Monday, January 30, 2006

Where do I start?

I've had so little time to write here that I tend to forget all the good stuff I want to write. I have things I make mental notes of everyday that I want to talk about, then I don't get around to it and forget...

So I guess I'll ramble on about whatever I can manage to remember today.

Busy weekend, but the good kind of busy. I worked in the shop most of the weekend. I'm closing in on another frame, which feels great. But there are a few items that will be really custom on this one, so that will take some extra time. I'm going to try and fabricate a custom chain guard for it at the owners request. That will be a fun challenge and if there's one thing I like more than anything it's a challenge.

It seems like this time of year really brings the repaints out of the woodwork. I had two more frames dropped off for repaints this weekend and about 5 inquiries this week. All it takes is one week of warm weather (even if it's in Jan in Minnesota) and everyone starts thinking about spring riding. I have 6 frames waiting in the shop right now for paint and I suspect more will be coming soon. The problem is I really don't feel like doing repaints right now, I don't like painting that much compared to building frames. So what does this all mean????

Time to raise my re-painting prices! I raised my prices significantly last year in an attempt to reduce my painting workload (I mean really, if I don't enjoy it that much why shouldn't I make more money off it?). I've hit that same point, but the work doesn't seem to be slowing as much as I hoped so I think they're going to go up a little more. I'm also going to try and publish a form on-line with itemized charges for paint items so people can see why what they think is a simple paintjob adds up to $500 so quickly.

The good news is some of the more ridiclous requests have slowed down (at least for now). I used to get people wanting $2-300 repaints on frames that honestly we not worth $50. I'd try to explain that, but it usually fell on deaf ears. Now that most paint jobs seem to price out around $400 I seem to be getting less of those.

Ok let's change subject and talk about our crappy weather. Saturday it poured rain here all day, so much for any kind of ski base. Between the three days of 45+ degree temps and the rain, that pretty well did in all our snow. I wouldnt' mind that so much if it weren't for that fact that it's only Jan and this is MN. It's not going to stay warm for a few more months, so now we'll be left with cold barren earth for a while. No skiing, probably to cold to want to ride. That sucks. Guess I'll have to try and work-out indoors a little, gotta get in shape for the Kenwood trip to Fruita in April!


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

mmm copper

More coppery goodness occurred last night. I put a few coats of clear on the whole frame after plating it the previous night. Considering how skeptical I was about doing this finish, I really love how it came out. I've had a few folks ask how I did this. I used a copper sulfate solution to create the plating effect. The surface needs to be prepped extensively though for this to work, it needs to be cleaner than you can imagine and had a consisent suface finish. I acid etched the steel to help prevent corrosion and remove an oils left from my hands, then sprayed on the sufate. Finally once it's completely dried, I cleared over it with a lacquer.

This is my favorite shot. The headtube came out all marbled and cool. As the future owner said: "it looks like mahogany!"

The plating solution just naturally darkens around the edges of the cutouts and lugs, which really highlights the fanciness of the lugs!

To get the logo on the downtube, I used a vinyl paint mask on the bare steel, then acid etched and darkened the lettering, removed the paint mask and plated the copper over the darkened area. I honestly had no idea how this would come out. The result is an antique-looking logo that I think fits in perfectly with the rest of the finish.

This second nature bike has been a long time on the making due to lots of factors. It sure feels great to see it almost done and to see how spectacular the finished result is looking. This frame is an anniversary gift for one lucky lady in New York, so she has no idea what it looks like yet. I sure how she's as thrilled with it as I am to have made it. This has been a really fun process.

The husband who is giving the gift has really been pushing me to show this off at the Frambuilder's show in San Jose in March. And I've really been tempted to go since I happen to have 4-5 really unique frames in the shop right now. The downside is that I'm swamped with work right now and I don't realistically think I'll be able to take the time and money for ship 5 frames to CA, fly out there and display them. I guess it's just not in the cards for me this year. Maybe next year though if I can plan ahead better!


Sunday, January 22, 2006


Well it's the end of the weekend and I managed to really fill the time up well this weekend.

Friday and Saturday I got in good ski's at Battle Creek. There really isn't much snow left in the metro area, but I've been continually amazed at how good the trails are. The grooming has just turned around 180 degrees from where it was 5 years ago. They even got out and groomed the new flatter course on the west side of Battle Creek road this week. It's not perfect, but it's probably got the best real snow classic track in the twin cities. Here's a pic, not bad eh? Sadly it appeared that more people had walked on the trail than had skied. I talked to a couple groups of people Saturday about not walking on the trails and all of them simply didn't know that they're not supposed to be walking out there, much less that it's actually illegal in Ramsey county on the posted trails. I think I'll write a note to the county park manager to find out what it would take to post signs with the trail rules at the other entrances. There are a lot of entrances to these trails and the only sign informing people not to walk on the trails is at the parking lot. I think we just need better communication. Skiers are the biggest influence, if you're out there and don't say anything to folks walking on the trails, they will simply assume it must be alright, we're all better off if more skiers would POLITELY inform them that they should not be walking on the groomed trails. end soapbox.

I got in some good shop time this weekend too. Made more progress on the next frame I'm working on, but even better I got to do more experimenting with the copper plating. I made about 10 trial runs on a fork until I finally got the point where I was getting good adhesion. Once I had that figured out, I lacquered the fork to keep it from corroding any more. The results are pretty neat, the copper is quite varied in color and pattern so it looks aged. It's not at all like bright shiny new copper. Honestly it looks like an antique, but it's brand new. Really unique for a bike frame.

The copper coating react differently to different base metals. As you can see here, it didn't immediately plate to the brass used for the dropouts. I found a technique that allowed it to partly adhere to the brass, but in the end it ended up looking better with the brass showing through I think. Again, it has that aged look.

I plated the rest of the frame, but I haven't sprayed the lacquer yet. I'll have pictures of it soon. The frame has much more surface area, so there's even more variation in the finish, which isn't at all what I expected or thought I wanted but once I saw it, I really liked it.

The one downside is that the plating is very thin, so everything shows. The frame really needs to be perfect in bare metal form. No filler or primer to cover up tiny file slips or pinholes. So I ended up spending quite a bit of time finishing up the frame a bit more than is required with paint.

In other news, we're living in our new living room!!!! We decided to move our old furniture into there for the time being and it actually fits quite well. Unfortunately that meant moving my entertainment center. Not that it's that big of a deal, but I had to disconnect all the components then re-connect them on the other end. Not to mention the entertainment center itself is fairly heavy since it has a 12" double bandpass subwoofer that I built into the base of it I'm kind of anal about my audio components, so this is a fairly time-consuming process. But it was all worth while since I also got to finally have the home-theater arrangement that I always wanted. If you'll recall, I buried all the wiring for all the speakers in the room in the walls and floor. So I was able to really clean up the cables by wiring everything right into the wall boxes, but it took several hours for me to get it all wired up the way I wanted it.

As with all my projects though, one thing leads to another, and getting the entertainment center into the livingroom meant I had to make wall brackets for mounting the speakers. I've had a plan all along to do this, but I never quite got around to making the brackets which would mount on the electric boxes in the walls and hold the small satellite speakers. So I welded up four box covers with angled mounting brackets on them and got all that hooked up Saturday. I think they came out looking really clean and nice. The front ones are neatly tucked away right next to the curtains, so you hardly even notice them.

Well, it's been a long weekend and I'm just plain worn out. So adios for now.


Thursday, January 19, 2006


I just haven't had much time to write here lately. Work has been insane, and I'm swamped with bike stuff in the shop, so I'm not sure how much writing will go on during Feb, but bear with me, I'll get back to it as often as I can.

We took a mini-vacation this weekend to one of the cheesiest places in America: Wisconsin. As cheesy as that is, it's even higher on the cheese-factor because we went to the Dells. For those of you not familiar, the Dells are one of a handful of true family oriented tourism traps that will take your money in any form. It's a bastion of waterparks, go carting and thrill shows all designed for one common goal, to make people's kids throw temper tantrums until mom and pop pony up more dough for the next ride/show/slide/etc....

Honestly, the Dells has come along way, it's no longer some family camping at Jellystone park and riding the ducks (the amphibious vehicles that traverse both land and sea all in the name of lightening your wallet). It's a waterpark Mecca. In the Dells, you're not even a hotel if you don't have a waterpark. The latest craze is the indoor waterparks and from all the construction going on, you pretty much have to have one or you're out of business.

We got a screaming package deal, hence the choice of such a cheesy location. It was $50/night for your room, access to the tiny, wimpy indoor waterpark at our hotel, and all the food and drink you could consume. That last part is what makes this a deal. Food and drink in the dells is somewhere slightly more expensive than buying all your meals from the guys carrying beer and hot-dog trays around at the Metro-dome. In the two nights we stayed, I think we ate/drank somewhere in the range of $400 worth! Granted we probably all ate and drank far more than we normally would, but once you check in and pay for the room you quickly get into the "all-inclusive" mindset. It's all essentially free from that point on. Want to eat 5 baskets of mozzarella sticks, go ahead you're not paying for them (although you might pay for that move later). Want a steak and the buffet? go ahead, it's all the same price (that prime rib was great washed down with the roasted ham and meatloaf from the buffet!) Beer? nah, the rail drinks are all free, just have long-islands all night. It quickly becomes a one way street to pure gluttony. Thank God we only stayed 2 nights, I can only imagine what I'd weight if we spent a week. In short, this kind of arrangement is about the last thing this country really needs.

We couldn't make it a trip to the dells without one visit to a real indoor waterpark, and if you're going to do it, you might as well go to the worlds largest, the Kalahari. We forked over $24/person for the evening admission which is good from 5 till 9pm. We got there about 6pm and got right into it. This place is huge, beyond what you can imagine should be in an indoor waterpark. I think there were about 10 slides, all different designs. My personal fav was the roller-coaster type one that actually propelled you up parts of the slide with jets of water. We collectively hit them all except the surfing thing (yes you can surf inside here). We took about 3 laps on the lazy river thingy, which was more my speed, then decided we were all shot about 8:15. That's only about 2 hours and we had all we could take. Honestly, I have no idea how these kids have the energy to do this all day, much less their parents following them around! Guess I'm getting old...

Back on the homefront, there's not much exciting to report. The living space looks like living space, all the carpets in which completed the flooring. The bath/laundry is fully operational. I think I just need to schedule some inspections and get those wrapped up. We'll probably move some furniture in there soon, despite the lack of trim around the base of the room and the windows. We need to buy/cut/stain/poly all the trim yet, so that will take a little while. I'd like to get some shelving up in the closet and the doors installed so that we can start moving all our misc crap into there. That should really help clean up the piles of clutter currently plaguing our house.

I've back at it in the shop, cranking out the bike work. The tube cutting machine is running and I cut the first full bikes' worth of tubing on it this week. Got one frame brazed up and two or three other repairs to wrap up this week. It feels good to make progress down there.

I've got a neat experiment to try soon. The second Nature lover frame has been sitting in my shop for a couple months now waiting for the future owners to decide on a color scheme. Well, they threw down the gauntlet on me and asked me to try copper plating it. So I've got this really cool copper plating solution to try out and I've been experimenting on scrap tubing with it. It's the craziest stuff, looks like a gallon bottle of windshield washer fluid (totally blue) but wipe it on steel and it's instantly copper plated! It's a very thin coating though so all the texture in the base metal shows through, so I'll be fine sanding this frame for a while. Not to mention you can't hide any pinholes or irregularities in the steel with it. I'll post some pictures once I have some worth showing. Should be a neat result.

well, I'm about out of time, so that's it for now.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

The anti-rant

One business issue first, if your name is Gretchen, you live out east somewhere and want to talk to me about a frame, call me back, you didn't leave a phone # in your message, and the email address you left is not valid!

Ok, back to writing....

I'm not sure if that's an appropriate title or not. I guess it's still a rant, but it's a good rant, about good things. That's kind of the opposite of most rants.

I skied three times this week! That's some kind of record for me as I really haven't done anything outdoors for a couple months prior. I've been to Como, Battle Creek and Wirth this week, and all of them surprised me with how good they were. Sure last night at Wirth was a bit icy, but it was totally ski-able.

My big shock was Battle Creek Tuesday. It was about 36 degrees out all day, everything was slush, but yet the skiing was great. Some moron (probably someone who runs cyclists off the road) had been driving an SUV all over the trails in the prior days, but yet the skiing was great. There was a highschool meet going on with kids everywhere, but yet the skiing was great. Ok, you get the picture.

Battle Creek has really ramped up their grooming abilities in the last few years. When I first moved near the park, the trails were appalling. I mean they would hardly ever groom, when they did, it was done all wrong. I offered many times to groom the trails for free or even give clinics to their groomers on what they should be doing (I maintained the ski trails at MTU for almost 5 years, so I've got plenty of grooming acumen). The county always refused, I was always pissed when I'd ski there.

Then things started happening, great groups of citizens banded together and got improvements in the works. We got lights on a nice portion of the trail, then the county bought a new groomer, then in a remarkable showing if insight, they taught the operators how to actually use it properly! The last couple of years they've been refining the trails in the non-winter months, and that brings up to today. Despite a miserable lack of good snow, and temps staying above freezing for days, the trails were pretty smooth and fully covered in groomed snow. Bravo Ramsey County.

Even more impressive was the high-school meet. I coached a high school ski team for 5 years, so I have a pretty good idea of what it's like trying to organize 50-100 kids out in a field of snow and keep them starting and stopping at the right time. I also know how kids like to screw around in the snow, it's teen-ager nature and cannot be stopped. The meet I saw was Stillwater and Roseville doing a skate race. I showed up at the tail end, disappointed that there was a meet that day because that usually means it's tough to ski. Every kid and parent out there was really courteous to me though, I didn't see any of the usual shenanigans of kids building jumps, tearing up holes in the trails, etc... It was pretty cool, my hats off to those two teams and their coaches. Nice work presenting a great public image of ski racing. I don't always see that.

Now that things got below freezing last night, I suspect Battle Creek may be a deathtrap. It's all huge hills and they'll all be ice. I'm not sure there's enough snow for them to do much tilling, so I may be resigned to flatter skiing until we get more white stuff.

Not much new to report on the house. I've been too busy skiing!
I have done a couple more things around the shop, but nothing exciting. A few repairs, start on another frame, etc... I want to get these repairs out of the way since they take up a lot of space in the shop.

well, that's about all for now. I might even get some painting done this weekend (on bikes that is, not the house!).


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

shop talk

Well I'm pretty excited, after far too many hours of stringing conduit, running wires and checking connections, I finally got my horizontal mill running properly yesterday. It's exciting because this will be the new dedicated tube mitering machine for the shop.

It actually ran fine when I got it, but I wanted to be able to do some automating with it in the future (I have big ambitions), so I wanted to be able to run it with pushbutton controls and a proper motor starter. As noted in my last entry, the aux. contact wasn't working properly, which meant the motor wouldn't stay running after you release the start button. So I took apart the aux contact to find that it was missing the actual contacts!

This starter was old stock, so a replacement aux contact was difficult to find. I did locate a couple, but they were more expensive than just buying a new starter! So I machined my own from some contacts from another contactor. I never imagined I'd be making internals to electrical controls in my shop, but it was actually pretty easy. After that was made, I installed it only to find out it still didn't work right. Took me a while to figure out what was happening, but eventually I realized the main contactor wasn't pulling my new aux contactor in far enough to make the switch trip. With a few more adjustments, it worked! I know this probably isn't very exciting for you folks, but to me, making something electrical that actually works is a big accomplishment (there's a reason I'm a Mechanical Engineer, not Electrical).

Then I got my rotary table and tube vise mounted up on the main table and aligned everything up. Here's how it looks. It's actually a pretty simple device, basically a cutting spindle with a rotary table and an axial feed, but this one has 2000lbs of steel to back it up! Mass your best friend when it comes to working metal, and the more rigid this set-up can be, the better the cut will end up.

With this arrangement, I think the set-up is about as rigid as it could possibly be. The only improvement I can think of would be to someday replace the vise with a very large 2J collet closer with collets to fit the tubing. But that would be a pile of work and I'd have to change collets with each different tube diameter I use. This way the vise fits all diameters.

The beauty of this arrangement is that once everything is aligned, I will be able to make very accurate miter lengths very quickly. You see the center of the rotary table is lined up with the centerline of the spindle. So I can set any angle I want on the rotary table and maintain the same centerline of my cut.

The master plan then is to have a movable stop located on the far right end of the aluminum bar you see in the picture. This stop have a scale on it to set the tube length to exactly where I want it, then I just put the tube in the vise and cut it. It's hard to describe, but it should work very well and save me a bunch of time. There is a slight length correction needed for different tube diameters (due to the centerline of the tube moving slightly in the vise) but I can account for that in my spreadsheet which I use to calculate the tube lenths.

The next step is to mount my DC motor on the mill for the axial power feed. Once that is up, I can add the limit switches and automate the whole cutting motion, all I will have to do it put the tube in the machine, set my angle and start the cutting cycle.

Incidentally, for other tool geeks, that's a 12" Pratt & Whitney rotary table on there. I picked that up from the same dealer as the mill, he just wanted to get rid of stuff! The spindle is a 40 taper, which I put a 1.5" diameter collet chuck into, which is what hold my cutters. I can change the cutter by simply loosening a nut up front. It works really well.

Aside from playing with machines, I did get some other work done the last few days, including a big chunck of the remaining work on the house. Monday Beth and I spent pretty much the whole day shellacing birch plywood to make out wood-wall treatment for the living room. Took 3 coats on each sheet and a bunch of sanding, but in the end, it came out great This is the north wall of the living room, the one wall without windows. The birch has a lot of pillowing effect to it, much like maple. We're pretty happy with it, now I just need to trim the edges and the top.

I also finished up the bathroom, all fixtures are in, I think I'm ready for the final plumbing inspection! We should be really close to the final electrical inspection as well. Once those are done and I finish a couple small touches I think I might be ready for the final building inspection too! Now that's exciting.

We ordered the carpet for the main room too this weekend, the installer is coming over today to measure things up. I'm not sure when he'll actually install it yet, but maybe I'll know that this afternoon. I think that just depends on if the carpet manufacturer has that exact color in stock or if it has to be ordered. Once that carpet goes down, this thing's gonna look like an honest-to-goodness room!