Knot Just Lumber

Sign Knot Just Lumber

A local store

When driving through Hiawatha, Iowa, recently, a nondescript sign caught our eye. Posted on what looked like a warehouse the sign said, KNOT JUST LUMBER.  We had to check it out and soon entered the ultimate wood candy store.

Leaning upright were immense slabs of white and red oak, walnut, cherry, and mulberry destined to become gorgeous tables. Nearby were smaller boards of at least a dozen tree species. Most were cut from native Iowa trees, but some racks held exotic wood from foreign lands. Purpleheart caught our eyes. It comes from trees that grow in Central and South America. When first cut the wood is dull grayish but within a few days, it transforms into an eggplant purple color.


Local Connections

We returned to visit Nic Carter, who co-owns the store with his sister, Caris. The family is from Alburnett and Nic was an active 4-H member dabbling in woods making jewelry boxes for art shows. After stints as a woodworker and home builder Nic, and his family opened Knot Just Lumber in September 2022. He and his sister decided to open the store because, “The area has no local woodworking place, so, I started one here,” he explained.

His father and son help run this family-owned and operated business located just north of Cedar Rapids. We enjoyed an in-person tour, which is augmented by their website and includes a virtual walk-through.

Knot Just Lumber caters to hobbyists, commercial customers, and families. We have visited several times and enjoyed chatting with individual customers and couples, and watched kids touch and smell the smooth, fragrant wood. The company buys trees from wood brokers. Most originate from trees in southern Iowa. The company mills wood into various-sized boards and turning rounds, dries it in an onsite kiln, surface planes, and sands most boards.

Wood is Special

Wood is special. We’ve noticed that in many brand-new houses doors, window frames, and floors are crafted from composite materials and plastic.

Nothing seems natural. In contrast, our 1947-era house has floors of Douglas Fir and White Oak with our furniture crafted from solid oak, pine, walnut, and cedar. Different woods make our home feel closer to nature while gracing us with the individual vibrant colors, textures, and grain patterns of each species. The woods connect us to woodworkers, friends, and craftspeople from bygone and current eras.

Commercial Lumber

Commercial lumber is usually cut from the straightest and most uniform trees. Buy it from a large commercial outlet and it’s attractive and easy to work but lacks the character implanted in wood by knots and irregular growth. In contrast, every wood slab we saw at Knot Just Lumber showed the individuality and character of the tree that created it. “Some of the most interesting wood comes from trees that grew in urban areas where their branches spread widely. It helps give the wood wonderful character and beautiful grain,” said Nic.

Unfortunately, every year millions of trees, many growing in towns, are felled after they die. Beautiful wood inside the bark is frequently hauled to a landfill, ground into shavings, or cut for firewood. Knot Just Lumber converts old veteran trees into lumber destined to be crafted into furniture that endures for generations. The company even saves sawdust and compresses it into briquettes to feed a wood stove or campfire. We bought some and found that they work wonderfully. We appreciated Nic’s caution that they do burn hot, so we use them sparingly. We are excited to use them with our occasional campfires out back.

A Way to Add Character to a Room

The materials from our recent downstairs bathroom renovation are mostly manmade. That’s understandable, as the surfaces need to be easily cleaned and resist moisture. But the room needed the character of wood. So, we bought an oak board from Knot Just Lumber to cover a small area of plaster. It adds the warmth of nature to an otherwise utilitarian space.

Hidden Gems

Owner, Nic, with an epoxied slab ready to be an end table.

Fusing old and new technology.

Knot Just Lumber is a local store we found by accident. The staff consult, have working spaces and classes for customers and specialize in epoxy with the wood to create gorgeous pieces for homes. Their prices are reasonable, especially compared to national stores or online sources. Similar local stores are scattered across the country. Finding them can be tricky but hobbyist woodworkers know where they are and anyone can Google hardwood lumber and they might learn of a nearby place to buy gorgeous local wood.


One of our favorite resources to learn the diverse characteristics of dozens of different species of native and exotic woods is the book WOOD!  Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide, by Eric Meier.