So what exactly do you think Sergio, Suffolk’s Man of Steel, does?
- Credit: Archant
His ancestor wrote the words for Peru’s national anthem, would you believe? (Though that’s nothing to do with Sergio’s cottage industry in the countryside near Stowmarket...)
He was born in Peru and enjoyed a cosmopolitan life that took him to Massachusetts, Madrid, Portugal and back to Spain, but it was almost written in the stars that Sergio Muelle would pitch up in East Anglia.
“The curious thing is – since I don’t know when… early childhood – I had this thing about Suffolk,” he explains. “I don’t even know when I heard of Suffolk for the first time, but I kind of think it was (through) The Hundred and One Dalmatians.”
That’s the 1956 novel by Dodie Smith that Disney later made into a film. The author had lived in Essex and would travel in her white Rolls Royce across the border to Sudbury to do her shopping and banking.
“At some point in the film, when the puppies get stolen and the dogs are barking across the country to find out where they are, the Colonel (an Old English sheepdog) says ‘Oh, oh, they’ve been kidnapped. They’re somewhere in deepest Suffolk.’ So Cruella de Vil’s place (the mastermind dreaming of a spotted fur coat) is in Suffolk, somewhere… That’s stuck with me. When we came to the UK, my thing was to live in Suffolk.”
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It was 2000 when Sergio moved from Spain to work as a farrier in the Newmarket area, though home for him, his wife and two young daughters was actually just over the border in Cambridgeshire. Nowadays, though, he most definitely is in Suffolk – ideally placed in the countryside near Stowmarket and yet not much more than a dozen miles from Norfolk.
Today, a 200-year-old wooden barn once used for threshing and the storage of grain is home to his craft enterprise. There – with hammer, anvil, forge (could be as hot as 1,200C), ingenuity and TLC – he makes by hand a range of knives: from small ones costing about £60 to knives with Damascus blades that are ornately-patterned, hammer-welded and formed of multiple layers of metal. (At least 40 to 50 layers; sometimes 300 to 500.)
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Damascus-blade knives might cost £180 or £220, and take 30 hours to make.
Twisted Horseshoe Knives launched after his career as a farrier bowed to the passage of time and human biology. The job had seen him care for racing industry thoroughbreds, including contenders for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and provided a very good living. But it’s a physical way of life that extracts a price on the body from holding the leg of a fidgety horse between your knees and thighs as you work on its hoof.
“My knees were beginning to surrender,” he recalls. “You live in pain. No two ways about it.”
His hobby of making knives provided his new direction, and business.
Sergio makes his knives from high-carbon steel, which he says gives the best-quality blades: easy to sharpen and retaining the cutting edge for longer.
He also strives to recycle as much metal as possible, explaining that old files, farriers’ rasps, springs, and bandsaw and milling blades can be made of high-carbon steel. Similarly, handles are made with recycled or recovered hardwood.
And get this: some of the recycled brass he uses for guards, ferrules (the ring between blade and handle) and pommels (round knob on the end of the handle) comes from melting-down figurines he picks up at car boot sales.
There’s yet more. He also melts snippets of bronze and brass from the Viking and Anglo-Saxon periods that he’s been given, and reuses the metal.
These small pieces, he says, are ones that are of no interest to archaeologists or museums. But, like me, he feels a sense of magic in touching something another person was using many centuries ago. “To have that in the ferrule of your knife is just a beautiful thing,” says Sergio, who also points out some of his handiwork featuring 5,000-year-old bog oak.
Sounds like he has the soul of an artist... Well, he demurs, craftsmanship is art applied for a pragmatic and practical reason.
“The knife has first of all to cut and perform as a knife. Secondly, it has to be a beautiful thing. What really gets me is if someone makes a beautiful knife but you know that’s not going to be an efficient tool. Doesn’t make sense.”
He wants the business to grow at a natural pace and not become too pressurised, and dent his love for it. “When you’re young, you wonder what is the purpose of life. Later, you realise that is not the big question. It’s the path: how you get from A to B.”
Why the name?
“Some years ago I made a few letter openers, wall hooks, hoof picks and horse tieing rings out of old horseshoes for a charity auction,” Sergio says. “When I showed my wife one of the pieces I had made, she jokingly said:
‘Oh, it’s a twisted horseshoe...”
• On Peru’s national anthem, adopted
in 1821. “My great-great-grandfather (José de la Torre Ugarte) is the author
of the lyrics. He fancied himself a poet. The lyrics are the tackiest, corniest things you come across! But: a man of
• Sergio remarried in 2011 after his earlier marriage ended. The barn he’s turned into a workshop is on the family farm where wife Alexia grew up.
n Does he ever cut himself? “Er, yeah! I pinched myself the other day. I was cleaning a knife for a client and just touched the tip. I do get a bit blasé
• “I’m not in this for the money, though obviously I’m not going to give them away! I don’t have ‘a commercial view’ for this, and I love the feeling of not having that burden. It’s just a big joy.”
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