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Owning and maintaining a paint facility 

One of the largest outlays in setting up a framebuilding business is a paint facility, by that I mean to include a totally enclosed, dust free paint booth.

It is a large expense to set up and maintain, because it takes up a lot of space. It therefore it prohibits one from working out of their home, or some tiny hole-in-the wall shop. In most places you can’t spray paint in a residential neighborhood anyway. You have to own or rent space in an industrial area.

Rent is a huge overhead when running any business. It is the reason I eventually went out of business in 1993. The demand for road frames had dropped to a level where I could not generate enough income to pay the rent on a 1500 sq. ft. industrial unit.

I could have maybe squeezed into a 1000 ft. space, but the rent would not have been that much lower, plus I would have had the expense of moving, costing money I didn’t have.

My paint booth was totally enclosed, it measured 20 x 20 feet. That is 400 sq. ft. and with at least a 3-foot clear space required all around it, as a fire precaution, actual floorspace required is 676 sq. ft. You can perhaps appreciate that any space under 1500 sq. ft. for the rest of the shop would be a squeeze.

At one end of the booth was a large fan that drew the air from inside the booth and exhausted it through a 2 ft. diameter vent through the roof. The air was drawn through replaceable filters that caught the paint over-spray. Thus preventing it from being exhausted outside into the atmosphere. These filters had to be replaced every month.

At the opposite end of the booth were air intake filters. These were “Sticky” so they caught dust and prevented it from entering the booth. The booth had a partition inside, one side to hang frames waiting to be painted, the other side was where the painting took place.

The partition prevented frames waiting and those just pained, from getting over-spray on them. I also had an electric paint curing oven that baked the paint to 250 degrees. This was another essential piece of equipment, as It allowed paint to cure in less than a hour. It could then be sanded for the next coat, rather than wait a day or more for it to air dry.

Owning a similar facility with a paint booth, is also the reason why I never started up again years later when the demand for road frames picked up. My shop cost $30,000 to set up in 1983, today that figure would be closer to $100,000. Too large an initial outlay, with no guarantee I would ever see a return on the investment.

Is it essential to have a paint facility? I am often asked. The answer is no, but it was for me. Many framebuilders build frames and ship them somewhere else to be painted. But the paint job is more than half the profit in building a frame.

To me, the paint is as important as the building of the frame, and the two go hand in hand. The paint is what the customer sees, it is too significant to be left in the hands of some outside entity. I would never build frames and not have total control over painting them.

There is the cost of shipping the frames both to and from the painter, and there is also the time factor. When you have your own facility, you can handle a rush job easily. Mistakes and flaws can be fixed immediately, and even a complete strip and re-paint is not the end of the world.

The one drawback is, you have to produce enough frames to warrant the expense of owning your own paint facility. One or two frames a week won’t cut it. Initially I painted myself, but at the height of my production in the mid-1980s, it became necessary to train and employ a full-time painter. I produced as many as 30 frames a month. It was a good and profitable business.

When the demand dropped below 20 frames a month, I could lay off employees, but I still had the rent and overhead on the large industrial space. Times have changed. In the eighties if you wanted a top of the line bicycle frame, it was hand brazed, lugged steel.

Those days are gone forever, and it is the reason why builders like myself and others are no longer building frames. And really I do not need to build anymore frames, there are thousands of them still out there. They come up for sale every week on eBay and Craig’s List, many of them hardly used and still in mint condition.

Even on frames that have had a lot of use, the paint has held up well, which speaks volumes for my always having my own paint facility.


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Reader Comments (7)

Interesting insight into the business there Dave.

October 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterStephen McAteer

hi, Dave! maybe a few words, from you, regarding the ones who currently build steel frames. thank you for your blog! great as always ;-)

October 8, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMircea Andrei Ghinea

Paint makes the bike, in a lot of ways. I recall the old Winning magazine, with studio shots of various bikes - every one of them made with Columbus SL, every one of them outfitted with Campy Super Record. But the visual scheme of each was what made them so unique. Obviously, the skill of the builder was most important, but people really often bought a particular bike for the visual appeal.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterED

I know of at least one builder that only offers titanium (even though they are more than capable with steel) pretty much entirely because they don't have to paint it and indeed that the market has come to expect titanium to not be painted.

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Safonov

Is the English stove enamel different from American paints?

October 9, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDouglas Venable

The original Stove Enamel had glass powder in it and was fired in an oven hot enough to melt the glass so it fused itself to the metal, See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enamel_paint
The Imron paint I used had a chemical hardener, and did not require baking, but by baking at 250 degrees it sped up the process and would "cure" the paint much faster, rather than wait days for it to fully cure by air drying.
I intend to write a follow up article, based on the other questions here, so please keep them coming.

October 9, 2019 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

As we have 3 Dave Moulton frames in our family, father, son and grandson, I’d like to chime in and say that the quality of your paint jobs equaled the quality of your construction in every way. I still ride as my daily training bike my 1986 Fuso with the original paint. With exception of a few chips here and there, it still polishes up as pristine as it did the day I first took it out of the box when it was delivered to me.
Thanks for your skills, talents and commitment to quality that have lasted a lifetime of pleasure and good riding.

October 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBernie R

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