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  1. #1
    Senior Member TimJ's Avatar
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    Economy of TIG vs. Brazing

    I'm curious what people might think about the two methods of making steel frames in regards to how they fit into a small frame-making business. What I'm getting at is I often day dream (especially when it's a slow day at work like today) that building custom frames might be a cool biz to try to take a crack at, and I've been thinking about attending UBI or something maybe next year. Worst case scenario is I end up with a custom frame I made myself, best cse is maybe I figure out a new way to make money. Anyway thinking about this makes me wonder if one method is more pragmatic than the other in terms of making frames as a small biz.

    I guess TIG welding is much more flexible in that you're not limited by the sorts of lugs that are available, but are the costs of TIG overall more? Are the start up costs way more? Which is more time consuming? Which is more forgivable a method?

    I suppose my main question revolves around the concerns of a small, niche builder. Just in terms of economy, would a small builder be better served by doing one type of building or the other?

    I know there's much more to the business and the art and what people want or what bikes to build than this, I'm just curious about this particular aspect. I have no idea if there's anything to it and I'd like to have some.
    fun facts: Psychopaths have trouble understanding abstract concepts.
    "Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria."

  2. #2
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    TIG is harder to learn, easier to mess up, and costs more initially.

    Fillet brazing is really easy (well after learning tig first), more tolerant to mistakes and start up costs are a lot less. I haven't done lugged brazing so I can't comment on that.

    Also consider that fillet brazing requires lots of finish work after you joined the tubes. The joints don't come out smooth when you braze them, you have to sand down the joints. Its relatively easy with an air belt sander but still have to get in with a file and sandpaper in smaller areas. But with tig, once you finished welding up, its done (well along with frame alignment and facing/reaming, but you gotta do that to every frame anyway)

    TIG has more practical applications outside of frame building than brazing does, so thats another thing to consider

  3. #3
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    "Just in terms of economy, would a small builder be better served by doing one type of building or the other?"

    One sticky wicket is that most Tig builders probably have a torch also, to do braze ons, and drops, etc... So you won't save much on the equipment.

    Some of the more versatile builders today will do more than one style, if they figure that will expand their business.

    Marketing may dictate what kind of services you can offer. For instance, if you were the president of the local vintage club, maybe lugs would be a natural draw, though Kogswell has emphasized a deeper aspect of vintage, and got away with Asian origin tig welded. If you were a trials rider and all your frinds also, that would tend to push TIG.

    TIG makes volume joinery a lot faster. If you had a small shop making enough bikes that you could afford to keep a welding station in full production, then that would be a huge savings in labour over all the work that goes into lugs. But for the guy making just a few frames, or working full time in a one person shop, I don't think it's so clear. You have heavy start up costs, in training and materials. And how do you segment yourself out from the factory? One way is to take it to an entirely different level. To get there is in the 10-20 K range to be all suited up. You don't begin to need to spend than kind of money to do good work, but you might need to put that much into it to convince others you are at the different level.

    On the other hand there are a lot of costs to doing the torch work. Good luck with your first OSHA visit, or at least to keeping yourself safe enough while working with all the toxics. There can be quite a lot of cost in tooling like granite surface plates, stocking all the tubes and their related lugs, lugs for various desings, gas fluxing equipment, and cold setting gear to deal with the heat distortion. Stuff for shaping lugs, or getting your own unique lug designs into the mix.

    Ask yourself who is going to buy your first frame, as long as you can keep selling them at a realistic price, you should be able to finance the many costly tools that are involved in any of these processes.

  4. #4
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    Just go with the flow...

    You don't need to make that choice yet. Learning about ANY of the joining methods (whether at UBI or elsewhere) will help with all the others. TIG skills transfer well to fillet, and vice versa, all of the methods require you to learn the same set of metalworking skills to get the tubes mitered and prepped, etc.

    So go to UBI, do whatever seems fun, and go from there. No need to worry about any of that other stuff yet.

    -Walt

  5. #5
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    I fabricate frames with lugs and silver soldering, I think it's easier than the other two to learn. I miter my tubes on a milling machine with exact size cutters using fixtures holding the tube so I miter each end perfectly and to the exact length and orientation, I think getting the ends so good helps with the soldering method.

  6. #6
    Senior Member TimJ's Avatar
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    nitro- I was searching around and it looks like you took a framebuilding class in AZ? How was it?
    fun facts: Psychopaths have trouble understanding abstract concepts.
    "Incompetent individuals, compared with their more competent peers, will dramatically overestimate their ability and performance relative to objective criteria."

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