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  1. #1
    If it dont fold frankly.. thatsut's Avatar
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    arc weld bike frames

    I know im opening myself up to alllll sorts of abuse and maltreatment, but please be nice

    any one arc weld bike frames? i have an arc welder and cant afford anything else . but still have some ideas to make my own special bike, which i would really like to do!.

    any problems?

    I can remember arc welded bike frames historically and have seen a link to example of such frames also in BF.

    i know there are thousands if not zillions of "puritans" who say

    "errr...like...no man don't do it ...err like.... heating up the metal is like ...errr... bad for the metal you know like...err...and thats like...err..errr... science!!! dude!!"

    but i would like some experience users recommendations to improving frame quality
    or professional advice along similar lines.

    much apprciated

  2. #2
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    SMAW - not a very good idea.
    GMAW - do able, but not ideal, you may need lots of practice with different wire/gas combos to get a decent bead if looks are important.

    Jeff

  3. #3
    If it dont fold frankly.. thatsut's Avatar
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    thanks sokyroadie, from your experinece of using arc welding in bike frames why do you say "SMAW - not a very good idea" ?

    ps im not intrested in looks (please insert mid eighties wife/mother in law joke )

    i just dont want to believe in hype/myths especially when it means i have to spend 600 plus on a deent tig

  4. #4
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    It's not hype/myths. Bikes break at welds under fatigue. It's very difficult to arc weld a bike frame without inclusions somewhere in a weld. Inclusions are fatigue crack generators. If you do this, it's gotta be gas pipe thick. If that doesn't get in the way of your dream, go ahead. But monitor for cracks

  5. #5
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    I currently hold several SMAW certifications and can say that It would be difficult but certainly not impossible to achieve some level of sucess, I myself would probally use stainless rod for its good tacking characteristics, and I would preheat the rod at about 250 to 300 degrees, doing this would allow you to create a series of over lapping tacks for your weld. Give up any thought of a continous bead but correctly done a series of tacks will be just as pleasant to look at and strong enough to ride. good luck!

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    Interesting thought. Tacking is actually one of my nightmares associated with this process, since each tack leaves a pile of crap behind that requires a thorough cleaning before one goes on. But I have some light elctrodes in SS and might give it a try.

    Here is something I wrote for the Touring forum that might be of interest.

    "With the Potholed thread about a frame that nearly folded in a crash into a pothole, and the subsequent repair, I thought it might be useful to cover the subject of stick welding bikes. Contrary to popular belief, it is perfectly feasible to make a bike with stick welding, though no manufacturer would try it, from what I have heard so far. There are things you can do that will allow you to control the process a little better, and to evaluate the results.

    Stick welding is the cheapest, and in many regards the most generally useful welding type for a rural environment. In NA where people are rich and might engage in large personal projects like trailer building MIG is a major convenience. Stick is the cheapest and most versatile method out there, if less suited to bike tubing scale, so it should be the method you first find in the third world, or in rural areas.

    If you find a Stick welder, and need a repair, one thing you can do is provide your own electrodes. I carry 1/16" Easystrike electrodes. To quote the package:

    "...is specialy designed to produce small welds on thin steel sheet or tubing. The exclusive igniter tip, guarantees an instant strike and non-stick start every time. Typical uses include... Bicycle frames... In most cases ES can be used to replace brazing, TIG welding or torch welding, on delicate or hard-to-weld surfaces."

    While it is a kluge of sorts, it does work pretty much as advertised. A non-stick, and easy starting welding electrode is ideal because problems in those areas will guarantee major impurities are included in the weld, with the weld being laid over a sooty impure surface. It will also cause the welder to use more amps than the ES would require with greater risk of blow-through.

    ES electrodes are pretty expensive, and probably not sold one at a time. There may be other similar products, but even a general duty mild steel electrode is better than what most welder may have. Lincoln 1/16" electrodes are cheaper to buy.

    As you can see in the attached picture, I cut the electrodes in half, remove the flux to create a new contact point. I pack only the electrodes that have the factory end on them, where the flux goes all the way to the end. The other half electrode is useable but without expert prep, may be a lot less viable in roadside hands. It is critical that the flux jacket is solid on the electrode, and if ES electrodes have a fault, it is a slightly fragile flux jacket. So inspect them well. The half length electrode is much easier to weld with, it is more precise and stiffer. A thin electrode is hard to control if it starts to stick and will be wobbly from starting strikes alone. So the half length electrodes are a much better device. Most repairs could be done with a couple of trodes, but a group could carry up to 10 of the shorties to have plenty of stock for practice or attrition.

    Electrodes work best if pre-heated to a point where they are unpleasant to touch. Just leaving them on some clean but hot sunsoaked surface would help. A solar oven would be ideal. They strike and weld better when hot.

    The surfaces to be welded should be scraped free of paint, and sanded clean, then cleaned with a cloth soaked in alcohol. Once dry they are ready to weld. Just the area to be welded and any contact surfaces need to be clean. Be aware some papers have oils on them, and some solvents like acetone have oil residue in them. So alcohol and SC paper are good.

    Stick welding leaves a lot of waste in it's path, yet the welds are fine. You will see soot on the outer perimeter, you will see dots of splattered metal, and you will find the whole bead is covered with a vitreous material that protects the weld pool from oxidization. At first the vitrious material may look like the welding bead, but the actual weld is underneath. Gentle chipping will remove the flux, and the weld can't be evaluated without removing the flux. What is more, every time the electrode is struck anew, it must be over a surface that has been cleaned of all flux and soot, or other residue. The splatter is actual metal deposited on the surface and will do no harm, though it is probably somewhat oxidized. However splater may make it hard to clean a surface.

    A full circular weld, joining a tube will take a minimum of 8 strikes, generally, and will probably require 6 cleaning cycles. This is certainly one reason not to make bikes with stick welding. The same 8 strikes would be completely clean with TIG.

    Generally repairs will consist of 2 separate classes of welds. There will be joints like those in a new bike. These are the most demanding because the weld is going to be loaded under tension where it is weakest. In evaluating such welds, you need to consider how cleanly they were laid down. If you are in the hands of a headstrong welder, who doesn't want to hear a non-welder tell them what to do, or there is a language barrier, you are probably going to see a lot of starts and stops without sufficient cleaning. That will reduce the strength of any welds significantly. You want to see beads that are smooth, continuous, neither sunk below the surface nor perched on it like drops of water on a waxed car. Ugly welds are not relevant. Extra piles of weld are not a big problem, sometime a side trip will allow one to recapture a wandering electrode path , or cool the seam a little, or recut into beads or tacks one is crossing.

    The other category is where something is welded over a tube in a brace. These will generally see less tensile loading. They are a bit like nails in a wooden house frame, loaded mainly in shear. Some tacks, with good fusion in some areas of the pile may well be fine. It is quite possible that welds will be laid that joint two surfaces not in close proximity. While the mantra in bike making is to have perfect joints prior to welding, more generally there will be a gap in welded joints that is linked up allowing better penetration and less trouble with heat distortion. So expect to see that being done, it is standard correct practice.

    Educate yourself, by examining welded structures you come across. Look at cheap steel bikes of reasonable quality, nothing fancy, and come to recognize the quality of welds that will get by, however ugly they may be. Look for bad welds on Chinese import stuff on department store exercise equipment, or hardware items like engine lifts.

    Don't expect too much. There is no reason to believe that even a talented welder can hit the mark on his first try without doing some damage to the bike. Welding is a good way to get a bike fixed in the field where getting back on the road is the main consideration. It is likely to destroy the frame."

  7. #7
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    I slightly have gone down the path of trying alternative welding methods. I did it mostly to learn as a welder, and explore cheaper than existing options for the home hobbyist. I think it can be a bit of a waste of time. It sounds fun when you start, because the benefits such as low investment in gear and adventure are all there, but as the project progresses multiple uncertainties pile up, like will it work, and should I waste all these quality materials, and will it fall apart half way across America. If you have the supreme skill to pull it off, this biz is so traditional minded that you will get less than zero respect for your consummate skill and have to start all over again anyway if you want to do it the "right way" at some point.

    However, less crazy and quite inexpensive, relatively speaking is gas welding. Potentially better than TIG ( at least to the extent that you can come up with your own list of equally strong self-serving delusions for it), and you will have the tool you need for a wide range of things from heat treating tools to brazing.

  8. #8
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    Check out the AtomicZombie site. Lots of guys there are building bikes with arc welders, and the founder uses an AC only arc welder exclusively to build his creations. Admittedly, they are using mostly 16 ga mild steel tubing to make em, but it can be done.

  9. #9
    Senior Member squirtdad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thatsut View Post
    I know im opening myself up to alllll sorts of abuse and maltreatment, but please be nice

    any one arc weld bike frames? i have an arc welder and cant afford anything else . but still have some ideas to make my own special bike, which i would really like to do!.
    :
    I'm no expert so won't comment on the technical question specifically (my brother is the welder) but it might help for you to explain what you in intend make for your special bike...ie what materials, what level finish, what usage.
    '82 Nishiski commuter/utility
    '83 Torpado Super Strada ... cafe commuter
    '89 Miyata 1400
    Soma rush Fixie
    '78 Univega gran turismo (son's Fixie/SS)
    06 Haro x3 (son's bmx)
    Electra cruiser (wife's bike)

    looking for: De Rosa 58cm ELOS frame and fork internal cable routing

  10. #10
    Senior Member Crank57's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by thatsut View Post
    any one arc weld bike frames? i have an arc welder and cant afford anything else . but still have some ideas to make my own special bike, which i would really like to do!.

    any problems?

    but i would like some experience users recommendations to improving frame quality
    or professional advice along similar lines.

    much apprciated
    I once had a welder working for me who could weld 20ga steel ductwork with an arc welder.
    That material was .035" (.88mm) thick. He was the only person I have ever personally known to use this method, but what he did was clamp a carbon electrode (arc air type) in the electrode holder and used a coat hanger wire for a filler rod. He was using the carbon arc like a gas torch and did some amazing work and somehow the heat affected zone was very minimal. Much less than either regular arc or gas torch methods.

    I have never tried to do this with a bike frame, but I can't see why it would not work. Would be cheap enough to get some tube scraps and an electrode and try it out; you already have the welder.

  11. #11
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    I don't see any way that method could provide a good result, there is no shielding of any kind. With gas welding the combustion gasses are a shield, with arc the vitrious material is a shield, and with TIG there is shield gas. I never really uderstood how the carbon arc welding handled that, but it was used. Maybe they used a coated electrode, I have some video of it being done. With steel ductwork, one isn't subjecting it to massive loads. The other possibility is that he was really pushing the material, a bit more like brazing, not melting it in a lot. Indeed with thin material there is always a bias in that direction. But it does go to show that there are a lot more methods out there than make the hit parade.

  12. #12
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    Is there any chance that your "arc" welder is ac/dc? If it's dc capable, all you need to purchase is a tig torch, a gas regulator and cylinder of argon.
    Birth Certificate, Passport, Marriage License Driver's License and Residency Permit all say I'm a Fred. I guess there's no denying it.

  13. #13
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    Fair point. I've seen some guys who did OK with that, but the OP sounds like he at the very least isn't welder enough to have answered the question he posed himself. For a newbie teaching yourself TIG is a high enough hurdle, teaching yourself tig without the ability to vary the amps, or HF start, or with the contamination of scratch start, will all just add to the problems.

    Also if one is cheap, often the cheapest alternative is not to spend money twice. It isn't alway possible to upgrade through the stuff one spent for a scratch start set-up. If one eventually gets a decent machine it can be money spent twice in certain respects.

  14. #14
    Senior Member Crank57's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peterpan1 View Post
    I don't see any way that method could provide a good result, there is no shielding of any kind. With gas welding the combustion gasses are a shield, with arc the vitrious material is a shield, and with TIG there is shield gas. I never really uderstood how the carbon arc welding handled that, but it was used.
    I think the burning of the carbon electrode creates a reducing gas atmosphere around the arc which serves as a shield. Somewhat similar to the ox/acet gas welding process. Sometimes flux coated electrodes (6011) were used, but with most of the flux knocked off first.

    You might be correct about the process of pushing the filler material into the joint. That could help explain why the heat affected area was so small. It looked like the carbon electrode was laying right on top of the filler rod, on top of the joint. And when it was arcing it sounded like frying eggs. But the results were really surprising. Very nice bead. Not like a skilled welder with TIG, but a lot better than you might expect.

  15. #15
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    I had a look at a the tape, and they were using a fluxed rod with the carbon arc. It did deposit the flux over the joint but there wasn't a sparkler effect, so there wasn't the fire hazard etc... of arc. I'd sure be interested in the process you saw, just for my stranger than fiction collection of welding processes. Welding is a pretty vast field.

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