I started every morning by pulling my boots on and going to have a lovely cooked breakfast. The boots didn’t hurt so much now, the Elastoplast on each heel and big toe were doing their job well! I then had a 15 minute drive from the Premier Inn at Boston to the edge of Coningsby where Dave’s workshop was situated. An 80s CD was in the car and I listened to Kate Bush blasting out Babooshka from the speakers . I think that will now forever be my “frame building” song. The area around Dave’s workshop is pan flat, seemingly never ending long straight roads running parallel to equally long dykes with fields disappearing into the views on either side. It was harvest time and I occasionally had to overtake massive harvesters fitted with huge tank tracks without actually falling off the side slope of the road into the water courses.
Before I arrived, Dave had taken our frames to his shot blasting cabinet and that had significantly cleaned them up. All the used and dried flux had gone and had left beautifully clean metal work. It was the first time I had seen how good or bad my brazing technique had been. Thankfully, there were nice clean lines of brass around the edges of the lugs – with only a few spots of brass that could now be removed with a file. Not bad for my first ever time nervously holding a welding torch!
Today was very much about spending time with a file and emery paper, cleaning around the lugs and dropouts to get the frame and forks as smooth as we could so that Dave could paint them – I have selected Blue Cobalto Metallic with a contrasting White head tube. We fitted a small drop out mudguard eye to the underside of the fork crown so that I could fasten the front mudguard without the need to use a clip.
The big flat and curved files had been swapped for small needle files which can get right into the edge of the lugs, especially helpful around areas like the tops of the seat stays and set lug.
I think I spent most of the morning in amazement that I had actually put all of this together. Most good quality steel bike frames take a 27.2 mm seat pin and these tubes were no exception. An adjustable reamer set to the right size is turned into the seat tube. It gets rid of any small imperfections on the inside of the tube and also corrects any small distortions that may have appeared during the heating and brazing.
The edges of the head tube were still a little ragged where I had quickly cut off the excess metal. The head tube is where the headset bearings will sit – they are pressed into the frame and need to be parallel to each other to avoid tight spots in the steering. This is the final task that Dave uses a machine to perform. He has only used a lathe 3 times but each of those can be performed with hand tools – so in theory, a complete frame and forks can be built with a selection of metal work tools.
The morning was ticking away and there were only a few more things to do. First, the inside of the RH seat and chain stays at the drop out were filed so that the rear wheel and cassette/freewheel can easily slide into the frame. Next was to add a dimple to the chain stay just to ensure that the inner chain ring clears the stay – no fancy dimple dies here, just a well shaped lump of wood and a large hammer – one sharp blow of the hammer and the chain stay had the required dimple.
The last task was small but important. Brazing creates heat and most heat disperses and vents through the open ends of tubes or through the connection to the BB shell. Some tubes won’t have an escape hole. The top tube, fork blades and seat stays are all sealed tubes so they require a breather hole drilled into them before brazing. Now that they are brazed, they can be sealed to stop water getting into the frame. A small cut off of welding rod is fluxed and fitted into the hole, it is then silver soldered and the excess rod snipped off and the tube filed smooth, almost as if a hole never existed.
And that was it, it was a few minutes before 1pm and the frame and forks that had started on Monday morning as a selection of tubes and fittings, was now fully assembled and looking rather like a bike!
The 5 days had been amazing. It is a very satisfying and fulfilling experience. I’ve spent most of my life building bikes but now realise that I’ve spent most of my life actually just bolting parts onto a bike – this was actually the first time I’ve really built a bike!
It really has given me an appetite for building another…