In a meeting of new world and old world, one might find more similarities than differences. Simplicity and functionality led me to design the iBlock. Granted it took a long while! I really burned the midnight oil on this one. I had just started going full-time with Brooklyn Butcher Blocks in 2013, and I felt like I needed something really unique and new to everybody, not just me. And the pressure was on, because in about 14 hours, I was headed to a small artisanal themed trade show in Los Angeles. Yikes! Fortunately at around 10pm, I had just happened to have my iPad sitting on top of a cutting board--not because I was testing the idea, but because I just needed a place to set the tablet--and when I looked at it from across the room, it had just clicked as something so obvious. I have to admit, I felt like a bit dense that it took me so long but I knew it was going to be a good idea. I mean, the Skimm featured it in 2015, so I suppose I wasn't too off the mark.
While I still enjoy going through a classic cookbook, I find myself surfing the web for the majority of my recipes. I was tired of my iPad always falling over on its flimsy mount (which just took up even more valuable space) while scrolling through Epicurious. Then it occurred to me: why not combine my cutting board and my tablet mount? I really wanted the look to mirror that of some tablets out there, so it has a marble like finish, and the look of the dock is straight forward and consistent. Additionally, this board is reversible. The raised back serves as a stop to keep the cutting board flush against the edge of a counter when cutting. You can see the design more clearly in the profile shot. Ah, how I love something that serves a dual purpose.
Gear Patrol and Cool Hunting have also thought this butcher block is particularly rad, among others(it spread like a wildfire on a few tumblresque design blogs). Plus it caught the eye of Playboy in Argentina. Yep, it's just that sexy.
I've long had a fascination with the American Flag, and I own about 20 or so of them myself, so I feel as though this piece is long overdue! I actually used to carry one in my wallet, folded up in classic military style. The design is a new territory for us as its design is based on a symbol as opposed to our usual "structure informs design" motif as seen with our Brick and Mortar Boards inspired from historic Brownstones. When choosing the coloration, we wanted to select woods that reflected an older, or weather worn flag. Something that stood the test of time. Something that embodies the Star-Spangled Banner and its line "Our Flag Was Still There." This notion of endurance was extended to this future heirloom to ensure that your American Flag Cutting Board would last generations.
While the first American Flag Board was end grain to help distinguish it a little bit more from what was more commonly seen out on the web, featuring more imported hardwoods like Purpleheart and Padouk (they're still FSC certified though, aka sustainably forested). In terms of determining waste and production, the end grain is a bit wasteful and tricky to just make every now and then. That's why I decided to make a long grain version, which I've actually come to prefer far more (that's just me though). When choosing woods, I thought it make more sense to select domestic woods to make it American-made through and through. Maybe we could call it Roots-to-Hands? Maybe not. The first few long grain versions had flat sides. I wanted to add a bevel or something to the edges, but it cut off the stripes on the top and bottom when you looked at them from certain angles, making it seem like a mistake. Fortunately, I found the edge for the boards, which they have now. The eye picks up on the curvature of the sides, so even though it may appear that those stripes are thinner, the mind can kind of pick up the slope. What I really love about those though is that they are a pleasure to pick up and really fit well into your hands. Lastly, the choice to keep it starless. I am typically not one for cutting corners (the only corners we cut are corners, har har) but the stars were proving to be a difficult part to produce--which is another huge reason why I decided to not make this board for years. While sifting through some college projects though, i found an old stamp I had made to serve as my signature. It was an American Flag that featured no stars. Given that, I thought it was actually quite fitting to make the board without the stars.
I wanted to Redo the "About" section of our website, but felt that the original has a place on here too. This is more of a tell-all, how I got started from the ground up take on the business. I think it's interesting, but maybe not succinct enough for an About section ;)
“SO HOW DID YOU END UP HERE?”
I consider myself a naturally born “maker.” Being hit with a spark of creativity, forging a more cohesive design, and then hammering out its details. If my life has had a theme, then this has been it.
What I’ve made through the years has varied a lot During childhood, you might have seen me making replicas of the dragon in Ruth Stiles Garrett’s My Father’s Dragon series. As the years went by, this evolved into a desire to make art. The “language” I would use in art making was highly influenced from my summers In Vermont, where I’d spend my days with my uncle and grandfather – two woodworkers and serious DIY project addicts. They introduced me to the basics of construction. With their hard work, a property from a barely inhabitable summer cottage transformed into a compound complete with a barn, a pond, an in-ground pool and two three-bay garages. Using this knowledge at Bard College, where I majored in Studio Arts, I tested my then-rudimentary construction skills by making large-scale sculptures and architectural installations.
After graduation, I gave Portland, Oregon a chance for six months before finally admitting that it wasn’t the place for me. The decision to go west wasn’t working, and as a result, neither was I. In the back of my mind, I always thought that I’d relocate to Brooklyn. Brooklyn has a vibrant creative community, so it felt like a good move. My friend Donna, who knew I was unemployed and uninspired, told me about a landmark article in the New York Times which featured young, innovative artisans living in the borough. She even highlighted a quote by noted Brooklyn knife maker and founder of Cut Brooklyn, Joel Bukiewicz, who, when asked about the new demand and supply for his products, stated that “it’s difficult keeping these guys stocked. It’s like sweeping a dirt floor.” Donna bluntly told me, “Sounds like this guy could use an assistant.” The next day I finagled a meeting with Joel, and shortly thereafter began working at Cut Brooklyn.
While apprenticing at Cut Brooklyn, I began making tangs – the part of the knife that eventually becomes the handle. I also developed a routing jig for Joel’s sayas (wooden sheaths for knives) while he oversaw the metal work. I was still pursuing art making in my spare time, but my frustration was starting to overwhelm me in my five foot ten inch basement studio (for the record, that is my height, so yes, it was very uncomfortable). I was having a hard time adjusting to New York’s confined spaces and began to think I was repeating the same mistake I made in Portland: basically, pursuing something that wasn’t bringing me any real joy or artistic satisfaction. There was still a void.
After a serious reality check, I decided I had to make some changes. I re-evaluated my life and realized that it was high time to try something new. My experience with wood in Vermont and at Bard, plus Joel’s influence as a craftsperson inspired me to turn my my low ceilinged art studio into a low ceilinged woodshop. Spending every free hour I had, I hunched over experiments, research and anything else I could get my hands on to learn more about woodworking. During this period, I made a few things, such as shelves, cabinets, tables and more. Joel had mentioned the value of end grain cutting boards months beforehand, so it felt like things had come full circle when I made my first butcher block. While I was intrigued with the ways I was able to treat, design and manipulate the wood into something both beautiful and useful, cutting boards were also a great fit because it gave me an entrance into the growing community of artisans. Enter Brooklyn Butcher Blocks.
I began attending markets, and as orders kept coming in and the buzz about the products grew, I realized that I would be a better help to both Joel and myself by going out on my own. I’m no metal worker, but I could still be a voice for Cut Brooklyn while promoting my own wares. Since then, I’ve been humbled and fortunate enough to appear in the New York Times, Tasting Table, Bon Appetit, New York Magazine and to have been recommended by Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods.
So far, it’s been an interesting ride, and I’m excited about what’s to come. And even though my toys and tools have improved, in many ways, I’m still that kid drawing and hammering, excited to keep working.
It's been a good 4 plus years since I've added an update, so I think I'll continue the original post here. Since this About was written in 2012, we have done a lot. In 2013 I relocated to Industry City, prior to its recent renovation. It was also the year that I went Full Time at Brooklyn Butcher Blocks, in part because my part time position with an artist was relocating to Los Angeles. It was scary, honestly, as I was equity financed, and it was everything I had saved from the years prior. This was for rent, rent security, and about $3500 in new equipment. Yikes! I ultimately decided it was worth giving it a go, for real. Fortunately, I held my own that year and then some. We got some help in the shop in the form of Julia and then Theo.
2014 was pretty incredible. I saw a clear interest in custom work and that has ended up becoming about 50% of the business. Plus we were starting to work with some of the finest restaurants, meeting some chefs who were really well-respected in their communities. Brooklyn Butcher Blocks was becoming a name in those circles. What's more is that I was aggressively trying to make sales, traveling to Los Angeles a couple times a year for a couple shows. 2014 was also the year that we were featured prominently in Esquire before the holidays, thanks to Bespoke Post who we would end up working with to a much larger extent the following year. That December was probably the single biggest month for sales made directly onto our website; we made over 500 pieces in those 5 weeks, granted it took 9 people and 14 hour days every day. No weekends, at all. Sorry I lied, I had one 9 hour day. If you ever wonder why it can be tough to get a hold of me, that's why.
2015 was vindication that what I was doing was starting to work. I traveled more than ever before, going to Austin, LA, Chicago, New Jersey and-I actually forget. At least a few people at every city had heard of our brand or recognized it. Unreal! I was perhaps most flattered when I went to 2nd Bar+Kitchen. I had just gotten done with the event and I wanted to see what fine dining was like in Austin. I wasn't dressed for the part though, with one of our Brooklyn Butcher Blocks pun T-shirts on. Regardless I thought it was worth a shot and the worst of it would be that they'd turn me away. How wrong I was! Instead, the hostess said the name outloud. At first, I thought she was just reading the shirt aloud like how people do signs, but her tone indicated otherwise.
"Do you work for them?"
"Because my husband, a chef here, is a big fan of their work."
'Oh, well, actually, I'm the owner.'
It was surreal, random and beautiful for me. I suppose I might just be easy to make blush. 2015 closed out with a bang. First, in the fall, we worked with Bespoke Post and sold 8,000 cutting boards through them in one of their gift boxes. While sales made directly on our site were more like 2013 than 2014, we collaborated with MadeClose and TheSkimm and sold 585 iBlocks.
2016 was a shift. The first half of last year was unprecedentedly busy for the first and second quarter of the year, but Summer was the slowest its ever been. It wasn't all bad though, as this had me branch out into cabinetry a bit. I'm glad I did, it acquainted me with a few new skills. Fall also was slow to recover, and what's worse is that few people from the press reached out, which meant we had no big features to carry us through Christmas. Fortunately, I've been aware that we've been lucky, and as a result, 2016 was the year of research and execution of marketing. I'm no guru, but we successfully sold all 200 of our Father's Day Boxes, featuring meat from Ends Meat and Zieba Knives. Then come Christmas, I went full-throttle pushing our wares and managed to keep sales in the same ballpark as years prior. 2016 was also the year to reflect on the promise of wholesale accounts, and something we expect to be a larger aspect of our business this year. I've did a lot of research last year, and I learned a lot. I'm excited to executing it and seeing the results!
On this date, January 6th 2017, we have easily put over 12,000 Brooklyn Butcher Blocks butcher blocks into lovely homes, and that's not including custom work. I look forward to the challenges of this new year. Cheers!
Oh man, and I didn't even get to telling you about some of the classes we did last year! Well, you'll probably get to learn about them plenty this year.
You're probably familiar with perusing your kitchen store or clicking through various websites and seeing End Grain Cutting Boards (what's End Grain?). My guess is that you've either seen the checkerboard pattern or the random nonpattern. And if you take a look at our End Grain cutting boards, you'll see that we predominantly use a Brickwork Pattern (though we also do End Grain square patterns!).
Despite what some may think, this isn't just an aesthetic decision. First lets go over what's the issue with checkerboard patterns. The glue forms a plus sign or an X sign if you prefer, and where each of those lines meet is a particularly weak spot. If you were to take a nail and place it there, it wouldn't take much force to separate with a hammer. Because our joints overlap it creates a stronger bond; one block of wood holds another two together. Makes sense, doesn't it? There's a reason why brick walls are built the way they are. This greatly reduces the probability of a split. The industry average is 3% failure, if I recall right, and Brooklyn Butcher Blocks hovers around 1%.
The idea first came to me shortly after I moved to the Brooklyn, where you see lots of brick every block (not butcher's. Sorry. Bad joke. I couldn't resist). I was working with the knife maker Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn at the time and had just started making cutting boards, but I felt like they needed some more, an extra selling point if you will. I was sitting downstairs below Joel's shop on the curb, feeling a little frustrated. Upon looking up and seeing a brick building for the bazillionth time, everything just clicked. This isn't too dissimilar from how I designed the iBlock... but that's a story for another time.
- End Grain keeps your knife sharper longer
- End Grain is more susceptible to bowing, contraction and expansion without regular treatment
- Long Grain (aka Edge or Face Grain) is very durable
- Don't buy plastic, okay? And don't cut on glass or ceramic. Chrimmety, cut on plastic before that.
So you've done your research, and you've gone into the depths of various forums and you're finding there's just too much information about something as seemingly simple as cutting boards. Well, let's expedite this for you, hm?
But before we do, let's address a common question... what's long grain? We use this term instead of edge grain or face grain. For what we're making, it doesn't make much difference and more importantly we find that edge and end just sound and look too similar for people quickly browsing the web or explaining it in person. That's why we've adopted the term Long Grain.
Okay, so what's the deal? End Grain is wherever you can see the tree rings. The other sides, that's Long Grain. The conventional wisdom is that End Grain is better for your knife's edge and Long Grain is more economical
Why? Thick of the wood fibers that make up wood like bristles on a brush. On Long Grain, it's like the brush is lying left to right, and you're chopping those fibers in half. On End Grain, you're actually cutting between the wood fibers, keeping the board sharper longer and making it easier to clean and thus more sanitary. That's all definitely true however I'd like to throw you a few situations where the answer, you'll find, really depends on your usage.
1. You cook occasionally, and even when you do, you don't necessarily use a cutting board. Generally, you'll find this kind of person has a long grain board, and it makes sense because the user only periodically uses the knife and block.
2. You cook most nights, and your knife is your best friend. Maybe you have kitchen gadgets, maybe you don't, but you know that your knife is going to do everything you need it to, and any gadgetry is just a cherry on top. Few will have a Long Grain board, and many will have an End Grain cutting board. Sorry, scratch that--you probably have multiples of each, but your End Grain is your go-to, must-have for making dinner.
3. You are a butcher and chop 8 hours a day, if not more, for 7 days a week. Like most butcher shops, you might have an end grain piece but mostly likely only one and it is about a foot or more thick. But if you check out the work surfaces in the butcher shop, you'll see that in terms of surface area, Long Grain has End Grain beat.
"But wait, why? It seems that the more serious about cooking you are, the more likely you are to own and use an End Grain butcher block?"
Up to a point, yes. But the butcher needs to sharpen their knives regardless. They're just cutting so much, that the wood grain really isn't going to change the day-to-day dullness so much so that the butcher could say, "eh, I'll skip sharpening my knife."
So it's happened... you have a cutting board, perhaps even brand new, and it has warped, it rocks on the counter, it wobbles on the table... what can you do?
First off, let's take a look at why this is happening. All of the wood we use, and most producers use, has been kiln dried which means that the moisture content has been greatly reduced. If you were to add water to just the top of this plank, you'd expect that area to expand and for the bottom to remain dry--that causes it to bow.
We flatten every cutting board before it leaves our shop, which means that the particular slab of wood has a specific moisture content at which it is flat. Alter that, and it'll develop a bow (and will likely eventually crack).
Because this is so difficult to really mitigate perfectly, we recommend stabilizing the cutting board on a dish towel. This will help hold the cutting board in place and reduce rocking. Some cupping/bowing is just part of the territory of a wooden cutting board. Why doesn't this happen to your furniture? Well, why doesn't it usually happen? Because cutting boards are regularly being exposed to a lot of moisture in a way that furniture just isn't. Y
Wait, what's that you say? but the warping so much worse? It isn't just wobbly, but it's the bottom of a rocking chair? Good News!
II. The Fix
You can actually fix this right at home. There are a few techniques but we'll only cover one here because the others involve steam and ironing and I think that'd be better demonstrated with a video.
So here's what we know: It's an issue of moisture content, right? One side is drier and the other side is wetter. Typically, the side with less moisture is the concave side. If you incrementally apply water to the concave side and do the unthinkable... leave it to soak in, that side should expand. Do it as necessary to balance it out.
III. An Anecdote of my own...
I'll end this blogpost with a little anecdote of my own from a year or so ago. We were working on a slab of end grain maple that measured 24" wide x 50" long x 4" thick. A lot of people will make the assumption that thickness wholly determines if a board will warp--nope! It's more an issue of simply going too thin. So when we're sanding our boards, we actually saturate them with water in between sandpaper grits (which determines how smooth your cutting board feels. you start coarse and go to finer grit). This raises the grain, so that way more grain is exposed, thus more of it gets sanded. If we were to skip this step, your board would feel drastically different after you washed it for the first time. Anyway, so we wet one side and let it be for 10 minutes. We came back into the shop and saw that it had bowed about an entire inch. Again, in ten minutes. Initially, I freaked out having never seen something this drastic. I calmed myself down after realizing that the board would even out once we got to the other side, and indeed it did. So the point here is: wood may seem hard or look geometric, but it's actually quite malleable in a number of respects. Remember that you're dealing with something that's practically alive, breathing (the irony of which isn't lost on me, since it is dead, afterall).
In 2011, The New Amsterdam Market was as important to my business as ever, and Robert was still as generous as ever. In 2011, I feel fairly certain that our feature in Bon Appetit would not have happened, and it is precisely because of the values of the New Amsterdam Market that we stood out. Our board was the *only* handmade board out of the bunch. There was an individuals name actually associated with the product, and people responded to that. The market also introduced me to a wide array of people of various crafts, and I learned a lot. These relationships weren't just professional, but also personal. Robert's enterprise built a true community, and while that's our natural inclination as humans to do so, Robert had the vision to bring like-minded people together. Commerce becomes community and community commerce. I noticed early on Robert's keen eye for aesthetics and form in constructing his market and I can say that the market did reach this goal for creating a community at the Seaport, an area becoming increasingly the land of tourists.*
In 2012, I had broken my foot while woodworking and my mobility was extremely limited. Robert LaValva had a project involving the creation of 60 new market tables and he pretty much came to my doorstep to discuss his plans. We discussed this multiple times throughout 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately, this never took off due to the same issues the market just finished facing. Regardless, Robert kept me in mind and was providing me with more opportunities.
*Okay, okay, technically the New Amsterdam Market was a nonprofit but you know what I mean wiseguy!
*And no hate on the tourists! We love ya and you're a part of our New York world too! It's just that, naturally, as a place caters to tourists it generally seems to cater less to the people living there and the New Amsterdam Market was a place for both camps, IMO.
Hey customer! So you want a custom piece? And you've sent me an email but you haven't filled out our custom order form? Why bother, right? Well here are a few reasons...
1) It saves us from going back and forth in email, thus saving us both time. There are things you may not even consider as factoring into cost. One thing that many people surprisingly omit is thickness.
Customer: How much for a 24x24?
BKBB: Unless you're living in Flatland, that might as well be a big fat zero
2) It saves me from going through emails.
I will admit to having avoided forms and instead started up an email conversation with a representative of a company. But now I understand by not doing so, one not only requires pretty meaningless work on the company's part, but (in our case) you also are delaying everyone else's orders by making me go through 15 email exchanges. For the record, I get about eight or so *new* emails a day. You can see how quickly this multiplies. You want your piece and I want your piece out of here ;) Hey, it's cramped here in Brooklyn! So let's speed this process up together
3) You don't even know what you want, but I do.
For example, another thing everyone fails to mention--the edge. Particularly which edges. A piece will be all done but we'll have to hold onto it for a few extra days all because I have no idea what the deal is with the edges
By all means, if you have any suggestions about how to improve our custom order form system, I would *love* to hear it. Email me at email@example.com
On another note, I am working on a blogpost that takes a look at some imrpovements we've made in the sanding portion of our shop. It should be pretty awesome, so keep your eyes peeled!
This is going to be a relatively short entry. I get asked a good deal about wood varieties, grain orientation and "what should I go with?"
Rule 1. Wood varies. Within a species, within a single tree. It just does. But in general...
Rule 2. From softest to hardest: cherry, walnut, maple. Or at least what I'm buying. While I personally prefer walnut, and while I can definitely feel the difference between a maple board an a cherry board in terms of resistance, I think that in general the distinctions between them are going to be relatively minor for you. A board that's well cared for vs one that isn't will be the main difference in your boards functionality. That said...
Rule 3. So you're just really particular and you want durability and stability? Maple. Granted, it will also be (nominally!) harder on your knife.
Rule A (Yes, I'm switching from number to letter because this one is important). End grain is better on your knives than edge grain, which I will also call long grain, simply because I think switching between saying "end" and "edge" gets a little bit confusing.
Rule B. But, in my opinion, getting a huge end grain countertop isn't the way to go, unless you really just want it for aesthetic appearances and are willing to pay for it.
*Rolls up sleeves* So, let's get real here about cost. End grain just costs a lot more to produce. First off, sanding end grain is extremely time consuming and exhaustive. Like you wouldn't even believe. I still don't believe it. Also, end grain is a bit more prone to warping--calm down! It's okay! It's not like your end grain cutting board is guaranteed to freak out. The warping I'm talking about is actually pretty minor (even *IF* it does happen) on an end grain cutting board. Part of that is because the boards thickness relative to it's width and length. My end grain boards are two inches think to provide ample surface area for gluing, creating a more stable product. But two inches of thickness for a piece that's 24 x 96? All the sudden that seems pretty skimpy and I recommend beefing that up to allow for greater surface area for the glue. Naturally, that adds to the cost. Oh, and did I mention that I have to surface this either by hand or via a ridiculous jig? It's slow work. In any event, I think you can see where I'm going here...
Edge grain, aka long grain, is a great choice for a countertop. Okay, yes, it's rougher on the knives, but take a look at a butcher shop. Very rarely do you see a butcher with a new, giant end grain chopping block. They may have one they picked up from an estate sale that's pretty sizable or they may have new long grain counters, but rarely do you see both. Why? 1. Buying something used from decades ago is usually cheaper than buying new and 2. you know it can endure because it has already endured and 3. They're chopping so frequently (at least 40 hours a week if not 60), that they have to sharpen their knives frequently anyway, so edge grain or end grain? In this instance, it probably doesn't matter. Long grain for a counter top is great because it is so utilitarian and durable.
Question 8 (I admit it, I'm making this up): So which wood would I recommend for a butcher block counter top? I say it's up to you. You just have the following to consider....
What do I color do I like?
What do I intend to use this for? Functional or ornamental? (ie-will I be cutting on this countertop or do I have a separate cutting board?)
How hard/stable do I want my piece to be, even after considering everything I've just read?
My two cents!
Oh right, I have a blog. Whoops!
This bit is a little different than the last few blog posts, because this blog post is all about story-time!
So, if you've been following me on instagram via facebook and twitter, then you know I've been working on an awesome 7 foot in diameter table for Ben Leventhal from Kitchen Surfing (quick plug: if you want a chef to come by your house on Saturday night to make food for you, your spouse and your three friends, then Kitchen Surfing is for you) and Moriah, a friend and a Brooklyn knife maker, has been welding together the legs. So, long story short: the table didn't fit up the stairs. Nope. No way. Yeah, I know, a very big oops. So, how did the members of Kitchen Surfing, Moriah and I get it up there? See the diagram below (please ignore the cutesy "My drawing" comment... it seemed really clever after getting the table upstairs and drinking some laphraiog at Lucy's Lounge to help me "recuperate")
So I kind of Macgyvered this. The table had a moving blanket attached a la truck clamps and one more truck clamp that was fastened on the bottom half of the table. From this truck clamp we tied two ropes to the left and right side of the table. These two ropes were pulled by three guys while I pushed the table up the ladder, held very steady by Moriah. Having taken on my fair share of ambitiously large sculptures and installations in undergrad, I saw this as completely feasible. I think Moriah and those at Kitchen Surfing were a bit more doubtful. Oh, and for the record: yeah, I don't recommend doing this. I'm just stubborn and once I set my mind on something, I want to make it happen. While I don't like taking on these challenges, once they are in front of me, I kind of love them. Don't worry Mom and Dad! It was a lot safer than it sounds, but I can't go ahead and endorse this method for anyone who happens to come across a blogpost.
Okay, it's late so I'm consolidating news
1) I'll add a picture of the custom cutting board and matching knife rack I just finished up. I normally would just shoot an instagram photo of it, but it's cool enough that I'd like something a little bit more "profesh." Remember, if you want one, contact me here http://www.brooklynbutcherblocks.com/pages/contact
2) Oh one last thing, Gentology is selling my knife racks a slight discount. Check it out!
3) I have a business phone number now! Brooklyn Butcher Blocks' new number is... (347) 946-2540 !