Robert Sorby of Sheffield is one of the world’s premier manufacturer of specialist hand woodworking tools, with a heritage dating back more than 200 years. During that time the company has developed a global reputation for manufacturing the highest quality edge tools.

Employing some of the finest craftsman, many with over 25 years experience, Robert Sorby uses a combination of both traditional skills and the latest manufacturing technology. This is highlighted by the recent investment in a Intorex CNC-controlled automatic lathe for the production of the wooden tool handles.

Until the installation of the new lathe, all the handles were being produced on an old rotary knife lathe which worked well, but was very time consuming to set up. In addition, given the nature of how this type of machine works, it could only be used by the most skilled operators.

In all, Sorby produce over 30 different designs of handle, made mainly from American Ash and also some from Box wood. To try and reduce set up times and de-skill the operation, managing director, Phil Proctor, decided to look at what alternative machines could meet its requirements.

Following on from some detailed research, he contacted JJ Smith, which is the exclusive UK agent for Intorex. After several meetings to discuss what type of machines were available, it became clear to Phil that moving to a CNC-controlled lathe was the way to go.

He could see that this type of machine would offer significantly reduced set up times, in some cases just a couple of minutes, with the change over process also being much simpler and safer than the rotary knife lathe.

However, the two other critical factors that needed to be satisfied were production output, and most importantly, quality and accuracy. 

As a result, timber blanks and samples were sent over to Intorex so they could make some tests on a CKX CNC lathe. All the turned samples were returned to Sorby, with detailed timings and also a video of the machine in operation producing the components.

After close inspection of the turned handles and reviewing the timings, which in some cases were as little as 20 seconds per piece, Phil decided to progress matters further and a detailed machine specification was discussed and agreed with Guy Stanley from JJ Smith. 

The specified machine was an Intorex CKX 600 CNC lathe with automatic hopper feed loader, three V-point cutting gouges, two of which are CNC-controlled, rear hydraulic dowel knife units controlled through the program  and variable programable spindle speeds via a torque inverter.

As some of the tool handles also have an octagonal design, an optional milling head – which can also be controlled through the CNC program – was suggested. In addition the lathe was to be equipped with a lateral internal conveyor belt for automatic ejection of the turned components at the end of the machine.

The dedicated intorEDIT design software is supplied as standard with the facility to create programs either directly on the machine or on a remote PC/ laptop with transfer of the data via USB key.

A capex application was put forward to purchase the machine and an order confirmed in late August last year.

Prior to final shipment in December, Phil and his lathe operator, Pete Angus, accompanied by Guy Stanley visited the Intorex factory for final inspection testing. The machine was set up to produce a variety of different design handles along with an initial teach-in on the software.

Phil Proctor comments: “Intorex looked after us very well and took time explaining every aspect of the machine operation and also using the intorEDIT software which was very user-friendly. 

“The actual testing went very smoothly and we were delighted with end results in terms of quality, set up times and  production output. In addition the machine offers the operator a much higher level of safety when compared to the old rotary knife machine which is another important factor.”

The machine was delivered on time with commissioning and training carried out by Intorex and JJ Smith technicians and it has now been in operation since the start of the year.

Phil adds: “You can tell it is a quality piece of equipment with a very high standard of build quality and since it has been installed we have been more than satisfied with its performance. Also it has been a pleasure to work with both Intorex and JJ Smith who have been very professional in their approach from the outset.”