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East Anglia Future 50

Knives hand made in Suffolk from old car springs

PUBLISHED: 11:00 03 July 2019

Bespoke kitchen and chef knife makers Tobias Ford and Max Clapson of Colbert Forge at their workshop. Picture: DAVID VINCENT

Bespoke kitchen and chef knife makers Tobias Ford and Max Clapson of Colbert Forge at their workshop. Picture: DAVID VINCENT

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Young craftsmen Tobias Ford and Max Clapson are reviving a centuries-old tradition and making bespoke knives in Suffolk.

Colbert Forge, knife maker Tobias Ford hammers hot steel, the first step toward making a bespoke chef's knife.
Picture: DAVID VINCENTColbert Forge, knife maker Tobias Ford hammers hot steel, the first step toward making a bespoke chef's knife. Picture: DAVID VINCENT

Colbert Forge, based within the community of artists at Butley Mill produces hand-made, bespoke knives for people who require something special - usually chefs or cooks.

Colbert Forge was named as a tribute to their two grandfathers, Colin and Bert, who inspired them as makers.

Max Clapson said: "I have one of my grandad's knives. He was a big influence on me."

They have built up, and made, a large collection of metal-working tools and equipment.

Suffolk artisan business Colbert Forge makes bespoke chefs' knives. This is a selection of different knives made by Tobias Ford and Max Clapson.
Picture: DAVID VINCENTSuffolk artisan business Colbert Forge makes bespoke chefs' knives. This is a selection of different knives made by Tobias Ford and Max Clapson. Picture: DAVID VINCENT

Each knife takes many hours of work, from hammering the heated metal into shape through to making bespoke handles to the customer's wishes.

They had met on the art foundation course at Suffolk New College before taking different routes through university.

Tobias said: "I started working here five years ago, sculpting and welding in steel.

"I gradually collected more tools. About four years ago we found an old forge and started firing it.

"I have always been a cook and nice knives are important but I could never afford one. I had the equipment so I thought, 'why not make one?'"

Max took a degree which included fashion and product design.

But a chance meeting with Tobias in the Cricketers pub, in Ipswich, lead to an invitation to drop in and make a knife.

He said: "I was hooked. Within weeks I had moved here and we were working together."

A single knife can take two-and-a-half days to produce. Each one is a work of art.

They will make them in a variety of shapes and styles. Many of the blades are Japanese katana style or traditional Finnish style Puukko blades.

Handles can be in a variety of materials. It all begins with fire, heating the steel billet in the forge and hammering it.

In these days when recycling is key, some of the best knives can be made from end-of-life car steel, leaf and even coil springs.

"We use a lot of salvaged steel," added Tobias.

"You can have knives made from a Land Rover leaf spring or a Mercedes coil spring."

Any specialist craft is not cheap, and a bespoke knife can cost from £250 upwards.

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