Top 10 reasons I’ll never be a cool framebuilder

I’m not even sure I’m a real “framebulder,” since that moniker is reserved for people actually making money. I build frames of the bike type.  Say what? Well, there’s been a recent conversation on the Velocipede Salon about framebuilding and it’s been fun to see how the Professional/established builder’s perceptions vary on the “new” framebuilding crop coming up through the ranks. The Overopinionated Framebuilder has a piece on it too recently.  He also had a blog spoofing NAHBS (National Handmade Bike Show) a couple years ago about what awards he’d give out had he his own bike show, and that is hilarious.

The builders that have been at this the longest and still earn a living at it have some (in general) tough words for those that want to have a go at it and also for those that learned in a different manner than themselves.  I have the utmost respect for those builders and I don’t pretend I’ll ever reach their level of aptitude and expertise in framebuilding and I don’t give up easy so I’ll be around for awhile.

As with anything, there are stereotypes, preferences, biases, and personalities in the framebuilding community.  I have been lucky enough to experience all these things because of this world wide web. I’ve navigated through and I’ve found my own path and am starting to realize where I fit in.  It’s a different world for bicycle framebuilders now, where people can support their learning of the trade and the ongoing costs of making frames and buying tooling by having another job.  The more I learn about other framebuilders, the more I see a common thread: the ones that *aren’t* established pros are either barely making a living building one frame at a time and doing the odd-machining or metal fab jobs, or are supporting their habit with a “real” job that is likely better paying than framebuilding will ever be.  It’s a different definition than a “hobby” builder since many go on to sell a small number of frames each year to cover some costs.  It’s people having a passion to learn this trade of building bikes and just going the DIY route when there are not many options in which to earn your stripes.  Many people get into it at a later age when they have jobs and families that keep them looking for non-local options to learn. They can’t up and move to England to hopefully get hired at a shop that brazes motorcycle chassis’ to get the experience of repetition.  The internet has created a culture of sharing and there are hundreds of framebuilders posting pictures and videos of their work and processes.  It’s a virtual “how-to” of framebuilding if you spend enough time online and transfer that looking into doing in the shop.

There are more classes to start you off along the path than ever before and that is the new way to learn. But it’s just a start and there are no advanced classes, as advertised at least, to refine you skills and solidify your process.

Other than startup costs of buying the tools and tubes to build a frame, there’s no barrier to entry. You don’t need a “certificate” showing you’re a Framebuilder. If you want to sell frames, you can. Just need all the legal documents from the government to make you legit in their eyes.  Liability insurance doesn’t hurt and in my opinion is necessary to start selling frames with a conscience. But other than that, you’re free to hang out the shingle at will.  Whether you can market, sell, build, cover costs, and make some money to pay for food and a mortgage is another question.  But nothing, including all the opinions of the right way to do things, is stopping you.  We all live our own lives and learn our own ways with our individual life histories and existing situations…and it’s pretty cool to how many different ways we build very similar bicycles.

Here’s a year-end list of a top 10 of why I’m not a COOL framebuilder (there are more than 10):

  1. I didn’t use files to miter my first (_X_) number of frames.  Although I do file a LOT even after starting out the miters on the mill.
  2. I bought a *new* Chinese-made milling machine right off the bat to make my miters. Could fit or afford a Bridgeport, and in Colorado finding a good used mill is all but impossible.
  3. I am mostly ‘internet trained‘.  Stated another way — I didn’t ‘apprentice’ back in the day from ___________(fill in your favorite old school framebuilder or English frame factory).
  4. I didn’t make the majority of my tooling…i just bought most of it. Thanks Don!
  5. I don’t live in a windowless basement shop and listen to _______(fill in the most artsy &/or hardcore band that nobody else has ever heard of) while designing and crafting my newest intricately cut & filed bi-lam lug. Which brings me to my next one…
  6. I’m a TIG welder. I don’t fillet braze, well not for the main tubes at least.
  7. I have never made a lugged frame. Lugged geometry is too limiting for what I want to build. I might make a road frame someday though.
  8. I own a car, more than one in fact. But they’re totally boring — i don’t even work on them, restore old cars, or ride or fix motorcycles.
  9. I don’t make fixies. I’m not sure I would even if you asked me to. Maybe for Slowerthansnot. Nobody else though. I think coasting is cool.
  10. I use an auto-darkening welding hood.  I’m too uncoordinated to flip the hood down before starting an arc.  I hit the hood on the frame, my chest, the torch, whatever’s in the way.  Flipping it down does look cooler though in all those sweet Vimeo’s of the cool framebuilders!

8 Responses

  1. Ha! oK, maybe you’re not a top ranked “cool frame builder” in your eyes….(and who’s eyes matter?) BUT, you are a FRAMEBUILDER with a fair amount of chop. When I ride my Meriwether I’m really not thinking about what school you’re from, what classes you took, or type of tools you use. I think about the ride. The Ride. What you have accomplished is making bikes that you like and furthering your experience by making bikes that others like. I was on my Meriwether today….single track, gravel, dirt, wind. The bike was wonderful, the handling was forgiving ( rusty here) and the ride was smooth, crisp, and it’s getting to be predictable…..shooting out of turns still amazes me. I may convert this SS to geared sooner than later, as I can’t develop the speed I want and know this rig can handle. So there, Mr. I’mnotascoolasotherframebuilders, I think you are! Happy New Year, Whit.

    And SueBeeDoo, guppies and monsters,

    Paul http://www.crosspropz.com

    >

  2. Hi, Whit…kind of ‘off-topic’, but what auto-darkening helmet do you use? I’m running a Speedglas 9100, which is just fine on 80+ Amp AC aluminium, but tends to cut out on lighter steel stuff. I’ve also tried a flip-down, bit it’s just a PITA and it’s far too easy to get out of position before you’ve even started.
    Thanks, Dan

    • Hey Dan,
      I picked up the same hood as you this summer – 9100XX. I set it at the lowest I can (9) and it does pretty good for me. I set it at that when I’m using straight amps at 50-80 and also for pulsing up to 130 and does pretty well. Still not as crisp a picture as a regular gold lens but it does better than the Miller Elite I had before. The Elite has 4 sensors which is definitely better for never getting flashed, but the Speedglas has that flash-guard function that really does help for me on those tight areas. But I agree that the auto hoods aren’t great at low amps. I use a 1x ‘cheater’ lens that helps but overall the auto-green filter is definitely not as clear as a good flip-down lens.

  3. Wait…what?! My frames are not built by a cool framebuilder? Did you bump your head or something?

  4. Some others:
    -As of the last time I saw you, you had no ironic facial hair or tattoos.
    -You have totally failed to use any black and white or sepia photos on your blog.
    -You are aware of, and interested in, the geometry of the bikes you build.
    -You wear safety glasses when operating power tools.
    -You don’t own a newsboy hat or wear a cycling cap under your helmet. Hell, just wearing a helmet disqualifies you from really being cool.

    Mitering with files sucks. I only did it for _x_ frames because I didn’t really know what a milling machine was. Once I found out I bought one.

    -Walt

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