The Manufacturing of John Boos Butcher Blocks
John Boos & Co. Has Been Making Boos Blocks for Over a Century
At Boos, environmental issues are a priority, not an afterthought.
Butcher Block Co. owner, Mark Shook, interviews Boos VP, Ted Gravenhorst, Jr.
Mark: John Boos has been a major manufacturer of butcher block countertops, kitchen islands and carts and cutting boards for more than a century. What role has manufacturing played in the company’s long-term success?
Ted: From the company’s start in 1887, Boos has always been firmly committed to making products of the highest quality that represent great value. Sometimes you might find competing products at lower prices, but you’ll never match Boos quality for the price. That dedication to quality starts at the top, but it’s shared by everyone on the plant floor.
Most of the products we sell today we’ve been making for a very long time. Take butcher blocks for instance. There are dozens of variables we have to get just right to turn out quality blocks that live up to the Boos name. It all starts with the specific wood we buy and exactly how we dry it. We dry it in our own kilns so we can control the process very precisely. That’s important because the moisture content of wood and exactly how the wood is dried – at what temperature and moisture level and for how long – are critical variables that determine how it will perform once laminated. We can’t always predict how wood will hold up, so we carefully control all the variables we can in order to minimize the risk of wood failing once it’s laminated.
Although a butcher block top or cutting board might look simple to make, I assure you, there’s a lot that goes into it. Besides choosing the right wood and drying it just right, we rely on our employees to ensure that each work station is operating within tight specifications to prevent even a minor defect from being passed on to the next work station. That’s one of the reasons why we own and operate two manufacturing plants located in Effingham, Illinois.
Mark: Are environmental issues high on the company’s agenda?
Ted: We consider ourselves to be a leader on environmental issues. For starters, we only buy wood from suppliers who are members of the National Hardwood Lumber Association (NHLA) that’s focused on replenishing our forests through reforestation. Secondly, we make sure that none of the wood we purchase goes to waste. For example, wherever possible, we use short leftovers to make end-grain cutting boards and island tops. And pieces that aren’t long enough to repurpose we grind into sawdust that we burn to generate steam for our kilns, where we dry out the wood.
Mark: Where are U.S. hardwood forests located?
Ted: Hardwood forests can be found in 33 states, all east of the Mississippi. They’re most prominent in the Northeast and the Appalachian Mountains. However, we source hardwood mostly from Great Lakes states, since these forests are closer to our plants, and because trees grown in colder climates tend to have more consistent coloration due to reduced sap flow.
Mark: How are North American hardwood supplies holding up? Is scarcity of supply something we should be concerned about?
Ted: No, there’s no need to worry. Believe it or not, annual new hardwood tree growth exceeds harvests by a margin of two to one. As a result, U.S. hardwood inventory has actually increased each of the past five decades. So not only are butcher blocks sturdy and beautiful, they’re made of a natural material that’s biodegradable, renewable and sustainable. Now you see why we’re so excited about this business. You just can’t go wrong with butcher block.