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Welding A Chopper Frame

By Edited Feb 7, 2016 0 0

The Most Important Part Of A Chopper:

The most important part of a homemade or professionally made chopper is the frame. It  has to have the right rake, trail, proper clearance, and the welds have to be strong. Otherwise it's dangerous. 

When you build a motorcycle frame from scratch you will need to weld it properly. The welds should have good penetration. If you have poor quality welds then your frame is not going to hold up, and that can have disastrous effects.

Here is an overview of what is needed to weld a chopper frame that you can be proud of.

Welding Systems:

tig welding
There are several different types of welding systems on the market today. The selection includes Gas, MIG, TIG, wire-feed, stick, spot weld, as well as various specialty-welding systems.

The welding system you choose for motorcycle frame fabrication is not nearly as important as the skill you possess in using the equipment.

To be a good welder takes practice, practice, and more practice! However, one of the biggest factors in successful welding is preparation of the material. Your selection of a welding system may be governed by budget, but you must consider the use for which the welding system is intended.

Quality Stick Welding:

Stick Welding
Stick welding is the recommended welding technique for welding a chopper frame. The reasons are varied, but it comes down to cost, portability and availability.

There other choices are MIG and TIG welding.

TIG Welding is very good for welding tubing and it is the preferred method by many welders and bike builders. But it requires lots of practice, two hands, and the TIG systems are expensive. However, once you get good at TIG welding you won't want to weld any other way because it's very versatile.

You will discover that many top welders say you can weld a frame with a MIG welder. You'll have to see for yourself. Generally speaking, MIG is not as versatile as TIG welding.

However, stick welding is great because it's a low cost way to get quality welds. They won't be as pretty as TIG welding, and it's a little messier, but it's cheap and reliable.

All the advantage of speed from a MIG or TIG system is mostly lost on frame welding. Chopper frame welding involves generally short distances, not requiring the speed capability of the high-tech systems. Stick welding systems are affordable to the individual and small shop.

Benefits of Stick Welding:

  • The equipment is simple to operate, portable, and inexpensive.
  • The electrode provides and regulates its own flux.
  • Can be operated in all positions (vertical, horizontal or anywhere in between)
  • Less sensitive to drafts or winds than gas shielded processes.

Good Cheap Stick Welder:

A good low cost but high quality stick welder.

The Chopper Frame:

Now that you know what welding method you want to use for welding your chopper frame it's time to discuss what type of frame you want to weld.

When it comes to choppers, there's two choices: Softail, or Hardtail.

A softail chopper frame has a swing arm that has shocks or springs which gives it a softer ride. On a chopper frame the shocks or springs are usually hidden because it's not cool to have a 'bad ass' chopper with shocks. You want it to look like a hard tail.

The picture below is of a Sportster style chopper frame that is a softail design. Notice how the shocks are worked into the frame giving them a hidden appearance:

softail frame
A hardtail chopper frame (as seen below) is simply one frame with no shocks or springs (unless you have them on your seat like a bobber). This gives it a 'harder' ride. They are also known as hardtail frames:
hardtail chopper frame

Which Frame Should You Weld?

If it's your first project you should definitely build a hardtail frame first. It requires a little less work. But it's still very cool, and frankly hard tails are the old school way to ride.

Sportster Hardtail Frame Plans:

Sportster Frame Plans - 250 Tire Size - Rigid
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Feb 7, 2016)
A low cost but good set of rigid chopper frame plans in the Harley Davidson Sportster styel

Chopper Frame Welding Jig:

chopper frame jig
You must have a decent welding jig for your chopper frame project. Building a frame without one is possible but you are inviting a massive amount of frustration and potential disaster.

A welding jig is simply a took that allows you to put your parts (tubing in this case) together so that you can fit the parts together exactly the way you need them prior to welding, make sure it's fitted together properly so that when you tack weld your pieces together it's perfect the first (most of the time anyway).

What you want to achieve is a straight aligned frame that will fit the engine and drive-train. This is all much easier to do on a jig.

Welding Plans:

280 series chopper frame plans
Now that you know how you are going to weld your frame, and that you need a jig, you also need a set for drawings to follow.

You should buy a set of drawings from a good source for chopper frame plans. Don't buy from some guy on eBay. Buy from a reliable source like Custom-Choppers-Guide.com or BCC Orlando, or the Chopper Handbook site.

You can also buy frame jig blueprints and build your own jig rather than buy one for $1000 or more that may not work for your project. If you buy both sets of plans (jig and frame) from the same vendor you may be able to negotiate a discount. After all, they want to sell their plans it's not like there are millions of bike builders out there. Give it a try...

The other option is to draw your dream design on a piece of paper and hire a CAD designer with experience in motorcycle frame design and weldments. You can hire any number of these people through Craigslist, or go to a freelance website like Elance, or Guru.com.

The cheapest and easiest way to go your first time is to buy a set of drawings. You can get a good set from $30 to $69.

Good luck on your future welding project: Building A Chopper Frame!

Bobber Frame Plans:

Bobber Frame Plans - Rigid - 200 Tire Size
Amazon Price: Buy Now
(price as of Feb 7, 2016)
This is a popular design - a bobber style frame. You can also get this in a softail.

How To Build A Motorcycle Frame:



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