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Howto make your own handlebars

Discussion in 'How-To' started by gearsmithy, Apr 28, 2010.

  1. gearsmithy

    gearsmithy Active Member

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    A while ago I promised a howto on making your own set of bars. well here it is, i know some of you will recognize a lot of this content, in which case congratulations, reward yourself with a beer for being ahead of the pack.

    Now a couple of things I want to point out before I chronicle the fabrication of my bars. There was some trial and error here and I have cut out the screw-ups that I've posted elsewhere. And yes, I used "specialty tools" such as a lathe, tubing notcher, etc. But the same effect could've been accomplished with a drill press, an angle grinder, and a belt sander (it's just a matter of how much time you want to put into the project). It should be noted that this project employed sand bending, a very dangerous and old school technique for bending tubing. This technique will require an oxy acetylene torch to perform. Propane just won’t cut it so don’t attempt this without an O/A outfit (or use a tubing bender, whatever ya got).

    In this case welding was necessary, but if you have aftermarket risers all you really need to do is bend a length of tubing around a well-designed jig, slap em in your risers and go... no welding, no turning, no shit.
    Now if you follow my howto to the letter you will end up with some pretty funky bars that might look a little silly on a big dog. Understandably, these bars are not for my big dog but every step in the process could be used to replicate the stock big-dog handlebars. So while the piece in question is not a big dog part, the process for producing the finished piece is exactly the same.

    Ok, let's get started.

    -----------------------Making Risers------------------------------------

    My plan here is fabricate these bars without using a tubing bender and in the spirit of the old speedster handlebars of yore. This project, just like most, begins at the chop saw where I cut lengths of 1-1/4” roundbar, 1-1/4” DOM tubing, 1” DOM tubing, and 1-1/2” 6061 roundbar (I’ll explan all this later).

    [​IMG]

    After I had my materials cut I began to machine a set of weld-on risers. Since speedster bars were integrated into the front end as a single unit, I figured I might as well keep that idea and weld the bars directly to the risers.

    [​IMG]

    The best part about tapping threads on a lathe is that you don’t have to worry about the tap going in crooked and there is less risk of the tap breaking off. The downside is that you have to keep chasing the tap handle with the center. Through trial and error I discovered the perfect amount of pressure to put on the tap handle is just enough to turn a live center in the tailstock. It’s was a bit tricky at first but after few turns I got into the rhythm of it… turn, break chips, chase, repeat.

    [​IMG]

    Since speedsters have a very distinct sleeve around the bars I knew I had to cope some 1-1/4” tubing. I chose an approximate angle of 15 degrees for the bar sleeves, and 0 degrees for sleeves to connect the risers.

    [​IMG]

    I also machined some riser bushings out of 6061, since I didn’t have any polyurethane on hand. These are just temporary and will be used for mockup only. I probably could use these to hard mount the bars but I’m working with a shovelhead here, and I do enjoy being able to feel my hands.

    [​IMG]

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    Risers installed with 1/2-20 bolts.

    [​IMG]

    Now there is no way in bloody hell that I’m going to be able to accurately fishmouth both ends of a single piece of tubing in my shitty-ass tubing notcher. So I decided to sleeve a small piece of 1” tubing here as well.

    [​IMG]

    With everything tightened down, I tacked each part into place about 300,000 times.

    [​IMG]
     
  2. gearsmithy

    gearsmithy Active Member

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    --------------------SAND BENDING---------------------------
    Now I’ve seen guys sand bend tubing without a bender before and I always thought it was really neat way to bend tube on the cheap so I thought I’d give it a go for this build, despite my buddy’s insistence on a tubing bender. The basic idea is to make a jig in the general shape that you want the finished tube, fill the tube with dry sand and weld a cap on both ends, place the tube in the jig, heat with a torch and bend away. The idea here is that the sand will prevent the tube from kinking (which is does), allowing you bend around a relatively crude jig. Now there are some VERY critical steps to this that you MUST NOT SKIP for your personal safety and the quality of your finished piece. I will call these out specifically in the following steps.

    Step 1 – get some sand.

    [​IMG]

    Plain old hardware store sand will work just fine, some people moan and groan about using finer or coarser material (i.e. glass beads vs bird shot). Well, I can’t comment on that because playground sand worked just fine for me.

    Step 2 – [CRITICAL STEP] place on cookie sheets and bake at 400 degrees for 3-4 hours. No I’m not kidding. I got this sand at the hardware store, where it had been sitting out in the rain for a couple of days. It had moisture in it that I had to get rid of because if there was any water in the tube when heated, it would explode. You should do this even if the sand appears dry. I don’t give a shit if you live in the middle of the Arizona desert and it hasn’t rained in years, bake that shit or roll the dice!

    [​IMG]

    Step 3 – Fashion a crude plug and quickly weld to one end of tube. In this case I used a piece of roundbar but you could also use a wooden dowl pounded into the end. You’ll want to pound it in tight, and I mean REAL tight because we’re going to pack this sand tighter than a snare drum.

    Step 4 – Wonder why my best welds always seem to happen on un-prepped scrap material.

    [​IMG]

    Step 5 – [CRITICAL STEP] Fill other end of tube with sand and slam against the ground repeatedly to make sure it’s packed in there tight. Pack your sand tight, and I’m talking pushing the limits of Newtonian physics tight. The way I did it, was to weld a plug on one end of the tube, fill it with sand, then take another, longer plug (a piece of roundbar in this case) and pound it as hard I could with a dead blow hammer, add more sand and repeat until I was absolutely sure that I couldn’t fit one more grain in there. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get that sand as tightly packed as humanly possible.

    [​IMG]

    Step 6 – Make your jig. I took a piece of welding wire and bent to the final angle. Then I went to the “fuck up” box, and fish out a few embarrassing doo-dads to give myself one last chance at redemption. Basically I just went for it here, I guessed at the radius, didn’t really plan the location of my jig points and everything worked out okay. Which isn’t really a big deal in this case since I’m only making one bend in 2 pieces of tubing. If you were to say bend up a complete set of ape hangers, you would need a much more complicated jig. I’m not going to go into jig building but I will say this: woodworkers are masters of jig building, find one, befriend him and have him help you if you’re stuck. Also, make sure that if you build your jig out of wood you cover it in sheet metal. Wooden jigs used for this purpose will only be good for one or two bends, so be prepared to rebuild jigs. Also keep in mind that the goal here is symmetry. So depending on the desired final shape of your piece, you may need to build “mirror images jigs.”

    [​IMG]

    Step 7 (optional) – Sleeve a larger diameter piece of tubing over the work to give you leverage and keep you from burning your hands.

    [​IMG]


    Step 8 – [CRITICAL STEP] Place fixture into jig, fire up a torch and heat the section of tubing for a bend. Less heat is better. I used a smaller single 0 torch tip (instead of a rosebud), and heated the tube to dull brown color (just before it turns red). The other important thing here is to heat the outside bend of the tube more than the sides and barely (if at all) heat the inside bend of the tube. I would say that 50% of the heat went into the outside curve, 20% went to each side of the tube and the final 10% to the inside curve with very little torch time at all.

    You should treat this more like a cold bend, using more force and less heat, taking your time working around the bend. If something looks a little too hot or it feels a little too easy gave it a minute and continue on. By going slower you can definitely feel the “balancing act” of the heat and force required to produce a nice bend, and I can see how if you did this enough you could get a feel for it and make a bend really quick.

    [​IMG]
     
  3. gearsmithy

    gearsmithy Active Member

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    --------------------Finishing it up---------------------------

    Made some grips yesterday, nothing fancy. I was planning on finishing the bars today but I ended up going to a swapmeet instead.

    [​IMG]

    Today I figured I'd finish up my bars. I wanted the mean and low look of the old speedsters but smaller and more "tucked in". I do after all live in the city, so I needed something that would allow me to lane split and blast down the bicycle lane without getting pegged by rear view mirrors. I also wanted a really aggressive reach, something that would lock you in and take advantage of every inch of trail.

    Up to this point I had my "risers", if you can even call them that, tacked into place and bolted to my triple trees. I had cut and coped some sleeves at an arbitrary angle, I think it was 15 degrees or so, to give the bars that signature sleeved V look of the speedsters. So first things first, we need to weld up this central riser, sleeve, unit thing. I went with a quick and dirty symmetrical jig that I could use to tack each sleeve into place on opposite sides of my riser unit.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    Next I drilled and tapped holes on the left bar for my kill and high-low microswitches. The right bar required a bit more attention to accommodate the Nash internal throttle.

    [​IMG]

    Then I had a nearby buddy mark the locations of the bars in each sleeve while I was on the bike. From there it was a simple matter of finish welding the bars into the sleeves and voila. I still have a little massaging to do on the grips but other than that these bad boys are D-O-N-E.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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    [​IMG]
     
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  4. gearsmithy

    gearsmithy Active Member

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    One more thing about sand bending: As you heat and stretch the tubing it will expand, loosening the sand inside. So you can only get about one or two bends before you have to repack.
     
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  5. lee

    lee Well-Known Member

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    great work - that's proper bike building
     
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  6. chacha

    chacha Chaff Your EHC!!
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    Shit hot write-up....looks great.
     
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  7. Five Five

    Five Five Well-Known Member

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    Nice Job....goin to have to hit you with some "Rep Power"
     
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  8. BorgerBigDog

    BorgerBigDog BORN TEXAN

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    :eek: Nice :2thumbs:
     
  9. Moespeeds

    Moespeeds Well-Known Member

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    I just made a set of bars for the Roadstar I'm rebuilding. I managed some very mild bends in 1.25" tubing by pinning the tube against the wall and bending it around a round forklift counterweight. Maybe I went 10 degress but no distortion, despite not using any heat. I wanted to try the sand thing but heard horror stories about shit exploding. Were you squeezing your ass cheeks while heating the pipe? Bars look kickass, I gotta get me one of those tapping rigs for my lathe!
     
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  10. gearsmithy

    gearsmithy Active Member

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    My first attempt hell yeah... I was soo nervous I probably could've bent up a whole 'nother set of bars in my ass crack. Just make sure you bake the hell outta that sand. it should be bone dry, and you'll be able to tell when it's ready.
     
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