Introduction: Primitive Net Making From Carving Your Needle to Weaving Your Net

Picture of Primitive Net Making From Carving Your Needle to Weaving Your Net

In this instructable I want to go through the process of net making from beginning to end, starting with carving the net needle to weaving the net itself. I also plan in incorporating a string making tutorial for those who want to duplicate this project from absolute beginning to end. For the sake of simplicity, and to prevent the instructable from ending up with 20+ steps, the string making and the weaving tutorials will be limited to one step each, in the form of short videos and are completely optional to the rest of the instructable.

A Bit Of Background;

As a child I was fortunate enough to have a parent that worked for Museums of Canada. This often meant that school holidays were spent exploring the museum displays. As a teenager, I was expected to volunteer during summer vacations. On the plus side, it meant that I was able to view artifacts up close, and even handle some that were closed away from the public. Fed by my need to create, this inevitably led to a lifelong obsession with recreating many of the artifacts I saw there, which is where many of my instructables come from.

Now like many, I was fascinated with archaic weapons such as the atlatl and the bow, and I have spent many hours replicating those items, but nothing fascinated me more than the day to day items that lithic cultures used. The one item that fascinated me most was net making.

Paleo Uses For The Net;

I came to realize that, of all the tools available to prehistoric man, nothing was more versatile than the simple net. As a fishing tool, it allowed it's user to catch food in bulk and was unsurpassed. It dawned on me that modern day hook and line setups were less about a guaranteed meal, and more about equalizing the odds for the fish in the name of ecology, which is essentially why many countries have outlawed the use of nets to all but indigenous cultures.

A net was equally as useful on land. Splayed over a rabbit hole, predatory animals, such as the ferret or snake were inserted into a second hole, or a fire was built just outside the den, and as the rabbit attempted to make its escape, it found itself tangled in the net. In modern terms, it is a very humane way to catch an animal and provides the most calories for the least amount of work.

The net was equally useful for birds. Strung out over a V shaped stick, it allowed the hunter the reach to catch birds mid flight, and again was very humane and calorically beneficial.

Most of all, it provided a convenient way of transporting large amounts of gathered material. It was a backpack, a hand bag, a shopping bag etc, all rolled into one.

Step 1: Tools and Supplies


  • Good sharp knife
  • (optional) crooked knife
  • Axe


  • String - nylon, cotton or natural fiber such as hemp or jute
  • Cedar/birch/pine log - any wood will do, but cedar is the easiest to carve and would be a first choice
  • Two 2" rings - can use metal or wood. Optionally you can use cedar root that has been wound into a loop
  • (optional) sandpaper - using beach sand on a piece of leather is the 'traditional' form

Step 2: Splitting Your Wood

Picture of Splitting Your Wood

Nice dry, aged wood would be the best, however you can work with freshly cut pieces, which, in fact are somewhat easier to carve, but will need time to dry before use. I would avoid using hardwoods like maple and oak, as they will be infinitely more difficult to carve and for our purposes, softer woods will be sufficiently strong.

Split your log into shingles roughly 3" wide by 10" long and 3/4" thick. There's no need for precision, but the closer you make them the less carving you will need to do to get them to rough shape. Leaving them slightly larger than the finished shape will go a long way to preventing imperfections from the splitting process from ending up in your finished work.

Step 3: Roughing Out the Shape

Picture of Roughing Out the Shape

To start with you need to thin out your shape. This can be most easily achieved using a crooked knife. The advantage of the crooked knife, when thinning wood isn't the shape of the blade, but the shape of the handle. Unlike a regular knife, the grip, on the crooked knife, is reversed with a angled thumb placement on the end of the handle that is used as sort of a cantilever. The work is braced against the body and the knife is drawn toward you. I'd highly recommend getting one if you intend on getting into carving.

Thin your board down until it is roughly 1/4" thick and flatten it. Next you need to reduce the width from 3". Now, needles come in many sizes, but the most effective size is between 1.5"-2", depending on the size of the netting you intend on making. A good standard size would be 1.75" however you should endeavor to carve a few of them in varying sizes.

Finally you need to adjust the length. Between 8-9" is sufficient but I've seen them as long as 12". The idea is that the longer it is, the more line it will hold without thickening the needle so much it won't pass through the loops. Once you've adjusted the length, taper one end to a point. It doesn't have to be sharp, and, in fact, a slightly rounded tip would be preferable.

Step 4: Carving the String Channel

Picture of Carving the String Channel

Channel Size;

There's a lot of variation in the channel size in the reference material and most of it seems to be personal preference. I've built needles of different shapes and sizes and have found that a shorter channel, tho it holds less string, is also thinner and able to pass through the loops more easily. A longer channel (such as the museum image in the introduction) tends to bulk around the mid section and can actually inhibit smooth weaving. In my opinion, a channel length of 2.5" with a needle that's 2.25" long by .5" wide seems to work the best.

Start by scribing the rough shape of the channel with the tip of your knife, then use the round of your blade to start removing material, but don't go all the way through. Flip the needle and mirror it on the other side, removing material until the rough channel is formed.

Once the channel has been roughed out, you can refine it with your knife. Again, a crooked knife is useful as its double edge and hooked end allow you to carve both edged simultaneously without having to constantly flip your piece.

Step 5: The Tail String Guide

Picture of The Tail String Guide

The guide, at the tail end of the needle is simply to keep your string from sliding off of the needle as you weave. It doesn't have to be very large as generally, the 'tabs' are 1/4" wide by 1/4". Because you'll be carving the end grain, it's easier to bevel each edge, then removed the thinned material rather than attempting carve it out directly. Trying to carve it out directly, especially on exceptionally dry soft wood can cause it to splinter, regardless of how sharp your knife is so thinning before gouging is the best way to avoid that.

Step 6: The Spacer Board

Picture of The Spacer Board

A good standard sized spacer board is around 2-2.5" wide, 5" long by 1/4" thick, however you may want to make some in varying sizes for different projects. Just remember that your spacer board dictates the size of your loops, especially on the second run and that your needle will need to fit through. You can carve the spacer board in much the same way as you did your needle.


Sanding is a good idea, however it isn't necessary. If you intend on keeping to traditional construction, and don't want to use store bought sandpaper, you can employ an age old trick. All you need is a piece of leather and some beach sand. Sprinkle the sand on the leather piece and use it in the same way as you would the store bought paper. The only drawback is that you need to bring your work to the paper and not the other way around, and the sand will constantly need to be replenished. Other than that, it should work great for you.

Step 7: Loading Your Needle

Picture of Loading Your Needle

Make a loop in one end of the string and place it over the tip of the channel needle. Then bring the string down, around the base and up the other side wrapping it around the tip of the channel needle. Continue back and forth like this until your net needle is full.


Don't overload your needle. A needle that is overly full will be difficult to use, especially on nets that use smaller loops. It's rare that one full needle will ever complete a full project so expect to create joins in your net, and reload your needle a couple of times anyway.

Choice of String;

Any thin string will do and in any material. If it's your intention to make dip nets, you can even load your needle with fishing line.

Step 8: Basic Net Weaving Technique

Picture of Basic Net Weaving Technique

Here's a basic double knot technique for net weaving. There are many different knots you can use, however when using synthetic material this is the one I'd recommend.

I've included a couple of still images along with the instructional video for the sake of clarity. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask in the comment section.

Step 9: Optional String Making Tutorial

Picture of Optional String Making Tutorial

As promised, I'm including an optional string making tutorial for those who would like to create their net needle completely from scratch. There's a certain pleasure in creating a complex tool from scratch and again, if you have any questions on the process, feel free to ask in the comment section.

Step 10: Finished

Picture of Finished

That's it. The net needle is a good addition to any outdoor/bushcraft/survival kit and knowing how to make one can go a long way to prepping you for the wild. As an old tutor once told me, "the nights are for making string" so I'd just like to add to that, "the nights are for making nets".

As usual, I hope you enjoyed the instructable and thanks for following.


Kate Russell (author)2017-01-10

Thank you so much for making this Instructable! You made every step clear and I look forward to making my own string, too! An idea occurred to me to perhaps make it easier. What about adding a hook of some sort on the hanging cord, just above the ring, to hold the loose string as you create each loop?

antagonizer (author)Kate Russell2017-01-21

That would definitely help things, but as you get into the rhythm, you won't really need it.

Jörgen Lindell (author)2017-01-04

Enjoyed your instructable, I just published a similar thing on net making you might be intrested in,

Your double knot was something I hadn't seen before, that looks effective.

what video do you keep referring to?

If you look at the last images on step 8 and 9, they are embedded videos.

Javin007 (author)2014-10-30

K, yep. Never wanted to make a net before this, but now I can't wait to get home and do it this weekend. (Or at least carve the tools this weekend.)

antagonizer (author)Javin0072014-11-01

Try making your own string as well. It's pretty rewarding when you can tell people that none of it was store bought.

Javin007 (author)2014-10-30

I haven't finished reading the 'ible yet. Just wanted to say that that intro was awesome. I'd never though of a net as anything more than a fishing tool. Can't wait to learn to make my own.

JM1999 (author)2014-10-11

Very nice, I haven't made a net yet but I really want to!

Good job on the win!

jmcdonald23 (author)2014-10-06

Wow very nicely done. This is something I always wanted to learn how to do.

CDSparrow (author)2014-10-05

Good instructable but I must say I was a bit uneasy about the photo for 4/10. Never carve wood on your thigh.

antagonizer (author)CDSparrow2014-10-05

knife in one hand camera in the other. No third hand for the wood.

You obviously need a gopro head mounted camera? I used to make nets for use with my ferrets hunting rabbits when I was a youngster. Great fun! Good luck in the contest.

Thank you and yea, my video tech is pretty lacking. I always wanted to try ferreting. I smoked rabbits out a few times but never used live animals. Probably a whole heck of a lot more effective I'd wager.

Oh yes! Very effective!

Nice instructable. Useful information for more than just in the wild, like making shopping/carryall bags for instance. I remember seeing similar tools made from bamboo being used on a visit to Japan as a child.

On the optional portion of step 6. An old carving technique that might be of interest, useful and/or technologically appropriate is using scrapers made from pieces of broken glass. Granted it is potentially dangerous and not for everyone, but similar tools were probably made(knapped) for smoothing wood items. Conceivably an x-acto type knife could also be used for scraping.

Absolutely, scraping with flint works. I use that same technique when I build bows. You can also use a piece of flat sandstone. There's no end to human ingenuity.

VentureScout (author)2014-09-19

You are an inspiration

antagonizer (author)VentureScout2014-09-19

Thank you. You'll never know how it brightened my day to read that this morning. I've spent my life thinking that the information I've collected over the years had no real value to others. Instructables taught me otherwise which is why I value the community so highly.

VentureScout (author)antagonizer2014-09-19

Keep up the good work

Oddstr13 made it! (author)2014-09-17

My first attempt. Material I used is fresh Birch that I chopped down a copule of weeks ago. It came out a bit wide and short, but I'm happy with it as my first attempt. The hardest part was making the hole for the string.

Havn't quite gotten the hang of making nets yet.

antagonizer (author)Oddstr132014-09-17

Birch is a good material to carve and you'll be happy to know I've seen examples like the one you carved at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. The Coast Salish people seemed to prefer smaller needles when making their nets.

sandrak320 (author)2014-09-16

When I was a teen, my mom and I made hammocks using this.

sspruill1 (author)2014-09-14

My grandfather was a very resourceful man and a jack-of-all-trades. One of the ways he would support his family was to repair fishing nets in coastal North Carolina. He used to carve his own needles, just as you described. Long after he had retired and was no longer repairing nets, he sat and whittled a needle and then showed me how to use it. I still have the needle 40 years later, although I do not make nets. Your video brought back the memory of that day with my grandfather. Thanks!

antagonizer (author)sspruill12014-09-14

I wouldn't mind seeing it if you could post a pic. Traditional net needles are hard to come by for reference material and I'd love to see the way he carved it.

sspruill1 (author)antagonizer2014-09-15

Here it is. He wrapped some thin string onto it and made a few net loops (without a starter ring). I left them on just as he gave it to me. The needle is only about 7 inches long (20 cm).

antagonizer (author)sspruill12014-09-15

That's fantastic. I'm guessing your grandfather did a lot of dip nets based on the width of it. You can do some fine netting with that. His carving of the channel is impeccable considering how little wood he had to work with. If you don't mind, I'd like to save a copy to my personal reference library, but I won't redistribute it. It's just for a personal learning resource.

sspruill1 (author)antagonizer2014-09-16

Yes, mostly dip nets and throw nets for herring runs. Please feel free to keep the image and share as you'd like. Granddad would be amused by the interest.

Kweek (author)2014-09-15

Super cool. Voted. First I think I'll look up a crooked knife 'ible.

antagonizer (author)Kweek2014-09-15

There's a tool supplier in Canada called Lee Valley Tools that sells a variety of the blades, including the brass pins for mounting them called the Haida Carver's. They also sell the cocobolo handles to mount them with, however I carved mine out of purpleheart. You can get them in different curvatures as well. I'd recommend the #4 as a good general purpose curve.

Bubbler (author)2014-09-14

It was a very enjoyable Instructable, and it took me back to my childhood when a lot of people made nets for fishing and for trapping rabbits when they used ferrets to hunt them out of their burrows. A few years back I had to repair a small hole in a net, and having no wood, I used a piece of cardboard which sufficed for that.

MadDogKY (author)2014-09-14

There are places that sell plastic shuttles and instructions for net-making. I learned from my father years ago and have made a few items including hammocks and carry bags. Netcraft in Toledo, Ohio is one place I am familiar with that sells netmaking supplies.

antagonizer (author)MadDogKY2014-09-14

My ancestors came from the east coast of Canada, in the Gaspe region, I.E. I'm acadian/metis. There's a long history for me as well so it's been nice hearing from so many others that share that.

abinc (author)2014-09-14

Your bio was most interesting to me. We understand that organic materials are not preserved except under exceptional circumstances. Although a number of really competent archeologists claim that Neanderthal people did not possess the capability for such skills as you describe in your instructable, I'm not convinced. I agree that net making would be an incredibly valuable skill for hunters/fishers, as would be weaving for gathering. There is a limit as to what one can do with a hide or carrying things in their bare hands! Clearly, the needles used for net making could be made from bone, and that could last -- even unfossilized -- for more than 35,000 years, but what about stone? Obsidian and flint both can be knapped into long, slender shapes. Yes, they would be brittle, but they should work for net-making. Have you any knowledge that stone could have been used in such an application?

antagonizer (author)abinc2014-09-14

I tend to agree with you. We don't give them enough credit for their skill. Just watched a documentary that suggested they may have had language. I'd say that's bull. I haven't seen any made out of stone, but it does make sense. Likely, if they were and anthropologists were examining them, they were probably misidentified as something else. Stone knapped needles may have taken a completely different shape altogether by virtue of the complexity of the technique that went into creating them. I'd look for something along the lines of an 'H' shape, with it's points tapered inward, rather than the traditional 'A' shape of wood needles. That makes the most sense to me.

Ultra-Indigo (author)2014-09-14

This is great. Have you tried to use reclaimed materials? I made a needle out of a expired gift card and a second gift card as a spacer, but can't find them now to take pictures.

antagonizer (author)Ultra-Indigo2014-09-14

I always carve out of cedar or birch but I'll give the card needle a try. Seems like it'd be great for really fine nets.

Cheese Queen (author)2014-09-14

50 years ago or so, I watched my Lithuanian great-uncle weave us kids a new badminton net in what seemed like just a few hours Had never known he was a fisherman (or in fact, anything about what he had done in the old country) and it wasn't until many years later that I wondered about this skill we took so casually. Thank you- I am certainly going to try this!

antagonizer (author)Cheese Queen2014-09-14

It gets addictive. Repetitive, but calming.

cyberdove (author)2014-09-14

How do you set up the ring?

antagonizer (author)cyberdove2014-09-14

I omitted the ring because it is really simple. Just tie the end of your string directly to the ring then make your loop around the spacer and back up to the ring. Then do a double half hitch knot around the ring and repeat. That'll create your first set of loops. They're the most annoying to weave, and where you're most likely to make mistakes, so I created the vid on those. Once you hit the third row it gets a lot easier.

kaeldra (author)2014-09-14

Are there links you could post for the videos? I'm not seeing anything but pictures...

antagonizer (author)kaeldra2014-09-14

The vids are embedded under string making and net weaving techniques but in case you can't see them here are the direct links;

Bowtie41 (author)2014-09-14

I always wondered about the procedure for the knots.Thank You so much for posting!

calichigal (author)2014-09-14

I'm so glad you made this Instructable!! My grandfather was a fisherman in northeastern Louisiana and made his own nets and made his own net-making tools - exactly like what you've made. He made me some needles and taught me how to weave a net, but that was way back in the 1970s and I have forgotten how. Now I can pick it up again. Thank you!

vincent7520 (author)2014-09-14

A very common tool but very nicely done !

Thanks for posting ! …

lusis987 (author)2014-09-14

All the time I was searching someone who could show me, how to create the net.

Could you create and add some pictures showing steps of making the knot?

omnibot (author)2014-09-12

I'm giving up knitting for this!

Eldalote (author)2014-09-12

That's great! I voted ;)

Stephyyisms (author)2014-09-11

I have always wondered how these are made! This is very interesting and I'll have to give it a try!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm the kind of person who's mind doesn't stop. Literally, I take medication to fix that just so I can sleep at ... More »
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