[CR] Lugged Ti frames

(Example: Framebuilders:Pino Morroni)

Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2008 09:54:38 -0400
Subject: [CR] Lugged Ti frames
From: "Doug Fattic" <fatticbicycles@qtm.net>
To: 'Classic Rendevous' <classicrendezvous@bikelist.org>

From: "Jim Merz" <jmerz(AT)schat.com>

Subject: Lugged Ti frames

Back when I was building frames in Portland I ran Into Pino Morroni. He used to visit Portland as he had a crush on a young female national track champion Kathy Eckroth. He gave one of the very few Pino Ti lugged frames to her to race. Berringer did the brazing, he was the world expert on brazing. I asked Berringer how he did it and he would not tell me. It turns out the early Ti tubing was made in Albany Oregon, I think the company was called Oregon Metallurgical. I went there and met the guy that did the tubing for Pino. It was a big buck project and as I remember Bianchi paid for it. The stays were even tapered. Anyway, they did not know how to braze Ti so I kept checking around. I ended up at the U.S. Bureau of Mines, Albany Research Center http://www.netl.doe.gov/about/arc_history.html http://www.netl.doe.gov/about/arc_history.html and somehow the head of the lab liked me or something. Anyway he spent a whole day showing me this amazing place. They had basically developed all the technology for Zirconium production in the USA, used for reactors and atom bombs. But Titanium is very similar and they did the work on it also. He showed me a 3 speed bike they made in the 1950's using Ti for the frame, I am sure the first one ever. Anyway, he looked into the brazing and came back with a gold based alloy and it had to be done in a vacuum. All this was way out of my limited resources at the time. I did make some parts from Ti in the 1970's, I had friends working at Precision Cast Parts. They made aircraft engine parts from Ti and I got some "G" job work done for me.

Jim Merz Big Sur CA

This subject of how to braze ti frames has been a passion of mine to discover its secrets ever since I took the first ti welding class at UBI that Gary Helfrich (one of the founders of Merlin and a former road manager of of the rock group Aerosmith) taught. That was a fun class because it was composed almost entirely of full time steel framebuilders. This subject is like "who killed JFK"? People know stuff but they can't tell and you can't seem to get any direct information - like how Bruce Gordon did it. I actually know the principle of how Cecil Berringer brazed ti because one of the guys he taught to build frames shared it with me. He used to contribute to the framebuilders list - and hung out here sometimes I think. Of course I can't tell - he swore me to secrecy first. What I can say is that I would never have thought of Cecil's method and my first reaction was what?!?! Really?!?! He used that?!?!

What is interesting to me about Berringer is that he is one of the modern generation of US framebuilders (although he has passed) that learned some framebuilding from one of the old US six day builders (Pop Brennan?). Besides the Eisentraut/Wastyn link, he is the only other American builder that I know of that has direct knowledge to the old US builders before they passed off the scene. I've painted a couple of his frames.

I saw a lugged titanium Franklin frame once at a food stop I was working at during a century ride. The owner of the bicycle said the builder put way too much time into it and probably would never do it again. I think that frame was glued together. Of course I'm guessing.

I went to a welding show in Chicago some time ago just because they had a seminar on ti brazing. About a dozen aerospace people were in the room and they all seemed to know each other and spoke some common scientific language I couldn't understand. They all looked at me like "what are you doing here?" as if I had walked into the girls bathroom. Of course the speaker didn't show. I got his email address at least and told him this was a mystery I just had to solve. He wrote back apologizing and said I could ask him questions if I had any. I said I did, how do you braze ti to ti? But he never answered back.

At another welding show I got a sample bottle of special flux for brazing ti. It is still in my storage cabinet mostly dried out. I called the company for any tips they might provide but mostly they wanted to find out what I learned when I tried it.

Actually at the AWS (American Welding Society) booth I did talk to a couple of guys that said they brazed ti. You need a carburizing flame (a greater ratio of acetylene to oxygen) and you have one shot at getting it right with heat control. So I tried once and ended up with a black sooty mess but no connection. Of course I wasn't sure what filler rod I should use. Everyone wants to know why I don't just weld it instead but there is no mystery to that.

Doug Fattic, pondering the larger questions of life like how to weld ti in Niles, Michigan USA