Friday, December 21, 2012

The mark of the master

As I close in on the end of a surprisingly busy and productive year I look back on the many frames. Yes, I look back and try not to look too close-there's an ugly truth about all of those frames and pretty much all the frames built anywhere on the planet.......none of them are perfect. Though we try as craftsmen ,craftswomen, artisans and obsessive bike zealots we fall short of perfection every time. We can only hope to get closer with each new build. But a few of you might say: " Hey, my ******* ******** frame really is perfect in every way , at least as far as I can tell ." Glad you think that way.......obviously the painter of that frame is really, really good. That is a painter's job, at least that is what my painter says: " You build the frame....I'll make it pretty ." A truly excellent painter can take a really rough example of frame building and turn it into a medal winner at a show.
               When I post my frames on my shop blog , I often show them unpainted. I do this for two reasons: # 1, In some cases I am pretty proud how the frame in the photo turned least by my standards. # 2, I really think that it is the best policy for people to see what my work looks like without the magic of paint. This is not because I think my frames are soooooo bitchen-it is so one can see the workmanship and decide if I am the right guy for the job.I.E.,If you don't like my welds, don't shake my tree, and all that. Don't get me wrong, I'm never totally happy with the quality of my work-I always am trying to do better. It is that insane insecurity that results ideally in an ever improving product. I tell folks that the longer you wait, the better I get at my job.
               This brings me to the tiny imperfections that drive myself and probably a lot of other builders to scowl, become eccentric, drink a lot , go into lengthy depressions , or just let out a few choice curse words in the shop. These are the things that the painter makes invisible.......sometimes.
# 1. Little annoying dent caused by a falling tool or a mis-aligned tube holder. One can fill such dents with solder or bronze-even tig weld.....trouble is they are sometimes hard to see before the frame is painted.
#2. Excessive filing in a rear dropout to get the wheel to center. I don't care how much you spent on your jig....some times shit happens. You just hope it isn't a huge steamer in this case.
#3. Seat slot off center.......pretty much my signature. I do it on a machine, I follow some really consistant guidelines........hell, I'm just not perfect !
#4. Brake bridge isn't level. I did some work for another builder about 20 years ago.....really brilliant guy. He said that he could always tell if I had done the bridges on the frames......his were more crooked than mine-serious compliment , I thought........
#5. Cable stops are crooked or not placed symmetrically. This is really nit-picking but hey, it doesn't look right.
#6. Serial number is stamped crookedly. Yeah, but who cares ? If you spent a few grand on the frame you might......
#7. Decals are a bit crooked. I would like to blame this one on the painter but it is usually my fault. Good thing my decals are pretty uneven to start with !
#8. Weld goes a bit off course. The welding cable gets a bit heavy late in the day and can yank your hand a bit off the chosen path. It gets worse when you get old like me.

                All of the above offenses are really minor and generally have no effect on the fit,ride or durability of the frame. In fact , the faults outlined above are a product of human error......absolute proof that you are in posession of a real hand-built item-the genuine article. The little imperfections ? ......I call them ; " The mark of the master."  The tell-tale evidence of the hand of the craftsman -shaky at times but always striving for perfection. Maybe none of us will ever get the summit of complete flawless unassailable sublime and timeless quintessance.........or whatever wet-dream shiny "Aw,hell......ain't never seen nothin' so peeeerfect in all my days!" We slip, make a file mark, get a little impatient with a procedure and, well.......there you have it-the friggin' mark of the master. Yeah, we do our best to hide it - in most cases you'll never know it's there. That is for us to remember and grapple with on a weekly is what could possibly keep us honest and remind us that being focused on the task at hand has its benefits.