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