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  1. #1
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    questions

    I am interested in building up my own frame. The reason why I want to build up my own frame is it looks like fun and I'm short so frames are hard to find. I am hoping to build a bike that works for 650b or 650c wheels and is 42 cm. I've heard a bike that small would be difficult to build with lugs, but is possible with fillet brazing? and TIG is a lot easier to build a 42cm bicycle? Perhaps I heard incorrectly.

    I'm okay with tools but know nothing about welding, I'm a girl...well...not like that matters. I have two options I suppose; go to the local community college and take a welding class or attend the UBI (20 minutes away). I looked up the classes but I don't even understand what the difference between TIG and brazing means.

    what do I do? any books or websites I could look at or read up on? or even videos?

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    Welding actually pools the metal of the two tubes and some additional metal together. It fuses the parts. This is a very strong joint, though it does weaken the metal involved as do all methods. Conventional design details ensure this is no problem.

    In fillet brazing a secondary metal, some kind of alloy of silver or brass is deposited on the heated tube surface and adheres to the metal strongly. This is the same thing that happens within lugs, except with fillet brazing the amount of hard solder used is sufficient to build up the joint without a lug being involved.

    With either welding or fillets you can assemble tubes in any form you want so long as the tubes are carefully fitted together. Fitting tubes used to be a very skilled activity, but the existence of pattern software that is very easy to use, or machinery, has simplified things. So yes, choosing one or the other of these methods would give you more options.

    Welding is pretty difficult to learn, particularly should you have to teach yourself. Even when you can weld with instruction on another machine, you may find difficulties setting yourself up. That said welding allows certain builds like Ti and Aluminum, and is fascinating. Fillet, for steel is pretty hard to beat. Reasonably easy to do, most builders will have the gear and use it for some part of a build, so it is kinda a sunk cost.

    Where you learn depends one two main things. 1) what you want out of it. Do you want to teach yourself, do you want the challenge, or do you want to get started as soon as possible.

    2) The other thing is what access you have financial or geographic.

    If you are near UBI, that is pretty hard to beat. Of all the things I have tried, frame building is the most expensive to set up for as a hobbyist. You can get the gear to build a round the world yacht for less than the frame prep tools for frames, and that is just one part of what you need. So while there are cheap dodges, getting your feet wet at a place like UBI makes a lot of sense. At the one end you end up with a frame, and the experience might be enough for you. At the other extreme at least you know what kind of tools and skill you will need to develop, and will have a good basis for a direction.

  3. #3
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    I will differ with MassiveD in that hobby building is expensive. Perhaps only if you buy into (bad pun) all the hype surrounding tooling. Any school you attend will be well tooled of course, so if you attend any that's the way you'll learn. But there are many who are self taught or learned from an "old school" builder. Some of the most experienced builders only use expensive tools as a method to make their business efficient, not a need for a hobby builder. With some fore thought, networking with other hobbiests and Craig's Listing the cost of your tools can be only a few hundred $, or less. You won't be looked at as some kind of "super cool builder" except by those who know what it takes, reguardless of the tools.


    As to attending a school, I'd learn to braze first. This can be done through friends, frame school or even art schools. Perhaps you have some skill you can barter with an experienced torch guy. The guy i'm teaching has only purchased some files and production cloth to do his prep work on practice joints at home. Soon he will need to contribute to the refilling of my tanks, maybe $50 for 6 months of off and on practice. Andy.

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    I think it's definitely more expensive to build a frame than it first appears. Really depends on how much you want out of it. I think that the cost of UBI or another school is compatible to the amount that a first frame is going to cost. There aren't very many people like Andy around that will teach you how to build. I probably would for a few people I know, but scheduling is a real problem.

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    How expensive can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to be independent of others the cost to set up for joining frame materials can be pretty significant. Not worth it for just one frame. With your lack of experience especially it's probably not something you want to consider. Like Andy said, for the hobbyist builder you don't need other expensive tools. And there are ways around the cost of welding equipment too.

    Learn to weld first, or at least try. You might find that you just don't have the passion for it.

    Right now I have a friend (also a girl) who I'm helping get together her own frame. She has some metal-working skills and is actually a pretty decent mig welder, but has zero experience with torch. So we worked on the design together and she is filing and fitting tubes with a bit of help, but I'll probably finish it up. We'll see how she progresses with the welding practice. This ends up being a win-win for me because I get to continue building frames without the other expenses. Framebuilding is an expensive hobby. The frame is relatively cheap but you got to add the other bits to make it ridable.

    I have built a 650C bike. It's fillet brazed but this particular frame could have employed lugs easily. Not totally necessary but with 650C you may want to build the fork too.

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    I've been teaching framebuilding classes since 1976 so my opinions are very biased but based on years of observations. I definitely recommend going to UBI to build your first frame. They are good people and will greatly smooth out your learning curve. Almost all students learning to braze make the same rookie mistakes that will prevent their first efforts from being successful. One can either attempt to figure out what is wrong by trial and error (good luck with that) or have an expert instructor explain what to do (and what not to do), show them how it is done and finally coach them while they are doing it. I might add good schools will have brazing exercises that start simple to get a foundation understanding of the motions needed and then practice with more complex joints as confidence and ability increase. In every class almost all students start to go off track even after hearing and seeing how it should be done. I often wonder what would happen if they were left on their own or were never shown the right way to begin with. It should be a no-brainer which way to learn will give the fastest and best results.


    Taking a framebuilding class is relatively expensive but so is making one on your own. In a class you don't have to buy any equipment or rent tools and you end up with a custom frame designed just to fit you. On your own, you will have to do a ton of practice joints and try to get equipment that may or may not do the job. I think it is a guy thing to try and be independent and never ask for directions. I might add that poorly made beginner frames can last a long time representing and hurting a reputation well after the builder has improved.


    There is one aspect of learning to build frames that is seldom mentioned online. Because it is difficult it can be frustrating. One of my big responsibilities as a teacher - after explaining and demonstrating how things are done - is managing a student's frustration. Their hands don't work as fast or accurately as they want them too and they can effect how they feel about what they are doing. A good teacher understands what they are going through and can help them get by a rough patch – even taking over a difficult section occasionally so they don't get stuck.


    One bit of advice if going to UBI is that I would find help in getting your frame somewhat designed before class starts. There is little time in a 2 week class for intensive instruction in all areas. Students say time goes by really fast and it can be a challenge to keep up. I've been doing a lot more 3 week classes so there is more time for advanced instruction and extra time for slower students.


    I've built a lot of women's frames in my career and it is possible to build a 650C frame with lugs but it depends on how your bicycle position converts to a frame design. In addition to the option of fillet brazing one can do a bilaminate construction in which decorative sleeves can be added to a fillet brazed joint. I would advise learning to braze before learning to tig weld. By the way I've had quite a few women take my classes over the years and they have all made very nice frames without exception. It is not a gender specific job.

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    managing frustration is still an issue for me
    Doug, are you recommending UBI because you are full up for the foreseeable future, or out of modesty? I would go take one of Doug's classes in a heartbeat. I tried to get him to teach me to paint, but he pretends he never got any of my emails.

  8. #8
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    All- Since I am not "open" for students my teaching is convience and schedule dependent. I am willing to start with who ever seems to be willing, and work out, but some will not finish a frame. A very flexible and evolving relationship is understood.


    If i may advicate for Doug, what ever his class schedule he is perhaps the most experienced at teaching. I'd listen to his advice. While he and i do differ in our methods his is proven. One would not be wrong to follow his advice.


    My point in posting was to try to explane that this activity does not have to be expensive. It all depends on your expectations and skills. Much of building is pretty basic blacksmithy. The hype and all is not. Some basic tools are needed to help make a frame. But pricy flat surfaces, pro jigs, measurment devices, power machines are not where good frames come from. They come from the craft of the builder.


    I have chased this hobby for over 3 decades. As i have placed more importance in my building my tooling has increased. But my frames' might not be any better for it. All rode well (more or less) in my view when they were done. Andy.

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    "My point in posting was to try to explane that this activity does not have to be expensive. It all depends on your expectations and skills. Much of building is pretty basic blacksmithy. The hype and all is not. Some basic tools are needed to help make a frame. But pricy flat surfaces, pro jigs, measurment devices, power machines are not where good frames come from. They come from the craft of the builder."

    Over the years there have been a lot of discussions about building at the cheapest level, using torches designed to strip paint etc... But assuming you want to do a base level job, you are talking a lot of money. Welders are in the 2000-4000 range new, A torch set-up new is probably 300, plus whatever gas cost locally, and in some places gas runs from expensive to not sold to private citizens. That is just for starters. You can build a catamaran with a drill driver, a polisher, a jigsaw, and some oversized tongue depressors.

    There are two other factors:

    Sure everything can be found second hand but for the most part I found out about all the best dodges and whether they worked by buying a lot o different things along the way. I know what you need and were to get it cheap, and you will know what I know after you spend the first 20K and 5 years.

    And, the reality is that people who get sucked into this activity, as with any other hobby have certain perceptions in mind. So while people don't need jigs, mills or some other expensive tools, they go down the path of some level of professional gear, and they end up spending a lot more money than the cheaper path would imply.

    People who mostly want just one bike, and the experience should run to a class and count themselves lucky. Classes are a very economical option for people who actually wanted the bike they built in class.

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    Randomhead
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    one of the disadvantages of the internet is that you can see all the people building frames with their expensive tools. Pre-internet, we couldn't really learn from each other, but we didn't have expectations that it required $20,000 to get started either.

  11. #11
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    Unterhausen, I suggested UBI because I think she will likely only choose between the 2 options of either trying to do it herself or go to UBI and UBI is her best choice of the 2 in my opinion. I don't think it is likely she would travel to Niles, Michigan if UBI is so close whatever qualities my class may have. The most likely student to come to my class is the one that does the most research online of past student blogs and what qualifications teachers have knowing not all are the same. My class schedule is full for 2012 and I haven't started the one for 2013 yet so if someone really wants to come I can begin to open those classes up. They fill up fast once I announce the dates. Occasionally someone cancels. I teach 7 classes a year with 3 students in each class with Herbie Helm assisting me. I do a 3 day intro class right after New Years. Most of them are 3 weeks long but I teach a couple of 2 week classes for those that can't spare more time. The 3 week class allows more time for doing special things like cutting out blank lugs into a more unique or fancy design. Sometimes if they work late into the evenings we can paint the frames before they leave. There are a number of students that take courses from several schools and I know from their comments that some are a lot better than others.


    I like teaching painting classes but can only squeeze one or two in a year when both my schedule and a student's agree. Mostly my painting students are pro builders.

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    I think my decision is to go to the UBI now. I don't what class to take! My goal is to build a cx frame

  13. #13
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    I agree that taking a class is a very good idea. Professional training in technique, a complement of tooling beyond most and a structure of approach that works (this last aspect is more important then many would think at first thought).


    But that is not what I was trying to say with my first post. With critical thinking (helped by advice or course) one can devise low cost methods to make a good enough frame. Good enough by the builder/rider. Maybe not by his/her friends, maybe not by the "super cool guys" but good enought to make the experience and result a worthy one.

    I am one of the guys that MassiveD discribes. I have continued this passion over many years continuing to add to my tooling and understanding. But the first half dozen frames used very basic tooling. In fact this gives me the understanding that seems to be missing lately. Do i enjoy the ease of mitering a tube by hand with a bench grinder and file to fit when it is inserted into my HJ jig. Yes I do. But it took a lot of frames to know that the cost of the jig would be justified by the pleasure i get when using it. The many ways that i tried to miter tubes makes me know that a half assed mitering system won't make me happy. So I'll stay with hand methods until I can afford something really nice.

    We all make these choices about our stuff. Heck, deciding to make a frame, instead of buying one, is just one of these decisions where we balance cost VS bennefit. How we value cost and bennifet is the real issue. I just wanted to say that spending big $ is not a need to make a frame that works. Andy.

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