Buying from small producers has become a no-brainer when it comes to food, but what about all of the other things that have their place in your kitchen? John Loftis brings the same care to his hardwood cutting boards as your favorite farmer’s market vendors bring to their food, and this passion is just as essential in a wood cutting board as it is in kale.
From a Passion to Profession
For Loftis, woodworking was a long-time love that only became his career later in life.
“I was one of the last generations of people in the U.S. who had wood shop in high school,” he recounts. “I’m just wired to make and build things.”
He finally fulfilled a lifelong dream of having his very own wood shop at home when he moved to Dallas 14 years ago.
“I was just doing it for fun,” he says. “I would go to my corporate job, do that all day, and then come home in the evenings and get covered in sweat and sawdust and just love it.”
But with the economic crash in 2009, Loftis lost his job. After what he calls "an existential crisis," he decided that instead of going back into the corporate world, he would try to eke a living out of his passion.
“It was the craziest thing I've ever done without question,” he says. “I knew enough to know that manufacturing has mostly been outsourced to the Far East, and woodworking in particular, mostly because Americans have voted with their wallets, and they want cheap.”
That said, Loftis took a chance, and he quickly found a market – and soon after, a mentor.
David Smith grew up shadowing his father in a furniture factory in North Carolina. After building his first butcher block in 1993, Smith founded the BoardSMITH in 2005.
When Loftis discovered Smith’s boards, he was immediately impressed with his craftsmanship and attention to detail. Smith, he noted, preferred using larger pieces of end-grain wood and gluing them together in an alternating, off-set pattern, to create a more stable board. He also had a trick for hiding the rubber feet on the base, which keep the wooden cutting board from absorbing too much moisture and warping: handmade wooden escutcheons.
“It really speaks to his attention to detail that he would spend this much time and effort on something that goes onto the underside of the cutting board,” says Loftis.
When Loftis learned that Smith was retiring, he thought that there was an opportunity for him to grow both his business and his expertise.
“I'd made maybe 5,000 cutting boards at the time, and he'd made tens of thousands,” says Loftis. He worked with Smith for over a year to acquire the BoardSMITH name and know-how, and when Smith finally retired for good, Loftis was the new BoardSMITH.
Today, the BoardSMITH is a self-declared “Mom and Pop operation,” with Loftis making all of the boards by hand and his wife serving as “Shipping Department/Accounting Department/CFO/ Boss.”
“My kids are also involved, to the extent that they're able - they are six, eight, and ten now," he says. "Once I make those wooden escutcheons, they put the feet in... just doing small things to make it really a family business.”
The BoardSMITH Wood Cutting Board Difference
From the days when David Smith was at the helm of the company to today, the BoardSMITH has always been devoted to producing only the highest quality butcher blocks and wood cutting boards. Only three FSC-certified sustainable hardwoods are used – hard maple, black cherry, and black walnut.
“They just have the right balance of the right degree of hardness and scratch resistance,” says Loftis. “You don't want something that's too hard – if you cut directly onto a granite countertop or a glass cutting board, you're just gonna crush your knife – but you also don't want a wooden cutting board that's too soft, or it'll scratch up really easily.”
The quality of these hardwoods, plus the manpower that goes into each of the 800 to 1,000 boards Loftis makes every year by hand, means that the BoardSMITH's product is not cheap. GQ selected the brand as the top "luxury" board in its roundup of the best wood cutting boards on the market earlier this year, and each piece is a definite investment.
The price, however, seems worthwhile when you know that a BoardSMITH wood cutting board is made to last: the end-grain wood is not only safer health-wise, as it wicks bacteria down to the center of the board, where it is killed, but it is also more durable, particularly when cared for properly.
Loftis is even committed to repairing and rehabbing boards, when needed, for a nominal fee. After decades of normal use, scratches can not only make the surface of the board less aesthetically pleasing; they can also trap bacteria, making it harder to clean properly. Loftis sands down the surface until it's perfectly smooth once more.
"When it's done, it looks like a brand-new board," he says.
Loftis loves that people care enough to keep their boards in top condition.
“I think that's part of what's helped me kind of overcome the financial limitations of what I'm doing," he says. "The satisfaction of knowing that I'm making something that folks all over the world are enjoying daily, and something that hopefully they'll be able to pass on to their kids if they take care of it, that really should stand the test of time... that's a big motivating factor to me.”
If you want to discover more gorgeous end-grain cutting boards that features The BoardSMITH, check out our list of 7 Beautifully Sustainable End-Grain Wood Cutting Boards.