The first hands-on task I was entrusted with at Witcomb Lightweight Cycles (coffee making and errand running notwithstanding) involved files. Filing, for a framebuilder, is a way to transform a part. It’s a way to make it fit better and look more elegant. And in those times, it was also necessary because on all counts, the materials needed to be reworked before a frame could even accept them as part of the birthing process. Before one brazes or even holds a torch, developing a routine with a file – a set of files, actually – was a way for a young person to one day, in the far future, have value at the bench.
The job of a framebuilder encompasses many skills; he has to be a joiner, a metalsmith, he has to understand bicycle design, he needs to understand the working relationship between his frame and fork and the range of components a client might hang on it, and most importantly atmo, he needs to be a mediator. Taking eight pipes and all the little pieces that accompany them, the fixtures that hold them (or don’t), and the dance that occurs when metal, heat, and human nature collide – this is the acid test for each of us.
Back in 1972, the folks in London showed me how to use a file. I had already watched them use theirs for months. There’s a huge gap between the watching, the showing, and the learning. Nothing is rushed. Filing is a deliberate action using sharp tools, experience and muscle memory, and a vision of what you want when the task is complete, and then showing the whole lot who’s boss.