Chluaid's 10-minute Monkey Fist




Introduction: Chluaid's 10-minute Monkey Fist

About: I make stuff!

When I was a little kid I read somewhere that sailors made weapons from rope. Since then I've been fascinated with rope weapons (limited mainly to flails and whips) and always wanted to learn how to make them.

A few years back, I was in a book store and saw a step-by-step how to make a monkey's fist knot, so I memorised it (didn't really want to buy a whole book), went home and before long, the house was full of monkey's fists, ranging from small marble-sized knots to a big one with a golf ball inside.

In my video you'll see a range of rope flails at the end, with cores of steel, glass, wood and the big one with the golf ball. My favourite is the black leather one with a rip-cord handle and hardwood core.

This video isn't so much a tutorial as it is a time-lapse demonstration. Hope you likey!

*update - thanks for Feature and all the great comments! Good to know some people are finding this an inspiration or a refresher :)



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    191 Discussions

    I have no knowledge to base this on, but it seems like a pretty complicated knot to have originated in sailing. If the purpose was to weight the end of a rope for throwing, couldn't something just be tied to the end of the rope?
    The only reason I could see for using this knot would be to make something more permanent, but ropes wear quickly on boats so there's a limit to how permanent it could be.
    The only exception I could see would be if the sailors were made to use these knots as they went about on their big, fancy, well supplied ships because they were part of a large navy. But if that's the case, wouldn't the knot have to have come from somewhere before that?
    I have nothing against the knot, and this is just speculation; I just got caught up in the origin conversation. =)

    2 replies

    Something that seems to be relevant here to me,is that in the 1800's ( and earlier), sailing ventures were a slow and often very long time deal. Possibly the time factor involved would have been as much a form of relief from boredom, keeping hands and minds busy to avoid shipboard fights and arguments.

    Can't be certain, but even then people said 'Idle hands are the devils tool'!

    First off, I apologize for replying to an ancient comment, hopefully a notification gets to you and you don't mind revisiting your question. As a bosun's son, I got this story way back, and unlike most bosun stories, it seems logical and probably true, so I'll repeat it. The monkey's fist originated as an easy way to turn any appropriately sized rock or weight into a line throwing device. Generally tall ships would have a bow, small gun, or lead weights with holes through them for this purpose, but those can all wear out or break, while any fool deckhand with some rope and a heavy thing can whip up a fist. Generally naval fists were tied with one end caught inside the knot, so only one rope came out of the ball. A bowline or other stopped-loop-knot would be put into the free end, and one fist could be reused for weeks, months, or years. Once the rope wore out, it was fairly easy to make a cut, discard the worn out rope, and tie a new fist, if your weight hadn't turned into gravel.

    To heave a line with one, you take a light line and tie a sheet bend to the fist's loop. Spin that over your head and you can generally sail that line a good long way. If you miss you can just reel in the light line and try again. Once the light line is across, you use that to haul across your heavy line, chain, fuel hose, or whatever you need.

    In the mid-1800s, though, there were problems in some port cities with drunken sailors (are there any other kind on liberty?) breaking the heads of lubbers with monkey's fists that the sailors had left on their belts. With laws and lawmakers being what they are, many states classified weighted knots as "slung shot" and outlawed them along with blackjacks, spring maces, and the like. Lawmakers are fast to pass and slow to repeal, so many states still have these laws on the books. Bear this in mind if you tie any weighted fists. For general use or keychains, it's safer to simply tie the fist around another knot or a small ball of soft filler.

    Anybody have feedback on how many wraps around a golf ball with 550 cord?

    I tried 6 - didn't seem like enough. 13 was ridiculously hard to manage when tightening the knot. 10 wraps was still hard to manage.

    Thanks in advance

    I learned this knot many years ago from the Ashley Book of Knots (best knot book ever!). I made one at fish camp so we could shoot a line across to the boat that picked up our fish -- the skipper, an older guy with bad eyesight, couldn't dock his boat next to ours, which was anchored. The first time we used the monkey's fist to shoot a line to his boat the rock-filled fist went right through his pilothouse side window. Mad? No, he was impressed that a kid could tie a proper monkey's fist and know what it was used for. Nevermind I was no good at actually using it.

    1 reply

    Judging by the comments on your post, Chluaid, It's good to see the art of knotting still has it's fans. Thanks for the post!

    Brilliant, I have over the years collected many mouse balls. these are basically ball bearings with a rubber coating. They come in handy for all sorts of little projects and i see this is going to be a must to try :) Thanks

    When I was in the Navy we used them to get a line between ships. Throw the monkey fist with it's smaller line attached to a larger line, etc., to the ship next to you, and start pulling. We also had single shot 12 gauge shotguns fitted to fire a special blunt spear-like projectile(age has gotten the exact name of the unit) to send lines across. Much more accurate, but not as interesting. Of course there have been a lot changes in the way things are done since then. I like old school, but maybe not as techically updated. But then I tend to not be very politacally correct either, so maybe we oldtimers are dinosaurs. The monkey fist would make a good medium distance weapon. The ninja had a similar wepon on rope or chain with a sharpened hook on the opposite. Takes a lot practice, but very effective. BB

    5 replies

    Thanks for your service! I did 6 years on subs, myself.

    Marlinspike Seamanship is a dying art....I blew my chief's mind one day when I tied a taunt-line hitch while rigging a tarp topside. Kinda sad, rope-work is fun!

    Dad was a Boatswain Mate, and taught me knots and line work as a kid. I love working with lines and ropes. Cut a couple of fingers off, got sewn back on, but theydon't bend a lot, so most things like that are a chore anymore. It is a shame that more folks aren't into that kind of thing. Like you said, it's a dying art.
    I was on an ammo ship, don't think I'd like a sub! Used to crawl around in caves, but I could come out when I wanted! haha
    Have a pleasant day.

    Heh. I was a nuke electrician (responsible for the electrical distribution, turbine generators, motor generators, switchboards, breakers, motors, etc aft of the forward reactor compartment hatch). We were so short on manpower fleet-wide that, in a division that was allotted 12 men, we typically operated with 6 or 7 guys. The boat at Pearl that had the most electricians had 9. So we were typically kept too busy to worry much about not seeing the sun. And when they'd do an oxygen bleed (pumping pure O2 into the boat to raise the levels), you really didn't care much. LOL There weren't too many occasions that I got to use knots in my work, but I still did a lot of hiking in my down-time, and rigged stuff around my rack on the boat to squeeze a little extra storage space (darn all that wasted space on/around pipes!!! Its MINE!!!). When required to hot-rack (hated that), my bunkmates (keep your minds outta the gutter, civilians...old Navy hands know what I'm talkin 'bout) always appreciated an extra shelf lashed here and there. Got to teach a couple of knots that way, too.

    I know what you mean. Always a use for knots, and so many people don't know how to tie really good ones.
    You've got me on the nukes, but I did some similar stuff around my rack. Most of the guys called me 'hillbilly' (Arkansas) and thought it was just some wierd redneck stuff, till a boats' saw what I was doing. My dad retired as a Chief Boatswains Mate, and made sure I knew how to tie things. Fingers are pretty artritic now, but I still get most of what I want to do. Ha, you can't an old swabby down.

    I FINALLY made one (took like a year because I didn't have the rope
    Trick: take a trackmouse ball and cut the silicon off the outside and you have a BIG ball bering

    1 reply

    Really cool, I need to find something to do it with. Somebody should try this with a bowling ball... By the way, what's that song?

    2 replies

    i'm pretty sure it's a song by Billy Talent... try looking for titles like "monster" or "is it a monster"?