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

EADT Suffolk - - Drink -

“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

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