Introduction: Monkey's Fist Tablecloth Weights

Strong gusts and wind bursts can be a nuisance on nice summer picnics or outdoor entertainments. One easy and elegant solution is to hang weights along the edge of a tablecloth to keep it intact. Here is how to use a monkey's fist knot to make decorative weights for a tablecloth.

The origin of the monkey's fist knot is as a heaving line knot used on ships of sail of yesteryear, where it was tied with a weight in the center to allow sailors on a boat to throw their rope to people at the dock with greater accuracy. The monkey's fist was attached to the end of a light weight line or rope and thrown to its destination. This light rope with weighted knot on the end replaced the larger and heavier lines which often took more time to accurately pass to their destination.

However, the knot is now more popular as a decorative knot and can be found in sizes small to large: from key fobs to door stopper weights. The size of the knot is dependent on the thickness of the rope in which it is tied and the number of turns made. Often a spherical object such as a golf ball, marble, or tennis ball is used in the center of the knot to help attain a more perfect round shape and give the knot weight when used for decoration. Now the monkey's fist has worked it's way into everyday life by aiding people of all ages and professions. The monkey's fist as a keychain makes it convenient to drop car keys or other objects into a pocket, purse, etc while leaving the knot dangling over the side for easy access. They work great as a zipper pull on bags or backpacks for easy grip. Monkey's fist knots have also proved to be wonderful to use when making pull toys for dogs or catnip treat toys for cats.

Alternately, a stopper knot tie at the end of the working end and tucked inside the knot prior to tightening works well. Both ends of the rope can be tucked inside the knot upon completion or they can both be left long and tied together. This knot may take several attempts through trial and error to get a nice perfectly round and tight fitting knot.

Step 1: Finding a Weight to Put in the Center

In the past it was not uncommon for seafarers to weight monkey’s fists fitted to the end of heaving lines with pieces of scrap metal or sand, or to attach a heavy item such as a shackle, so that the line would travel a greater distance when thrown. This practice is no longer accepted as it increases the risk of serious injury if a linesman, shore worker or a crew member aboard a tug or mooring boat is struck by such an object during mooring operations, or if the weighted end hits a member of the vessel’s mooring party when the heaving line is thrown back. The United Kingdom Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) publication “Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seamen”, Section 25.3.2, states that “Vessel’s heaving lines should be constructed with a “monkey’s fist” at one end. To prevent personal injury, the “fist” should be made only with rope and should not contain added weighting material”.

Since the knots we are dealing with are solely for decoration purposes and their weight is a major determinant for preventing the tablecloth from flying off the table, we will have use a spherical object to attain a nice round shape and heaviness.

I made many monkey's fists with beech wood balls I used to buy from the local DIY store nearby. However, on one occasion I spotted some cast iron balls at a local metal smith's shop specializing in ornamental railings and welding. I bought four of these for 5$, they are 40 mm in diameter (approximately 1.5 inches). I've found out by trial and error that 35-40 mm balls give adequately shaped monkey's fists, suitable for tablecloth weights.

Alternatively, tennis balls, golf balls or marbles could also be used.

Step 2: What Kind of Rope?

You can use any kind of rope to your liking; I've experimented with paracord, single or double braid polyester sailboat lines, natural hemp, manila, nylon and sisal. Each one has different appearances and characteristics, giving beautiful examples of monkey's fist knots.

For this project, I got this three strand, 6 mm nylon rope of 20 meters (approximately 22 yards) for 9$.

Step 3: Use a Jig

This instructable is not about how to make a monkey's fist; there are many good web sites with animated step-by-step instructions showing how to tie one,

to name a few. Still, I would like to show how I did it with the help of simple jig. This one is made by driving four nails into a piece of scrap wood, each being approximately five inches long. This jig could be further elaborated by using wooden dowel pins instead of nails, but despite the nail heads making the removal of the rope a little difficult; it works fine.

The tricky part is determining the number of coils you have to wrap around the ball. This is actually a trial and error exercise. For a 40 mm ball, five turns of 6 mm rope works fine. The rope should make just enough revolutions to cover the entire surface of the object, but shouldn't get crimped or overlap on each other.

Step 4: Tying the Knot

Once you start the knot, there will be a certain step where you will have to place the weight in the center. Slip the ball inside and proceed tying the fist. Pay attention not to make it too snug and tight around the nails, since it would be difficult to remove the rope from the jig. When all the coils are complete, slip the knot off from the nails.

Step 5: Start Tightening

Start tightening the knot by giving all the excess line towards the reel. When you can't tighten it any further by hand, use a pair of nose pliers, they come in extremely handy. When you're done with it, the knot should be taut and solid. You will understand why these where used as weapons in street and tavern fights during the 19th century. A knot like this bearing an iron or brass ball inside would be perfectly capable of cracking your opponent's skull during a brawl.

Step 6: Cut It Off From the Reel

Once the knot is finished, one end of the line will be hidden under the lassos. If done correctly, it should be undetectable. The other end will the attached to the reel. Measure a length of around 15 or 20 centimeters (7 - 8 inches) from the surface of the ball and cut the rope.

Step 7: Make a Loop

Apply some glue right on the spot where the rope is protruding from the knot, then tuck the other end in with a screwdriver. You may heat seal the end of the rope with a lighter before tucking it if you wish to do so. Even if you don't seal it, the rope is in no danger of fraying.

Step 8: Making an Eye Splice

As you can see in the end product, I used a galvanized steel thimble for the eye splice. Thimbles can give better wear resistance and will hold their shape when soft eye generally won't. Thimbles are a set size so there is no room to adjust the opening. Naturally, I used it to attain a nautical appearance here; the rope isn't subject to any hard wear at all.

Thimbles vary according to the width of the rope. As you can see from the package, the one I used was suitable for a 5 millimeter line, but fit snugly on this 6 millimeter rope as well.

Step 9: Attaching the Thimble

To make sure the thimble doesn't fall off, apply glue to the mating surfaces of the rope and stick it together. Use a clamp or several clothespins to apply pressure.

Step 10: Tie a Common Whipping

Next, we will tie a common whipping around the neck of the loop. The common whipping is the classic simple whipping and can be tied with no needle. With a little practice, and the appropriate size of whipping twine, it creates a very neat appearance with no visible ends. Again, there are many sites with step by step instructions showing a how to tie one.

Choose a color for the twine you would like to wrap around the neck of the loop. Lay the the twine along the rope and make a bight back along the rope. Begin wrapping the twine around the rope and bight of twine securely. Wrap until the whipping reaches the ball. Run the working end of the twine through the bight. Carefully pull on the standing end of the twine until the bight and working end are pulled under the whipping. When the final end is inserted into this bight, care must be taken to pull the bight only half way into the whipping. If pulled completely through by mistake, then the original end just unwraps. Cut the twine flush with the edges of the whipping to give the rope end a finished look.

Step 11: Attach a Crocodile Clip

You should be able to find these crocodile clips at fabric stores, particularly those that specialize in curtaining. I used an IKEA riktig set for this. A package containing 24 clips costs 2.99$, which is enough for six set of weights.

You will have to twist the hook slightly open with a pair of nose pliers so that the gap would be enough to pass the eye splice in. Once the hook is through, squeeze it gently to close the gap.

Step 12: All Four Complete

Out of curiosity, I weighed the set of knots on a kitchen scale. With an impressive 1.25 kilograms, (2.75 pounds) I doubt whether there would be a gale strong enough to blow off a tablecloth these weights are attached to!

But joking apart, iron balls are really too much as weights for the monkey's fists, I do recommend using wooden or plastic ones instead.

Step 13: Experimenting With Other Types of Rope

Here are two other examples of monkey's fist I'm currently using as key fobs. Both are made with polyester sailing lines. The black one on the left is finished with a double strand lanyard (diamond knot) on top.

Step 14: Attach Them Onto a Tablecloth

And here you are a set of nautical tablecloth weights.

Hope you enjoyed it.

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