Going to Montana

I am firm believer that the first hand experience is the only true way to really learn something, but I also believe there are times you can’t learn what you don’t know.  Practicing bad technique does not make you better at something; you just get really good at the bad technique.  However, practicing good technique will eventually lead to sustained good technique.  Waiting for spontaneous epiphanies does not make practical sense when you’re building bicycles people will ride in the real world.  I struggle to write this without feeling like I am discrediting the mentors who have taught me what I know.  The lessons I have learned throughout my framebuilding career thus far have been invaluable, but I feel I have come to point where I need to take the next step in my education.

I build steel high performance road and cyclo-cross frames and they are 100% TIG welded; front triangle, dropouts and fastback stays.  I made the decision to do this from frame #001.  The framebuilder who taught me to TIG weld has a signature style that is a hybrid of techniques.  He welds the TT/HT, TT/ST, and DT/HT joints, uses silver brazed lugs for the BB and dropouts and silver brazes fastback stays.  I received first hand advice on how to position the TIG torch and modulate the amperage/filler/distance ballet on the three joints he welds, but I was really left to my own hard knocks to develop my technique for the BB, dropouts and fastback stays.  My joints have always been strong, but in the beginning they looked more like toothpaste than dimes.  Aesthetically they are much better now, but I want them immaculate.

By nature I am a very ambitious person who strives to continue to improve, and recently I decided I needed to seek some point specific advice from an expert on how to get to the next level.  I am not content being viewed as a competent hobby framebuilder; I want to be viewed as a legitimate framebuilder considered in discussion with the professionals.  I knew who I need to contact and recently made the decision to do so formally.  I first was introduced to Carl Strong at the 2008 North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Portland, Oregon during his “Business of Framebuilding” seminar.  His presentation was stellar, he was very well spoken, and he has fine tuned the business model I would love to mature my business into.  When I look out at the North American framebuilding scene Carl and his shop are a bar that motivates me each time I lay a TIG bead.

I approached Carl about a possible visit to his shop to take what I have billed as an “Advanced Welding Class”.  I explained that I was out west for a business trip at the end of September and was wondering if he was willing to help bring my game up a notch.  Over the past couple years we have exchanged emails and phone calls about framebuilding specifics, but this would be in person and more intensive.  Topics would include a review of my TIG welding technique in general, tacking/aligning technique, specifics related to BB/fastback stay welding, and an introduction into Ti welding.  In the same email I explained that it would be a Saturday, I asked about local hotels to stay at and which taxi service to use.  Additionally I broached the subject of compensation; and offered to pay for his time while being open about knowing how impersonal that would be.  He replied within the day and kind of blew me away.  Not only did he accept my request, but he offered to pick me up/drop me off at the airport (possibly swinging by Dave Kirk’s shop if available), and offered a bed at his house with its own bathroom.  The only thing he asked in return was to blog about the visit and to return the favor to a young builder when I am older.  In preparation for this Carl has been mining my Flickr account, blog and FNL to find the specific areas of need (also asking about my current equipment to help optimize its use).

Carl has said this many times that I can remember, but I have seen this evident with countless peers in the industry: we compete for the same customers, but we also share nearly all of our secrets to each other.  It is a very unique industry in this sense; and for me personally it is such a stark contrast to the cut-throat industry I work in during the day.  I will be sure to blog about this visit and will post pictures on my Flickr account.  We will be welding the front triangle of Maietta #050; which will be my new personal road bike to be displayed at NAHBS in Austin.

 I am so grateful in advance to the time and knowledge Carl is putting into this visit.  Thank you very much Carl.

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One Response to Going to Montana

  1. Aaron says:

    Holy crap, this is awesome! Strong and Kirk… that’s a pretty damn good 1-2 punch for one trip. I’m sure you’ll take full advantage.

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