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  1. #1
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    How to get practice after your first frame in a cost effective way

    Ok, I've been eyeing UBI for a while, and now that I have a friend living out in Portland, I think now's the time to pull the trigger. My question to all of you "How to build more frames after the first to pay off gear, start making money etc?". This question is different than all the rest I've seen because I'm specifically wondering how to get up to the initial 20-50 frames before I try to "go pro" or at least to pay off equipment. So I'm saying I don't have 20 friends who would buy costom frames from me, I would like to sell frame number 4 or 5 but I don't want to do it in an unethical way. Is there some way I could sell frames, maybe just at cost of materials, with some sort of waiver? Like I'll give a best effort to help fix any problem, but I'm not a professional, I'm just a guy?

    Does that make sense? Do most of you just give away free frames or have 20 sitting in the basement someplace? I'm not trying to go full time ever, I just want to make nice bikes for people on occasion and have a physical hobby, as I work for myself in front of a computer all day.

    Does that make sense?
    Last edited by astrx; 08-21-12 at 01:33 PM.

  2. #2
    tuz
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    Good question. I think most hobbyists are in the same boat. In my case I made 5 frames for myself (3 of them ridden regularly over 3 years) then 4 more for friends at the cost of materials. I'm considering building for more distant friends and charging a bit for my time.

    What's ethical is to make a good frame & fork. Some time back I sent out parts (fork and stem) for fatigue testing to get an idea of where I was standing. Quite instructive and not that expensive. Another way is to have some sort of insurance, but that makes more sense if you have an actual business.

    Anything will fail at some point. So you need to gain experience and test what you make. I figure it takes 5-10 frames to develop a good feel for the process (and lots of practice joints for autopsy purposes), and probably 20-30 to gain a legitimate confidence? The in-between period is a bit of a catch-22. Not sure what the answer is...
    Last edited by tuz; 08-21-12 at 02:41 PM.
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
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  3. #3
    Randomhead
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    yes, it makes sense. I let my insurance lapse and I'm not doing any work for anyone. I do enough to keep my skills up. If you really want to do this fulltime, you should try to figure out how to get the money to practice, and not on your friends until you are fairly skilled. You can practice on scraps for a while, no reason to always build frames. When I wanted to learn how to braze lugs with brass, I used scrap tubing.

    As far as waivers go, they aren't worth bothering with

  4. #4
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    My understanding is that if you transfer a product to another then you're a dealer (don't ask how I learned this). No money needs to be involved. By the same token (sorry couldn't resist the pun) you can't sign off of any right to sue. So making frames for friends is selling and accepting all the liability that goes along. Even if a friend doesn't go after you another who was involved in the bad situation could.

    So what do you do? One solution is to start to make a stock series of frames. No need to paint them but do protect them from rust. After you have the chops then these can be sold off and offset the investment. Another is to work under someone else for a while. Good luck here, there are only a few openings every so often. Not many other industries use the fab and brazing skills the frame building does but finding one is another way to build your skill set.

    Basicly it takes money to make money. Like when opening a bike shop. There's money for the overhead (tools, rent, fixtures) and then there's the cost of the inventory (the frames you practice on that might sell later). Good luck. Andy.

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    It's a rare day a guy could start building, go to the shows, and sell everyone from the getgo. Ten years ago it happened for some guys, but that was a perfect storm and they had a good leg up. I agree with Andy, giving them away is just like selling them and not a responsible action for your future. I know there are guys out there doing that, but it's not the right way to do it. You need to make frames intensively as you refine your style and gain skills. It costs money, and is just like going to school. So my recommendation is to go to UBI and build a frame, then go home and spend the time and money to repeat that frame about a dozen times within the first year. Move your parts from one to the next and retire them to the attic or cut them up. Paint them with spray paint as you go, you wouldn't believe how much you learn about your metal work when you start putting paint on. After that first year and a dozen frames evaluate where you are. It'll be money well spent any way you look at it. And don't build bikes for the road without provisions for brakes at both ends.
    Craig

  6. #6
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
    My understanding is that if you transfer a product to another then you're a dealer (don't ask how I learned this). No money needs to be involved. By the same token (sorry couldn't resist the pun) you can't sign off of any right to sue. So making frames for friends is selling and accepting all the liability that goes along. Even if a friend doesn't go after you another who was involved in the bad situation could.

    So what do you do? One solution is to start to make a stock series of frames. No need to paint them but do protect them from rust. After you have the chops then these can be sold off and offset the investment. Another is to work under someone else for a while. Good luck here, there are only a few openings every so often. Not many other industries use the fab and brazing skills the frame building does but finding one is another way to build your skill set.

    Basicly it takes money to make money. Like when opening a bike shop. There's money for the overhead (tools, rent, fixtures) and then there's the cost of the inventory (the frames you practice on that might sell later). Good luck. Andy.
    Can you explain this stock series a bit more?

  7. #7
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    so it seems like i should make bikes for myself (maybe 5-10) and also make a lot of test joints. The test joints sounds cool. If I know how to TIG I'll most likely just be looking for reasons to weld things together, baskets, car parts, whatever.

    But now it seems like before recouping any initial investment on this hobby, i'm looking at spending:
    1 cost of UBI, housing, flights
    2 cost of equipment at home
    3 cost of 10 bikes and scraps

    all these things will be "investments" before I can ever thing of making a cent back? Is that correct?
    I also live in Pittsburgh, and it seems like there aren't any custom frame builders (I think Thick might still do it, but they exclusively worked with freestyle bikes)

    Does that sound correct? So perhaps $10k into a "hobby" until I start digging myself out of the hole? That's tough to swallow.

  8. #8
    Randomhead
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    it's really easy to dump $10k into framebuilding before you make any money, even if you have experience. Insurance is over $2k a year, for one thing. The thing you have to recognize is that you might not make any money anyway. There are a number of builders who have sought other opportunities in the last couple of years. It's like any other business -- most fail. There really aren't very many full-time builders around.

    Of course, I don't know if I really have any standing here, Trek sold my 4th frame

  9. #9
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    thanks for the thoughtful response. really i'd love to break even in 2 or 3 years. it's really hard to justify 10k for fun. i've got a motorcycle that eats my money for that. but for some reason, i think that i should decide if i want to build more frames after my first, as that will determine the best path. for instance, i don't want to buy a jig and *then* realize i never want to make another frame again...

  10. #10
    tuz
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    I'd say that a hobby by definition costs money. A business can go either way. How much you want to invest can vary significantly. A nice jig and TIG welder can cost you 8k. A torch and homemade basic fixtures $400. And a whole spectrum in between. Same for the rest of the equipment. The lesser variation is in the building materials.

    It's hard to say how many frames one needs to make to get passed the steeper part of the learning curve. There is only one way to know... Building one frame under supervision is a great way to get started.
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
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  11. #11
    Randomhead
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    you also might want to try to get into one of Doug Fattic's classes. Nova has specials every month, and it only costs about $200 to build a frame-like object.

  12. #12
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    Interesting. So I guess ramp up could vary greatly. I've been lurking around here for a while, but still don't fully understand the tooling.
    I was planning on going to UBI for the TIG Titanium class. I figured welding is a more generalization skill than brazing so it could be a nice intro into other metal projects, with TIG I can make a bunch of crazy geometry frames that, for some reason, I am really into, and Ti seems better for the Pittsburgh winters, as if you look inside of most steel frames ridden daily here, they look sad.

    Anyway, tooling for TIG Ti versus Steel brazing? Much difference in pricing?

  13. #13
    tuz
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    That's probably the biggest difference in cost you can come up with? Both Ti ($3/in) and TIG have significantly more upfront cost compared to steel and brazing. And Ti is hard on tooling and finicky to weld from what I read, requiring dedicated equipment, back purging, etc...
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
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  14. #14
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    I guess that's why people start out with steel... guess more research is needed.

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    There have been a ton of threads on UBI courses in the various forums over the years. Generally, the consensus seems to be the more you know going in, the more you get out of it. You don't want to use the time trying to get a decent bead when you could be learning about design/alignment/fixturing/etc.
    Since you want to do the most difficult joining along with the most difficult to work with material, I'd say you should know how to tig weld fairly well before you go.

  16. #16
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    Seems like these various threads say different stories about Ti. Some people say that as long as you keep things clean, Ti is a dream to work with, others say the opposite. I'm still unsure if Ti is the worth the trouble, but does anyone know what's the cost of a typical hobbyist steel setup versus a typical hobbyist Ti setup?

  17. #17
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    astrx- Stock series"- frames built to a size spec but not solely intended for any one in paticular. Another words just like the big companies do. You could add some sizing options like a long and short TT on each size. Others have done this before. Bill Boston comes to mind.

    I agree with them that said that the more you bring to a class the more you get out of it. Doug Fattic would dissagree though. He feels that starting your efforts with good practice is better then trying to un learn bad before moving onto the good. So there are the both sides of that point.

    There are so many who feel that getting into building requires a large out lay for tooling. They are the people that haven't done it yet. Newbies see the online photos of the established builders and assume that's what makes them successful. Some of this process (learning to build) is getting good with doing things. Less is how the steps are done but more how to do what ever steps you do well and efficiently. For the cost of a class and all that goes with it you can get set up with basic tools and start your practicing. No need for a jig, mill, lathe (but they are cool), sandblaster. The biggest first tool I'd get is a 3x4 surface plate with a good vice (or two), hand drill, a bunch of files, tube blocks (that you can make with your vice and drill), some measuring devices. As you progress you'll learn what tooling you can get the most value out of.

    As others have said many times before the time to build/practice is a greater need then the speed that you do it at. The ability to problem solve and create inexpensive tooling (braze on fixtures as an example) is a skill that you'll always need, reguardless of the power tools you do or don't have. Andy.

  18. #18
    tuz
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    No idea what the typical steel setup cost is. There is a minimum but hardly a max. You can spend 5k on a nice frame & fork jig, or $250 of materials and a bit of machining to make dummy wheels and a basic fixture. You can spend 2k on a new TIG welder or $250 for a basic torch kit with tips, hoses and tanks. $300 on tube blocks and files or 6k on a mill, M42 mitre cutters and mitring fixtures. A big surface plate or a smaller C-channel plate. Campag or Xpert tool kit. And etc. Minimum is probably 3k, plus mistakes along the way. For Ti I wouldn't know.
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
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    The thing is, if you are building for other people, you have to do a good job in a reasonable amount of time. This really means you need a certain amount of equipment. As a minimum, you need the ability to check alignment. Pretty soon, the investment starts to add up. Your processes have to have an element of certainty that good tooling gives you. I really don't feel like making a list for what I think going into business would require, but it adds up quickly.

    I think when I started we were a little luckier. Some of the shops I see from lone framebuilders are better equipped than Trek was in the '70s. It wasn't all that easy to go out and buy bike specific tools, importing was a drawn out process. So we improvised and built our own. You can do a lot with angle iron and allthread. I think one of my best investments back in the '70s was a box of 2" long 3/8" bolts and matching nuts.

  20. #20
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    Thanks for all the responses. I definitely get what you guys are saying. I wish we could get some stats like:
    during frame 1 what was the total cost of equipment you had at the time
    during frame 2
    during frame 3
    etc.

    I imagine it's a ramp up.
    I'd love to earn some money in building bike frames. Right now I'm an interaction designer, i also run a coworking space and have about 1000 square feet of raw basement space (with a door to the outside) that I could donate to my frame building, and I work for myself, so I think there will be no better time than now. Do some website design for a few hours, go downstairs and file for a while, repeat. I'd love to split my time and income between the two and considering how much I paid for a masters in interaction design, spending 5 even 10k on framebuilding classes and equipment seems like a bargain. I also think that Pittsburgh could use at least one framebuilder.

    Anyway, more lurking, more posting.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by astrx View Post
    Thanks for all the responses. I definitely get what you guys are saying. I wish we could get some stats like:
    during frame 1 what was the total cost of equipment you had at the time
    during frame 2
    during frame 3
    etc.

    I imagine it's a ramp up.
    I'd love to earn some money in building bike frames. Right now I'm an interaction designer, i also run a coworking space and have about 1000 square feet of raw basement space (with a door to the outside) that I could donate to my frame building, and I work for myself, so I think there will be no better time than now. Do some website design for a few hours, go downstairs and file for a while, repeat. I'd love to split my time and income between the two and considering how much I paid for a masters in interaction design, spending 5 even 10k on framebuilding classes and equipment seems like a bargain. I also think that Pittsburgh could use at least one framebuilder.

    Anyway, more lurking, more posting.
    first bike I had a torch,approriate sized files, dial indicator/scratch guage,machinist square and a Bringheli C channel set up. I already had the torch so truly the additional cost was the files and C channel and measuring tools
    The front triangle was pretty straight and the rear triangle was ok(thank goodness for horizontal dropouts)

    I've added stuff to the collection, most of which makes my hobby building easier
    these include , a 3 week class, HJ access jig, a mill, a 2X3 granite plate,lug vise, a Park professional bike stand, and various tube blocks and cutting tools for the mill
    I've pissed away a fair amount of money on the not completely neccesary bits but it's a nice hobby and hobbies cost money.

    I came out of the class with 2 frames and forks and a lot more knowledge and better techniques than I went in with. Excellent money spent on a personal level

    atmo: Remove the rose colored glasses and what your left with is hard work that usually really doesn't pay that well.
    also atmo: the 2 hours on 2 hours off is a great way to never get into the flow.

  22. #22
    anti-sheep astrx's Avatar
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    Sorry, I didn't mean two hours specifically, but I think everyone has a different "flow" state. I actually split my day into 3 3.5 hour blocks with breaks in between. I think I might have ADD or something, but if I sit in one place for 4 hours i usually lose my mind, which is probably why I've never had a real job.

    Anyway, I figured there is a good ramp up. The first frame is hard to build because you don't have all the nice toys, but each frame gets a little easier to make because you put more into equipment.

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    During frame 1 I had a vise and some straight edges, BB, HT, crown cutting tools. Other little stuff like files and tube blocks and the like.
    By number 3 or 4 I had a small piece of granite, but migrated over to using Bringheli post mounted on a sheet of 1" mdf board cut into thirds and glued together. It works surprisingly well for checking, not cranking though. It was more accurate than anyone's first few frames will ever be. I used it until I got a nice cast table at a local sale. At that point I was consistent and refining. Somewhere in there I bought a Bringheli jig and still use it. I think about frame 5 or 6? A good torch, nice regulators, dynafile, what else? In the end it's a lot of regularly used little stuff that is valuable. Out side of being able to measure to a good standard and cutting/facing everything else is gravy. You can do without a lot of stuff, I don't really have anything fancy outside of the specialized cutting tools.
    I would rank them:
    1. torch
    2. cutting/facing tools
    3. surface w/height gauge and accessories
    4. dynafile
    5. jig

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    As an amateur, I think the main deal is to just eat the costs. It is a crazy expensive hobby, but so is buying state of the art bike gear, this is just a different portal. I go to my local, nobody-ever-heard-of-it bike shop and they have rack after rack of expensive 2-4 grand suspension bikes. Two of those is all the gear you need for setting up a fairly tech shop. You can do it for a lot less, but not with tooling, fixtures, and welding.

    Pro, there are basically several ways to go. The best is to find a place to work. This is likely a semi-factory, not going to be easy, but then in wasn't easy when the standard bearers of today went to europe to find info. That said, there are always technical individuals with a special skill in manufacturing or sales, who just breeze through either business development or the technical side.

    On the insurance side I think this is overstated. To the exact degree that you need insurance, insurance will not pay off. It is not a social program for the welfare of your cliantele, but a very fragile means of protecting your assets. The best means of protecting assets is not to have them, which is the likely situation many framebuilders will face, or to incorporate etc... as part of the package. Frame building insurance remains available because no large claims have been made or paid out. This is not an industry that can eat multi million dollar pay outs, the insurance remains because claims are not being made. Which is something to consider. One way to minimize claims is to build bikes that will not be ridden, or ridden in dangerous situations. Build trailer queens. I probably wouldn't build commuting bikes, even if there was a market for them.

    As far as selling the first frames... I am against selling them to family for several reasons. What role does family actually play? In large part they just like you. One in battening on their good graces, and probably selling them a story that has not really come to pass yet. I think that is bad for family relations. As important, it does little for you. These people can't intelligently evangelize for you in most cases. You can't build a rep by satisfying mom. Of course there are exceptions, if your family is the Von Trapps of Cycling, or something. But in most cases you need to get your stuff out there. The examples I have seen where that became a durable business are for people who had a position in the community, were well known racers, or whatever, and they drew clients like flies to honey. In the two cases I know personally they also owned bike shops.

  25. #25
    tuz
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    Quote Originally Posted by astrx View Post
    ...

    Anyway, I figured there is a good ramp up. The first frame is hard to build because you don't have all the nice toys, but each frame gets a little easier to make because you put more into equipment.
    In my case my equipment has remained steadily minimal. Got rid of a few bulky jigs and replaced them with simpler things. I don't think it gets easier with more equipment, but rather with experience and by testing processes until you find one you are comfortable with. Along the way you may find you need more stuff or to get rid of some.

    I estimate that starting with Ti and TIG is unrealistic. A common suggestion is to take a welding course at a community college. An affordable way to get a reality check.
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
    bla bla blog

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