The Modern Throwback: David Wages

The Modern Throwback: David Wages

When I consider the great many custom frame builders I’ve encountered over the nearly 30 years I’ve been writing about these artisans, there’s a short list of builders who qualify for that upper echelon of masters. Sure, Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle start that list. It also includes Mark DiNucci, Chris Bishop, Dave Kirk, Mark Nobilette and Steve Rex. The list of retired or deceased builders who used to be on this list is beyond tragic: Albert Eisentraut, Bruce Gordon and Glenn Erickson are just a start.

All that said, one of the most gifted builders I’ve ever encountered is David Wages. As I noted in my episode of The Pull in which I interviewed him, Wages has a pedigree I don’t think another builder on the planet can lay claim to: He worked for Serotta Competition Cycles and then went on to build for Waterford Precision Cycles before striking out on his own.

While at Waterford, he built a bike for a client that recalled an Ephgrave he owned. Les Ephgrave built under his name for 20 years, from 1948 to ’68 and was known for cutting lugs with ornate curls and windows. To my eye, Ephgrave was a better builder than the much better known Ron Cooper, so being asked to evoke such a master was no small matter for Wages.

Complicating matters was the fact that the client asked Waterford to produce the bike in stainless steel. Builders who have worked in stainless tell me that everything about stainless steel is a challenge. It’s more to weld, more difficult to cold-set and more difficult to cut and file lugs cast from the material. It’s not log-scale more difficult, but it is a temple-rubbing complication.

I’m going to let David explain the images himself:

I started work with these three pictures, and I knew I had my work cut out for me…

Lots of tiny ornate cutouts.

Even the seat stays had a little lollipop thing brazed onto them! (apparently Ephgrave ran a metal stamping company and these were leftover bits that they re-used on the bikes!)

Not only would our lugs need to follow the Ephgrave pattern, our customer wanted polished stainless as well, so we started by making some blank lugs from stainless tubing.

We added a socket onto an exiting Pacenti stainless seat lug which provided for the seat binder bolt.

First, I had to finish down the welds to make them look seamless like a cast lug.

And then the carving began. For the head lugs, I just left them attached to the long piece of tubing we’d used for the head tube part of the lug, I made working on them much easier and no need for a lug vise. The longer I worked on this set, the more I came to admire the design, all the elements started to flow from one to the next and I started to realize the true genius of this pattern.

One I had the top tube lug finished, I cut it off, slid it onto a piece of head tube stock and then slid that into the down tube lug for a visual of the finished product.

After I was finished carving, I mocked the lugs up on this tiny tubeset for a picture.

Lots of hours in all those windows, curves and swirls….

Can’t forget the fork crown!

After brazing and finishing.

We painted the bike black with a red pearl clearcoat, the picture hardly does it justice, but in the sun it just glowed. Sadlly, this is the only pic I have of the finished bike, but it was a stunner!
Now that you’ve seen each of the images, I encourage you to compare the first image of the Ephgrave with the finished Waterford, as well as the second image of the Ephgrave with the photos of the mini frame and the closeup of the fork crown. You’ll see that the proportions of the points and curls are slightly different from the original. Some of this owes to Wages having more real estate to work with by virtue of the fact that he was working with larger diameter tubes (a 1.125-inch head tube vs. a 1-inch, for instance), but he also took some liberties that weren’t forced by the tubing, such as the longer front points on the head tube, which it could accommodate due to the large size of the frame.
When I asked Wages how he managed to maintain good proportions and symmetry he said he scribed lines with his caliper and relied on his eye beyond that.
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  1. Michael

    Your comment about Ephgrave compared to Ron Cooper is unjustified and somewhat indignant.

    Ron’s work at Gillott was every bit as good as Les and his brother ever did. You might be basing your unfair swipe on some of Ron’s more simple work in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. The market had changed and unmerciful downward price pressures led many builders to simplify their models in those times. The workmanship on his frames was always very good, and comparing a typical 1970’s frame to an Ephgrave is like comparing Apples to Oranges, as is said.

    Otherwise you did a very nice job showcasing Dave Wages amazing work, and thank you for that !

  2. Kimball

    Beautiful even if we ignore, for a moment, that it is stainless steel. I’m just a ‘do it yourselfer’ but have on occasion made some crude items out of SST and its impressively hard to cut, bend, and drill. I’d love to see some pics of the grinders, dremels, files, and other tools he uses to carve these amazing lugs! Major kudos!

  3. Alanm9

    Does anyone know if Steve Rex is ok and still building? I sent an email to the address on his website but got a bounceback.

    1. Steve Schubauer

      Steve Rex is alive, well and still producing beautiful work. And he lives just down the road from me, saw him at Home Depot last week (mask and all!) Call him, he will answer!

    2. Alanm9

      Before I could call him he emailed me. I sent my deposit and we planned a phonecall Monday. Thanks Steve and Patrick. My first custom build and not even for me, its for my wife. Here we go!

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