the circumference (or perimeter rather, since my pack isn’t really a circle) of my pack. Since large diameter heat shrink is quoted in half circumference (flat width) sizes, and I want heat shrink with a circumference of a bit more than the perimeter of my pack, then I know I need the half circumference size to be a bit more than half of my pack’s perimeter, which is equal to the height plus the width of my pack.
That might of sounded confusing, so let’s talk in real numbers. My pack is about 70 mm high and about 65 mm wide. That means that half of the perimeter of my pack is 70+ 65 = 135 mm. So I need some heat shrink tubing that has a flat width (or half circumference) of between 135 to 270 mm, or to be safer, more like between 150-250mm. And if possible, I want to be on the smaller end of that range so the heat shrink will be tighter and hold more firmly. Luckily, I have some 170mm heat shrink tube which will work great.
One more thing to note about large diameter heat shrink: unless otherwise stated, this stuff usually shrinks about 10% in the long direction, so you’ll want to add a bit extra to the length to account for both overlap and longitudinal shrinkage.
But there’s still another issue: now if I just slip my pack inside some shrink wrap tube, I’ll still have exposed ends. This is more or less ok structurally, though it won’t be very water resistant and it will look a bit less professional.
So I’m going to first use a wider (285 mm to be exact) but shorter piece of shrink wrap to go around the long direction of the pack. That will seal the ends first, and then I can go back with my long and skinny piece of heat shrink to do the length of the pack.
If you don’t have an actual heat gun, you can use a strong hair dryer. Not all hair dryers will work, but my wife’s 2000 watt model is great. I own a real heat gun but actually prefer to use her hair dryer because it has finer controls and a wider output. Just don’t go mess up your wife’s hair dryer!
Now I’ve got all of my pack sealed in heat shrink with my wires exiting the seam between the two layers of shrink wrap. I could have stopped here, but I didn’t particularly like the way the shrink fell on the wire exit there, from a purely aesthetic standpoint. So I actually took a third piece of shrink wrap, the same size (285 mm) as that first piece and went around the long axis of the pack one more time to pull the wires down tight to the end of the pack.
That resulted in a total of three layers of shrink wrap which makes for one very protected battery!
Below is a video I made showing how to heat shrink a lithium battery.
The only thing left to do at this point is to add the connectors, unless you did that before you soldered the wires on, which I actually recommend doing. But of course I didn’t do that, so I added them at this step, being careful not to short them by connecting only one wire at a time.
You can use any connectors you like. I’m a big fan of Anderson PowerPole connectors for the discharge leads. I used this other connector that I had in my parts bin for the discharge wires. I’m not sure what that type of connector is called, but if someone wants to let me know in the comments section then that’d be great!
You can also add a label or other information to the outside of your pack for that professional look. If nothing else, it’s a good idea to at least write on the pack what the voltage and capacity is. Especially if you make multiple custom batteries, that will ensure you never forget what the correct charge voltage for the pack is.
You’ll also want to test out the battery with a fairly light load in the beginning. Try to go for an easy ride on the first few charges, or even better, use a discharger if you have one. I built a custom discharger out of halogen light bulbs. It allows me to fully discharge my batteries at different power levels and measure the output. This specific battery gave 8.54 Ah on its first discharge cycle at a discharge rate of 0.5c, or about 4.4 A. That result is actually pretty good, and equates to an individual average cell capacity of about 2.85 Ah, or 98% of the rated capacity.
Manufacturers usually rate their cells’ capacity at very low discharge rates, sometimes just 0.1c, where the cells perform at their maximum. So don’t be surprised if you’re only getting 95% or so of the advertised capacity of your cells during real world discharges. That’s to be expected. Also, your capacity is likely to go up a bit after the first few charge and discharge cycles as the cells get broken in and balance to one another.
I didn’t include a charging a section in this article, as this was just about how to build a lithium battery. But here’s a video I made showing you how to choose the appropriate charger for your lithium battery.
Now it’s your turn!
Now you’ve got all the info you should need to make your own electric bicycle lithium battery pack. You might still need a few tools, but at least you’ve got the knowledge. Remember to take it slow, plan everything out in advance and enjoy the project. And don’t forget your safety gear!
A video version of my how-to:
If you’re like me, then you like hearing and seeing how things are done, not just reading about them. That’s why I also made a video showing all the steps I took here in one single video. The battery I build in this video is not the same exact battery, but it’s similar. It’s a 24V 5.8AH battery for a small, low power ebike. But you can simply add more cells to make a higher voltage or higher capacity pack to fit your own needs. Check out the video below:
I’ll leave you with a little more inspiration
Now I’m sure you’re all jazzed about building your own battery pack. But just in case, I’m going to leave you with an awesome video featuring battery builder Damian Rene of Madrid, Spain building a very large, very professionally constructed 48V 42AH battery pack from 18650 cells. You can read about how he built this battery here. (Also, note in the video his good use of safety equipment!)