Forged in history
Linda Duffin meets artisan knifemaker Sergio Muelle, who’s forged a new career out of his passion for farriery, food and the ancient past. Images: Sarah Lucy Brown
“I always thought it was going to be my back,” says Sergio Muelle ruefully, “but in the end my knees surrendered.” Working as a farrier takes its toll and after years of shoeing the horses of some of the top names in racing, Sergio’s doctor told him he had to leave the job he loved. It was a bitter blow for Peruvianborn Sergio, who had abandoned veterinary medicine to take up farriery, training first in Spain, then under world-renowned Dr Simon Curtis in Newmarket.
“I had to bite that bullet,” he says. “I’ve always tried to work in something I felt passionate about. Farriery was one of those. The next thing to fall back on was food. I love food, I do all the cooking at home.” He began importing Spanish meats and charcuterie, but discovered he was better at sourcing than selling. He found a way to combine his two loves almost by accident. Living on a small Suffolk farm with his wife, Alexia, Sergio butchers his own animals. “I was annoyed with the knives I had. So I made myself some and I put them on Facebook.”
Sergio’s hobby morphed into a business, Twisted Horseshoe Knives. He makes kitchen knives in both the French and Japanese styles, as well as bushcraft knives. Each one is lovingly hand-made, often employing pattern welding, which gives the silken ripple effect most famously seen in Samurai swords.
“Back in the early Middle Ages when anything came from the East, it would inevitably pass through Damascus, so it became known as Damascus steel,” says Sergio. “Actually it came from all over the Orient. The Persians were very famous for the quality of their blades and it’s now been discovered that many Viking swords were using Persian stock. It turns out they were buying in the blanks and turning them into swords. It all originated, apparently, in what is now Sri Lanka.
“Now we’re very pampered, we just go and buy the steel in whatever grade we want. But the smith back then only had iron ore, which he had to smelt. That would drag in many impurities, so he had to work it in the forge, heating and hammering and folding. And they realised that the more they did that, it got harder. The carbon from the coal was marrying the iron and turning into steel. When we do it now it’s not because we have to, it’s because we want to, for the beauty of the blade.” Although he buys in high-carbon steel to guarantee the quality, Sergio often incorporates slivers of steel from other sources, to personalise the knives – horseshoes, cart springs, leaf springs. And as farmers are notoriously thrifty, and part of the family farm had been a US airfield during World War Two, Alexia’s family broke up the runways and salvaged the steel reinforcements. “There’s still quite a lot of
‘The Persians were very famous for the quality of their blades and it’s now been discovered that many Viking swords were using Persian stock’
that steel lying around,” Sergio grins. “So I polished some up and put a little sliver into a Damascus fold for an American client whose father had been in the UK for the D-Day Landings.” Sergio puts the same care into the rest of the knife. He makes the wooden handles from hardwood prunings, often from his own orchard. The ferrules, which separate the blade and handle, sometimes incorporate an ancient piece of East Anglian history. “A neighbour up the road gave me a big chunk of bog oak. He had it carbon dated and it’s about 5,000 years old. It came from Norfolk,” says Sergio. He has another friend who is a veteran metal detectorist and who he says has “buckets and buckets” of tiny scraps of metal, properly logged, which museums aren’t interested in, but which come from areas that might have once been Anglo Saxon or Viking settlements.
“I love the idea of having Anglo Saxon or Viking bronze in the ferrules,” says Sergio. “I melt it in with Victorian or Edwardian brass trinkets I get hold of at car boots sales - less glamorously, taps from time to time. I love all those centuries there in that little ferrule.”
Sergio Muelle of Twisted Horseshoe Knives Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN