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  1. #1
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    TIG welding vs fillet brazing

    I'm very close to pulling the trigger on taking a framebuilding course, or possibly, going the self-taught route. I know the cost to get started with OA is considerably less than TIG welding.

    For those of you that do/have done both, in your own words, how does the experience differ? What do you like/dislike about each? Is one skill more marketable than the other? I have taken a 2 day TIG welding course, but I've never brazed, so I'm curious how it compares.

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    Similar skills

    The basic idea of both processes is the same (heat in one hand, filler in the other) so the skills will transfer to a significant extent. Which doesn't really answer your question, I guess, but if you're paying money to take a class, I'd do TIG. I feel that getting basic competence in fillet is pretty easy once you can TIG, whereas the opposite might not be the case (hard to say, though - and I'm not bashing fillet brazing, just saying getting to a very basic level of ability is probably easier).

    -Walt

    Quote Originally Posted by golden boy View Post
    I'm very close to pulling the trigger on taking a framebuilding course, or possibly, going the self-taught route. I know the cost to get started with OA is considerably less than TIG welding.

    For those of you that do/have done both, in your own words, how does the experience differ? What do you like/dislike about each? Is one skill more marketable than the other? I have taken a 2 day TIG welding course, but I've never brazed, so I'm curious how it compares.
    Waltworks Custom Bicycles
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  3. #3
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    TIG is hard but when you do a bad TIG it looks bad. With fillet brazing my fear is that you can in some cases produce a good looking result for a bad joint. I have very little experience with fillet brazing and frankly not all that much experience with TIG.

    Both techniques are very hard and bike building is not really a "marketable" skill. My understanding is that if you learn TIG welding you can get a job in general welding industry so that may be the more "marketable" skill. Very few people get rich building bikes.

    A lot depends on what you want in bike building. For a beginner fillet will "look" much better then TIG but for someone who masters both techniques TIG is far faster in terms of build speed and for the masters it really looks good.

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  4. #4
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    One thing to be considered though is that you will almost certainly need an O/A kit regardless of the type of construction you use (to do braze-ons, etc.). Taking a fillet course and then doing fillet construction, you would not need to purchase a tig setup quite as quickly, lowering your "cost of entry". Just a consideration.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Walt View Post
    I guess, but if you're paying money to take a class, I'd do TIG. I feel that getting basic competence in fillet is pretty easy once you can TIG, whereas the opposite might not be the case (hard to say, though - and I'm not bashing fillet brazing, just saying getting to a very basic level of ability is probably easier).

    -Walt
    My 2c is this. TIG welding is much harder IMHO than fillet brazing and if you have a limited amount of time to learn (as in a 2-week class) and you choose to TIG weld then the focus of the course becomes TIG welding with a secondary focus on how to actually construct a frame. I would rather teach all that i can about the proper design, fabrication, alignment and finishing of a frame than just a joining methodology. Once you understand the basics you can use any form of joining from TIG to braze to glue for that matter and do it well.

    There is a crossover skill here for sure (fillet-tig tig-fillet) and even if one learns to TIG you still need to know how to braze in order to do braze-ons, ST sleeves and the like. You can exist with only a brazing setup but you definitely need both a TIG and a brazing setup.

    I give a 3 day TIG welding seminar after courses but I don't offer TIG welding classes because of the above reasons and that honestly I have never personally seen a person with no prior TIG skills complete a TIG bike from either UBI or Brew that wasn't an ugly, bird poop mess of a frame. It may work, but its generally ugly as there just isn't enough time to become proficient in the process.
    All the best,

    Dave Bohm
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  6. #6
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    From someone who is self-taught in the art of TIG welding, I can say the experts above are correct, it is hard, but very rewarding when you start to turn the tides and producing some good welds.

    If you decide to go the TIG route, get your welder and some .035 4130 and start practicing your joints. Once you can consistently produce quality joints, THEN enroll in the frame building class. That way you are studding frame building during your class, not welding techniques.

    Finally, even though a OX setup is very nice, it is not needed IMHO to build a TIG welded frame. Use an externally butted seat tube, weld-able dropouts and MAPP gas for the bottle bosses, and cable stops.

    I like TIG because your work is there for everyone to see, good or bad. Iím also averse to finish work.

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    Dave is right

    These are great points, and I think I should amend my earlier comments - learning how to construct a frame is about much more than the joinery, so doing fillet first might be the way to go for you.

    -Walt

    Quote Originally Posted by dbohemian View Post
    My 2c is this. TIG welding is much harder IMHO than fillet brazing and if you have a limited amount of time to learn (as in a 2-week class) and you choose to TIG weld then the focus of the course becomes TIG welding with a secondary focus on how to actually construct a frame. I would rather teach all that i can about the proper design, fabrication, alignment and finishing of a frame than just a joining methodology. Once you understand the basics you can use any form of joining from TIG to braze to glue for that matter and do it well.

    There is a crossover skill here for sure (fillet-tig tig-fillet) and even if one learns to TIG you still need to know how to braze in order to do braze-ons, ST sleeves and the like. You can exist with only a brazing setup but you definitely need both a TIG and a brazing setup.

    I give a 3 day TIG welding seminar after courses but I don't offer TIG welding classes because of the above reasons and that honestly I have never personally seen a person with no prior TIG skills complete a TIG bike from either UBI or Brew that wasn't an ugly, bird poop mess of a frame. It may work, but its generally ugly as there just isn't enough time to become proficient in the process.
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  8. #8
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    Here's a summary of my perception of the two techniques at this point:

    TIG = difficult to learn, but quick and clean
    Brazing = less difficult to learn, but kinda dirty and definitely more labor-intensive

    Great point about the necessity of brazing to complete a frame, regardless of the primary joining method. I'm thinking the brazing route is a better way for me to start. As Dave pointed out, a framebuilding course should be about much more than just joining tubes. I want the start-to-finish experience, not spending two weeks sweating over learning to lay down a good weld bead.

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    I knew you'd come around, Walt.

    Lynd, that is another option. After my brief exposure to TIG welding, I would have to spend scores of hours practicing before I would ever consider welding a bike frame. There is something about the TIG aesthetic that I admire. As you said, your work is out there on display, nothing to hide. When done well, it looks amazing!

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    As someone who has only gotten decent at tig in the last year or so I would try and take a class if you want to learn tig. make sure the instructor is not only a good welder but a good teacher and that the class sizes are reasonable. You also really want to do some reading and watching youtube videos(weldingtipsandtricks.com) and stuff to get to know some of the more technical aspects of tig before you go. that way you will get a lot more out of the class and be able to apply yourself more in the short time that you will be there. taking a class will make the learning curve a lot easier.
    even better would be to have a friend who is a tig welder teach you. that way you are paying in beer or argon or whatever and not actual tuition money, you have one on one tutor, and can do it more on your own terms. I basically learned from coworkers and it was not the best way as they are welders not teachers and not really in the mood to try and teach me at work. smart guys in their own way but not good at explaining things.

  11. #11
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    Kinda hoping Steve Garro weighs in on the subject. He is well-known for his fillet-brazed frames, correct? They are gorgeous.

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    I went with the TIG because I have more uses for it outside of bike building. But I am still looking for an OA setup. Then again I have yet to build a bike frame with it still trying to refine my skills.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by flynfrog View Post
    I went with the TIG because I have more uses for it outside of bike building. But I am still looking for an OA setup. Then again I have yet to build a bike frame with it still trying to refine my skills.
    This is a very good point. I do my hobby building in a metal fab shop where everyone looks at me like I'm crazy for using an O/A torch. These guys bang things out all day, and TIG (or MIG) is their main method.

    If I had to start over, I would probably do TIG because it seems that if you want to just throw together a bike or a trailer, TIG is faster and more appropriate. But that's just me. I'm more of a tinkerer than a fine craftsman. No disrespect to the latter type of person. I used to work for a silversmith who was a real artistic genius, and I know that I will never be that type.

    If you are only going to be doing bikes, and consider yourself more of an artist than a fabricator, then O/A might be more your speed. It will also let you use lugs if you are interested in that sort of thing.

    Anyway, just my perspective.

    -JN

  14. #14
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    If you are only taking a two week course, and have never TIG welded before I would stay FAR FAR away from the TIG and stick with fillet.
    With Fillet as long as you have properly prepared your parts you can get easily build a great riding frame that will last (after a year of pretty hard abuse my first filleted frame is still going strong).
    The design of the frame and the joints you file are far more important than the glue used to stick them together.

    Also, on a side note as for TIG welding being a marketable skill, for many trades in the US (construction for one) you need to be certified before you can start welding.
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  15. #15
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    Thanks, everyone. The picture is becoming clearer to me. I think fillet brazing is the best choice for my first frame. Frankly, I was rather intimidated by my brief experience with TIG welding. I burned a whole in my piece of mild steel without even knowing it until my instructor who was watching over my shoulder mentioned it. The comments here reinforce the difficulty of learning to TIG weld well enough to build a bike frame.

    On the flip side, as hinted at by JaquesN, I think my personality is more of a craftsman/artist. I don't care how long it takes, as long as I get the results I am aiming for. I look at Steve Garro's frames and I just drool over the filleted joints. I think fillet brazing will suit my personality better. It also makes more sense financially, as I am wanting to do this as a hobby for now and I may invest in my own equipment and go the self-taught route. For the $2500 or more required to take a 2-week framebuilding course, it sounds like I can buy everything I need to fillet braze my first frame, no? Then I'll have the equipment to build additional frames, which I will certainly want to do if I enjoy the process at all, which I have no doubt I will. I was born to work with my hands.

  16. #16
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    Putting in a good word for fillet brazing...

    Try to make a joint like this with a TIG welder.

    Each bicycle owned exponentially increases the probability that none is working correctly.

  17. #17
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    flip a coin

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by JaquesN View Post

    If I had to start over, I would probably do TIG because it seems that if you want to just throw together a bike or a trailer, TIG is faster and more appropriate. But that's just me. I'm more of a tinkerer than a fine craftsman. No disrespect to the latter type of person. I used to work for a silversmith who was a real artistic genius, and I know that I will never be that type.

    -JN
    Actually, my most used welder for general fabrication is my MIG welder. TIG is overkill for many things and industrially MIG is far more prevalent than TIG.

    As far as speed I think we have to separate what we really mean. Fillet brazing has a longer cleanup if you want to make it look very smooth. If you are o.k. with a slightly industrial look then I am going to throw down.....I am twice as fast fillet brazing as any man here is TIG welding, guaranteed. You seen those video's of Brompton fillet bazing their frames? Let's see a TIG welder move at that speed on difficult joinery.

    It's not about raw speed but finish work and the better you are at fillet brazing the less finish work you have to do. The reality for me is that any joining method is a small segment of the total time to build a frame and therefore really inconsequential to most.
    All the best,

    Dave Bohm
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  19. #19
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    I'll add a couple of comments;

    I can do all three (OA, MIG, & TIG), although I have not brazed in years.

    - Any shop that does not have a set of torches is not a real shop. Heat (I mean real heat, not propane) is something that no one that works on stuff can do without, and you can do a lot more indispensable things with an OA set than you can with an electric welder.

    - OA metal joining is to TIG as brush & paint are to Photoshop. Not only the process, but the look, feel, & esthetic are different. Choose the esthetic you seek accordingly. This is an over simplification, but anyone can grab a brush and paint. You need a fair amount of background knowledge to use Photoshop at all.

    Neither is "easy", but all tolled, and if you can only have one, OA i$ far more ver$atile.

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by laffeaux View Post
    Putting in a good word for fillet brazing...

    Try to make a joint like this with a TIG welder.

    You can't;

    But, I could do it with Superglue and Bondo.

  21. #21
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    I agree with what everyone has said here... I have picked up the stuff to do both methods over the past year or so and found the following things...

    OA - I was able to pick it up and get acceptable results within a few days of practice. There is a lot more cleanup/finish work involved (especially while learning - It is impossible to get Garro level fillets without years of experience!!)

    TIG - Took me countless hours to get to an acceptable level of proficiency to even attempt a frame -then jacked up the welds on the first couple of frames.

    If you are doing just a few frames or hobby, I would totally skip tig based on my experience and just do fillet bikes. The results are GREAT, it is a lot easier to focus on the 10 jillion other things involved in building, and it is a lot less expensive than tig.

    With that said... I am glad that I got the stuff to do both methods - because I HATE FILING fillets

  22. #22
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    I have decided; I will definitely start with fillet brazing. Trailmaker, I like your analogy to brush and paint vs Photoshop. That's the kind of qualitative commentary I was looking for. I am very much a Luddite. Muscle over machine, hand-built, etc. The old ways are time-tested. In my opinion, most people are too eager to jump on the latest technological bandwagon. But I digress...

    In a moment of clarity this morning, I realized that I need to design a frame before I can build one. So that is my focus for now. BikeCAD appears to be the obvious choice to design frames and produce working drawings. (Not all technology is bad). I've looked at sample pages of the Paterek Manual, and it doesn't quite give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The sample pages include figures that almost exclusively feature lugged construction, and I am not interested in lugged construction. It also looks like it might be more road-centric, and I want to focus on mountain bikes.

    Any suggestions for resources for the design phase of the process? I'm all ears....

  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by golden boy View Post
    Any suggestions for resources for the design phase of the process? I'm all ears....
    I used the Paterek Manual to build my first frame, a MTB without lugs.... do a search for "WWTP" on this forum and that should get you started.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by jay_ntwr View Post
    I used the Paterek Manual to build my first frame, a MTB without lugs.... do a search for "WWTP" on this forum and that should get you started.
    Indeed;

    I would suggest reading Jay's entire novel. I did, and it was at the least entertaining. Seeing some of the wit and resourcefulness brought to bear by another noob will inspire you in countless ways, and you'll get loads of good advice besides.
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    You might give rattleCAD a try. It is a freeware program that you can download. I have no idea how it compares to BikeCAD, but I've read it is a decent program. I grabbed it, and while I do not find it indispensable, I did find it useful in some fashion.

    To be clear, fillet brazing has its place, no doubt. If you desire a vintage feel, or a vintage method in your creation, then there is no other. You cannot get that aesthetic with TIG. I have laid out a Fatbike design recently, using all straight tubes. I plan to TIG weld it. I took the specs and just completed a layout featuring an old school cruiser style with a lot of curvy tubes. I would fillet braze it without question!

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by golden boy View Post
    I have decided; I will definitely start with fillet brazing. Trailmaker, I like your analogy to brush and paint vs Photoshop. That's the kind of qualitative commentary I was looking for. I am very much a Luddite. Muscle over machine, hand-built, etc. The old ways are time-tested. In my opinion, most people are too eager to jump on the latest technological bandwagon. But I digress...

    In a moment of clarity this morning, I realized that I need to design a frame before I can build one. So that is my focus for now. BikeCAD appears to be the obvious choice to design frames and produce working drawings. (Not all technology is bad). I've looked at sample pages of the Paterek Manual, and it doesn't quite give me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The sample pages include figures that almost exclusively feature lugged construction, and I am not interested in lugged construction. It also looks like it might be more road-centric, and I want to focus on mountain bikes.

    Any suggestions for resources for the design phase of the process? I'm all ears....
    Full sized drawings on paper is also a good way to do your design, especially as a guide/pattern for cutting the tubes.

    Computer first, to play with options.
    Then paper to confirm. Can be easier to catch errors before you are cutting and sticking metal together.
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