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  1. #1
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Self-teaching vs "School"

    As I've been reading, it appears that a lot of framebuilders were self-taught, rather than schooled. The owner of Primus Mootry says so on the front page of his website. One has to dig a bit, but it appears that Doug Curtiss of Curtlo taught himself as well, utilizing a plywood home-made jig.

    I'm considering Koichi Yamaguchi's shool, but, as a reasonably intelligent individual with a knack for fine detail and for making things, I wonder if I could teach myself just as effectively.

    Yamaguchi's school would likely run $3K, when all was said and done. I would leave with a bike frame, perhaps even a well built one depending on my aptitude. It would be a chance to "try my hand" with little more investment than had I purchased a custom frame from Yamaguchi-san. However, if this was something I wanted to continue, I would need to purchase tools.

    On the other hand, I could probably get a torch, fashion a jig of some form from Home Depot supplies, and get a bunch of practice tubing to butcher for less than $1,500 for everything. Another $200 for a proper tube set when I'm ready to actually build. Of course, if I'm no good then I have a bunch of junk that I spent a lot of money on with no further use for.

    Choices, choices.
    Good night...and good luck

  2. #2
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    I also wonder how many years it would take before I could make a fillet brazed joint that looked like this:

    Good night...and good luck

  3. #3
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    If I had the opportunity for professional instruction I would take it. So far I have not, either as a matter of distance, time, and/or cost. This has not stopped me from designing and building a number of frames, for personal use, that have been very satisfactory.

  4. #4
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    As it goes with most things, the answer is...it depends.
    What are you looking to get?
    A super nice custom frame? Your Yamaguchi school frame will be much nicer than anything you'll produce the first time around.
    DIY pride? There is a lot to be said for going it alone. Soemone said in another thread here that the process itself can be very rewarding- and I agree with that.

    My story (condensed version): I started building frames because I'm the type who has to be building something and I wanted a bike that was only available as a custom. I built my first four frames/forks with no jigs or outside help beyond the info I found on the internet. It was the harder way to go for sure, but it was right for me. Later, when I worked in the shops of a couple of established pros, I found I had the base knowledge that let me quickly take my framebuilding to the next level.

    All that said, only you can decide whats best for you. I knew that I could figure it out and make it work, so I went ahead and built a frame.

    I hope that helps!

  5. #5
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Live Wire,

    How did those first four frames go? Are they still around, or did some fatal flaw consign them to the scrapheap as part of the learning process? And you built jigless? Not that I know the slightest about what I'm doing, but that seems like it would be difficult.

    You are right though...it depends. (Perfect fighter pilot answer, by the way.)

    I know that building a frame in Yamaguchi's school will be nicer than most things I would produce the first time around; unless I took the time to practice on so much tubing that when I finally went to create an actual frame I was a well practiced individual.

    It's a tough decision.

    I may cross post this in Frameforum, which I joined the other day.
    Last edited by Banzai; 12-20-09 at 07:07 PM.
    Good night...and good luck

  6. #6
    meech151
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    Just wanted to say that Live Wire, who I believe is Mathews Custom Cycles, builds some of the sweetest stuff around. He is one of my favorite builders even though I don't know him personally. His custom forks are like something you would dip into chocolate and tease people with. You should get him to teach you. I always brag about Yamaguchi because he is the only frame builder I know personally, his background and depth of knowledge on the bicycle blew me away. I just loved going to his shop every day to see what he was gonna do. With that said, I wouldn't mind watching Live Wire work either, not sure what his asking price is. Chao.
    http://meechcustombikes.blogspot.com/
    Last edited by meech151; 12-20-09 at 07:20 PM.

  7. #7
    meech151
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    Sorry, I spelled his name wrong. Matthews Custom Cycles. Whats up man? LOve your stuff.

  8. #8
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    Looked at from a cost perspective, you are going to buy a "real" torch at some point, even if you TIG weld. So for an additional 20-30 bucks, you could get enough materials to practice joints in filet or lug. Play away, see how much progress you make, I think the majority of builders are self taught. If you latter feel the need to get instruction you really aren't out of pocket any for having tried a few joints yourself. You can even build a frame without a jig, and I personally think most home made jigs are not able to delive the main features that make a jig actually valuable.

    I think the main clientel that courses serve are the people who want the experience of making a frame. A properly designed course covers that directly. The cost is reasonable for what you get. Also many people who want the experience want it to be right, in a real shop with all the correct tools.

    Many people who want to build frames for a living probably have (or hope they have) the mechanical skills to teach themselves, and need to keep money in the business. There is also the option of working in an industrial setting for a while and learning that way.

    Many hobbiest want the challenge of working it out for themselves, and if they aren't pros don't want to spend a ton on a course when they also have a lot of unfunded purchases to make.

  9. #9
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Ok...a question that deserves it's own thread, and that I will go search Frameforum for; how does one hold the tubing in place without a jig?

    I have no intention of making a living at this...at least not yet. I make a good living as a fighter pilot right now. But I do want to take it up as a hobby, and make some very small volume sales, as well as do builds at cost for friends, once I'm competent enough to send someone out on a frame that I craft.
    Good night...and good luck

  10. #10
    Old fart JohnDThompson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Banzai View Post
    Ok...a question that deserves it's own thread, and that I will go search Frameforum for; how does one hold the tubing in place without a jig?
    Pins. You assemble the tubes and lugs, align it, then drill holes through the lugs and tubes and tap a pin/nail through to hold it together. Braze it up, nip off the excess pin/nail and file smooth. N.B. if you ever have to replace a tube on a pinned frame, you will need to drill out the pins to remove the tube.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by meech151 View Post
    Sorry, I spelled his name wrong. Matthews Custom Cycles. Whats up man? LOve your stuff.
    Thanks!
    Too bad bad we aren't closer- then we could get togather and maybe between the two of us we could put together a decent website!

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Banzai View Post
    Live Wire,

    How did those first four frames go? Are they still around, or did some fatal flaw consign them to the scrapheap as part of the learning process? And you built jigless? Not that I know the slightest about what I'm doing, but that seems like it would be difficult.

    You are right though...it depends. (Perfect fighter pilot answer, by the way.)

    .
    First four went fine- each one better than the previous one, no "fatal flaws". Each one had a different way of joining the drops and seatstays (just to see what I liked) and subtle geometry changes (mostly BB height and head angle, again, just to see) and I rode them for about 2,000 miles each.

    When I started, there wasn't much info out there beyond the phred list, but it was enough. Now, there are tons of forums, blogs, and flickr sites...get to reading!

  13. #13
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnDThompson View Post
    Pins. You assemble the tubes and lugs, align it, then drill holes through the lugs and tubes and tap a pin/nail through to hold it together. Braze it up, nip off the excess pin/nail and file smooth. N.B. if you ever have to replace a tube on a pinned frame, you will need to drill out the pins to remove the tube.
    Interesting. Of course, my intention is to learn fillet brazing.
    Good night...and good luck

  14. #14
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    Worth mentioning the Paternek videos. A lot of serious folk look down on these and there are reasons as the craft progresses, but if you are starting closer to zero, they are a very big step up. What them with the idea in mind that there are better and simpler ways of doing everything.

  15. #15
    Randomhead
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    Quote Originally Posted by Banzai View Post
    Interesting. Of course, my intention is to learn fillet brazing.
    with fillet, you tack the tubes together, align, then braze the fillet. Gravity, clamping and good miters all help

    Also, see my answer on frameforum
    Last edited by unterhausen; 12-22-09 at 09:02 AM.

  16. #16
    Senior Member PaPa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Banzai View Post
    Of course, my intention is to learn fillet brazing.
    If you intend to build professionally, then I would urge you to consider professional training. It's a safe bet you'll learn more in 2 weeks from a seasoned pro than 10+ years of solo butchery.

  17. #17
    Decrepit Member Scooper's Avatar
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    Tim Sanner (Palo Alto, CA) has been offering a one week (five days) or two weekend (four days, but more hours/day) basic framebuilding class for brazed lug construction. The class is $800, is limited to two students, and you wind up with a lugged frame you've built yourself. I'm signed up for the January 4-8 class.

    I've got the Paterek Manual and the Paterek lugged DVDs, but no experience brazing lugs. I thought having someone like Tim teach me the finer points of handling a torch would be worthwhile and save me time and frustration over doing it by myself through trial and error.

    HERE's a blog by one of Tim's recent students describing his experience.
    - Stan

  18. #18
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    Hi Banzai,

    You asked this question: "I'm considering Koichi Yamaguchi's school, but, as a reasonably intelligent individual with a knack for fine detail and for making things, I wonder if I could teach myself just as effectively."

    There certainly are a number of fine amateur and professional framebuilders who have taught themselves so it is indeed possible. But I believe they are the exception. When you added "just as effectively", there is no chance you can DIY as well. I am one of those that regularly teach framebuilding classes (I did my first one in 1976) so of course my opinion is biased but I think the most sensible way one can make their own frame is to take a framebuilding class. What intelligent person would argue that experienced trained teachers are worthless? That trial and error is as fast and effective as learning from an expert?

    Building a bicycle frame is a bit more complicated than what beginners tend to realize. I was one of those original American framebuilders that went to Europe in the 70's to learn from a master. I already had a BA and MA in education and wanted to bring the secrets back to share with others. There is absolutely no way I could have found out all I did on my own. And I've continued to learn lots from others (including students) as well as from myself since then. It is absolutely inconceivable to me that someone can teach themselves as well as someone with my background could teach them.

    It is not just about having the right knowledge and all the tools, a framebuilding class can really reduce frustration. I find the most necessary aspect of teaching is keeping a student from getting too discouraged. When your hands haven't mastered brazing motions and you are not sure why things are going wrong or what to do next, it is nice to have someone right there getting you out of trouble and showing you exactly what to do. You don't have to start over because you fried something and you don't have to randomly figure out the next move. There are people who enjoy the challenge of doing it all themselves and succeed but the majority need lots of help. As in lots and lots of help. In a two week class I must make over a hundred little corrections to what each student is doing so they didn't end up with big mistakes. This is after a presentation and demonstration. I often wonder what would happen if they were left on their own (but I don't intend to find out).

    So I agree with Livewire that "it depends" - meaning that you might eventually make one of acceptable quality but that depends on your personality and prior shop experiences. And how fast you want to do something well. The residue of your mistakes can hang around a long time. This is not so important as a hobby builder but the stink of early mistakes can spoil a reputation of someone wanting to go pro even after they've figured things out.

    Back years ago everyone that took my classes were just wanting to make there own instead of buying one. Now most have bigger ambitions. I teach 3 students in each class (with an additional part time instructor). I'm a fan of the advantages of group learning. Others ask questions you might not have thought about and make something different to learn from. In addition a presentation to a class tends to be more organized than one-on-one explanations.

    While all the major framebuilding classes do an excellent job, we differ a lot in our approach. I've had a number of students take my classes after going to Yamaguchi or UBI (I took UBI’s first titanium welding class in 1992) so I know how they do things. They weren't unhappy with their experiences, they just wanted to learn more. It is a big subject. Both Dave Bohm (in Arizona) and I teach 3 day brazing classes besides our regular 2 week classes if either time and money are an issue in taking a longer class.

    I want to say I am never opposed to someone learning on their own. This works best for those that enjoy the journey of discovery more than getting to the destination quickly. But I can also add they will be making an inferior product for a longer time than than if they learned from an expert.

  19. #19
    Senior Member PaPa's Avatar
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    A genuine honor... Welcome Doug.

    Even as a 40+ year veteran of the 'blue wrench', I'd jump at the chance to learn your magic. Sadly, I'm 2000 miles from your shop.

  20. #20
    Randomhead
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    I was going to suggest the OP take Doug's brazing class if nothing else. Didn't realize that Dave Bohm was teaching a brazing class. Taking one of those classes seems like a no-brainer to me. It's a lot more practical for many people than a 2 week course.

    Doug, when are you going to offer a painting course?

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by unterhausen View Post
    Doug, when are you going to offer a painting course?
    I don't regularly schedule my painting classes like I do my framebuilding classes. It is on a "when do our schedules coincide" basis. Most of those that I've taught to paint were experienced framebuilders already although that wouldn't be a prerequisite.

    I categorize painting as a bit more difficult than filing which is again a bit harder than brazing. Although the advantage of filing is that it can be done slowly so bad things don’t happen quickly giving time for recovery. In all of these skills you develop a feel for how to do it.

    Right now there is a huge demand to learn how to build frames. I get on average 10 to 15 serious inquiries a month. Besides the 3 day class, I also teach a one week class making a transportation style of frame. All the principals of putting a frame together are included but we don’t cover individual bicycle fit and custom frame design. For the really serious I teach a 3 week class in which we paint their frame as well.

  22. #22
    Older I get, Better I was velonomad's Avatar
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    I have been an amateur builder for about 26 years with 14 frames built . I learned on my own from a Talbot book on Frame building published in the 70's. The brazing part I learned quickly. I never had a frame fail, but alignment ( IE; not having to bend the she-it out of the frame after brazing) and the cosmetic details took me about 4 frames to get right. each successive frame I have learned something new or improved my technique . The last couple of frames (years 2006 and 2007) I finally got the paint work looking the way I want.

    IMO if you have good mechanical aptitude and have the patience and desire to learn on your own it's very rewarding. On the other hand if you want to go the school route you should be a couple or four frames ahead in experience.
    Last edited by velonomad; 12-22-09 at 12:23 PM.

  23. #23
    Senior Member Nessism's Avatar
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    I learned using the Talbot and Paterek books, with some help from Joe Bringheli who was local to me at the time. My first few frames had some flaws, but were rideable, and by the time I completed my 4th frame they were turning out pretty well. I paint my frames as well as build them.

    One thing I did early on was fabricate an alignment table with pedestal attachment for the bottom bracket. You don't need a "jig" per say, but I wouldn't want to try to build without a good solid method to check and tweak alignment as you go. I wound up spending about $1000 - $1500 in tools, which is a lot of money, but they have been with me for a good while now and get used on a regular basis so it's not too bad really.

    I'm sure that taking Doug's, or one of the other classes, would have short cut the learning process, bit I'm quite confident my in my frames at this point although it does take me quite a long while to build one. I'll add that I think building a lugged frame is significantly easier than fillet brazing since the amount of heat involved in the joining process is lower so there is less distortion and warpage.

    If you do decide to give it a go on your own, how about looking for some other locals in your area to help you out? I've helped a few people over the years and would be willing to help others if anyone is in my area. The Framebuiders list is very active so there is a good chance to find someone within reasonable driving distance from you.
    Becareful buying/selling bike parts on-line. I learned the hard way. :(

    Good/Bad Trader Listing

  24. #24
    Jet Jockey Banzai's Avatar
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    Mr. Fattic, truly an honor.

    As soon as I can track down your e-mail address, I'm going to contact you with some more information.
    Good night...and good luck

  25. #25
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    "It's a safe bet you'll learn more in 2 weeks from a seasoned pro than 10+ years of solo butchery."

    I really doubt that unless you take the burchery part literally. 10 years ia a long time. The Wrights started their bike building business and build the first successful power aircraft between 1896-1903. It's just a mater of whether a given person likes to self-teach, and whether that makes sense given their circumstance.

    The 70s were a different time. It is really hard for people who didn't go through it to realize how hard it was to get decent info on anything. These days the info is all there it is just a mater of putting it into action. The people who went to europe in the 70s didn't just sign up for a two week vaccation, they commited.

    If you really wanted to you could braze something in the next 24 hours. Inside a week you could get all the stuff required to build a rack, and build it. It only takes a vise, a file, a propane torch, silver, and tubes. you will learn a lot, though some of it like the propane part is not going to carry you forward for the most part.

    There isn't any argueing that the course is the fastest way to get the first bike finished, but I am less convinced many people go on with it. I would be interested to know some names of people who went on to become successful frame builders after a course. A lot of people just go for the entertainment. It's just like the serious bike tourists aren't always the ones who go on an assisted tour of the wine regions of france... That is not a dig, it is great to have the opportunity to do something new and possibly transformative. But it isn't necesarry to pay someone to introduce you to it. It's a choice.

    It is also the case that both mentally and otherwise, when you leave the course environment sorting out how you will proceed when you are back home is going to be a big deal. You will still have a ton of issues to sort out around how to make it work out of the home shop. There still isn't a course for that. From what I have seen Doung's take away, like his "jig" is probably more friendly in that regard than some paths.

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