Dirk Bertels

The greatest malfunction of spirit
is to believe things (Louis Pasteur)

So many knots, so little time ...

Last updated 27 October 2012


No cloth could be woven, no net or seine knitted, no bow strung and no craft sailed
on lake or sea without numerous knots and proper lines or ropes; and Columbus himself
would have been far more handicapped without knots than without a compass.

A. Hyatt Verrill, Knots, Splices and Rope Work , 1917


Introduction

This page is really a means for me to record the knots I learned over some time plus a couple of guidelines and related information. Although it provides some links, it doesn't illustrate any of the knots, for that purpose many other websites will prove more suitable.

As this page only covers very well established knots that have been proven to work in practice, it may be of some help for those that are looking for a platform to start from. There's a surprising amount of data on knots on the web - some people take it very seriously and have heated discussions on the topic - the International Guild of Knot Tyers Forum is a good example of this. It is very easy to get lost in all this information, the sheer number of knots and different ways of tying them.

Knots are used in a surprisingly wide variaty of fields: mathematics, general household, camping, fishing, boating, weaving, lashing, rescue, tackling, towing, bushtrekking, wilderness survival, loops at the end of strings for string instruments, archery bow string loops, etc. There is something soothing about tying and learning knots - you have to think in patterns and its outcome is something that can be quite practical - most of my knots are used when tying things down on the car's roofrack (or a trailer) or when kayaking. The knots I use mostly are the Trucker's Hitch, followed by the Alpine Butterfly, the Bowline, the Square Knot and the Figure Eight or Flemish Bend (the fact that I am actually Flemish is pure coincidence).

I will use the term knot very loosely here; they can be stand-alone, include other objects (e.g. for mooring), be based on simpler knots or a combination of different knots.

Fundamentals

This section is very incomplete - to be added to in the future ...

Types

  • Hitch: a knot used to attach a rope to a fixed object. Hitches are good for temporarily tying things down, e.g. to boats and cars.
  • Bend: a knot tying 2 ends together.
  • Loops
  • Slip knot. A knot that would undo itself if nothing else were obstructing it. Used for example in the trucker's knot (which really is a combination of knots).

Terminology

  • Capsize: suddenly turning into different knot, e.g. a slip knot loop capsizes into rapid bowline.
  • Endian: Free or Tag end and Standing or Fixed end.
  • Dressing: The final 'tightening' of the knot. Every section of the knot should have even distributed loading under strained condition.
  • Tightness: Some knots can end up differently depending on which order the ends have been tightened at, e.g. figure 8 knots shouldn't have crossing strands.
  • Stopper: A standalone knot to stop a strand slipping through a knot.

Basic Requirements

To use knots in practice you need to be able to tie them in a variety of situations and from different perspectives.

Apart from being reliable in the task it needs to fulfil, in most cases a knot should be easy to undo. It should not 'capsize' into a different configuration.

A knot should be easy to visually verify that it has been tied correctly. Climbers for example prefer to use the figure 8 over the Bowline-Yosemite combination for that reason.

For round textile ropes the recommended tail length is 10 times the diameter of the textile. For flat textiles the recommended tail length is 6 times the width of the textile.

If safety is an issue, use a Stopper to stop slippage.

Favourite Knots

This is a list of my favourite knots. Many are related, i.e. they may have similar starting procedures as in the Clove hitch, the Bag hitch and the Constrictor.

A knot may be used for different purposes, e.g. the Alpine Butterfly is basically a loop, but can also be used as a bend. To this end, if often needs to be constructed in a different manner.

Most of the following knots are described on these websites:

Overhand knot

The easiest and best-known is the overhand knot. This is the knot we use when starting to tie our shoelaces.

Square knot

Left over right, right over left. To finish of tying. Topologically equivalent to 2 Reversed Half Hitches.

Slip knot

Running knot. Often used as a step in a more complex knot, such as the trucker's hitch or Karash Rescue rope. Truckers and rescuers execute this loop with one quick underhand movement of the left hand.

Clove Hitch

Basic hitch e.g. to temporarily tie boat to a shore fixture. Good to start lashings.

Bag Hitch

Secure binder. Used as anchor hitch for the Trucker's Hitch. Variant of the Clove Hitch

Constrictor

Where tension is applied (and maintained) from 2 opposite sides. Grips like a boa-constrictor. Very hard to undo. Variant of the Clove Hitch.

Bowline

Possibly the most standard knot to create a non-slipping loop at the end of a rope. The bowline has been called the 'king of knots'. A must know for general usage.

The proper way to tie a bowline can be seen on Youtube: Bowline knot. It is more practical and less prone to error than the 'rabbit out of a hole' method. However, I found it still necessary to learn to tie it from the opposite point of view, which seems to make more sense to me.

The initial loop formed in the bowline can be doubled or trippled.

The Cowboy Bowline (where the 'tail' ends up outside the loop) is said to be more secure during ring loading.

The Rapid Bowline is made by passing the end of a rope around an object, then tying a loose Slip knot in the main part of the rope and passing the end through it. Pulling on the main part will capsize the knot into a Bowline. This technique is used in the Karash Rescue Knot.

Figure 8 or 'Flemish' Bend

Basically a figure 8 knot that is turned in on itself. Different methods of tying depending whether you need to strand it through a ring or whether the ring can be clipped into the loop. Widely used by mountaineers - 3 versions:

  • on Bight: an open loop
  • Follow
  • Bend

Climbers often prefer the Figure-Eight Bend (with some type of Stopper Knots) over other bends for situations when lives are at stake.

Alpine Butterfly or Lineman's Loop

My favourite knot. Generally condidered the strongest in-line loop knot.

  • Needed when creating a loop in-line for tying the kayak onto the roofbar.
  • Used by climbers to hook onto the same rope.
  • Used to circumvent weak parts of a rope.
  • Also as a bend to tie two ropes together. See Alpine Butterfly Bend: How to.

There are various ways of tying this knot - I prefer the method as shown in Tie an Alpine Butterfly Knot

If you want to use the Alpine Butterfly loop at the end of the rope, without creating the loop first, such as would be needed when fastening the end of a rope around an anchor point that is fixed on both ends so that no loop can be thrown over it, you need to use a 'follow through' method as can be seen at davidmdelaney's Butterfly Bend Loop.

...it doesn't matter which way you pass the second end of rope through the loop in the first end of rope, and it doesn't matter if you curve the two ends of rope upwards or downwards, and it doesn't matter if you cross the two ends of rope on top of or behind the main parts of the ropes. The only thing that matters is that the two ends of rope form interlocked loops which are mirror-images of each other, and that they both pass through the center of the knot together (i.e. in the same direction). [ref - Layhands]

Sliding Grip Hitch, Adjustable Grip Hitch and Adjustable grip bend

One of these knots that's great to play or show off with - but haven't really used it in practice.

  • Grips when tightened
  • Sliding Grip Hitch is one-directional
  • Double: Can be used to adjust the size of a loop
  • uses: tightening tent ropes, fan belt

Hangman's noose

For bundling items together while keeping the tension (camping gear, sticks). Needs to be well dressed. Number of turns determine the friction.

Trucker's Hitch

Shown to me one day by a trucker who was helping me to move house with a trailer. It has proven to be the most useful of all knots ever since. I use it mainly to tie the kayak onto the car's roof rack. Its main advantage is that you can apply (and maintain) tension while tying the knot. The slip knot (used as the loop) can be executed with a quick flip of the hand - speeding up the process where many hitches are involved. Very useful if you want to impress people when helping to move house.

Read also my post on IGKT Forum (reply 72 onwards) for a discussion on how to finish off the trucker's hitch.

Versatackle

To tie this knot, first tie two loop knots (such as Alpine Butterflies). For one of the loop knots , leave the Working End of the rope fairly long. Bring the long Working End through the other loop knot, then pass it through its own loop knot. Bring the long Working End through the other loop knot again, then begin tightening the system by pulling hard on the Working End. The self-locking nature of the system will hold the tension as you pull tighter.

Fisherman's knot

For tying 2 strings together. Basically consists of 2 knots that are pulled together. Gives cability to add lines between the 2 knots such as for sinkers and hooks. There are single, double, and 'however many you want' fisherman's knots.

Karash Rescue Rope + rapid bowline

Creates 2 loops for the legs and one accross the chest for heaving people in emergency situations. To create the chest loop, and interesting variant of the bowline is shown whereby the strand forming the loop is entered through a sliding loop and then collapses into a bowline. See Karash Rescue Rope Demonstration video

Prusik Knot

See Prusik knot at Animated knots. Allows a rope to be climbed. The knot requires a "Prusik Loop" which is constructed by joining the two ends of a length of rope using a Double Fisherman's or a Triple Fisherman's. Use Klemheist if load is only applied in one direction.

Monkey's Fist

  • To add weight to the end of a rope. (a heaving line).
  • 3 coils around hand
  • 3 coils perpendicular over first winding
  • 3 coils inside first winding outside 2nd one

String loops

Tying loops at the end of strings for string instruments such as the zither banjo requires some specialised knotting. I found the following examples quite useful:

I started a thread on this subject on IGKT, if anyone likes to contribute...

Square Lashing

Another very practical knot to bind together 2 pieces. Here's a good animation

Links


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