So you think you have what it takes to build your own custom frame? You’ve got a welder, some handtools, a couple of metal-cutting devices, and tons motivation. This is not a task that a novice welder should take on, but rather someone with intermediate to expert fabrication skills. Nor would I suggest that you try this by yourself because it is a very large project.
I started off already having my Fatman front suspension and rear CPP trailing arms already adapted to the stock chassis. So some of the hard parts were already completed. Now the only question was what to do on the center of the chassis? A simple transmission crossmember was not going to handle all the abuse and I have now gone to the point of no return thinking about purchasing a chassis.
So let’s talk about structure and crossbracing. You can add metal all day long to your frame, but if it’s not going to strengthen the chassis you are doing just that – adding metal. And when adding metal you are adding weight that slows the truck’s overall performance down. Performance like ¼-mile times, stopping, handling, and fuel mileage can be highly reduced from adding too much weight. But all the above, except fuel mileage, can easily be improved by adding the right structure to the stock frame.
Think of Triangles
Every stock truck frame is a basic rectangle with crossmembers running crosswise to help hold weight and support the frame from twisting and or flexing beyond repair. Now think about a bicycle frame, see any squares? Nope, me either. Now look at a metal bridge or anything that is engineered to hold weight lengthwise. Did you notice that the bike frame, bridge, or other structure all had small triangles within the main structure?
Triangles, unlike squares or rectangles, are able to withstand more force because in order to deform a triangle you need to compress or stretch its sides and that is not easy to do. So in a nutshell, by adding triangles to your stock rectangle-shaped frame you are adding strength or the ability to support the extras. By extras I mean engines that make over 250 hp, big brakes such as Wilwoods six-piston calipers, and suspension components such as CPP trailing arms, and Fatman IFS.
Now I’m not saying you will have to go to the lengths that I am to get a great all-around performing pickup. In fact Total Cost Involved, Roadster Shop, Morrison Enterprises, and Fatman Fabrications have all proven that it is about where you place the crossmembers, bracing, and suspension that makes the vehicle perform.
Difference in DIY or Purchased?
The only major difference in attempting to build your stock frame is that you have a ton of work ahead of you if you attempt to do it yourself. Another thing to think about is if your frame is in great condition? All the others listed above are using brand-new steel and computer-generated CAD or Solid Works drawings that not only help strengthen the weakened areas, but can also save weight where I thought I may have needed to add it. I would also say that in no way could I ever compete against the craftsmanship of an established frame manufacturer. They simply can make a better finished product.
Cost and Effect, or Catch 22?
You may already have a welder that takes a huge chunk out of the budget, but what about the other tools like cutters, grinders, and consumables? Sanding discs, MIG wire, TIG rod, gas, electricity, metal, labor, and friends’ labor (beer) – and that’s if you’re not paying for any other form of labor. I’m sure I forgot something, oh yeah, what about time away from your girlfriend, friends, or family? I spent a lot of time getting everything ready and working on the frame and that doesn’t include all the time John and RJ donated.
What about if I purchase a new frame? Then I would take state laws into consideration. The DMV, CHP, or local police department could provide info on the fee for titling the new frame. I couldn’t begin to explain how to do that because every state is different and you may or may not have any extra titling issues. Check with your local DMV, law enforcement, or SEMA for further information.