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  1. #1
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    TIG WELDED vs. FILLET-BRAZED vs. LUGGED - Which for a custom?

    Thinking about a custom road bike in steel. Not looking at a Richard Sachs or an IF or a Serotta - a little too expensive. I've visited a zillion builders websites and I am left confused on which method to choose. Some of the negatives of each:

    Lugged - Limited to certain tube sizes. Use brass in place of silver solder. If not properly soldered- weak, hollow areas. Heat can weaken.

    Fillet- Brazed - Need to be concerned about properly mitered tubes; and, whether or not the joints have been Bondo'd and filed to hide poor brazing. Brass instead of siver solder. Heat can weaken.

    Tig-Welded - Only good for aluminum (not sure about this).

    Now is heat the enemy of lugged and fillet-brazed tube sets but actually strengthens tig-welded framesets?

    What is the newest Reyonlds for tig-weding - 853 or a new 900-series?

    The Italian tube sets seem to be the more expensive than Reynolds and Tange - true?

    Do certain Reynolds require silver-brazing - Waterford, Paramount and Gunnar specialize in this?

    Seems like Strongframes is one of the better tig welders at a certain price point. But is aluminum better suited to tig-welding. Lyonsport has good pricing for fillet and jugged, I think.

    Who to avoid - over-hyped or poor workmanship/low quality.

    Apologies for so many random questions. Any advice or recommended builders is appreciated. Thanks a lot.

  2. #2
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    I have a welded steel custom that was built in '94, & it's great. it's not the work of art that the lugged frames can be, but I don't care much about that, I was more worried about fitting my funky body, & that is easier w/welded tubes, if you need something beyond the standard lugs. some of the really high-end guys custom-make their own lugs, but that gets expensive. to me, it's just a bicycle, a machine, & not an objet d'art, but others are the other way 'round, it's up to you.

  3. #3
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    TIG welding can weld almost any metal, and is suited to welding steel tubes used in manufacture of bikes. A lot more steel bikes are probably welded/TIG welded than anything else today, and some of the newer tube sets are optimized for welded assembly.

    If you ask the broader question of where does all the root stock chromo material come from, it comes from industries that assemble tubbing by welding exclusively. That is what it is for. In the aircraft industry from which this stuff eminates, brazing is regarded as something that should never be done to a chromo tube, because it propagates stress fractures. Obviously not a problem in the hours of service, or specific methods used for bikes, which are long proven, but it is interesting to contemplate the degree to which most of the much discused info on the topic is nonsense.

    There is also a lot of nonsense talked about heat in bike assembly. I guess a lot of activities have their embedded myth that you just can't get rid of. Every method of assembling tubes uses heat in excess of the temp required to draw the temper of a heat treated tube set, and in most cases also heat greater than the transformation temp at which metal hardens. This tends to be irrelevant because bike metals, 99.9% of the time, aren't heat treated or even hardenable, and because extra beef is provided in tube ends to deal with the reduction in strength that occurs at the joints. You could write an essay each on why no tube should be welded, brazed or lugged, all of which have some thread of truth while overlooking the fact that properly assembled steel bikes will all last longer than anyone seems to want to keep them. Nails reduce the strength of the lumber they are driven into, but houses stand nonetheless, it's all a mater of design.

    The basic issue is that both fillet brazing and lugs are aesthetic decisions. You pay to have your bike look like this. A nicely done TIG job is pretty also, but rarely admired as such. Both TIG and fillet brazing allow you to assemble tubes in a wider range of angles which is important in some situations.
    Last edited by NoReg; 08-21-08 at 08:29 AM.

  4. #4
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    Recommend builders specializing in tig-welding.

    Thanks Peterpan. Really insightful and useful comments. I'm leaning toward a tig-welded frame now. Which tubeset(s) do you favor for this?
    Also any US builders other than Strongframes that are really good with tig-welding (and don't charge a zillion dollars)?
    Thanks again.

  5. #5
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    No matter how much you research it, the only conclusion you can come to is that it's a matter of personal preference, and even then, it's all a matter of which look you prefer. Most people who would go to the expense and waiting time involved with a custom-made frame won't choose welded simply because it's kind of rough and industrial-looking compared to the high craftsmanship involved in making a lugged or fillet-brazed frame. It's a lot easier to weld things.

    I prefer lugs probably because that's what high quality frames were made of when I first got into cycling as a teenager. Welding was for cheap, oriental-made discount department store bikes back then. It's true that lugged frames are more repairable, but then, this may not always be practical in terms of cost.

    By the way, some lugged frames are silver-brazed rather than bronze, but I really don't think it makes much practical difference.

    Ultimately, if it's your custom-bike, choose what you like best, because it's not going to make one iota of difference when you ride it. But as many custom bikes are kept in living rooms when not being ridden, looks matter :-)

  6. #6
    Senior Member BengeBoy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnxyz View Post
    Thanks Peterpan. Really insightful and useful comments. I'm leaning toward a tig-welded frame now. Which tubeset(s) do you favor for this?
    Also any US builders other than Strongframes that are really good with tig-welding (and don't charge a zillion dollars)?
    Thanks again.
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  7. #7
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    Like you longfemur I grew up with lugs, and welding didn't really show up until later, though bikes have been welded for possibly 100 years, the TIG revolution brought it to modern quality only in the last 20 years or so. I guess the fact crap and art was lugged when I was a kid has meant it isn't a high end only thing to me.

    I think it is harder to weld than to braze. TIG is not easy to pick up, though to any profesional it's kinda irrelevant since one puts in the time and turns out the product. Skill beguiles amateurs, but pros don't think about it. We all learn to write at some functional level and we never obssess about the skill involved once it's there.

    Metal is very easy to repair since strong butts can be made. Repairing a frame is probably pretty rare these days, if it comes up though, I don't see any advantage to repairing lugs. One can pull drops and such when making adjustments, but to actually do a major repair on the frame of another builder is going to make a mess once the paint is on.

  8. #8
    some new kind of kick Suttree's Avatar
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    For my money lugs always win. Lugs are classic in a way that fillet
    and welded frames will never be. Plus there is a thread or seven
    floating around that says that lugged construction is strongest
    among the three. Of course all are plenty strong for the stresses
    encountered in normal riding but there ya go.

  9. #9
    Industry Maven Thylacine's Avatar
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    Lugged - Limited to certain tube sizes. Use brass in place of silver solder. If not properly soldered- weak, hollow areas. Heat can weaken.

    - No, you can silver braze lugged frames.

    Fillet- Brazed - Need to be concerned about properly mitered tubes; and, whether or not the joints have been Bondo'd and filed to hide poor brazing. Brass instead of siver solder. Heat can weaken.

    - Heat can only weaken if there's too much. This isn't joining technique dependent. You can't actually see any of the points you've made in a finished frame, so you're relying on a quality builder.

    Tig-Welded - Only good for aluminum (not sure about this).

    - No, it's good for anything that can be welded.

    Now is heat the enemy of lugged and fillet-brazed tube sets but actually strengthens tig-welded framesets?

    - No. 'Thermophilic' or 'Air Hardening' tubesets (Reynolds 853, True Temper OX Platinum, Columbus Life etc.) retain more of their strength in the heat effected zones than other steels when TIG welded. Brazing does not get up to high enough temp to take advantage of this.

    What is the newest Reyonlds for tig-weding - 853 or a new 900-series?

    - 953 is the newest from Reynolds.

    The Italian tube sets seem to be the more expensive than Reynolds and Tange - true?

    - Nope. For any given type of alloy, the prices are roughly the same.

    Do certain Reynolds require silver-brazing - Waterford, Paramount and Gunnar specialize in this?

    No and No. Silver is used primarily for stainless steel, or where you don't need very much gap-filling properties.

    Sorry for the brief replies. Hope that helps.
    Have you earned your stripes? <<click here / Questions about custom frames? Chat me! - warwickg71 (AIM/iChat) ThylacineCycles (Skype)

  10. #10
    Wheelsuck Fat Boy's Avatar
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    FWIW, Waterford/Gunnar bikes can also be tig welded. Their R-33 (high end race bike) is TIG'd. They use an S3 tubeset that has a tear-drop shaped top tube and an oval-round-oval downtube. Really the only way to use these tubesets is to TIG or fillet braze them. You're not going to find a set of lugs that work. They choose TIG welding. Having seen the welds bare and up close, I can tell you they look gorgeous. The guys that do the welding are pretty amazing.
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  11. #11
    Senior Member Nessism's Avatar
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    Most steel alloys used for bicycle frame tubes these days lend themselves to both brazing and welding; the amount of heat involved is virtually a non issue.

    Virtually any tubeset can be TIG welded or fillet brazed together, but for lugs the outside diameters are constrained somewhat.

    All joining methods are viable and none offers any significant advantage from a durability standpoint (assuming the person joining the tubes knows what they are doing).

    In my opinion, TIG makes sense for race bikes since lightweight, large diameter tubes can be used. Fillet brazed can be used on this type of frame as well but it requires more skill on behalf of the builder and is more expensive and time consuming to execute.

    Lugged frames are aesthetically pleasing to many riders and since these frames use small(er) tube sizes, they tend to have nicer ride qualities than race frames using super OS tube diameters.

    In the end the choice of which joining method should be a secondary decision, not a primary one, depending on what you want from the frame. And don’t forget the builders typically have their specialty so it’s best to not stray too far from what they know best.
    Becareful buying/selling bike parts on-line. I learned the hard way. :(

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  12. #12
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    "For my money lugs always win. Lugs are classic in a way that fillet
    and welded frames will never be."

    Nobody can argue that... except welding goes back probably about as long; lugs aren't the same as they used to be, and have been updated with castings etc...; And a lot of lugs were just ugly plumbing fittings not the romance of the stuff we see today at Nahbs. What we have is an argument where the best lugs are compared to, say, walmart welding. A fairer comparison would be anything that gets lugs these days at the high end, to everything else at the high end. Anyone like mountain bikes? Also, the average lug aesthetic is some kind of mishmash of heraldic forms that looks like one of Goerings delusional uniforms. Who really knows or cares about the symbols or long dead civilizations.

    " Plus there is a thread or seven floating around that says that lugged construction is strongest among the three."

    That's the desperation talking. The basic ideas there are:

    - There is less heat, which is true in peak heat but not time, and both can be a problem, though not in the real world of actual bikes. The lug guys are just looking at the fact that welding heat is higher, and not dealing with, the fact their heat is over the threshold; they have imperfect shielding; they have vastly longer heating times. Consumers should ignore the whole issue.

    - Lugs have more stucture, which is true though the racier ones are pretty minimal, and the added material adds weight. If you net out for weight I doubt lugs lead. And this mainly falls into the "stronger than strong enough" area.


    Also lug maestros sometimes tig their custom lugs or braze when they run out of angle options. The reality is that almost everyone is doing all three somewhere, assuming they know how to weld. This argument is mostly dead amoung the makers. Part of the reason is that they have given up arguing over methods which was an old marketing strategy, and have decided that something like NAHBS makes more sense, everyone who isn't outsourcing (everything) to China under a big tent. There are other reasons like people sell stuff to the trade, and it isn't just people building with lugs who are buying. And as mentioned some of the better makers do all three, sometimes on the same bike.
    Last edited by NoReg; 08-22-08 at 12:30 PM.

  13. #13
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    The joining method is way down the list unless you are centric to a certain type. Type of bike, material, price, and builder rep would be way more important to figure out.

    Proper design and construction trump joining method, tube manufacturer, etc.

  14. #14
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    I've alway like the seamless look of a good fillet brazed frame.
    I've Alway like the look of a roll of dime of a properly TIG welded frame.
    I've alway like the shine of chrome lugs.

    The thing is no matter which method you chose, they all involve a level of mastery. Over the years I've seen all three of those joining methods fail, and I've proably seem some that will outlast me.

    Choose the frame you want and just have fun.

  15. #15
    barnfullagts
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    I have two fillets and have owned lugged in the past. The fillet is just classier and clean
    GT's in the barn: 67 and counting.

  16. #16
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    "The fillet is just classier and clean"

    Fillet brazing gets a big push because it's the least comon in the broader market place. So it has a definite difference.

    I was looking at tools over at UBI, and noticed they said lugs was the easiest to do, so fast you can do a fork during the course also. Hardest learning curve was TIG. But then we knew that anyway.

  17. #17
    Senior Member skinny's Avatar
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    This really just boils down to what you like to look at. As long as the method of construction is properly executed, they all build into strong, functional frames.

  18. #18
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    #1 Lugged . . . and yes had a fully lugged tandem silver brazed. Longevity? Rode it for 64,000 miles.
    #2 Fillet brazed . . . a nice clean seamless look, but without fancy lugwork.
    #3 TIG welded . . . lumpy looking/le$$ but just as good as the others.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Here is a fully lugged (with wndow cutouts) BB shell on rear of our current tandem . . . in carbon fiber. Currently 22,000 miles on that tandem.
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  19. #19
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    I always thought that fillet lugged was easiest, and it doesn't generally impress me much. As far as mitering, any bike made by someone that isn't an idiot will have well mitered joints.

    As far as what joining method to prefer, it looks like with the heat treated materials, TIG is superior, but not by much. I have never heard of any problem brazing chrome moly except here. Hydrogen embrittlement seems like something that is fairly common in welding and not likely in brazing. But generally, I would say frame failure is way down on the list of things to worry about. I have seen failed frames, i think it was more likely with frames made by the guys that put the tubes in an open-hearth blaze and used brass.

  20. #20
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    "As far as what joining method to prefer, it looks like with the heat treated materials, TIG is superior, but not by much."

    That gets said but I don't really beleive it. For instance, it is often said that TIG damages tubes through overheating, but not to worry the butts are thicker and the effect on the joint is not material. The same seems to me indicated with welding air hardening metals. The materials are hardened to some fairly random degree, but since the butts are overbuilt for joinery anyway, it probably doesn't contribute anything worthwhile.


    "I have never heard of any problem brazing chrome moly except here."

    You only have to look in just about any aircraft welding source. It's one of the basics, you don't braze chromo. But as far as problems are concerned, that's a whole other question. I don't know of any with bikes. The only reason I mention it is because it seems like the sort of thing one should know if working with metal. But I have never heard of it as a problem with bikes. Aircraft and bikes may share comon materials, but that doesn't mean all the issues will be the same. I'm trying to toss the standard bike paradigm on it's head. That one says TIG is damaging to chromo, but brazing of either type are OK, theoretically, when the theory is the opposite. In practice, it all works.

  21. #21
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    "#3 TIG welded . . . lumpy looking/le$$ but just as good as the others."

    Lumpy wise, TIG is the only one that can be smooth, and often is regular, right out of the box. Fillets only look smooth because tons of work that generally scratches up the tubes is done to smooth them out. That's not a fair comparison on any basis.

    - Comparable cost could be put into something on a TIG bike that actually mattered, like better tubes, fork, or extra details.

    - Pride of ownership-wise, fillet brazing is a bit unsatisfying. Any idiot can do it with lots of slogging and clean-up, but the work a skilled operator does only reduces the clean-up. So unlike TIG you never see a masterjob, it's always blended by doing bad things with sandpaper.

    Here is some nice work. No mater how skilled, fillet never looks this good out of the tip of the torch. I'm moving away from TIG, and don't sell my work anyway. But I would like to see a more informed TIG consumer. This is Don of Anvil:
    Attached Images Attached Images

  22. #22
    Senior Member Lamplight's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1 View Post
    This is Don of Anvil:
    I used to be a lug-only kind of guy (for the most part) but recently I've developed a new appreciation for fillet brazing and TIG welding. The picture you post is that of a beautiful joint, and I've also come to love some of the old fillet brazed custom French bikes from back in the day. They made the fillets sooo tight and subtle, and a good TIG job reminds me of that after it's painted. Now I like them all!

  23. #23
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    Good points, if you love bikes and metal work it's all interesting. I like minimal silver fillet brazing style also.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by zonatandem View Post
    #1 Lugged . . . and yes had a fully lugged tandem silver brazed. Longevity? Rode it for 64,000 miles.
    #2 Fillet brazed . . . a nice clean seamless look, but without fancy lugwork.
    #3 TIG welded . . . lumpy looking/le$$ but just as good as the others.
    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
    Here is a fully lugged (with wndow cutouts) BB shell on rear of our current tandem . . . in carbon fiber. Currently 22,000 miles on that tandem.
    You keep your cranks 90 degrees off sync?
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  25. #25
    Ho-Jahm Hocam's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kaiju-velo View Post
    For my money lugs always win. Lugs are classic in a way that fillet
    and welded frames will never be
    . Plus there is a thread or seven
    floating around that says that lugged construction is strongest
    among the three. Of course all are plenty strong for the stresses
    encountered in normal riding but there ya go.
    I disagree.








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