Deez Nuts Are Rusty

I’ve learned some interesting things about metals since I started educating myself about welding.  This is especially true because I started by reading and then doing.

Which one of these nuts is the old one? You might be surprised to know that I received these two nuts at the same time, and that they were identical at the time. The one one right hasn’t been left outside in the rain for a month.  It got its look from  being exposed to extreme heat in a nitrogen and oxygen rich environment.

I already knew that “rust” is formally called “iron oxide,” but I’d never given the term much thought.  I figured metal rusts when it gets old.  If you get metal wet, it’ll start to decay (rust) away.  Except aluminum, which doesn’t rust. Imagine my surprise then when I discovered that I could coat a shiny metal with rust in just a matter of seconds!

So here are some things I’ve learned about oxidation, and I’ll use the term “rust” interchangeably to show how it can be confusing.

  • Iron rust is from exposure to oxygen, not moisture
  • Metals can oxidize instantly; rusty doesn’t mean old
  • Aluminum (and “stainless” steel if I recall correctly) does in fact rust or oxidize
  • Aluminum rust (aluminum oxide) is silver colored instead of orange, and it doesn’t eat away at the metal the way iron oxide does. Instead, it actually protects the metal from deteriorating in the elements
  • Both iron and aluminum oxides have to be removed from the metal before TIG welding. This is especially difficult with aluminum because you can’t necessarily see it.

The TIG welding process (the one I use) utilizes a shielding gas. While welding, Argon (one of the noble gasses) is blown on the hot metal to keep out nitrogen and oxygen rich natural atmosphere from oxidizing the metal. The bolt on the right in the picture above was welded without this gas, and you can see the results.

Rear Fork Completed

The rear fork is completed according to the plans.

My son helped by grinding a bunch of the metal clean.

One thing I discovered it that the plans are for 26″ wheels, meaning that my 700c wheels are slightly too large.  Good thing I was planning to use my son’s old 650c wheels!

For my next project, I modified the plans to use 17″ forks, which are more than large enough for full sized 700c wheels.  I even made some paper templates, as I found that aligning everything by hand / eye was a pain in the butt.  As you can see, the dropouts have to be manually aligned to the rear fork.  Ensuring this is straight is way harder than it seems.

The paper templates (bad picture) are life-size, showing the correct angle of the forks to ensure proper welding.  I added a middle rectangle which represents the wheel.  This can be used to ensure that the wheel is perpendicular to the top bar of the fork.

My poor welder is at the Welder Doctor, so I used my down-time to cut and sand some more pieces for future projects.  Here are some aluminum parts for a future build!  Even though none of it is put together, it was a cool experience to lay them out into the correct shape.  Hey!  I might actually finish building something after all!

Here is some dirty (left) and clean (right) aluminum.

Funny side story.  I was going to tease my son and jokingly tell him that he did such a great job sanding the steel, that I can no longer tell the difference between the steel and the aluminum.  A moment later, I reach onto my pile to pull out a piece of steel, and I pick up a piece of aluminum instead.  So the joke’s on me!

The bottom two metal pieces in the picture below are steel (rounded corners).  The others are aluminum.

Once my welder is out of the shop, it’s back to bike building!

Atomic Zombie Project Templates

These are some templates I came up with while following plans from AtomicZombie.

NOTE:  It is not my intention to violate Atomic Zombie’s copyright.  Although I followed plans from Atomic Zombie, these templates are my own work.  If you make your own bike by following my blog, good for you!  But if you want REAL plans with AWESOME detailed information, head over to the fine folks at Atomic Zombie and buy the appropriate plans for the type of bike you want to build!

All templates are PDF files and must be printed full size on the appropriate size paper.  Do not use “resize to fit” etc.

Several of the plans use a rear axle assembly made from 1.5″ tubing.  Here is a template for 14.5″ and 17″.  They must be printed on “Tabloid” sized paper.  FedEx Office does it for $0.44 each as of March 2017.

bike forks 14.5 inch tabloid

bike forks 17 inch tabloid

Here is the rear dropout template I used for my projects:

rear dropout template

The main boom of the stick bike must be aligned with the rear fork and wheel.  I made this template to ensure proper alignment.  It’s “legal” size, but you can print it on Letter paper, allowing Acrobat to crop part of it out.  All you really need is the top of the fork and the segment of boom:

Fork and Main Boom Alignment

Later on in one of my projects, I need to put something at a 56° angle.  I made this sheet to help me there.  Some of it is cropped, but that part isn’t important.

56 degree angle

Check back later for more!

Templates in Action

I printed out the templates (available here) onto large paper at FedEx Office. The cost was only $0.44 per sheet.

Here are some shots of the templates in action. First are some 14.5″ forks on the wrong template. As you can see, those minor changes in angles make a big difference in alignment.

Below is a 17″ piece on a 17″ template. See how easy it is?

After laying both pieces onto the template, I took a measurement at the top and bottom. If everything is done correctly, it should be a 2″ space at the top and 5.25″ at the bottom.

The camera angle is a little misleading, so you’ll have to take my word for it. The top was 2″ and the bottom was 5.25″, right on the nose! Making these templates turned out to be a great idea!

First Frame Cuts

I chopped up my first two bike frames today. I will admit it seemed a little emotionally taxing to cut up to perfectly decent bicycles.  The steel road bike only needed new tires and tubes, and my son’s old bike had nothing wrong with it except that he is too big for it now.

Everything started out easy:

But  without the proper tools, everything went downhill pretty fast, and I left quite a wake of distruction, haha.

But it all worked out in the end. I now have a bottom bracket, fork, headset, and two wheels.

I want to use the same crankset that is currently on my upright road bike so I can avoid buying a second power meter. The bottom bracket from the steel bike is a size that can be adapted to Shimano’s Hollowtech II, which is what that crankset requires.  Perfect!

Head Tube and Bottom Bracket

I grinded the bottom bracket and head tube I’d recently cut from the donor bikes.

Because this was a womans’ frame, the top tube and down tube meet the seat tube in close proximity. This picture is sort of a before and after.  There used to be two tube remnants.  The one on the left has been grinded away.

In this picture, both have been removed:

The bottom bracket shell and a length of seat tube, ready for welding:

Here are some before and after shots of the head tube from my son’s old bike. Because this is aluminum, and aluminum won’t weld to steel, I won’t be able to use this for my current project. In the bin it goes for my aluminum future bike!

I’m going to purchase a bit of steel tubing from an online bike frame building supply. I’ve also ordered a headset (steering bearings) from Amazon to match the steel tube.  The bearings that go with this head tube will be used on an aluminum build sometime in the future.

Bottom Bracket Adapter

I tested out the bottom bracket adapter yesterday.  So far, so good!

Just to be absolutely sure, I removed the crankset from my current road bike and fit it into the adapter.

Looks like it fits!  This was a great opportunity to use a rag and degreaser on my chainrings!

Recalculating Costs

You’ve no doubt noticed that prominently display the Project Cost on the sidebar.  That’s because I want to encourage people that they can do what I’m doing.  That being said, I don’t want to be disingenuous with how I calculate the costs of these projects.  And that goes both ways.


I don’t want to overstate how much it costs because not everyone will make the same decisions I did.  For example, you might have a friend with a welder.  If you don’t, you might buy one from Harbor Freight for nearly 1/10th the cost of mine.  You may not need all the PPE, or the clamps, etc.  So it’d be unfair and unnecessarily frightening to include those costs.

I also buy in larger (by my standards) quantities when possible, and the supplies get used for other projects.  Or they’ll be used for future projects.  My calculations could include, for example, all 15 lbs of welding rod that I purchased, but I’m only going to use a fraction of it for this bike.  Grinding supplies are another example.  When purchasing flap and cut off discs, I bought in bulk to save on per-item costs.

If you add up the total cost of supplies, tools and equipment (and trust me, I am keeping track), the grand total at this time is nearly $2,300.  These costs include a new welder, 24 feet of steel tubing, 24 feet of aluminum tubing, 15 pounds of welding rod, PPE, plans, test materials, carbon fiber samples… you name it.  If it’s even tangentially related to my bike projects, I’ve included it.


This post is for context and clarification.  If I say I built a bike for less than $100, that might be true, but it isn’t taking into account all the actual dollars I’ve spent.  It’s like when they say factories crank out widgets for pennies.  Sure, it’s pennies per piece, but the factory may have cost millions!

So I don’t want to over-sell the idea.  Building your own bikes can be cheap if you use all donor parts and already have some equipment.  Or it can be a money pit.

Ad Nauseum

The above being said, am I calculating the gas required to drive to people’s houses to pick up donor bikes?  Electricity for the welder?  What percentage of welding rod or disc supply have I consumed?  Just how anal am I about this?  The truth is: Not Really.  I’d rather be riding.  I’d rather be building.  I’d rather be doing literally anything than crunching numbers to that degree.

All that being said, I’m going to calculate the costs for each project individually.  So the $100 I spent on steel and aluminum now becomes the $23 I spent on steel, because there’s no aluminum being used right now.  Supplies, tools, and consumables are par for the course.  I’ll continue to track those, but I’m not going to figure them into my totals.

So when you see the total drop from about $350 to $117, it’s because I’ve recalculated the costs.

The amazing clarity I’ve had after recalculating, is that nearly 1/3 of the money I’ve spent has been on plans.  There’s an important lesson here.  Having good plans is a great investment.  The folks at Atomic Zombie are really providing a service to the community.

After all this money talk, I feel obliged to add a Donate button here.  Click!  Donate!  Help a poor bike nerd out.  🙂

Head Tube Arrived

I’ll need plenty of head tubes for projects, and I have several that I could cut off the donor bikes. I wanted to make sure the head tube for this bike was solid and reliable.  Also, I didn’t want to cut the bike frames just yet, because I’m not sure exactly which parts I’ll be scrapping for future projects.  So I ordered a head tube piece from the good folks at SOLID bikes.

This, coupled with the new headset I purchased (again, just because I want this bike to be solid and reliable in the right places) added about $30 to my project costs.

This is something that I believe I’ll find as the projects continue. The raw working materials (frame) are fairly inexpensive, but new components could easily make the costs skyrocket. My goal is to use as many of the old components as possible. This was an exception to that rule.

Pressing the cups into the head tube is another issue.  It requires a special tool that on Amazon is about $150. That is a little rich for my blood!  Luckily I stumbled upon a DIY video on YouTube that shows how to make your own version for much cheaper.  No doubt this will be the topic of a separate post!