My first frame against the woodshed before its first ride. It was built in a framebuilding class with Chris Kopp in April of this year. I got it painted by local Nederland’er Todd Kissinger and it looks really good even if the welds are…well…ugly for the most part. But after three cross rides with a mix of singletrack, wash-board dirt roads it’s still alive! And it rides really well actually. From here, it can only get better!
So, this month has marked the start of this project, or operation, or hobby, or whatever this will become, has been really interesting – and expensive. I’ve been wanting to build frames for many years, around 15 years actually. I think I got the bug in spring of 1995, when I saw Kent Eriksen mitering tubes in the back of the Sore Saddlery bike shop in Steamboat Springs as I was picking up my new frame (YBB). I was to race for the Moots team until 1998. It was my first introduction into framebuilding and I was enthralled. The craft of being able to create something so utilitarian, simple, lasting, and beautiful just got me. So here I am in 2010 trying to do it for myself.
So far, I have purchased a new Thermal Arc 185 AC/DC inverter TIG welder, a small argon tank, a little welding table from Miller (yeah, i could’ve made my own but I made my other one and wanted a really solid one with cool attachments), a 26 gallon Husky oil compressor with some accessories like a die grinder and blow gun, and a couple of hole saws for my cheap drill press. As you can see in the picture, i’m up and welding but for now I’m just practicing welding with some hardware store bought 16 gauge steel tubing (DOUBLE the thickness of a nice frame’s tubing). It looks like the start of a kids bike but I’m just messing around.
In all truth, i had only a slight idea what I was getting involved in. One could easily spend $20K in one day of purchasing all the equipment for framebuilding – $2200 for a TIG welder, ~$2500 for a frame jig, well over $1000 for a used mill and/or lathe, a nice welding table, a bike stand for the jig and for the welding table, a group of super nice mitering saws from Strawberry (or cheap bi-metal hole saws)…the list just goes on and on. Just check out Tim Paterek’s bicycle framebuilding manual if you’re interested in being overwhelmed – and he’s not even TIG welding.
Of course, you read online about all these people that make frames with nothing but an oxy/acetylene torch, some files, and a hacksaw (ok…a bit exaggerated but close), and you think it can be done for under $1000 EASILY. I have to admit, it can be done for well under $1000 but the amount of time you spend on mitering tubes alone, among other things like making your own jig, is extraordinary. So even though I’m sure it’s more “pure” not to use machinery for mitering, etc. I’m not sure I’m that patient. I’m giving it a go though without a mill just because of cost alone but I’d love to get at least a mini-mill some day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very detail oriented, but I’m also one who is efficient (more time to ride, after all). Next big purchase has to be a frame and fork jig. I am probably going to go with the Henry James Access 100 jig mainly for it’s open design (hence…Access…). If anyone has found this blog and has opinions on jigs let me know. I learned on the Anvil Journeyman but that thing costs twice as much as the HJ and you can’t see the non-drive side of the frame almost at all.