Shop Dump: Tom Ploppert


This Texas-Based Maker Has A Shop Full Of Grinders And More To Make His Traditional-Style Pocketknives

Tom Ploppert has been building knives only since 2009, but he’s made up for lost time in spades. He is a member of the South Texas Slipjoint Cartel, a group of makers who all studied under BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Bill Ruple. 

More recently Tom has been an acolyte of another legend, the late Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Tony Bose, who he credits with helping achieve a milestone in his knifemaking career: making a lockback whittler.

Not surprising given his mentors, Ploppert specializes in traditional pocketknives, both single- and multi-blades, in stag, bark ivory, and jigged bone, as well as more modern standbys such as Micarta® and carbon fiber. Blade-wise Tom works with both damascus and a variety of stainless steels and, like his mentor, his work is clean and crisp as an ironed linen sheet. He keeps his shop in similar order.

Tom Ploppert’s Tools

In addition to his big belt grinders, Ploppert also uses a Hardcore horizontal grinder and two 9-inch disc grinders—one horizontal and one vertical.

He starts off the tour with a host of grinders. 

“Like most knifemakers I have an array of equipment that I use every day,” he notes. “I guess the most-used tools and equipment are the grinders. I have three Baders, one Northern Tool and a 20-inch Burr King dedicated to grinding blades. I also use a Hardcore horizontal grinder, and two 9-inch disc grinders, one horizontal and one vertical. Something that is also important is a quality light source. I’ve changed all shop lights to LED and use Steris examination lights that show everything.

“When making slip joints things must be flat, parallel or perpendicular. My Jet surface grinder has been an invaluable piece of equipment at the shop. After heat treating with my Paragon Oven I can grind everything flat if there is any movement during the heat-treat process. I traded an old Dodge farm truck for the surface grinder. The grinder hasn’t had the first transmission issue either!

“I use a Servo precision drill press to accurately drill small holes,” he continues. “I use my Jet machining mill to drill larger holes for bushings and lanyard holes. My mill also serves to machine integral liners and cut tang reliefs in liners. Like most of the other slip-joint makers, I’m learning to use my Deckel pantograph to cut and inlay shields.

“Probably the most important and overlooked piece of equipment is my vacuum system. It is a three-phase, 5 horsepower Torit-Douglas system that will filter the air to two microns and re-circulates it back into the shop. It’s nice not losing your temperature-controlled air in the shop.”

Ribbing his mentor, Ploppert concludes, “Lastly, I believe in keeping the shop organized and clean to a high standard. I can’t work in a dirty shop like Bill Ruple’s!”

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