Cheese-Whey Varnish Finishes Furniture Classics

By Matt Schumake | Posted: 03/24/2014 9:45AM

 

 Ethan Abramson's fine woodworking process begins with a hand-drafted design and ends with a natural finish derived from whey protein--a by-product of the cheese-making industry.

Abramson's choice in using a natural finish is not only for his own health, but also for the well-being of his customers and the environment. 

The goal is to keep the process “As human and hands-on as possible." There’s a lot he strives for in crafting original tables, chairs, and custom pieces, but the human element is certainly present throughout.

The Wall Street Journal recently featured his oak Irving Chair as one of its favorite spring designs. The article, “Eight Best New Wooden Chairs,” highlighted his piece at the top of the list, noting how the curvature of the legs “echoes the line of the sitter’s own limbs.”

If the chair were a person, he told the Journal, “It would be someone with timeless style, who respects tradition but isn’t dictated by it.”

Both traditional and modern techniques drive Abramson's process. At his woodshop in Westchester, NY, he keeps a SawStop table saw at the center of production. He also uses a Bosch router with a JessEm lift and various templates to reproduce his designs.

Aside from SawStop’s built-in safety features for woodworkers, and his belief that the company builds quality machines, Abramson likes working with SawStop because he is particularly satisfied with the customer service team. He sees them as knowledgeable people who are happy to field questions and resolve issues.

With the creation of his furniture lines, Abramson maintains a personal connection at each stage. For larger jobs like cabinetry and installations, he will bring in a team to assist in building. But for the most part, he prefers to handle the entire process on his own.

From the initial sketches to wood selection, cutting, assembling, and finishing, he is personally invested.

“Everything that comes out of my shop, I can attest to,” he says.

Before starting his own company, Abramson worked in the commercial interior design industry and in a shop setting where he rose to the rank of foreman. During that time, he started taking note of how he would eventually shape his own space. Environmental impact became one of his top priorities—spurring his decision to protect his pieces with all-natural finishes and to also minimize the waste of materials.

With the environment in mind, Abramson chose a whey protein-based finish by Vermont Natural Coatings, mixed from whey, a by-product of cheese-making that would otherwise be discarded. It creates a safe and durable natural finish.

To minimize wood waste, Abramson often allows his designs to take shape from the character of the wood. Knots, cracks, and other imperfections are sometimes highlighted as unique features in his custom pieces rather than being discarded.

In addition to the tables and chairs that span his collection of original designs, Abramson also works closely with clients to complete custom orders. Occasionally, designers will approach him with an idea for a specific piece, such as a television cabinet to fit an eight-foot space.

click image to zoom Clients, too, will reach out directly with requests. For what has become one of his most popular custom jobs, Abramson was asked to create a dog kennel underneath the stairs at a home in Brooklyn. Though the concept may invoke thoughts of a Harry Potter bedroom, the actual installation looks more like a play fortress that would likely cause some children to become envious of the dog.

The need to create things and to keep the process as human as possible is not only what drives Abramson’s work, it is also what led him to woodworking.

Before entering commercial interior design, Abramson studied studio arts and began working in advertising.

The fields are similar, he says: “One is creating with the mind, and one is creating with the hands.” But increasingly, he felt the need to follow the latter.

His work is a direct result of following that need to create, to keep the process human and hands-on, and to be present at every step. His designs originate directly from the drawing board, where he pores over shapes and forms to build with. Lately, he says he has started to move toward incorporating straight lines rather than curved forms, and he has been experimenting with different wood species in the same piece.

What he strives for is a connection to woodworking which he observed in his grandfather’s woodworking business. “He always had the cut list in his mind before starting. It’s something that comes with doing it your entire life and it is something I strive for—that skill level and mastery of the craft.”

The Irving line is dedicated to his grandfather, a retired woodworking professional who continues to inspire Ethan’s work.

Ethan Abramson’s original designs are available through his website, and in a number of stores reaching from Montauk to Canada. He is also available for custom work.


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About the Author

Matt Schumake

As a writer for Woodworking Network, Matt reports on tools, trends, innovations and business methods in the woodworking industry. His experience spans e-commerce and marketing, and he specializes in developing web and media presence for businesses small and large. In addition to writing, Matt builds custom wood furniture pieces at his home in Chicago, Illinois. He can be reached at mjschumake@gmail.com

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