Why taps are my favourite tool

Rob Sutton explains his belief that there are two distinct kinds of people in the world and confesses his life-long love affair with taps.

I often remark to my children or anyone who will listen at trade events that there are only two kinds of people in the world: Cutting Tool People and everyone else. In the case of my kids (and our Marketing Manager, for that matter) they issue a despairing groan and roll their eyes up to the back of their heads.

This is not a trivial proposition – and it goes deeper! Even amongst the broader Cutting Tool Community, it’s my long-held opinion that it’s us Tap People who are the crème de la crème. On further investigation, the logic behind this highly reasonable position is both obvious and compelling (to me, at least).

Once upon a time…

My love affair with taps began at a physical level in my schooldays while working at the factory during the summer holidays. That passion continues to this day, based on the philosophical concept of value add. I am a confirmed Tap Person.

To the uninitiated, a tap is a simple tool for cutting a thread into a drilled hole. This notion belies the subtlety of these tools and their profound effect on civilisation as we know it. In fact, you can cite the invention of a standardised 55-degree thread form by Joseph Whitworth in 1841 as a defining moment in world history.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

It’s pretty safe to say that we would not be flying to London (or anywhere else) without tap thread technology for fastening parts. We might not even be sailing there in a metal ship… Look around at any mechanical device with any degree of sophistication, and you’ll find it is fastened with threads.

Form and Function

From a catalogue range perspective, the manufacture of a tap range is a logistical miracle in itself. The range of differently dimensioned blanks cover a variety of sizes and standards around the world.

Perversely, each corner of the world seems to have deliberately developed its own dimensions – commonly identified as ISO, DIN, JIS and ANSI. Each of these blanks have a 10mm tap, but with completely different dimensions. It’s actually not unlike Australia’s old railway gauge widths, where a train from one state couldn’t travel over the border – so passengers had to pile out and change trains. The taps will make a 10 mm thread, but the tap won’t fit in the holder of the collet!

Compounding this, taps have multiple thread forms with multiple geometries over four basic design types – which makes for a truly staggering possible combination of tools.

No doubt all you left brain people out there will lament that this is all highly inefficient. But to my mind, it only adds to the allure of the product. It speaks to history, culture and the evolution of the world’s mechanical genius.

Precision

It’s hard not to love a tool with a basic theoretical diameter tolerance of 10 microns that requires a gauge to assess the outcome in use. Diameter is really just a stepping off point, the tap thread form geometry is compounded by a wonderful confluence of flute helix angles, rake angles derived from multi radii flute shapes, raw material section and heat treatment and finally coatings and surface finishes.

Application

From its most basic form as a hand tool through to micron-perfect balanced production tools capable of producing volume threads in exotic alloys, tap manufacture dose border on a Black Art. (Hence Sutton Tools’ Black Magic range). The sublime subtlety of tapping leaves all other applications eating dust, as far as I’m concerned!

Happily ever after…

At Sutton Tools we produce taps, endmills, drills and a very wide variety of cutting tools. Having spent countless hours discussing the subject with other Cutting Tool People, I am completely convinced that our section of the world is ruled by Taps People.

Sadly, it’s a club that gets smaller each year as global consolidation strengthens its grip on our industry. But taps will always be our passion – and, with dedication, will always be very much alive wherever innovative, independent companies thrive.

Are you a Tap Person or a mere Cutting Tool Person? Let us know your own professional passion…

About the Author

Robert Sutton
Robert Sutton
Robert Sutton is Commercial Director at Sutton Tools, the market leader in Australia and New Zealand for cutting tools and power tool accessories. With 28 years’ experience at Sutton Tools, Robert is responsible for global sales and marketing with a strong focus on CRM and marketing automation. He established Sutton Tools Singapore, developed the Asian distribution network, and established Sutton Tools Europe – returning to Australia two years ago after four years based in Antwerp.