Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lighting a fire...Hollingsworth visit

I've spoken many times of my fortune when I showed interest in learning a bit about framebuilding.  If not for the generous offer of time I received, I'd not have had the start to move me where I am today.  In acknowledgement of that, I try to be considerate of others needs and give back to the community that has provided me with so much enjoyment through the years.  Logging into the super information highway and assisting others through email, forum posts and critical assessment of works in progress, when requested, is nice, but there is no substitute for one on one learning.

Every year, I open the shop and a bit of my time to earn back some framebuilding karma...this week was one of those times.

I was pleased to have Steve and Kirsten Hollingsworth from North Carolina up for three days.  Steve and Kirsten had established Northstar Custom frames a few years ago and have been progressing through self education, Internet input via email and phone from the building community, base industrial classes and a lot of trial and error.  Despite hurdles, they have decided they want to embrace this as a husband/wife team and enter framebuilding as a career path in the near future.  We set aside this week to focus on three main areas they desired improvement; framebuilding as a business, tig welding, and paint techniques.

The allure of working with metal, imagination, and toil to create beautiful pieces of performance tends to draw many to this manufacturing niche. Unfortunately, desire often outstrips a strong business model and operational understanding, the act of facilitating customer interaction and needs interpretation, and lastly, fabrication ability.  Without these critical tools, the dream will end abruptly with a wake of dissatisfied people and another black eye on the framebuilding community.  Gathered around the kitchen table with Christi and I, we discussed goals and objectives, developed a business plan that would allow them to prepare and grow toward a professional launch date, and reviewed the ugly necessities of running a business; legal liability, insurance, sole proprieter/LLC/Inc ownership, Federal tax requirements, local re-sale licenses, accounting methods, COGS, estimating, brand perception, marketing/advertising, customer grievance resolution, and the list goes on and on :)  With a solid understanding of who they wanted to be as a company, a plan to move toward that goal, and the business steps necessary to achieve it, it was time to move to the shop for some fun.

Steve had been proactive and taken a college course on metal fabrication with a focus on Tig welding. I have found these types of course work to offer a good broad range of understanding of the process but are lacking on true torch technique and a full understanding of heat control.  Starting from scratch, we took him through understanding of the Tig process, machines available and the pros and cons of each, setting up an machine, choices in cup size, tungsten diameter, filler size and type, and shielding gas options and parameters.  We then began a progressive learning segment, teaching him how to tig weld thin tubing using three different styles; straight current to experience how torch angle, current/heat input, travel speed and filler rates all affect your weld penetration, integrity and aesthetic, pulsed welding to expand understanding of limiting heat build and resultant distortion, and finally lay wire technique and its small advantages and numerous pit falls if not practiced with an experienced eye toward joint penetration. 

Eight hours later, we brought all this together by dissecting the fabrication of a frame, working around each joint and discussing the appropriate technique and parameters that would offer the most efficient fabrication and highest quality of joinery.

Our third day brought Kirsten back into the mix, as we delved into the world of paint.  Although Steve has done most the paint to this point, it is their goal to include Kirsten as the painter once operational.  She has a keen eye for detail and possesses the meticulous nature necessary for professional work, allowing Steve to focus on the fabrication aspects of the workload. One day is hardly enough time to scratch the surface of a skill set that takes years to become proficient with and a lifetime to step toward the road to mastery.  One day, however, is enough time to feel overwhelmed by just how much information there is to absorb   :)

Starting from the top, we discussed available paint systems, the pros and cons of each, where the finishing industry is taking paint in the future, design and function of booths, regulatory agency requirements of OSHA, NFPA and the EPA, and the importance of quality components (guns, compressors, air filtration, regulators, and consumables).  Moving to practical application, we practiced actual paint system mixing, changes to the spray/state of the atomized mist with positive/negative reducer amounts, operation of the gun and it's variation of settings, spray technique to insure even coverage, sanding techniques, base colors, candies, suspended particulates, positive and negative masking, clear coats and most to fix mistakes. 

Consumed in a whirlwind of activity, we ran right up to the minute they had to dive into the car and head home, overspray creating tacky clothes for the 8 hour ride south, their partially cured tubes creatively in the back seat to preserve them.
I sent the Hollingsworths off with a confident feeling that if they adhere to the plan we created, they will have a long career serving the cycling industry.  Look for this dynamic team to make a splash in a few years when they are prepared enter our little world of frame fabrication full time.  Best wishes to them and their future customers.

A big thank you goes out to my brethren who have shared with Steve and Kirsten long distance;  Fred of Wolfhound, Tom Kellog of Spectrum, Hank and Monica of Henry James, and Dave of are good folks!



NorthStar said...

Rody! Thanks so much for taking the time to work with us! It was really nice to get to know you and your wife. We really enjoyed the time and the instruction was invaluable!

Andrew Brautigam said...

This is such an awesome thing. I'm a young professional, and I can't imagine how I could learn my career without a mentor.