Where can I get this stuff?

Don't overlook the resources available through your local bicycle shop.

You want a real bicycle shop, not a discount chain, because all of this will be special order material. Besides, some of the tools used in building a frame are expensive and you will only need them once, so finding a good shop will save you hundreds of dollars. You might even find a shop owner or mechanic so turned-on by the idea of building a frame that you end up getting things at the equivalent of an employee discount.

Practice Tubing:

Before you spend money on good tubing and fittings, you'll want to practice on cheap or free materials.

  • Free Old Bikes -- whether you pick them up at the curb after they didn't sell at a yard sale, find them on Craigslist, or rescue them from the trash, you can freecycle old bicycle frames into practice materials. Be sure to clean the used tubing well before you try to braze it, and be sure your ventilation and respirator are up to the fumes from burned paint if you don't strip it all off first.
  • Tubing Scraps -- if there's a local builder, ask what he or she does with cut-off tube ends. They might be available to you for practice, and this might also be a good way to get to know your local builder community.

Bits & Pieces -- Commercial Suppliers:

Many companies dealing in frame parts deal only with independent bicycle dealers. This limits their liability, frees them from dealing with individual retail customers, and keeps them on good terms with shops that would have a hard time competing with their own wholesale suppliers. Your local bike shop should be able to get catalogs from any of the following wholesale suppliers of frame materials if you ask them to.

If you simply can't find a local shop that will order frame parts for you, there are also suppliers who don't insist on a resale number or a storefront. But keep looking for that good local shop anyway, since you will still need someone to mill your head tube, ream your seat tube, chase and face your bottom bracket, etc. (Or if you *really* can't find a decent shop, maybe you should look into starting one. A town without a decent bike shop is a real pity.)

Years ago, before they turned into a glossy fashion outlet, Bike Nashbar sold tube sets, lugs, frame fittings and braze ons, filler and flux, and even practice kits for beginning frame builders. I guess colorful clothes sell better these days. But some companies still cater to the amateur builder.

  • Henry James Bicycles, Inc.
    704 Elvira Ave.
    Redondo Beach, CA 90277

    This is a small company with excellent products. Henry James makes a beautiful, immediately recognizeable fork crown that is used by many fine builders, and his other products are at the same standard of quality. The company also makes lugs, bottom brackets, stainless steel dropouts, and frame and fork jigs. If you had to have just one supplier, this company has almost everything you need, including silver brazing filler at better prices than many welding suppliers. They have no trouble dealing with individual builders.

  • BikeLugs.com

    Kirk Pacenti sells excellent lugs, including a beautiful set of stainless stem lugs, and has a good selection of tubing.

  • Nova Cycles Supply
    4111 Citrus Ave #8
    Rocklin, CA 95677

    Nova carries a wide range of tubes, lugs, dropouts, bottom brackets, etc., plus a full line of frame building equipment. Your local frame builder will probably already have a catalog. In the past they insisted on a resale number, but now have a retail price list for amateur builders.

  • Ceeway Marketing
    80/82 West Street
    Erith, Kent, DA8 1AQ, UK
    Telephone: 01322 442 990
    Fax: 01322 442 886

    A distributor in the UK with a huge selection of lugs, tubing, parts, etc. Even after shipping they're often cheaper than some U.S. suppliers, and they take plastic.

  • Gaerlan Inc.
    838 Grant Ave.#410
    San Francisco, CA 94108
    Tel (415)362-3866 Fax(415) 677-8943
    Email: JFreewheel@AOL.Com

    Frame building supplies, misc components, tubing. Not as wide a selection as some of the printed catalogs, but hey, they're on-line so you can get a quick idea of what you're looking at.

  • Bringheli
    8040 West Pleasant Valley Rd.
    Parma, OH 44130

    An excellent selection of tools, jigs, tubing, and components, with strong recommendations from many members of the framebuilding mailing list.

  • Fairing Industrial Inc./Bicycle Frame Depot
    4700 Miller Drive, Unit G
    Temple City, CA 91780

    TONS of tubing in different materials, sizes, and weights.

  • Aircraft Spruce & Specialty
    P.O. Box 424
    Fullerton, CA 92632

    An aircraft supplier with a good catalog selection of tubing and tools.

  • Dillsburg Aeroplane Works
    114 Sawmill Rd.
    Dillsburg, PA 17019
    Phone (717) 432-4589

    Another excellent aircraft supplier who deals in more bicycle specific tubing, too.

  • Metal Buyers' Mart
    N 15 W 22218 Watertown Rd.
    Waukesha, WI 53188

    Not really a bicycle-related company, but a source for all sorts of metals, including a selection of mechanical steel tubing, stainless steel tubing, and other metals sometimes useful on bicycle projects. Their specialty is small orders -- they will gladly sell you just an inch of 1.25" stainless steel tube if you want it.

  • Victory Circle Graphix, LLC
    Custom Stickers & Decals
    216 Wright St., Suite 110
    Lakewood, CO 80228
    303-984-2750 fax

    While I haven't used them yet myself, this custom sticker and decal company comes highly recommended by many subscribers on the framebuilding mailing list. According to the owner, "We can make many different type of stickers and doing smaller quantity orders is our specialty. All of our decals/stickers can be clear coated over the top with no problems and have good durability. Also I am trying to get the word out that we now have a process to make stickers that can be clear Powder Coated over. Yes a sticker that can handle the baking process with no side effects. Some pretty neat technology and something I am quite proud of and think is a useful resource for many builders."

    Sounds great to me.

  • Reynolds Cycles

    Reynolds is a leading manufacturer of bicycle tubing, formerly carrying a small selection of other frame parts, too. Even if you get your tubing elsewhere, the Reynolds catalog has specifications for all their tubing so you know what you're buying.

  • Quality Bicycle Products
    9201 Penn Ave. S #40
    Bloomington, MN 55431

    A national distributor of bicycle parts for independent bicycle dealers, Quality also has a selection of tubing, frame fittings, and braze-ons. There's a good chance that many better bike shops will already have the Quality catalog. Also, Branford Bike (see retail below) will sell you an unpriced retail copy of the Quality catalog with a retail price list and special-order anything in it -- real service from a mail order company!

Insurance for Frame Builders

One of the things that many wholesale suppliers want is proof that your framebuilding business is insured. Personally, given some of the horrific damage awards that have been levied against framebuilders when frames fail, I wouldn't consider building frames for other people without good insurance.

Discussions on the framebuilding mailing list suggest that one of the best bets for insuring your frame building business is the Bicycle Manufacturers & Distributors Program available through National Insurance Professionals Corporation (NIPC), headquartered in beautiful Poulsbo, Washington. Their program is endorsed by the National Bicycle Component Manufacturers Association. NIPC also has programs for bicycle shops and commercial bicycle touring companies. Ask your insurance agent or broker for more information.

(Disclaimer: Yes, I am an insurance agent. No, I don't work for NIPC. Unless you see my name on your paperwork, I am not your insurance agent.)

Torches: Get one Locally

You don't really need an oxy-acetylene torch to braze steel frames, but they are the best tool for the job. Alternatives include oxy-propane, oxy-MAPP, acetylene-air, and MAPP-air torches. Talbot's book takes a low-budget approach and explains how to braze a frame using just a hand-held MAPP-air torch using disposable cylinders. This does work, I've done it, but it isn't nearly as fast or precise as using an oxy-acetylene setup.

If you want to buy an oxy-acetylene torch, you should look for a local welding supplier. They will have better prices than most mail order places, plus you can see what you are getting. Ask around about used torches, especially used rental rigs at welding suppliers.

If you aren't planning to do a lot of brazing in the future but want to use an oxy-acetylene torch for one frame, it might make more sense to rent one. Many welding companies rent complete outfits at very reasonable prices.

If you're in an area without any welding suppliers, oxy-acetylene would be a tough choice, since you won't have anyone to refill your acetylene tanks. Sears sells a large oxy-MAPP torch that can also do good frame brazing, but don't think of brazing a frame with one of the mini torches that use oxygen cylinders the size of a standard propane torch cylinder -- they have a very short burn time, a small flame, and are hideously expensive to use.

Frame Building Tools

The most expensive tool most frame builders have is an adjustable jig for holding the frame tubes in position while brazing. Many models are commercially available, but none is readily affordable to the amateur frame builder -- most cost well over $2000. Talbot and Paterek both have information on building your own jig for less, since you don't need all the features of a modern commercial jig. Note that these jigs are also less precise than commercial jigs, so you may need more post-brazing alignment.

Other useful tools are available at any hardware store: hacksaws, drills, files, wire brushes, scrapers, etc. Everything you need for actually building the frame should be available at a good hardware store or from a good mail order tool catalog.

This leaves a small number of specialty tools used in the finishing of the frame after you build it, such as alignment tools, bottom bracket taps and facers, head tube mills and facers, and seat tube reamers. All of these are expensive tools, so your best choice is to find a local bike shop or frame builder who will do the work for you. If you really want to spend an extra thousand dollars on tools, though, most of these tools are available to your local bike shop from United Bicycle Tool in Oregon. Or try Bike Tools etc.

This page written by Josh Putnam. Please feel free to email questions, comments, corrections, suggestions, etc.

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