After roughly a year of delays, the WMT 2500 Router Plane is coming back into production. We were just able to squeak out a small run of routers for Handworks last weekend and they sold out in a matter of hours. The information that follows is a brief account of what we’ve been up to for the past year and when routers will be available for purchase again on our website.
As many of you know, we’ve been finished with our router design for some time, but casting issues have prevented us from scaling up production. We had to scrap roughly 1/3 of our first production run due to cosmetic defects (pits in the castings) and hoped we could simply talk to the foundry, tweak a few things, and be back in business. That was not the case. The foundry tried to work with us, but it took weeks for them to change their parameters and pour a test batch. When the new parts finally arrived, they were often times worse than before (scrap). This cycle repeated itself several times (more scrap). We learned a lot of the finer points about casting during this time and it became more and more obvious that this foundry wasn’t going to be able to meet our needs. The result was a lot of wasted cash, a lot of lost time, and ultimately a new foundry.
When we switched to a new foundry we started to make some headway, but few people pour manganese bronze these days and this new foundry had to come up a learning curve as well. We changed the patterns several times and adjusted the casting process as well. It took several iterations (again, more lost time and money) but at least we were seeing improvements. The surface quality of the castings is smoother, the letters are more clear, and the pitting has been nearly eliminated. That brings us up to about a month ago. We got our latest batch of routers in and started getting them ready for Handworks. After machining, polishing, and lapping, the only pitting we see is small and restricted to the sole of the plane. The top surfaces are clean and the pits aren’t nearly as large as they used to be. The images below are examples of what we’re getting at this point.
So here’s where we stand today. Casting perfect parts is tough. Casting them in mag-bronze is very tough. This may be as good as we can ever get our castings and if that’s the case, we can live with that at this point. None of our customers have balked at the castings when they see them, the usual reaction is something like, “Is that all?” And if we have to choose between selling them with tiny pits in the sole or not selling them at all, we’re ready to sell them and stand behind that decision. In a way, to scrap every tool with a minor pit would be like throwing out every board in your shop with a bit of grain reversal or a knot. It just happens sometimes and that shouldn’t automatically mean it becomes scrap. Having said that, we’re not going to stop trying to improve them any way we can. We still have some minor things to try, maybe we can reduce the pitting further or eliminate it entirely, but maybe not. Either way, we’re moving forward and ramping up production again.
In the meantime, we haven’t sat around twiddling our thumbs for the past year waiting for good castings. We have already designed and released our set of Compass Guides and have prototypes of our WMT No. 25 Router which we had for people to try out at Handworks (you can see it on our bench in the photo below). The small router has a few little tricks up its sleeve, but we’ll get into that when it gets closer to the release, probably 2-3 months from now.
Finally, when can you order a No. 2500 router off our site? Likely in just a few months. After Handworks wiped out our inventory we’ve come back and ordered another batch of castings. Our plan for now is to upload around 30 routers a month onto our site, when they sell out, they’re gone for the month. But a month later another 30 will go on the site. This will help us deliver consistently each month rather than take on a large number of sales and then have to stop order-taking the site down for months at a time. As the foundry gets more consistent and we have more confidence in our process we can order larger batches and start getting 40 or 50 routers up each month, but we’re going to walk before we run based on how the last year has gone.
So hopefully that helps people understand what’s been going on. We’re not a foundry and this issue has been frustrating and largely out of our control. Finding the right people to work with can take time, but at least we’re nearly through it and for that we are grateful. We look forward to putting these tools in the hands of more woodworkers soon and greatly appreciate everyone’s support and patience in the matter.
Until next time, have a great day.