Initial article begun 2014-12-06 by Bill Blondeau
A piece of working rope is called a line. When you are talking about knots, you talk in terms of line.
Why do we say “line” instead of “rope”?
One interesting thing: you do not use “line” to refer to steel cables, because there’s no effective way of knotting metal ropes. Flexible metal lengths have a completely different set of fastening techniques, involving attaching shackles to fixed eyes. Nothing in this article should be taken to apply to metal ropes: working with those is a different discipline.
Whenever you're working with a line, you have two different contexts. Or parts. Or existential natures. Or if you're a math geek, two topological aspects. Or… OK whatever.
It's important to know these terms because they show up in almost any discussion of knots.
There are three classifications of knots
Interestingly, this is one of the key categorizations of knots. What you're tying it to tends to drive the structural characteristics of the knot, and the methods used to tie it.
Knots can be tied to:
Everybody has opinions about this. Twelve different people who know something about knots would probably come up with twelve different lists. Some would say there are 4 essential knots, some would say 7. Or 13. Or 5. And some people would fly into sputtering indignation because some knot they can't imagine living without didn't make the cut. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WHERE IS THE TIMBER HITCH???
Here's the Bodgerous list of six. It's based on simple day-to-day practicality, including ease of use and safety.
Here's specific info on these.
| This knot forms a loop that tends not to slip. (Any knot can slip given a frictionless rope; bowlines are simple and strongly resist slipping when your line is a normal rope not lubricated with some external substance.) The bowline, for what it's worth, is the knot that's most likely to save your life.
There are many kinds of bowline, with different puposes and properties. We are only going to look at the essential, basic bowline right now.
A non-slip loop has so many uses. As you learn and use the bowline, you’ll naturally come to rely on it more and more. Some particular things to think about:
The simple bowline is not the most secure variant of the bowline family of knots. You can find safer variants of the bowline. Some of them are easy, some are not; but this list has been put together for day-to-day use. If you're a commercial fisherman or a mountaineering guide, and you are checking this list for knotwork basics, may Cthulhu eat you first (that's the closest Cthulhu comes to “having mercy on your soul”: when the Great Ones return, getting it over with quick is the best you can hope for.)
This works. However, it is also the reason that so many people whine, “Bowlines are so hard”, and never use them much in real life. It is not a good way to learn the knot.
One of the best characteristics of a bowline is that you can release it easily, even after it’s been under a lot of strain. This is often called “popping” the bowline, or “breaking its back”. Popping a bowline cannot be done while under load. However, once the line is slack, popping it is simple: just go to the top of the knot and push it up along the standing part. It will introduce slack into the entire knot, and you’re good. Even a bowline in a hefty rope can be popped by pressing with both thumbs.
| This is the classic bend. It’s simple to learn, not easy to screw up, and is pretty good for normal usage. Learn it, use it, you won’t be disappointed.
That said, if you need to manage very heavy loads or big ropes, it’s much safer and smarter to study up on a more advanced bend, such as the double carrick bend. These advanced knots are beyond the scope of this document.
Looking at a sheet bend, you will probably notice similarities with the structure of the bowline. These similarities are not accidental. The virtues of both knots come from the same kinds of structural advantages.
This video is kind of nice because it shows it once quickly, once slowly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3reZ3NuGaQ
Once the load is off, it's pretty easy to see how to release the knot. Sheet bends are comparatively jam-resistant, and the technique for releasing them is similar to what you'd do with a bowline.
For increased security, and as a general rule when one of the lines is considerably smaller or slinkier than the other, throw an extra wrap around the bend in the bigger line. It’s pretty easy to see how, and to understand why, by inspection. If in doubt about how to do it, see this video.