Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tying things up: Knots

What is it?

Something we use every day, or at least those of us with shoelaces. There was a time, long past, when everyone knew some basic knot tying as it was the most common way to bind things together. The advent of duct tape, bungee cords, and Velcro has seriously reduced the knowledge of the average person in this regard.

Why do it?

Almost all of us have encountered a need for knots. Maybe it is tying something to the roof of a car, tying a tarp down over a grill before a storm, or even putting 2 pieces of a broken shoestring back together. If you do anything outdoors you're likely to run into this need. Or maybe you're an international spy who needs a way to truss up some guards. A few simple knots in your repertoire can greatly increase your success in these areas.

How did I learn it?

This one lies completely with Scouting. While in Webelos, we started to learn the basic knots. The troop I eventually ended up in put a lot of stock in outdoor skills like knot tying and pioneering (rope work, such as lashing) to the point where we would hold speed competitions. Such contests sometimes got a little silly, which is why I can still tie a Bowline behind my back to this day.

How do you learn it?

This is one you need to learn by doing. No matter how many times you read about how a knot is tied or watch a video, until you tie it. I recommend getting some rope or cord to try these knots out as you play with them. Be selective in the rope or cord you use. Most nylon rope will slide and be stiff, making it very poor for knot tying. You can practice with hemp, manilla, or sisal rope, available at any hardware store, but if you intend to practice indoors, be aware that it will shed fibers. I personally use paracord for practice. It is mostly nylon, but it doesn't slip and is very easy to work with. As it is something I carry with me all the time, this gives me good practice with the material to which I am most likely to have access.

There is a lot of great information out there on the web on knot tying, from step by step directions to YouTube videos. I'll share a few of my favorites here:

Animated Knots - I've found this site to have a great variety of knots. I like their presentation, the step-by-step animation, and the use of different colored ropes when tying 2 (or more) lines together.

You Tube - There are honestly thousands of videos on YouTube for tying knots. I've found those done by Expert Village cover a great variety and are fairly easy to follow, but do a search for any knot you're looking for and you'll find someone showing how it's done.

Smartphone and Tablet apps - I recently grabbed a decent free app for my iPad, and some of the paid ones provide animation or video as well. I'll often sit in front of the TV after a long day with my iPad on a knot I don't know and tie it over and over again.

ITS Tactical- Knot of the week - a little more advanced, and not always weekly, I like the unique challenges and projects they introduce.

What else can you tell me that may not be common knowledge?

Very often, folks want to know what knots they need to know. That's tricky as it all depends on the situation, but here are 5 or 6 that would serve you well:

Square knot - not the end-all, be-all some will make it out to as, this knot is still the easiest place to start and very useful for tying 2 even size lines together. Far more reliable than that Granny knot you might be using

Bowline - if you need a loop in a rope that doesn't move, this is the granddaddy of them all.

Taut line hitch - if you need a loop that CAN move, but won't under stress, use this one. This and the bowline often make up the 2 ends of a tent rope.

Sheet bend - or the double sheet bend, makes an excellent way to secure 2 differently sized lines. Like when you need to lash something to the roof and you're cobbling together various lines.

Timber hitch - not much to this one, but it works really well as part of a securing process or for hauling anything. Learn the corresponding hitches that help keep things in line.

Slip knot - Makes a great stopper that's easy to remove.

Do you have a favorite knot? Let me know!