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Behrens Boards produced in Florence basement

Behrens brothers craft kitchen cutting boards by joining variety of woods 

  • Kory Behrens, left, and his brother, Nick Behrens, inspect the edge of a cutting board last week in Florence. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nick Behrens uses a table saw to cut wood for use in a cutting board last week in Florence. JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kory Behrens, left, and his brother, Nick Behrens, look at the edge of a cutting board after routing the edge of it Thursday at Behrens Boards in Florence. JERREY ROBERTS—JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nick Behrens adjusts a belt sander while making a cutting board Thursday at Behrens Boards in Florence. JERREY ROBERTS—JERREY ROBERTS

  • Kory Behrens places boards in a clamping system after applying glue to them Thursday at Behrens Boards in Florence. JERREY ROBERTS—JERREY ROBERTS

  • Nick Behrens uses a router to make a curved edge on a cutting board last week in Florence. JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Behrens Boards logo is branded in the lower right corner of each cutting board. JERREY ROBERTS—JERREY ROBERTS

  • The Behrens Boards logo is branded in the lower right corner of each cutting board. JERREY ROBERTS—JERREY ROBERTS

  • These are among the cutting boards made by Kory and Nick Behrens at their shop in Florence where they join a variety of woods. JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 29, 2016

NORTHAMPTON — Kory and Nick Behrens know wood. 

The brothers grew up watching, or in some cases helping, their father Michael J. Behrens build custom homes out of the stuff. So it seemed only natural that the pair would use that foundation in carpentry to build a business all their own.

Under the moniker Behrens Boards, Kory, 25, and Nick, 22, hand-make wooden kitchen cutting boards that Nick Behrens describes as a “puzzle.” Each single board is constructed out of different sized blocks of wood: for example, the deep brown of walnut, flush against tan maple with a stripe of the rich hue of purple heart.

“It’s amazing the potential with what you can create with wood – it’s a blank canvas,” Nick Behrens said in a recent interview at their shop in the basement of their father’s home in Florence.

Though they’re creating such a basic piece of domestic hardware, the Behrenses’ business model includes a partnership with the non-profit Trees for the Future which plants 50 trees in locations throughout the world for every cutting board sold.

And the cutting boards themselves are also crafted with goods from two local partnerships. The beeswax used to treat the boards in the finishing process is sourced from Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield and the small dishes laid in some models are created by Malea Rhoades, the potter who owns Celadon Studio in Northampton.

“We like to say it’s half the cutting boards and half the meaning behind the cutting boards,” Kory Behrens said.

Beginnings

After graduating with a degree in communication from the University of New Hampshire a few years ago, Kory Behrens was faced with the same question as many young adults.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do at all,” he said.

He traveled around Asia, where he particularly enjoyed watching street vendors cook dishes like pad thai. Cooking has long been a passion of his, Behrens said, from the days that he and his friends would spend hours preparing meals together for the fun of it.

Soon after returning to Florence, Kory Behrens started casually making cutting boards with the carpentry tools that were already stocked in his father’s basement. He often sent pictures of the boards, which he gave as presents to friends and family members, to his brother, who was finishing his senior year at Northeastern University in Boston. The feedback was very positive.

“People like the contrasting patterns,” Kory Behrens said. 

After Nick Behrens graduated in May with a degree in mechanical engineering, the pair put their heads together on how they could turn their woodworking hobby into a sustainable business.

With their socially conscious Valley upbringing, the Behrenses knew they wanted to make a product that was local and sustainable and had a reach beyond the kitchen counters of customers.

Trees for the Future

They said their partnership with Trees for the Future allowed them to give back. The nonprofit, founded in 1989, plants trees in areas of the world facing the effects of deforestation and in need of the resources that can be provided by agricultural use of trees.

The organization’s forest garden program is currently focused on Tanzania, Cambodia, Senegal and Uganda. It works with families over four years to teach them how to use trees for firewood and soil stabilization and fruit trees for food.

“All these things we take for granted here,” Kory Behrens said. “This is something, implemented correctly, that will actually make a change.”

As for the wood used in the boards, the Behrenses have found local sources in unusual places. They have cut wood from a dried, fallen tree they heard about through the grapevine and went to Hampshire College in Amherst to take the wooden tops off old desks that were being thrown out. They also visit local lumber yards for more traditionally sourced wood.

To construct the boards, the brothers cut quantities of different types of colors of wood into strips of varying sizes. From there, they glue the pieces together to form different patterns. After letting the glue dry, they plane the hodgepodge block to form a board with flat surfaces. The board then is put thorough a drum sander and finished off with a final hand-sand before it’s treated.

Nick Behrens said he has tapped into his engineering education to help him focus on balancing efficiency and quality. “It’s a never-ending process that’s always being refined,” he said.

After the construction, the Behrenses “moisturize” the wood with food-grade mineral oil several times and then finish off the boards with a coat of raw beesewax mixed with lemon essential oil.

“You could use this on your hands, face, whatever,” Kory Behrens said of the fruity-smelling salve. 

“It’s kind of like shampoo and conditioner,” Nick Behrens added, regarding the treatment process.

This initial treatment of the boards, and continued treatment as they are put to use, is essential to maintaining the quality and condition of the product. Cooking hobbyist Kory Behrens likens it to a cast-iron pan that must be wiped down and treated with oil.

“You can have a cutting board for a very long time if you take care of it,” he said.

The end result is the “artistic” cutting boards the Behrenses say they are becoming known for: a beautifully finished board with stripes of contrasting hues that appear to have been made from a single, multicolored tree. Each board is stamped with the Behrens’ insignia.

The Behrenses covered their start-up costs from their pooled savings. Since they officially launched in December, the brothers have sold over 100 boards (and planted 5,400 trees) through their website, which they built themselves. The cutting boards range in price from $50 to $65. With revenue from those sales, which they declined to specify, they upgraded their basement shop to include more equipment.

Now they’ve got their sights set on getting the word out through face-to-face interactions. They made their first appearance at a recent fair at Eastworks in Easthampton and are fully booked through the summer at various craft and wine fairs and farmers markets.

“We love to talk to people about it,” Kory Behrens said. “People who are willing to pay a bit more for that meaning, that quality.”

They are also in talks with New City Brewery in Easthampton to create the boards on which flights of beer will be served and have approached local shop owners about carrying their cutting boards.

More information about Behrens Boards and a list of cutting boards for sale can be found on www.behrensboards.com.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.