Custom Bicycles
News: Hand Miter (a bit of a rant) August 17th, 2009

So I’m working on Kevin T’s Columbus XCr stainless frame (pictures below). Currently I have all the tubes mitered (actually the correct term is coped) and trial fit. Typically I cope them on my vertical mill with a hole saw and deburr them and they are ready to go. In some cases I may have to add clearance for interference or do some other odd shape or size and I find it easier to file the part than to load it in a machine and cut it.

About the first 100 frames I built were completely hand mitered. I put every tube in the vice and went after it with a file. I got very  good at it and eventually could do it pretty quickly and very accurately. Ultimately I started doing it on a machine (once my business could afford to buy one) and have been ever since. So here is where the rant starts.

I’ve been watching lots of new builders enter the market. Many of them buy all the equipment up front, they set up a shop and they are off and running. I think this  is bad. I’ve been building stuff ever since I can remember, that’s what I do, I build  stuff. Most of the best builders are the same. It’s in our DNA, it’s why we gravitated to the craft. But lately it seems people are moving to building for another reason, because it’s cool. Suddenly messenger and counter culture, the green thing and bicycle commuting has made framebuilding cool. Now people that have never felt compelled to make a thing in their entire life want to be framebuilders, building machines our lives depend on. I bring this phenomena up is because the available tooling is making it very easy for people to do this. The problem is, they never fully learn the craft.

If you don’t have any history of fabricating or building things and then you go into business after you get out of UBI and buy all the crap to make frames with,  you never learn the underlying skills that give you the understanding and flexibility needed to be a complete framebuilder. It’s kind of like learning math with a calculator. I try to help all the new builders in any way I can. I give free advice and guidance to anyone who asks nicely without a sense of entitlement and seems genuinely grateful for receiving free professional consultation from a competitor. The scary thing is, some of the things people ask me are so remedial they shouldn’t even be thinking about building a frame to sell.

The second reason I think this is bad is because its a poor business decision. When you start a business as a framebuilders, orders are going to come in very slowly. I think one of the biggest surprises new builders typically have is how hard it is to build sales to a sustainable level. So why have all these expensive tools?  The point of professional tooling and fixtures is to increase efficiency so that you can produce quality frames in less time, Not so you can produce frames. You can produce a high quality frame with a solid core door, a set of files a vice and a O/A rig.

So in a time when a builder should be honing their skills while they build their business by making tools and working with a minimum of “luxury” items they are instead bypassing the opportunity and employing processes that sidestep the fundamentals of framebuilding. It’s wasted money and wasted opportunity. I’m not saying all my tooling isn’t great, but I’m glad I learned the hard way because I use those skills all the time despite my resources and wouldn’t trade them for anything.

So, that’s it, my rant. Sorry if I offended anyone. Now it’s time for me to go weld a frame.