Knots are, essentially, tools that you make yourself. More than just helpful, they can be lifesaving in many instances. On our homestead and sailboats, knot knowledge is mandatory.
Unfortunately, I’m one of those “use it or lose it” people when it comes to remembering how to properly tie specific knots. Luckily, knowing how to tie a handful of knots consistently and well can serve a wide variety of needs.
Surprisingly, knot tying seems to be a dying art. With so many fasteners and other doohickeys available for purchase to replace the work knots commonly do, more and more people never learn any. That’s a mistake. If your doohickey’s on hand, use it. But if it’s not, and you need a valuable item secured—lumber, luggage, or life—what will you do?
I won’t try to teach you how to tie any specific knots here; instead, I’ll suggest some useful knots that you can learn from a variety of sources.
The Bowline, often called “the King of Knots” is a strong, basic multipurpose knot. In its simplest form, it creates a loop of line that will keep its size. If you need a contracting loop (lasso) a small bowline with a loop of line pulled through it makes a running bowline. It’s a good knot when you need the rope to hold and keep holding.
The Rolling Hitch is my personal favorite. It attaches one line to another or itself, or to a pole or other object in such a way that it can be tightened in one direction, and will not slip in the other. I use this for securing food at safe heights in bear country, for taut tent rigging, and myriad other uses. It seems to be lesser known, but its elegance, compactness, ease of tying, and versatility make it worth learning.
The Trucker’s Hitch is probably the most used knot on our homestead. Like the rolling hitch, it’s used to cinch cargo down snuggly. It creates a block and tackle in the line that multiplies the force of your tightening pull. I use this on our car’s cargo rack. We tied two lengths of line to each of our pack boards, and use them to make trucker’s hitches to secure our loads.
To learn knots, talk to a knot-tying friend. Have her show you—repeatedly—how to tie the knot you want, and keep at it until it comes correctly and naturally.
I own four knot books; each has a slightly different method, number of illustrated steps, or point-of-view. I choose the method that works best for me, double checking against the others.
Finally, there are some very neat animated knot sites on the Web.