A Visit to the Titman Factory archive
Tuesday 13 November 2012
Simon Frost takes us on a tour of the Titman factory in Essex to see how their esteemed tip tools are made
Router special or not, you can scarcely turn a page on any issue of WPP without seeing one in action. It's an affordable, versatile, in a word - essential - piece of kit which no woodworker's workshop should be without; but without that bit of sharp metal which protrudes from it, it's about as useful as a chocolate teapot. The legendary British company Titman are soon to celebrate their 40th year manufacturing what have been described as 'The Rolls-Royce of router cutters', so we jumped at the opportunity to visit their factory in Clacton-on-Sea to get a first-hand look at what goes into a Titman cutter.
Shaking it up"When I came in two years ago, there was a stagnant feel to the business," explains Product Line Director and Head of Sales, Martin Newnham - it could be said that in recent years Titman had somewhat dropped under the radar. But Titman never stopped producing cutters of the highest quality, and with Newnham at the helm, the company are rebuilding their presence as a leading manufacturer. "We want people to know we're not little Titman, we're big Titman!" Martin is a former City & Guilds qualified carpenter with ten yearsâ€™ experience in the trade before moving on to posts in management, and his passion and knowledge are clear from the start. "The guy running the company should know everything about the product" he says, and as we moved from machine to machine his comprehensive knowledge of the process confirmed his hands-on mentality.
We donned our safety goggles and made our way to the factory floor, where Martin pointed out impressively that of the 43 employees - which still includes one member of the Titman family - the average tenure of a current Titman employee stands at 20 years.
Tough stuffThe high-carbon British steel used for the cutter shanks is a tough yet ductile alloy, which allows a level of flexibility and of heavy use by the day-to-day user above that of solid carbide. It is cut to length and put into loaders before the body shape is turned, and then moved on to the milling machine to have the slots put in. A brand new Biglia CNC machine - a £300,000 investment which has 165 Fanuc-coded programs written into it, using 46 different tool turrets - is capable of turning, milling, drilling and tip cutting for many of Titman's cutters.
There are 6,000 different cutters in the Titman catalogue, and of those sold, Titman has a 0.001% rate of returns, the sort of figure which is practically unheard of in manufacture, and speaks volumes of their attention to perfection - each model of cutter is tested on 2,500 metres of wood. The variation of old and new machines is invaluable as it allows them flexibility of manufacture; special cutters currently account for 10% of Titman's business, and they gladly make special cutters to order in any quantity. These capabilities link in strongly with the cutting technology that goes into all Titman cutters, old and new.
Brazed by handTitman source the highest possible grade of tungsten carbide from Total Carbide, and they can use this source to try new combinations of metals. Tungsten carbide tips must be extremely clean before being brazed to the cutter, so the next stage after the tip has been turned is sandblasting. The tungsten carbide tips and steel cutters are then heated and brazed together by hand using a tri-metal alloy with a lower melting point. Once cooled, the resultant excess bonding agent is removed by another bout of sandblasting, before re-polishing.
The next stage is to grind the tip; standard cutters are sharpened in large numbers in a CNC machine, which is also used for cutters sent back for resharpening - the signature slot in Titman cutter shanks is present for this reason, with the slot being used to line the cutter up precisely for sharpening. After more sandblasting, the flute of each cutter is hand painted in Titman's signature red, and the electro-chemical painted logo added to the shank. The reason the flute is painted by hand is due to the oil-based coolant used in the grinding process, which would strip the paint from the rest of the cutter if they were painted in a dipping process. The finished cutters are then packaged and ready to go.
The aim of Titman now is to return to its former size and prominence in the industry, and having seen the expertise and passion that goes into the manufacture, it's plain to see that Titman is a company on the up.