This will likely be a short-lived blog post as I intend to take it down in the next couple weeks once everything that been largely dealt with. A quick note too--Brooklyn Butcher Blocks is NOT shut down this week, but things will be running less like a freshly oiled machine, if you get me.
First, my sincerest apologies to all of our customers over the past few weeks. I have been a firm believer that work comes first, and if you make a commitment, you stick to that. Unfortunately, as many of you know, I've been slow to respond, hard to get a hold of, and difficult to get a schedule from. So what's up? My grandfather, Walker Connor, had gotten quite unwell over the past few weeks after a slight decline over the past few months and on February 28th, he passed in his son's home in Vermont, where he spent the last week of his life. Those familiar with my story starting Brooklyn Butcher Blocks can tell plainly that he and my uncle helped ignite my "Maker Spirit." The past few weeks, I've summed up my grandfather as being "not quite a father to me, but definitely more than a grandfather." The point being made here is that I believe he was the "centerpiece" of the family, and people gathered around him, so his loss is deeply felt; however, he lived until he was 90 and had a storied life, having been a soldier in WW2, a world traveler due to his academic notoriety, a three time cancer survivor, and a fairly mobile person up until last fall. So despite the sadness that comes with the passing of a loved one, we also can't help but be happy about the incredible life he lived.
His difficult times meant that I was eager to see him last month where I spent a week with him. Additionally, I didn't want my uncle to be run drier any more than he had been already (he lives close, and has spent a lot of energy and time to help his parents when they were alive). Alas, even upon returning to New York towards the end of the month, my girlfriend and I were also treated to some unfortunate news on her side of the family (and while not over, they have improved). While I was around, I was busy catching up that I was unable to really get to admin tasks and job site visits. And now this week, the week of the 3/5/17, I am seeing family again and getting things sorted.
My post here is to just help explain where I've been and to give my grandfather some time of day and tell people briefly what he meant to me. I'll be a little more available this week via email and phone, and will be returning in full next week. My sincerest apologies for the inconvenience this may have caused.
Shopping for cutting boards, huh? Okay, let's skip the introductions and just get the point--the literature on cutting boards seems to rival that of Shakespeare, every popstar ever, and all religions combined.
Teak: It's hot and popular. You'll frequently hear how great it is--it retains its oil meaning it require less upkeep and is less prone to expanding/contracting. It is dense and has a tight grain, which keeps it looking nice. I say it is a little too hard for a knife. Lastly, it is my opinion that teak is kind of ugly.
Maple: It's the industry standard and for good reason. It is durable, but you'll need to keep it up. It's also dense, which gives it a great heavy feel. Admittedly, this isn't our most popular product, likely in part because it is just so available. One advantage is that it seems to match virtually any kitchen, but as a draw back, you'll notice a beet stain pretty quickly.
Cherry: I wouldn't get cherry except for the coloration alone. Too soft, in my opinion. Granted, we are slitting hairs (or should I say wood fibers?) but I definitely notice it wears faster. Your home chef probably won't notice it, but Mighty Quinn's BBQ certainly has seen how quickly it wears when you're chopping meat on it for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.
Walnut: I call it a happy medium between Cherry and Maple--it's the "Goldilocks." Very nice on your knife, and it takes a stain well since it is so dark to begin with. Walnut is probably the single most popular wood for us. Part of the appeal is its chic look. I consider this an added benefit more than anything though.
Oak: No. It's terrible. Yeah, we offer it, in part because we kept getting requests and some people just really really wanted it. We aim to please! So why do I opt out on Oak? It is ridiculously porous, and might as well be a pile of straws sucking up water. This means it bows exceptionally easily, despite it being a harder wood.
Beech: My personal favorite, as it is the Maple of Europe. It's an industry standard, it is dense, often underappreciated, and only gets more pretty with age. It slowly becomes a deep dull red. The grain is also really tight, meaning you won't have to worry as much about it soaking up water like Oak.
You're looking at your kitchen renovation, and you're going through the plethora of options that lie before you--am I right? Let's say you're going to stay simple and all you're doing is putting in new cabinets and counter tops and you will probably upgrade the sink and move it over some. Even this simple kitchen renovation is going to eat up a lot of your time--cabinet style, color and drawer opening method are just the beginning. While you're addressing all that, you also need to make some choices about what you might be looking at the most: your countertops.
Unless you're one of the few who intend to chop on your top like a butcher, I'm going to actually going to start with aesthetics. (And look, if you are looking to chop on this like an episode of Chopped, then you definitely should be getting a wood top).
First, keep in mind that unlike granite, wood will change in color overtime. If you got the natural route, you'll eventually get stains (hey, stuff happens), but that isn't actually what I'm talking about. Even if it is varnished, the extent to which it is exposed to the sun will change the color, often making it lighter. Think keeping it in the shade will keep it neutral? Nope. Eventually, it will change however little for however many years. Granite won't. Does this make granite better? We don't think so--we come with the premise that you're taking something that was once alive and it changing is part of its appeal. It's exactly that which gives wood its warmth.
Second, wood will expand and shrink; granite won't. If you're going with long grain (aka face grain or edge grain), then you don't need to worry really. The change you'll see is minor and you'll probably not even notice it. End grain? Oh, that will shrink and expand A LOT. We've seen it do so as much as 7% over 6 months--and this is with the wood already have been kiln dried. A lot of this has to do with the fact that homes tend to be drier and warmer than lumber yards and shops. Obviously, it doesn't shrink forever. At this point, any further change will be nominal. However, for this reason, we recommend only using end grain on kitchen islands--and never for tight spaces.
Third, wood can chip--but--it can be repaired; granite cannot be repaired (at least to my knowledge!). I think this area is the smoking gun for wood. Chipped granite just means getting a new granite top, and that's the worst news. Or it means it sticks around for years. I take it back, that's the worst news. Wood stains? So you can sand it. There's a dent? You can potentially fix it with a hot iron and a towel. It chipped somehow? A new piece can be glued on to replace it. Obviously, none of us want this to happen, but if it has to happen, it's actually if it happens to wood.
We think it is largely personal preferences and design choices, but the one key advantage wood has is its flexibility when compared to granite. Lastly, if you want to slice and dice like a butcher then go with a classic butcher block.
So we've just introduced our custom order calculator and I couldn't be more excited. It greatly simplifies the ordering process for most customers. Just click on countertops in the main menu, and browse from there. As of now, it only applies to people picking up who do not need more services, like templating or what-have-you.
I must admit, I'm proud of this addition as I've been working on it off and on for the past six months. Well, this iteration of it. Truthfully, I've probably been working on it for over a year. Fortunately, my desire to tackle calculus meant revisiting Algebra and that helped form my thinking when creating this formula. It's also taught me the importance of excel.
Any customizations you have on smaller pieces can be made by adding it into the textbox upon purchase. Check it out and please let me know if you have any problems.
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? In the long term, we recommend some mineral oil and Bees Buffer to help keep your cutting board protected.
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).