Welcome to Headquarters
Updated: May 17
"It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, but the size of the fight in the dog"
Organization is the key
I originally learned to weld and fabricate in 2001, from a friend (now deceased) named Dean Kessler. Dean was a large powerful man, with a thick, long, proud mullet hairstyle and a mighty black moustache. He laughed from the belly, and was an incredible metal fabricator. He took me under his wing, for some years, and showed me how to weld (TIG, MIG, stick, gas), use a torch (plasma and oxygen/acetylene), a grinder, and tube bender - it was a heck of an education. His payment for instruction was Kokanee beer, and my bad jokes - which he found hilarious. I keep a couple of stale Kokanee beers on hand, because I still miss Dean very much - since Leukaemia took him at 47 years young. They have gotten pretty dusty over the years. Nostalgia.
Houdeani's welding and fabrication. I miss you buddy!
When Dean and I met, I was living in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Unlike the name indicates, Grande Prairie (or GP as they say) is very close to a whole lot of wild mountain wilderness. And unlike Southern Alberta or BC, the area has very few (essentially none) trails meant specifically for foot or bicycle travel. So, you really needed a capable vehicle to access the deep backcountry to camp and get away from it all - and me being me - I had to build my own ride. Dean gave me the skills to do that.
What is black, makes 450hp, and has 40" mud tires? My old YJ.
I built some 7 or 8 crawler-style Jeeps in those years (I was in GP for 11 years total), and even built them for others. In those days I had a huge shop, with much larger equipment and more room than I do now.
These days my metal working consists of building bicycles, and my cozy space is really all I need. Welcome to my shop.
My original jig - part KRUCH part BREW racing
I moved back to Calgary in 2012, into a house with a basic double garage. At some point I realized my garage could not house a vehicle, be a storage facility, contain lawn and garden supplies and tools - AND be a bicycle fabrication shop. As the years went on, it became increasingly less garage and more shop - until finally (the top picture was taken 3 weeks ago) everything not bicycle related was removed.
I think the catalyst for the final push to 100% bicycle space was the addition of my lathe, a vintage 1978 Shenwai gear drive unit (found for me by #rollingdalecycles). Once I moved that in, some decisions had to be made.
Procuring my lathe in the time of COVID. Late 2020, Nelson BC.
I explored the prospect of buying some commercial space and moving my operation there, but having my frame building shop in my residence offers some serious perks. The commute is very short, I only pay taxes on one property, and my couch is really close by after a night of welding, fitting, cutting and brazing frames. Did I mention my retired buddy Earl, who lives a few doors down? The guy is a serious boss, and one of my best friends.
Alignment table on the left, workbench, compressor, and some overhead storage
My father has a saying - "If you need a tool you might as well buy it now - because after renting it 10 times or breaking one you borrowed - you will buy it anyways". I believe that to be true, and I have never shied away from buying tools. After all, if you can't be handsome, smart or rich - you better be useful!
The green cabinet, upper left above. It contains more jigs than a Newfoundland Wedding.
After deciding to dedicate the entire space to bicycle fabrication, I required storage to move everything NOT bicycle related out (mostly tools). My neighbours aren't super stoked on the large sea-can shipping container that was dropped by picker truck into my backyard, but they will get over it. Beer helps.
My new frame jig - the mighty Benchmark 1.1. Very intuitive. Unlike me.
My milling machine was hungry.
The Vintage Shenwai, doing what it does best.
I've been to exactly three other frame builders shops. Sam Whittingham (Naked Cycles), Justin "Walt" Werner (Waltworks) and Dale Marchand (Rolling Dale). They are all very impressive in their own right, but for different reasons. Dale is a soft-spoken suburban mad scientist, in a cavernous home shop surrounded by titanium, robots and precision machining tools. Justin is a beer-loving stay at home Dad, with an ancient and HUGE milling machine (and a ton of raw talent and expertise) in his home garage. Sam's shop is detached from his house and in the woods on a coastal island, with a super chill relaxed vibe. They even serve lunch if you happen to be there at that time!
Good friend Rob and myself visited Sam a few years back. It only seemed fitting to ride there from the mainland and take the ferry. I was in such awe, I literally forgot to take pictures of Sam's shop. He is a quiet and humble person, keeping in mind that he held the "world's fastest person on a bicycle" title for quite a few years.
Rob next to his Ti Naked Cycles bike - "taking it home"
I think pink, blue and black are a good mix. But then again, I had a Sun Ice jacket as a kid.
Ultimately, what matters - is the shop you use working for you? I can say mine is. I have plenty of stools to sit on, a well stocked craft beer fridge, and a huge stereo. Come by anytime (I don't serve lunch but you will likely get a beer handed to you). Bring bad jokes.
NOTE: A Massive shout out and thanks to #derekbisbing photography for snapping the shop pics. Very much appreciated!