Introduction: Chluaid's 10-minute Monkey Fist

When I was a little kid I read somewhere that sailors made weapons from rope. Since then I've been fascinated with rope weapons (limited mainly to flails and whips) and always wanted to learn how to make them.

A few years back, I was in a book store and saw a step-by-step how to make a monkey's fist knot, so I memorised it (didn't really want to buy a whole book), went home and before long, the house was full of monkey's fists, ranging from small marble-sized knots to a big one with a golf ball inside.

In my video you'll see a range of rope flails at the end, with cores of steel, glass, wood and the big one with the golf ball. My favourite is the black leather one with a rip-cord handle and hardwood core.

This video isn't so much a tutorial as it is a time-lapse demonstration. Hope you likey!

*update - thanks for Feature and all the great comments! Good to know some people are finding this an inspiration or a refresher :)


siamonsez (author)2011-11-02

I have no knowledge to base this on, but it seems like a pretty complicated knot to have originated in sailing. If the purpose was to weight the end of a rope for throwing, couldn't something just be tied to the end of the rope?
The only reason I could see for using this knot would be to make something more permanent, but ropes wear quickly on boats so there's a limit to how permanent it could be.
The only exception I could see would be if the sailors were made to use these knots as they went about on their big, fancy, well supplied ships because they were part of a large navy. But if that's the case, wouldn't the knot have to have come from somewhere before that?
I have nothing against the knot, and this is just speculation; I just got caught up in the origin conversation. =)

Pzuzu (author)siamonsez2016-04-08

Something that seems to be relevant here to me,is that in the 1800's ( and earlier), sailing ventures were a slow and often very long time deal. Possibly the time factor involved would have been as much a form of relief from boredom, keeping hands and minds busy to avoid shipboard fights and arguments.

Can't be certain, but even then people said 'Idle hands are the devils tool'!

RichM5 (author)siamonsez2014-11-13

First off, I apologize for replying to an ancient comment, hopefully a notification gets to you and you don't mind revisiting your question. As a bosun's son, I got this story way back, and unlike most bosun stories, it seems logical and probably true, so I'll repeat it. The monkey's fist originated as an easy way to turn any appropriately sized rock or weight into a line throwing device. Generally tall ships would have a bow, small gun, or lead weights with holes through them for this purpose, but those can all wear out or break, while any fool deckhand with some rope and a heavy thing can whip up a fist. Generally naval fists were tied with one end caught inside the knot, so only one rope came out of the ball. A bowline or other stopped-loop-knot would be put into the free end, and one fist could be reused for weeks, months, or years. Once the rope wore out, it was fairly easy to make a cut, discard the worn out rope, and tie a new fist, if your weight hadn't turned into gravel.

To heave a line with one, you take a light line and tie a sheet bend to the fist's loop. Spin that over your head and you can generally sail that line a good long way. If you miss you can just reel in the light line and try again. Once the light line is across, you use that to haul across your heavy line, chain, fuel hose, or whatever you need.

In the mid-1800s, though, there were problems in some port cities with drunken sailors (are there any other kind on liberty?) breaking the heads of lubbers with monkey's fists that the sailors had left on their belts. With laws and lawmakers being what they are, many states classified weighted knots as "slung shot" and outlawed them along with blackjacks, spring maces, and the like. Lawmakers are fast to pass and slow to repeal, so many states still have these laws on the books. Bear this in mind if you tie any weighted fists. For general use or keychains, it's safer to simply tie the fist around another knot or a small ball of soft filler.

reefcomber (author)2013-06-08

Anybody have feedback on how many wraps around a golf ball with 550 cord?

I tried 6 - didn't seem like enough. 13 was ridiculously hard to manage when tightening the knot. 10 wraps was still hard to manage.

Thanks in advance

CobraStitch (author)2012-06-27

what kind of rope are you using?

jjones-2 (author)2011-12-09

I learned this knot many years ago from the Ashley Book of Knots (best knot book ever!). I made one at fish camp so we could shoot a line across to the boat that picked up our fish -- the skipper, an older guy with bad eyesight, couldn't dock his boat next to ours, which was anchored. The first time we used the monkey's fist to shoot a line to his boat the rock-filled fist went right through his pilothouse side window. Mad? No, he was impressed that a kid could tie a proper monkey's fist and know what it was used for. Nevermind I was no good at actually using it.

jjones-2 (author)jjones-22011-12-09

Judging by the comments on your post, Chluaid, It's good to see the art of knotting still has it's fans. Thanks for the post!

ahooper (author)2011-12-08

Brilliant, I have over the years collected many mouse balls. these are basically ball bearings with a rubber coating. They come in handy for all sorts of little projects and i see this is going to be a must to try :) Thanks

bennyb1 (author)2009-05-31

When I was in the Navy we used them to get a line between ships. Throw the monkey fist with it's smaller line attached to a larger line, etc., to the ship next to you, and start pulling. We also had single shot 12 gauge shotguns fitted to fire a special blunt spear-like projectile(age has gotten the exact name of the unit) to send lines across. Much more accurate, but not as interesting. Of course there have been a lot changes in the way things are done since then. I like old school, but maybe not as techically updated. But then I tend to not be very politacally correct either, so maybe we oldtimers are dinosaurs. The monkey fist would make a good medium distance weapon. The ninja had a similar wepon on rope or chain with a sharpened hook on the opposite. Takes a lot practice, but very effective. BB

animal lover (author)bennyb12011-11-20


RabidAlien (author)bennyb12011-11-01

Thanks for your service! I did 6 years on subs, myself.

Marlinspike Seamanship is a dying art....I blew my chief's mind one day when I tied a taunt-line hitch while rigging a tarp topside. Kinda sad, rope-work is fun!

bennyb1 (author)RabidAlien2011-11-02

Dad was a Boatswain Mate, and taught me knots and line work as a kid. I love working with lines and ropes. Cut a couple of fingers off, got sewn back on, but theydon't bend a lot, so most things like that are a chore anymore. It is a shame that more folks aren't into that kind of thing. Like you said, it's a dying art.
I was on an ammo ship, don't think I'd like a sub! Used to crawl around in caves, but I could come out when I wanted! haha
Have a pleasant day.

RabidAlien (author)bennyb12011-11-10

Heh. I was a nuke electrician (responsible for the electrical distribution, turbine generators, motor generators, switchboards, breakers, motors, etc aft of the forward reactor compartment hatch). We were so short on manpower fleet-wide that, in a division that was allotted 12 men, we typically operated with 6 or 7 guys. The boat at Pearl that had the most electricians had 9. So we were typically kept too busy to worry much about not seeing the sun. And when they'd do an oxygen bleed (pumping pure O2 into the boat to raise the levels), you really didn't care much. LOL There weren't too many occasions that I got to use knots in my work, but I still did a lot of hiking in my down-time, and rigged stuff around my rack on the boat to squeeze a little extra storage space (darn all that wasted space on/around pipes!!! Its MINE!!!). When required to hot-rack (hated that), my bunkmates (keep your minds outta the gutter, civilians...old Navy hands know what I'm talkin 'bout) always appreciated an extra shelf lashed here and there. Got to teach a couple of knots that way, too.

bennyb1 (author)RabidAlien2011-11-10

I know what you mean. Always a use for knots, and so many people don't know how to tie really good ones.
You've got me on the nukes, but I did some similar stuff around my rack. Most of the guys called me 'hillbilly' (Arkansas) and thought it was just some wierd redneck stuff, till a boats' saw what I was doing. My dad retired as a Chief Boatswains Mate, and made sure I knew how to tie things. Fingers are pretty artritic now, but I still get most of what I want to do. Ha, you can't an old swabby down.

animal lover (author)2011-11-20

Don't you have the instructions in writing?

stevenh429 (author)2011-11-04

I FINALLY made one (took like a year because I didn't have the rope
Trick: take a trackmouse ball and cut the silicon off the outside and you have a BIG ball bering

stevenh429 (author)stevenh4292011-11-04

69th 5 star rating!

dark sponge (author)2009-05-02

Really cool, I need to find something to do it with. Somebody should try this with a bowling ball... By the way, what's that song?

moosofa (author)dark sponge2009-09-29

i'm pretty sure it's a song by Billy Talent... try looking for titles like "monster" or "is it a monster"?

madenairy (author)moosofa2011-11-02

it is called monster and its by a group called "the automatic"

espdp2 (author)dark sponge2009-05-03

A bowling ball??? ROFL.

sukinmaru (author)espdp22009-07-11

That would be tricky to throw...

maybe just a really big one with a bowling ball in it

maybe just the bowling ball... I don't know, is there string thick and flexible enough?

joey99 (author)sukinmaru2011-07-13

i think he means having a bowling ball as the core.

sukinmaru (author)joey992011-07-13

Implying you can swing and throw a bowling ball with ease. What did you think I meant?

Make stuff (author)dark sponge2009-08-11

Someone did use a bowling ball, and a brick! I almost bought one til I thought....'I can do that!'

ahmad2117 (author)2011-07-08

what is a monkey fist used for?

RabidAlien (author)ahmad21172011-11-01

Adding weight to the end of a rope/line. Makes it easier to throw a guide rope from a ship to the shore, the weight gives it momentum and distance. They would tie a fist on a small, clothesline-sized line, throw it to the shore, then the shore guys would tie that on to a larger hawser to be hauled back aboard ship. Or vice versa. Also handy for getting a rope out to someone in the water, tie the knot around a piece of cork so the knot doesn't sink. In a pinch, a musket ball or ballast stone can be used in the knot, which then turns the whole thing into a serious bludgeon/weapon. A good tight knot around a rock will really light your day up when it comes upside your noggin.

skippyconsuelo (author)2010-05-18

 primary use= to add momentum
whether that momentum is to be used as personal defense, or some nautical purpose, or whether the core is some hollow object that might help you float is all conjecture.. the knot has traditional uses, and there is a best knot for every purpose but there is no knot with only one purpose

when a line needs to be swung, or throne, it is a good idea to add weight.. when weight needs to be added it is a good idea to use this knot 

xinistrom (author)skippyconsuelo2011-07-09

since your sounding so professional, you spelt thrown wrong :P

RabidAlien (author)xinistrom2011-11-01

"your" is possessive. "You're" is a contraction consisting of "you" and "are". Just sayin'. LOL

skippyconsuelo (author)xinistrom2011-08-12


joey99 (author)xinistrom2011-07-13


RabidAlien (author)2011-11-01

Back in my Navy days, while out at sea (on the surface, for once), I was bored on watch so grabbed a nearby length of line and started making a monkey's fist. This was about 1/2" hemp line. So, after about three or four layers, the thing was about the size of a cantaloupe, with a small hollow center. We played catch with it a couple of times until the tug guys asked me to untie it (we were getting close to port anyway).

yaly (author)2011-08-23

I made one but I accidentally made it a 5 ply. as it is the first time for me to make it right and I didn't understand the part in the video from 0:29 to 0:35 can you please explain that to me and here are two pictures of the one I made.

jade1234 (author)2011-08-20

great thanks alot

batonas (author)2011-07-16

I made one of these monkey fists out of small round rock and my homemade sting, I think the best practical use would be cat toys, I know that because I had a cat, but there's no more cat to test it out with :(

JimRD (author)2011-03-14

Did you see the Monkey Fist used in the movie "Inception" during the killing-the bad-guys-snow-skiing scene?

eulaliaaaa! (author)JimRD2011-05-23

Yeah. Pretty ingenious.

joey99 (author)eulaliaaaa!2011-07-13

i just saw that and it was awsome!!!, but i am still a little confused about it

Aegian2424 (author)2011-07-09

a woven meteor hammer

imthatguy1125 (author)2010-02-28

Heres mine I made with a Golf Ball core

OrtBoy (author)imthatguy11252010-08-08

That's awesome! How long was the cord you used?

imthatguy1125 (author)OrtBoy2010-08-08

Thanks, I used a slightly different technique but It was a total of 4 pieces of I think 4 clothsline

scistone (author)imthatguy11252011-06-22

I'm starting to make tons of em

An Villain (author)2010-05-01

How did this break the 4* barrier by the margin it did (not saying this is a bad instructable.)

Darter76 (author)2009-06-27

the monkey's fist is accually a floatation device not a weapon

Joenavy85 (author)Darter762010-04-12

It used to be used on ships for throwing shotlines from the mooring station to the pier. the shotline was tied to the end of the mooring line which was then pulled from the ship and looped onto the Bollard. Nowadays they use a heavy plastic ball as a weight on the end of the shotline. Oh the thing that you learn in the Navy

maz22 (author)Darter762009-06-29

i've heard that they're used to weight the end of ropes.

About This Instructable




Bio: I make stuff!
More by chluaid:Chluaid's 10-minute Monkey FistAirgun with eXplosive air-Release ValvePiano-wire Slingshot
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