Photo by Nao Tomii
Can you Clear Coat Raw Metal?
“Ooooh. Wowwww. So pretty! Can’t we just put a clear coat on it?”
This is what came out of Lauren’s mouth when I showed her photos of her Icarus Porteur. What came next was a very simple conversation that many frame builders have with their clients on why this isn’t a good idea. We’ll use this photo from Tomii Cycles as an example, only because it’s the most recent, clean fillet photo I’ve seen on my Flickr feed.
Why it’s a Bad Choice
I’ve heard just about every frame builder complain about the double-edged sword that is fine fillet brazing. With social media becoming a powerful tool for builders, they expose a precious part of their process: bare fillets. If you’re a master at finishing, you take pride in your pinhole-free, smooth fillets. They’re evidence of a lot of precise work and while they look great raw, they need to be painted.
Why? Oxidation. Rust destroys steel and the only thing that keeps it from forming is a primer. If you simply clear-coated or clear powdered a frame, it would rust. Even in a matter of weeks it would be present. For the longevity of a steel frame’s lifespan, it needs to be properly primed and painted. Don’t forget to Frame Saver, either!
In order to protect your bike frame, you must use a primer. This allows the paint to adhere correctly and protects the raw steel from oxidation. Without primer, the frame will eventually rust under the paint. Or in this case, under the clear coat.
Why Clear Coat in the First Place?
“But what about those fillets? You can’t cover them up!” Well, good fillets and good paint go hand in hand. You can cover bad fillets with good paint but they’ll look like shit. If your fillets aren’t smooth, or show the profile of mis-mitered tubes, paint will not cover that up. You don’t see the bad fillets being macro photographed now, do you?
A good builder doesn’t need to use filler and painters love them for it. It makes their job easier and the paintwork shows. Simply rub your finger over a fine fillet braze to feel the difference. Or watch the light reflect off the paint as it coats the shorelines. The best thing for an immaculately-finished fillet frame is a great coat of paint.
While Lauren was initially a bit bummed that her pretty, raw frame would be covered with paint, after explaining this, she understood. Especially after I showed her examples of exceptional paint covering exceptional fillets. So as a public service announcement for your builder, don’t even bother bringing this up! I’m sure they’d rather save their energy to discuss paint options with you.