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Why knot give it a try?

Blog by Rob Brown
Prototype Time

When you’re a woodworker and Christmas gifts are needed, you get the assignment. A gift made by hand always trumps something bought, and you’re happy to help.

My partner’s brother is a foodie. We usually get him quality oils, chutneys, mustards and other flavourful items, but we thought we’d change it up a bit this year with a charcuterie board to display and serve all of the great foods he enjoys.

I could have easily made him a basic yet beautiful board, but I wanted to do something a bit more personal for him. Along with being a foodie, he also sails and (as sailors do) he likes knots. I thought it would be fun to combine that theme into the board’s design.

Aside from the sailing aspect, he’s also had a partner for a while and we’re all pretty sure she wants to get married. I didn’t come out and say it, but the knot might also suggest that he “tie the knot.” Some subliminal humour on my part.

But how?

As you can imagine, Christmas was very close when I started this project. I didn’t have a lot of time to learn how to carve a knot. My approach was to spend about five minutes online watching parts of a couple different videos, then jump into a prototype. I’ve never carved a knot into a piece of wood before and I didn’t want to tackle my first one on the freshly laminated black cherry panel that was drying and risk making a mistake.

I traced a pattern of a figure-eight knot from the internet onto a piece of paper, cut it out, grabbed a piece of poplar, traced the pattern onto it and jumped into action. Poplar is straight grained and carves easily, so progress went quickly. I didn’t need to carve the whole knot. I just needed to be confident enough in my knot-carving skills that I could start on the real thing without fear of imminent disaster.

After about 20 minutes of routing and carving I had enough confidence to move onto the cherry panel.

After tracing the outline of the knot onto the panel, I used my router to remove a small amount of material around the perimeter of the knot with a 1/16″ wide straight bit. This would help to quickly define the shape and remove some material so carving would be faster and easier. I routed to a depth of about 3/16″.

Some carving gouges were then used to further define the knot and the area surrounding the knot.

Add depth

Since parts of the rope in a real knot are obscured by the rope above it, I needed to create a sense of depth and overlap in this carving. Removing about 1/8″ of wood where the rope would travel under an overlapping portion of rope, then tapering the wood before and after those areas, would make it look like the wood “rope” was travelling under the wood “rope” above it. This might work out after all.

A bit more work to further refine the inner and outer corners of where the rope meets up with itself and things were thankfully looking crisp and clean. At this stage I stood back once in a while to take in the look of the knot from a distance. I find looking at it close up is obviously needed, but pulling back for a wider view is critical from time to time.

Some sanding smoothed a few of the edges and surfaces and readied the board for a finish. I rarely sand a textured surface, but this situation was a bit different. I knew any slightly sharp edges would quickly get worn down by use, and I didn’t want to leave those areas exposed without a finish. Rounding the edges would ensure the finish will stay on for longer. I can always apply another coat of finish down the road, if needed.

All’s well that ends well

Although it was fairly rushed, my time in the shop on that day was enjoyable. It’s really satisfying to head into the shop to make a project and end the day with the first coat of finish on it. After another coat the next day, I was ready for Christmas.

Prototype Time

Rather than risk ruining a nice black cherry charcuterie board, I opted to practice my wooden knot-tying skills on some poplar first.

Prototype Time

Rout First

A router with a 1/16" wide bit defined the perimeter of the knot and made carving easier.

Rout First

Create Depth

Here, the transition between the knot and rest of the board has been defined with some passes with a carving gouge. If you look closely you can see where I’ve sliced through the grain of the wood where the different levels of the wooden rope overlap. I’ll further remove material in these areas until there’s an optical illusion of depth.

Create Depth

The Grand Finale

The finished carving after it was sanded lightly. Next step is the most fun one of all, applying the first coat of finish.

The Grand Finale

A Quick Finish

It’s always satisfying to apply the first coat of finish. It’s even more fun when it’s sped up about 25 times.

Published:
Last modified: January 11, 2024

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

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