Instructables

Make rope out of dead plants -- with no tools

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I will teach you to make extremely strong rope out of common, dead plants with no need for tools. First, I'll walk you through the process of isolating some high-quality fiber from dead plants. (I demonstrate with dogbane, but milkweed is a fine substitute.) Then I'll show you the reverse wrap, which can turn any decent fiber into a sturdy cord.

In a wilderness survival situation, this skill will allow you to make fishing lines, spears and arrows, and snares, as well as construct certain types of shelters. Even certain firemaking techniques (e.g. bow drill) rely on having strong cordage.

Just like fire, a good rope is a tool in and of itself.

Step 1: Get some fiber (dogbane, here)

All you need for this instructable is some plant fiber. Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum -- cannabinum means fiber-plant) is an excellent source, though milkweed and other plants will work just as well, or better. Related to milkweed, dogbane is likewise poisonous if ingested. Additionally, some people may react adversely to the latex sap. But handling dead stems should be fine for most folks. If you are prone to allergies or have easily irritated skin, I recommend finding a different source of fiber, such as milkweed or bark.

Other fiber sources


Dead plants

The best natural fiber sources are dead plants, though animal fur is supposedly an option. (I once saw a lady spinning thread directly off of an angora rabbit.)

Milkweed is very soft, and less allergenic. I haven't worked with it, personally, but I have seen the finished product, which looks very similar to synthetic string. The stalks should be harvested when they are dead and grey.

The inner bark from some trees is another excellent source, if you can collect enough. The trick is to find fallen branches, or dead trees with hanging bark. The best fiber trees are cedar, white basswood, tulip tree. Tulip tree (sometimes mistakenly called "poplar" or "tulip poplar") is quite common and frequently sheds branches. Tree-based fiber is strong, but coarse.

A note about cedar: You don't want the fibrous strands running along the outside of the bark -- the inside bark is where the good stuff is.

Urban sources

Plastic bags. They're everywhere! Shred them "lengthwise", that is, in the direction of the polymer. (Make note of which direction they rip most easily.)

Back to dogbane


Dogbane grows readily in waste areas and disturbed soil, and seems to prefer partial shade. For this project, I biked over to an abandoned road that was intended for a subdivision. Plants are creeping across the roadway, the asphalt is breaking up from freeze-thaw stress and earthstar mushrooms, and there are healthy stands of dogbane, vetch, and other waste-area plants.

You'll recognize the plants by their 4-foot tall dark brown stalks and their dangling seedpods. Initially, the seedpods are paired tubes that come together at their ends but bow away from each other at the middle. As the pods decay, the tubes peel open, slowly releasing the fluff-carried seeds to the wind. (Remember, dogbane is related to milkweed.) Incidentally, this fluff is an excellent fire-starting material -- but that's a different instructable.
 
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cat19862 months ago
Educational thanks for sharing
bikerviper4 months ago
How do you splice?
DanYHKim10 months ago
I have been known to tear paper napkins into strips, twist them, and then reverse-twist the strands into a short cord. It's something to do when I am kinda bored.
ggksc1 year ago
Very informative in(de)structable.
Thank you very much!
The Images/Vids provided, cleared up something that had me confused with the whole process for a long time.

Incidentally,
I made a quick 2 strand cord using plastic (carrier) bags.
Plastic strips were approx 2inches thick (before twisting).
I spliced in one extra plastic strip to add a touch more length, and to test my splicing abilities.

<img src="http://i1140.photobucket.com/albums/n575/Spark110/Image24_zpsde290bad.jpg"/>
** Appologies, the 'Add Images' button doesn't seem to want to work for me.
    You can copy/paste the url into your browser if you like, but it's just a little picture of my 2strand plastic cord, with my lighter for visual scale.

Once the 2strand 'carrier-bag' cord was done done, it measured in at:
762mm (2'6") in length
and average of 4mm (1/8") thick .
I tied a quick slip-knot in it and tested its strength.
It held 6 Kilos (my 2 smallest dumbbells) and did not break for 5 minutes of suspension.
I will try more weight at a later date, wanted to show the idea to a friend before demolishing.

Not bad at all for 10 minutes of twisting carrier-bags!
I'm going to spend a week in the woods now and try out the different fibres I can find.
Who'd have thought rope-making could be this addictive.

Thanks again for the wealth of information!
+1 Kudos
All the best,
Paul, GKSC
mark17791 year ago
you should try this with hemp ^.^
Jamman011 year ago
awesome! i'm gunna make me wun uf dese
I've made rope from dogbane before. It was surprisingly strong. I made a bracelet from it.
jediwhiz32 years ago
Cool! I have made this with yucca before (live in Colorado) and it is UNBELIEVABLY strong!
Yucca has been used for thousands of years. Hemp has also been used likewise in many different countries. I believe that yucca and hemp are some the strongest natural fibers you could use. Something great I saw and need to look at again for details is either the yucca or agave that has the needle on the end of their growth also has thread attached if carefully removed that is exceptionally strong and can be used for a great many things.
It's agave that has the needle and thread.
By the way, I just got back from the Denver/Golden area and notices the yucca growing everywhere. Actually I was dragged into one by my paraglider.
kimia132 years ago
i think there is no dogbane in my location! i should probably drive for day to get to the north of country to find dogbane!
Agentfern2 years ago
A while ago i started a project that involved making plastic bags into "yarn" and then knitting with it. I cut the plastic bags into loops and then put those together by looping them through each other. It didn't really work because the finished yarn was sort of like your plant fibres before you made them into cord. It kept breaking and I gave up. When I read your instructable I just went "Aha!". After twisting some of it, it is much stronger and looks pretty, too. Using loops simplifies splicing because you can easily add more loops when you need to. It hurts my hands, though. Do you think you could make a hand crank out of a pencil sharpener?
joen5 years ago
Great instructable! I noticed in step 1 under urban sources you suggested plastic bags. Since I had more than a couple I thought I would try it and I have pictures of the results. As you can see I started by making several 2 stranded cords. I then combined 3 two-stranded cords to make a 3 stranded cord. Second picture. then I combined 3 three-stranded cords to make a threefold rope. Your instructable made it easy to work out the details. Pictured with the rope is the only tool I used. Thanks again!
rope 001.jpgrope 004.JPGrope 005.jpg
Drakekay joen2 years ago
I would love to know how much tensile strength is in this plastic rope?!!?!?! :D Does it have any durability, or does it just tend to stretch and break apart?
joen Drakekay2 years ago
I made some rope and used it to tie down my trash can and to make a rope hook to keep open the trash can while it was being filled. I was amazed at how long it lasted in the open Arizona sun. I was expecting it to come apart from UV damage after a few months but it lasted over a year and a half. It is fairly strong and not that stretchy. Again, I haven't tested it to the point of failure but it is good for most light rope needs.

I have since enhanced the process using spindles and spreaders so that you can make rope as long as you want without having to twist long strands. You can even make it in your room. If there is interest I can make an instructable on how to do it.

thanks for your interest.
jediwhiz3 joen2 years ago
How strong is the finished plastic cord?
joen jediwhiz32 years ago
I haven't tried to see how strong it is but it seems to be quite strong. I made some spindles to make the rope making process simpler and the ropes that I have made with them seem quite strong. I use them as general purpose tie off ropes where I tie off my trash bin to keep it from blowing over in the wind and it seems to hold up OK but not great in the outside sun light. When I make rope with twine or survey line it is quite strong. Can you make good usable rope with plastic bags? Yes you can! Is it strong enough? That depends on what you are using it for. I haven't tested it to its limit yet but I haven't pulled apart any of my ropes yet. I am not strong enough to pull them apart by hand. I know that doesn't answer your question but it is the only one I have.
Sorry.
phyzome (author)  joen5 years ago
Beautiful! I have trouble making cord out of cord, because I'm so used to wrapping one direction, and you have to reverse direction at each level. Maybe I can switch hands to pull it off. Any suggestions?
When I spin cordage into cordage, I use the reverse reverse rap. As you can tell by the name, you're reverse raping backwards. It's a little painful and confusing at first, but after a while you adjust.
joen phyzome5 years ago
No not really. It was your instructable that I learned to do this from. I have seen some roll on the thigh methods of making cordage on Utube but you are undoubtably all over that already. I made the above rope to learn the process of making rope with hands and no tools. With no natural fibers to play with I chose plastic bags. Of necessety I learned to reverse wrap like you showed both ways from the start. Plastic bags aren"t perfect to make rope with but they are a cheap and convenient way to learn if you don't have ready access to natural plant fibers. You're light years ahead of me already. I can't tell you anything you don't already know. Thanks for getting me started on a fasinating hobby.
phyzome (author)  joen5 years ago
"You're light years ahead of me already. I can't tell you anything you don't already know." Nonsense! I don't know anything about this beyond what I posted and what other commenters have written. You've succeeded at making cordage out of cordage, which I haven't. On Instructables, there's no real difference between "teacher" and "student".
joen phyzome5 years ago
Thank you for the kind words. I was surprised you said that you hadn't made cordage out of cordage given your excellent Instructable. In case you are wondering, you just do the reverse wrap backwards. After making cordage the normal way (top strand twist away turn both strands back toward), you take three strands of already made cordage and then take the bottom strand and twisted toward you and then take the top and bottom strands and turned them away and on top of the third strand and then repeat. You are twisting each strand tighter before you turn both away. At least that is how it works with plastic bags. I still haven't had a chance to do it with natural fibers to see if there is a difference. Hope that made sence.
appux joen5 years ago
I'd be curious to hear about it if you use your plastic bag ropes for anything, and how well they hold up!
joen appux5 years ago
Actually I only did this last week and this is all I have done. I am using it mostly as a learning tool to learn how to do it. I may have some uses later for some light hanging displays but I don't intend to hang anything heavy with it. Also I understand that grocery bag plastic degrades in the sun so I don't intend using it outside. Eventually I want to make "real" rope with "real" plant fiber and when that time comes,I want to be ready.
AtomRat2 years ago
Hi there! Thanks for sharing these tips, I will find this very useful at times and have used it briefly over at http://www.instructables.com/id/Natures-Survival-Mini-Saw/

If this was done on a ridiculous scale, say, like a large ship rope, can the reverse twist technique be used to join several braids of rope into one very large diameter and long rope? Or would the whole lot just be braided, or even twisted ( I have seen old rope twisting devices that were hand cranked ) .. i hope that makes sense.
heathbar642 years ago
So when I first saw this ible, I got a grocery bag and started practicing. went well but had a hard time with the splices. Later, I had a basket full of plastic grass like is used in easter baskets. I got better at the splices and made a 6' length of pretty good twine. then while gathering firewood, I tried some of the stringy stuff from inside the bark. it was pretty weak string. I don't know if my fibre was old and rotton or what. anyway, now I have practiced some I'm back to revue the details. I find it very therapudic to make cordage. Kinda a mindless handwork.
heathbar642 years ago
Facinating! I alway wondered how that was done. your instructions for twisting is very clear to me, but I' think the hard part is in finding the fiber. I would like to see a video of making a splice.
dak4151732 years ago
you said your fibers were 3 feet and when twisted together were only 2 feet but what if i want somthng longer then that how would i connect two sections together
davee52uk3 years ago
I require something a bit thinner. I want to tie up plants, like tomatoes with something which is also biodegradable, so that at the end of the growing season I can just throw the plant into the compost bin.

At the moment I have to spend ages removing cable etc that I have used to tie the plant up.

Any suggestions ?

Incidentally as a church bellringer I use hemp ropes which are much better than any man-made material.
phyzome (author)  davee52uk3 years ago
My dad always used some kind of very coarse twine (maybe jute?) for this. It composted pretty well.
rileius3 years ago
Once you get through all of your cordage you can fold the rope over itself and do the reverse wrap step again, except you twist towards you and put forward
beehard443 years ago
i think this is how they make abaca rope
sxu13 years ago
Can you make a video for this step because I don't really understand it?
luneydude sxu13 years ago
im a texas cowboy and this is somethin i do all the time this instructable is okay for a survival situtation but if your just makin rope to use round your house or somethin out on a farm or whatever your usin it for (i use it to hunt deere, i laso them and then tackle them and stab them) any dead plant will work but you want good rope and maybe your feelin like bein old fashion one day and makin rope like texas rangers did before wayback when they were still shootin six shooters and single loaders and around the time of sam houston then use any dead plant and wax it up real good with candle wax....wind up your fibers then wax it up real good with candle wax and then when the wax dies take a match and cinch the ends of the rope and then if you want to put nots on the end put more wax and bend the rope into the not and hold it like that till te wax dries up
g-tech3 years ago
this cordage can be used for many things, a good suggestion would be a primitive sling!
I don't live around a forest or park so i can't get plants like that BUT i did have a plastic bag in my bedroom / " evil genius " lab and it looks pretty interesting. I like this instructable. Maybe someone could make long enough cords from plastic bags to strap the raft that you make out of garbage ( not sure what that instructable is called...) than it would be fully made out of garbage !!
phyzome (author)  FunkNattidelic6 years ago
Hey, that sounds pretty sweet! A word of caution: Plastic is designed to break down under ultraviolet light. You'd want to check the strength of the straps very carefully each time before taking the raft out for a spin.
joen phyzome3 years ago
Hi I wrote you about June 2009 about using plastic bags to learn to make rope. First of all I think you are absolutely right about checking the strength of plastic bag rope left out in the sun. However I have since made a lot of rope with plastic bags and found something odd. I used some out side and left it out in the Arizona desert sun for over a year expecting it to deteriorate within six months. So far I have seen very little deterioration. I am just as surprised as anybody.
Still, get plenty of experiance with plastic bag rope before you trust it with anything important (like life or limb)
Really? i had no idea that plastic was designed to do that... Thanks for the word of caution, i certainly wouldn't want my boat to fall apart in the middle of a lake.
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