Part of the Texas Slipjoint Cartel, Bubba Crouch shares the tools with witch he crafts his creations.
Tommy “Bubba” Crouch is a Texan through and through. In fact, he lives only minutes from Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bill Ruple, who has mentored more slip-joint knifemakers than a little bit. Crouch is one of those pupils and was also the spark in naming a merry band of talented custom makers who studied under Ruple the South Texas Slipjoint Cartel.
“Bill Ruple and I were sitting around one day in his shop and we were just talking about knives and such,” Bubba recalls. “We were talking about our bladesmithing friends in the Montana Mafia, so we came up with the name South Texas Slipjoint Cartel. It was mainly just to mess with our Montana knifemaking friends who’d formed such a group. We decided to make it an LLC. Our group has done many donation knives for charity events. It mainly consists of friends sharing techniques and better ways to do things. I have been blessed to have Bill Ruple five miles away and he has helped me tremendously. Other members sharing their knowledge have also been something that helped me personally.”
It can be truly said that Bubba is all cowboy and all hat. He grew up ranching, spent time on the competitive roping circuit, and even had a stint driving a cattle truck. He took up knifemaking in 2009 and credits his apprenticeship under Ruple as the key to where he is today.
First Crouch calls out his milling machine. “The Bridgeport Mill is an adjustable speed head that I use for milling integrals, liners, relieving liners and spinning center handle pins,” he notes. As for shop grinders, he has a plethora. “My automatic surface grinder is a Harig 618. This machine I use for bringing parts to thicknesses pre-heat treat and for clean up after heat treat. The Outlaw grinder with the Moen platen is used for grinding blades only. Both work well together,” he observes. “The Northridge grinder I use for roughing out and shaping parts.
“My green grinder is made by Enrique Pena and is a great piece of equipment. The wheel and platen flip around and the back side can be used as a loose belt. The horizontal grinder is an AMK and is a necessity for making slip joints, in my opinion.”
Last but not least on the grinder front Bubba lists his disc grinders. “My main disc setup came from Hardcore and is used on cutting in the tang on the blade and for fitting handle material into the liners,” Bubba explains. “The flat disc is homemade and used for thinning and flattening handle material.”
He has two ovens for heat treating. “My heat-treat ovens are both newer models. The Paragon Pro is a great oven that gets to tip really quickly,” he notes. “The Evenheat has been a great addition and is very accurate.”
Bubba also keeps two pantographs in his shop. “The first is an Alexander 1B that I use for inlays and cutting shields. It’s an older machine from the early 1880s,” he states. “The second pantograph is a Gorton P1-2. I use this machine for engraving my name into the blades.”
He also keeps another specialty machine for shop duty. “The Oliver drill point thinner has been converted with a table and a cupped stone to cut nail nicks in the blades,” Crouch advises, wrapping up with something no maker can do without: “The workbench came from Sam’s Wholesale Club and I have three of them—very well built for the money.”