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  1. #1
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    a few broad frame building questions

    I have read everything on the frame building forum and have a few questions for the veterans.
    I would like to start building custom road frames for my friends, so my question is [I]how[I] limited am I if I use lugs in terms of frame geometry?
    I gather that if I want to build lots of truly custom road frames, it would be best and cheapest to TIG weld them?

    Any advice appreciated.

  2. #2
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    Actually, I would suspect that fillet brazing is much cheaper than TIG welding. I paid $1200-1500 for my used Thermal Arc TA-185 TIG welder. You could buy a top-of-the-line torch and a huge set of oxy-acetylene tanks for far less than that...

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    Must I use Columbus triple or double butted tubing, or can I use a simple straight stainless steel tube?

    Does it really make that much of a difference in terms of strength/weight?

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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    Must I use Columbus triple or double butted tubing, or can I use a simple straight stainless steel tube?

    Does it really make that much of a difference in terms of strength/weight?
    You don't have to use Columbus tubing. There are many brands available.

    You don't have to use double- or triple-butted tubing. For your first couple of frames, I'd recommend buying cheap double-butted Chrome-moly tubing and not worrying about weight. Henry James is a good source. You'll have enough trouble just getting a frame together that will ride straight and not fall apart when you hit the first pot-hole. Don't start trying to build that 1.5lb frame right off the bat...
    Last edited by sstorkel; 07-25-08 at 02:30 PM.

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    Stainless is not going to work for you as a simpler tube choice, it only works in pretty ultimate tubes. It's weaker that plain steel. All straight wall chromo bikes can be awsome, but probably not in road configuration, needs to be something a little more weight tolerant.

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    A few more questions:

    How limited is my frame geometry if I use lugs rather than welding? If I plan to build basic road frames, will I still have a decent amount of geometry freedom?

    Also, any recommendations on soldering/brazing torches and equipment?

    Thanks

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    Lugs and road frames are pretty much desiged for each other. I build touring frames and can sometimes think up reasons for their having atypical geometry. But for racing bikes etc... lugs are available in the combos you will want. If you go the torch route, you can do either fillet brazing or lugs which means you aren't always tied to available lugs. I'm all for TIG, but it can get spendy, if you are sure of your ability to sell frames, some people just can't miss in sales, then you can easily finance a good machine, but something in the 2K up range is the way to go. Basically a Dynasty 200 (or whatever they are currently selling) is the best machine. A small harris torch is good for the lugs and brazing. There are aircraft torches that will also weld.

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    Peterpan, thanks for the info, really helpful.

    To clarify, are you suggesting the Dynasty 200 for TIG or brazing? From my research it looks that brazing torches are much cheaper than TIG torches.

    Would this cheap thing I found on craigslist work for learning brazing: "urbo Torch solder/brazing kit with full Acetylene tank. Used 2 times.
    Ideal for Copper plumbing soldering, brazing and HVAC tubing"

    Again, thanks for all the help, I can't wait to start building myself frames, but I want to collect as much info as I can to avoid any dumb purchases!

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    How limited is my frame geometry if I use lugs rather than welding? If I plan to build basic road frames, will I still have a decent amount of geometry freedom?
    Why don't you go shopping for lugs and see what you can find? As a TIG welder, my impression is that the geometry of available lugs is pretty limited. On the flip side, at least you know you'll end up with a frame geometry that's likely to work...

    Also, any recommendations on soldering/brazing torches and equipment?
    Buy a name-brand like Harris or Victor. Make sure the torch has flashback arrestors and all of the other safety equipment. Acetylene is goddamn dangerous stuff! Not a bad idea to get some instruction so that you don't blow yourself up...

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1 View Post
    I'm all for TIG, but it can get spendy, if you are sure of your ability to sell frames, some people just can't miss in sales, then you can easily finance a good machine, but something in the 2K up range is the way to go. Basically a Dynasty 200 (or whatever they are currently selling) is the best machine.
    Keep in mind that the retail on a Dynasty 200 is $3393 for the "SD" model and $3645 for the "DX" config. And that's just the power source! Foot pedal, torch, regulators, and gas are all extra. Figure another $300-500 if you buy the Miller kit that includes pedal, torch, and regs. Even if you buy on-line you're still looking at $3000 minimum to buy a Dynasty... Unless you buy used.

    The good news is you absolutely do not need a Dynasty 200 if you want to build frames. You only need AC-welding capability if you want to build aluminum frames. Which, as a beginner, you don't. Buying a DC-only welder, like a Miller Maxstar, will save you quite a bit of money. You also don't need 200 amps of power for bicycle frames. Most of the welding I did on my MTB frame was at around 40 amps, with a max of maybe 50-60 amps.

    Still, you can buy a brand-new top-of-the-line oxy torch setup for far less than the cost of even a used TIG welder. If you're on a budget, that's definitely the way to go...

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    "Which, as a beginner, you don't"

    That is the sound of 2K burning. The Dynasty does go on sale. Depends whether you are selling frames or not as to whether it is worth it. If you are selling then you recoup the extra money spent relatively quickly, and you also need the capabilities of the Dynasty to get the quality of work that is expected in the marketplace today. Maybe not so much the customer marketplace, but hanging out on boards discussing your work when you don't have Dynasty, is a little bit like hanging out at the MTB forum with a 1984 canondale 18 speed.

    I have a maxstar, I bought it as a challenge to see if I could get by with it. It was a bad decision since it is harder to learn to use, and then doesn't return the extra skill you may achieve when you get up to speed, your work will still look less than some others. Also, once you get good enough to weld bike frames there are lots of other things you may be able to weld around the house or for bucks, without becoming a pro welder. A friend of mine suplements his bike fund doing small amounts of Al welding. It's short sighted to say you only need it for this one thing when you can't really tell how your interest will develop when you progress. Also, the type of accessories you need to buy for the Dynasty, as pointed out, are the kinds of accessories you can't even get for the Maxstar 150, or wouldn't be worth sinking the money into when they won't be useable in better machines if you upgrade.

    No question Oxy is cheaper. For a hobbyist I think the best deal is something like the Tinmantech torch that allows you to weld as well as braze and braze lugs. Also a TIG guy will probably end up with a torch to do brazeons, or racks, while a gas guy can do it all with the gas. On the other hand gas is less useful than welding for life in general. I really find the welder useful for stuff around the house. With TIG you can do both stick and TIG, which is very versatile.

    I have both, sorta. I have Propane oxy, and TIG.

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    Thanks for all the great info. So it seems that brazing with lugs is easier and cheaper for a beginner like myself.
    Any suggestions on an entry level brazing kit for this? Will any old one do?

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    http://blogs.phred.org/blogs/alex_we...ics-tools.aspx

    he has a godd set up and the propane is better and saves you money.

    I use the tinmantech torch for welding and brazing, and I also use propane.

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    Thank you. Last question: will it be possible to build myself a frame without using a jig? I don't want to buy a jig to build one frame.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1 View Post
    That is the sound of 2K burning. The Dynasty does go on sale. Depends whether you are selling frames or not as to whether it is worth it. If you are selling then you recoup the extra money spent relatively quickly, and you also need the capabilities of the Dynasty to get the quality of work that is expected in the marketplace today. Maybe not so much the customer marketplace, but hanging out on boards discussing your work when you don't have Dynasty, is a little bit like hanging out at the MTB forum with a 1984 canondale 18 speed.
    Be sure to give me a call the next time you see a Dynasty 200DX on sale!

    I'm wondering what capabilities you think a Dynasty welder has that you can't also get on a Maxstar, aside from AC welding?!? As far as I can tell, the Maxstar 200DX has every feature you'd care to use...

    On the forums I visit, nobody particularly cares what machine you've got as long as you can produce decent welds. The guy that taught me to build frames produces some of the finest weld beads I've ever seen using a second-hand Miller Syncrowave 250! The think looks like it's probably from the 1980's; the only "advanced" feature it has is high-frequency start!

    I have a maxstar, I bought it as a challenge to see if I could get by with it. It was a bad decision since it is harder to learn to use, and then doesn't return the extra skill you may achieve when you get up to speed, your work will still look less than some others.
    Buying a Maxstar wasn't a bad decision; it sounds like you just chose the wrong model. A 150, I presume?

    Also, once you get good enough to weld bike frames there are lots of other things you may be able to weld around the house or for bucks, without becoming a pro welder. A friend of mine suplements his bike fund doing small amounts of Al welding. It's short sighted to say you only need it for this one thing when you can't really tell how your interest will develop when you progress.
    So you think it's reasonable to suggest that a newbie dump $3000-4000 into a Dynasty 200DX before they've built even a single frame?!?

    Also, the type of accessories you need to buy for the Dynasty, as pointed out, are the kinds of accessories you can't even get for the Maxstar 150, or wouldn't be worth sinking the money into when they won't be useable in better machines if you upgrade.
    Look: I'm not suggesting you shouldn't buy a decent welder. But if you're buying on a budget, I'll suggest that it wouldn't be a bad compromise to save yourself $800 and buy a Maxstar 200DX rather than a Dynasty 200DX. If you want to save another $1000 and buy a Maxstar 150 STH, that's up to you... In my experience, all you really need is something that will accept a foot pedal and strike a decent arc, preferably with HF start. FWIW, my $1500 second-hand Thermal Arc Pro-Wave 185TSW welds every bit as good as any of the Dynasty models I've tried... And the damn thing was cheaper than a MaxStar 150!

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    Thank you. Last question: will it be possible to build myself a frame without using a jig? I don't want to buy a jig to build one frame.
    You'll have to use a jig of some sort. It doesn't have to be a $7000 Anvil pro jig, however. If you have access to a mill and a lathe, which you'll probably need anyway, you can build a pretty inexpensive jig out of 8020 aluminum extrusions. Heck, you can build a jig out of wood if you're desperate... just don't ask me to ride any of the frames you build with it

    Maybe you should buy a copy of the Paterek Manual from Henry James? It will explain some of the options and answer many of the basic questions you seem to be struggling with.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    Thank you. Last question: will it be possible to build myself a frame without using a jig? I don't want to buy a jig to build one frame.
    Nope, you don't need a jig, especially if you're using lugs- I did my first 3 frames w/forks with no jig, they were all plenty straight. As a matter of fact, I think starting without a jig (while slower) teaches you things about layout/alignment that you'd never get using a jig right off the bat.
    The first thing I think any builder should get is a flat surface- it will allow you to check the tubes for straightness, check alignment, hold the tubes (with v-blocks) for pinning and/or tacking, etc.
    Besides, a jig doesn't make a good frame...you do. The jig just makes the process a bit faster.

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    "Be sure to give me a call the next time you see a Dynasty 200DX on sale!"

    All that stuff is on sale and on deals all the time. Klondike got his at a low price that I am still crying about. I think he paid around 2500. On top of that there are the torches pedals, and cooler. But to me it broke down that I paid a lot for the pedal from miller for my Max. I couldn't get a decent replacement torch, and no cooler. With the Dynasty there are non-miller parts that are better and cheaper, so it seemed like the total real difference was only 1K, but buying an all up Dynasty now would cost me 3500-4000, so a 3K mistake, minus whatever I get for my Max.

    "I'm wondering what capabilities you think a Dynasty welder has that you can't also get on a Maxstar, aside from AC welding?!? As far as I can tell, the Maxstar 200DX has every feature you'd care to use..."

    That's true I suppose, but the idea of of going that close and not going for the Dynasty strikes me as insane. Actualy so called aluminum features are sometimes useful on steel. The majority of bike components are Al, boats, water proof shop fittings, etc... the idea of passing on aluminum makes no sense. Recumbents are often Aluminum. Even the initial question of some alternative materials would be right up Als alley. I'm not really sure why they even sell the larger Maxstar. . Lets say you work in some plant that just doesn't have any Al in it. But the idea that an independant craftsperson would pasy on Al is crazy.

    "On the forums I visit, nobody particularly cares what machine you've got as long as you can produce decent welds."

    As a welder, it's way cooler if you can do it with a pedal and an old school machine. I have noticed though that the Frameforum guys are going Dynasty.

    " The guy that taught me to build frames produces some of the finest weld beads I've ever seen using a second-hand Miller Syncrowave 250! The think looks like it's probably from the 1980's; the only "advanced" feature it has is high-frequency start!"

    That is totally fine, but a lot of people can't run those machines on shop amperage and get a decent range out of them, and they are a lot less popular as a type than they used to be. I would use on in a flash, but I probably wouldn't buy one. Only big advantage is they are less likely to fry and be useless.

    "Buying a Maxstar wasn't a bad decision; it sounds like you just chose the wrong model. A 150, I presume?"

    That was the whole point to see if I could get by on it, and it has worked to an extent. One can do decent frame work with them. But guys like Walt have moved on to the Dynasty. Buying once is the way to go. I had a big lump of cash in my pocket when I bought mine, and I felt like I didn't care if it was wasted, I wanted to settle the "can you go the cheap route" question. I doubt anyone else would do that, but I do know the sensible choice would have been the Dynasty.

    "So you think it's reasonable to suggest that a newbie dump $3000-4000 into a Dynasty 200DX before they've built even a single frame?!?"

    I'm not holding a *** to anyones' head. Unlike me, he mentions sales. If you are selling frames, sure, you are crazy to do anything else, though if your shop has the amps, go old school for all I care. Taht woudl have cost me a K in rewiring, that I would rather put into the Dynasty, or some other inverter, how many garages have 80 amps on the panel. I think if the whole thing is a bust you will get out from under a Dynasty far easier than anything else, and it will be easier to learn so your chance of success is the best. I think Don Feris used to provide the set up for the Syncro 350 on his site. But reading FF he seems to be a Dynasty user.

    "Look: I'm not suggesting you shouldn't buy a decent welder. But if you're buying on a budget, I'll suggest that it wouldn't be a bad compromise to save yourself $800 and buy a Maxstar 200DX rather than a Dynasty 200DX."


    I'm sure that is the perfect choice for someone, but on average that is the stupidest thing you could do. They are both high end machines with all the same features and problems except one is enomously limited by comparison. And it isn't as if no aluminum is used in bikes, or as though the additional current processing isn't useful for steel.

    "If you want to save another $1000 and buy a Maxstar 150 STH, that's up to you... In my experience, all you really need is something that will accept a foot pedal and strike a decent arc, preferably with HF start."

    I don't deny that is an option it just isn't that good a one. Any time you buy tools you need to look at the logical places to save money. I have bought lots of asian tools some with complete satisfaction, but I don't buy them when I want peak accuracy. Grinder fine, jointer or mill stupid. Knowing when to spend your money when quality and features count is essential. That said there are alternatives, but TIG is a numbers game, nobody is paying you to file points on lugs. Efficient machines will pay for themselves.

    "FWIW, my $1500 second-hand Thermal Arc Pro-Wave 185TSW welds every bit as good as any of the Dynasty models I've tried... And the damn thing was cheaper than a MaxStar 150!"

    I think that is an OK machine, and I would take it over my Maxstar. I'm not sure we have the space to review every known machine on earth. If you actually compare the features of the non-miller inverters, they are all missing features, and there are service issues. Still those aren't wonderful with Miller either. My take on the last part is mostly Canadian though.

  19. #19
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    OK. So, some say I need a jig, some say I don't. I WILL be using lugs as that seems to be the easiest... So, if I am using lugs aren't the angles already pre-set, so I wouldn't really need a jig as the lug holds the tube at the right angle?

    Also please tell me if this is correct: When using lugs, I don't really have freedom to change geometry, but I DO have freedom to change the top-tube and seat tube lengths.

    When using lugs, how well do I have to miter the tubes? Since they sit in a lug, do that have to be all that well mitered?

    Thanks again guys, and I am waiting on the Paterek Manual, just want to learn the basics before I start reading...

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    OK. So, some say I need a jig, some say I don't. I WILL be using lugs as that seems to be the easiest... So, if I am using lugs aren't the angles already pre-set, so I wouldn't really need a jig as the lug holds the tube at the right angle?

    Also please tell me if this is correct: When using lugs, I don't really have freedom to change geometry, but I DO have freedom to change the top-tube and seat tube lengths.

    When using lugs, how well do I have to miter the tubes? Since they sit in a lug, do that have to be all that well mitered?

    Thanks again guys, and I am waiting on the Paterek Manual, just want to learn the basics before I start reading...
    Once you get the manual, a lot of these things will be more clear to you, but for now:
    -You can easily change angles from the road standard 73 by + or - 2 degrees with most lugs, varying the bb drop can get you some more change. But if road bikes are your thing, there are plenty of lugsets out there that will work great as is.
    -Lugs alone aren't enough to hold an angle while you braze- you need to have some way of holding the part while you pin/tack. This is where a jig really can save time.
    -Lugs or not,miters should always be perfect, no gaps. That might sound like a lofty goal, but you can do it with enough practice.

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    OK great. So, can I build a track frame with a lugset that has a high bottom bracket? Or will that be hard with the pre-set lug angles?

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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    OK great. So, can I build a track frame with a lugset that has a high bottom bracket? Or will that be hard with the pre-set lug angles?
    Yup, the more you raise the BB (while keeping the fork the same) the steeper the frame angles get.
    This fixed gear is built with a 73/73 degree standard sized lugset, with no lug mod's I built it at 74/75 degrees with a 6cm BB drop.
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by Live Wire; 07-28-08 at 09:18 PM.

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    Cool ride. Looked at the main bike tube suppliers... Henry James, Nova etc. Anyone have any suggestions for the best deals on tubes and lugs? (the Paterek Manual won't tell me this im sure).

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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    OK. So, some say I need a jig, some say I don't. I WILL be using lugs as that seems to be the easiest... So, if I am using lugs aren't the angles already pre-set, so I wouldn't really need a jig as the lug holds the tube at the right angle?
    Not only do you have to worry about the angles of the tubes, but you also have to keep everything in the same plane. Try this: cut your seat tube to length, miter it, then slip the lugs on either end. Now grab both lugs and twist them in opposite directions. What happens? They'll move. If you've mitered the tube poorly, they may move quite a bit. What does this mean? When you insert the top tube and the down tube into the twisted lugs, you won't have all three tubes in the same plane. A jig, even if it's a cheap plywood one, will help keep everything in the same plane so that you don't end up with the head tube or rear triangle cocked at some odd angle.

    Also please tell me if this is correct: When using lugs, I don't really have freedom to change geometry, but I DO have freedom to change the top-tube and seat tube lengths.
    You have some freedom to change the tube lengths. You couldn't, for example, make a 5-foot long top tube. Not that you'd want to, but you get the picture: fitting a tube that long into a bike that used normal-length tubes everywhere else would require really wacky angles... which your lugs won't allow.

    When using lugs, how well do I have to miter the tubes? Since they sit in a lug, do that have to be all that well mitered?
    Only if you want the bike to hold together over time. Ideally, you want the lug to reinforce the joint. You don't want the lug to be the joint. If you just make straight cuts on the ends of your tubes, then all of the stress will be concentrated on the lug at some point. If your tubes are well-mitered, your brazing will lead to a direct connection from one tube to the other and the lug will act as a reinforcement of that joint; much stronger that way.

    Besides, only a talentless hack would stick unmitered or poorly mitered tubes into a lug and call it a bike...

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by calikid2006 View Post
    Cool ride. Looked at the main bike tube suppliers... Henry James, Nova etc. Anyone have any suggestions for the best deals on tubes and lugs? (the Paterek Manual won't tell me this im sure).
    If I were you, I'd also think about tube quality. There's nothing worse than ordering a round tube and then finding out the the manufacturer's quality control is so poor that the tube is actually an oval and won't fit in your lugs! The guys that taught me to build seem to think pretty highly of True Temper tubing from Henry James. They're in southern California, so if you're really a "calikid" you should get quick shipping... which is nice when you mangle a tube and need a quick replacement. DAMHIKT!

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