7 Basic Knots Every Man Should Know

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 24, 2009 · 55 comments

in Manly Skills, Outdoors

sailors.jpg

For centuries, knotsmanship has been passed from down generation to generation. It’s an essential skill whether a man desires to hit the high seas or a scale a high mountain. Heck, knots come in handy when you’re just working around the house. Unfortunately, many men don’t know how to tie a proper knot. When they do have to tie something, they make random loops and passes until they have something that sort of looks like a knot, but isn’t as secure as one. So today we’re going to look at the art of knot tying.

Below we’ve made a series of videos on seven basic knots every man should know. Enjoy.

All the Knots In One Video

The Square Knot

The Bowline

Two Half Hitches

Taut Line

Clove Hitch

Figure Eight Knot

Sheet Bend

{ 54 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ken June 24, 2009 at 7:36 am

Whoah, wasn’t expecting you to be in the video. Youre definitely younger than I imagined

2 Jamie June 24, 2009 at 8:33 am

Thanks Brett- that’s a really helpful video

3 Jeremiah June 24, 2009 at 9:13 am

seeing that article alone brings out the Navy training in me. missed the knot tying days

4 Scott June 24, 2009 at 9:24 am

If you’re the one down in the ravine and your buddy has thrown you the rope, and you have to hang on to the side of the cliff while tying the knot, the bowline can be tied with one hand. It’s so easy, a child of five could do it.

Here’s proof: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVM6BhzeaME

5 Perry Clease June 24, 2009 at 9:34 am

“@Jeremiah on June 24th, 2009 9:13 am
seeing that article alone brings out the Navy training in me. missed the knot tying days”

I too was in the Navy and retired as a Senior Chief Quartermaster, for you landlubbers that is navigation and ship control, but I also worked as a Boatswain’s Mate, for you landlubbers that is knots and anchors. :)

Anyway I have been retired for a number of years, but knots and marlinspike seamanship is still something I still practice. It seems almost every time I am Home Depot I am showing someone how to lash down some lumber or something so it won’t fall off their roof rack.

There are some excellent books out there on knots, eye splices, monkey’s fists, and so on. It is a good way to keep our eyes sharp and fingers nimble.

6 EP June 24, 2009 at 9:34 am

That is a seriously righteous moustache. Way to man up!

7 karmazon June 24, 2009 at 9:43 am

Back when the forum was up I posted the results of a self challenge, where I learned how to tie 30 or 40 knots. The exercise made me realize that you only ever gonna need about 5 of them.

8 JohnO June 24, 2009 at 9:51 am

What, no Half-Windsor?

Say you’re thrown in amongst the potential in-laws and have to make a good impression. You can sheet bend and clove hitch all you want, but there are times you need to be able to dress up without looking like you’re wearing a clip-on.

9 Justin June 24, 2009 at 9:58 am

YES! Thank you, now I won’t feel so useless when helping my friends move or pick up furniture etc..

10 Brett June 24, 2009 at 10:07 am

@John O.-

I can’t tell if you’re joking or not, but if you’re not, check out these videos we did a couple of weeks ago:

http://artofmanliness.com/2009/06/05/how-to-tie-a-tie/

11 Dean Whinery June 24, 2009 at 10:36 am

The Boy Scouts have been teaching and using these knots and more for a century. Most Tenderfoot Scouts are able to tie a basic square knot behind their backs, just for the fun of it.

12 John June 24, 2009 at 10:57 am

Brett,

It is good to face a face to go along with the name, Brett.

Thanks for the great video. I might have added one more though. The slip knot is quite handy for wearing your cowboy wild rag or Boy Scout neckerchief without it being a choke hazard. Additionally, you never know when you will need to prepare the gallows. :-)

Your friend,

John

13 Jeremy June 24, 2009 at 11:01 am

Great article. Scouts taught me well, so I couldn’t decide if I should be proud that I knew all these knots or disappointed the I didn’t learn any new ones. These knots do come in handy sometimes.

@Scott, I actually forgot how to tie the bowline normally once because I only ever tied it one handed. That was kind of embarrasing when I was trying to teach a younger scout for the first time.

14 Drew June 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

Nicely taught.

One knot I have found immensely useful over the years (camping, moving, etc) is the “Trucker’s Hitch.” As with so many knots it is merely a combination of several basic knots. It has the advantage, however, of not merely securing the line, but of providing some leverage for really tightening it. (Huge cranking power.)

It can be seen here – http://www.animatedknots.com/truckersrescue/index.php – good resource for all knots for that matter.

Thanks

15 Michael H June 24, 2009 at 12:09 pm

This is really cool. I’m at work and don’t have time to watch now, but I’ll take a look at this tonight with some rope and a post :)

16 Marc June 24, 2009 at 12:17 pm

So steps for the two half hitches and the taut line knot are basically the same? The taut line knot has a second coil on the first half hitch. It looks like the coil that is furthest from you moves the siezing pressure from the working line to the standing line. Is that true?

17 Jace June 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm

just throqing it out there, but the boweline is actually pronounced “bowlin”

so Bow, then lynn (like the name) not bowline!

Great vids, but when are you coming out with more of the stationary articles?

18 Brett June 24, 2009 at 1:08 pm

@Jace-

Yeah, it’s been far to long since the letter writing post, hasn’t it? I actually have the stationery article ready to go but we wanted to see if Crane’s and Co. wanted to give away a nice stationery set along with the post. I thought that would be fun. But we’ve been playing endless phone tag, so I think I’m going to post it soon regardless….

19 Stephen Drummond June 24, 2009 at 1:31 pm

One thing you will also notice is that the two-half hitches and the clove hitch is the same knot tied in a different manner. Same with the Bowline and the Sheet bend. Tie both and look at them side by side.

20 Andrew Jelesiewicz June 24, 2009 at 1:47 pm

Great post! To extend the Scouts comment, in our Pack, we had the Webelos (5th graders who are about a yr away from boy scouts) making the square knot behind there back as a game, which improved their skills greatly.
Knots are my hobby, and I focus on decorative knotting, such as Turksheads, braiding, and whipping/wraps, but I still love utility knots.
I would submit one addition to your list (ditto-ing a previous poster): The Trucker’s hitch. It is a set up of knots I use frequently and also replaces the taught line hitch. As a hold down, camp/backyard clothes/mess kit line, and for use as a pull a long system, it rocks! I have used it to pull canoes up step river sides and to hang gear at camp. Frankly, when I see people struggling with crank tie downs, elastic stretch bands that are just short, or don’t know what to do with the piece of rope they have in their hands when they are in front of hardware/lumber store, I always think that our education has been lacking. I have to point to scouts to help fill the gap.
Secondly, I would like to point out a “kids” book that I recommend to all cubscouts, and their leaders/parents if they need to learn the skills, as the cub scout manuals are not always the best way to learn. While it is a kid’s book, I will submit that it is a well written instructional book that anyone could benefit from.Via Amazon:
http://tinyurl.com/m9vkc8
Thanks again for a great post!

21 siouxgeonz June 24, 2009 at 1:56 pm

For years I’ve had on my “to do list” : learn beyond the square knot! so… here we go…

22 chris June 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

I am currently a life Scout, and knew all of these knots already. I am known as the knotsman in our troop because i am always tying something… Great Post!

23 James June 24, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Great post. I’ve got to check out the one-handed bowline somebody mentioned. I never mastered that as a Boy Scout. Speaking of which, Brett, were you ever a Boy Scout? That organization is all about manliness!

24 Noah from Tennessee June 24, 2009 at 3:07 pm

@ Chris:

It sounds like you and I are kindred spirits. I too am a Life Scout and the knot expert of my troop. When I first joined, I went through my handbook and learned all the knots and hitches I could. I was very eager to show the older Scouts how much I knew. Now that I’m an older Scout, I love teaching the younger guys.

We also used to have knot races in my troop. Each patrol would line up in front of a log with ropes next it. The scoutmaster would call a knot and whoever was first in line in their patrol would run forward and tie the knot as fast as they could. Whoever finished first earned their patrol a point. Then the scoutmaster would call another knot, and the same would happen. The patrol with the most points at the end of the game won.

25 Andrew M. June 24, 2009 at 5:12 pm

All these articles lately have been right up my alley. Keep up the good work.

26 Ammon June 24, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Great post! Would love to see a follow up on lashings–many of which begin with one of the knots shown above. Maybe then I could understand the difference between wrapping and frapping.

27 Jeff June 24, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Thanks for putting this together! Now I need to find a rope to practice!

28 Cutter June 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm

When I was a kid, my older cousin – who was in the Navy – gave me a copy of the Bluejackets manual from the late 1940s. I used to practice everything I could out of it, including the knots.

The mnemonic device for the bowline was mentioned in Jaws. Not important, just thought it was interesting.

29 Dan June 25, 2009 at 5:37 am

Nice knots Brett. I learned all those in Boy Scouts and I use them all the time. The knot I use the most is probably the Trucker’s Hitch–far better than the taut-line hitch, it keeps items secured to my truck like nothing else.

30 Todd June 25, 2009 at 5:59 am

Brett, this was SO COOL…THANK you for teaching these. There are some knots here that I really needed to know—I can remember trying to tie ropes together or trying to tie something down and not knowing how to use the sheet bend or the taut line. Thanks again! Artofmanliness.com rocks! :-)

Todd

31 Stephen B June 25, 2009 at 6:29 am

I read in a book on knots that the square not is deadly because it can come apart at the worst possible moment. The author recommended the “granny knot” as being much safer. Perhaps my shipmate (above) can answer this question.

32 Owen June 25, 2009 at 6:55 am

The “two-half hitch knot” is commonly referred to as “a round turn and two half-hitches” in many other places across the world.

Also without sounding too nit-picky the bowline you showed will not end up with the loose (working end” on the inside of the loop created by the bowline knot. This will leave it vulnerable to catching on things if used on a yacht for example.

33 Owen June 25, 2009 at 6:58 am

To remedy this simply go left-to-right not right-to-left when going “round the back of the tree”.

Your version, which was also my version for five years of sailing, will hold but isn’t strictly correct!

34 Steve June 25, 2009 at 7:21 am

Nice article!

I’m a theatre technician and the only knots I really use are a clove hitch with two half hitches, and the bowline.

We also use what’s called a circus hitch which is just a variation of the clove hitch.

I for one love rope work and have gotten pretty good at splicing in the past two years. This year I actually braided a 15′ net together that people could climb on. It was pretty cool.

35 Rod June 25, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Hey, gents, a hitch is NOT a knot!

36 Craig Walsh July 1, 2009 at 6:57 am

Normally I restrict my posts to crimes against punctuation, but as a Man, I can’t sit idly by and let my Brothers go astray. When forming the initial loop of the Sheet Bend, the free end should be towards you, so that the free end of the live side exits on the opposite side of the knot from that of the standing side. I dimly recall that this affects the holding power of the knot, although it might not be obvious when the live and standing ends are the same diameter.

A similar knot that holds even in that slippery yellow polypropylene rope is tied exactly the same except that two turns are taken around the standing loop before the live end is tucked through.

Great site!

37 Mike July 12, 2009 at 10:31 pm

LANDLUBBER!

Bowline is pronounced bow-linn, not bow-line. Other than that, a wonderful tutorial.

38 Dave July 12, 2009 at 10:35 pm

Right, Rod, properly speaking, a knot connects a rope to a rope. A hitch ties a rope to an object.

I believe the best way to tie two half hitches (I originally learned it, over 50 years ago, as a double half hitch) is to continue around the rope the same direction, rather than reversing direction after the first half hitch. Then you would have basically tied a clove hitch around the standing rope. Theoretically, this should be a little stronger, and a little less prone to slipping. But doing it the way shown works, too.

Stephen B, whoever told you that about the square knot and the granny is trying to kill you. Just the opposite is true. A granny is much more prone to slipping, and it’s much more prone to jamming (meaning that you can’t untie it without damaging the rope. Strange combination, huh?). Here’s something to check, or try: When you tie your shoes, do the loops end up running side-to-side, or up and down? A proper shoelace tie is actually a slippery square knot. If the loops end up running parallel with your leg & foot, then you have tied a granny. You will be having to re-tie your shoelaces several times during the day. If, on the other hand, you have tied a proper slippery square knot, you may have to adjust things as your foot shrinks and swells during the day, but it won’t come untied.

What Craig said about the sheet bend, both times. The bight in the larger rope has a tendency to straighten out, which allows the smaller rope to slip off. Going around the bend twice greatly reduces this tendency. Here’s another suggestion — Rather than just making a bend in the larger rope, make it a secured loop, as with a figure-8, before executing the sheet bend. That way the bend can’t flip out.

When the sheet bend is tied on big ships’ hawsers, it is also common to “seize” the bend, basically tying the bend shut, with light line around the end and the standing line. This accomplishes the same thing as the figure-8, which works fine on smaller lines.

The figure-8 has just about completely replaced the bowline in mountain climbing. It’s about as strong as the bowline, almost as versatile, and is much harder to tie improperly.

For a stopper knot, I prefer the “stevedore knot.” When you’re tying the figure-8, just go around the standing side one more time.

39 Dave July 12, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Oh, yeah — Eagle Scout. That’s what got me started.

40 Joseph Alcorn July 13, 2009 at 4:15 pm

I think that the short, long, and eye splices need to be included in the basic rope work any man should know. They are really easy in any type of laid rope. (braided rope like in the videos is a little more difficult to splice)

41 Dave July 15, 2009 at 9:46 am

Good point, Joseph. I would also add the end splice to your list. I do more end splices than anything else.

I think I should explain that the term “slippery,” which I used in my first post, refers to a knot that is made so that it is easy to untie. Your shoelace tie is done so that the last half of the square knot can be undone simply by pulling the ends. A proper slippery knot is not more inclined to actually slip, meaning coming loose under tension, than its standard brother.

BTW a simple square knot also works great on shoelaces, and is actually superior on quality leather boot laces. By pulling one of the lace ends over to the opposite side of the knot, the knot can be made to “flip,” turning the square knot into a (improperly-tied) double half hitch, which then easily slides off the side that you pulled. I use this technique on my heavy work boots. It eliminates the loops, which catch on brush, and lead to a serious face-plant. Been there-done that, too.

42 sam July 17, 2009 at 11:59 am

great post! how about how to tie fish hooks and lures to fishing line?

43 Fingersoup July 30, 2009 at 3:27 pm

@ owen 32 – A round turn two half hitches requires you to tie a round turn around your spar or ring. Brett was quite correct calling this two half hitches, as it was done on a bight.

Some terminology first:

A bight, or half turn is when you have a fold in your line, so to speak. It is U shaped.

A turn, or full turn is when your line wraps around an object once, and continues in the same direction (ie: from left to right).

A round turn is when you take the full turn and add an extra half turn so your line wraps back so your standing end and working end both come out the same side (ie: to the left of the object).

Round turns are typically used on lines where there is a lot of movement on your standing end (Such as tying a small boat to a dock ring). It allows the rope to roll on the ring as opposed to rub the object and wear out the line quicker.

As for the two half hitches, it is better to tie the two half hitches in the same direction so it resembles a clove hitch. usually the separating factor between a clove hitch and two half hitches, is that you leave some room between your hitches when it comes to two half hitches. In fact, in many books, the working end of a round turn two half hitches, will have a stop applied to the working end, so that it is lashed to the standing end.this keeps the half hitches from slipping, and it allows more line to let your object roll.

Regarding the taut line knot – it is essentially a rolling hitch tied to the standing end of a line. A rolling hitch is a clove hitch’s cousin. Whereas on a clove hitch the pull should be perpendicular to the object you have tied to, a rolling hitch is designed to be pulled in a SPECIFIC direction.

To tie a rolling hitch:
1. Wrap your line in a full turn around your spar. IMPORTANT: Make sure you wrap the line towards the direction the line will be pulled.
2. Go around for a second full turn. This is the major difference from a clove hitch.
3. Cross your working end across all of your turns, and complete another turn. Ensure the line is wrapped on the opposite side of your standing part. As you complete the turn, tuck your working end straight under the “crossover” portion, just as you would in a clove hitch.

44 Fingersoup July 30, 2009 at 3:29 pm

That just didn’t work at all. If an admin could edit that mess about diagrams out… Copy/paste into notepad does nothing….

45 Dave August 11, 2009 at 9:33 am

Sam, fishing knots are a whole new subject. The knots are different because of the unique nature of modern fishing lines. Monofilament is very smooth, much more stiff, and loses more of its strength when bent, than rope. Therefore the knots have to be different.

A couple other things mentioned above, lashing and splicing, are also a pretty wide departure from the topic of a few good knots. They should be in any competent knot-tier’s bag of tricks. But we’ve already moved quite beyond the topic of this article – seven basic knots.

46 Hivoltlineman September 27, 2009 at 6:01 pm

I am a lineman for a local utility and use knots everyday, all day for a lot of applications. It is great to see that so many people know so much about knots. The one piece that I disagree with is when the narrarator said that the clove hitch isn’t suited for a heavy load; unless, that is, I mistook what he meant. If you’ve every had a Marsh Master stuck in the swamps of southeastern North Carolina, you’ll know what I mean. The clove hitch is perfect for lashing a handline around a suitable cypress tree to extend your winch cable. Half hitches tend to bight the tree too tightly, and can be a downright pain to loosen. The nice thing about the clove hitch is that it doesn’t burn into itself, making it very easy to untie. But what to do with the other end of your handline? A Bowline on the Bight is a very strong way to tie a loop in a rope as it has two loops, two bights, and two hitches. The disadvantage to this knot is that if there is a great amount of uneven strain on the loop, one of the loops will tighten down on your assembly (the hook on your winch cable, etc.) defeating the purpose of tying a proper knot. The figure eight on a bight can be used as well to form your loop. It is the same as the standard figure eight, you just bend the rope in half and tie it so the bight sticks out of the top, making an attachment point for your assembly. This knot also comes out very easily, not burning the rope together as a regular figure eight would under much strain.

However remember this: many knots are only meant for vertical load, not “side load.” An example is if you tie a square knot and then pull it sideways, it will form two half hitches. This isn’t neccesarily a capital mistake, but it does tend to loosen the knot.
Also, ropes are rated for a certain breaking strength determined by the manufactuer. Tying knots in the rope reduces this rated strength by different percentiles.
A few examples are:
Bowline: reduces the strength by 40%
Sheet Bend: reduces the strength by 50%
Square Knot: reduces the strength by 55%
Clove Hitch: reduces the strength by 25%

Have a safe day!
–Hivolt

47 Allen Martin September 28, 2009 at 11:26 pm

Ask This Old House had a little turtorial like this one. I tracked it down, and they have several of the same knots featured on here. Like this post, they explan how the knots may be utilize . Hope this helps.

http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,217079,00.html

48 Dave October 20, 2009 at 10:14 am

Great post, HIvolt!

Further on the clove hitch, one of my favorite, um, knots — ok, hitches. When I’m using it for anything that will have much movement, or I want to leave for a long time, I back it up with a half hitch, or usually two half hitches, thrown around standing side.

In mountaineering, rock climbing, high-angle rescue, etc. you always want to back up a knot with a second knot.

49 Bill G June 30, 2010 at 9:51 am

I was also taught that the clove hitch makes an excellent tourniquet. Tie a clove hitch above the wound on an arm or leg, pull the ends and it will maintain compression.

50 Dwayne Araba June 24, 2013 at 7:24 am

Hello my name is Dwayne Araba I am from outfit 098 and I’m proud to be a boyscout :-)

51 Braid on Braid July 24, 2013 at 7:19 am

Rope makers care to loves confusing us with science and/or extraordinary polysyllabic names.

Fine try to cut through the guff a lttle bit.

52 cradus August 7, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Geeze- Whip the end of your line, or at least get a lighter and melt all the fuzzy mess together. that’s one of the first things we learned in the Scouts

53 John October 24, 2013 at 11:10 pm

I’m a merchant marine and one thing I Learned was a square knot will collapse under pressure you should really eliminate that knot from your vocabulary and use a zeppelin knot very simple knot to tie and will not slip and collapse under pressure

54 EmeroGork December 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm

The pic before starting a video should show the finished knot. Knowing what it will look like at the end would make it easier to understand how to do it. In at least one video, the finished know was not shown.

Also, a demonstration in to how the knot is actually used would help understand why it was chosen.

Hope this helps….

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