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  1. #1
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    Advice on how to approach my first frame build

    Hello All:
    I am signed up for a frame building class at the Salt Lake City Bicycle Collective in Feb. My ideal bike would have polished stainless steel lugs, crown, and drop outs. Maybe even a stainless steel drive side chainstay to mimic vintage chrome.
    That's the ideal, but I have to expect that my first frame might not turn out so well. With that in mind the conservative approach would be to treat the first frame as a learning experience and use the most basic tubes and lug set. The problem with that is that I don't know when I'll get a chance to build a second frame.
    My background includes work in a machine shop and I do hobby woodwork (Stickley/Ellis reproductions) with pretty close tolerances. With that background, I believe I'll be able to miter the tubes reasonably well. I'm also reasonably competent and careful at setting things up in jigs. What I have no experience with at all is torch work. Simply have not done any.
    So I'd like to hear your advice on how I should set my sights for the bike I build in this class. Go for the Henry James stainless bits and aim for the dream bike or get a basic set from BikeLugs.com and expect to screw up early and often? From reading and watching some youtube videos I can see chances to screw up that include improper surface prep, not enough flux, incomplete penetration of the solder, too much heat, sloppy miters, and poor alignment. What other opportunities for screw up should I be looking out for? What are the most common first time screw ups and can they be corrected during the build? I assume once a tube is overheated it needs to be removed and replaced?
    I'm sure this post is naive and happy to learn from you all.
    Thanks in advance,
    Jim

  2. #2
    Randomhead
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    don't get stainless. It's not a good idea because your brazing isn't up to it and it's expensive. Stainless goes from not hot enough to crispy in a heartbeat. It fouls itself if you get it too hot.

  3. #3
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    Thing one would be to ask the people doing the seminar what they want. In general the lugs are the easiest and fastest to do, so you do have extra time to do something. One of the courses lets you do a fork in the time it takes to learn to do tig badly. So maybe they are fine with it. Or maybe they are set up to do the simplest option well and they don't have the time for anything else.

    If everything turns out great, first time through, and you learn well the basics, then you are more likely to get to other stuff later.

    I like using selective stainless so I am all for it. But it is weaker, and more troublesome. When you get to the point where you can make your own stuff it opens up a whole world of customization that goes well beyond flashy bits that are what the punters get starry eyed over. If it helps to think of it that way...

  4. #4
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Jim- I'd suggest that you go basic. The reason to build your own in the beginning is to ride your own and have that gratification. if all goes well you'll find the way to build #2 . After a few more frames branching out into SS will seem doable. Before that but after the first play with SS as practice and then braze ons.

    I just completed the brazing on my 39th frame. Last year i started to play with SS in earnest and I'll say that I'm still not comfy with it. Eric's statement of the heat content (if that's the right word) of SS is correct. Not much range between too little and too much. Watching the flux is critical.

    Make a frame that you can finish within the class and ride it a season before you move onto #2 . Andy.

  5. #5
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    Jim, I've been teaching framebuilding classes ever since I got back from apprenticing in the UK in the 70's. Your background in machine shop and woodworking are ideal for learning to make frames. One of the biggest hurdles some beginners have in the beginning is just coordinating their 2 hands. Even using a hacksaw smoothy can be a challenge. Neither have some been exposed to the logic of how things go together. Some of my most successful students were carpenters because they have a fundamental understanding of doing a before b. Machine shop work is also based on building logic. But I digress because that isn't what you asked.

    An important aspect of 1st build success is picking materials that fit the skill level of the maker and match the frame design. You should definitely avoid stainless steel lugs and/or tubes. Stainless requires tighter flame control with a smaller temperature window than regular steel. If one gets it too hot the surface becomes corrupted and the only way to fix it is to take it apart and clean it up again. Something that can't in reality be done on a main triangle. In addition it requires better cleaning. The skill level needed to braze it successfully is beyond what most beginners can do. If you mess up you've wasted your class time. However Henry James stainless dropouts are not too difficult and are an excellent choice on a 1st frame.

    Another important aspect of learning a new skill not often mentioned on forums but very obvious to an experienced teacher is the emotional anxiety of wanting to do well but bumbling around instead. Almost everyone comes in all excited and enthusiastic about getting started before the reality of their ability is exposed. Suddenly finding oneself over their head is a real downer and motivational killer. The solution is to make sure all your choices aren't too difficult. That includes picking lugs that have angles close to your design. This is why the 4 down tube angle lug choices by Henry James helps assure success. While pros can adjust angles without problems, it isn't so easy for beginners and increases brazing difficulty. In my classes if a student gets in over his head, either my assistant Herbie or I bail him out of that situation.

    I wouldn't worry about some of the possible screw ups you mentioned in doing a normal build like frame alignment. If they present problems you signed up for the wrong class. How to do things correctly should be part of your curriculum.

    Something else to keep in mind is that a lot of information is presented in a short amount of time. The assumption that you will remember all you saw because it made sense at the time is a false one. You won't unless you are the type that will be at the top of your class in med school. You need a strategy to document and retain information. I recommend quickly writing down everything you can. Take lots of pictures. Later in the evening, go over and organize your notes again. This will refresh your mind and help keep it in your memory longer. It will also alert you to something you may have missed and latter you can ask the teacher about it. The best students in my class are those that have remembered the many motions I've explained and demonstrated. That takes more study then just remembering what you heard and saw. When they have to ask or are confused it causes problems in their brazing motions. If you want to be good, you will take this part of learning seriously.

    Doug Fattic – just full of opinions and advice in
    Niles, Michigan
    Last edited by Doug Fattic; 12-23-13 at 08:05 AM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Nessism's Avatar
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    Those BikeLugs.com lugs are an outstanding buy. You won't find nicer lugs at any price. They have a fair bit of meat on them with the expectation that some people will carve them up and customize.

    I've made about a dozen frames so far. Self taught by reading books, internet, and videos. Lots of info on the framebuilders list, and around the internet in general. It's recommended to get some practice lugs and burn away. A couple of things I learned was to make sure you heat the joint all the way around before adding filler, and use light tint glasses so you can watch the metal color. Pull the filler though the joint until it comes out the other side, that way you know there is filler covering the inside (lug joints). Good fun.

    Only problem is my existing frames are holding up too well, which keeps me from making another. Going to build one just because though. Getting the bug again...
    Why not.
    Becareful buying/selling bike parts on-line. I learned the hard way. :(

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  7. #7
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    +1 in avoiding stainless. It really is unforgiving.
    homebuilt commuter, mixte, road and track (+ Ryffranck road)
    bla bla blog

  8. #8
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    Thanks to each of you for your helpful responses as well as being kind to a noob. After I posted I downloaded the Paterek manual and noticed this statement early on: For most framebuilders, the first ten frames are a disaster. Probably sums things up nicely.
    Consensus: NO to stainless. Check.
    Nessism: Yes, I thought the BikeLugs.com lugs looked nice too and the price is certainly right. Easy decision. Now I'll just need to check the angles.
    MassiveD: The course is centered on building lugged steel frames. It meets twice a week for three hours each time for two months. Should be plenty of time to get things done. The instructors are Cole Griesemer and Michael Crum and you can see the course description here.
    Andrew: Great suggestion about starting with stainless braze-ons. Will file that away for the future.
    Doug: Thanks for the tip about the Henry James dropouts. Your comments about learning in general are spot on and your comment about motivation killers is right out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. For sure I'll take notes and pics. In fact, I'd kinda like to wear a go-pro camera for the whole class! Regarding angles, I downloaded rattleCAD which gives me the angles for each joint and have been trying to match those up with lugs. There sure are a lot of choices and decision points. I guess if you want to go with a standard set of lugs you may need to tweak the design a bit to make the angles match up with the lugs.
    Thanks again,
    Jim
    EDIT: PS What youtube videos would you recommend? I watched the Brian Baylis videos (and took notes!) and would be interested to see others. I also watched those by Chimonas but realize (based on comments) I may need to take them with a grain of salt.
    Last edited by JimboMartin; 12-22-13 at 12:40 PM. Reason: add addtional info

  9. #9
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    In partial answer to my own question about videos, here is one with a very nice detail. See what he does between 1:00 and 1:15. Would have never occurred to me that two concentric tubes might not be parallel.
    EDIT: Perhaps and equally important question would be what videos should I NOT learn from. This one has lots of negative comments. So maybe the video in combination with the comments might be helpful.
    Cheers,
    Jim
    Last edited by JimboMartin; 12-22-13 at 01:14 PM. Reason: info added

  10. #10
    Senior Member Nessism's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimboMartin View Post
    In partial answer to my own question about videos, here is one with a very nice detail. See what he does between 1:00 and 1:15. Would have never occurred to me that two concentric tubes might not be parallel.
    EDIT: Perhaps and equally important question would be what videos should I NOT learn from. This one has lots of negative comments. So maybe the video in combination with the comments might be helpful.
    Cheers,
    Jim
    Hey Jim,

    I'm not impressed with that video. Guy is putting too much heat on the tube. You should put 95% of the flame on the lug and the heat will spread to the tube. Finished shots of the lugs show his feed points. Messy. It's okay to feed and pull the filler into the joint but this one just doesn't look right.
    Becareful buying/selling bike parts on-line. I learned the hard way. :(

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  11. #11
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Show me the flux! WRT the above video. Andy.

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    Mike Crum is a great guy and I'm sure you will find that he is an excellent teacher. He helped me with my first builds before he moved out west. I'd lost track of him so I'm glad to see that he's still in the frame building game. Good luck with the class.

  13. #13
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    Thanks BusDriver, that's good to know.

    Back on the topic of videos, would you guys recommend spending the $80 on the Paterek DVDs?

  14. #14
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    The Paterek manual is how I taught myself to build a frame. Read it cover to cover to get the info and set out on the adventure. 20k miles later I took the frame apart and saw that I had solid flow of filler around the joints. The thing survived winter riding, salted roads, a few crashes and bent seat stays after hitting it with the car.
    Get the manual if you learn that way, otherwise attend class and have fun!

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimboMartin View Post
    Thanks BusDriver, that's good to know.

    Back on the topic of videos, would you guys recommend spending the $80 on the Paterek DVDs?
    Jim; I think that part of the answer is you checking with the builder running your class to see if he recommends the P-Book and/or DVDs. There is imho nothing really wrong or incorrect in either that I have found, but they do essentially assume you are willing to learn and do it the Paterek-way or take the highway, so to speak. Basically the few hundred bucks investment for them is not huge relative to all the other investments you will make along the way to being a successful builder with a set of tools and jigs. My recommendation is to buy both and take the class. See where it leads you... and post your experiences to the forum.

    Hope that helps
    /K

  16. #16
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    Jimbo,

    Thanks for your interest in the class. I appreciate your enthusiasm and what has been said regarding stainless mirrors my sentiments. This will be some of what is covered in the syllabus and on the first day of class. If you have any other questions I'm more than happy to address them.

    Looking forward to seeing you in class.

    Michael

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    Quote Originally Posted by busdriver1959 View Post
    Mike Crum is a great guy and I'm sure you will find that he is an excellent teacher. He helped me with my first builds before he moved out west. I'd lost track of him so I'm glad to see that he's still in the frame building game. Good luck with the class.
    Thanks busdriver. I appreciate it. Checked your profile but couldn't find your name. Forgive me for not recognizing you. Also forgive my posting this in the thread since I just signed up for the forum again I can't send private messages yet.

    MC

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    Mike,

    I'm Earl Glazer. You helped me with my first two frames just before you left Memphis. Ted introduced us. He's still building and I'm working on number 10. Starting to run out of friends and family to build for though.

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by busdriver1959 View Post
    Mike,

    I'm Earl Glazer. You helped me with my first two frames just before you left Memphis. Ted introduced us. He's still building and I'm working on number 10. Starting to run out of friends and family to build for though.
    I thought that might be who it was. Glad you're still at it. If you're ever in SLC let me know.

  20. #20
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    Sure will. Do you ever get back to Memphis?

  21. #21
    Senior Member Homebrew01's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimboMartin View Post
    In partial answer to my own question about videos, here is one with a very nice detail. See what he does between 1:00 and 1:15. Would have never occurred to me that two concentric tubes might not be parallel.
    Looks to me as though he is making sure the BB shell is square to the tube. There's not really a lot of contact area between the tube and shell, so the looser the fit, the more crooked the shell could be. I built a few frames when I was a kid and built a jig in the basement. I held the tubes in the fixture, and then had round "dowels" that fit inside the BB shell to hold it perpendicular to the tubes. But the shell was not clamped, so there was room for it to float a bit during heating & cooling.

    As for the first 10 frames being disasters, I hope that's a bit pessimistic. I never even built 10, & I am still riding the 2nd frame I built. I should have done a few more braze-ons, and the seat lug could be a bit cleaner, but no real disasters.
    Bikes: Old steel race bikes, old Cannondale race bikes, less old Cannondale race bike, crappy old mtn bike

  22. #22
    bike whisperer Kimmo's Avatar
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    Seems to me that these days, if you're getting into the framebuilding game, you could just skip messing around with threaded BBs entirely and go PF30, just using adapters for Hollowtech and whatever, avoiding the horrific expense of BB taps.

    Is anybody doing this in brazed steel yet? I guess a ~50mm OD BB might look a bit goofy hanging off skinny steel tubes...

    LOL. I just imagined an Ashtabula > PF30 adapter.

  23. #23
    Randomhead
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    bb30 requires tightly toleranced bb shell, so you aren't going to save any money. And in steel, it's a monstrosity.

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    late to the party here, but I'd recommend against the Pacenti lugs for a first build. They're beautiful, great for carving , nicely made etc etc....but they've got so much meat in them that you end up with a higher likely hood of cooking things before you get the filler completely pulled in

  25. #25
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    I've got a couple bits of newbie advice. Disclaimer: I also am a newbie so I'm focusing on what I've experienced. If someone contradicts me, there's a 99% chance they're the one who's right.

    1) Any time you find yourself thinking "I need to hurry up and..." at least consider slapping yourself. It won't always be the best option, but 8 times out of 10 it is. Todd Farr is making me a little bit for a fork jig and is being kind enough to engrave SLOW DOWN on it for me. I'm considering writing it in big sharpie letters on every tool I own.

    2) One of the things that's most dramatically improved my brazing was realizing how much overheating the flux kills it. I used to keep thinking "I have to get the silver flowing before the flux dies" and then realized that overheating the surface before getting everything up to heat evenly was making the flux die about 100X faster than if I'd taken my time and let it do its thing a bit more gradually.

    3) Get a $5 dentist's inspection mirror. Since I'm newer, having ways to quickly check out what I just did makes me really happy. I use mine to peek inside bottom brackets.

    4) The filler stays hot in your hand longer than you expect. Don't scratch your forehead or rest your hand on your leg without thinking about it.

    5) Keep an eye on your hands and file while mitering, the edges of the miter get SHARP.


    Enjoy it!

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