Knot now

I like clear, unblemished wood as much as the next guy – most fine furniture projects demand it – but I also like the natural look of knots.

While large-scale defects, rifts and gnarly wood can sometimes be the center of attention in some pieces (think Nakashima), it isn’t often that a project can incorporate the random knots that occur in some wood species. Usually, we cut out workpieces to eliminate them, but when the wood in question is white pine, unless you’ve opted for more expensive clear lumber, knots are part of the package.

I’d hate to have a lot of that in my home – the knotty-pine cabinets in the kitchen on the 1960s-based TV show “Mad Men” are anachronistically awful – but for some projects I like to have them in there because they can add visual interest to the piece. For some furniture the placement of the knots, especially in book-matched stock, can be extremely attractive. Of course, for primitive stuff I make for reenacting use, they’re perfectly acceptable no matter where they occur – unless they get in the way of milling, which is the point of this blog.

Whenever I work with wood containing knots, I inspect them carefully. If they’re perfectly solid and as strong as the surrounding wood, I leave them as is. But if they’ve fissured or even look like they’re beginning to separate or loosen even slightly I always stabilize them with CA (“super”) glue before proceeding.

Must’ve missed one over the weekend, however, when ripping a piece of pine sent one flying across the shop. I was wearing these (tap-tap) safety glasses, though, and the knot in question was very small, so it had very little mass or velocity and landed on the floor a few feet away. Finished with the cut I retrieved the knot, CA-glued it back in place in my workpiece, and then trimmed it flush.

In all, no harm done and it was a good reminder for stronger vigilance in lumber inspection.

Till next time,

A.J.

COMMENTS

  1. Wes Blair wrote:

    In the lumber business people always call for FAS. How often have you seen a hardwood floor with character and said ( wow that’s a beautiful floor). We all need to start looking around at the logs going to the mill. They are not as big as they were 30 years ago. This means small logs will yeild more knots. Cabinet makers should start designing more natural defects into the furniture. i am sure more character will sell in todays market.

  2. Don Buck wrote:

    I’m a woodworker and a hardwood lumber sales manager for a hardwood sawmill in Virginia. One of our most popular hardwoods is 4/4 rustic white oak, basically FAS/1F white oak with unlimited small knots (smaller than a quarter), stain and worm holes are not a defect. We have a hard time keeping up with the demand. I had hardwood flooring made out of our stock for my own home renovation and it is beautiful. I think in many applications natural defects (woops, I mean character)enhance the beauty of the final product. The perfect and better lumber is getting more and more difficult to provide.

  3. Matthew D Fritz wrote:

    I too am enchanted more by wood with character marks more than clear. One one hand it is easier to come by these days, on the other, it takes more skill to work with, and the designing has to be carefully done so as to make it consistent rather than accidental looking. The hardest part is selling the concept. Once I did a kitchen nook with knotty walnut benches and a walnut sapwood mix table top. It was a real work of art and took a lot of meticulous planning to make it look right. But it was a lot of work to sell the idea and risky because I wasn’t 100% sure the customer would be able to stomach it once installed. Fortunately they loved it and I was able to unload all my shop grade walnut that I had accumulated over the years.

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