What Is Knotted Wood?
Knotted wood is a piece of lumber which had a branch grow from that section of the tree. The wood grain will grow around the branch, turning almost at times by 90 degrees.
The knot is the remains of the branch which resides within the parent trunk. When the wood is processed for usable lumber this knot will be visible and is often circular in dimension.
What Is Bad About Knotted Wood?
The bad about knotted wood is directly related to the strength of the lumber. Wood strength is most desirable for construction purposes.
It is for this reason that wood will have different grades of quality. When building it is most desirable to have lumber that has few to no knots within its grain.
If strength is essential then working with better grades of lumber is what is desired irregardless of the price point.
What Is Good About Knotted Wood?
Knotted Wood is good for what it holds in its beauty. This is especially true for lumber which has faced natural stress across time from the elements while the tree was alive.
When creating wood art there are few pieces which can compare to those that have knots within the wood. These clearly are desirable for aesthetic reasons and not for structural strength.
Outside of the purpose of beauty there are few times that one would intentionally desire to work with knotted wood.
Complications When Cutting Knotted Wood
Knotted wood can create some interesting complications when cutting it. Boards which have these knots can at times break, crack, or split off in unintended ways.
Best practices often require the knot to remain within the main body of a board. If the knot is on the edge of the lumber then more care will be needed for that piece.
With wood that has seen considerable stress and age it is common to find cracks which form and can run the length of a board. When attempting to source more exotic wood one must pay attention to details such as these.
As the saw blade enters a knot on the wood you must slow the feed. In other words pass the board through the blade more slowly.
A knot which is still structurally sound can have higher density within it as compared to the surrounding wood. In turn this can alter the consistency of a cut.
Contrarily knotted wood which has seen age may allow for the knot to rot or begin cracking. As the blade passes through it may be less dense.
In this case the wood may splinter or break more easily. The knot itself can also break off or fall out of the hole it created during its growth cycles.
Creating Wood Art With Knotted Wood
There are things to watch and be aware of when creating wood art with knotted wood. You never desire the knot to be along any edge which will join to other boards.
Most often this is due to structural reasons of the wood art, but it also impacts overall aesthetics. A wood panel for example would not appear natural if boards joined where a knot is not natural to both boards.
In terms of wood joining, a knot being weaker is the obvious reason to not use for a joining edge. A box joint for example would be near impossible to properly cut and fit without breaking.
Wood Carving With Knotted Wood
Wood carving with knotted wood can present some interesting scenarios. Much will depend on the knot within the wood itself.
Smaller knots which are firmly within the parent board often will present little to no issues. Larger knots can present problems.
There are times when I am carving that I plan the carved art around the knot in order to avoid it entirely. This reasoning is in two parts.
First for preservation of its beauty, and secondly to protect the piece and visual aesthetics of the carving. When finishing the piece the knot will change color altering the visual appeal of the carving as a whole.
The density and grain direction of the wood will change within the knot. This in turn will require more attention when carving near or within a wood knot.
If the knot can be carved on then other considerations must be made. At no point after the art is made do you want the knot to fall out of the parent piece thus destroying the carving.
Unfortunately there is no single answer as to what to do about carving knotted wood. It is certainly situational and some experience is required in order to know how best to approach that project.
Wood Color Will Change In Knotted Wood
When you stain and finish knotted wood you will notice that the wood color will change within the knot. This is normal and is considered to be a point of beauty.
There is no way to create a consistent color across the whole of the board in this kind of lumber. If a consistent color is what you desire then you need a more generic piece of wood.
Knotted wood is great for allowing a natural contrast in color to appear within the wood art. It self accents in ways that is impossible to duplicate any other way.
Know that wood density itself can alter the color of the wood when stained. It is for this reason that the same species can vary in color from board to board.
It is also common to find that one board can vary in color from end to end. Knots typically appear darker when stained than the surrounding wood.
When painted it is common to still see the knots within the wood albeit the paint fully covers the knot. It is a natural beauty mark within lumber that is created by nature as branches grow.
How To Deal With Splits Caused By Knotted Wood
In wood art there are a couple of ways to deal with splits in the lumber which was caused by knotted wood. If the split is bad enough it may be required that this section of lumber be cut off and saved for later.
Alternatively the wood can be cut along its long grain to preserve as much of the lumber as possible while removing the split. This is the most common way of handling this situation.
If one wished, the wood could be encased within epoxy. This would be the only way to preserve the whole of the wood without worry of future splitting or breaking.
Unfortunately not all projects will allow for the use of epoxy resin. Typically this is specific to the project it is used for.
There really is no way to put back together knotted wood which has split due to its knot. Wood glue or filler can be used for small issues. Nevertheless, generally these splits are difficult to deal with in this way.
If you wish to preserve the knotted wood, the least invasive cuts that is possible to remove cracked or split portions is desired.
What Is The Best Place To Find Beautiful Knotted Wood?
Most often the best place to find knotted wood will be local suppliers. When I say local I am speaking of home run hobby mills.
Local wood guys will normally process lumber tailored for wood art rather than dimensional cuts like the box stores. Local mills will also seek out more specialty wood looking for beauty rather than volume of generic kinds.