BROOKLYN BUTCHER BLOCKS
I met Nils Wessell the owner of Brooklyn Butcher Blocks at the American Field trade show in Boston this fall and was happy to see his products first hand as I'd already been researching him online. They are beautiful pieces of work; well crafted and solid. We talked about American Crush and after the show I discussed how we were making a video for an upcoming campaign and he was more than happy to send us an end grain butcher block for the shoot. It looked great in my kitchen and I held onto it for a little longer than I should of as I didn't want to return it.
In my online interview below Nils educates me on what an end grain butcher block is and shares more about his company and products (which encompasses more than cutting boards).
Tell me a little about your workshop and Brooklyn Butcher Blocks
We're a small wood shop located in Industry City of Brooklyn NY that has been around for 5 years. Since its inception, Brooklyn Butcher Blocks has grown by at least 50% each year when compared to the previous year, and we hope to continue this trend! At the beginning, it was just me in my basement, hunched over to keep my head from hitting the ceiling. Now we're a five person team, including my accountant, fellow woodworkers, and advisers. I feel so fortunate to be working along side these professionals in a supportive community.
You use cherry and walnut for your boards - why those woods?
We also use Maple, Oak and Beech! The latter two are new additions. Each has a rich history in furniture making, so you know it can endure the test of time. Maple is a go-to staple, an industry standard, so to speak. Beech is similar in this respect. Cherry and Walnut are nut bearing trees, which is a general rule used to select woods for cutting boards. Walnut is a happy medium in my opinion, between maple and cherry. Not too hard and not too soft.
What is an end grain block?
End grain is easily identified by its appearance; if you can see the rings of the tree, that's the end grain. What's so beneficial about having an end grain cutting board is that it keeps your knife sharper longer and it keeps your cutting surface more sanitary. Think about the board as if it were a brush with its bristles pointed upwards. If you put your knife down on it, it cuts between the bristles, right? What happens when you lift your knife back up? The bristles close as they were before. Same thing with wood grain. Your knife is cutting between something as opposed to through it, which is how it protects the edge of your knife. The grain closes back up meaning that there's less area for bacteria to reside, meaning it is more sanitary than a plastic or long grain cutting board.
How long does it take you to make a butcher block and what are the important steps?
Our end grain butcher blocks are typically a 3 day process. The most important steps are at the beginning, where you want to make sure you flatten and square each piece of wood. The last steps are probably the second most important and the most grueling, as the board has to be sanded for an hour and goes through 10 different varieties of sandpaper to achieve a marble-like finish.
I'm liking your iblock - how long did it take you to get the design to where you were happy with it?
Thanks Catherine! If we don't take into account the greater context - that is my experience with having made these products for a year or two, the iBlock was invented in an evening... or even in a few seconds!
I was about to do my first really big show, Artisanal LA and the stakes were high. I had spent a lot of time making inventory and a lot of resources to get myself all the way out to Los Angeles (not cheap when you're hauling around a couple hundred pounds of goods!) and I just felt like I had to make a statement. My product line had remained largely unchanged for the last couple years. So I sat around for a few hours messing around with I-can't-even-remember, stubbornly trying to make something new that still felt genuine.
I had already made a regular doc for my iPad to use around the shop. I happened to have one sitting right next to an end grain cutting board. I stared at the two things for a second and then said allowed to myself, "Oh... duh!" I had gotten my own iPad littered with raw chicken just because my iPad was sitting flat on my small counter. Dozens upon dozens of instances of this problem have arisen.
The first iteration had the iBlock as one sided. It was shaped kind of oddly. Basically, it was our standard cutting board but the back had a "lump" in the middle of the board with a slot. Initially, I liked it but then saw its immediate drawback: I couldn't flip it! This was a huge selling point for the rest of my chopping blocks. Plus it just looked so awkward. It is important to me that neither design or utility are ever compromised for the other, and in fact, they should support and reinforce each other.
In yet another "Oh... duh!" moment I came up with our "zig zag" lipped design. Again, this all happened in the same night.
We met at the American Field show in Boston, do you attend a lot of trade shows to promote your brand? And where will you be next?
I do a lot of shows. I've done the Brooklyn Flea, New Amsterdam Market, American Field (Boston, Brooklyn), Artisanal LA, Renegade Craft Fair (Chicago, Brooklyn, Austin), Unique LA, and Wanted Design. We will be at Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair in November!
Are there any new products or expansions on the horizon?
This year has actually seen our greatest growth in products yet. Some are up on the site and some aren't. They're ready for production but I have a habit for working in the shop more than working on the website. I can't fight my nature I suppose! In any event this year I've made our wooden shot glasses, reclaimed slate cheeseboards, beer flights...and more.
You can view the whole list of products at www.brooklynbutcherblocks.com. We like his massive brickwork counter top and end grain American Flag cutting board that features purple heart and padouk (FSC certificed tropical hardwoods). Nils has also branched out into furniture and takes custom orders.
Interview by Catherine Bieri. All photos courtesy of Brooklyn Butcher Blocks.