We study the interface between carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and surface-deposited titanium using electron microscopy and photoemission spectroscopy, supported by density functional calculations. Charge transfer from the Ti atoms to the nanotube and carbide formation is observed at the interface which indicates strong interaction. Nevertheless, the presence of oxygen between the Ti and the CNTs significantly weakens the Ti–CNT interaction. Ti atoms at the surface will preferentially bond to oxygenated sites. Potential sources of oxygen impurities are examined, namely oxygen from any residual atmosphere and pre-existing oxygen impurities on the nanotube surface, which we enhance through oxygen plasma surface pre-treatment. Variation in literature data concerning Ohmic contacts between Ti and carbon nanotubes is explained via sample pre-treatment and differing vacuum levels, and we suggest improved treatment routes for reliable Schottky barrier-free Ti–nanotube contact formation.