Making things by hand

I like to make things, to use my hands to manipulate materials, to travel slowly, to get lost in the making of things as much as to simply get – and be – lost. For example, on kind of a wild hair I decided to hand make a sketchbook in a continuous “star configuration,” and carry it with me on a trip through Scotland. The idea then gradually evolved into a sort of single, continuous sketch: much of our entire journey can be “read” as one single document, sort of like Chinese brush paintings. Like much else, I’m more intrigued by the process than the end “product.” Therein lies the fun.

A large part of the appeal of resurrecting a bicycle is the “hands on-ness” of the process. I’m intrigued by the history of a thing, by questions that may remain forever unanswered: Where did it originate? What brought about the oftentimes incredibly distressed “beausage”? Who loved this mechanical beast, and what sights did he or she see while astride it? I unashamedly admit to a certain degree of romanticism in this regard.

Two bikes were literally gifted to me recently, and The Early Morning Cyclist will share what is known along with a bit of speculation. This, and the next installments will also document a bit of my process, beginning with this crusty looking frame. Purportedly a custom silver brazed construction, I was not initially convinced there was anything “custom” about it beyond the potpourri of parts adorning the frame. Quite honestly, I planned to strip the better parts to store away for some future build and donate the frame. But despite the extant “crustiness,” curiosity – once again – began to get the better of me. For one thing the window lugs caught my eye. Along with chrome finish, I find lugwork to be an intriguing feature of bicycle construction.

An unusual feature – one I’d never seen before, at any rate – is this seat tube “collar.” This appears to have been hand turned, and effectively reduces the seat tube inside diameter to accept a 26.8 seat pin. I am speculating this was done purely to accomodate a seat pin that would function with the Brooks double rail saddle that was on the bike. The seat tube without the collar accepts a 27.2 seat post.

The narrative I’ve been able to uncover is that the bike was custom built by a local engineer, who was also a talented amateur frame builder. This was his personal bike that he used to tour all across the United States and Canada. Obviously, there may be a lot more to this story and I aim to find out what I can. Just as obviously, the frame arrived in pretty toasty looking condition. A lot needs to be done, and whether or not the frame is worth the effort is really not even the issue: I like to use my hands.

Looks are often deceiving. There is still hope for renewed life in this lady.

9 thoughts on “Making things by hand

  1. Nice work, Mark.
    Re the bike, The reducing collar needs to be 8-10cm long, and does not need any lip, we usually two pack adhesive it in.
    A commercially available reducing collar would be better, or fitting a 27,2 post.
    That bike is in great condition, it’ll outlast us all.

    take care.


    • Emanuel, thanks for that insight. I’ve always seen shims used for the purpose of reducing the diameter, but frankly I’ve a darned site more 27.2 posts in the studio than 26.8! I’ll probably leave the collar on the shelf as a curiosity.

  2. This thing looks really old, Mark. Judging from the seat stay tips and the brake bridge it could be forties. The lugs aren´t, of course – intriguing indeed. Let us see more photos, please.

    • Yes, it struck me as an old-style design also. Nearly all of the components date to mid-70’s, though, and I’m told it was brazed in early- to mid-70’s. Perhaps the builder was looking at an older frame for reference? Hard to tell – I’m attempting to find out if he is still alive.

      Don’t worry – there will be more photos to come on this one, as well as a very small Houdaille.

    • Thank ya, sir! I think you’ll like how this one turns out. I want to track down a bit more of the history if possible, before sharing the next installment. Meanwhile, I’ve also got a very interesting Houdaille that came to me at the same time as this frame. It’s small enough that it should fit my wife if I swap the drop bars out for a set of upright North Road – it will make a killer light weight city bike!

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