The assembly of a new growth cone is a prerequisite for axon regeneration after injury. Creation of a new growth cone involves multiple processes, including calcium signalling, restructuring of the cytoskeleton, transport of materials, local translation of messenger RNAs and the insertion of new membrane and cell surface molecules. In axons that have an intrinsic ability to regenerate, these processes are executed in a timely fashion. However, in axons that lack regenerative capacity, such as those of the mammalian CNS, several of the steps that are required for regeneration fail, and these axons do not begin the growth process. Identification of the points of failure can suggest targets for promoting regeneration.