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  1. #1
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    Teaching myself to build a frame

    Have any of you taught yourself to build frames? That's what I'm looking to do, and just thought I'd gather any offered advice.

    What tools should I splurge on, what do I not need to?


    I'm reading the Paterek book, and looking at lots of bikes and studying their designs.

    I'm planning to build a lugged frame commuter.

    I definitely have a long way to go before I even start, but again, just thought I'd open this up to any suggestions to a self-motivated newbie.

    Thanks!
    Last edited by theery; 02-16-14 at 12:08 AM.

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    I am essentially doing the same thing except I am building a frame out of wood and heavily leaning on the folks on this forum for advice.

    The most important thing I have found thus far is making sure you have in mind what components you plan to use ultimately in your bike. That way you will make your frame have the appropriate sized connections etc.

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    I wouldn't say I taught myself, but I didn't have any formal training. I learned most of what I know from the generous folks over at Velocipedesalon. There is a wealth of knowledge over there and most of your questions have been answered there many times.
    As far as what to splurge on, get a good torch. Regardless of what Paterek says, don't use a Mapp gas torch. I've done it and it can be done with silver, but it takes too much time to get the joint up to temp. and you can't properly heat a large enough area, especially on bottom brackets or fork crowns. Get a decent Oxy/Acetylene or Oxy/Propane setup and you will be much better off. And don't waste your time with that Bernzomatic Mapp/Oxy torch either. You will blow through those $10 oxy cylinders like crazy. There is some great info here about Oxy/Propane setups http://www.velocipedesalon.com/forum...ane-30480.html

    For frame design, download Rattlecad. It's free and it works pretty good. Make sure your design fits with the available lug angles.

    For cutting and mitering tubes, get a decent hacksaw and some half round files. There is no need for a mill and hole saws for hobby building. Nova Cycle supply has a nice tube miter program that you can use to print out templates that you can tape onto the tubes. They are also a good source of framebuilding supplies http://www.cycle-frames.com/bicycle-frame-tubing/

    That should get you started.

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    Also, for practice, buy some tubing from Aircraft Spruce. If you buy some 1 inch and some 1 1/8 with a .058 wall thickness, the 1 1/8 tubes will just slip over the 1 inch. (Anything 1/8 inch bigger with that wall thickness will work) Miter them and braze them together as simulated lugs. Then cut them apart to see how well you flowed the filler in there. Practice a lot. Make sure your miters are tight. If you do that, you will be a bunch happier when you build a frame.

  5. #5
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    So, as i do often, I checked the OP's profile for a location. But there's no mention to where he hails from. So those of us who are willing to offer help really can't know if he's around the corner of hours away.

    The advice given above is good. But even better is hooking up with some one and get a few pointers. Andy.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart View Post
    But even better is hooking up with some one and get a few pointers. Andy.
    +1

    WARNING: This is not an inexpensive or fast way to get a serviceable commuter bike - atmo. Self-Framebuilding seems to be one place where the Magic Triangle of Speed-Quality-Cost breaks down. My first one will have taken 6 months to make including practice, will probably be un-ride-able and cost me >$1000 for a frame (no fork). You may do better - I'm slow. By my calculations, a used touring bike (Surly or Trek 520) is a much faster (ie you'll be riding it sooner), cheaper alternative.

    My Experience:
    I've learned a ton from the three boards that I know of and a local builder who has been in business for decades. He allows me in the back to talk with the frame guy and has given me tons of guidance and stories. It's amazing how friendly and helpful the folks who practice this craft are. I have been on this journey for about 4-5 months now and have been given or offered practice tubes/lugs/flux/filler and tons of advice, guidance and a few 'oh crap, you burned the hell outta that!'. I've burned more tubes and flux than I care to admit.

    I think I've done about 30-40 practice joints, torn apart a '90's Bianchi to replace the downtube and add some braze-ons and built some fixtures for my real frame - learning all the way. I finally feel like I'm ready to try putting together something that will be 'ride-able'. I'm pretty sure I won't be able to ride it in a straight line with no hands but, I'm hoping to be able to ride it to the grocery store without crashing. My 2nd frame will be better and for #10 , I'll aim for good enough to use on regular group rides. I'm a slow learner.

    Assuming you're starting from zero, your first joints will likely be blobs of black junk. You will think they are near perfect - I did. Find someone local who knows about brazing thin walled tubes. Take them some samples (and beer) and it's likely they'll give you some sound advice. Better yet, they'll do a demo for you. Listen, watch and try to absorb as much as possible. Posting pictures on the boards can be effective and can give you some insights and directional guidance. Buy flux and filler from bike suppliers (Nova, Cycle Design, Gasflux, Henry James, etc.) not your local welding supply store. Don't worry about Silver or stainless steel at this point. There's a good thread on www.Velocipedesalon.com about torches - they can be expensive ($300+ including 2 medium sized tanks of OxyAcetelyne from a local supply house)

    All of the above is the fun part. The dangerous part is that this is an addictive pursuit. You'll find yourself at your computer at 2am scouring through frame building supply sites dreaming about your next (or first) build and how you can make a living off of this (see posts on these boards re: this)!

    Patience and luck to you my friend!
    Duane
    Last edited by duanedr; 02-16-14 at 10:42 PM. Reason: wording

  7. #7
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    Good thought, Andrew, thanks! I'm new here, so hadn't updated my location, etc. But I just did. I'm in Portland, Oregon.

  8. #8
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Well last i read Portland has a few frame builders and a lot of wanna bees. I would be surprised if there wasn't a school, classes offered, buddies network that you could discover and take advantage of (of course this will be a two way street so expect to some how give back). Andy.

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    Not sure how you can teach yourself if you don't know how to do it, but that's just me. Not saying you can't learn though, especially if you're somewhat handy and by nature a DIYer, with reasonable skills. If you're wanting to do this for fun, go for it. If you think it's an economical way to get a bicycle up and running, forget it.

    As Andy mentioned, there are a lot of resources in Portland. At last count there were 35-40 framebuilders in the "business." Then there are the wannabees, (or hobbyist builder) of which I am one. There's also a frame class here. Search UBI.

    One can get by with very little in the way of equipment unless you want to be totally self-sufficient.

  10. #10
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    I have also been wondering this and curious if anyone has any insight to my questions. I have spent the past 6 months searching for a frame building course. I was fairly close to committing to one when the instructor told me I will have to use a lugged bottom bracket for my brazed road frame. He explained that taking on a bottom bracket is very extensive for a 2 week course and it's too much for a first time builder. To me, this is a pretty integral part of frame building and shouldn't be skipped over. That being said, I do have 9 years of machining aircraft parts and am a certified welder (TIG) in 7 different types of metal. I also have a very good working knowledge of brazing and soldering. Can anyone shed some light on this and explain if the bottom bracket is truly so difficult that I couldn't be taught in a 2 week course, or if my experience will lend itself to self instruction afterwards?

    Also, aside from what I have read in the Paterek book I do not know how to size an individual for a frame or really even know how to begin building. I am not opposed to purchasing materials and teaching myself but am more wondering if it is worth the money to attend a school to learn these things or if they can be self taught as well.

    Any help will be great.

    Thanks!

  11. #11
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    I just went ahead and did it having watched the Paterek DVD's once... I am a design engineer and I was a welder for a while so probably in a better position than most to start out though. I live in New Zealand where there are no framebuilding classes whatsoever, but i know a chap who has built a few frames and talked to him a couple of times. I considered this more than enough to crack straight into it. There is more than enough resource out there to get a pretty good idea of what is going on.

    As a result I have now built two great frames, a lugged commuter and a fillet brazed fatbike, both of which are a joy to ride. I have just ordered the parts for the third frame...

  12. #12
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by COLROADIE View Post
    I have also been wondering this and curious if anyone has any insight to my questions. I have spent the past 6 months searching for a frame building course. I was fairly close to committing to one when the instructor told me I will have to use a lugged bottom bracket for my brazed road frame. He explained that taking on a bottom bracket is very extensive for a 2 week course and it's too much for a first time builder. To me, this is a pretty integral part of frame building and shouldn't be skipped over. That being said, I do have 9 years of machining aircraft parts and am a certified welder (TIG) in 7 different types of metal. I also have a very good working knowledge of brazing and soldering. Can anyone shed some light on this and explain if the bottom bracket is truly so difficult that I couldn't be taught in a 2 week course, or if my experience will lend itself to self instruction afterwards?

    Also, aside from what I have read in the Paterek book I do not know how to size an individual for a frame or really even know how to begin building. I am not opposed to purchasing materials and teaching myself but am more wondering if it is worth the money to attend a school to learn these things or if they can be self taught as well.

    Any help will be great.

    Thanks!
    I suspect that i know who you were thinking about taking a class from. If I'm correct then you would do very well to listen to his reasoning and follow his advice. He (and most other framebuilding instructors) have invested a lot of time and effort to be able to teach a class. They likely have taught many students before you (the one I won't mention directly started teaching back in the 1970s...) and know that to insure a completed frame they have to limit the range of possible styles/processes that they will offer. Unless the instructor has already been shown your skills and attitude he has to think down to the lower common denominator. The guy has offered more advanced sessions for those that he has previously taught or have previous experience that he can accept.

    The reasoning to not offer a filleted or welded BB shell in a first timer class is that to join 5 tubes at all the right positioning relationships in one structure is not very easy. Having locating sockets and using a low temp flow brazing process reduces the distortions, errors, speeds up the process and does not take anything away from the ride quality.

    I suspect your question is kind of a "i don't know about what I'm asking about but how hard can it be" one? This in it's self is not a wrong question or desire to understand. But when you're the instructor and you're dealing with three students all at once then time/focus/attention needed for one to do their dream process can and does take away from the experience of the other two students. I don't think the instructor said you can't do a lugless BB shell, or that you shouldn't but just that for his classes this process is not covered in #101 .

    Where ever and from however you do find instruction i hope it only furthers your passion and interest in building. A good class should offer the basics needed to go and continue to grow more. Once you have the basics down and see the whole process it's FAR easier to try new styles and methods. I strongly suspect that in your machining aircraft parts you have learned a thing or two after the first one you made. I also suspect that you started with a simple design or plans to produce from and increased your skill levels with each part there after. This is what most building classes assume on. That they will teach you proper understandings, skills and appreciations of framebuilding for you to build on in the future.

    So my suggestion is to not take the instructor's limits on what he offers in his #101 class as an insult, but as a precaution to insure your frame is as good as two weeks can produce. Andy.

  13. #13
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    Andy,

    Great response. This is exactly what I was looking for. Though my questions seemed pretentious I assure you they were genuine. This is the first course I have researched where the BB was not actually taught, or part of the building process, so of course the question of why came about. I hadn't thought about taking away from the other two students if I was to ask for something different. Regardless, I appreciate the help and after reading this, the BB build doesn't seem so important for a first time build.

    Thanks again.

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    I have taught myself how to make many things, and while I wouldn't turn down help if it was on offer, for me, a lot of the thing is the challenge of teaching oneself. When I was a teen back in the 70s I taugh myself to rock climb, modify the gear, design boats, sew outdoor equipment (mom was helpful with the sewing part), and so forth. And every few years, as it goes, I have picked up new hobbies. I still think that teaching oneself to weld is right up there as far as difficult things to learn on one's own (even with DVDs and youtube today). Brazing is easy in comparison. An Oxy torch is a real boon, and I would say Acetylene is right up there with the most dangerous materials I have come across in my time in all these crafts. So I would recommend propane.

    My thing about classes is that they are the best way to learn for sure, but they add a lot of cost I would rather put into gear. And I don't see this as a realistic career, so I am not in any rush to get up to speed. I have learned a lot poking around in the recesses of the craft, and I wouldn't learn that stuff in taking courses in what is a rather restrictive mindset as crafts go.

    Paterek seems to be self-taught, don't know if that is true. He isn't in the mainstream of frame building. He uses a lot of gear you don't really need which makes his approach very expensive to follow.

  15. #15
    Andrew R Stewart Andrew R Stewart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by COLROADIE View Post
    Andy,

    Great response. This is exactly what I was looking for. Though my questions seemed pretentious I assure you they were genuine. This is the first course I have researched where the BB was not actually taught, or part of the building process, so of course the question of why came about. I hadn't thought about taking away from the other two students if I was to ask for something different. Regardless, I appreciate the help and after reading this, the BB build doesn't seem so important for a first time build.

    Thanks again.
    In thinking that i may have not expressed my thoughts well enough for you to understand...

    The instructor that I was referencing does teach how to braze up a BB in his classes, just not a lugless one. He starts with the ST, then continues with the main frame (and DT), then ends up with the CS while keeping the drop outs and wheel on center. Again, it not that he skips over the BB. He chooses a style that takes into account the time at hand. Andy.

  16. #16
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    Thanks for all the great replies.

    I'm definitely not doing this b/c I think it'll get me a cheap frame. I'm doing it for the experience, the satisfaction (and the frustration), and to better understand what I'm riding every day.

    I'm aware of many of the resources and classes here in Portland. The UBI classes are 2 full weeks, which I can't swing right now. I've considered taking a one-off welding/brazing class at a place like http://www.adxportland.com/
    I may try to dig up a builder or two and see if I can pick their brains a little.

    I've taught myself a lot of things, so I'm sure I'll get it in time. My main concern here is safety, especially since I'd be doing it in my basement. That's one thing I don't want to 'learn on my own', so I'll have to get that knowledge and be confident in it before I go much further.

    Thanks again.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by theery View Post
    Thanks for all the great replies.

    I'm doing it for the experience, the satisfaction (and the frustration), and to better understand what I'm riding every day.
    Oh, you'll fit right in then! Welcome to the group!!

  18. #18
    coprolite fietsbob's Avatar
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    Getting the knack for brazing and silver-soldering is a good place to start.

    community college Jewelry making was fun .. too .. made my own investment castings ..
    Last edited by fietsbob; 02-19-14 at 05:35 PM.

  19. #19
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    A skilled fabricator will have little trouble building a bicycle frame if he/she knows where to find dimensions. When I got started the only commercial fixtures were useless for anything but lugged road frames which were in very low demand for off road use. I am glad I started at a time when things weren't so standardized as they are today but that is mostly because it suited me better personally because I like fabrication, not just bikes. Sometimes artists need time to learn how to paint or sculpt. Others, make paint, weave canvas then sit down and create a painting. It matters not to the folks who enjoy it once it's done if the product suits their tastes.
    1886 Surrey machinists Invincible, 1900 Nashua, 1937 Raleigh Golden Arrow, 1938 Raleigh Silver Record, 1951 Armstrong tourmalet, 1970 Motobecane Grand Record, 1971 Raleigh Professional, 1971 Gitane TDF, 1972 Legnano Gran Primio, 1973, Peugeot PX-10, 1975 Roberts, 1984 Battaglin Giro, 1985 Grandis Speciale, 2012 FTW

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  20. #20
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    OP, I used the Paterek manual to walk me through the design process and other specifics. I bought oxy-acct set, half sized from the big tanks for 500 bucks in 2000, drafted a frame using a yard stick, ruler, and triangle left over from high school, and built the thing. Put 20k on it before tearing the frame apart last year so I could fabricate a tube bender apparatus.
    I am not a welder, metal fabricator, mechanical engineer or anything close to that. I was a teacher and bike shop owner.
    You can do it, if you really want to learn by doing. Practice stuff is fine, but if you have sweated copper tubes, you can easily do this with lugs.
    Watch some videos or read some stuff on line about heating the joints and you will get it.

    Drawing the frame full size is important as it allows you to put your tubes up to the drawing to ensure lengths are correct.

    One thing for sure, use Henry James BB and lugs. They are so very precise that there is little clean up of the casts to make them look nice. True Temper and 531 tubes fit perfectly in the sockets with no need to enlarge or shape the openings. Seriously high quality stuff that makes building real easy.

    I have built 3 frames now and many repairs with the oxy set and have not needed a refill yet!

    You can do it! Don't listen to the naysayers. Just Do It!

    Fair warning: IT IS ADDICTIVE!
    Last edited by TiHabanero; 02-21-14 at 07:06 PM.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by theery View Post
    Have any of you taught yourself to build frames? That's what I'm looking to do, and just thought I'd gather any offered advice. What tools should I splurge on, what do I not need to?!
    OP; I am sure many others will offer advice on most of the hand tools so I will stick with torch question. If you are only thinking of making a few frames, then a portable one is a good idea. Here is an excellent one by Victor including the pair of empty tanks for $291.

    Thermadyne 0384-0939 Victor CSV-CPT Cutskil Oxy Fuel Tote Kit with Tanks:
    http://www.amazon.com/Thermadyne-038...xy+Fuel+Outfit

    If you plan to do quite a few frames, then a medium size torch probably makes sense. This one is awesome and includes the cutting head and the rosebud head also. It was a bargin at $209 w/ free shipping before Christmas when I bought it. It is Amazon-ing for $193 now (MSRP is $426.xx).... Staying with the Victor brand is highly recommended as many have had a lot of problems with imported torch kits. The price is so close, it makes since to go first class.

    [/COLOR][/COLOR][/SIZE]Victor 0384-2530 - 250 Medium Duty Outfit, WH 270FC-V Torch Handle, CA 270-V Cutting Attachment, 540/510 250 Regulators - - Victor - VIC0384-2530
    http://www.amazon.com/Victor-0384-25...portable+torch

    If your local welding shop is like the ones here in the mid-West, you can get a pair of brand new tanks for about $100 each (its actually a 10-year lease). Adding a fill-up of gases runs about $40 for a set of 40/80 cu.ft. tanks.

    PS: I'll note that I was a bit shocked at the cost of Victor brand torch tips ($25-30 each). I took a chance on some lower cost ones from Amazon and found them to be effectively identical to the name branded ones in appearance and function. Yes the cheaper ($5 per) ones are clearly Chinese production, but work very well and I was able to stock up with several of each size without going too deep into the wallet. Find them here (this is an example for one size tip -- your study will indicate what size you should buy:

    Welding Brazing Nozzle Tip 00-W-1 #00 with W-1 Mixer for Victor 100 Series Handles
    http://www.amazon.com/Welding-Brazin...tor+torch+tips

    OP; If you have plans to get into TIG welding also, post that as a separate thread for more info there.

    re; "I'm reading the Paterek book, and looking at lots of bikes and studying their designs. Thanks

    OP; I started with the now long out of print "Proteus Framebuilding Manual" which was $5 circa 1973 (it is still sitting right here by my elbow, although rather tattered now). It was only 1/2" thick and 127 pages long it was more than adequate. I recently bought the Paterek book also but found that it was too deep and complex for my plans. Since you already have it, then use it. I will note that I don't think one needs all the complex jigs and tools which that book recommends...imho,; it is geared more to setting up a frame factory.

    Hope that helps
    /K

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