American Outdoor Guide|October 2021
Ryan Lee Price

Clifford W. Ashley was an artist, author and sailor and was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1881.

Because of his boyhood environment, he took a keen interest in whaling and all things related to the sea. After attending art school in Boston, he found himself under the tutelage of Howard Pyle in Delaware, where he created book frontispieces (illustrations facing the cover page of the book) and illustrated magazine stories. He spent six weeks aboard a whaling ship in order to do research for an article about whaling for Harper’s Monthly magazine in 1904 and later published a series of instructional articles (“The Sailor and His Knots”), which proved to be the prelude to his later opus, The Ashley Book of Knots, a magnificent tome that made him famous in 1944.

In it, Ashley warns: “A knot is either exactly right or it is hopelessly wrong. Make only one change and either an entirely different knot is made or no knot at all may result.”

The book contains more than 3,900 knots categorized by type, including knot usage and the instructions for tying them. Nearly 75 years later, it remains the most comprehensive book in print about knots.

Types of Knots

Although the art of tying both functional and fashionable knots has been around since man first needed to lash down his hut or tie off a fishing net to his hollowed-out canoe, knots have been both utilitarian and beautiful—an expression of both personal artwork and pride in workmanship. There are thousands of them; however, generally speaking, knots are used for five main reasons:

• Splicing two ropes together

• Lashing one object to another

• Tightening down or adding tension to a rope

• Making a loop to affix a moving object

• Hauling or hoisting objects

Knot Terms

• Bend: A knot that joins together two ropes or fishing lines.

• Bight: Made by folding a piece of rope so that the two parts lie alongside each other. When they’re tied near the rope's end, the parts will be the “tail,” laying beside the “standing end” (please refer to additional definitions of these two terms below). A bight can be used to finish many knots, making them easy to untie by just pulling the tail.

• Bitter End: From the term, “bitts” (metal posts used for attaching mooring ropes), this term is applied to the tail end of a mooring line.

• Breaking Strength: The load at which the rope breaks

• Dressing a Knot: Arranging the components of the knot to optimize security and/or strength

• Fake (or Flake) a Rope: Layout a rope neatly on the deck in a zig-zag pattern, ready for easy use

• Frapping Turns: Additional turns added in another axis to bind a knot

• Hitch: A knot that attaches a rope to something

• Hollow Braid: A loosely woven, single braid rope that can be spliced

• Lay: The direction in which the strands of a rope twist

• Loop: Made when a rope forms a partial circle with the ends crossing each other

• Racking Turns: Lashing turns that pass between poles to better bind against the pole

• Round Turn: Two passes of a rope around an object to completely encircle it

• Slipped: A knot is slipped when it’s completed using a loop or loops (for example, shoelaces).

• Solid Braid: A tightly woven, single braid rope that can’t be spliced

• Splice: A knot made using the strands of a rope rather than the whole rope

• Standing End: The long end; the part that isn’t knotted

• Stopper Knot: A knot in the end of a rope used to prevent fraying or to prevent the end from passing through a hole

• Strands: The major components of a rope

• Tail: The short end; the part getting knotted

• Turn: One pass of the rope around or through an object

• Whipping: A binding knot that’s used to prevent a rope's end from fraying

Whipping or Fusing a Rope

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