Get as much clear lumber as possible from knotty woods.

How do you find mythical wood, such as perfectly clear cedar, without paying a small fortune at the home center? Our secret: We don't.

Starting with inexpensive, rough-milled cedar, work around the knots, minimizing wasted wood, time, and money. Here's how.

1. Seek out the clearest boards, but don't go overboard. In some woods, such as pine and cedar, knots are expected—even desirable. But avoid loose knots or those that might compromise project integrity.


2. Buy boards at least twice as wide as you need; then rip them down the center to rough width. This often puts knots on the outer edges of the board, where they can be trimmed away more easily.


3. Crosscut the project parts to rough length, using the method shown below to speed the task. Where knots are unavoidable, work to position them on the edges or ends of the workpiece, where they might be removed or reduced in final sizing.


4. Finally, choose the clearest face. Then plane, joint, and cut project parts to final size, being mindful of opportunities to remove more knots. Here are the actual Tree Bench parts we managed to cut starting from a 1×8×96" board. With 30% waste from very knotty wood, we still managed to save money over expensive select lumber.