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April 12, 2016 0 Comments
We think a lot about the products we craft. We also think about the origins of the wood we use to create them. We wonder about the forests around the world that supply us with that wood, the mills where those trees are cut and dried, and the people who do the work, from start to finish.
- A millworker walks a stack of logs in Quintana Roo, Mexico. By Mark Stephens.
With the exception of our hard maple, which grows here in the United States, we use tropical hardwoods to make our utensils. Why? Because, true to their name, tropical hardwoods are just that... hard woods. This means they’re durable, and strong—the best woods we could possibly choose to craft tools and cutting boards that will last a lifetime, or longer. We source our tropical hardwoods from a lumber mill called World Timber Corp in North Carolina. The mill’s owner, Joe Steinbach, and his partner, Matt Westmoreland, have high standards. For about six weeks of each year, they travel the world, visiting the sawmills that provide them with lumber and working with the millworkers to cut it to their specifications. Once that lumber makes it to North Carolina, it’s kiln-dried. Brad’s orders—of bloodwood, jatoba and Mexican ebony, mostly—arrive by semi-truck to the Earlywood studio north of Red Lodge. The studio has no loading dock, so Brad uses an engineer’s ingenuity combined with the help of a tree, some chain, a tow strap, and some crossed fingers to unload the freight. (The last delivery weighed about 7,000 pounds, to give you an idea of the task at hand.) Brad then spends the larger part of a day stacking it in the studio. After a good night’s sleep, he begins, once again, to turn those pieces of roughsawn hardwood into beautiful kitchen tools for the rest of us to use and enjoy.
- Some of our products, made from Mexican Ebony
But where does that wood come from, really? Before it’s loaded onto the delivery truck in North Carolina? Where does it grow? How is it harvested and who, for that matter, harvests it?
- This guy harvests it! Mill boss, Quintana Roo. By Mark Stephens.
Let’s take a look at Mexican ebony, which we use to make many of our products. Also known as Katalox (pronounced “cat-ah-losh”) and Mexican royal ebony (although it isn’t a true ebony), its scientific name is Swartzia cubensis. Not only is Mexican ebony related to the chickpea, it’s known for being an outstanding “tonewood,” which means it has good tonal properties. Between this and the decline of ebonies traditionally used in the production of stringed instruments, Mexican ebony is becoming a wood of choice for luthiers worldwide. At 3660 on the Janka hardness scale (compared to 480 for our neighborhood pine, the lodgepole, for example), Mexican ebony is strong and tough. This means it’s essentially waterproof and about unbreakable, making it a great choice for kitchen utensils and cutting boards…as well as guitars. Typically dark brown to black with hints of purple and, occasionally, edges of creamy, golden sapwood (the living, outermost part of a tree’s trunk, branch or stem), Mexican ebony is a treat for the eyes. It’s a tropical hardwood. This means, obviously, that it grows in the tropics—in southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, specifically.
- The Quintana Roo region of the Yucatan Penninsula (where Earlywood's Katalox is grown
The particular mill that supplies Katalox to World Timber Corp, then to Earlywood is a great example of sustainable forestry. The local community was given a large parcel of forested land by the Country of Mexico. This land is divided into 20 different sections. Only one of the 20 sections can be harvested each year and then, only certain types of trees that are a certain minimum diameter are harvested from that section. This guarantees work and future work for the local people.
Mark Stephens, operations manager at Woodworkers Source in Scottsdale, Arizona, has an interesting perspective on the cutting and milling of tropical hardwoods, including Mexican ebony. About 10 years ago, Mark visited lumber mills in the jungles of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
- A Mexican Ebony tree, ready for rough sawing
In his blog post, “Sawmills of the Yucatán”, Mark wrote, “Something I've learned about the exotic wood business is that the woodworking community has little clue as to what goes into producing lumber from trees. The work is immense, and often highly unsafe. On top of it, the work takes place outside in extreme humidity and heat. They don't have luxuries like forklifts to lift bundles of wood at a time, either. We're talking about a lot of heavy, tedious, work-by-hand.”
- Safety in the mill Mark visited was not the top priority
Mark’s blog includes an extraordinary selection of photos from his visits to the region’s sawmills and furniture studios. His post also expounds on the notion of selling imported hardwood lumber “as an act of conservation.” It makes for an interesting read, to say the least.
Many thanks to Mark for allowing us to use his photos.
April 03, 2016 0 Comments
Trees surround and support us. They capture carbon, produce oxygen and provide shelter for birds and other wildlife too. They shelter us as well: the floors we walk on, the furniture we sit on, the cabinets that hold our dishes and dry goods, the framing within our homes’ walls, the porches and decks where we enjoy a summer’s afternoon, the instruments that play the music that soothes or stimulates us—objects made from wood are everywhere. The list goes on and on.
- A young Jatoba tree in a park in Brazil
It’s no wonder our forests are dwindling. Here in the US, the demand for wood products is climbing at twice the rate of our nation’s population growth.
Worldwide, around 46-58 thousand square miles of forest are lost each year—that’s the equivalent of 48 football fields every minute.
What’s a woodworker to do? To begin with, get a perspective. The greatest cause of deforestation, for example, isn’t the demand for lumber, it’s industrial agriculture. This is particularly true in tropical and subtropical countries where enormous swaths of land are cleared to plant massive mono-crops of soybeans, cotton, maize or palm oil, or to graze cattle. Paper production is another big factor. So is the lumber we use to build our homes and businesses, to craft our furniture and, yes, to make kitchen utensils.
- A small chunk of the Amazon rainforest... in tact.
There’s no way around it. Being human, especially in the developed world, typically means leaving a rather large ecological footprint. But whether your kitchen tools are made of wood or another material, they have an impact, as Brad so eloquently wrote on Earlywood’s “Sustainability Policy”
While we’re not excusing ourselves for our lumber use here at Earlywood, we’re trying to put it into perspective. No matter how simply we live, there are certain tools we need, others we may not exactly need, but nevertheless enjoy…and there’s a certain joy that comes with using a well-made tool, especially when you realize that Brad has devised a way to give back to the planet that has so generously given to him.
- A LOT of tree seedlings being nursed before they head to the Atlantic Rainforest
For about 3 years now, Brad has worked with The Nature Conservancy’s Plant a Billion program to plant 100 trees for every one tree he uses at Earlywood. The best woods for our uses don’t grow here in the US, Brad tells me. They grow in tropical climates. So that’s the region Brad has chosen to target through the Conservancy’s reforestation program, specifically Brazil’s endangered Atlantic and Cerrado forests. One of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world, the Atlantic Forest is also one of the most threatened, due mostly to ranching, industrial agriculture and urban expansion. Home to more than 10,000 plant species and over 1,300 vertebrates, the Cerrado Forest is also under threat. With help from people like Brad, The Nature Conservancy is working to promote large-scale restoration in both of these forests.
Recently, Brad decided to up the ante. Rather than donate 100 trees for every one tree used at Earlywood, Brad will donate $1 to the Nature Conservancy’s reforestation program from every order placed! Whether it’s an order for 100 items or just one, Brad will give a dollar to help “plant a billion” trees in Brazil. That’s a lot more trees than he was planting before.
This new program starts TODAY and we will have a page up on our website that tracks our progress. We'll be in touch when that goes live.
- A patch of Amazon rainforest cleared for other uses.
Earlywood is a tiny business compared to many, and one could say the environmental efforts Brad makes are just a drop in the proverbial bucket. But, as wise old Aesop once said, “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” I would venture to add that no act of environmental stewardship is wasted, either. So, as you’re serving up this venison stew with your Earlywood long server or using your flat sauté to cook up some of these morels, you might think about those forests in Brazil and give yourself a pat on the back for helping to replant them. For by purchasing from Earlywood, you do just that.
- AA and BB
March 24, 2016 0 Comments
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
February 18, 2016 0 Comments
February 10, 2015 0 Comments
Did your Earlywood utensils see some heavy use this holiday season? Or maybe you received them as a Christmas gift and you’ve used them every day since? Either way, we hope you have been putting them to good use. If so, they could probably use a little TLC by now. Here are tips to deep clean wooden spoons and reapply oil. Here’s what we suggest:
The first thing to remember is that water is not a friend of wood. It can cause your utensils to swell, warp, fade, and crack. To prevent this, hand wash your utensils with hot soapy water and dry in a rack. The wash cycles in a dishwasher are too long and those hi-temp drying cycles don’t help either. They soak up water, then dry out but don’t get scrubbed. This will make sure that your utensils turn gray, fuzzy and live a short life.
After the first few times you used your utensils, you may have noticed your spoons looking or feeling a little fuzzy. That’s to be expected as the grain of the wood is raised by exposure to water. If that hasn’t worn off by now, rub your DRY utensils with a Scotch-Brite pad. Use the little purple one you got with your purchase or the scratchy green side of your dish sponge. A one-time scrub will remove the fuzz for life. Keep the pad; it can be used again and again on your other wooden items.
Every once in awhile, give your utensils a good coat of oil. We prefer mineral oil, because it is food safe, has no scent, never goes rancid and soaks in quickly. The oil will repel water and thus reduce the number of times your utensils go through the wet/dry cycle. This will prevent warping, fading and cracking that can be caused by repeated exposure to water. Give them every bit of oil they will soak up. It’s a good idea to put on as much as you can, then let them sit overnight before drying extra off with a towel to make sure they soak up every last drop.
In our opinion, oiling wooden spoons is one of life’s simple pleasures. It’s akin to waterproofing a good pair of hiking boots or a good pair of leather gloves. Take your time and enjoy it! If you want to keep your Earlywood utensils in like-new condition, oil them every 5-6 uses, but if you’re a fan of that well-used look (like we are), then you can oil them every 3-6 months.
If you are still left with unanswered questions, please ask us via email, email@example.com.
August 13, 2014 0 Comments
December 11, 2012 0 Comments
One step in the design process here at Earlywood is to define how and why traditional wooden spoons fall short when it comes to many common cooking tasks. Once the downfall is identified, the next step is to design a tool that will excel at that task, while maintaining a form that is pleasing to the eye and comfortable in the hand. The reasonably priced Trifecta is the result of three such iterations of our design process. It scrapes, spreads, and stirs better than any traditional wooden spoon can.
- The L Flat Sauté wooden spatula is perfect for stirring nearly everything we cook. At 13" long, it allows the cook's hand to be kept far from the heat and provide more projected surface area (pardon the specifics, but I am a mechanical engineer after all) than a regular wooden spoon, so they mix up your dinners quicker and more efficiently. The radius at the front corner of the Large Flat Sauté is also smaller than that of a regular bowled wooden spoon, thus allowing you to get into those previously unreachable tight pan corners.
- The Tera Scraper, with a angled front edge is designed to remove the stubborn, yet tasty morsels of food stuck to the bottom of your pan. Ever tried scraping polenta or salmon off the bottom of a cast-iron pan with a regular wooden spoon? What takes 50 scrapes with a spoon, will take five with the wide path of the Tera Scraper.
- The third musketeer, the Spreader, makes easy work of spreading thick dips, cutting cheeses, and handling all other spreadables from hummus and brie to peanut butter and jelly. All tasks which are pointless to even try with a traditional wooden spoon.
We are told over and over again by customers that these are the first tools they reach for when they begin to cook. You know, they’re our favorites too.
You save $1 each when these three are bought as the Trifecta and they were Earlywood’s best seller last year. Even in our enthusiasm to release the ladle and servers last month, we wanted to be sure to remind you about these handy and hardworking utensils. Judging by our success at the MADE Fair in Missoula, Montana last weekend, we're wondering if the reminder is even necessary.
Happy Holidays from us!
December 05, 2012 0 Comments
What is earlywood?
Do you remember the last time you looked at a cross section of a tree and counted the growth rings? What you were really doing is counting how many times the earlywood/latewood cycle has taken place. Each year, every tree adds a ring of earlywood cells and a ring of latewood cells. These rings tell the age of the tree and a lot more. The thickness of the rings tells how favorable growing conditions were that year. You can count your way back through the rings of a tree and pick out the nicest summers and the harshest winters. You can also count the rings across the end of an Earlywood spoon and see how long it took to grow that spoon.
Earlywood develops in the spring when rain and nutrients from the soil are abundant and days are getting long. New growth makes up the better part of the ring, and in many woods, it is lighter in color than latewood, which develops towards the end of summer before the tree goes dormant (in harsh climates). Of course, growth rings can vary drastically in appearance between a tree that was grown in Canada and a tree that grew in Brazil.
Earlywood is porous, and made up of thin walled cells, compared to latewood, which is influenced by colder temperatures and drier conditions. As a result, latewood is made of densely-layered, strong, thick-walled cells. Both earlywood and latewood serve a purpose for the tree. It’s the latewood that gives wood the majority of its strength, and the earlywood keeps the tree growing by delivering water and nutrients.
What is Earlywood?
In that spirit of renewal and growth of spring that gives earlywood the chance to grow, we have created the Earlywood kitchen utensil product line. We've taken the common form – a simple spoon – to an uncommon level of quality in function and beauty. Spoons have been around for thousands of years, but that doesn’t mean anything other than that they have been around for thousands of years. I use my background in design/mechanical engineering to analyze every single aspect of the spoon and its purpose. No detail is too small to change if it makes the utensil better. I often start with a specific task in mind and design a utensil that fulfills the need. It is an iterative process and I commonly reference this Buckminster Fuller quote for inspiration and a reality check.
“When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”
This is why all Earlywood utensils are both utilitarian and beautiful. So that is Earlywood from a design and product standpoint, but Earlywood means a lot more for us. Earlywood is also a way of life. It’s a way to feel good about using a sustainable resource to create beautiful objects that can be passed on through generations. It’s an excuse to spend time in the shop working with our hands. It’s a way to stay creative. It’s a small business and is a way to connect with and give back to our local community. Earlywood is first in quality, and we will maintain that as long as we are able to wake up and make it to the shop. Like us on Facebook so you don’t miss out and follow us on Instagram @earlywood_designs.com. You can also sign up for our newsletter, so you never miss out on our next big idea!
November 19, 2012 0 Comments
When we considered our new product line for fall 2012, we went to the hardest-working utensils in the kitchen. We were looking to redesign the tools with heft, the tools that might not be used daily, but needed the strength and visual aesthetic our woods could provide. With that in mind, we introduce the long and short server and the classic ladle.
Our timing for launching these sturdy spoons and ladles is no accident. Last year, they topped the list of most-requested products. Now, we’re hoping you’ll add them to your collection in time to use them for all the heavy lifting at your holiday dinners.
The long server is available in hard maple and jatoba. We designed it with a triangular-shaped handle to keep it from spinning in your hand as you stir. The short server is available in hard maple and jatoba as well. Both are perfect for scooping mashed potatoes, digging into casseroles and stirring hearty soups and stews.
The classic ladle, offered in hard maple and jatoba, has a handle designed to be just long enough to reach the bottom of a deep pot without being cumbersome. Its generous bowl has a thick, slightly-cupped lip – perfect for drip-free serving both at the table and stove-side. We have found this ladle to be perfect for this fall’s first batch of chili, and with the colder months still to come, we’re sure to use it again and again.
Have the perfect spoon for any and all occasions when you purchase the three handmade wooden Serving Spoon Set.
In our design and testing process, we were impressed at the versatility of these new utensils, and we think you’ll be surprised how often you use them. Like every design at Earlywood, the servers and the ladle were crafted to rest easily in your hand, look beautiful on your table and last a lifetime.
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