Force of Nature
Ed Waldman relies on his interest in quantum physics and Taoism to create a mixture of purely artistic, as well as functional, furniture.
The art of veneering is a centuries-old skill, which can be traced back to the early civilizations of Egypt, China and Rome.
Countless master craftsmen from past centuries have created "wood art" through the creative use of veneer on ordinary pieces of solid wood.
It is no wonder then that Ed Waldman, owner of E.H. Waldman Art and Furniture Studio in Kansas City, KS, uses veneer to fabricate his stunning work, which is a mixture of strictly functional and purely artistic elements.
Waldman has an art background. He started out mainly as a sculptor described the market for his work then as "slim pickings." At first, he went to various art galleries and designers to get his career started. However, that proved to be somewhat difficult, so he started making more functional structures to supplement his work.
"I got into doing more furniture, cabinetry, casework," Waldman says. "Some of it was very functional, but some of it had more design elements."
From that point, Waldman says his work has continued to evolve to where functional furniture is more artistic.
For an artist, environment can be a key part of the creative process. Waldman's first shop was a horse barn, which he says is now approximately 120 years old. It was a small place and the only heat was from an old wood-burning stove, which "made for real interesting winter days some times," Waldman notes.
Waldman outgrew that spot, and about 15 years ago moved to his current location, which is about a mile away from the horse barn. His present studio is certainly not lacking in character. It is located in a 5,000-square-foot, white cinder block building. Situated just under a nearby overpass, one has to drive up a steep incline to reach its entrance.
Inside, it is slightly dark and completely devoid of large machinery, such as edgebanders and widebelt sanders. Waldman calls it a "low-tech shop."
The building is divided into two sections. The back room, separated by a dark curtain, contains finished works, as well as a micro-library of material from previous projects. In the front section, a large metal fan is placed near the entrance for ventilation, and contemporary jazz music from a small radio on a table in the middle of the shop fills the air.
Small hand tools are littered on several tables. One table is covered in veneers, such as bird's-eye maple and tamo ash. On another table is a work-in-progress, and scattered throughout the studio are various completed projects, including a cabinet with raised squares that was fabricated with a variety of materials, including embossed aluminum and sapele (see photo below).
Know Your Material for Successful Applications
Although Waldman may not use advanced technology, such as large machines and computers, he says he still gets the most out of his materials.
According to Waldman, "I'll take the most advantage of the technology of the materials. By that I mean, in the case of veneers, larger shops will have vacuums and things of that nature and other various machines to handle veneer operations. What I do is stick with paper-backed veneers, or even in the situation of having to have a large surface covered, I will use phenolic-backed."
With his fabrication approach, Waldman says he can detect any technical problems like bubbling and quickly modify the design to correct it. He can create the image the client wants around the problem.
Waldman acknowledges his use of contact cement is somewhat controversial, but says, "I haven't had any callbacks yet."
The debate about contact cement, recently discussed coincidentally on Woodweb.com, is that some cabinetmakers contend that contact cement glue was created for more rigid materials, like laminates, saying it is too soft and flexible and can create problems when the piece is edged or bubbling during the finishing process.
The use of paper-backed veneers and phenolic-backed veneers will alleviate some of those troubles, Waldman says.
"The problem is in using raw veneers," he notes. The adhesive can seep through thin, flexible, raw veneers and activate during finishing. With a paper backing there is a barrier, Waldman says.
There are certain precautions that can be taken to make sure that movement of the veneer and adhesive is minimum. First, a thin and thorough application of the contact cement is imperative, Waldman says. "You want a really clear misting of the contact cement. It's really important that you don't get too much in the spray gun."
Thick applications of the cement can change how the veneer is sitting on the surface and increase bubbling.
Secondly, extra time should be allowed for flash-off. "Make sure all of the solvents have been released. That's where [cabinetmakers] get a lot of problems. Laminate is heavier. If a little bit of solvent or gas is in there, it not strong enough to push up the laminate and make it bubble [like veneers]," he says.
Materials should be acclimated at least 72 hours at the same base temperature and humidity levels, Waldman suggests. "And then once [I] put veneer on, I like to wait a minimum of 42 hours before putting the finish on to make sure it stabilizes to its surroundings as best as possible." Waldman also says that another 24- to 48-hour period is needed before installing the piece.
The Yin and Yang of Design
Waldman draws inspiration for design from nature and his interest in quantum physics, as well as an ancient Eastern philosophy called Taoism. "A lot of it kind of gets into the essential shapes and forces in nature," he says. "Most of my things really kind of work off of geometric shapes found throughout nature and how they manifest themselves."
Although much of his work is sketched out, Waldman says there are so many avenues for coming across design. "I have situations where I'll come up with designs that I'll later make into my projects for a gallery or a showroom, then later it evolves into projects for designers and architects."
The exact opposite can also happen, where Waldman starts a project for a designer or architect in one way, and as he is working other possibilities open up and he goes off in a different design direction, he adds.
As an example, Waldman acknowledges a project that is a work-in-progress. "A few months ago, I finished up doing a series of inverted pyramids for a client. It was a real nice project, but it was conservative in a way," Waldman says. "While working on that, once [I] got the materials on there, [I] started looking at things and [my] mind start[ed] to wonder [about the avenues one can go with the piece].
The inverted pyramid piece is an example of what Waldman does with his "in-between" time. Functional projects are done for the "necessities of putting food on the table," he says. Other more artistic pieces are just for the sake of making it. "With a little bit of luck, things will happen with it. It's a risk to take, but I'm happy I made it," he says. "It's better than keeping it in my mind and wondering 'what if?'"
Waldman says that it all balances out for him. He has pieces at different galleries and showrooms across the nation that have sold.
Getting Over the Challenges
As with any project, sometimes things do not go as planned, especially with projects that are created with a focus in artistry. Waldman gives an example of a project that went off track when a door became heavier than he originally anticipated.
"[I] was knee-deep in a project, and all of a sudden [I realized that] the door on the cabinet was over 100 pounds. [I thought] 'What am I going to do to hang the door?'"
What Waldman did was use heavier hinge systems, changing and insetting a door butt hinge and modifying the entire design to keep the hinge from showing.
The ability to be adaptable seems essential for Waldman. He also feels that one of the biggest challenges for custom cabinetmakers, whether the work they do is traditional or "all the way out in left field," is that even with supplied drawings the client will always have something different pictured in his mind than the way the actual piece turns out.
"I have friends in other art fields that run into the same problem that there is always a little bit of difference between people's imagined perception of what something's going to be. So hopefully, you find a happy medium for everybody," he says.
But one of the most enriching parts of his profession, Waldman adds, is that his work as a craftsman is an opportunity to enrich people's lives by providing them with something unique.
"For me, it's a real pleasure to get a chance to do this type of stuff," he says.
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