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Bushcraft: Get Knotted

Bushcraft: Get Knotted

If you are going into the woods to practise bushcraft skills, then at some time it is almost guaranteed that you will need to tie something together. Okay, the old adage “if you cannot tie knots, tie lots” will get you out of some pickles, but knowing a few basic knots and lashings will make life easier.

Some of the most useful knots are described and pictured here to help you learn the basics, but ‘knots and lashings’ (and bends!) is a huge subject, with many books having been written on it. I stress that what I give you here is only the basics. The pictures should help clarify the written descriptions!

A few terms should be understood before you try to make sense of the writing:
Cord: Woven or twisted fibres making a line of less than 10mm diameter
Rope: Cordage over 10mm diameter
Sheet: A sailor’s rope!
Loop: A section of cord or rope bent to cross itself to make an ‘eye’
Bight: A partial loop where the rope or cord does not cross itself
Neck: Where the rope is closest to itself in a loop or bight
Standing Part: The part of the rope or cord not being used in the knot
Working End: The end of the rope or cord being used to form the knot
Lashing: Tying two or more items together using rope
Paracord: A cord made up of a woven sheath over multiple inner strands, once used to make parachute rigging, now the bushcrafter’s friend. “550 paracord” is the best, with a 550lb breaking strain. Other paracord is fine for most usages.
Frapping: The turns in a lashing that go between the items being joined to tighten everything up.

Reef Knot

This is a good knot for joining two bits of cord of similar thickness with the knot lying flat.

Although useful as it is easily undone and is comfortable when tied in the ends of a triangular bandage, the reef knot can fail if tied in cords of different thicknesses or gets jerked. Generations of Scouts have learnt the reef knot with the mantra “left over right and under; right over left and under”.


Sheet Bend

“Sheets” are what sailors call the ropes on a boat for some reason – and the ‘sheet bend’ is used to join two ropes of differing – or equal - thicknesses.

The key to a good sheet bend is that the short ends of the rope must end up on the same side of the knot. Form a bight in the end of one rope and bring the other rope up from below, through the bight, around the back of the neck of the bight and then under itself across the front of the bight.


Round Turn and Two Half Hitches

This knot can be used to tie a rope to a solid object such as a tree, and I use it to tie my tarp ridgelines and hammocks. The knot is strong, yet easy to untie. Take the working end of the rope or cord around the tree (or whatever) twice, so that there is a full turn around the tree and the working end and standing part are on opposite sides of the trunk.

Take the working end over the standing part and up into the gap between the tree and the cord to form a ‘half hitch’. Repeat this in the same direction as before – the two half hitches should resemble a clove hitch, with the cord coming into the knot and leaving it on opposite sides of the knot.


Clove Hitch

A clove hitch is a knot that is also good for attaching a rope to a fixed item and is often used to start and finish lashings. It is strong and stable, yet easy to untie once the tension is released.

Take the working end of the cord over the branch etc., around the branch and back over itself to form a ‘cross’. Take the working end over and around the branch again and bring it up and under the cross you made. If you can slide the knot onto a free end of the branch (or whatever), you can tie a clove hitch in the middle of a rope by forming the ‘Mickey Mouse Ear’ loops as shown in the pictures and, with the second loop formed under the first, slide the loops into position down the branch.

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Figure of Eight

Tied on a bight, the Figure of Eight knot makes a strong fixed eye, and if tied in a single strand of cord, makes a reliable ‘stopper knot’ at the end of a cord.

Form a bight and wrap the doubled cord around the neck of the bight twice and back through the loop that is formed. When tightened, the loop should look like a number 8 – hence its name!


Sheer Lashings

This lashing is used to join two poles to make a bipod or to join two poles to make one longer pole.

Tie one end of your cord to one of the poles with a clove hitch and wind the standing part of the cord around both poles in a neat and tight spiral. Once you have made the lashing long enough (a minimum of four turns), take the cord over the lashing between the poles for the frapping turns. Finish with another clove hitch. In some uses, the frapping turns can be left out. If joining two poles to make a longer pole, use two lashings a distance apart to avoid the poles twisting at the lashing point.


Tripod Lashings

Tripod lashings are used to make… tripods! Tripods form the basis of many camp gadgets from tables and chairs to beds and gear racks, so the tripod lashing is a good one to get used to.

To join your three poles, lay them side-by-side and tie one end of the cord to one of the outside poles with a clove hitch. ‘Sew’ the poles together with an ‘over and under’ pattern for at least four turns on each pole; then, use frapping turns between each pole. Finish with a clove hitch on an ‘outside’ pole. Any left over cord can be tied around all three poles. Pull the poles apart with the tops crossing to form a stable triangular tripod.


Square Lashings

Square lashing is used to join two poles at right angles, or near right angles, and is used in many construction projects in the woods.

Tie the cord to one pole and then place, hold or prop the crosspiece in position. Wind the cord neatly around the two pieces in an underand- over pattern, always working in the same direction, for at least four turns, then tie frapping turns between the poles to tighten the work. Finish with another clove hitch.


Stopper Knots

I advise that lashing knots are finished with stopper knots in the end of the working part, snugly tied up against the final clove hitch.

If your ‘ends’ are long, you can tie them together with a reef or sheet bend. This is all to help stop the lashing working loose. Longer ‘ends’ can be tied around the whole lashing for extra security

  • Bushcraft: Get Knotted - image {image:count}

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  • Bushcraft: Get Knotted - image {image:count}

    click on image to enlarge


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  • Be worth distinguishing between wet and dry knots. And ... synthetic materials can absorb water, the reason why early synthetic stocks quickly became brittle. Plus, I would have mentioned the need for a frapper-tapper to tighten up lashings. When building items such as rafts or securing the braces to a gin, we used a pick handle in our (Engineer) squadron. Very important, especially since the last set of ‘gin and shears, constructed under my supervision were used for a cableway to transport Bailey bridge baseplates across a gap.

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    Michael Guerin
    03 May 2017 at 12:26 PM
  • I think the pictured knot is a constrictor knot, a very useful knot to know.

    Default profile image
    02 May 2017 at 11:30 AM
  • you have missed probably the greatest and most important knot of them all, the Bowline, a knot that everyone who picks up a bit of rope should know.

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    Colin Richard
    01 May 2017 at 08:35 PM
  • Hi
    I would love to know what the knot pictured in the bushcraft article is

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    roy huddleston
    01 May 2017 at 04:22 PM