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  1. #1
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    Sources for a flat surface for framebuilding

    It has been said by a number of experienced framebuilders that a solid, flat surface is more important to the beginning framebuilder than a dedicated frame jig. Several questions come to mind: What materials are acceptable for this purpose? What might I expect to pay for a slab large enough for framebuilding? And any suggestions for sources of said slab? I'm on the CO Front Range, FYI. Thanks!

  2. #2
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    go BIG

    Others have much more advice on material than myself but seems to me most builders use steel surface plates for frames. They will need more maintenance than grante but seem more versatile IMO.

    In my limited experience looking for flat plates, you're stuck with either trolling Craigslist for months to potentially years looking for something local-ish you can refurbish for your own use (get ground flat to your specs), or buying either a granite plate from ENCO ($200+) or Bringheli's large alignment table ($2k plus shipping). Go as big as you can with what you can afford and if you plan to do this for awhile. It's something you'll have forever if you make a good choice the first time.

    I'd avoid what I did:
    First I tried the 24x36" ENCO granite plate but didn't get a BB post installed (add at least $300). You can go all Paterek and just use v-blocks and shims if you're patient. I know people fixture on a 24x36 plate but I don't think it's big enough for bigger frames unless you're working in sub-assemblies or happy to parts hanging off the sides. I felt for TIG it had limited usefulness. It's great for rolling tubes, fork alignment checks, and fixturing up smaller items, but I wanted something more useful so I sold it.

    Now I have the small C-channel alignment 'table' from Joe B (for over a year now) and it's pretty good for the price and the tools that come with it and you can easily lift it by yourself to move around ($800). Although it's a PITA to swivel the frame around to take all the height measurements and try to fit the height gauge between the tubes to even take the measurements. I also feel it introduces added error by not just leaving it in one place while taking measurements. But it is great for the learning experience alone in HOW to measure for alignment and how tacking and welding or brazing affect alignment.
    I can't imagine using it as a frame fixture. I know someone who does this and I am all the more amazed by his patience and ingenuity. I'm pretty sure you must work in sub-assemblies which would drive me nuts. If it were me, I'd look for a big steel plate online or see how much a metal shop would make you one for, or just buy the big Bringheli table.

    So like every decision on a new big costly tool: what are you hoping to do/what are your long term goals? What can you afford? How big is your shop and can the floor hold a heavy plate? Do you have friends with good backs to help you move a 2,000lb table?
    If you're sure you're going to do this for awhile and sure you don't want to get a frame fixture, go with a BIG table.



    Quote Originally Posted by golden boy View Post
    It has been said by a number of experienced framebuilders that a solid, flat surface is more important to the beginning framebuilder than a dedicated frame jig. Several questions come to mind: What materials are acceptable for this purpose? What might I expect to pay for a slab large enough for framebuilding? And any suggestions for sources of said slab? I'm on the CO Front Range, FYI. Thanks!

  3. #3
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    steel is nice, but it seems like granite is much easier to find. And the granite is flat, whereas you probably will want to have anything steel blanchard ground.

  4. #4
    650b me
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    Just to spice things up: Does anyone disagree with my opening statement? The reason I ask is because at UBI (where I've built my one and only frame so far) we were shown an alignment table after we built our frames, but the instructor actually discouraged us from using one. Of course, we used quality frame jigs during the build process. I used the Arctos jig for my fillet-brazed frame. Why wouldn't a quality frame jig be more important than a flat surface?

  5. #5
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    After building a POS jig and finally getting to check my latest (seventh) frame on a surface plate, I think I agree with this thinking.

    Improvising with fixturing really does teach you a lot about the process. Learning to really get perfect miters, checking things along the way, and getting your brazing down will lead to better frames than if you just rely on a super nice jig to force things into place.

  6. #6
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    I think probably the UBI folks were just discouraging you from getting obsessed with alignment. People get all neurotic about thousandths here or there, but if you think about how accurately (or not) you can actually finish machine the faces of the BB shell (the usual point that things are clamped for alignment checks) the BEST you can ever do is something like plus or minus 2mm. And even that is way better alignment than you actually "need" to make the bike ride properly (ie straight when you want, turn when you want). I have owned frames with things obviously, visibly out (we're talking, like, head tube a centimeter out of plane) that rode just fine.

    That's not to say you don't want to make straight bikes, but you don't need to spend thousands of dollars and herniate yourself dragging a giant piece of steel or granite into your basement.

    Any old piece of countertop granite is more than flat enough. Or you could use a clone of the old Park Frame Alignment Gauge 1 (*** 1 always gets censored by MTBR). Arm that clamps to the BB shell, plus a feeler gauge. I can't find an image online but it's the exact same idea as a derailleur alignment gauge, just clamps to the BB instead. You can make one for $20 worth of materials, or less. Heck, you could make it from scrap angle iron and it would be more than adequate for the job.

    -Walt



    Quote Originally Posted by golden boy View Post
    Just to spice things up: Does anyone disagree with my opening statement? The reason I ask is because at UBI (where I've built my one and only frame so far) we were shown an alignment table after we built our frames, but the instructor actually discouraged us from using one. Of course, we used quality frame jigs during the build process. I used the Arctos jig for my fillet-brazed frame. Why wouldn't a quality frame jig be more important than a flat surface?
    Last edited by Walt; 02-10-2013 at 03:09 PM.
    Waltworks Custom Bicycles
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    waltworks.blogspot.com

  7. #7
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    Sometimes you can catch the Grizzly 24x36x4" granite on sale, ow it's 199$ plus 99$ shipping. I drilled a hole at one end with a hammer drill and made a BB post on a lathe. It also works with the head tube method/Paterick.
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    But as Walt says, really just a 4' piece of kitchen granite is nearly perfect. If you do any frame straightening in a BB post, you may want to reinforce the top/bottom to distribute the load.
    cheers
    andy walker

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    Any old piece of countertop granite is more than flat enough.
    I'd looked at a construction recycler a few weeks ago, and they have several large pieces of granite countertop... What would you suggest for thickness? Obviously thicker is going to be more stable, but what would you consider a minimum with good support below?

  9. #9
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    Whatever they have. If you want to align on the table (ie put a big cheater bar on and start monkeying with things) then you'll want thicker, and you'll need to figure out how to attach the BB really well. If you just want to check alignment, any piece that's big enough will do just fine. I think the thinnest that is usually used for countertops is 3/4" or something like that, that is plenty.

    -Walt
    Waltworks Custom Bicycles
    Park City, UT USA
    www.waltworks.com
    waltworks.blogspot.com

  10. #10
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    And look into how to support it properly ... Or you'll create waves that don't need to be there.

  11. #11
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    Hey;

    I'd say the solid counter top thing is a good idea. If you want to make it more manageable in terms of weight, I'd look to put the stability into the table it sits on. You can create a very stout platform out of steel, lagged into the floor, that can hold your BB post for some serious reefing to "cold set" something, and yet is modular and can still be disassembled and moved. That way, the surface is just there to be flat for your height gauge and your beer. The frame(s) takes the abuse. The surface itself WILL NOT take the stress of cold setting, so don't ask it to.
    Most people ply the Well Trodden Path. A few seek a different way, and leave a Trail behind.
    - John Hajny, a.k.a. TrailMaker

  12. #12
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    I'm finding more opportunities to design and build other things besides bike frames. What do you guys think of the the strong hand table? Link Here

    Video from Jody at welding tips and tricks:





    Would this work as a "be all, do all" for general welding fab projects as well as for bike frame building? Will that work for post weld layout as well? Machined surface albeit with lots of holes and slots to avoid. Its a little pricey, but should hold a decent resale value.

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    Has anyone gone the route of large steel work table in lieu of frame jig and granite layout table?

  13. #13
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    IMO a good *steel* flat surface, whether it's that holey thing or a Blanchard ground table, is invaluable in fixturing anything and everything with some creativity. If you don't have a frame fixture, fork fixture, SS or CS fixture, you can do it all on the table with some v-blocks, magnets, clamps, etc on a relatively flat surface and tack in place. I use my C-channel Bringheli for so much more than alignment. Whereas with granite, you can't fixture as easily since clamps aren't as easy (or big) to use, and you can't use use magnets obviously. Jody's video with those pivoting magnets is pretty sweet, and although not the most solid tight fixturing, it shows what you can do with a flat steel surface and some magnets. Maybe see what the local metal shop can do custom with some 3x4' plus sized plate...make yourself a welding/fixturing/alignment table all in one!

  14. #14
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    for fixturing, you don't need a very large table. I have a t-slot table off of a high precision measuring machine that I used as a jig for a while, and now I build racks on it. Those kinds of things are available but unfortunately aren't usually offered for sale. The good news is they usually are free.

  15. #15
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    Golden Boy,
    Have you decided on what you'll use for your flat surface?
    cheers
    andy walker

  16. #16
    650b me
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    Nope. I'm still considering my options. I'm not in any kind of hurry. I just buy tools and equipment as I can afford them.
    Last edited by golden boy; 02-16-2013 at 12:46 PM.

  17. #17
    Squelch the weasel.
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    I am on frame ~14 or so and still don't have a flat surface.

    You can build and check alignment a lot of different ways, and a flat surface is definitely one of them, but at my level of ability, it's my brazing that has to improve before I start trying to get everything all perfect with alignment tools.

    FWIW, I've been able to get very good results so far (except on one frame that was kind of a debacle) with square tubing, some scrap 8020 from eBay, threaded rods, nuts, clamps, eyeball, etc.

  18. #18
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    You may want to check HGR. The problem is that things are heavy and expensive to ship but they have lots of stuff to pick from.
    :: HGR Industrial Surplus - We Buy & Sell Everything! ::
    Mark Farnsworth, Raleigh, NC
    http://farnsworthbikes.com

  19. #19
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    Any access to local universities? There are often some good surfaces that get lightly used, then end up in a surplus auction.

  20. #20
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    I've been searching for something Fattic posted on here a few weeks ago about cast aluminum surface plates and can't find it at all. Doug, could you tell us about those again? Seems like the outfit was out of Ohio and you said they were reasonable priced. I realized over the weekend that if I had a webbed cast plate that I could bolt it to my table saw as a table extender AND it would double as a dedicated surface plate. Doug, can you post the name of those guys again? Thanks!

    EDIT:

    I searched my web browser history and found it:
    Wolverine Bronze - Gravity Sand Casting, Low Pressure Sand Casting, Development Foundry

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by jay_ntwr View Post
    I've been searching for something Fattic posted on here a few weeks ago about cast aluminum surface plates and can't find it at all. Doug, could you tell us about those again? Seems like the outfit was out of Ohio and you said they were reasonable priced. I realized over the weekend that if I had a webbed cast plate that I could bolt it to my table saw as a table extender AND it would double as a dedicated surface plate. Doug, can you post the name of those guys again? Thanks!

    EDIT:

    I searched my web browser history and found it:
    Wolverine Bronze - Gravity Sand Casting, Low Pressure Sand Casting, Development Foundry
    This company has on file a 34" X 48" aluminum plate with a 1" hole bored where i suggested it should be. They will cast them in almost any size. The reason i bought one was because it weighs under 200 pounds and is somewhat moveable for those that may not yet have a permanent location. It is slightly less robust than a cast iron table but has held up well to student use for over 4 years.

  22. #22
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    That sounds pretty good, Doug. I would be a little worried about the hardness of aluminum, but if it has lasted that long for you it's probably not that big of an issue.
    Mind if I ask how much that casting ran?

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by adarn View Post
    That sounds pretty good, Doug. I would be a little worried about the hardness of aluminum, but if it has lasted that long for you it's probably not that big of an issue.
    Mind if I ask how much that casting ran?
    What i remember is that it cost around $1500. That included the $100 each for the detachable legs. I also paid a machinist an additional $300 for the post. He will also make them for anyone else. The table is webbed so it is stable. Students are much,much harder on equipment than I am. The reason I kind of promote it is that it can be a delivered as a finished unit that someone can begin to use right away without having to figure out how to drill a hole in the right place, etc.

  24. #24
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    cool, sounds like a good option for lots of folks.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by doug fattic View Post
    This company has on file a 34" X 48" aluminum plate with a 1" hole bored where i suggested it should be. They will cast them in almost any size. The reason i bought one was because it weighs under 200 pounds and is somewhat moveable for those that may not yet have a permanent location. It is slightly less robust than a cast iron table but has held up well to student use for over 4 years.
    Awesome! I would only have room for about 28" x 44" but I think that would cover almost everything I need to do. I really like the idea as it isn't all that expensive (I was estimating right around the $1500 mark but I won't need the legs, so this is great news). I already treat the table saw top (cast iron) like it's glass. Folks that come by the shop know it's not a place to put a beer down or any type of work surface (though I use it for one when tacking or checking flatness). I would imagine this aluminum one would last me a lifetime and if it does get chewed up, it's alliteratively easy to pull it down, send it to the grinder, put it back on--at least once or twice.

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