Sitting in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee with the Drapers conjures an image of the real “down home” hospitality and hard working values that made this country great. Everywhere you look in the house and the shop is something handmade. The kitchen cabinets, furniture, and the shop equipment were all built or improved by Mike. The Drapers are part of a traditional community of custom knife makers who are willing to share knowledge and time to beginning knife makers. None of the protectiveness we see in business today is evident in this culture. Mike and Audra have both spent many hours with some of the greats in this industry like Ken Onion, and Wayne Goddard who willingly share their knowledge. The Drapers now too have classes they market for people who want to learn knife making, but also have many protégés who hang around the shop and pick up tips.
Audra was always a “crafty” person. In 1992, she took a big step and started learning to make hand crafted knives. After learning her craft Audra became a Master Blade Smith which has stringent requirements to develop a cutting knife that can also be bent 90 degrees without breaking. Don’t try this at home! She tends to focus on fix blade Damascus knives which are quite beautiful. Audra is also working on her RN degree and hopes to get a job in the future where she can work part time and then be a bit more free to be more creative than the customer driven projects allow her to be now.
Mike had a back injury in 2000. He has a mechanic background and can pretty much make anything that he sets his mind to. Mike went to the state for help to get started in knives but they were not quite sure this was a “real” business. Audra produced her business records to help prove that it is. Mike now makes folding knives and even has a new one he is about to license to a knife company to remarket.
The big challenge now is whether to scale the business up or not. Mike sees that other custom makers have brought in more automated equipment and started manufacturing more volume. He also sees that they become slaves to the business and is not quite sure he wants that tradeoff.
They are both humble and claim they are not good about marketing but display some real savvy in keeping their name in front of these high end consumers. Mike is active on knife forums on the internet. They are both teaching classes and bringing new people to their craft. They have many awards and attend the big shows like the Blade Show in Atlanta. They also understand relationships with their customer and pay attention to those who might have an interest in their product or knife making . During one of their classes, a group of jewelry makers were in attendance and wanted to make a Damascus Chasing Hammer. Mike had never done it, but they went to work and he made a quick die for the forge and they worked it out during the class. I am sure he did not make any extra on that but it will probably come back to him in the future. Like I said, old school values and hospitality along with a refreshing since of customer service!
You can find them on line at http://draperknives.info/ or reach via email at email@example.com