Selling Out?

I watched a thing on Ralph Nader tonight in which he talked about fighting against corporations that are focused solely on the stock price--specifically big American automakers.

This struck a chord with me because I just read the chapter in How Toyota Became #1 ( review) that talks about the practice of ignoring the stock price, and focusing instead on what will benefit the company (i.e. its customers and employees) long-term. This is something that American automakers have shown themselves to be especially bad at, and it is a big reason Toyota has been doing so well for so long.

Also, I was recently accused of "selling out" because, though I've marched in several peace rallies and read more than my share of Gandhi's writings, I'm pursuing an opportunity to work for an outfit that would make parts for a DoD contractor.

In light of all this:
I believe in responsible small business that responds to customers, respects people, and benefits communities.
Businesses like these can set an example to inspire others and thus cause change for the common good while making a buck.
Making money is not a bad thing, but it should be done in moderation like anything else.
Though the American military is too large and used improperly, it's better that the monies paid for its maintenance and expansion go into responsible, small, American businesses than anywhere else.

And now I don't feel bad about helping to land a DoD contract.

"Dude...what a tool!"

*** UPDATE 6/11/08: I have created 3D models of the new version of this jig (described near the end) ***

The next phase of this project is to make a fixture for brazing brake mounts to a frame/fork.

I got the idea from the excellent Nicola Cycles blog (thanks for the link, dude!). This summer they hosted a free framebuilding workshop near NYC that must have been a blast.
In a batch of photos from around that time, I found this little gem:

Money shot:

This is a clever design that was likely pretty quick to machine. I started playing around with how to improve on it, with the help of a mechanical engineering student and some machinist friends.
Perhaps most importantly (for me), this design will work for both standard cantilever brake bosses/pivots and custom-made centerpull bosses/pivots.

I/we eventually decided to implement the following additional features:
- Make the dummy axle self-centering, by copying the clever Anvil dummy axle design, minus the tricky-to-machine (but oh-so-sweet) "D"-shaped ends that keep the dropouts parallel:

Don and his dad do a great job on these...they are little works of machinists' art.

- The Nicola design appears to permit the fixturing of brake pivots that are out of plane with the axle (and thus the rim). One solution is to machine a flat on the top of the "spine" bar that runs up the middle of the fork, and use a set screw to set the blocks in plane with one another. (n.b. Any error in the angle of the posts would likely be easy to correct when setting up the brake pads. I'm just anal like that.)

- Because of equipment limitations (no slitting saw), we replaced the pinch bolts on the pivot holder with another set screw and a milled flat.

- Add the ability to use this tool as a brake/fender bridge. This is achieved by tapping 2 holes for the set screws mentioned above, and leaving open the option of using a long M6 bolt to hold a bridge in place. The tricky part is that the aluminum might get too hot and deform or even melt.

- Change all materials (except the blocks, which remain aluminum) to 303 stainless, which is easier to work than other kinds of stainless, though it's still a pain to machine compared to mild steel. But I got some 303 scrap in the right sizes for free.

Thus I drafted and scanned the following:

A few notes on drafting:
- These were made for a friend who I trust as a machinist and who with whom I've discussed the design, so I'm letting him choose a few dimensions, and violating a few other rules of drafting. In theory, the drafter makes all the decisions about sizes and shapes, and the machinist makes all the decisions about methods. I've crossed those lines in a few places.
- Dashed lines indicate hidden features or edges.
- "Phantom" lines (short-short-long) indicate centerlines and imaginary features. Gear teeth are often replaced with phantom lines, as are threads, because drawing them would be repetitive and wouldn't add anything.

Exclusive Finals Coverage

The fall finals season kicked off Thursday with a strong showing on the Entrepreneurship exam, 97.8, which gives me a solid A on everything in the class.

The semester grade is pending my business plan, due this Thursday.

Then, bright and early this morning, came the main event, the Intercultural Communication final.

Despite a whole 2 hours of studying Sunday night, early setbacks were daunting: precious study/sleep time was lost due to a poorly-timed fire alarm in a freshman dorm late Sunday night. Also, procrastination is believed to have been a factor.

I awoke bright and early* this morning to read two pages on business communication in China, arriving at the exam a few minutes late, even without the usual shower.
I felt good at the end, but I knew I'd missed more than a couple questions. I felt I'd earned a B on the exam and for the semester, which seemed fair given the amount of effort I put in.

Tonight's results:
91.2% on the INTL final, for a decent A, about 10% beyond my expectations.

In a decidedly magical and possibly miraculous series of events, this bumped me up to 450 points out of a possible 500.

That's right.


Or as it says on the transcript:

A .

School: 0.

Ethan: 1.

School is expected to suffer a crushing defeat on Wednesday at the Machine Shop Practices final.

Yes, this is a personal blog sometimes.

Best. Gloves. Ever.

As expected, school is keeping me too busy to post often.

Also as expected, fall is approaching, and I deemed it necessary to buy some new gloves so I'm ready when the cold finally decides to get here.

These are the gloves of choice. I just got a replacement pair from Colorado Cyclist (which inexplicably had the lowest price I could find, ~$42 delivered) because I lost one of my old pair at the end of last season.

What made those Wombats so great?
- Easy on/off. Just tug on the fingers. This is essential for the urban commuter, and even more so for the working cyclist. I think it helps that I wear a Large, even though according to Descente's numbers I should wear a Medium.
- Shell vs. insulation. Though I've tried only a couple other winter gloves, my beef with them was that they absorbed water and didn't block enough wind. The Wombat acts more like a rain shell than a cotton sweater. They're still plenty warm, as I believe they are somewhat insulated, but I find that generally, for the coastal Mid-Atlantic winter, windproofness is about the most important clothing feature, and the Wombat put the others to shame here.
- Versatility. In the thick of winter, when the forecast can vary dramatically over the course of a week, these are the only gloves I use. They work when it's pouring rain and 30°, or 0° and blowing hard, and even when it's 50° and just a bit windy. With a good pair of gloves, my whole body feels disproportionately warmer--that is, the gloves add more warmth-feel than one would think. These are definitely warm gloves, and on long rides I could see sweat becoming an issue, but I wore them on hilly 10-mile treks without a big problem.
- Long cuffs. This expands the cycling wardrobe because my wrists stay pretty warm even with a non-cycling jacket (e.g. a peacoat).
- The finger flap is a cool idea, but my trips were short enough and never in cold/wet enough weather to warrant their use very often. Nice to have when necessary, though., and they fold out of the way when not in use.
- Reflective Descente logo on the back of the hand helps with signaling safety.
- Classiness factor. They're not big and bulky like ski gloves. They may not win any fashion awards, either, but with commuting cycling already pretty dorky, a sleek black pair of gloves is nice.
- Solid construction. I wore my old pair for a year of commuting and late-night couriering without so much as a thread unraveling. Not a super-long test period, but a lot better than the Cannondale gloves I had, which ripped at the wrist after only a few weeks.

Why do these new Wombats seem like they'll rock even harder?
- Absorbent terry cloth thumb for wiping sweat away. One of my biggest problems with the old model.
- Grippier palm/thumb/index/middle finger area. These had been plain suede material, and now they have little grippy numbs somewhat like de-clawed Velcro, which would be a cool name for a rock band.
- Slight padding added to the meaty part of the palm. Lack of padding wasn't a big problem before, but it should make a nice addition.

Dave Moulton explains retro-love

Dave Moulton is a retired framebuilder who now writes (quite well), and has caught the blog bug.
His post explains why old stuff (most of the time) just plain works better, dammit. It's almost a manifesto for retro-grouchiness.

I just started driving a red Toyota pickup with a stick-shift, manual windows/locks, no built-in clock, no tachometer, no extended cab, and no 4WD. Just a simple, small truck, 3 years old. I thought for a while I'd miss things like keyless entry, power windows, and a clock, but I've adapted (and bought a stick-on clock) and now the truck seems totally complete. I wouldn't change a thing.

One rainy day a couple weeks ago, a guy came running into class about 20 minutes late, soaking wet. His power windows, he explained, had quit working as he was driving to school. He had to stop under an overpass and use some garbage bags to seal the windows as best he could. One of the other guys in class said, "That's why I stick with the roll-ups."

Don't get me wrong: I love technology, and an electronically-shifted bike would be a cool gizmo and I'd like to ride one for a few miles. But after that I'd hop back on my single-speed and remember that I only service my bike a few times a year, and, aside from the little light on the front, none of its components need batteries.

Notes from Yvon Chouinard's talk

From this video here by the founder of Patagonia

- Be product-driven. Make the best product possible. Don't mess around.
- Flex-time for employees. Hire good people, let them do their thing when they want to, but make sure things get done.
- Blur the distinction between work, play, and family. Employees shouldn't be disappearing from home for 8 hours a day every day. Be surrounded by friends. Teach passionate people business, rather than trying to instill passion in businesspeople.
* Influenced by Japanese management style...very different from American
- Something is complete not when you can't add anything to it, but when you can't take anything away.
- Cause no unnecessary harm. Manufacturing, and everything beyond hunting & gathering, causes waste, but make efforts to minimize it.
- Climbing Yosemite: at the top, there's nothing. The big accomplishment was the climb to get there. Focus on the process.


The Intro to Entrepreneurship class I'm in is interesting enough that it's got me thinking about it outside of class.

Today we went over a concept that applies to frambeuilding as well as a lot of other stuff.
A successful business plan requires two things:
1. It has to have value. This involves a viable target market, a product that fulfills a need or want, a functional supply chain, etc.
2. It has to defy imitation.

Without #2, it's hard to have a growth business. Folks can easily do what you do better if the market is attractive enough.
There's a few ways to get #2 if you don't have it. A patent offers a limited solution: patents are expensive and take years to get, and someone could always reverse-engineer the patented idea or make a minute change.
Another way is to add an artistic element to the product or service. An artistic product has caché; the fact that it was created by a particular artist/craftsperson gives it value. Someone else copying the product would have to build their own caché to have the same success. This is what Richard Sachs talks about all the time: it's the builder, not the bike, atho.
The last way is relevant as well. A business person's network of suppliers, distributors, and customers is proprietary and may be impossible to duplicate. The most extreme example is business in small towns; a handful of people may control so much of the local commerce and politics that breaking into that market can be impossible. On a broader level, a relationship with a supplier of raw materials may ensure the survival of a manufacturing business. This seems more akin to the relationships Shimano must have with OEMs.

Lastly, here's a great bit about small business marketing from the excellent Sweetpea Cycles blog:

[The accountant] looked over our documents slowly interpreting the numbers on the page trying to understand the story that they told, and after a long silence asked “What’s this two hundred bucks for marketing?” “Mostly website stuff,” I answered.

He took off his glasses and looked at us. “Can I offer you a free bit of advice?”

“Kids your age feel comfortable doing everything on the internet. But a lot of people my age need something to touch. You know, something to hold in their hands. You guys need to spend a little money and get some brochures or something.”

It was like the Zen Master had hit us on the head with a stick.

Thankful, or: Diamond in the Back, Sunroof Top, Diggin' the Scene

I recently moved to Richmond, VA from the DC suburbs to pursue an interdisciplinary degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, combining studies in their Craft and Business schools as well as in the Precision Machining program at John Tyler Community College in nearby Chester.

Today has been interesting. It's the day before VCU classes start, so more errand-running in preparation for the semester.

Last night I discovered the rear hub on my bike was locked up, and fixing that is one of those repairs I can't do at home. So I set out today looking for a shop; the first was closed, so I tried a newish-looking one in Carytown. Turned out to be a very cool, relaxed shop, similar to one that just opened in DC that my buddy works at.

I got the hub temporarily fixed up, ordered new bearings for it, slapped on a new cog for lower gearing, and placed an order for a red-and-white Chrome Citizen to replace my aging Timbuk2. I hope it'll be very visible and sufficiently color-coordinated with existing cycling apparel.

As I was about to leave, I asked about the unpainted fork they had mounted in a cool velvet-lined box frame. That led to some framebuilding talk with one of the sales people. Turns out he's a recent VCU Craft grad, he built a lugged frame in the Craft shop, and we know some of the same people in the framebuilding universe. He's interested in doing custom bike part manufacture, but lacks access to suitable machine tools, as well as technical know-how to run the machines. Funny, I say, because I have (or will soon have) access to such tools and know-how to use them, but I lack sweet designs and ideas. Each of us realized pretty quickly we needed to stay in touch with the other. Fortunately, I'll be back to pick up my new bag in a week.

Did 45 minutes at one of VCU's two gyms, which are as nice as any I've been in (though that's not saying much, I'm new to the gym thing).

Wandered around later near the gym and art school, stopped into Pibby's, a tiny one-room bike shop that I'd bought parts from at a swap meet in Maryland earlier this year. The guy (the sole proprietor) gave me some valuable names and numbers: the guy I'd met earlier in the day in Carytown, a semi-local framebuilder, a powdercoater down the street. Just because I seemed like I might benefit from the info, I guess.

Drove to Chester, bought cheap gas and the rest of my John Tyler books. Class tonight was all shop safety, pretty boring, though by now we've started to loosen up and crack more jokes.

Then I went to the Lowe's (I know, I know) across the street from JT to get some carpet. I want to convert half of the spare room in my new apt. into a bike shop, but I need to protect the hardwood floor from the grease and stand and bikes. I picked out some perfectly grease-colored, dirt-cheap stuff and went to find a guy to cut it for me. Turns out he's a retired advertising photographer and used to be an avid cyclist. And he's got a machinist buddy with a shop way out in Oilville who's looking for shop help. He comps me a couple feet of carpet and gives me his buddy's numbers. At a Lowe's?!

Driving home tonight I was reflecting on the day and on how thankful I am:
• To live in this exciting new city, where people are interested in making things in the same way I am, and where there's resources available for folks like us.
• To not have to pay tuition out-of-pocket, or have it paid by my employer, as my classmates at John Tyler do, and to be able to go to school far from home.
• To have access to these new textbooks, which, while maybe not enthralling, will answer a lot of the most basic questions I'd had on my mind.
• To have free, convenient access to the best-equipped gym I've ever used.
• To live in this great new house, where I have room for a dedicated bike work space, and to be able to furnish it with carpet and tools and parts.

Other Blogs to Read When I'm Busy

Classes start tomorrow (er, today) here at Virginia Commonwealth U in Richmond.

Since my academic duties may soon preclude me from posting with the regularity to which you have become accustomed, please see the following:

Awkward Things I Say to Girls is so on point it's scary. Someone actually writes down all the awkwardness?
An Unfortunate Series of Events is a local blog, partly about cycling, not at all about happy endings.
Reading Lifehacker for one day will make you realize how unproductive most of your life is, and then teach you how to change that.
Bike Snob NYC takes on the fixie culture set with unmatched impunity:
It drives me crazy when people talk about the special skills you need to ride a fixed gear. (Uh, it's the same as riding a regular bike except your feet keep moving.) At the same time, though, there is more to riding a fixed gear (or any bike) than following what seem to be the Three Commandments of Fixed Gear Riding: 1) Thou Shalt Have Thine Keys Exposed At All Times; 2) Thou Shalt Not Tape Thine Bars; and 3) A Helmet's Okay, But A Brake Is Gay.

For those following the industrial engineering segment of our program:

Lean Blog covers lean manufacturing techniques (which are modern evolutions of Taylor's ideas) far better than I can.
ShopFloor, the blog of the National Association of Manufacturers, covers, y'know, American manufacturing with a political bent.

The tool of choice for keeping track of all these blogs (and, of course, this one):
Google Reader.

American Machining

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

I've been reading an excellent biography of Fredrick Winslow Taylor, who helped develop high speed steel (which is essential to modern manufacturing) as well as a system of shop management that revolutionized manufacturing, and ultimately helped to shape modern life.
One of Taylor's contemporaries, Fred Colvin, was the first editor of American Machinist magazine. AM subscription, is free, though I've yet to receive a printed copy since my request a few weeks ago. The website is nicely done and they have some interesting articles that offer perspective on the state of manufacturing 100 years after Taylor.

From articles in AM's 2005 State of Manufacturing:

Finding and Training Tomorrow's Machinists
The introduction of CNC machine tools has changed the nature of the work of machinists. Now, a machinist has to be computer literate and understand basic electronics and physics. Employees at all levels must have the skills to deal with the technology inherent in complex environments.

Students asked to describe images associated with a career in manufacturing responded with phrases such as "serving a life sentence," being "on a chain gang," or "slave to the line," or even being a "robot." Almost unanimously, they saw manufacturing opportunities to be in stark contrast with the characteristics they desire in their careers. Thus, they do not plan on careers in manufacturing.

"Most young people have in mind a 20, 30, or 40-yr-old manufacturing model," notes Tom Whelan, a principal at Omaha's Silverstone Group specializing in human-resource development. "The dangerous, dirty, labor-intensive assembly lines of the 1950s are gone, replaced by robotics and intelligent systems requiring high-tech skills. In spite of dramatic changes in factory conditions, the old stereotypes of backbreaking labor and grimy working conditions persist. Manufacturers have failed to show how they've modernized, embraced new technologies, and involved workers in management and product development."

One reason manufacturing is perceived as a declining field is that employment figures reflect the number of manual-labor and assembly-line jobs being replaced by robots or moved outside the country. Most people don't think about the higher-level jobs remaining.
This is the crux of the issue in American manufacturing labor reform, one I've been reading about in the Taylor biography. Implementing Taylor's system of scientific management to a shop often meant mass firings because job descriptions changed drastically—workers did much more work (usually at considerably greater pay). Taylor actually found that unskilled men could fill jobs once considered highly skilled, once the job was boiled down into its component parts and the new men were given training in their specific task. Experienced machinists tended to resist the changes and rely heavily on inefficient rules of thumb. At the same time, Taylor mandated drastically increasing the number of foremen supervising a given number of men. The result was a re-shuffling of manufacturing jobs.

Outsourcing has moved these relatively unskilled jobs overseas. What remain are more highly skilled positions, making things the Chinese can't make as well or as efficiently. American workers will have to learn new skills to stay competitive in the manufacturing labor market, but it's probably good for everyone in the long run. More products will continue to be available at lower prices. Whether that abundance is ultimately good or bad, it continues a trend that Taylor is responsible for launching in earnest.

In 1912, Taylor's system reached nationwide fame and controversy Scientific management was even the subject of congressional hearings to determine its place in the nation's factories and armories. By the end of the first world war, scientific management and its derivatives were widely accepted worldwide, and nowhere more so than in the US. The war effort required such drastically increased production that Taylorism presented the only viable option. What will it take to make outsourcing as accepted as scientific management is now?
Another misconception is that manufacturing offers only low-paying jobs. According to the Department of Commerce, the average salary-and-benefit package for manufacturing workers was $62,700 in 2003. The national average for all jobs was $51,000.
Surprising numbers, no?


Leveling the International Playing Field

In Arizona I saw one of Haas' fleet of "after-sales support" vans that seem to be key to their success in the American CNC tool business. Each van is a cross between a Snap-On truck and a repair shop, as I understand it, roving from one plant to the next, doing repairs and supplying replacement parts.

The sidebar "Success in China" describes how Haas' success there is likewise dependent on those vans. It's just hard to imagine these Haas vans criss-crossing the Chinese countryside, getting stuck behind a flock of sheep or a washed-out bridge. The Haas van, the picture of American technological progress, juxtaposed* against the difficulties implicit in working in a place like rural China. I'm generalizing here, and I've never been to any part of Asia, but I liked the image.

* Can you tell I've been in art school?

Thinking About My Way

A recent visit to Dave Bohm's shop has got me thinking more about what I see myself doing for a living, and what kind of shop I want to have.

Dave has a relatively clean indoor shop so all the dirty stuff happens outside. Indoors it's very quiet and a lot like a jewelry studio. Lots of files and vises. His S.O. has her home office in the same room, and Dave's got a triple-flatscreen CAD workstation running SolidWorks. Outside there's two small buildings, plus a big yard for big jobs. He had a lot of square steel tubing for making a big fence for a custom home nearby.
Attached to the house, there's a small machine shop packed with 2 horizontal mills, one with a vertical head attachment(?...!), a benchtop CNC lathe, and a South Bend 10 Heavy lathe. That room is oddly shaped, and somehow also holds a TIG welder, an O/A rig, a big (and really badass) plasma welder, an Anvil Super Master frame jig with tandem attachment, a slew of smaller Anvil jigs, and the washer/dryer. Next to the house is a paint shop Dave just finished building that also houses a Henry James alignment system. Next to that is a storage shed for all the other crap. And outside there's an abrasive mitering machine and a tandem-sized sandblasting cabinet. I'm definitely forgetting a few things.

So he has an incredibly well-equipped shop for doing all manner of deeply customized work. He has a comfortable space where he can do intricate cutting and filing for hours, but also a lot of precise, high-tech machines. It's taken him 15 years to collect everything. To my mind it's a dream set-up.

His tools allow him to go far beyond assembling purchased parts. He cuts every headbadge by hand from raw sheets of silver. His dropouts are laser-cut locally from stainless plate, then heavily thinned and modified. He CNCs his seatpost binders in-house.

He said a lot customers ask him to CNC custom parts, but they're usually surprised at how time-consuming (and thus costly) the process is: Even after a lot of design work, "the first one is never right."

There are several forces colliding at Dave's shop. The fine traditional craft of building beautiful lugged steel frames and forks is present in force. His 10th frameset is on display (still dirty from yesterday's ride), with abundant ornamentation that would make Hetchins pround. Then again he was working on a very custom trike for a disabled woman, involving plenty of CAD/CAM and even a little carbon. And then there are the almost outlandishly oversized mountain forks, complete with laser-cut plate crowns, steerer turned from solid stock, crimped left blade for disc brake clearance, turned blade caps, and so on. TIG and brazing, hand filing and CNC--making disparate processes work together is what I like most about Dave's work.

We agreed that more folks should have lathes in their shops.

On Selecting Tubes

This is the first in a series where I'm going to try to summarize what I'm learning into concise notes. The idea is to isolate the variables involved in making a choice or performing a task.


Smaller is more flexible and thus better suited for lighter riders and those who don't need/want stiffness.
The 29er MTBs I'm working on lately are 38 mm DT, 36 mm HT, 31.8 mm TT and ST.

Wall Thickness.
Thinner is generally more flexible, but may require better technique to join. See also below.
Chris is able to do S3 frames without using a ST sleeve or an externally-butted ST. I had thought that was impossible without excessive distortion.

Alloy Selection.
Air-hardening alloys (e.g. OX Platinum, S3, 853), though often used for the thinnest tubes, are stronger/stiffer/harder after welding, all else being equal.
We talked a little about the engineering specs that are sometimes provided with tubes, i.e. yield strength, ultimate tensile strength, and elongation. Yield strength is the amount (or range of amounts) of force the tube can recover from without deformation. UTS is the breaking point in a pull-apart test.
The most interesting number is elongation. It's a way of describing how flexible a tube is. Two tubes can be physically identical but will flex to different degrees if they have different elongation.
Pipe Dream Cycles has a great tubing comparison chart listing a lot of these specs. Columbus seems to be the only tube maker publishing all three engineering specs on their website, and even there it's confusing...what do "Rm", "Rp0.2", and "Ap5" stand for?

Joining Method.
Brazing results in a more flexible ride than welding, all else being equal. See also above.
Chris says brazing the air-hardening alloy tubes is a waste. Thus it seems Columbus, Deda, and Tange are better choices for high-end, lightweight, flexible frames.

this week

i've been under the weather for most of three days. maybe it's the water out here or something.
we're building a single speed 29er for Mountain Goat cycles. Chris welded up the front end yesterday. OX Gold DT was a pain to miter in the mill because the 38 mm cutter was a little dull, so Chris did it by hand with aircraft shears and the belt sander. it was a little gappy so he did 2 passes with the TIG, the first to lay in some steel to close up the gaps, the second to make a nice clean bead. it came out prettier than i've seen TIG look.
he had me do the chainstay-dropout brazes (sorta testing my skills) and they came out looking OK. it was tough because the dropouts are stainless Paragon sliders, and all we had on hand for filler was low-fuming bronze. i remember Omar Khiel wrote that brass brazing stainless is possible, but i'd never seen it done. actually i assumed the dropouts were plain steel when i was brazing them, and wondered why the brass didn't want to flow the way i was expecting. Chris said the secrets to brass brazing stainless are higher heat and super-cleanliness. i think the brazing was complicated a little further by using old was Gasflux brand, usually blue-green, but this was the bottom of the bucket and it had turned brown.
that was last night around midnight, and i took most of today off. when i got back into the shop this evening, Chris had unbrazed those single-bend chainstays and brazed in some s-bends and the rest of the rear end. apparently the single-bends didn't permit enough tire clearance.

July 8

er, having trouble remembering how many days have passed here.
today we finished the Ti coupler job. Chris welded the couplers in, then i used a lot of 3M Scotchbrite to remove the welding discoloration. i took the lockring off, scrubbed up all the parts, reassembled, and finally polished the frame to blend the finish. Ti is really cool that the right chainstay had a lot of dents from chain slap, so we just buffed them out with some Scotchbrite on a die grinder. same with a chainstay decal the owner wanted removed. then just lots and lots of polishing with red Scotchbrite

then Chris had me cut a couple miters for a 29er for Mountain Goat Cycles. he's got a nice sturdy mill, a Bridgeport clone (i think) called Millport. hard to describe all the steps involved, and i'd guess the procedure is different depending on the machine and the equipment used. Chris uses a stout machinists' vise with 2 pairs of X-shaped-blocks to hold the tube. on softer alloys, we feed at 3 thousandths/minute. on OX Plat and such, it's 1.5 thousandths/minute. the miter angle is set by the mill head, which is probably accurate to half a degree.

day 3

has been a long one. it's been about as hot as it gets here in Tempe, high of about 115° F today.
so i did a little more TIG until it got really hot, then took a break inside for the hot afternoon. around 7 Chris came out to the shop and we worked until midnight. still working on putting couplers on that Ti Merlin. problem is the ID of Ti tubing apparently isn't controlled very tightly, so the couplers don't slide in the way they should. so i'm spending a lot of time grinding various parts' IDs and ODs to make them fit. Ti is tough shit; i'm using a serious double-cut carbide burr and a lot of elbow grease and it's slow going.

he also assigned me to work on a frame that's in for repair. excessively thin steel was used either for the DT or the HT because there was some kind of failure at that joint. he had previously used a cutting wheel to chop off the whole front end, leaving the rear triangle, ST, BB shell, and some leftover weld bead. my job was to grind off the excess steel, using an air-powered die grinder with abrasive discs and Scotchbrite, leaving the tubes almost like the front end had never been there. the steel was True Temper S3, so it was again slow going. Chris says the stuff i was grinding was harder than Ti.

we did a some tube mitering on the mill for a 29er made of high-end steel (OX Plat ST and a NOVA-branded, Columbus-made 29er DT so far). Chris uses special cutters he had made at a local tool grinder especially for cutting Ti, but they also work well on steel. he showed me how to set the cutter exactly in the middle of the tube to be mitered using a Digital Read-Out (DRO): move the cutter to the far edge of the tube (just so there's no daylight showing between), zero the readout, move the cutter to the close side in the same way, pres the "1/2" button then the "Y" button, and move the cutter to zero the Y readout. sounds more complicated than it is: basically you tell the thing where the front and back are, and it tells you where the middle is.

he demoed fillet brazing at the very end, after a few beers. i assumed he'd use the GasFlux rod Henry James sells, but he explained that type of brass (nickel bronze?) work hardens as you try to grind it, so he uses regular low fuming bronze (LFB). he demoed what he called the Zanotti-Sadoff method: after tacking, flow a tiny fillet all the way around the mitered tube. then, with a cooler flame, focus heat not at the intersection of the tubes but a little away from it on both sides, and proceed to build a big fillet. this came out looking pretty nice; it needed a little filing to be really smooth but i would have been fine painting it.

day 2

pretty tired from working and cooking most of the day.
we got a late start, i did some more TIG practice on square tube. it's especially hard (i think intentionally) because i'm welding pretty thin square tube (1/8"?) to 3/16" plate. chris says this is good training for BB shell and dropout welds. focusing the heat on the thick part is a little harder with TIG because the torch cone gets in the way a bit, whereas with brazing the torch tip is by comparison quite thin. adapting to using TIG as a heat source wasn't as hard as i expected though. it's like a super hot brazing tip.
th most annoying part is the electrode. every time i touch it to the rod or the metal i'm welding, it gets dirty and doesn't work as well. Chris has a supply of maybe 20 electrodes, so i can just switch to a new clean one, but eventually i have to stop and sand down the whole batch. if i'm trying to do nice welds i go through the batch in a day of welding, which is really more like 3 or 4 hours of actual welding.

then we went to the grocery to get food, and i asked Chris a lot more questions about what tubes to use. he said to call Lon at Nova tomorrow to order. OX Plat is offered in thick gauges, but only in mountain-sized diameters (duh) which he recommended for my dad's frame. my mom is about 5'5" and 135 lbs, so she'll get a ~52 cm frame in road OS size (28.6/31.8), probably .7/.4 gauge. Dad gets something bigger and stiffer, but i'll decide on the phone with Nova.
he has a couple Paragon BBs and Salsa stainless rear dropouts that i'll buy.

he said yesterday that there's a local powdercoater who'll do a bike frame and fork for under $80, 1 week turnaround. that's awesome since i was told $200 and 2 weeks turnaround at a place an hour outside DC.

i asked about seat tube angles. he said the following: general rule of thumb is 73º ST angle. good runners and spinners need a steeper angle, 73.5º. big gear pushers and bad runners get a 72.5º. the half degree actually makes a pretty big difference, because it translates to about an inch over 50+ cm of length.

re: chainstays he uses 412 mm on a typical 700c racing bike. sport tourers up to 420mm. after reading a lot of Rivendell propaganda i find this appallingly short. i think i'll go for about 440 mm on these frames.

day one

first i interviewed Chris for a few minutes about business and frame design. i'm planning to build at least a couple frames for family members while i'm here, so i asked some questions about what materials to use. my dad is a big guy, 230 lbs, 5'6", so even though i'm planning a road bike for him, Chris said to use OX Plat tubes in a thickish gauge, like a mountain bike. Henry James doesn't list them, but i'll see if Monica knows anything. or else i'll see about some Heavy Mettle.

got a lesson and practiced some TIG welding. it's much different than MIG, a little like gas welding. more finessed than MIG, much less bulky-looking.

Chris took me to run an errand at a metal store. it was unlike anything i've ever was warehouse-sized, and filled with metal of all kinds in all shapes. no tools, no hardware, just metal. alu, steel, copper, brass, stainless. 4" diameter by 3" long steel cylinders. bars of solid copper--never knew it came like that. i saw a guy cutting down about 30 tubes at once using a super-sized horizontal band saw.
in Maryland there's a store i get sheet steel from. everything they sell is listed on one sheet of paper. this store needed a book.

at the end of the day we worked on a Ti bike that's getting S&S torque couplings. still not sure how all the parts will come together. a couple Ti rings needed their ID enlarged slightly, so i've been using a die grinder on them for a couple hours.

we're also working on a bench/table for the Trek store in Tuscon. welded square steel tube TIGed together. so i spent a lot of time cutting down 10' lengths and deburring. tomorrow i think i'll TIG the thing together.

the jig is an Anvil Journeyman.
tungsten is used for TIG electrodes because it has a melting point thousands of degrees higher than welding is done at.
In and Out Burger is far superior to Jack in the Box.
everything is bigger in Arizona.

Fredrick Winslow Taylor

i'm reading a great book that i sense will affect the course of my life in ways i don't yet know. it's a biography of Fredrick Winslow Taylor (wikipedia). the book is The One Best Way by Robert Kanigel. it's been out of print for a couple years at least. after local bookstores couldn't get it, i turned to Alibris, where i scored a great used paperback edition for around $9 shipped. perfect for someone like me who likes to underline and dog-ear a good book.
the writing is top-notch. clearly Kanigel spent years researching, as he draws from a dizzying array of sources. he manages to spend several pages on two of Taylor's teachers at Exeter without getting boring.
i'm learning about machinery as well, especially the history of things like "machine grey" (pioneered by Taylor's boss, William Sellers, in an era when green and red were favored colors for machinery) and the US standard threading in use today (which Sellers invented and advocated, claiming his system's greater simplicity compared to the competing Whitworth standards).

there's also some great quotes buried in the text, mostly by Chordal, a pseudonym used by James Waring See when writing letters to the editor of American Machinist magazine. he was editor of that magazine at the time.

"You and I have hundreds of friends engaged in changing dull and heavy material into moving mechanism, a process akin to the creation of life." Chordal

"[Machine tools are] distinguished by a remarkable feature that places them almost in the category of living things and permits one to speak literally and not figuratively of their organic evolution. For machine tools are the only class of machines that can reproduce themselves." Fred Colvin, another AM editor and a contemporary of Taylor's

"This country is awfully big [but] with all respect for the thousands and thousands of lathes which this very minute are revolving while some chap leans over them with outside calipers; for the thousands of planers, which are at this instant knocking their dogs against their tumblers; for the thousands of drill presses, which this instant would show their spindles gradually descending; for the thousands of vises which this instant have a death grip on some piece of metal; for the showers of chips flying before the thousands of chipping chisels now creeping slowly forward before thousands of ball-peen hammers--with all respect for these many evidences of the existence of machine shops in this land, I venture the opinion that the machine shops haven't gotten started yet." Chordal, writing before 1900, but right still today.

made in the USA

i need a new pair of jeans.
i haven't been wearing jeans lately. my last pair was from Gap, and they wore out far too quickly and never quite felt right. plus i discovered Carhartt last year, so i've spent a lot of time in their canvas dungarees since.
but i want some dressier pants i can wear on the rare occasions i'm not on my way to work and back. and this fall i'll be in actual sit-down classes for the first time in more than a year.

in a related story, my older sister Sarah has been working for a couple years at the Fair Labor Association headquarters near Dupont Circle here in DC. the FLA is a group made up of brands, suppliers, and schools who want to do something about unfair labor conditions.

so i set out to find some tough, good-lookin', fair-labor-made jeans for less than $50. first stop: a call to Sarah. firstly, she said, it's impossible to say the conditions under which a particular garment was made when buying it retail. your best bet is to invest your clothes budget in a company that is part of a fair labor solution.

my sister wears Lucky Brand and has a pair that lasted her 5 years or so. Lucky is owned in part (85%) by Liz Claiborne, which is an FLA affiliate, although Lucky is not one of the brands mentioned on the FLA site and thus may not be as likely to be fair-labor made. Lucky is a boutique sort of brand, with price tags to match: my favorite on their site is the Vintage Straight, $101-$114 in nice dark washes, or as low as $54 on sale colors. eh.

Sarah also mentioned that Levi's, although no longer made in the US and not affiliated with the FLA, has a compliance program. their jeans look cool on the site, especially the Boot Cut 517 ($40 direct from Levi's), which comes in a classy darkish blue. the site even says their "Country of Origin" is the US. sounds like a winner...i'm headed to their Georgetown store tomorrow.

i also dug up a few companies making jeans in the US. Sarah says a US-made product isn't necessarily better than a foreign-made one; worker abuses have been recorded everywhere. but still, the idea of American-made, especially when we're talking jeans. Sarah said the best way to find out if a company uses fair labor is to ask them, or better yet to ask if they belong to any organizations like the FLA. companies don't know consumers care about such things unless consumers ask. has some real sweet designs, but none of the cool ones are available yet. they say 10 days and the website will have everything for sale. Sarah was suspicious of Texas-made jeans because of all the nearby undocumented labor and the price point ($30). please, show us what your pants look like on a real person. work jeans, made by prisoners. if they made something cut a little slimmer i'd buy it. a very cool idea, especially for biking in jeans; looks much less bulky in the critical area. again, show me a real butt in the pants. plus they cost $38, so they better look as good as Levi's. but they bonus points for doing 1" size increments as opposed to 2".

there's an index of US-made products at, although it's not totally comprehensive, and it's apparently run by some out-there right-wingers.

on business

i was in yesterday for physical therapy. i've been doing this for about a month.
John works on my arms, shoulders, and neck mostly. some days it's like having a personal trainer. yesterday it was just massage, because i'd been brazing for a few hours in a tight spot to get a project done for the end of the school year.

we got to talking about his business, and the one i want to start eventually.
he said if a client says she can't afford her co-pay anymore, he says "no problem, do what you can", and continues to work on them. John calls this good business: "better to get 80% than nothing", but it's also being a good guy. and the business side works well enough that John runs an office, supervising 2 other therapists, and they all work all of the time. he has no referral relationship with a doctor, as most therapists do; he relies on word-of-mouth and a few small ads.

John does his own administrative work. he says he doesn't want to hire someone because "they'll probably spend 10 minutes not working for every minute they do work." so he takes an hour every week for administration and uses spare time to do the insurance paperwork.

this sounds so common-sense reading over it, but it's so rare, especially in the restaurant industry. i've waited tables at maybe 10 places, and only one approached what i'd call good management.
i worked for a summer at an Italian place that had just opened the previous winter. the owners were rumored to do a lot of coke. everything they bought for themselves was nice, but the restaurant equipment and furniture was of the used, barely-good-enough-to-get-it-done variety.
John talked about a lot of business owners falling into the trap he described thusly: "i'm the owner of such-and-such. now i get to drive a nice car, and have a big office, and whatever else i want". John's whole facility is just four small rooms, about the size of a 2-bedroom apartment.

rear triangle lessons

it's 11:30 and i finished brazing the rear triangle just a few minutes ago. generally it went well, although i don't have a true rear wheel to see just how well.

i only want to make a few notes so i can wake up for class tomorrow.

i was able to built a larger fillet than i had expected at the seat cluster, using 56% Ag. the seat stay caps were maybe 1/16" or a mm away from the surface of the seat lug at some spots, and filling that took some serious pre-heating of the lug, especially around the ears, but presented no real problem. i had done the seat lug brazing with 45% Ag Cadmium-brearing; there was some leakage at the sides and bottom, but i didn't see any gaps open up in the seat tube top so i left well enough alone. there's probably some holes in the brazing inside the seat lug, but i reckon not enough to cause any concern.
i ended up building too much of a fillet along the seat stays, and that means lots of filing for me. thankfully it's silver, not brass.

i had previously thinned and flattened out the seat lug sides to better mate with the seat stays...i got a little carried away and filed into the silver. so that melted when i did the most recent brazing, leaving a rather unsightly area of missing seat lug. i think i'll solve that by filing it away a little on both sides for a wavy look.

pinning was not working so well tonight, except at the BB shell. maybe i had my drill bits mixed up. i ended up doing the following braze sequence:
set up jig, pin everything
braze seatstays->seatlug (shoulda saved this for last, it was hardest)
tack dropouts->seatstays
remove jig
braze chainstays->BB shell
braze dropouts->seatstays

i got a couple mm of contraction in rear spacing due to brazing...i.e. i started with 136 mm spacing and ended up with a slightly tricky fit for a 135 mm hub, meaning around 133mm i think.

when i braze the bridges, i was thinking to put my dummy axle in place to prevent any further contraction. maybe i'll turn it a couple mm narrower so the stays aren't under any stress when i do the brazes.

photo dump

i finally uploaded a bunch of photos to my flickr account, including a few of the rear triangle jig mk II.

progress update

brazed the DT shifter mounts and the DT water bottle bosses a couple days ago. the shifter mounts were kind of a pain to get straight. i rested a file on the DT and let the tang weigh the boss down. that worked well, although the 1st time i did it, i used the tip of the tang, and that caused the boss to rotate backwards. i used a thicker part of the tang to do the other boss, worked well, then melted and repositioned the 1st a couple times. the boss ended up a little charred, but the tube looked fine. i used a cad-bearing silver for lowest possible heat. concentrating heat on the boss is really essential...i recall barely putting any heat on the tube.

pics here tomorrow or so.

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build kit

with this frame's completion coming into view, i've been collecting the last of the parts i need to build it up into a bike. not surprisingly, i spend a fair amount of time thinking about this.

most of the build kit arrived back in January from Universal Cycles in

Portland, OR. they were good to deal with and had a couple good

specials running.

the kit is designed to function with the frame to make a comfortable, city-proof, century-proof, commute-proof bike.

now on hand:


rear: Salsa

Delgado Cross 700C 36h rim, DT Alpine III 292 mm spokes, Shimano Deore

XT hub, Shimano 9-speed cassette 32-28-24-21-18-16-14-12-11t

front: Sun CR-18 700C 36h rim, DT Alpine III 300 mm spokes, Shimano Deore LX hub

both: Michelin green rim band, Michelin Airstop tube, Panaracer T-Serv

Messenger 700 x 32c tires, Delta axlerodz allen key skewers


cranks: Sugino XD300 175mm triple square-taper, 26-36-46

bottom bracket: Shimano UN 68

mm cartridge, TBD 110 mm or 113 mm

rear derailer: Shimano Deore

front derailer: TBD...i have an Arabesque 600 clamp-on, a newer Ultegra-ish 600 clamp-on (both doubles), and a 105 triple braze-on (i've been convinced of the merits of clamp-ons by a Rivendell article)

shifters: Suntour Power Ratchets. gorgeous shifters. crown jewels. i've been ratcheting them for the past few minutes, and it's sooo satisfying.

headset: Stronglight Delta


pedals: Shimano A520 SPD sport-touring

stem: Nitto Technomic 70 mm x 26.0 mm

fenders: SKS P45 silver

brakes: Dia-Compe 750 centerpulls, brazed on

brake levers: used Shimano 105 with white hoods

brake pads: Kool-stop Dual Compound

still to get

chain: 9-spd KMC

handlebars: Salsa Bell Lap 46 cm

bar covers: Velo-Orange white elkhide

saddle: Brooks B-17 honey

seatpost: Kalloy Uno 27.2 x 350 or Kalloy Radiussed Top (seriously, that's the name in the QBP catalog.)

lighting: S6 generator, B headlight/taillight from V-O

in a lot of cases, holding one of these parts was the first time i'd seen

one off a bike, or the first time i'd seen that particular part ever.

it's been fun playing with them over the last year, watching the

collection grow.

i've been boxing up all this stuff in preparation

for moving it down to the Corcoran shop. the plan is to try to build

the bike around the parts as much as possible. i just had the front

wheel trued earlier tonight, so i'll soon be able to check the fork's


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dummy axle plan

i'm going to try to make this over the next week's lunch breaks. hopefully it will alleviate the flexiness inherent in using allthread in my rear triangle jig.
this is designed for 135 mm between inside dropout faces, allowing for a couple mm of contraction to 133 mm, good for both road and mountain hubs. yes, i copied the idea from Surly.
it's also designed to be incorporated into a future jig of a different design. that's what the milled flats and the 2 bolts in the middle are for--securing the dummy axle to something sticking up from the bottom.
the thing is so long because it needs to go through the rectangular alu on one or both sides of the BB.

any thoughts?

can i make this thing play nice with another jig, like a Henry James, Bringheli, or Anvil?

centerpull pivots 2

i've had a chance to use a metal lathe here at Smithsonian for a couple hours. one of my first projects has been to make blanks for centerpull pivots.

material is 1/2" solid mild steel rod. other than fractional drill bits and a lathe, all that's needed is an M6 x 1.0 tap and the requisite tap handle and tapping oil. also you'll have to replace the brakes' stock buttonhead M6 bolt with one that's threaded over its whole length. 25 mm is probably long enough.

chuck the stock into the lathe. set it spinning at around 1200 rpm. face the end. use a centerdrill to start a hole. drill to a depth of 9/16" with a 3/8" bit. switch to a 13/64" or 5 mm bit and drill to a total depth of over 1". now cut off at 1" from the end where you started drilling, face the new end, chamfer/deburr all around. tap the end with the 13/64" hole.
so now you have what amounts to a sort length of 1/2" OD, 1/16" wall steel tube with a thick-walled end to support the centerpull pivot and provide a hole for the appropriate bolt.
miter the thinwall end to fit your seatstay or fork blade, and braze it up, using the stock yoke as a guide for how to space them-- around 65 mm i think.

i made a sample pivot and brazed it to a scrap fork blade with a small brass fillet. it's kinda tricky because the dang thing is so small, so i had to turn it over like every few seconds. then i grabbed the pivot in the vise and tried to break it off by cranking on the luck whatsoever: the pivot wanted to deform before the braze began to budge.

at least through May 2007, i can make these pivots pretty easily, so if you need a couple pairs, email me and we can probably work something out.

rear triangle jig

i designed this with the help of Bob Brox, a hell of a woodworker and a funny guy.

1" x 2" x 1/8" rectangular aluminum tube
3/4" x 12" threaded rod, two washers, two nuts
3/8" x 12" threaded rod, various nuts and washers
two old BB cups, English thread, with a 3/4" hole through the middle
a little red tape
metric calipers are also necessary

i used a drill press, a bunch of layout tools, a 3/4" hole saw, and a 3/8" twist bit to drill holes perpendicular to the wide face and in line with one another, with the holes' centers 450 mm from each other.

tilt your head to the right, please. flickr is being weird.

the 3/4" threaded rod runs through the two old cups threaded into the BB shell. the part covered in red tape is a pair of spacers taped together, made from the same aluminum as the big beam. the dummy axle is 3/8" rod.
the spacers are needed because if the big alu piece was referenced right against the shell, there would be no room for the chainstay.
i measured the spacer block with calipers. to position the dropouts, i take half the BB shell width (68 mm, so half is 34 mm), add the width of the spacer (51.2 mm), and assume the inside face of the big alu piece is that distance from the frame's centerline. from there i use math, lock nuts, and washers to position the dropouts at the proper distance from the alu's inside face and at the proper distance from one another.

-locally available materials, possibly excepting the alu tube, which i bought from an online metals dealer, the name escapes me
-pretty cheap. nuts and bolts were $15 or $20, alu was like $40 for 8 ft. with shipping.

- the 3/8" rod is rather flexy, so don't count on it to read identically across its whole length. a solution would be another, identically machined alu tube on the BB shell's other side. or just check each chainstay's miter with the jig mounted on each side, to double-check.
- getting the spacing right on the dummy axle is tricky and time-consuming. i had to grind down a nut to get it close on one side.
- to work well, the chainstays need to be mitered, which isn't convenient if you're trying to use it to miter chainstays.
- only good for one chainstay length. change the 3/8" hole to a milled slot for more versatility, although that might present problems with accuracy.
- i dunno how well it actually works yet.

please modify and improve at will, but email me pics of your creation.

Friday was a wonderful and unusual day

friday was the annual Corcoran Ball, when wealthy folks get decked out and pay $150 a head to eat, drink, and mingle with each other in the gallery, two floors above my impromptu frame shop.
it was also the day of the first in a series of alley cat races to determine the top male and female competitors in DC and raise money to send them to Dublin for the world championship races.
so i went to class at 9 am and did some work on a sculptural fountain thing until 3. then i worked on the frame for a few hours, trimming the right chainstay to length so it will fit in my makeshift fixture. the race was scheduled for 6:30 a few blocks away at Farragut Square. starting at about 5, the whole shop began to smell of wonderful gourmet food. the Ball is a big event; they cover all the hallway floors with plastic sheeting and set up 3 kitchens in what's usually our art school. an army of waiters mill throughout the building, watched closely by an army of security personnel almost as large.
i started cleaning up the shop about 6:30, changed into my race clothes (Carhartts, padded shorts, wool jersey), and jumped on the bike. Farragut was swarming with bikes and their riders. liquor was a common smell on the breath of the latter.
after a lot of standing around, lubing my chain, doing some warm-up rides around the block, switching to my fixed wheel, we were told to lay our bikes down in the grass and move to the other side of the park. AZ, the organizer, yelled go and the peloton took off. i was near the front, and right away i ran into a guy, who stumbled and fell into a bike, which nearly tripped me up but we both kept running, jumping over bikes in clipless shoes.
i didn't have a great race. i got to the first checkpoint ok, as it was near the Smithsonian facility i commute to every day. on the trip across town to the second checkpoint in Georgetown, i felt the wrath of the headwind and the harder fixed gear i had switched to. when i finally got to G-town, the checkpoint was so expertly hidden i gave up looking after a lot of frantic searching. i headed back to Farragut, now separated from the pack of riders i had been with, feeling more like a guy on a bike rather than part of a radical, rebellious messenger peloton.
the finish was at Connecticut and Van Ness, at the University of DC, a long way up a big hill. there was a raffle of some bike gear, more standing around, drinking in public, and finally all of us (30 or 40 by now) trooped over to the DC Independent Film Festival screening. this was a great scene: the crowd was mostly well-to-do older artsy types, but there was this group of dirty, sweaty, half-drunk bikers mixed in.
we finally filed into the auditorium around 9. there were four films screening. we were officially there to see one called Messenger, about a crazy courier in Manhattan called Kamikaze, which was great, but a couple of the other films were also really interesting.
all of the bikers situated ourselves in the two front rows, where we had a great time, whooping it up, laughing our asses off, shouting at the screen occasionally.
in particular i really enjoyed a funny and inspiring film called Recyclergy, about people in California who are reviving the old idea of salvaging, that is saving for reuse materials that would otherwise be thrown away. it reminded me of framebuilding a little in that it's an old idea they updated heavily.
there was also a great one called The Power of Community on how Cuba dealt with a huge oil shortage in the early 90s, showing how Cubans had to drastically change how they produced and distributed food. now farming in Cuba is the most cherished and well-paid occupation, and they produce 80% of their food organically.
feeling famished and a little drunk by now, i decided to head back to the Corcoran to pick up some things i had left there, and possibly grab some leftover food. i flew down the Connecticut Avenue hill, and at the last minute decided to take the Rock Creek Park trail instead of the more well-lit route on city streets. my light's batteries were fading, and i was a little under dressed for the cooler park air, but it was a fun ride and i managed to avoid sliding on any sand in the dark.
at the Corcoran, i had a fantastic meal of roast beef, herbed potatoes, a vegetable medley, and chocolate cake. i guess the caterers prefer to vastly over-estimate because there was food left over even after all the staff had eaten, and they were generous in offering me all i wanted, even gravy and cream sauce.


every now and again, i come across something so great i wonder how i had missed it before.

buildyourown's blog, NW Cycle Machine, is a perfect example.

a lot of great stuff there, especially for a blog that just started in December and hasn't had a lot of posts since.

he uses a serrated roughing end mill to cut miters, and it sounds like a CNC setup. this sounds like a great alternative to bi-metal holesaws for CNC mitering.


he made the bullet-shaped pieces himself to mate the dropout to the stay.

now that is some fine fixuration.

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frame construction has to be put on hold for a couple of weeks while i put together a portfolio and application for next fall.

meanwhile, i got a flickr account to make it easier to upload photos. see the ST-DT joint photos here. also see the weird torch holder/helpful shop gremlin thing i made here.

also i have a chance to get some sweeeeet stainless rear drops from an exclusive overseas supplier...which would be perfect except that they're for a 64° CS-SS angle, whereas i've got a 68° or so. so i'm thinking of bending the seat stays up to make up the difference...kinda like an old Hetchins or a Lyon.

braze-on list and schedule

before main triangle assembly:
prep new HT: drill vent holes
drill bottle boss holes, braze ST bosses (done)
prep lugs (bevel edges, ream out to fit)
drill 1st (outer) pin holes
manipulate lug points to fit, determine clamping method
do a practice braze

DT shifter bosses...eyeball position (12-13 cm from HT center), secure with file tang or vise-grips
TT cable stops...
CS cable stop...
over-BB cable guides...make hold-down

modify file

the frame's mom is in labor

it's going to be born soon.

i'm just arriving home at 12:45 am. went to work at 10am, started frame work about 3:30 pm. so worth it.
the front triangle is all mitered and almost ready to braze. it looks sorta like a bike, finally!
the only bad news i encountered was that i cut my head tube too short, so i'll have to make a new one from some 4130 i have around. this is obviously a good sign: i had some of my 4130 practice tubes stolen a while back, and the only one i have left is 1.25" diameter, .035 wall thickness...perfect for a head tube. actually that tube is currently part of a project for school. so tomorrow i'll cut it (leaving a lot more extra this time), drill vent holes in it, drill all the lugs for pins, and see if it's ready to braze up.

i've got a quote of $160 for powdercoating the frameset from American Stripping in Manassas, VA, assuming i use a stock color. their color matching fee is over a grand, so Gios Blue is out.

also on the horizon: braze-on centerpull pivots. Mark Stonich, of BikeSmith Design and Fabrication, has been kind enough to post a set of fairly simple instructions on how to make these out of a little mild steel using a drill press, a few bits, and an m6 tap.

i got a really cheap tubing bender on eBay and tried it on the 3/8" .028 wall 4130 rack tubing. the bender bit the dust, putting only a small kink in the tube. i'm on the lookout for a Rigid or Imperial bender.

rack research

i'm having trouble finding a suitable front rack at a cost i like. i want something like the Nitto M12 (pic of Alex Wetmore's here) and the similar, more versatile Nitto Mark's Rack, which is in turn based on the Gilles Berthoud adjustable front rack. i like the smallish platform, just enough to support a randonneur's front bag, but i don't really need all the adjustibility and mounting options, and i don't plan to put canti mounts on the fork. i favor the idea of a front rack that attaches at some point along the fork blade as opposed to at the dropout (like the lovely stainless Velo-Orange Constructeur rack) seems the latter might impede the flexing of the blades, and i'd like to keep the amount of steel used to a minimum. well, i don't wanna make it sound like the V-O rack isn't great, cuz i'd bet it is, but it's just not quite my style.
made from auto brake line, seems like a great way to get some practice
Mike Flanigan's bone-crushingly badass "rising sun" rack
also, his take on a front bag rack:
gorgeous homemade "art deco" rack

and now the grand master of homemade cro-mo racks, BOB list and Framebuilders' list contributor, and former DC bike courier (!) Alistair Spence:

the email below and the two links above are quite helpful in considering materials. the 9/16" he uses must be really strong stuff, but the tubing benders i've seen haven't been compatible with it. i'm not building for the kind of punishing loads he was, so i think i'll likely stick with 3/8", 5/16" and 1/4" 4130, in no small part because i'm bidding on a tubing bender just like the Rigid Alistair mentions and it only accepts these 3 sizes. they've been going for under $20 including shipping on the 'bay.
the Paterek Manual has a chapter on rack construction, but i've lent it out, so i'll have to post some more info later.
and maybe i'll find a Mark's Rack for cheap at the Westminster Swap tomorrow and this'll be a moot point (for a while anyways)

Date: Mon, 23 Jan 2006 16:34:18 -0800
Subject: [BOB] Porteur rack

JimG wrote

>Super nice! Can you provide details on what tubing you used, where you
>got it, how you bent it, etc?


The rack is made of 4130 chromoly. I ordered it from Aircraft Spruce

Mostly made from 3/8" x 0.028" (9.5 mm x 0.7 mm) except for the truss that
connects the rack deck to the fork crown, this is 9/16" x 0.049" (14.3mm x
1.25mm) .
I made "eyelets" from 8 mm long or so pieces of 1/2" x 0.083 (12.5mm x
2.1mm) and brazed them to the lower fork leg and apex of the "v" made by the
rack support legs. An M8 bolt holds the rack to the fork at this point.
The tubing was bent with a Rigid tubing bender kindly loaned to me by Steve

Asher Miller wrote

>So.... stainless tubing mit brass fillet brazing?

> --Asher


not stainless but 4130 cro-mo, fillet brazed with brass. As I understand it,
to fillet braze stainless you must use silver, preferably one with a lower
silver content than would typically be used for lugs ie. 56%. Seems like 50N
(50% silver, 2% nickel) or 45% work well.
Obviously, since I've used plain old steel, I'll have to coat the rack in
some fashion, paint, powder, chrome etc.

Hope this answers your questions.

Cheers, Alistair.


From: dr john
Subject: Re: [Frame] Re: [BOB] Chromoly tubing (for racks)
Date: Sun, 11 Jan 2004 07:22:05 -0700

Jan 11 02

Dear Joshua,

When I was in the Coast Guard a friend of mine had a Dutch touring frame
with steel racks weldd on. Years later the memory of that bike inspired
me to try it myself.

I make racks for my Muttonmaster and custom models out of 5/15' and 3/8" x
.035 tubing from Aircraft Spruce. Tubing in those sizes bends quite
easily, which is a good thing because I make the top frame out of a single
piece. If you misplace your bends by even a little, it will be
quite obvious to the eye once the rack is welded/brazed onto the frame.

Even a 5/16" steel rack will securely carry over a hundred pounds.
Eliminating the attachments at the frame makes the rack stiffer, less
floppy and I feel, more secure than a conventional bolt-on model.

good luck



Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2005 13:55:49 -0700
From: "Bill Rider"
Subject: Re: [Frame] wall thickness for chromoly rear rack?

If you use 0.028 wall tubing and 3/8-inch for the main tubes, you can use
5/16", 1/4", 3/16", etc, in
1/16" increments and they will all fit OD to ID as you go up in size (or ID
to OD as you go down). Makes fabrication a lot easier.

Charter Oak Cycling
Best Newcomer at the 2005 North American Handmade Bicycle Show


Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2005 11:32:56 -0600
Subject: Re: [Frame] wall thickness for chromoly rear rack?
From: Harold Bielstein

I recently built several racks and I'm here to tell you that unless you
have a commercial grade tubing bender you'll have a hard time bending
3/8" x .049 wall thickness tubing. I think you'll find that 3/8" x
.028 will be more than strong enough for a rack system and is much
easier to bend.


Date: Thu, 03 Mar 2005 20:42:40 -0800
From: "Bill Rider"
Subject: Re: [Frame] On brazing touring racks, advice please.

I recently finished my first rack using 3/8"x.028 tubing from aircraft
spruce. Was a new experience, but came out good. I had it powder coated,
since that seems to be a common painting method, especially if you want it


Date: Thu, 15 Sep 2005 19:08:12 +0200
From: M-gineering
Subject: Re: [Frame] wall thickness for chromoly rear rack?

"L.J.Shields" wrote:
> I need to build a custom rack for the 20" demountable that I just built
> (posting and images about this project soon). The local aircraft repair
> supply house (they mess up a lot of small airplanes here in Alaska) a great
> selection of chromoly tubing including 1/4 " and 3/8" tubing in .028, .038
> and .049 wall thickness. I am inclined to make the main part of the frame
> from the 3/8" tubing with .049 wall thickness and the cross pieces from the
> .028. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Remember that this rack is for
> a bike with 20" wheels and that the main "struts" will be shorter than for a
> large wheeled bike. The method of fastening will be brazing. Any
> suggestions or ideas on racks for this bike will be greatly appreciated.
> Cheers,
> Smiley Shields

tubus racks are mainly constructed of 10 x .5 and 14 *.8


Marten Gerritsen


Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2000 13:03:20 -0700
From: Matt Houle
Subject: Re: [Frame] homemade racks?

I've never made a rack before, so I may not be the best person to answer
this for you. However, I would suggest using 5/16" x .028 or .035 cro-moly.
Both are available from Dillsburg (717-432-4589). I'm not sure that I've ever
seen a conduit bender small enough to bend 5/16" tubing, and most of the small
tubing benders out there may not be strong enough to bend cro-moly without
using heat to soften the steel. I would use a mapp/air or propane/air torch
to heat up the tubing while bending. But like I said, I've never made a rack,
so I might actually be very wrong.


Design notes:

Nitto M-12 top surface is 8.5" x 4.25" (see here)
Nitto R-10 top surface is 15" x 5" (see here)

suggested tubing size combos:
5/16" x .028" or .035"
Tubus: 10 mm x .5 mm / 14 mm x .8 mm (just over 3/8" x .020" / ~9/16" x .031")
3/8" x .028"
5/16" x .035" / 3/8" x .035"
3/8" x .028" / 9/16" x .049"

wishing i had brought my camera

the first braze of the main triangle, indeed the first of the frame proper, is now done, but alas no photos yet exist to document this momentous occasion.
i started by mitering the seat tube, which is a Deda Uno (the rest of the main triangle is Columbus Zona), to the bottom bracket. then i added the secondary miter to allow the down tube to fit into the BB shell. the secondary had to be more exact. apparently the ST can stick into the BB shell a little way with no problems--i let mine stick in about a mm.
i did a few test fits in the jig, modifying the miters little by little. i made a tool to help with trimming the DT miter: i stapled one end of a long strip of abrasive shop roll to one end of a 1.25" wood dowel, positioning it so i could coil it up the dowel. i sprayed some 3M spray-mount adhesive onto the dowel, waiting a couple seconds, and wrapped the shop roll tight around the dowel, stapling at the end to secure it. thus i had an abrasive mitering stick, a little over 31.7 mm diameter. worked damn well on the first try, no shop roll came loose, though it snagged a couple times.
anyway. my Walter BB shell from Bringheli has the ST-DT cast at 60.5°, but i need it to be 59.69°. after brazing the ST in, i slid the DT in there and measured with my handy new vernier protractor (ebay, baby). looked like ti could bend the angle out to 60° or so with one hand, so i think i'll be ok.
oh i did the ST-BB shell in brass. this was initially just to make it easier to do the DT in silver, as the silver temp won't affect the brass already there, but i found an unintended benefit: i was able to lay up a little fillet on the piece of ST that stuck into the BB shell. i'm just a little paranoid about this joint after seeing the Little Fish failure pics. also i couldn't get brass to flow into the shell in one spot. i flipped it over and was able to flow from the inside out, but i was still a little iffy, so the fillet made me feel better about it.

shop space requirements

as i've gotten more and more into metalworking and such, i've thought increasingly about the logistics of putting together a serious shop space. what would i need to look for in a space that would allow me to do everything i want to in it?

coincidentally, the shop i'm working in at Smithsonian is slated to move sometime in the next couple years. since they have a lot of the capabilities that i'd be looking for, i looked at their requirements and compiled them into the following. they're moving shops, offices, graphics areas, even a lunch room, so i was able to compare their shop needs with the others as a guideline.

floor load capacity:
office: 100 lbs/sq. ft.
machine room: 250-300 lbs/sq. ft.

office: 8 ft.
shop: 14-15 ft.

machine room: 50 amp 220v 3-phase
paint area: 40 amp 220v, explosion-proof

1,000 lb hoist
compressed air lines
utility and eyewash sinks

the lighting and room finish for shop space is listed as "light industrial shop standard," whatever that means.