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in: Featured, Knots, Visual Guides

October 24, 2019 Last updated: January 8, 2020

How to Untie a Tight Knot

how to untie a tight know illustration

There are numerous ways to tie a knot, from the hundreds of established knots and time-tested techniques to the more avant-garde, improvisational knots that we’re all guilty of using from time to time. Often, it’s the knots we make up that end up being the hardest to use, and the most difficult to untie. But, an overly tight or tangled knot can result from even the simplest of overhand knots. When knots have to hold back extreme loads or survive harsh weather conditions, they become incredibly tight, stiff, and stubborn to untie.  

Faced with a particularly tight knot, the worst thing to do is yank on the loose ends, hoping for something to pop free. If the knot is wet, wait until it dries to attempt untying it. And, if tight knots are something you face regularly, consider getting a marlinspike. Marlinspikes are tapered metal devices used by sailors and others in the marine industry to help untie burly knots in a hurry. If you don’t have a marlinspike, the methods shown here can help you get that tricky knot untied. Keep in mind, the best way to untie your troublesome knot will likely involve a combination of these techniques.  

How to unite a tight knot

1: For larger, stiff knots, tap the knot with a spoon or hammer to start to loosen it.

2: Locate the knot’s loops and try to pull them apart with your fingers.

3: Continue loosening loops by twisting a loose end and pushing it through the knot.

4: Insert an implement, like a bamboo skewer, corkscrew, or marlinspike into the knot.

5: Use the implement to gain leverage on loops and start to pull the knot apart.

6: If you can’t finish the job by hand, pull the loosened loops apart using needle-nose pliers.

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Illustrated by Ted Slampyak

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