Surf wear, skateboards and cutting boards may not seem like a natural trio, but for Richie Franks it’s a no brainer.
Richie, owner of local screen printers Cayman Print Works and surf-wear brand So-Chlo, also creates functional and aesthetically pleasing wooden cutting boards, which showcase beautiful natural color combinations, and tirelessly planed smooth lines, fitting for any upmarket Cayman kitchen.
Englishman Richie spent the first part of his life abroad. Born in Canada and raised in Europe, he has been living in Cayman at his East End beach house for the last six years. He began making cutting boards last year, as a byproduct of Franks Planks, the skateboard building division of So-Chlo.
“The idea was to create beautiful, hand-crafted longboards of super high quality in Cayman,” Richie says. “As a result of that process, I had lots of shorter lengths of gorgeous hardwood left over that was too short to use on the longboards. I didn’t want to throw away this premium wood, so I made myself the first cutting board.”
Richie is a one-man band, choosing the individual planks of wood before transforming them over a few weeks in his East End beach-side workshop. “It’s the perfect place to create,” he says.
First the raw planks, sustainably sourced from Canada or the U.S., are selected and stabilized, i.e. allowed to adjust to humidity levels.
“On its journey here, the wood goes through many different environments – from drying house, through to humid, sealed containers with condensation and then to the Caribbean,” explains Richie.
“I store the lumber to allow it to “find its vibe” to reduce the chances of shrinkage or expansion. Wood will always adjust, but by keeping it stored in an environment I can control, I can really help to reduce this movement.”
Once stabilized, defects are marked out and measurements made to decide what type of boards can be made from the planks, which are then flattened out with a range of antique hand planes.
Richie then planes the tops parallel to the bottoms before the wood is cut and pieces matched so that the grain flows naturally across the board. They are glued and clamped overnight before being planed flat again and miter cut for easy pick up. They are then hand sanded in multiple grades to get rid of sharp corners and edges and create a beautiful work surface.
“After that, the boards are treated to two days of oiling with a food-safe finish, ready for use,” Richie explains. “I add clear rubber feet with stainless steel screws if the customer requires it. All in all, once stabilized, the board takes about four days from start to finish.”
For Richie the process can be both therapeutic and a labor of love. “I love working with wood – I’m a crafter, so to create a finished product from raw lumber is very rewarding. It’s a very involved process to get the quality finish though, so there is certainly a lot of love that goes into making the boards.”
At present, black walnut and maple combination boards are available, with each taking on unique characteristics due to the intricacies of the planks. “They complement each other perfectly from an aesthetic point of view and they are very tough and stable woods too, with tight grains, which is important for something that is going to go through many wet and dry cycles,” Richie says.
Richie typically makes boards ranging from 12”x12” to 12”x18” but can do other sizes by request, with the boards available by contacting Richie on the Franks Planks facebook page, or by visiting local culinary stores, Gawk and Leer or Bon Vivant.
In the future he plans to add end grain cutting boards to the range, as well as introducing some other color combinations. He also has plans to expand his business to include wooden bowls. “As the skateboard side of the business starts to grow, I’ll have more and more quality hardwood offcuts, so I’m sure the range will increase.”
Richie has always had an inquiring mind, which became evident when he dismantled his family’s lawnmower at 10 years old. “No one managed to put it back together, so they weren’t too happy,” he says.
“I’ve always enjoyed creating and innovating and have built everything from electro-mechanical control systems for Audis and VWs, through to devices for brain surgery,” says Richie, who has a master’s in Engineering Design. “Pretty much every eco pool pump on the island is based off a design a friend and I introduced to the pool industry years ago. Right now, I’m really enjoying working as a crafter, screen printing, developing new techniques for making surf jewelry and developing the So-Chlo range of skateboards, hand built in Cayman.”