These beauties showed up in the mail. I admired them then promptly locked them away until I was convinced I wouldn't destroy them by mistake.
First up, learning to braze. I ordered some cheap 4130 tubing, cut some rings and went to work learning to pull the silver through and control the heat.
These beauties arrived from Nova Cycle Supply. Intimidating indeed to think about building a bicycle out of a few fragile pipes.
A test rough miter on some heavy 4130 waiting for some quality time at the bench grinder and finally a file.
I thought this was a pretty decent test miter. I was wrong.
More brazing practice. I cut out a faux headtube lug just to get a feel for how a real one would respond. God, I am a spaz with the silver.
The headtube/downtube lug sanded on the inside and test fit. It came out well, with a nice snug fit.
Cleaned up and almost ready for my first join. Scary.
Flux is your friend.
My first ever real join, cooling down. If you're a pro, you're probably cringing right now and rightfully so.
I thought this bit actually came out well.
After soaking off the flux. I still have some work to do on making nice, pretty joins.
Uh oh. I went back, refluxed and refilled the bits that I missed.
Lining up the top tube lugs.
Everything mitered and test fit, with a ratchet strap providing a little tension to hold everything in place.
The toptube/headtube miter. See that little gap, yeah, that turned into a big problem.
The toptube/seattube miter. Nice and snug.
The seattube join inside the bottom bracket shell.
That should hold it.
When it comes to wasting silver and making ugly blobs I am a master.
One last test fit.
Before I got on to finishing the main triangle I made a few test runs at getting the braze-ons attached using a piece of scrap tubing.
I attached the water bottle mounts before finishing the main triangle because I read somewhere the heat from doing the braze-ons could tweak the alignment ever so slightly. Ahhh, I love it when I have delusions of grandeur.
The buggers heat up quick, especially with yours truly behind the torch.
That actually came out nice.
Everything aligned, tacked and about to be joined for good. Or not.
Hmmm, sure took a lot of silver to fill that gap towards the bottom of the seattube/headtube lug. Matter of fact, I don't seem to recall a gap being there before. Oh well.
That came out ok. I'm getting better at this whole brazing thing.
After cooling off and then washing away the flux. Looks good. From afar. There's a beer in the frame for a reason.
Well, ok, maybe I did waste some silver on the bottom of the downtube join.
The bad: Incredibly there's a few millimeters on the inside of the bottom bracket where the silver didn't fully penetrate. No biggie: I can cover the area with flux, heat it up and pull some more silver through to tidy up the join.
The ugly: The first clue I had that something was wrong was when I started seeing bubbles from the headtube lug while I was washing away the flux. I suspected I had left a pinhole in the join that I could go back and fill. After cleaning everything up I realized I had a major problem. A huge gap had formed where I had once had what I had thought was a near perfect join.
Well, shit. That ain't right.
Eyeballing the headtube once everything was cleaned up revealed there was indeed a massive twist. It looks worse than it is in this picture, but it's there. My eye had been correct after all. So now it's into debug mode. The gap hadn't been there when I started the assembly and even after I had everything tacked in place. It wasn't, near as I can tell, there when I finished brazing the head tube. So what happened? It must have pulled apart while it cooled, spurred on by the alignment problem I thought I saw but that I couldn't verify through measurements. This is bad. Now to figure out how, if at all, it can be fixed.
Now the learning process really begins. After some soul searching I decided to cut out the top tube and, hopefully, replace just it and the top tube/headtube lug.
After a long session with the torch I finally got the tubes apart.
The top tube came out easily enough. Maybe that join wasn't as good as I initially thought.
In the end, I wound up doing horrible things to Richard's beautiful lugs.
More carnage. I just couldn't get that top tube/head tube log to come apart, so I wound up cutting the head tube as well.
Richard, I really am sorry. The good thing about this was I discovered how strong the head tube joins were. Those buggers weren't coming apart no matter what. I also learned more from tearing the poor thing apart and starting over from a bottom bracket/seat tube than I did doing the entire first main triangle.
After a few days of depression, a new set of tubes arrived and I got them labelled and set about resurrecting FrankenFrame.
In the end, all that remained was the seat tube and bottom bracket shell.
At least my brazing skills improved.
FrankenFrame lives! Another beer, but this time for a very different reason.
Checking the seat tube angle relative to the head tube angle.
Both within a tenth of a degree, which is as much a function of how carefully I placed the angle-finder as anything. I hope.
I got to work on the rear triangle today, starting with attaching the dropouts to the chainstays. My first effort ended badly when I eyeballed the dropout alignment so this time around I set the chainstays and dropouts into an improvised jig, made certain everything lined up properly then made alignment marks on the drops and stays.
The plug in drop outs turned out to be tricky to braze in place. The method used by experienced builders is to load the inside of the dropout with bits of silver, heat the dropout and pull the brazing material out. I'm not that good, so I cut a slot in the stay so I could introduce the silver that way and be a little more confident I'd gotten a good bond all the way around the stay.
After cleaning up the excess silver you can just see the slot I used.
The dropouts themselves are stainless steel and I needed a break from thinking, so I did some initial polishing of the dropout faces. I started with a file, then 120 grit and worked my way up to 800 grit. Next up will be 800 grit wet and finally a dry then wet 1000 grit. When it's complete the dropouts will be painted with the exception of the polished faces, which won't rust and will be completely hidden beneath the wheel skewers. If, like me, you walk the fine line between OC and OCD, this matters.
Finally, after a full day's work I had the chainstays aligned, cut to length and in my improvised jig. I was too tired to do anything else so I let it be. Next step is to pull it apart, prepare it for brazing, re-jig and align everything then, finally, braze in the chainstays. The rear triangle really is the toughest part and even the smallest error is magnified when the rear wheel is in place.
I finally decided I could put it off no longer and attached the chainstays. The fit was a touch loose in the bottom bracket shell so I went old school and "pinned" the stays for reinforcement. Or, to put it another way, I lined everything up carefully, drilled some holes then whacked some nails into the joint with a hammer.
The non-drive side stay, fluxed, pinned and ready to braze.
Hey, it's almost a bike! I test fit a rear wheel after the join had cooled. Incredibly, the alignment appeared pretty good. I was expecting it to come out horrible.
Rear wheel, seat tube and head tube more or less in the same plane. Hmmmm. I must have screwed something up.
Checking the distance between the stays with my alignment tool. If they're the same distance apart life is good.
Pretty darn close. I'll check everything again this weekend and make any minor adjustments by bending shit into place before I attach the seat stays.
A close up of a nail after soaking off the flux. You can see how the silver has surrounded the nail, indicating decent penetration and turning the nail into part of the structure. Or at least that's what I'm told.
I did one last check of the rear triangle alignment before moving on. Here, the dropouts were almost perfect right out of the box.
I'd been going back and forth about how to attach the tops of the seat stays. The easy way is to drop in some pre-made plugs, file them down a bit and call it good. But the plugs are really heavy and I wanted something that showed some care so I decided to attempt a set of semi-wraparound seat stay caps.
The extension from the cap extends around part of the seat tube lug, providing significantly more surface area for brazing and more strength. The tradeoff is they are a pain in the ass to do. This side is still pretty rough and I may reshape the wraparound for better aesthetics.
To make them, I cut a shallow miter in the seat tube.
Looking from the rear, there's not a whole lot of contact area between the stay and the lug. But the wrap around results in a huge increase in contact area.
Early stages of a seat stay cap. I still need to shape the miter to fit the piece of scrap tubing snugly and braze it all together.
Then set in a piece of scrap tubing, to give the tip a concave look. You can also use flat stock, which is infinitely easier.
The almost finished stay next to the second one I'm working on. The piece of scrap gets cleaned, brazed into place then filed down until it looks like the finished stay. If you're thinking "that looks like a lot of work" you're correct.
The seat stays all fluxed and ready for brazing.
The seat stays fluxed and ready to attach to the top of the seat tube. For extra strength I decided to pin the caps with a couple of nails.
If you look closely you can see the nails protruding into the seat tube. They'll get ground flush later.
All brazed up and cooling down.
For the first time, it looks like a real frame. I still need to clean up the seat stay cluster, attach a brake bridge and fashion a chainstay bridge, but it's basically ready to be dropped off to get prepped.
The seat stay cap cleaned up a bit. I'm not happy with the look, but it seems to be strong. I learned a lot on this set so the next pair will hopefully come out looking better.
The semi-wrap around seat stay caps. Symmetrical-ish.
Some metal was harmed in the making of this frame.
I got to work installing the brake bridge. Here, the location is marked on the seat stays.
And after a lengthy session with the file, the brake bridge is mitered to sit snugly between the stays. This was incredibly fussy for such a simple looking bit. The mounting hole needs to remain centered, the stays taper inward making the miter complex and the whole thing needs to sit parallel with the stays. Tricky.
The brake bridge all fluxed up and ready for the torch.
The chain stay bridge brazed in place and cooling.
I also made a chain stay bridge out of some scrap seat tube. This was a real bastard to get right because of the taper and compound miter.
And the chain stay bridge after cleaning it up. I didn't get a perfect miter so I compensated by building a massive filet to hold everything in place. It should stiffen up the rear stays considerably.
The brake bridge came out decent.
That would be an almost finished frame. I'll drop it off at a shop to be prepped then clean it up a bit and build it into a bike. It weighed in at 4.4 pounds. Not bad. My Surly Cross-Check frame weighs around 5 pounds. Of course, the Surly is indestructible whereas this one will likely fall apart as soon as I try to ride it.
Since it's still a week before I can get my shop to chase, face and ream the bits that need to be chased, faced and reamed I decided to spray the frame with clear coat.
Absent a clever logo I grabbed a Sharpie and improvised.
I considered hiding everything under a thick coat of paint but then decided to go with the "say it loud, say it proud" approach and just shot it with clear coat. Even after cleaning things up a bit a multitude of flaws remain, all on display.
One of my favorite details. I love how the silver just traces the heart cutout on the downtube lug. And how it contrasts with the horror show I made of the outer bit.
My shop mechanic loaned me this adjustable reamer to get the seat tube to the correct, oddball, 30.6mm dimension. He got a four pack of Surly Furious, I got a nicely reamed out seat tube. Everybody wins.
The massive seatpost does look kind of bad ass.
Cheap brake, befitting the garage-special nature of FrankenFrame.
Luckily, the visual clutter of the cables distracts the eye from my fuck ups.
I think I can do something clever with the way the cable lays across the stay on the next build.
FrankenFrame after our first ride. The bottom bracket is too low by about 10mm, but it didn't fall apart and actually rode quite nicely.
My favorite detail. It's scary to look down at this while riding and be reminded who built the frame on which my life depends. Scary indeed.