Intro: Para (aka 550 or Type III) Cord Donut
550 cord is the duct tape of the rope world. Whether you are hiking, fishing, working on an outdoor project or just out for a drive, it makes sense to have some with you. Unfortunately, 550 cord can get knotted fairly easily, especially when you need it in a hurry. After trying many different ideas over the years, I stumbled across the 550 cord donut. Although it takes a little time (and patience) the first time you make one, it is worth the effort. This Instructable will show you how to take a new 550 cord bundle or tangled mess, and turn it into a compact easily-deployed system for your use.
Step 1: Getting Started
If you try directly using the nice neat bundle of 550 cord you get in the mail, you'll likely get a handful of twisted tangles. This is frustrating at best and potentially dangerous if you really needed it in a hurry. Your first step to making a 550 cord donut is to untangle the bundle of cord, laying it out in fairly straight rows. Ensure that the cord is laying flat, and not coiled or looped.
Step 2: Loop the Donut
Holding one end of the cord between your thumb and index finger, make several loops as shown. Size of the loop varies depending on the length of the cord used and the rigidity of the nylon, but I usually try to make it larger than a baseball, but smaller than a softball. I typically make 6 to 10 loops to begin the 550 cord donut. I'm left handed, so I make the loops clockwise. If you are right handed, you'll want to make the loops counter-clockwise.
Step 3: Start Braiding
Please watch the video of the braiding process before you read the rest of this step (via online Instructables content vs. Instructables app). Holding the loops of cord in your dominant hand, form an arch (bunny ear shape) extending above the loops on the side closest to you. Using your other hand, reach through the backside of the loops and grab the "feed" cord coming from the rows on the ground. Pull the feed cord back through the loops (away from you). Double the line making a new arch. Then pull the feed line arch up through the first arch held in place by your dominant hand. Gently pull the new arch up, as you feel the first arch cinch down around the loops. Snug, but not too tight. Next, you will grab the feed cord (from the front this time), doubling it into a new arch and pushing it up and through the arch on the backside. Again, you gently pull up on the new arch with your non-dominant hand, as you feel the second arch cinch down around the loops. If you are left handed (like I am), you will add braid in clockwise direction. Right handed folks add braid counter-clockwise. You keep repeating this pattern (front arch, back arch, front arch, back arch, etc.) until you have gone all the way around the loops, encasing them in braided cord. Your first attempt at this will be ugly, but keep at it.
Step 4: Finish Braiding and Tie Off
After encasing the loops with the first row of braiding, you continue braiding until you have the size of 550 cord donut you want or you run out of cord. Remember, the braiding should not be too tight. Also, occasionally check to make sure your braid is lined up (uniform and straight) on the outer edge of the donut. It should resemble a continuous ridge running along the outside. Once you have approximately 10 inches (25 cm) of cord left, simply pull the remainder of the cord up through the final arch and cinch down with a final pull.
Step 5: Using the 550 Cord Donut
To use, simply pull out the end of the cord cinched down by the final arch. If your braid is not too tight, it will cleanly unspool off the donut as you pull. Keep pulling until you have the length of cord you need. Cut the cord, torch the end to keep from fraying and then feed the end back through the last arch and cinch it down with a pull. Throw one in your backpack and/or vehicle, and you are set.