Chris Schwarz's Blog

In Praise of Knots, the Defect that is Watching You

When I went to the lumberyard to buy the stock for my first project of my own design I picked through the store’s entire stack of 1x12s to find the boards with the most attractive constellation of knots.

I wasn’t trying to be cheeky or make a statement (other than “I like knots”). I genuinely liked knots because they reminded me that the board was once a tree – not some perfectly grained stick-on plastic veneer on pressboard furniture.

Years later when I got a job at Popular Woodworking, I was embarrassed to discover that knots are a defect. They are undesirable, unsightly, occasionally unstable (this is starting to sound like the description of my first girlfriend) and difficult to work. So, like any self-respecting woodworker, I rejected knots and strove for harmonious panels without those weird eyes looking back at you.

Eventually I decided that both extremes are ridiculous and I now allow knots (and sap pockets) to appear in tabletops and panels when they are stable, they complement the design and I feel like it.

This week I’m finishing up a gateleg table for an upcoming issue of the magazine and was faced with a nice walnut board that had a stable knot right in the middle. While I could have picked another board from the pile that was knot-free, I decided I liked the idea of the knot right in the center of the top. It’s a vernacular piece, so it won’t look out of place.

Now I just hope that when I find a customer for this table that he or she isn’t a knot-ist.

— Christopher Schwarz

6 thoughts on “In Praise of Knots, the Defect that is Watching You

  1. Paul Johnson

    I built my workbench from locally grown and ‘backyard’ milled big leaf maple. The miller had his lumber sorted in his drying shed according to figure. I chose ‘less’ figure for price and selected the boards I wanted based on dimension. He gave me a break on the price for several boards because they had a couple large knots. The wood had air dried for three years so everything was vey stable. Those knotty boards provided some beautiful figure and gave an otherwise ho-hum project great character..

  2. riverbum

    I actually seek out wood with both knots, and worm holes. I find it adds both beauty and interest to a piece. I always treat them with a resin epoxy fill and have never had a knot come loose in the last 35 years. I enjoy your articles and agree with most of what you write.

  3. comboprof

    The suffix -ist means: A follower of a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement. So Christopher’s use of -ist is correct whereas -zi would “knot” be. Besides being a terrible pun it would (I think) have the opposite meaning of what was intended if in fact ‘-zi’ were a suffix. Sorry to “knot-pick” but I thought “knot-ist” was the perfect choice and the article was well written.

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