Picture of Build a Bicycle Frame
There are a growing number of materials and methods used to build bicycle frames. This instructable is specifically about building steel bicycles frames. MIG, TIG, Lugged and Fillet Brazing are all common methods for joining steel bicycle tubing. The steps leading up to the actual joining of the tubing are very similar for these methods so that is what I will be covering in this instructable. It would be very difficult and beyond my abilities as a builder to try and describe how to effectively weld or braze. I recommend you learn to weld or braze from someone face to face and then practice (a lot). I personally learned to build bicycles through the United Bicycle Institute frame building class. Most of the information I give in this instructable I learned through the class and the literature they provided. They offer a really great way to learn frame building, I highly recommend you take one of their classes.

Here are some common acronyms I will likely use in this instructable:

HT - Head Tube
ST - Seat Tube
TT - Top Tube
DT - Down Tube
BB - Bottom Bracket
CS - Chain Stay
SS - Seat Stay

MTB - Mountain Bike
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Thanks for going through the process start to finish! Inspires me towards my own tube framing projects.

andrea biffi10 months ago

beautiful design and making process, thanks for posting!

Lovely work, very inspiring :-). I 'd love to have a go at making something like the Top and a from the early days of mountain biking.
Snidely7044811 months ago

Goodwill. Habitat for Humanity. Yahoo's Freecycle groups. Craigslist Free section. Local thrift shops. Trash. Bicycles are an item often given as presents to children and youths that either never get used or have a short interest span due to changing friends. One woman gave her dad a bicycle to entice him to get some exercise, and it never was ridden. Bicycles given away often still have the rubber mold "spikes" on the tires. Bicycles often sell at thrift shops for less money than a set of bike brakes or a set of tires and inner tubes at a bike shop. No knock on someone wanting to build a bicycle, but if you want to ride you will spend a lot more time in the shop than on the road building rather than looking for inexpensive 2d hand bikes.

cisto Snidely7044811 months ago

True, but not everyone wants to ride around on a girl's Schwinn or with an old Raleigh, they'd like to know how to hack the remains found at such shops you mention into a bike they enjoy riding, something they made themselves instead of pre-made. Not to worry, though, those old bikes will find good homes; hey aren't as perishable as a puppy in a shelter.

Snidely70448 cisto10 months ago

A month or so ago I bought a Trak 7200 Multitrack 21 speed hybrid with an aluminum frame and Shimano gears for $15 at a local Habitat. I had to replace the rear innertube for $5 and buy an adapter for a buck - it has the Presta or French valve. Thing retailed - MSRP - for $450. I'd never heard of a Trak, but I can recognize quality when I see it.

cisto Snidely7044810 months ago

Good find, if you like hybrid bikes, the comfortable, granny-style, the Jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none bike. You prefer to buy, nothing wrong with that. Some also prefer to make their own; I also prefer presta valves, so there you go. It's what makes the world spin, other peoples warped ideas of right and wrong, I mean.

Tanner W (author)  Snidely7044811 months ago

I have a very similar mind set Snidely70448. I have spent lots of time volunteering in bicycle co ops and fixing bikes for free. Reviving old bicycles is one of my favorite hobbies. I am an avid proponent of cycling as a primary means of transportation.

Unfortunately many of the bikes you speak of are of poor quality and improper design. A $200 department store bicycle often has full suspension (too many moving parts for something that only costs a few $100) and crap components. They are made to be ridden less than 30 miles. We need companies making and selling bicycles that are simple, functional and last so that when they inevitably reach the thrift store or dumpster they still have value. Part of my interest in frame building is producing quality bicycles that are made to serve dozens of owners.

I am also anxious to work towards building and designing frames that fit people. From non typical body geometries to people with physical disabilities, if bikes fit, people ride them more. I also hope to do some cargo bike building, designing frames that aren't commercially available that reduce dependence on motor vehicles.

You are much more ambitious and have much higher standards than do. I ride a couple-three times a week, a mile or two, weather permitting, but mostly to exercise my dog. I MAYBE could do 30 miles if my life depended on it, but I'd be a basket case by the end. I'm old and retired, and the joints and back just aren't up to it no matter how ergonomic the bike. As for reducing dependence on motor vehicles, it will never happen for most people, though the last time I was in New Orleans I did see a bike delivery guy with a good sized package on a unique cargo bike. I think this is the setup.

OOPs. The picture got lost. It showed a bike attached to about a 6' trailer.

Woogaus10 months ago

I can see that you have a shop I would be envious of, LOL. As for notching tubing, I found a nice tool at Harbor Freight for that, Tubing Notcher Item # 42324. I used to work at a custom motorcycle shop and we used this tool with .125" wall tubing making frames and it works really well.

srsilver92511 months ago
Very informative. Thanks for the great detailed instructions.
graydog11111 months ago

Nice job and the most thorough instructable I have seen. Just curious.....why did you curve the top tube? For aesthetics? Wouldn't a straight TT have been more rigid, thus stronger?

Why did you braze it instead of welding with TIG or MIG?

Tanner W (author)  graydog11111 months ago
Yeah, curved the top tube for aesthetics.

I brazed it because I don't know how to weld :(
Tanner W (author)  Tanner W11 months ago

...and because I really like fillet brazed bicycle frames! :)

Kikegavilan11 months ago

Excelente instructable !

sjochim11 months ago

Can you give an estimate of the cost?

And maybe savings when you compare it of buying a frame ?


Tanner W (author)  sjochim11 months ago

Thanks for the compliment sjochim.

If you went for a fairly simple, no frills frame you could buy the raw materials for around $250 (or even less if you used cheaper, heavier tubing).

Paint jobs can be expensive. You can get a cheap powder coat job for around $100 or spend over $1,000 on intricate liquid pain.

Access to a jig is helpful and you need a welder or oxy acetylene rig.

Custom hand built frames can cost more than $4,000 so compared to them it is quite the bargain. As Snidely70448 mentions above, there is no shortage of used bicycles that get no use. You can pick up frames from thrift stores or bicycle cooperatives for less than $100...

mjenk2023611 months ago

Good post. I disagree with your description of hand mitering as being tedious and time consuming. With sharp hacksaws and files, it can go very quickly. If you have to tram the mill and indicate the fixture, milling can be as time consuming. For one-off work, I don't see where the machines help much.

Tanner W (author)  mjenk2023611 months ago
Good to hear mjenk20236. I was more or less hypothesizing about hand mitering. I have had the good fortune of easy access to milling machines and I have only had good experiences with them. I am sure I will end up making some hand miters at some point. Thanks for the feedback.
notingkool11 months ago

Awesome instructable, i love your work. All the machinery belong to the school or it's yours?

Did you use regular carbon steel tubes?

Tanner W (author)  notingkool11 months ago

The machinery is actually at the instructables creative workshop in San Francisco. This project was part of my residency there.

The majority of the tubing is True Temper 4130 steel tubing.

kstadden11 months ago

Great Instructable, thanks for posting! I have a question on the brazed joints... did you grind or sand them to get them smooth looking?

Tanner W (author)  kstadden11 months ago

I used a series of hand files and emory cloth strips. Some people use electric grinders but a little slip could ruin the look...

grinddrummer11 months ago

Awesome step by step!

ssamc11 months ago

very professional work

I think this instructable wasn't acessible to the common user

It was a pleasure to saw all the steps envolved in a building of bicycle frame

guaps11 months ago

Beautiful bike, and great instructable. Thanks for sharing!

thirst4know11 months ago

Cool. Great work. You have confirmed my notions of my caveman style of engineering my home built bikes. I think my left eye aligns things better. ;)

bobstuart11 months ago

I'm amazed to see butted tubing used to reduce the weight, and a redundant top tube added to raise it. Art is cheaper in lower grade steel, and just as pretty, as well as easier to build.

manudel11 months ago
Hey you are officially my God! Ahaha
Congrats!!! You are a master!!
rsplawinski11 months ago
This bike has a bottle opener... That is genius.
urbanmx11 months ago

Wow this is beautiful. I've always wanted to build a bike and recently did by chopping up a few bikes to make one. It was hard and there are a ton of mistakes with mine but yours is wonderful.

Uncle Kudzu11 months ago

Great-looking frame! Very interesting and informative instuctable.