The First Butchers' Blocks Were Used by Blacksmiths in the Nineteenth Century
Blacksmiths needed a rugged and stable surface on which they could hammer, bend and cut wrought iron or steel into useful objects. In the 1800s they shaped fire-heated iron into horseshoes using anvils placed on tree stumps. Then, late in the century, Conrad Boos had the idea to mount thick slabs of tree trunks atop sturdy wooden legs and move these makeshift work tables inside smithies. Blacksmiths marveled at how well these supported slabs - like the tree stumps before them - absorbed the explosive impact of hammer against anvil.
Chopping Blocks Then Migrated to the Masses
Recognizing that every meat butcher across the country had a similar need for a sturdy butchers table on which to chop and carve meat, Conrad’s son, John Boos, began peddling the family’s chop-block tables to butchers’ shops, and the butcher’s block was born. In the first half of the twentieth century butcher blocks migrated from corner butcher shops to supermarkets, then to commercial kitchens and finally, into home kitchens.
End-grain Butcher Blocks, the Sturdiest, Are the Real Deal
Authentic butcher blocks are end-grain blocks. In building an end-grain block, craftsmen fuse together dozens of small rails of hardwood standing on end, using industrial-strength glue and high heat and pressure. This construction style capitalizes on hardwood's vertical strength. Moreover, since the resilient sawed ends of hardwood rails comprise the cutting surface of an end-grain block, it’s able to withstand serious pounding and chopping with little risk of cracking or splitting, if cared for properly.
Besides being exceedingly tough, end-grain surfaces are also quite attractive. Since each individual wood stave contributes its own unique cross section of a tree's growth rings, the finished surface has the appearance of a gorgeous, natural checkerboard.
John Boos Is Recognized as “Best in Class”
John Boos & Co. - the butcher block industry leader to this day - leverages its accumulated knowledge base and craftsmanship to make the finest blocks on the market. While the company has refined its manufacturing processes over the years, making their products even stronger and longer-lasting, today’s Boos Blocks are every bit as authentic and beautiful as those made more than a century ago.
Boos uses North American hardwood that’s harvested from forests that are sustainably managed. Consequently, these forests are guaranteed to be around for subsequent generations of Americans to enjoy, and to rely on for homebuilding materials and home furnishings.
Boos Makes Butcher's Blocks Using Three Different Hardwoods
Rock Maple butcher blocks are the most popular. Not only is maple the most affordable species of hardwood, it’s also the hardest. Plus, its appearance is the most uniform and its colors the most neutral. Its combination of yellow, cream, tan and light to medium brown delivers a soft and pleasing look that fits a wide range of kitchen decors.
American Cherry is redder of course, and incorporates some cream and pink tones. Interestingly, Cherry patinas, or darkens, over time.
The outlier hardwood is American Black Walnut. It’s the most expensive of the hardwoods and certainly the most dramatic in appearance. Walnut tends to show color variation that ranges from milky white all the way to dark brown. Walnut’s dark look conveys a sense of richness, making it a very popular choice for high-end kitchens.
Butcher Blocks Come with a Natural Oil or a Varnique Finish
If you intend to cut upon your wooden butcher block, then opt for a food-safe, natural oil finish. Note however, that you will need to re-apply oil to the block every 3 or 4 weeks in order to keep it moisturized for safe use and longer life. If, on the other hand, your interest in butcher blocks traces to their fine-furniture look and you’re not up for regular re-oiling, then you should consider a semi-gloss, varnish-like finish Boos calls Varnique.
Wood surfaces finished with Varnique require little maintenance and are quite easy to clean with soapy water and a sponge or cloth rag or towel. Note however, that varnished surfaces should not be cut upon since knife blades can cut into and scar them, leaving them susceptible to spilled liquids that could impregnate the wood. Instead, place a cutting board on the top of the block.
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