October 2006
Featured Articles

Knots so Fast

  This illustration shows two half hitches with a quick release.
By John Howle

There have been many times I’ve used a rope around the farm or while hunting to get myself out of a jam. Dragging a log with my truck, pulling a cow out of the mud, or securing a load of square hay bales is easier with the right rope. By mastering a few basic knots, that rope lying in the pickup toolbox can be converted into one of your most versatile tools.

“A 5/16 or 3/8 inch nylon sheath rope is the practical choice for any outdoor application,” says Cliff Jacobson, author of Knots for the Outdoors. “Nylon holds a knot well, it’s inexpensive, and it’s immune to rot.” Nylon is also a great choice because it’s easy to preserve the ends by flaming or burning the rope tips with a match to melt the fibers together.


The hitch is a basic starter knot with uses ranging from securing a canoe to a car top to tying a cow to a post. The friction caused by the wraps of the rope will hold this knot in place. “For most jobs, two half hitches are sufficient for tying a rope to an object,” says Jacobson. “Adding a quick release saves time untying later.”

First, pass the end of the rope around a post. Bring the end under and over its own standing part and back through the formed loop. This is a half hitch. Pass the end around the standing part and through the second formed loop to create two half hitches. Before tightening the knot, pull the end back through the last loop made to create a quick release.

This illustration shows a timber hitch useful for clearning logs or hoisting heavy poles.  
Pipe Hitch

A pipe hitch, commonly used for pulling posts out of the ground, works even on slick metal poles. Wrap the end of the rope around the base of the post three or four times, and use the excess end length to tie two half hitches in the standing part of the rope. Pull the standing part halfway up the post and tie a one half hitch. Tie another one half hitch toward the top of the post.

Use the remaining standing part of the rope to remove the post. I usually tie the standing part of the rope to the boom of a tractor. This works best when there are two people. One person can operate the tractor while the other attaches and unattaches the posts.

Timber Hitch

The timber hitch is a truly practical knot for the woods. This knot allows you to easily tow logs and clear timber with a truck or large ATV. It’s also handy for hoisting large posts or beams to the top rafters of a barn or other structure.

Slide the rope under back end of the log. Make a loop with the end of the rope and coil the remaining rope around itself. Run the standing part through the loop and tighten the knot. Run the standing part down the log and complete a half hitch near the hauling end to keep the log from twisting as you drag or raise it.

The timber hitch is also a convenient knot for lowering large, heavy poles into the ground for corner or gateposts. Just make sure the end knot is far enough away from the end of the post to untie it once the pole is in the posthole. A tractor with a front-end loader is usually required to get large poles into the ground with this knot.
  This illustration shows how a truckers knot can be used as a winch to pull a cow or ATV out of the mud.
Power Cinch (Trucker’s Knot)

Used by truckers to secure cargo, this knot also works well as a winch. First, create an overhand loop in the line. Pull a loop through the overhand loop, and tighten the formed knot. This creates the loop that the standing part of the rope can be passed through after going around a secure object to pull tension. When pulled tight, the end of this rope can be secured with two half hitches and a quick release around the loop of the trucker’s knot. By forming multiple loops, enough torque can be provided by pulling on the end of the rope to winch an ATV or cow out of the mud.

Sheet Bend

This knot will tie together ropes of different sizes. Hold the heavier rope in one hand while holding a loop in the end. Pass the smaller rope up through the loop and around the end and standing part of the larger rope and back under its own standing part. Be sure the ends of both ropes are on the same side for reliability. For added security, create a double sheet bend by adding an extra coil around the loop. A quick release can be applied on the smaller rope. Hay baling twine works well as a substitute for the smaller rope.

There are literally hundreds of knots that have been used for centuries. Military personnel, cowboys of the west, outdoor enthusiasts, and farmers have made use of time- tested knots to make their lives safer and easier. There’s also a sense of satisfaction when you arrive at the barn and haven’t lost a single bale of hay.

This illustration shows how ropes of two different sizes can be attached.  
To save headaches when you need that rope from the toolbox, keep your rope coiled and stored in a container such as an empty, one-gallon paint can. If you need to pull a cow out of the creek quickly on a cold February morning, you won’t have to untangle the rope from the jack, claw hammer, and other tools in the truck box.

Keep a piece of short rope or parachute cord in your pocket so you can practice your knot tying skills. Focus on just a few knots that you can master by repeated practice. Chances are, you may only need two or three of these knots to make your work and play take place more efficiently. This will allow you to be safer when carrying cargo down the road, and you’ll find many other uses for that rope lying in the back of your truck.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.