Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Fancy Knots and Rope Work

A. Hyatt Verrill published the very popular Knots, Splices and Rope Work in 1912 after this article appeared. That book is still in strong demand and was illustrated by the author./drf
Fancy Knots and Rope Work
by A. Hyatt Verrill
From The American Boy magazine, December, 1910, Vol. 12, No. 2. Digitized by Doug Frizzle, May 2014.

IN THE August AMERICAN BOY I told you how to make some useful knots and splices and in this issue I will try to describe some of the more ornamental and fancy knots.
These fancy knots are useful as well as ornamental, however, and if you ever look about on board any vessel, be she yacht, merchantman or man-o-war, you will be sure to see several of them in use and to the inexperienced they appear most complicated and difficult. In reality it is no harder to tie a good Turk’s Head or Matthew Walker than a bowline or reef knot once you know how.
In the old days of sailing ships every able-bodied seaman could tie practically any knot, and “marlinspike seamanship” was considered as of considerable importance. Nowadays, wire rigging and steam have rendered knots, ties and splices of less value and importance, but, nevertheless, almost every ship has at least one member of the crew who is a proper seaman and can tie knots, splice, serve or weave sennet as well as any of the old-time salts.
After you have learned how to tie the various knots you will constantly find new uses for them which never occurred to you before and if you own a boat of any sort you can add much to her appearance and “yachtiness” by a liberal use of your skill in knotting and splicing. The most important of the ornamental knots and the ones I shall try to teach you to make, are the Crown, with its variations, Figs. 1, 2, 3; the Wall, Figs. 4 and 5; the Matthew Walker, Fig. 6, and the Turk’s Head, Fig. 7. By the use of these and combinations of two or more an immense number of fancy knots may be devised and many of these combinations have been in such general use that they have become recognized as regular knots, such as the Nail and Crown, Double Wall and Crown, etc. In addition to these real knots, the covering of rope or rigging to make a smooth even finish or rigging to make a smooth even finish or “Worming, Parcelling and Serving,” Fig. 23, should be included as ornamental work, while Four-Stranded Braid and Crown Braiding are widely used in making laniards, hand lines, fenders, etc., Fig. 8. In addition to these the amateur rope worker should be familiar with the “Monkey Chain,” Fig. 9, and should know how to properly sling a barrel, cask or bundle as shown in Fig. 27.
The material best suited to tying fancy Knots is either very fine stranded and flexible hemp or closely twisted soft cotton rope. Either of these is good, but ordinary manilla is too stiff and bristly to work well for the beginner. Select a piece of new rope and some fine cotton twine and if possible have a fid, marlin-spike or piece of smooth-pointed hard wood to help in your work. Unlay the strands of the rope for six inches or so and pass a seizing of twine around the end of each strand and around the rope below as shown in the figure. This will keep your strands and the rope from unlaying further and will save lots of bother. An expert can work without the seizings but you will find it best not to try this. We will now try the simplest of fancy knots, known as the Crown. Holding the rope in your left hand, fold one strand over and away from you, as shown in A, Fig. 10, then fold B over A and, holding these two strands in place by your thumb and finger, pass C over B and through the bight of A as shown. Now pull all the ends tight and work the bights up snug and you will have the single Crown knot shown. This is a poor knot to stand by itself, however, and is mainly of value as a basis for other knots and for ending up rope. To end up a rope with a Crown it is merely necessary to tuck the ends of the strands under and over the strands of the standing part as shown in Fig. 11, and taper them down and trim closely exactly as in making an Eye Splice described in my former article. This makes a most neat and shipshape way of ending up ropes such as painters, halliards, etc. It will never work loose like a seizing and is quickly put on at any time, whereas one often wants to end up a rope when no small stuff for seizings are at hand.
The Wall, Fig. 12, is almost as simple as the Crown, and in fact is like a Crown reversed. In making this knot bring C downward and across standing part, then bring strand A over C and around standing part and finally bring B over A and up through bight of C. When drawn snug the knot is like Fig. 4, without tucked ends. As in the Crown, the Wall is of value mainly as an ending knot when ends are tucked as in Figs. 4 and 13, or as a basis for other knots. Either the Wall or Crown may be rendered more ornamental and useful by “doubling.” This is done by following around the lay of the strands on a single Wall or Crown. That is, after making your single wall knot, bring strand A up through its own bight, beside the end of C. Then bring B up through its own bight beside A and bring C up through its own bight beside B. This will give you the knot illustrated in Fig. 5 while the same treatment of a Crown will result in the effect shown in Fig. 3. A still better effect may be had by crowning a Wall knot. This is done by first making a Wall and then bringing the strand A up over the top, laying B across A, and bringing C over B and through bight of A, as shown in Fig. 14. This is the foundation of the most beautiful of rope-end knots known as the Double Wall and Crown or Man Rope knot, shown in Fig. 15. Make your single Wall and Crown it, but leave the strands slack. Then pass the ends under and up through the bights of the slack single wall and then push the ends of the side of those in the single crown, pushing them through the same bight in the crown and downward through the walling. It sounds quite difficult, but if you have learned to wall and crown before attempting it, you will find it easy enough for it is really merely “following" the strands of the single wall and crown. The result, if properly done and ends drawn tight and cut off closely, is surprising and to the uninitiated, most perplexing, for if the ends are “tucked” through the strands of the standing part, as shown in Fig. 15, there should be no sign of beginning or ending to this knot. This is, perhaps, the most useful of ornamental knots and it comes in very handy in many places. It is often used in finishing the ends of rope railings to gangways, the ends of Man-ropes (hence the name), for the ends of Yoke-lines, and to form “stoppers” or toggles to bucket handles, slings, etc. Its use in this way is illustrated by Figures 19, 20 and 21, which show a handy topsail halliard toggle formed by turning an eye splice in a short piece of rope finished with a double wall and crown at the end. Such toggles are very useful about small boats. They may be used as stops for furling sails, for slings around gait or spars for hoisting and in a variety of other places which will suggest themselves to the young sailor. The most difficult of ending knots and one which every amateur sailor should learn, is the Matthew Walker, or “Stopper Knot,” Figs 6, 16, 17 and 18. To form this knot, pass one strand around the standing part and through its own bight, then pass B underneath and through the bight of A and through its own bight also. Then pass C underneath around and through bights of A, B, and its own bight. The knot will now appear as in Fig. 17, but by carefully hauling the ends around and working the bights tight a little at a time, the knot will assume the appearance shown in Fig. 10 or Fig. 6. This is a very handsome and useful knot and is widely used on the ends of ropes where they pass through holes, such as bucket handles, ropes for lifting trap-doors, chest handles, etc. The knot is well adapted for this purpose as it is hard, close, and presents an almost flat shoulder on its lower side.
The Turk’s Head, Figs. 7 and 22, is a knot much used aboard yachts and warships and is so handsome and ornamental that it is a great favorite. It is used in ornamenting lower rigging, in forming rings or shoulders on stays or ropes to hold other gear m place, to ornament yoke lines and for forming Slip-collars on knife laniards, gun laniards, etc. it is also used to form collars around stanchions or spars and placed around a rope close beneath a Man-rope knot it gives a beautiful finish. Although so elaborate in effect it is really an easy knot to make and while you may have difficulty in getting it right at first, a little patience and practice will enable you to become proficient and capable of tying it rapidly and easily in any place or position. To make the Turk’s Head have a smooth round stick or other object and some closely twisted or braided small line. Pass two turns with the rope around the rod, A, Fig. 22; pass the upper bight down through the lower and reeve the upper end down through it, B, Fig. 22. Then pass the bight up again and pass the end over the lower bight and up between it and the upper bight. Dip the upper bight again through the lower one and pass the end over what is now the upper bight and between it and the lower, C, Fig. 22. Work around in this manner to the right until the other end is met, when the other part is followed round until a plait of two or more lays is complete, as shown in Figure 7. The Turk’s Head may be drawn as tight as desired around the rod or rope by working up the slack and drawing all bights tight. A variation of this knot may be formed by making the first part as directed and then by slipping the knot to the end of the rod work one side tighter than the other until the Head forms a complete cap as shown in Fig. 22, D. This makes a splendid finish for the ends of stanchions, poles or flag staffs. Ropes that are to be used for hand lines, stanchions, man ropes or life-lines or, in fact, for any purpose where appearance counts, are usually wormed, parcelled or served. Worming consists in twisting a small line into the grooves between the strands of a rope, Fig. 23 A. This fills up the grooves and makes the ropes smooth and ready for parcelling. This is done by wrapping the rope with a strip of canvas, Fig. 23, B. This is tarred and the whole finished by “serving” or wrapping tightly with spun yarn, marlin or other small stuff, Fig. 23 C. Although this may all be done by hand, yet the serving is usually accomplished by using a “serving mallet,” shown in Fig. 23 D. This instrument enables you to work tighter and more evenly than by hand-serving, but in either case the rope to be treated should be stretched tightly between two firm supports. Often a rope is served without parcelling and for ordinary purposes the parcelling is not required.
A variation of serving is made by “halfhitch” work, as shown in Figs. 17 and 8. This is quite pretty when well done and is very easy to accomplish. To do this, take a half-hitch around the rope to be covered, then another below, draw snug, take another half-hitch and so on until the object is covered and the halt- hitches form a spiral twist as shown m the illustrations. Bottles, jugs, ropes, stanchions, fenders, and numerous other objects may be covered with this ornamental half-hitch work and as you become expert you may be able to cover things with several lines of half-hitch work at the same time. Four-strand braiding is highly ornamental and is very easy and simple. The process is shown in Fig. 26 and consists in merely crossing the opposite strands across and past one another as illustrated in A, B and C, Fig. 26. A still more ornamental braid is made by crowning four or more strands or separate lines and looks like the right hand illustration in Fig. 8. The process A is exactly like ordinary crowning and does not require any description. Walling may be continued in the same way, but is not as handsome. The Monkey Chain is sometimes used in ornamental rope work, but is principally useful for shortening rope in such a manner that it may be readily lengthened. It is well shown in Figs. 9 and 24. To make the chain draw a loop of the rope through its own bight, A, Fig. 24, another loop through this, C, Fig. 24, another through this, and so on until the rope is shortened to the required length. The end may then be passed through the last loop as shown at E, Fig. 24. If to be used for a permanent chain the end may remain thus and the chain will never work loose. If used to shorten rope and the slack is required at any time, it is only necessary to slip out the loose end and jerk on the end, when the entire chain will unravel instantly.

No article on knots would be complete without some mention of slings, for to sling a barrel, cask, box or bale safely and easily is often of great value and importance. While the boy familiar with knots and splices will no doubt devise practical slings of his own, yet the three shown herewith in Fig. 27 may serve as hints to readers. Fig. 27 A shows a useful sling for bags or bales, and consists merely of a length of rope spliced together and slip-noosed around the object as shown. B shows how to sling a barrel upright, while C shows how to sling a cask in a horizontal position. In this case the rope may be used with an eye-splice at one end, as illustrated, or it may be merely tied at both ends. Sometimes a similar sling is used in which an eye-splice is turned in each end in place of the knot shown. There are numerous other knots both useful and ornamental, but those described are the more important and if you learn to make all of these you will be able to pick up others from sight or description, for each one learned makes the next easier. 

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.