This is probably a little ambitious for me, but what is the average cost of a simply designed lugged frame (not including components)? I like the idea of frame building, and would want to start w/ a simple design, any suggestions?
Also, I've inherited my father's cutting torch. Will this be sufficient for brazing the frame together?
Cutting torch is a different animal. If it's just a large torch body you can find or may have tips that are appropriate. A cutting torch has sorta a rose head with a centrally mounted oxygen port such that after the material reaches the melting point the head is switched to oxygen with the fuel essentially being the steel itself.
I don't know what a base kit of stuff costs, but you can find kits at Nova. Tube only kits are like 80, you could braze those together. Then there are lugs sold for maybe 60 a set including BB, and then there are drops and a fork, maybe another 80. Not sure what the cheapest comprehensive kit would be, or if there is one. I buy as I go, and don't build with lugs.
The students in my framebuilding classes pay on average about $400 for frame materials if they use all investment cast parts and standard True Temper or some other brand of tubing. That includes braze on bits and bridging. It is possible to reduce this cost if you look for specials suppliers have. It takes about an ounce of silver (now at $35) and a pound of flux around $12 to make one frame. You will need twice that for practice. A Henry James lug set runs about $100. It is possible to use old stamped lugs, bottom bracket shell and forged dropouts for much cheaper but they increase the risk of failure for someone inexperienced in brazing. On top of that you will want to buy at least 6 ft of straight gauge 4130 .035 wall tubing in various diameters for practice. It costs between $3 and $4 a foot. If you don’t have a good teacher you’ll need a lot more. You will put a lot of time and effort into making a frame if you want it to turn out decent so it doesn’t make any sense to reduce the outcome with cheap materials.
Lugs, tubs, braze-ons on the cheap can be had for around $250; primarily through Nova or abroad. We're not talking the lightest, sexiest tubes/lugs here - just the basics. Add another $50 for various sundries. So, theoretically, you can braze one for $300. You can also get one out of China complete and powder coated for $145; just to put things into perspective.
Here's the really sad part; I used to be a buyer/importer a few years back. I spent three years in China and Taiwan. I would buy things domestically as well. Some of my major suppliers, where I was buying over tens-of-millions of dollars worth of goods from, would tell me I could get it cheaper (from them) if I were to buy it out of China (through them). The discount, just for going through China, was about 10%. This was just raw materials! Due to government involvement (on both sides) there were enough rebates/tax incentives to ship the raw materials to the far east and back to end up saving money! If it had to be fab'd in China, the manufacturer usually got a rebate (in my category up to 60%) so that he could sell at his cost and still make 60% (of course he'd wait 3 years to get his rebate, so he'd subtract the carrying costs of the money as well as a small profit and he'd still make money selling 30% below market cost!). It's just not a level playing field and that's where service and true craftsmanship come into play to allow us to compete.
It's more than service and craftsmanship... Cause frankly... It's that they don't know what is cool until it's done. In this kind of biz there are all these little cool details that only the person who is doing this stuff knows about. One has to keep innovating new texture.