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