American Heirlooms - April 2019

Internal Defenses

Many trees and plants are beginning to bloom, which means that they will soon have to ward off various predators. Most animals have a fight-or-flight response when faced with a dangerous situation, but plants can’t run or physically fight the dangers they face on a daily basis. However, what they lack in claws and teeth, they make up for in chemical and mechanical defenses.

When a plant’s external defense fails, its internal protection takes charge. A plant lacks an immune system; instead, each cell is programmed to defend against any foreign object that

External Defenses

Many of us are familiar with thorns, prickles, and spines, which are all examples of a plant’s physical defense. But many other plants’ physical defenses are not as obvious. Trees protect themselves with thick, hard-to-eat bark, which is comprised of a natural polymer called lignin. Leaves are often coated in a natural wax, which deters most insects and pathogens. Some leaves have trichomes, which are sharp, hair-like features that stab or prick insects’ legs as they try to land or walk on its surface. Trichomes often also release toxins that can cause irritation and inflammation. Some plants contain microscopic, sharp crystals that puncture and inject chemicals into an animal’s mouth once they’ve bitten it.

comes in contact with it. If an insect or disease attacks the plant, the plant will thicken its cell walls with waxy plating, close its leaf pores, and kill off sections of itself to preserve the whole plant. Plants also have unique chemicals that are deadly to insects and microbes, some of which we use today as seasonings, medicine, or drugs. In addition to toxic compounds, plants can release hormones into the air that warn neighboring plants or even attract other insects to kill would-be attackers.

If you’ve decided to plant a garden this year, take some time to find out which natural defenses your plants wield.

When dead branches fall off a living tree, the result is a knot on the trunk’s surface. Consequently, these dark, circular, stump-like patterns cause a disruption in the living grain of the tree, resulting in a blemish on the surface. Typically, a knot depreciates the value of a given piece of wood because these features are considered defects, and for a large part of furniture-making history, they were an unsatisfactory element. For craftsmen, a knot in a piece of wood is a sign of weakness. Since knots once held a living extension of the tree, the place where those branches were attached has a different makeup than the wood around it. Knots can become loose and fall out during the milling and manufacturing process, and often, when a craftsman is creating a custom piece, he will take pains to avoid the knot so as to maintain the strength and integrity of the piece he is building. This part of the board is also more susceptible to shattering, especially if you place it on a lathe at a high rate of speed. Because of this, it used to be that loose knots were cut out, while others were hidden from view and kept from strain in the design and crafting of a custom piece of furniture.

Instead of perfectly manicured clear wood grain, customers are searching for more character. Now, knots are not always seen as a defect. This requires craftsmen to re-evaluate how we approach wood with knots, and since a knot is still a weak point, the need for precision and care is even more vital to the custom furniture-making process. If you’re looking for the rustic look of knots in your custom furniture pieces, our craftsmen can help. Learn more by calling our shop at 302-653-2411.

But that has since changed.

At our shop, we have seen an uptick in requests for more “rustic stylings” of our custom pieces. This often means that a customer wants knots and blemishes to remain visible in the finished piece.

2 • THE SWISS CRAFTSMAN

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