Have you bought a product thinking it will solve the problem you have, only to find out it was manufactured poorly and breaks during its first use? Frustration and anger abounded after Graeson Fehr saved all his money when he was young to buy a camping knife, only to have it fall apart when he worked with it the first time. Inspired to make something better, Graeson used the metalworking skills he learned while in high school to forge a knife so well that it sliced through that poorly manufactured broken knife! With this newfound passion, he started forging more knives, and in 2019, Graeson incorporated Fehr Forgeworks.
In January of 2020, Graeson was introduced to the largest non-profit publicly accessible fabrication lab in North America, the North Forge Fabrication Lab (FabLab™). A knife maker friend, and FabLab member, gave him a tour and introduced him to the over $4 million of ultra-precision equipment, working spaces, and mentoring possibilities. With his mind racing with ideas and options for company expansion, Graeson quickly joined, “It really changed the way I work from doing one-off by hand projects to being able to use computer-aided manufacturing. It has been a fun, challenging experience.”
Joining the FabLab has allowed Graeson to think differently about how advanced manufacturing can positively change and grow his business. “I love the business side of things and learning manufacturing processes,” exclaimed Graeson from the comfort of his working space at the FabLab. Prior to the FabLab’s expansion, Graeson was required to work in 2 locations to accommodate his production schedule. Now, with his rented personalized space on the 1st floor, he can capitalize on his production time. Mentorship and learning opportunities have also been key to helping Fehr increase his production efficiency. He has gained experience from those who have many years of manufacturing, machine, distribution, and supply chain knowledge. Through working at the FabLab, Graeson has learned about many specialized manufacturing methods and types of raw materials that he would not have learned on his own. This information has given him the breakthrough he needed to increase his business potential. He now has the ability to work with computer-aided manufacturing to help him produce his designs quicker and more efficiently. He no longer needs to outsource templates for laser cutting. He can design quicker by iterating prototypes on various machines to find the best results, all due to becoming a member at the FabLab.
Leaning on his connections with other FabLab members had helped him pivot and decrease his margins when his supply chains became disrupted due to the pandemic. Steel became scarce, pricing stability decreased, and delivery times increased. The type of steel he needed for his ultra-sharp high-quality blades became increasingly challenging to find. Steel quotes that were once good for up to thirty, sixty, or ninety days are now only applicable for 24 hours. Delivery times that were one week morphed into three to six months. These delivery timeline changes then affected his production timelines, expanding them from one month to between three and six months. This disruption negatively affected Graeson’s bottom line, causing him to change his thought processes for Fehr Forgeworks to survive. Through his connections with FabLab members and vendors, Fehr has expanded his supply chain and now has a wide range of raw material vendors to source his materials.
Building relationships is key for Graeson. He deeply values the relationships he’s built as they have helped him learn new ways to work efficiently with the FabLab equipment, source new vendors, and conduct industry research through insightful conversations with his customers.
Fehr’s products remain valuable and safe through this first-hand research. He has developed his knives to feel like they are an extension of your arm and work long term. By connecting with each person to understand their requirements and how his products need to feel in their hands, he aptly forged knife blades, handles, and sheaths. The blades for these special orders consist of various high-quality metals such as 200 layer Damascus steel and stainless steel. Black Walnut, Manitoba Maple Burl, and Red Cocobolo are some of the more exotic wood that Fehr uses for his blade handles. From culinary to camping to hunting and skinning, he listens to each person’s industry insights and individual needs so that each of his products fits the customer, industry, and environmental requirements. “I love getting to know each customer personally. I learn exactly what the person wants and needs, then I forge their knife down to the millimetre.”