By some estimates, humans have produced and used more cordage (ropes) than any other man-made material. I am not sure that is still true (think steel, concrete, bitumen and plastics), but ropes remain important to humans; and wherever there are ropes in use, there must be knots and/or splices. Knots are one of the earliest human technologies, but from a scientific viewpoint they are very complex, and hard to model.

Modern (industrial) ropemakers use synthetic materials and engineered machinery, but much of the rope produced follows a prehistoric spiral-laid pattern. Mathematicians who study theoretical knots generally ignore (in topological knot theory) the physical realities of tension and friction, which are essential to the operation of practical knots. While these factors have been modelled, nobody has come up with a reliable method to predict the strength or security of knots tied in various ropes and used in specified practical applications. We use the traditional method: tie it and see how it goes. There has been almost no published scientific testing: with suitable replication and randomisation to allow statistical analysis of the reliability of estimates. At this stage, perhaps the best we can do is to try for a concise and unambiguous terminology of knotting terms, and the transmission of accumulated human knowledge about knots that work. The articles below are a small contribution to that effort.

You are welcome to download any of these files. Please feel free to use the material however it helps. Just reference the source article if you wish to reproduce any part of the content.

Annotated Glossary for Practical Knot Tyers

Summary: This is an annotated version of the Glossary published on the IGKT web site. Most readers should use the version at IGKT, but those who are interested in further notes and sources may find this version helpful.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2019) Annotated Glossary for Practical Knot Tyers.

The Mystery of Lancelot L. Haslope and Knotting

Summary: This article clarifies the identity of an influential (but rarely acknowledged) early writer about knotting.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2019) The Mystery of Lancelot L. Haslope and Knotting.

Is the Sheet Bend Still Worth Tying?

Summary: An examination of the literature about one of the oldest and most useful knots, and how it is modified for critical uses and modern synthetic ropes.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2019) Is the Sheet Bend Still Worth Tying?

Will the Real Half Hitch Please Stand Up?

Summary: An analysis of the terminology used for one of the most fundamental structures in knotting.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2019) Will the Real Half Hitch Please Stand Up?

Why "Sheepshank"?

Summary: Names for one of the now most widely taught, but rarely used, shortening knots.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2019) Why "Sheepshank"?

ABOK #2545?

Summary: Maybe the missing entry from The Ashley Book of Knots.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2019) ABOK #2545?

Knot Sculptures in Brisbane

Summary: A note about the beautiful sculptures by Simon Perry in Admiralty Park, overlooking the Petrie Bight reach of the Brisbane River.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2019) Knot Sculptures in Brisbane.

The Stolen Bowline Knot Name

Summary: How did this knot name with its unexpected pronunciation originate? The commented version provided has fuller referencing.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2020) The Stolen Bowline Knot Name.

The Impressive Italian Hitch

Summary: This is a simple structure for which modern climbers found uses that generations of sailors never dreamed. There are a few cautions that you should understand before using the hitch in earnest.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2020) The Impressive Italian Hitch.

The Vestal Bend

Summary: At least one Roman sculptor depicted the sheet bend, as can be seen in the Atrium Vestae.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2020) The Vestal Bend.

Earliest Knot Illustrations?

Summary: It seems certain that humans have used knots since prehistoric times, but who first illustrated knots?.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2020) Earliest knot illustrations?

Practical Knot Theory

Summary: Why do knots vary in strength and security? Why do these things depend on the type of rope and the situation in which the knot is used? Why are they so hard to model mathematically (in a way that provides reliable predictions)? What does that mean for the practical knot tier?

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2022) Predicting and Measuring Knot Strength and Security

The Slip & Nip Hitch

Summary: This is an interesting and useful knot. It is a bit fiddly to tie, which will eliminate it from practical use for some people, but it can be worth the effort. I will show you a simple tying method. As a knot to secure a rope around a mooring post, it has some advantages that make it a hitch without peer.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2022) The Slip & Nip Hitch

What Defines a Bowline Knot?

Summary: There is wide consensus that in modern English usage ABOK #1010 is the bowline knot, but not wide consensus on what constitutes a bowline knot. Opinions vary from a few knots like ABOK # 1010, to almost any fixed eye knot that includes a nipping structure. If the bowline knot definition is too narrow, many knots traditionally regarded as bowlines are excluded; but if too wide, knots are included that lack more of the useful properties of ABOK #1010. This article (i) lists those useful properties, then (ii) attempts a definition in structural terms alone (without using functional features that vary between uses for the knot), and (iii) provides notes that elaborate on the relationship between structure and function in bowline knots.

Reference & Link: Birch RG (2024) What Defines a Bowline Knot?

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Any input or corrections supported by reference to a peer-reviewed scientific publication will be considered for revision of the articles above.