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What to look for in quality non lugged steel weldings?

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What to look for in quality non lugged steel weldings?

Old 01-29-18, 08:00 AM
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What to look for in quality non lugged steel weldings?

I notice some Made in Taiwan steel mountain bikes of the early 1990s to be exceptional when it comes to clean welding lines. Can I use these bikes as reference points for quality welding?
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Old 01-29-18, 08:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Obeast View Post
I notice some Made in Taiwan steel mountain bikes of the early 1990s to be exceptional when it comes to clean welding lines. Can I use these bikes as reference points for quality welding?
I have both read and been told that pretty looking welds are nothing more than vanity and don’t necessarily speak to the structural quality of the welds.
Take that for what its worth.
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Old 01-29-18, 08:46 AM
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take a welding class at the community college , yourself.. TIG = tungsten inert gas..
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Old 01-29-18, 09:06 AM
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....is that phrase still relevant?
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Old 01-29-18, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
I have both read and been told that pretty looking welds are nothing more than vanity and don’t necessarily speak to the structural quality of the welds.
As a general statement, that's not inaccurate; a pretty weld also needs to be structurally sound. But it's a huge overstatement to say they are "nothing more than vanity...." In almost every case, a good weld will also be pretty. The welders I've known take great pride in making their welds clean and pretty, as well as structurally sound.
On a bike, they are a sign of craftsmanship. Bike tubing is very thin, and the frame needs to be straight, so the whole process matters, the welding sequence along with getting the heat and fill right. It's not a job for beginners. The best welders can make a fillet so small you that paint will almost make it disappear. (That is, not coincidentally, also the strongest weld on thinner tubing.)
Problem is, how are you going to know? On a bike frame, the structural quality is mostly hidden. You have to strip the frame of parts to check, and you still won't be able to see everything.
In any case, I think good craftsmanship is better than bad, and pretty that works is better than ugly that works. I think of such a weld as the TIG equivalent of a filed lug and a clean shoreline.

As far as the OP's question goes, I would look to handmade American frames as reference points, the same way I'd expect Taiwanese builders did. Take a look at late '80s/early '90s Bontrager, Salsa, Fat Chance, etc. if you really want to see how it's done.
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Old 01-29-18, 10:55 AM
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I will take a wild guess and say Taiwanese builders are using heavier, more workable tubing back in the 80's that will be more forgiving to "fill in" weld.

Last edited by johnnyspaghetti; 01-29-18 at 11:00 AM.
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Old 01-29-18, 11:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Ghrumpy View Post
As a general statement, that's not inaccurate; a pretty weld also needs to be structurally sound. But it's a huge overstatement to say they are "nothing more than vanity...."
The nothing more than vanity comment was meant to mean that welds which dont look nice can still be perfectly strong.
Didnt phrase it well.
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Old 01-29-18, 11:35 AM
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I know in the early 80s if it had booger type welds it was hi-ten steel and if they were clean and flowing it was usually chromo. And I was a young teen.
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Old 01-29-18, 11:42 AM
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Isn't the point in going lugless to present the most seamless transition between frame tubes, as much as possible? Otherwise why even do it unless it's just mainly a cost saving thing, compared to the traditiinal lugged construction.... so as far as welding "quality" is concerned, when it comes to bike frames, appearance should be given a high priority, along with structural integrity.
It is interesting that the manufacturers did not consider doing internal brazing for their frames like Peugeot did, which actually gave cleaner joints than most welded frames. But that might have cost more to do?
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Old 01-29-18, 11:49 AM
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I can't recall ever seeing a welded road frame that I found aesthetically pleasing as say a nice Lugged or Fillet Braized Frame. To me they look cheap but functional.
More at Home on a MTB than a quality Road Bike.
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Old 01-29-18, 11:50 AM
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I used to work for a company that made ocean-going barges; those 400' flat decked barges they strap huge pieces of oil platform onto. End result was a single welded piece of steel. 4,000,000 lbs. Welded steel was taken very seriously. There was literature all over on welding prep, techniques, and theory. I read in one book the rather interesting result of welding procedures. Welds were laid down, then tested to destruction. First, a very even, perfectly lapped (what one would call beautiful) weld, then one where the welder sped up his welds, stretching out the laps, as the work got progressively hotter. Far less beautiful. Also a lot stronger.

So now, every time I see a bike with perfect laps, my first thought is "not as strong as it could be".

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Old 01-29-18, 02:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Chombi1 View Post
Isn't the point in going lugless to present the most seamless transition between frame tubes, as much as possible? Otherwise why even do it unless it's just mainly a cost saving thing, compared to the traditiinal lugged construction....
The other benefit, a major benefit for some when it comes to fit, is not being tied to the geometry that lugs require.
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Old 01-29-18, 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post
The other benefit, a major benefit for some when it comes to fit, is not being tied to the geometry that lugs require.
This is correct, didn't have anything to do with the look of the "transition." Though some are ground smoother, etc. Not something you can look at and determine quality.
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Old 01-30-18, 09:34 AM
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Originally Posted by n0+4c|u3 View Post
My boss has a saying; A weld that looks like crap, is.
You can hear a good weld being laid down, and you can hear bad.
A nice weld was done at the right voltage, amperage, and feed rate.
You can do a beautiful weld if it's all set up right.
Cold welds don't stick well, and weld that are too hot weaken the metal.
So you CAN tell a good weld by looking. To me, machine welds are about the ugliest welds there are besides one that's too hot and splattered everywhere, but they are very strong.
I say that welds which dont look nice can be perfectly strong.

You then mention that a weld which looks like crap is crap, per your boss. Then you say machine welds are about the ugliest welds there are per you, but they are very strong.


So if ugly machine welds are very strong, per you, then why cant welds which dont look nice also be perfectly strong(what i said)?

Just seems like semantics.
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Old 01-30-18, 01:34 PM
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Is the reason why internal brazing might not be favored over welding might be because internal brazing might overheat the frame tubes? Internal brazing is more than strong enough for bike frame construction. Just wondering why only Peugeot seems to have used it on their bikes in a big way. Maybe welding is also easier to do and set up?
I still like the results from internal brazing much more than most welding done on frames....
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Old 01-30-18, 01:43 PM
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There are a number of indicators of good welds, but they're only indicators and not in and of themselves proof.

One of them is nice uniform fillets that blend nicely to the members. That shows a steady hand (robots are best at it), and temps in the ideal range. But as I said, good looks alone aren't absolute assurance
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Old 01-30-18, 01:51 PM
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Originally Posted by mstateglfr View Post

Just seems like semantics.
I always tell anyone who will listen, there's only two welds: acceptable, or unacceptable. Many inspectors can be too nit-picky on visual, but they have actual guidelines they have to follow to reject a weld.
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Old 01-30-18, 01:53 PM
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Welds that some people think are good-looking may not be very strong, if they don't have good penetration-- think toothpaste squeezed out on top of the metal. It takes some practice to realize that it's a cold weld.

Some welds can can look ugly and be "strong enough" if they have adequate penetration and sized properly....if they are merely holding a bracket onto something. HOWEVER for critical applications (think nuclear reactor piping) the welds must also be free of discontinuities (breaks, voids, etc) and not have undercutting. Not just because they make the weld look ugly, but those imperfections create stress risers that will cause the weld to fail. So a truly good weld will look nice too.
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Old 01-30-18, 02:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Chombi1 View Post
Is the reason why internal brazing might not be favored over welding might be because internal brazing might overheat the frame tubes? Internal brazing is more than strong enough for bike frame construction. Just wondering why only Peugeot seems to have used it on their bikes in a big way. Maybe welding is also easier to do and set up?
I still like the results from internal brazing much more than most welding done on frames....
I've wondered this also. correct joint prep, temps, flux, filler material, and the braze metal just flows well. May be the perception that the method is more robotic, machine made than hand brazing.
Just blowing off bike frame welds because they are not pretty is fine if you are a paying customer, but I have to think a manufacturer is not going to intentionally let bad, which means to me, dangerously defective welds escape their QA/QC.
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Old 01-30-18, 02:23 PM
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Brazing is slower and requires more clean up than TIG. It costs more. Brazing used to be the norm because TIG was rare, but it isn't anymore. Brazing was a traditional method because you could do it even over an open forge. Modern tubing doesn't tolerate brass brazing temps, so you're looking at expensive silver solder or TIG.
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Old 01-30-18, 03:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Kontact View Post
Brazing is slower and requires more clean up than TIG. It costs more. Brazing used to be the norm because TIG was rare, but it isn't anymore. Brazing was a traditional method because you could do it even over an open forge. Modern tubing doesn't tolerate brass brazing temps, so you're looking at expensive silver solder or TIG.
Fillet brazing is slower, yes, and can require more cleanup (though Norman Taylor famously never filed his beautiful fillets.) But brazing lugs isn't slower, it's arguably faster. And requires very little cleanup if prepped well and not overheated. With modern IC lugs, very little pre-work is needed.
Speaking of which, the only tubes that will not "tolerate" brass brazing temps are certain rare heat-treated steels like Reynolds 753. Since welding takes place at temps almost twice as high as brazing, how would steels that won't tolerate 850°F brazing heat tolerate 1450°F welding heat?
Many modern steels are, practically speaking, "heat treated" by welding*, so brazing won't hurt them at all, and in fact, silver brazing might not get them hot enough to reach full strength. (*technically, they air harden, rather than needing to be quenched. But don't go quenching regular cromoly steel, it's bad for it. Let it cool in relatively still air.)
The only steels that "need" silver brazing are the aforementioned 753 and stainless. It's also a safer option for very thinwall tubing. You can silver braze any steels used for frames, but it's not required.

As far as costs are concerned, a production-quality TIG welding setup costs probably at least twice as much as a brazing setup, maybe more, so you'd have to build a lot of bikes to make it less expensive than brazed/lugged production. And a good TIG welder, who can handle the thin tubing that bikes use, is going to cost good money to hire too.
Again, the advantage of TIG is NOT necessarily its cost unless you're using robots to do it in a high-production environment. It's that geometry and design are not constrained by lug availability. Which is the main reason to do fillet brazing as well. None are categorically "better" as far as strength and durability are concerned.
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Old 01-30-18, 04:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Ghrumpy View Post
Fillet brazing is slower, yes, and can require more cleanup (though Norman Taylor famously never filed his beautiful fillets.) But brazing lugs isn't slower, it's arguably faster. And requires very little cleanup if prepped well and not overheated. With modern IC lugs, very little pre-work is needed.
Speaking of which, the only tubes that will not "tolerate" brass brazing temps are certain rare heat-treated steels like Reynolds 753. Since welding takes place at temps almost twice as high as brazing, how would steels that won't tolerate 850°F brazing heat tolerate 1450°F welding heat?
Many modern steels are, practically speaking, "heat treated" by welding*, so brazing won't hurt them at all, and in fact, silver brazing might not get them hot enough to reach full strength. (*technically, they air harden, rather than needing to be quenched. But don't go quenching regular cromoly steel, it's bad for it. Let it cool in relatively still air.)
The only steels that "need" silver brazing are the aforementioned 753 and stainless. It's also a safer option for very thinwall tubing. You can silver braze any steels used for frames, but it's not required.

As far as costs are concerned, a production-quality TIG welding setup costs probably at least twice as much as a brazing setup, maybe more, so you'd have to build a lot of bikes to make it less expensive than brazed/lugged production. And a good TIG welder, who can handle the thin tubing that bikes use, is going to cost good money to hire too.
Again, the advantage of TIG is NOT necessarily its cost unless you're using robots to do it in a high-production environment. It's that geometry and design are not constrained by lug availability. Which is the main reason to do fillet brazing as well. None are categorically "better" as far as strength and durability are concerned.
I did't think we were talking about lugs since we all understand that TIG welding came about with MTBs and a lack of proper lugs for them. However, lugged construction also takes longer and has greater material costs. Frame builders, if they are honest with you, will tell you that TIG is the fastest, cheapest production method, and some builders will use TIG to experiment before going to a lugs for production. Doug Fattic, who both produces frames and teaches frame building, will tell you that if you ask him.

The advantage of TIG cost is labor time. No brazer makes so much less than a TIG welder to make up for the additional time for fillet brazing.
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Old 01-30-18, 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by Kontact View Post
I did't think we were talking about lugs since we all understand that TIG welding came about with MTBs and a lack of proper lugs for them. However, lugged construction also takes longer and has greater material costs.
Of course, lugs cost money. So does a TIG setup. A hell of a lot more than a torch set.

Originally Posted by Kontact View Post
Frame builders, if they are honest with you, will tell you that TIG is the fastest, cheapest production method, and some builders will use TIG to experiment before going to a lugs for production. Doug Fattic, who both produces frames and teaches frame building, will tell you that if you ask him.
If TIG is "the fastest, cheapest production method" then why would they only use it for prototyping, and not for production? Yes, it's great for prototyping and experimenting. No denying that.

Originally Posted by Kontact View Post
The advantage of TIG cost is labor time. No brazer makes so much less than a TIG welder to make up for the additional time for fillet brazing.
You keep saying TIG is faster than brazing lugs, but I'm telling you, having brazed more than a few lugs in my career, I'm pretty sure it ain't. If it is, it's not significantly so.

Once the cost of the TIG setup is amortized, then yes, it's probably cheaper in the long run. How long that run is, I couldn't tell you, but I'm guessing it has to be a few hundred. Many builders will get there. Others may not.
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Old 01-30-18, 04:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Ghrumpy View Post
Of course, lugs cost money. So does a TIG setup. A hell of a lot more than a torch set.


If TIG is "the fastest, cheapest production method" then why would they only use it for prototyping, and not for production? Yes, it's great for prototyping and experimenting. No denying that.
Because some people like to buy lugged or fillet brazed frames. Outside of Ti, I don't like the way TIG looks.



You keep saying TIG is faster than brazing lugs, but I'm telling you, having brazed more than a few lugs in my career, I'm pretty sure it ain't. If it is, it's not significantly so.

Once the cost of the TIG setup is amortized, then yes, it's probably cheaper in the long run. How long that run is, I couldn't tell you, but I'm guessing it has to be a few hundred. Many builders will get there. Others may not.
The reality is that Trek and everyone else have abandoned lugs and braze, lugs and epoxy or fillet brazing for TIG. Unless you are trying to say that customers just like it better, I think you'll be forced to admit that cost might have something to do with it.


Making a bike for yourself? Yes, a few frames are cheaper to silver solder. But a business isn't going to amortize the TIG purchase cost over a handful of frames, but thousands. And labor costs are always going to trump that.
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Old 01-30-18, 04:49 PM
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i welded tractor parts for the better part of 33 years at caterpillar tractor. i can tell you the only way to really know for sure the strength of a weld is to destroy it. good looking welds are more fun to look at and more fun to make but often the prettier the weld the lesser the penetration. i would imagine penetration is an issue on bike frames but i am guessing the big issue is not getting too much penetration. that tubing is really thin. when i was welding fuel tanks it really took some doing to get the knack of having enough penetration and not burning thru. not saying i know anything about bike welding...
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