Sonoma man is going medieval on your mask

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When asked the ubiquitous icebreaker question in American conversation, “So, what do you do?” Luke Apker’s answer holds the ultimate in intrigue.

“I’m a master armourer.”

He spells it will a “u,” as they did in olden times, because he’s all about recreating the past. He makes chain maille and helmets right out of the 16th century. Except when he’s making prototypes for cutting-edge modern-day armor to potentially protect the police from absolutely any danger. Apker’s armour spans the centuries.

He’s also restored multi-million dollar Ferraris, including a 1991 250 GTO worth $32 million. And he handcrafted a massive copper and bronze stove hood for George Lucas’s kitchen. As a “Star Wars” fanatic, it was the ultimate opportunity. “I even signed the interior,” he said. Etched in a spot far, far inside, that Lucas will never see, but Apker will always know is in the everyday world of Darth Vader’s maker.

He’s fashioned metal gadgets worn in movies, including “Wild Wild West” and “Armageddon” and worked on the space suits and helmets in HBO’s “From Earth to the Moon” and “Apollo 11.”

He even happily repairs dinged metal musical instruments, keeping the tubas and trombones in marching bands in pristine condition. “Fixing an instrument for a kid is more satisfying than fixing a Ferrari for guy that crashed it.”

If it involves molding metal, Apker is the man. Get him talking about his work and he’ll easily hold a listening ear through two beers at a cocktail party without a boring sip.

Growing up in Southern California “I was a dorky D&D player,” he said, referring to the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy game he still plays once a week. He did well at Chaminade Prep, still crediting his education there for his math skills that are crucial to his design process. But much to his parents’ dismay, he was not interested in college once he became involved with Society for Creative Anachronism, an international organization that holds reenactments of pre-17th century European battles. Not only was he thrilled to fight as an olden-day knight, he discovered he had a true talent for fashioning the appropriate metal outfits.

“I had no goals. I was just happy to be out of high school,” he said, until he discovered SCA when he as 18 and participated in his first tournament. “It was the end of me doing anything else but that,” he said of the reenactment organization founded at UC Berkeley in 1966. He started an armour apprenticeship at Thornbird Arms, and had a knack for it from the very beginning. He still carries a key chain made of maille that was one of the first pieces he ever made.

SCA has 100,000 members and, according to Apker, 20 percent of them are armour-wearing fighters. “There are a lot of people who need armour.” And he knew how to make it. “Amour was the tech of the old days. I have made thousands of pieces.”

He worked at Thornbird until the company closed down. Then is his mid-20s, he made the jump to a different kind of metal work, restoring super-expensive automobiles at Fossil Motorsports, while still making armour for himself and friends to wear in reenactment events. He broke his fingers 16 times, every one at least once, in his reenactment fighting days.

Next he entered the film world, making armour and prop pieces for Global Effects and Rick’s Custom Props before burning out on the pressure of the hectic pace and returning to car restoration, which was what eventually brought him to Sonoma in 2001, where he worked restoring cars at Sears Point Raceway for TSR Enterprises.

Leaving “the pavement of L.A.,” he loved the Valley from the start, settling in the Springs and intending to live here for the rest of his life. He left his car career to work as a sheet metal fabricator, before having the opportunity to return to the armour world in 2011.

Now 52, he is as excited as a fanboy meeting Harrison Ford about Strata Varius, a start-up where for five years he has been making prototypes to eventually be used for sports safety for children and head-to-toe armour for police protection.

The goal is to “provide superior personal safety within the sudden chaos of extreme sports,” by creating a plastic armour. “No one wants to see kids get hurt. I want to stop that.”

The second product line would be amour that completely covers law enforcement officers in plastic armour on every square inch of their body.

“Police would be like knights in shining armour. It would invite chivalry. They would not seem like soldiers. They would be like “Star Wars” storm troopers – but friendly. You would know you can trust them and they would know they are safe.” They would look like superheroes.

He also has his own company, Apker Metalworks, and still occasionally makes old-fashioned armour. “If I’m happy, I make armour. If I’m depressed, I make armour. This is what I do no matter what.”

Hiking around the Valley, enjoying the outdoors is a favorite pastime, and he has a 45-song repertoire on karaoke night at Old Sonoma Public House. A friend got him interested in the microphone to break through the sadness of a recent divorce.

“Black Sabbath is my favorite, of course,” he said.

He writes all of his own D&D stories and avoids video games because “they have no human depth.”

He admits to being a “chatterbox” when it comes to talking about armour because he is so excited about what he is doing.

“I made my own career because I was afraid of doing something boring and normal.”

He is a success, and he is most certainly not boring.

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