Hey all- I'm not so sure how much I deserve to be here amongst so many skilled and experienced builders. But I can bring to this stage a different view of what frame building can be about. For the last 25 years I've built as a hobby, mostly for me and a very few others. Yet I've also worked in a couple of frame shops so I can appreciate the demands of day in and day out building. Here's how I started.
By the time I was 22 I had gone up the ladder of local shops and found a long term (as much as a 22 year old can think "long term") home at Geo. Rennies Bicycle Shop. My bike ownership had also gone through the phases that you go through as you learn a craft. Start with a production bike. Change out a few parts next. Get a frame and transfer over parts. Build wheels. Pretty soon there was nothing else to learn how to do except make the damn frame. About then a new shop had opened up nearby and the rumor was he built frames. Before I began to hang out much the guy (Jeff Napier) handed me a file and a lug and told me to do this (making a motion with his hands like he was filing the lug's edge). So I did. By winter I was working for Rochester Bike Shop, cutting wood for the stove and learning to build a first pair of frames.
Rochester Bike Shop was the first of 10 shop locations that I've built out of. My first 6 frames were completed there. We used very basic methods. Full sized drawings on the floor. Looking for the sliver of light between the ST and HT. Using wheels clamped to a bench top as fork and rear jigs. We sand blasted in a back closet and ran the air hose up to the roof to splatter Imron onto the frames in the wind. Half of the 6 were customer frames.
In 1979 I attended Albert Eisentraut's course in Rutland, VT and was in awe. Al is a very talented man with a torch and a file. But what I took away the most was the math of frame design. Specifically how to design by the numbers and derive the rest of the needed dimensions with a calculator. That bike was painted and on the road within a month. It was stolen before it's 3rd ride. (There are a few things that I might choose to risk death for. Getting this bike back could be one).
After a couple of years Rochester Bike Shop folded and I continued working for Rennies (and Peddalers) , building a bike or two a winter until 1985. During this period I used three different shops in friends or family's basements then bought a house and set up in depth. After buying much of RBS's stuff, my selection of tools slowly grew past the casual space size.
1984 was an exciting year for US cycling with the Olympics and all and also the year I met my partner for a too short 23 years. Emily soon took me to Chicago and a bike shop 200 yards from our apartment. Cyclery North was the area's frame building and painting shop. 6 months and 6 frames later my skills had improved a lot. But I hated Chicago (except all those tiny Asian restaurants) and we moved to Cleveland.
The next 25 years I built only for Emily and I (ok one exception). She was small and the Terry (actually Bill Boston) design was in vogue. I ended up building 4 bikes for her with 24" front wheels, her 5th to be, the 650C bike, never needed completion, unfortunately.
A few years ago I decided to get a better handle on my skills and attended Doug Fattic's brazing course. Another great learning experience and Doug's a good guy. The frame I built there is almost done and will stay that way until it makes sense to finish a bike that's too large for me. I spent a very enjoyable week with him last winter while we painted my current Sunday bike. Doug is one of the people that have strongly influenced me.
Jeff Napier, Al Eisentraut, Georgena Terry, Eddy Weisler, Tommy Winn, Steve Sobel and Doug Fattic are all people that guided me along in building. Others have influenced me in how to do details, some in how not to do the fine points... My being a retail wrench for 37 years has made me intolerant of poor braze on location/design. Being a touring guy I have lots of needs for braze ones (one bolt one job) hence I make some of my bits and pieces. Lately stainless steel has interested me as a braze on material.
My building has had its fast and furious moments and its long periods of no time to do. It averages out to just over a frame a year, for 32 years. Over the years I've tried a lot of different methods of assembling a frame and fork. And a lot of homemade jigging devices. This is a topic I enjoy sharing. The flat surface I got in the early 1990s raised the level of alignment and since I got a HJ Universal Jig in 2001 the fit up is so much quicker. But I'd still build if I didn't have these tools. What I'm not sure of is my building for pay again. I've been there and done that a few times and almost every time didn't want to do another. Yet I have in the past and will probably build for pay in the future.
Now I'm back home in Rochester. I've gone back to my roots/family. Wrenching for a struggling shop, spending some quality tandem time again, and helping my aging parents. My home shop is coming along. The basement is almost finished and the tooling in the garage will come after the electricity runs are finished. My next projects will be a coupled road bike and a seat post mounted handle bar rack. It's nice to be back and starting another frame.
Here's the Flicker site of my work. bikesbystewart's photosets on Flickr