Kitchen-counter classics get a hand-crafted touch at Distinct Woodworks, a custom cutting-board business slicing into the market for artisan accent pieces.
Cousins Jamie Rushton and James Mills masterminded the enterprise earlier this year. Their full-time jobs at Doors by Decora offered access to quality lumber scraps begging to be repurposed — from maple, oak and cherry to deep red bloodwood, West African wenge and vivid purpleheart.
“People come every day and dig through our dumpsters for scraps,” said Mills, 28. “We had free time and free lumber, so we started experimenting with designs.”
The woodworkers first attempted growth charts, hand-lettered boards and rustic wall art. But then the veterans (Rushton served in the Army and Mills the Air Force) carved out a winner.
“We were just woodworkers with an idea,” said 31-year-old Rushton. “We made cutting boards for family members, then people saw them and asked if they could have one. Then at Santuck (Flea Market in Wetumpka), we sold nothing but cutting boards. At that point, we put everything else on the back burner.”
Mills and Rushton search online for inspiration, painstakingly learning from cutting-board craftsmen via Facebook and YouTube videos.
“Anyone can glue pieces of wood together,” said Rushton, who works with Mills at the door company, a custom door company. “But we’re making complex pieces people can be proud to display in their homes.”
Design and wood variety dictate complexity and price, anywhere from $30-150. Distinct Woodworks gravitates toward end grain wood, which is cut across growth rings. Because it’s the hardest part of the tree, end grain better withstands slicing, dicing and chopping. End-grain boards take eight to 12 hours to build, not counting dry time for glue and varnish. Simple boards take about two hours.
Rushton and Mills start by picking a pattern — stripes, checks, illusion, nonsymmetrical chaos or 3-D (a block pattern that slowly shrinks toward the middle). Once the lumber is planed, it’s arranged, glued, clamped and dried.
The newly created sheet of lumber is cut into chunks. Each block is flipped 90 degrees and glued into a new pattern. After drying overnight, they sand the board and round the edges.
A two-hour mineral oil submersion follows before the boards are buffed with a mineral oil and beeswax blend.
Rushton favors elegant, striped cutting boards, while Mills prefers illusion boards.
Mills’ favorite combines wenge, bloodwood and cherry in slightly offset straight lines, creating the impression of shrinking, angled rows.
Prattville-based food blogger Stacey Little uses and displays Distinct Woodworks cutting boards at home and in his SouthernBite.com test kitchen.
“Not only are the boards incredibly beautiful, they’re functional, too,” said Little, who pens the Neighbors magazine Farmhouse Kitchen column. “I use mine for cutting and chopping as the wooden surface is better for my knives and keeps them sharper longer. Every time I use the boards, someone asks where I got them.”
Little said the boards are multipurpose, ideal for slicing veggies, trimming a pot roast or using as a meat and cheese tray.
Rushton and Mills recommend hand-washing with light soap and hot water before oiling the dry board with butcher block conditioner.
In the creative process, some Distinct Woodworks experiments hit the chopping block.
The woodworkers determined cedar leaves an aftertaste, and some woods are too soft for the wear and tear cutting boards require. The solution? Substitute harder, less expensive wood for pricey alternatives, like African sapele for mahogany.
“When we started, we didn’t know what kind of glue to use, how to finish the boards or the stability of wood to use,” Mills said. “Luckily, the same glue we use for doors is perfect for cutting boards. Guys we work with have over 30 years of experience, so we’ve learned from them, too.”
They said their toughest project to date is a show-stopping 24-by-17-inch Alabama state flag cutting board made from maple wood. The signature red X is made of end-grain bloodwood. The behemoth, and most custom pieces, are built in two to four weeks, Rushton said.
Though they started on the craft-show circuit, the woodworkers said they want to move Distinct Woodworks’ pieces to retailers, like the Southern Art Makers Collective in Montgomery.
“People are looking to take home a piece of something that’s made in Alabama,” Rushton said. “We’re excited for our cutting boards to be in people’s homes and be something that brings them joy and pride.”
To learn more, find Distinct Woodworks on Facebook and Instagram.