A Pocket Full of Knots.




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Traditionally, a knotting board is a large display of the knots a Scout can make. Being large, they became unpopular.

Now, though, spend a few minutes with card, wire and a cigar tin, and you can have a pocket-sized display fit to earn any Cub or Scout that bit extra credit towards a badge.

(You could consider this to be eight Instructables in one, since will also learn how to tie seven different knots. How's that for value?)

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Step 1: What You Need.

  • Most small tins will do for this project, but the best tins are those flat, conveniently pocket-sized tins that hold a handful of slim cigars*.
  • Odd lengths of electrical wire. Mains wire is good for this as it gives you a choice of colours, enabling you to tell one part of a knot from another.
  • Wire cutters.
  • A piece of stiff card.
  • Superglue.
  • Fine pen for labelling knots.
  • Optional: paints to disguise the carcinogenic origins of the tin.

*Please remember, folks, all forms of tobacco are very, very bad for you. I in no way condone smoking, but I have a friend who does smoke, and he lets me have his empty tins in exchange for me shutting up about what he is doing to his health.

Step 2: Select Your Knots

The exact number of knots you use depends largely on the size of your tin.

In this tin, I am going to display the following knots:

If you are just starting out in knotting, you could make a new tin every time you master a new set of knots, or themed tins - fishing knots, sailing knots, climbing knots etc.

If you are just learning how to tie knots, there are many excellent books available, and several well-produced websites include animations of a variety of useful or decorative knots.

My current favourites are Grog and the 42^nd^ Brighton (Saltdean) Scouts pages.

Step 3: Reef Knot

Ideal for joining two lines of equal thickness, this is the classic "Scout Knot". It is known (incorrectly) as a "square knot" in the US.

Take an end in each hand.

Pass the left end over the right end (making an X shape) and then loop it under, creating the basic "overhand" knot.

Take the end that you started with, now on your right, and cross it back over the other end, making another X above the first overhand knot, and loop it under and through the centre.

Pull tight, and the knot should be flat and symmetrical, with the two ends you started with both on the same side of the lines.

Step 4: The Sheet Bend

Normally used for joining two lines of different thickness. "Sheet" is the term used by nautical folk for ropes, usually ropes that pull something.

Make a loop in the end of one line (the thicker one). Hold the loop in your left hand.

Pass the second line up through the loop, then round the back of the loop.

Bring the same end round to the front of the knot, and tuck it between itself and the first loop (look at the photos for a clearer idea).

Pull the knot tight and you are finished.

Step 5: Sheep Shank.

This knot is used to shorten a rope without cutting it, especially if you cannot get at the ends for some reason.

Fold a long flat "Z" shape in the line.

Coil a loop in the main line, just past level with the end of the Z - slightly further into the knot than the bend.

Thread the end of the Z through the loop you have just made. Take care to thread it through from the correct side, over the part of the line that leads away from the knot (check the image).

Repeat this at the other end of the Z and pull tight.

This knot is very strong and stable whilst under tension, but comes apart incredibly easily as soon as the rope slackens.

Step 6: The Bowline

The bowline is a knot for making a usable loop that does not tighten when you pull on it - this is not a noose.

Near the end you want the loop, make a small loop by twisting part of the line in your hand.

Thread the end of the line up through the loop, round the back of the line, and back down the small loop.

Look at the photos to check the orientation of the loops - if you go through them from the wrong side, the whole knot will fall apart.

Step 7: A Round Turn and Two Half Hitches.

A very useful knot, even though the only people who seem to have heard of it are sailors and Boy Scouts. It can be used to tie a swing to a branch or an oil tanker to it's quay.

The classic knot has only one "round turn", but it can have as many as you need. Greater loads need more turns, but not more hitches, as all they do it lock the knot in place.

With practice, you can tie this knot one-handed, allowing you to hold onto your mule with one hand, while you lash it to a hitching post with the other.

First, loop a "turn" of line around the post. The line should go around the post at least one full turn, but more can be added (if, for instance, you have a particularly poorly-behaved mule).

Pass the loose end over the line, then back through between the loose end and the loaded end.

Pull tight, and repeat the half-hitch in the same direction you tied the first.

Step 8: Lark's Head Hitch

This simple knot is very effective for fastening closed loops together - it's the knot used to fasten rubber bands together - and is useful for tying tape loops when climbing.

Pass one loop ("loop A") through the other ("loop B"), and fold it back towards itself.

Thread the part of loop A that did not go through loop B through the part of loop A that did go through loop B, then pull tight.

That takes a lot longer to read than do - it's a lot clearer in the images.

Step 9: The Constrictor

This knot is quick and easy to tie with a little practice, and incredibly useful - it is used to tie rope ladders with wooden rungs, and sees a lot of action in theatres and music arenas, being able to hold lighting rigs with ease.

Turn a loop in the line, then turn that into a figure-eight shape. Notice that the loop crosses at the middle of the figure-eight on the same side as it crosses the main line.

Turn the figure=eight round until the top loop is on the opposite side of the main line, and the crossing-point of the figure-eight is on top of the main line.

Put your thumb through one loop, your fingers through the other loop, make them meet on the other side and lift.

(If you are tying this in wire, as I am, then the two loops on either side need bent downwards, away from the camera's point of view.)

Pass your pole or beam though both of the loops as the hang, and pull tight.

You should see that the line on both sides of the knot passes under the line from the other side, all held in place by a diagonal loop. This is the constriction which provides the friction to lock the whole knot in place. If the crossing points do not lie on a curved surface, the friction is lost and the knot will "roll" along the line, so this knot is most effective on round poles, staves and branches.

Step 10: Laying Out the Knots.

Cut a piece of card to match the inside of your tin.

Arrange your knots on the card in a way that you find pleasing. If you are tying hitches, tie them around a length of bamboo skewer or a match. I found that an extra-long match for lighting barbecues was exactly the right length when the head was trimmed off.

You may want to combine more than one knot on the same piece of wire, but it is not required. In this example, I have fastened the example of a bowline to the match with a lark's head hitch.

Once you are satisfied with the arrangement, a drop of superglue ("crazy" glue, "CA glue") on the back of the knots will hold them in place without being obviously "there".

Step 11: Preparing the Tin.

You are not very likely to want your tin to continue to show what it used to hold, especially if that was cigars.

You could sand the tin down to bare metal, or paint over the warnings.

I sprayed my tin British racing Green, and tied a reef knot in a loop of wire which I super-glued to the outside of the tin. I used small drops of glue, but added them every couple of millimetres to stop it getting caught and pulled off as it is pulled in and out of my pocket.

Your knots will need labelled to finish the display.

If your handwriting is good, and your pen finely-tipped, you could label them by hand.

Otherwise, you can print out labels on your PC and glue them beside the knots, or make a key to stick inside the lid of the tin (which would serve the extra function of covering the cigar-related text inside the lid).

Congratulations, you're done. Now go and find a Scoutmaster and demand a badge...

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    120 Discussions


    3 years ago

    this is so true :

    "A very useful knot, even though the only people who seem to have heard of it are sailors and Boy Scouts"


    5 years ago

    Really love it plan to build one some day also good idea with the wire

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Step 3

    I've been in Scouting for about 15 years and never heard this referred to as a "Scout Knot". As a matter of fact, the Boy Scout handbook calls this a square knot. The US Army FM 5-125, Rigging Techniques, Procedures, and Applications calls this knot a square knot (p. 2-7). I'm curious about your use of the "Scout Knot" nomenclature. Care to share the etymology with us?
    Great tutorial. I love using the wire to make the knots. The running ends really stand out that way, and you don't have to worry about them moving while you take the pictures. I'm going to employ this technique with our knot board.

    4 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 3

    But still, In the last three editions of the scout handbook, that I know of, it is referred to as the square knot. Your statement of "It is known (incorrectly) as a "square knot" in the US." is false. It's like trying to say Gasoline is known as (incorrectly) as petrol in the UK.


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 3

    Might I point out that the <em>British</em> Scouting Association is the <em>original</em> (and inclusive) Scouting Association?


    Reply 7 years ago on Step 3

    That's great, but, the British call things differently than us Yanks. I could make a long list of things that the British call "incorrectly" but I won't. They're just different terms, not incorrect.

    I mean, just because we calls things differently doesn't mean they're incorrect, just different.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    That is a very nice way to show- and remember- how to make those knots.

    When I was a kid, I remember an Uncel telling me how to remember the bowline like this:
    [Rope held out in front of you, verticle]
    Make a loop.
    Think of the loop as a hole beneath a tree.
    A rabbit comes out of the hole,
    The rabbit goes around the three,
    The rabbit goes back into the hole,
    Voila, a bowline!


    8 years ago on Step 6

    On the Bowline, when I was a ScoutMaster in Las Cruces NM, I was fooling around with a piece of rope. I tied a slip knot and stuck the loose end through and slipped the knot and Voila, a Bowline. I showed this to another SM and we went round and round about whether it was a Boline or not. Fast forward 10 years I was SM in another town, I was looking through a knot book and ran across the very same knot. It is called an Eskimo Bowline.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 6

    there are 4 types of "Bowlines" but 2 classes! the bowline, the left handed bowline AKA: The Dutch Marine Bowline, The Cowboy Bowline, the Working end of the knot is on the outside of the look where as the working end of the Bowline is on the inside of the loop, all fall in the first class, let us call normal. The second class is harder to explain. the last loop(bright) ties around the working end and not around the standing end of the rope, thus again you will have two versions of this knot, one with the working end inside of the main loop and the other outside of the main loop. here is a link:



    Reply 8 years ago on Step 6

    It's amazing the number of knots there are. It sometimes seems that almost any tangle of string has a nautical name...


    8 years ago on Step 8

    One of my Scout leaders called it a "Cat's Eye Knot" or something like that before but that might be because I didn't tie it with a loop I tied it with a piece of rope on a pole.


    8 years ago on Step 4

    I tie the "Reef Knot" (in quotes because I'm in the BSA and I know it as a Square Knot) this way. I find it faster and easier to do behind my back (to show off) in competitions.


    10 years ago on Step 5

    didn't bear grylls demonstrate this but he cut the center so it will seperate with slack?

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Step 5

    bear grylls used it but cut it.. he used the rope tied off to a tree to rappel down a cliff. BUT, he did not want to just lose the rope, so; he tied a sheep shank and cut the center cord, that way when there was tension, it would hold, but when slack, it would come apart, so the cut allowed him to pull most of the rope down with him.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 5

    It unfastens with slack anyway - cutting it just wastes rope.


    9 years ago on Step 9

    Isn't this just a clove hitch formed outside of the anchoring object?