Woodworker Josh Vogel Takes on the Common Kitchen Tool
“I am like a wood butcher,” says Josh Vogel as he examines a hunk of lumber in his Kingston, New York, woodworking shop. And like any good butcher, Vogel takes a nose-to-tail approach to his craft: Depending on what he sees in the timber, he might fashion it into one of his elegant turned-wood art pieces, or a series of hand-carved kitchen cutting boards. He whittles the leftover scraps into graceful spoons and other cooking utensils, then brings whatever oddments and shavings remain to his century-old home a few miles away, where he uses them as mulch and feeds them to a smoldering fire in his backyard smoker. Inside the smoke box today, a brined turkey takes on such a rich mahogany color that it, too, appears to be carved from wood.
“There’s this marriage between the wood I use when smoking and the kitchen tools that I make,” says the soft-spoken Vogel, who cofounded the New York City design and furniture company BDDW before moving upstate in 2005. At first, he was reluctant to venture into the kitchen-tools business. “To me, cutting boards were mass-produced items, and I want to make one-of-a-kind things,” he says. “But then I came around to this handmade idea. My boards have absolutely no glue and no joints, they’re just single pieces of wood. I have to carve each handle, find that form in every piece of wood.”
Today, Vogel sells his art pieces and kitchen creations through a select group of boutiques (some as far-flung as Japan) and the website of his business, Blackcreek Mercantile & Trading Co., which he started four years ago with his partner, Kelly Zaneto.
Vogel’s wooden boards and tools are art-like objects, but he stresses that they shouldn’t be treated as such. “I can take the things I make to a certain point, but for a piece to be really finished, it needs someone to use it,” he says, picking up a wood-handled engraving tool that he had recently used to carve an old-fashioned butter mold. “This was my father’s engraver. You can’t fake the patina on the handle; it comes from years of use and interaction.” As he speaks, he scratches a shallow line into a living room bookcase he’d built. “I’m a big believer that if I’m going to live with something, I can mess it up as much as I want,” Vogel says. “That’s part of the charm—it’s how you make something your own.”
Vogel and Zaneto’s passion for handmade objects permeates their lives—from that backyard smoker, which he built into a small hill (a subterranean chimney connects a hearth at the base of the hill to a wooden smoking cabinet on top), to a wall in their living room covered in a geometric pattern of tiles that they rolled and cut themselves. “You can feel the love in those, right?” Vogel asks. “I came up with the hexagon design after taking a beekeeping class.”
That same beekeeping class inspired the formula for his cutting-board oils, which blend mineral oil with propolis, a natural substance used by honeybees to caulk and seal their hives. (His line of cutting-board oils is carried by Williams-Sonoma and West Elm.) “Propolis has been used medicinally for thousands of years, and Stradivarius used it as a varnish on stringed instruments,” he explains. “During that class, it dawned on me: Propolis is an edible varnish.”
When the turkey is ready, Vogel, an avid cook, carries it to the kitchen. He and Zaneto lay thick, juicy slices of breast meat on sourdough bread he had baked a few hours earlier, all of it arrayed on the homemade board they use every day. “You can’t make these things with a computer,” Vogel muses. “I am an integral part of the process. That’s the human moment, beautiful in its imperfection.”
Vogel’s products are available from blackcreekmt.com.