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Stephen Paulger


Interesting article. I don't think knots are lost knowledge though, mountaineers and climbers still use a lot of knots.



You are amazing. Amazing. What a gift you give!

Kris De Decker


#2 Really? I have no experience as a climber, but from the product catalogs it seemed to me that other fastening technologies had supplanted knots.

Tree Beard


Tree climbers and other tree workers need to know how to use ropes and knots correctly - their lives depend upon that knowledge.

Kris De Decker


Okay, thanks. I have added "climbers" to the list of "campers, boy-scouts and sailors" who still acquire knowledge of knots.

But I also found this slightly disturbing comment on an arborists forum, following the question "what knot is your primary climbing hitch?"

"*scratches his head* climbing hitch? I've heard of those somewhere...I can tie them but I never use hitches for climbing. I use mechanical stuff. A petzl minitraxion, a rescue pulley, and a descender all set up in my own system that I've used for a long time."



Tree climbers, hang on to your knots! They're after you, too!

Tree Beard


I do ground work for tree climbers and they use knots to tie ropes to limbs which they cut, then lower to the ground. They use part of the tree they are in, or an adjacent one, as a pulley to gain some mechanical advantage so they won't be pulled out of the tree along with the branch they are lowering. The knots they use have to hold tight, not slip, and then be able to be easily untied when the limb reaches the ground.

The days of a climber tying his own harness out of rope are gone - haven't seen that for 40 years. Only the old timers know how to do that. And if they are still climbing, they are using a commercially made sling.

Tree climbing usually involves the use of spikes and a belt or rope looped around the tree - ascenders are not usually used by tree guys. That's all I know about that.



In your list of uses of rope (and cord), many textiles could also be included as the technology is quite similar and many of the same materials are used (flax, hemp, cotton). The difference is really a matter of scale. Fibers are straightened (carded or combed), twisted (spun), then plied. Knots are used to make fabric and rugs. It has been argued that knitting is basically using two sticks to knot yarn into fabric, and some histories of knitting refer to "finger knitting" in which yarn is knotted with the fingers to produce fabric. Elaborate decorative knots of yarn and string are also used to make buttons and fasteners.

Smoke Eater


Knots were the hardest part of my Firefighter exam (for me, anyway). I went from hating them to loving them over time. We use the all the time in the fire rescue service.



"[...] the same goes for synthetic ropes: most have very poor "knot-holding ability" "
I'll call BS on this one. Fisherman's nets are now made out of synthetic rope. Have you ever tied and set a knot in a polypro rope? It doesn't want to come untied. In lots of rope rescue experience (where we use all synthetic rope, which is nearly miraculously strong and useful) I've never seen a knot come untied.
I appreciate the articles on this site, but this is the second demonstrably false statement I've seen here, which is disappointing.

Kris De Decker


If this would be "the second demonstrably false statement" on this entire website (which has some 80 articles), you're not getting me worried. Nobody's perfect, and if I would not welcome criticism there would be no comment section.

But is the statement false?

"The low friction of UHMWPE fibres leads to poor knot-holding ability so don't ever think about constructing your own dyneema sling - even with a super-duper-ultra safe knot. It will unravel when you least want it to."


"Aramid fibers are high strength (5x stronger than steel), hold up to high tension quite well, and are quite UV and weather resistant (can't even dye the fibers). Aramids under tension have low abrasion resistance and they generally have poor knot holding ability as they are somewhat slippery."


"The decrease in strength with use is a worry for any of the Technora, Kevlar or Vectran materials. The Gemini and the Spectra-A are also extremely stiff and difficult to tie and untie."

"The knot efficiencies for these materials, which are very low in new material, may be higher when the cord is used and more flexible, but further testing is needed to determine this."


As far as I know, there is no scientific study that compares the knot-holding ability of natural and synthetic ropes. It could be that some synthetic ropes have better knot-holding ability than others. But the quotes above seem to indicate that there is an issue here.



“There is no scientific study that compares the knot-holding ability of natural and synthetic ropes”
On the contrary, there is a substantial body of knowledge on the comparative properties of natural and synthetic ropes and the knots that are effective with them. Certain fibres are well known to be ‘slippery’ and require specialist knots. For example, fishermen have to use particular knots to tie monofilament nylon.

Climbing was only made possible as a safe sport by the development of synthetic ropes. These are designed with some stretch under a shock load to provide a soft(er) deceleration in the event of a fall. Natural fibres (except perhaps silk, which would be prohibitively expensive and would require far too many silkworms and mulberry trees!) do not have the necessary properties. However, climbers must use particular knots that will not slip on the synthetic braided sheathing of the ropes.

But it is simply wrong to say “None of these new materials is compatible with knots.” A wide range of synthetic ropes are used in numerous applications, and many of them are routinely knotted. All of the knots illustrated in the article can be tied satisfactorily with synthetic rope.

Many knots do significantly weaken the rope (of any type) in which they are tied, by measurable factors that have been thoroughly researched. To avoid this, for maximum strength it is necessary to use certain knots. Sometimes adding extra turns can help. Climbers tend to use figure-of-eight knots where other people might use an overhand knot. This is one reason why other fastenings are used instead of knots.

Another issue is untying a knot after it has had a load on it. For example, a bowline or a figure-of-eight knot will usually be easy to untie, even after heavy loading.

I also don’t believe that “the manufacturing of synthetic cordage requires expensive, high-tech (and at present digitalized) machinery”. In essence, aside from the production of the fibre, synthetic ropes can be laid in the same way as natural fibre ropes. A simple rope could be laid in a 17th century rope works whether its fibres were polypropylene or hemp. If the rope is a complex braided climbing rope, then the machinery to lay it will necessarily be more complicated, but this is driven by the rope design, rather than the fibre.

Of course, modern machinery will be much faster and reliable than having many men walking up and down a long building turning handles, so there will be a saving in resources here.

Finally, if synthetic fibres can be “10 to 100 times stronger than steel”, there are potentially enormous savings of resources, both in energy and material resources used in manufacture, and weight saved in use. And if the ropes last longer in service, that is a further saving of resources.

kris de decker


John, thanks for your comment. Let me correct my earlier statement: "As far as I know, there is no scientific study that compares the knot-holding ability of natural and synthetic ropes and costs less than 5,000 dollars". It was much easier to find information on obsolete rope manufacturing than on contemporary technology. This kind of specific technical information seems only to be accessible through very expensive industry reports. Your comment gives the answers to the doubts that I had.

One thing, and you know it yourself because you insert the word "potentially": If synthetic fibres can be 10 to 100 times stronger than steel, there are potentially enormous savings of resources, both in energy and material resources used in manufacture, and weight saved in use.

This did not happen. We have used the progress in rope technology mainly to design much bigger and more powerful machines and applications. Much larger fishing nets, for example.



Great article. I strongly believe there are some knots and rope lovers in Japan which will keep their tradition in very sophisticated knotting....



A basic clove hitch and and a Bowline should be a mandatory life skill, right after tying your shoelaces ;-)



I'm pretty sure the hemp-rope industry is still alive and kicking, to the delight of many a bondage enthusiast ;)

Dan Lehman


> But it is simply wrong to say “None of these new materials is compatible with knots.”

One can take issue with this. First of all, I understood the article here to be referring expressly to the most modern of synthetic fibres, viz. Kevlar, ... HMPE, & LPO --NOT to earlier and most popular synthetics, nylon/polyester/polypropylene/-thylene. In this sense, the article is essentially correct, as knots are more prone to slippage in the slipperier new low-stretch/high-strength materials AND their "efficiency" (strength) is markedly less (around 33% vs. 60%). In some recent testing of novel knots I tried in HMPE (Dyneema SK-75, urethane-coated) 12-strand cordage, e.g., all knots held (whereas amazingly even a stoppered Double Bowline can slip & shrink its eye!) but the highest break came at merely about 42% of tensile strength, the lowest around 35%. Consequently, these ropes are used in practice with SPLICES, not knots (except in some special cases).

> Fisherman's nets are now made out of synthetic rope.
> Have you ever tied and set a knot in a polypro rope?
> It doesn't want to come untied. In lots of rope rescue experience
> (where we use all synthetic rope, which is nearly miraculously
> strong and useful) I've never seen a knot come untied.

Not so! Please realize that rope construction & materials come in a GREAT variety --of material, construction, size, and ultimately ageing effects. There are many PP ropes that are quite resistant to holding knots --VERY resistant, their hard slickness denying friction, and their springiness inviting the knot to further loosen. Moreover, climbers and --and the commenter should especially realize this-- SAR (Search and Rescue) workers have in some case banned the venerable bowline on account of its propensity to come loose in firm, slippery, smooth-sheathed kernmantle ropes typical of those application areas. (There are, however, some good easy ways to secure the bowline.)

As for nets, some are made of HMPE, and for those there has been a special search for more secure knots, as the traditional one(s) similar to Sheet Bend/Bowline slip, and the integrity of the net is compromised. One of the knots used by a Danish maker match something I found in fine nylon(?) netting in the USA (Cape May Point, beachcombing) --something using a structure somewhat like a slip knot.

> mountaineers and climbers still use a lot of knots

Not so many as one might (mis)believe, and not with so much keen attention to knotting detail, either, alas. Principally they use the FIg.8 eye knot or some secured Bowline to tie into the rope; the Grapevine Bend to make circular ("loop") slings/runners --and a Double Grapevine (aka "Triple FIsherman's knot") is recommended for HMPE-cored cord--; the Clove Hitch for anchoring belays; the "Munter Hitch" for frictional belaying & emergency rappelling; the Offset Overhand Bend (aka "EDK (European Death Knot)") for joining rappel ropes (as it flows over rough surfaces easily), and some multiple Overhand for a stopper in the ends of rappel ropes.

> Many knots do significantly weaken the rope (of any type) in which
> they are tied, by measurable factors that have been thoroughly researched.

Now THIS is pure BS : nothing is very "thorough" or well measured regarding the testing of knots --mind you, getting some digital read-out from a test device put with X digits of implied accuracy is not a sure sign of accuracy. Typically, one cannot see what dressing & setting of the tested knot met the test; then there is the question of the relevance of the typical slow-pull test-to-rupture for practical uses; and then there is the vast variety of materials & constructions of the materials in which some knot might be tied to throw yet further factors into an already complex equation of "strength". E.g., the Sheet Bend is a very old and common knot; it is asymmetric, one end forming a "loop" and the other a "bight"; one might expect the asymmetry to see one side/shape being the frequent point of rupture, but have you EVER seen it reported which of the bight or loop breaks? Please, do not think that knots area well researched or well understood. And the Figure-8 eyeknot is the common way rockclimbers tie into rope, but typically presentations of this knot don't even show which of the two possible ends should be loaded, and often the knot's presentation illustrates a *flat* image of pure tracing of one line by the 2nd, and no hint of how this gets dresses in 3-dimensional reality!

The bulk of information in print and in electronic form is nothing more than a parroting of myths and conjectures, some of it hilariously wrong, but copied nevertheless --beware!

==== *

Dan Lehman


My "LPO" should be "PBO", with a tradename "Zylon" --a VERY low-stretch, strong, & expensive (& UV sensitive) new material.



I believe many of the "slippery" new fibers like spectra etc. tend to be jacketed with less difficult synthetics like nylon and polypro, a good compromise solution. They are expensive, but there are applications where they make sense (I'm not a sailor, but I think modern rigging uses them, and I remember reading that some of the recent Mars landers used them as well - we may well have sent knots to another world!)

There are some other knots we climbers use that are well worth learning for everyday life, for example the Alpine Butterfly:


There are multiple ways to tie it, and they are all quick and easy - an irresistible combination.



In the Boy Scouts (USA) in the late 1960s we made a length rope from twine as part of a merit badge project.



Riggers I am a Show Rigger for Movies and Stage where it all originated from the sailing ships and then adapted to stage.



I really enjoy the content on this website. While reading this article I was thinking that the technique of making rope probably developed by braiding leather or entrails in an effort to reinforce a single strand that wasn't strong enough for the task at hand and was later applied to plant fibers.

Judith Martin


No-one has mentioned circus. New circus is hip and fast, not only slick (Cirque de Soleil), and trapeze uses a lot of rope and knots.
#21: The backdrops for the Harry Potter movies were hung by ropes made in Somerset, at West of England Ropewalk, by a 5th-generation rope maker (sadly no longer around, but there might be a 6th generation).
Then there's Guédelon, the modern recreation of a mediaeval castle in France, where they have vast hand-made ropes for moving stones etc. in the construction.
At the very least, the technology will survive in the heritage field - think of all the sailing ships fondly restored.
Everything would be easier if makers were allowed to grow hemp for the manufacture, without government hysteria (thought I thought, #16, the bondage crowd preferred something smoother/harder ;-) ).
A lovely website, thank you.



There is an International Guild for Knot Tyers, IGKT. http://www.igkt.net/

Martin M


Fantastic article. Thanks for this. The writing style, varied use of images and, most importantly, level of detail is perfect. Thanks for sharing such great content!



Interesting article and some good points made.

I would add farmers to the groups who still extensively use natural fiber rope and knots. While it has, to some extent been supplanted by plastic rope, netting, or even wrapping with plastic sheets, natural sisal fiber 'baler twine' is still a popular option for holding together hay bales. Natural fiber is easier to cut and knot, less dangerous if accidentally eaten by livestock, biodegrades if left in a field, and its larger diameter reduces cutting and blisters on hands when one is lifting and throwing bales all day. (It is also more picturesque for public-facing uses.)

When a square bale is opened to feed to animals, it leaves two knotted loops of twine about 4 ft long; a highly useful length. It's a rare farmer who will not have several loops in his pocket or tractor toolbox as he does his daily chores. He is skilled with a number of simple, but effective knots, even if he doesn't know their proper names. He uses them throughout the day to close gates, temporarily repair fence, secure items to tractors or in truck beds,secure livestock, tie down tarps, or gather together wood and other bulky items for easier carrying.

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