Introduction: Bitterroot Braided Paracord Belt
Paracord is great stuff. It's durable, cheap, functional, versatile, and comes in a dizzying array of colors.
A paracord belt is the ultimate way to keep this handy resource around for emergency use, and it's a usable daily fashion accessory. (No dorky bracelets here.)
There are two primary ways of making such a belt, but neither combined the features I desired. The knit pattern belt comes apart very quickly for emergency use, but it's stretchy. The double cobra braid doesn't stretch but it takes nearly as long to take it apart as it does to make. The double cobra belt is made from multiple pieces of cord instead of one continuous piece. While this is great for making a pattern in your braided belt, it's not so great if you desperately need 70' of continuous cord in the next five minutes...
About three years ago, I studied this problem and developed my own braid, which I'm christening the "bitterroot braid," since I live here in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. A bitterroot braided belt is made from a single cord and can be broken down in a couple minutes. While a knit belt breaks down faster (a dozen seconds instead of a couple minutes), the bitterroot braid doesn't stretch. Finally, it is a feasible proposition to change the buckle on a bitterroot braided belt because it is tied on after instead of being the anchor point for the core of the belt.
Alength of paracord.
- a length of paracord (100' should work for waist size 38" or less)
- a 1-1/4" belt buckle - I like center bar buckles
- a melting implement
- a cutting implement
- a stringing tool
- paracord needle (recommended)
- ice pick (somewhat dangerous and more difficult)
Step 1: Preperation
Cut your paracord to length. I use a ratio of about 27-1 (27" of cord for 1" of finished braid), but this will vary depending on how tightly you braid your belt. I highly recommend braiding a short length to learn and to establish your own length ratios. Be sure to melt the ends so it doesn't come apart.
Find the middle point of your cord and spear your cord with the safety pin at this center point to mark it.
Wind your bobbins. I use chunks of dowel or something similar about 8-12" in length for a bobbin. Tie each end of the cord to one end of a piece of dowel and use your drill to turn the dowel (slowly) to wind the cord around the dowel. I tie a half hitch to keep the cord from coming off the bobbin (dowel).
Step 2: Beginning
Lay out your cord over the desired length of the braid in the shape of a "W" making sure the center of your cord is in the center of the "W" and that each half of the "W" is exactly the same length as the other. These two halves of the "W" will be making the two cores around which the sheath of the belt will be braided.
It will probably be handy to mark one bobbin to keep them separate. The first working end comes off the left of the "W" and the second working end comes off the right at layout. While the exact working end isn't relevant once you get the hang of it, it is still handy to keep the bobbins separate to make it easier to alternate them as the bobbins are brought back and forth while braiding a whole belt.
Take that first working end and form a loop then bring it across the top of the left core and behind the right core.
Form a loop with the second working end, passing the loop behind the first working end and bring the second working end across the top of the right core and behind the left core, then bring it up through the beginning loop in the first working end. Go ahead and take all the slack out, but the beginning will hold with one more pass.
Step 3: Braiding
Now the first working end is on the right side of the belt. Form a loop and bring the first working end back behind the core on the right and over the top of the left core.
Take the second working end and form a loop, passing the loop over the first working end, then pass the second working end back behind the left core and over the right core and down through the loop in the first working end on the right side of the belt.
Tighten this layer down. This will be the first opportunity to really tighten the beginning of the braid. Remove the safety pin before it gets caught in the braid. At this point the first working end is back on the left and the second working end is on the right.
Form a loop in the first working end and bring it over the top of the left core and behind the right core.
Take the second working end and form a loop behind the first working end and come over the front of the right core and behind the left core then come up behind through the loop in the first working end.
After you tighten this layer you should begin to see the pattern taking shape. Each working end should be coming back and forth staying on its own side of each core, passing over or behind the same core the same way each time and then looping around the other working end at each side.
Now all you have to do is create about three feet of this braided sheath...
Step 4: The Buckle
When you come to the end, leave yourself about 1/2" of cores exposed, but if you need more, don't be bashful. On a full length belt you should have plenty of length to pack your sheath pretty tightly, and when everything is all tied off, loosen the sheath just a bit to cover up any extra gap between the end of the sheath and the finishing knots.
The goal here is to tie the buckle on with a pair of barrel knots that capture two strands of both working ends as well as one of the cores in each knot.
Begin by laying the working ends across the unfinished end of the belt. Lay out your buckle there as well. (Remember: you're tying your belt to the center bar of a center bar buckle. I actually saw one guy on the internet selling belts and in one of his pictures, he had attached his belt to the end of his center bar buckle... don't be that guy.)
Take one of your working ends and tuck it through the loop of the root of the core on its new side (remember you crossed the belt with these working ends). Loop it around the center bar of your buckle and back through the core's loop. Make sure that you capture the other working end in your loop. Do this three more times. You should tuck through the core four times and around the buckle three times. Finally, tuck your current working end through the center of these loops alongside the center bar of the buckle and the other working end.
Do the same with the second working end, being sure to capture both strands of the first working end in your loops. Before tightening it all down, pass the second working end through the center of both knots alongside the center bar. Tighten down both barrel knots so that everything lies nice and even.
Step 5: Stringing the Ends
Finally, string the ends of your working ends back through the sheath alongside the cores. The paracord needle shines here (and is often useful when tying those barrel knots).
A paracord needle is threaded on one end. Just make sure the melted end of the cord is of the appropriate size to catch in the threads and thread the needle on the cord like a nut on a bolt. Work the needle through the sheath about an inch or two at a time and pull it all tight.
If the finished end is excessively long, go ahead and cut it off (and melt the cut). Only an inch or so should be needed to keep the finished end captured, but I usually leave my ends several inches long. If the buckle ever needs to be changed, those extra inches will make re-tying the barrel knots much easier.
When using an ice pick, the melted end becomes very important. It needs nice and smooth, yet not too pointed and definitely of a long shape not a large diameter, and as durable as possible. You're going to be stabbing this melted end from behind and shoving it up through the sheath, so make sure it's sturdy enough to handle this abuse. Expect this melted plastic to fail at some point as you are jamming it through the belt and be sure not to stab anything with the ice pick. Finally, to make it easier to shove the melted end through the sheath easier, loosen a few strands by feeding the pick, pliers, or other rod through first, then string the paracord through.
Step 6: Breakdown
What good is an "emergency belt" if you can't take it apart easily? This one will break down in minutes, but having a good needle nosed pliers around is necessary, but you all should have a multitool about your person at all times anyway. You are prepared, aren't you?
First, take the buckle off pretty much just like it is attached. Find the loose ends that have been threaded into the sheath of the belt then tease apart the barrel knots.
Next, grab the center loop of the core in the tip of the belt. Tease out a loop and grab it with your pliers. On a full length belt, the friction will be enough that you won't be pulling the core out of the sheath, instead you will mostly be pulling the sheath off the core until near the end.
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