Don’t Bin It, Blend It!

I rarely abandon a project because something goes wrong. In most cases, I can make a fix disappear into the wood itself. My screens are almost done and ready for the rice paper. The only time where I refuse a glued repair is where any failure might result in a danger. I once saw a man glue up a chair leg that had a through-break. Telling me that the glue was always stronger than the solid wood, he salved his conscience, that was all. Whereas in certain situations, that can be true, glue also fails for a variety of reasons and glue often does not have the longevity as ultimately most glues can and do break down. Glues I was told in my apprenticeship would last forever, I discovered 50 years later, became crumbly and unsafe to rely on.

My shojis came out very nicely but for a single knot on a visible outer corner. The knots in place are part of the wood but when they do go AWOL (absent without leave) it looks ugly. Here is what I was facing. To let in a piece of wood in an unpainted part would stand out as much as the missing knot.

It is not hard to find another knot of similar size or indeed reduce a larger one to a smaller diameter. In this case, purely by chance, I picked a piece of wood with a knot that fit the existing knothole.

By cutting either side of the knot I was able to reduce the new dead knot from the wood.

Placing it in the hole I twisted it down and it seemed perfectly at home. Just a couple of scrapes with a knife did it.

Once inside the former knothole I used a thin superglue to cement it in place.

The saw took off the excess and then I planed it level.

I did the same to the new knot on the adjacent face and sawed it flush…

…before planing it flush.

With both surfaces planed the knot needed only some wax filler stick to fill in the surrounds and it now looks like it was always there!

28 thoughts on “Don’t Bin It, Blend It!”

  1. A telltale sign of a skilled woodworker. There are no situations that a viable solution can’t be found and carried out with perfection. That little knot will probably be the thing most remembered about this project and the solution quite satisfying in the log book of obstacles overcome. Like in life, the hurdles overcome are more precious then all the days of sunshine because in the hurdle a lesson was learned that in turn caused the sun to shine.

  2. I am become split, destroyer of wood. I can wreck any piece of wood i touch. I used to be obsessed with the English longbow and traditional all wood archery. Over two years I made 330 plus attempts to build bow-like objects. Only #16 and #22 were successful. #16 because the oak heartwood refused to break and #22 because the instruction video was exceptional and the summer latewood in the white ash was thick and sturdy and the stave well seasoned. Lessons learned: slow down. Plan the work and work the plan. Follow instructions. You are not Robin Hood or Robin Wood. Wood much more complex than fiberglass. It can break in many wonderful ways.

    Epilogue: my then girlfriend used #22 to shoot an arrow at me. She’s now my wife of 25 years.

  3. Steven Bergom

    I love this! Instead of “fixing” the mistake/defect you celebrated it and called attention to it. I did the same on a walnut box I made. Instead of trying to hide the gouge in the wood I filled it with some epoxy dyed red, calling attention to the defect. I also added a few more gouges to give it more of a “I meant to do that” look.

  4. Danny, Roberts

    First class repair.

    Regarding failing glue – I have this problem with parts of workbenches and tool-boxes – I love to use refurbished old benches (plural, because I have space in my allotment sheds and home workshop) and toolboxes (likewise) – I like their history – but they have sections (tool tray, base etc) made from ply and (unlike the solid wood sections) there seems to be no good way of repairing them once delaminating sets in through glue failure with age, as you discuss.

  5. Malcolm Smith

    What a timely post. This morning I was assembling the top for a garden table – just using CLS studs so a bit like a prototype. Since it has breadboard ends I decided to drawbore the mortices – saves on clamping I thought. I’ll make some hardwood dowels using my new dowelplate holder – they’ll be nice n sturdy I thought. Me second tenon bore was offset a little too much – a bit extra persuasion required I thought. The dowel eased into the tenon, *thwack* went the persuader, *crack* and *splinter* and out the side it popped. Seems like the heavily compressed hard wood dowel transformed in to a hardwood nail when directed at the spruce.
    So I’ll just try to cut the protrusion and splinter like a mortice, plug it, border it, sign the plug and treat it like a nameplate.
    Lesson learned – caution with the offsetting. 😉

  6. Thanks Paul for sharing this fix. I would have never thought of this on my own. It’s very clever and will not be noticed whereas your other repair probably would.

    On a related note, wood glue and longevity. I’ve been using TiteBond 3 for my work. I have started to wonder when the glue eventually fails and in 100 to 200 years time when someone restores it, would I have been better off using hide glue. I “read” hide glue is much easier to repair and the PVAs glues we use aren’t in that you need to remove all of the PVA glue and have fresh wood to reglue. Sounds as if for hide glue you don’t. What is your insight on this? This just could be hide glue advertisers doing their best to increase their market share of glue use. Thanks.

    PS Loved you YouTube livestream earlier this week. I liked the brisk pace of the answers as you covered a lot of ground.

  7. Tracey Parker

    What an excellent idea & amazing result!
    Would you consider a video on craftsman secrets to fix mistakes/accidental “Oops”? I think this may help many of us still yearning for the perfect cut & fit or repair.
    Thankyou, as always, for sharing your knowledge Paul.

      1. That would be a great addition to you already impressive library of videos.

        Another idea, how about making that the theme of one your Q&A sessions?

  8. A knot transplant. It would have never occurred to me to do something like that. Something to keep in mind for when the situation requires it. Another tool for the toolbox between the ears.

    Must admit I like the solution to the drawbore-tenon even better… repair and sign the repair as if it were a nameplate. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature! Downside though is that that trick can be applied only once per project, unless you want your name tagged all over the workpiece.

    I strongly second the suggestion of a video about repairing or recovering from accidents. Could help people to be a little more daring and take risks trying out new things, if they know how to recover from accidents.

  9. I was asked to fix a very old oak pedestal table for a friend. The hide glue on the feet had died and tge four had been nailed together. So there were unsightly nail holds all over the base. As a solution I drilled out the nail holes and used 1/8 inch dowels as plugs after I had flat sanded the insides and reglued. When I finished it they looked like very small knotholes and the customer cried when I gave it to him. His wife loved this old relic but it had been in her family since she was a child. It was an anniversary gift for her. It had been wobbly for a very long time. He was absolutely amazed and apparently when he gave it to her she cried too. I could have made new pieces but it would have looked different as it was about 100yrs old. I used maple dowel so it would not darken too much.

  10. joe o sullivan

    Glue can also fail from heat, as shown by the breadboard that I throw into the oven for a few minutes to heat up, so that my pizza stays warm. I’m sure”normal” heat is fine though, but maybe you could have something in a car on a warm day, or in a conservatory or something, that might fail after a few years.

  11. Stephen Tyrrell

    Great post and a really lovely repair job. On the subject of Q&A topics in the realm of fixing mistakes, the use of wax to repair defects would be very welcome.

  12. The true test of a craftsperson is how well they fix their mistakes. Great job. 😊

    1. And, really, how few if any that they actually make too, I think. In this particular case, of course, there was no mistake as such, unless it’s said that using a piece with such a loose knot in it in the first place was a mistake, which again it isn’t. That said, I have fixed many a mistake that I made and which taught me to take care of issues like this and indeed have introduced a knot where none existed before!

  13. Hi Paul You should coat the knot with knotting before applying a finish because knots can bleed resin

    1. That’s not necessarily always the case. Dead knots like these for instance generally don’t bleed at all, its the live knots that do and even then not all of them. Knotting is not at all ideal where the preference is an unfinished piece as is generally the rule with shoji panels or if the work is to be finished with a clear finish because of course knotting has colour ranging from light amber all the way through to dark brown. So, this can look ugly. Knotting is mostly used under paint to stop the bleed-through, which happens after a number of months and years.

  14. Cascamite (urea formaldehyde) glue is the only glue that I have used that I have not seen break down later. Only use this stuff if you are sure, I mean really sure that you are not going to need to dismantle the work ever again. We used to use it to laminate new ribs into wooden boats, it works, once it goes off the stuff is immortal. You have to get all squeeze out off while it is still mobile because it clogs grinding discs in seconds. Do not use on granny’s rocking chair, it is harder and tougher than any of it !

    1. I have seen cascamite crumble and break down but the project was around 50 years old. Sorry!

  15. I’d have unhesitatingly eliminated the knot because of the resin risk. An invisible repair by letting-in a carefully-selected piece would never be noticed by those not in the know. Besides, I hate knots.

    My wooden, 6″ reflecting telescope tube was constructed 60 years ago, using Aeolite 606, a urea formaldehyde glue. It is still structurally strong. A wooden box for a Stanley Bridges power drill, made at the same time, has withstood plenty of knocks and is still going strong.

    1. There was absolutely no resin risk. The knot, as I explained, is a dead knot, devoid of all resin. So I kept it because it was intrinsic to the work and an exact part of it in its natural place. To say “Besides, I hate knots.” seemed to me over-reactive to something occurring throughout our lives as woodworkers. As I am often quoted as saying, “Life is like wood, it comes with knots in it.” it makes me wonder how someone who so declares his bitter feeling towards so natural an occurrence might then deal with the life issues we must all deal with in the day to day of life?
      And, with regards to the glue issue too, I hold to what I say. Experience tells me that different things will inevitably affect all glues no matter the type, and all glues will ultimately give out eventually.

    1. It just seems like an overkill for something that took less than two minutes to do and was ready to go immediately with no cure time that’s all. Yes, there are many fixes but this was the most suitable and simplest. It’s easy to come up with alternative ways but why fix what isn’t broke, that’s all.

  16. I was working with some boards with lots of loose dead knots in them that were falling off when I worked them. I don’t know why but I decided to keep them, now I might have a use for them in the future. Thanks 🙂

  17. Bruce Bellows

    The difference between a Craftsman and an amateur is that a Craftsman is accomplished at fixing his mistakes.
    A fix very well done.

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