Why Knot, or the Most Important Knots You’ll Ever Learn

Doc Randall, better known as Dad in my household, has a thing for knots. It doesn’t matter what situation he finds himself in, he knows just the knot to tie. The familial knot wisdom must have stopped there. Watching me secure my paddleboard to the top of my Subaru, whom I have rechristened “Crusty,” is the stuff of nightmare for knot gurus. That process involves a long piece of nylon rope, granny knots, and so many loops through the luggage rack that the board cannot help but stay put. While the tangled web I weave may get the job done, it is completely lacking in elegance, in safety, and it takes me a good five minutes to get my mess undone so that I can get the paddleboard down and into the water.

My father would be abhorred by what he saw.

It pains me to say this, but about the only knot I have any decency with is a half-hitch or quick-release knot, and the only reason I know that one is because I used it to tie my horse to the trailer or to a fencepost. I can do a square knot, but I have to think about it as I go so that I don’t misadvertently tie a granny knot. I asked Dad how and why he came to know so many knots. He said that he tied a lot of them as a kid, but while in vet school, vet students routinely carried around lengths of rope. That rope could be used to double as a leash to walk dogs that were in the university’s vet clinic, but they were also good as practice fodder for different knots.

Since my knot-tying skills are so abysmal, I asked Dad to put together a short list of knots that he thought everyone near the vet clinic or a paddle board should know how to tie. Then me being me, I researched the different names by which that knot might be known (knots have several aliases, as it turns out, and I’ve tried to list them here), its potential uses, an example of a finished version of that knot, and finally, a tutorial showing you just how to tie that knot. Think of this as a getting-started primer into the labyrinth of knot tying.

Name Potential Uses Tutorial
Clove Hitch Knot or Weaver’s Knot This is a simple, all-purpose hitch that binds well and is easy to tie and untie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5m389Isimw
Mooring Hitch, Quick-Release Knot, or Hitch Knot The quick release or hitch knot is particularly useful for tying your horse to a trailer, hitching post, or to a ring mounted securely on the wall because it can be released by pulling on one end of the rope. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P3JRenDA9Y
Square Knot or Reef Knot The square knot is used to tie the two ends of a single line together such that they will secure something, such as a bundle of twine, that is unlikely to move much. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWHW53jw9c0&list=PL9FEBB08C73A0D2FF
Rope Halter Knot The rope halter knot is used to create a halter out of a piece of rope. It is particularly useful when catching horses out in the pasture. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMcX3ZQM9n4
Upside-Down Rope Halter Knot The upside down halter knot is often used to tie back a mare’s tail during breeding season. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ahnjfjGOXio
Bowline Knot The bowline is well known as a rescue knot as it forms a secure loop that will not jam and is easy to tie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hIdsTZTUl6E
Taut Line Knot, Adjustable Hitch, Rigger’s Hitch, Midshipman’s Hitch A taut line knot is useful when the length of a line will need to be adjusted periodically in order to maintain tension within the line or rope. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdSJO_713do
Figure-Eight Knot, Savoy Knot, Flemish Bend, Flemish Knot, Double Stopper Knot This is strong knot for creating a loop at the end of a rope. It is commonly used by mountaineers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQ-bRpqTVNU
Sheet Bend Knot, Becket Bend, Weaver’s Knot, or Weaver’s Hitch A sheet-bend knot joins two ropes together. When it is doubled, it is effective in binding lines of different diameter or rigidity together securely. However, it does have a tendency to work loose when not under load. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTX88CJR4DY

Don’t Bring a Knife to a Gun Fight

Why do you need to know knots? These reasons alone should have you practicing your knots every night:

  • Safety–By tying the appropriate knot properly in any given situation, you decrease the likelihood of injury to yourself, to others, and to any animal with which you might be working.
  • Useful–You know how having the proper equipment at hand makes a difficult task less difficult? Well, think of using the proper knot as a version of having the correct equipment on hand.
  • Good hand–In my father’s lingo, being told that you are a “good hand” or that you did something “pretty good” is akin to papal blessing. No, knot tying on its own does not indicate that one is a good hand, but it goes a long way towards indicating that you are ready and prepared to do the job that needs to be done. And that, my friends, is a common-sense step towards being a good hand.

Reverential Material, or the Ashley Book of Knots

While researching some of the different knots for this blog post, I kept running across references to the Ashley Book of Knots. (Dad, DO NOT run out and get this for yourself as I finally have something decent to get you for Father’s Day.) Apparently Ashley is the alpha and omega of knots, so much so that other sources reference Ashley’s book as ABOK and then the knot’s number, such as ABOK#52. The man methodically researched and documented 3,000 different knots, and then sketched out how to tie these knots properly. Additionally, I found the Animated Knot web site, and although I dearly want to introduce Grog to the usefulness of a Google Search function, this is a pretty handy web site. The slide-show tutorials make it relatively easy to learn to tie some of these knots.

Somewhere, Boy Scouts and sailors alike are happy to see all of this knowledge being put to good use. And if you’re looking for me, I’m in the garage, practicing my knots. I want to make a good impression this summer when tying my paddleboard to Crusty.

A note from Erin: If you see errors, please send me an email so that I can get this topic corrected. Even Ashley himself had erratum following the initial publication of his magnum opus.


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