The other morning, for 10 mins or so while I was waiting for a pair of pants to dry, I broke out the miter box and cut some boards to rough length for a couple different upcoming projects. The task at hand – digging through the pile of off-cut pine siding to find boards with clear sections of sufficient length – was a success. I now have knot-free boards aplenty, and the knotty off-off-cuts will become firewood for my brother.
It got me thinking, though: what’s wrong with knots? I get it: dead knots and the holes they leave behind are a pain. But with live knots, aside from a bit of extra plane iron wear, what is the real impact, especially on the strength or stability of a board? Not much, and yet I obsess about clear stock. Everyone knows trees have knots, so what am I trying to hide?
Sometimes, though, I actually choose boards at the lumber yard specifically for their knots. A large live knot can have its own beauty, and a few small (stable) dead knots can add a rustic contrast to an otherwise modern piece.
Like everything else in woodworking, it’s a balance. Knotty wood is fine for some pieces and not for others. Knowing the difference is much more art than science.