Most of you know that Brad Bernhart is the founder of Earlywood. But how many of you actually know the man who crafts what he hopes are your most indispensable kitchen tools? To shed a little light on Brad—and Earlywood—we thought we’d take some time to talk to him. For insight on the company’s early beginnings to the satisfaction and inspiration that keep Brad making the tools we love, read on!
- The Bernhart Fam-dam
What inspired you to start Earlywood?
Two categories of things inspired me. First, the things I want to do: be creative, work with my hands, start a business, be challenged, be my own boss, have a flexible schedule, spend time with my wife and kids, live in Montana. And, the things I don’t want to do: commute, work a desk job, answer to other people, sit, know exactly what the next 10 years will be like, live away from my family, work hard and make more money for someone else than I make for myself, regret not going for it!
Why kitchen utensils?
I have always loved wooden spoons. Every time I go to a friend’s house, the first thing I do is check out their utensil selection. There can be so much history in them. It’s common to hear, “that was my grandma’s,” or “that was my great-grandma’s!” Kitchen tools become so loved by those who use them daily, and I love thinking that I could be creating family heirlooms. Also, being a mechanical design engineer, I think I have a unique way of looking at utensil designs. That’s why a lot of my designs are so functional, even though they might not look like a “typical” wooden spoon.
- Inside the Earlywood Shop
There’s a story behind the Earlywood name. Can you recap that?
Myself, my wife, and a good friend were tossing names around one day over a few beers in Portland, Oregon. The name “Earlywood” came up and I liked it. After some research, it seemed pretty obvious that it was the one.
What does the word mean?
Earlywood is the light-colored portion of a tree’s annual growth ring. It’s the part of the ring that grows early in the growing season—in the spring and summer—and it’s the part of the tree that’s responsible for delivering water to the rest of the tree. Because it grows quickly, during those wet, sunny months, it usually makes up the bulk of the tree’s mass.
What inspires you?
Clean design, efficiency, heirloom quality, creating, challenges.
- Final shaping of a ladle handle
Among your customers is there a hands-down, all-time-favorite Earlywood tool? If so, which is it?
Definitely. The Trifecta, which is a three-piece combo. The three tools together take care of 90% of the jobs you’ll ever need to do in your kitchen. I just checked yesterday and the Trifecta has 38 reviews on my website and every single one of them is a five-out-of-five star review!
How about you? Do you have a favorite Earlywood tool?
For sure. My favorite is the longest tool in The Trifecta. It’s called the “Large Flat Sauté.” I have 12 of them in my kitchen at all times. At craft fairs, when people see it, they usually ask what it’s for. If they buy one, they inevitably come back the next year and go on and on about how much they love it. And that’s when they buy 10 more for all of their friends!
- Two of my favorite Earlywood tools (L Flat Sautes) in action
What keeps you going?
I love showing up at my shop in the morning with a full day of hard, creative, honest work ahead of me. It's a very fulfilling and satisfying feeling. It may be very 1950's USA of me to think this way, but it makes me feel like I’m really doing something good for myself, my family, my community, my state, and for the country in some small way. I’m sure that feeling will grow when I start employing people and helping them support their families too.
What do you like most about your job?
I love seeing how many people are really loving Earlywood. Creating a product, then taking the chance of making and selling that product to the general public is similar to starting a new relationship. There’s the chance that your new idea or product won't be accepted. That leaves you feeling pretty vulnerable. When it all works out and people reach out to you specifically to tell you that they love your stuff and that they are trying to get all of their friends into it, it feels damn good though!
-Red Lodge, Montana. The home of Earlywood.
You’ve told me you listen to podcasts while you work. Tell us one of your favorites.
There are so many great ones out there and I listen to about 20 of them. If I had to pick one though (that wasn't e-commerce related), then it would be “Reply All” from Gimlet Media. It's two guys who tell great This American Life-like stories that all relate in some way to how the Internet has and does affect us and our lives. It’s nonfiction, seriously entertaining, and highly recommended by me!
“When I grow up, I want to be...” When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to become? Did you imagine you’d be making kitchen utensils?
I definitely wanted to be a helicopter skiing guide in Canada! Actually...I would still take that job! I was ALL ABOUT skiing as a kid. I even moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming for four years after high school so I could ski as much as possible. I never thought I would be making kitchen utensils. If you had come to me when I was 12 years old and told me what the future had in store, I wouldn’t have believed you.
- Our backyard... the Beartooth Pass
What’s your vision for Earlywood’s future?
Excellent question. Earlywood is teetering on the edge of becoming more than a one-person show with a bit of temp help here or there. And this is something that my wife Charlotte and I need to sit down and discuss. It’s so easy to say, “I want it to be bigger,” but I don’t want the business to grow just for the sake of growing. I want Earlywood to be a great compliment to my life. I don’t want it to define my life.
If you could make anything, absolutely anything—and I don’t mean just kitchenware, what would that be?
Something else that is made of wood and small and can easily become a family heirloom...blocks for kids!
- Written by Lexy Adams