Once, a fishing buddy kept losing his lures. The line wasn’t breaking, but instead, his knots kept coming untied. I casually asked him what knot he was using and he said, “I don’t know.” And that not knowing one knot from another has become all too common nowadays.

Sailors, serious boaters, anglers, people in the military, woodcutters and of course members of the various branches of scouting all have or should have a working familiarity with knots. But those folks are in the minority. Most people would be hard pressed to name one knot.

And of course the knot we all know is the slip knot that we use to tie our shoelaces. But this is nothing more than a version of the square knot, tied so that it will slip. The next most commonly-known knot is, as might be guessed, the square knot. And that’s it. Hardly anyone knows any more knots than that. If you wish to test the veracity of that statement, just ask the next person you see to name all the knots they know.

On the other hand, and lest I seem judgmental, there probably isn’t any real need for modern folks to know their knots. After all, who uses knots anyway, other than the few simple knots described above? So even though knots have little use in a technological, computer-oriented society, a brief examination of some knots and their uses both modern and historic still makes for interesting reading.

Improved Clinch Knot and Blood Knot

Before going too far, let me say that I am not a knot expert and before tying certain seldom-used knots, I must consult a diagram. Perhaps that’s age-related memory loss, I don’t know. Anyway, people who are not knot (pun intended) savvy, needn’t feel alone.

As an avid fisherman, I have need of different knots for different uses. And so I have learned several oft-used knots by heart and could probably tie them with my eyes closed if push came to shove. One is the improved clinch knot, the other the blood knot. Fortunately, both these knots have uses that transcend their limited applications for fishing lines.

Of the two, the improved clinch knot comes to mind first. I won’t give directions for tying any of the knots mentioned in this piece, since without diagrams, instructions are pretty much useless. Besides, anyone with a moderately comprehensive home library probably has knot charts and if not, they are all available online.

Anyway, as a youth, I used several different knots for tying fishing line to hooks. But all of them had drawbacks. Either they would slip under great pressure, or the line would break at the knot. Then, in the early-1960’s, someone wrote an article about the improved clinch knot. The writer claimed that the knot had over 99 percent strength and that under pressure, the line would just as likely break at any place along its length as at the knot. In other words, this was the be-all and end-all of knots. So I began tying it.

Basically, the improved clinch knot was nothing more than an improvement upon the old clinch knot. But with two extra steps, the improved version made the best possible knot of all. In fact, I use it for virtually every application that calls for an easily-tied, dependable knot. If my life depended upon one knot, it would most certainly be the improved clinch knot.

Next, the blood knot is used to join two lines together and it works well for lines of opposing diameters, as in one thick and one thin. While this has applications such as tying leaders to lines, it also has a use in tying ropes, too. I once repaired a broken clothesline with a blood knot. My old rope had deteriorated to the point that a load of wet clothes caused it to break, dropping my fresh laundry on the ground. But since the ground was nothing but a big wintergreen patch, the clothing didn’t get soiled and I was able to apply a temporary fix by means of a blood knot.

Bowline Knot

Woodcutters and boaters know and use this knot. The bowline knot is used to tie a loop that absolutely won’t slip, but is fairly easy to untie. For a line end, the one to throw over a projection, people use the Bowline. A certain rhyme accompanies this knot and people learning to tie the knot are advised to recite the rhyme while making the knot. It goes this way:

First make a tree with a rabbit hole

The rabbit comes out of its hole

And goes around behind the tree

Then jumps back down its hole.

I was once obliged to recite the rhyme while tying the knot and when I thought I was pretty good at it, my instructor had me do it with my eyes closed and later, behind my back. Sadly, I don’t use a bowline much anymore and need to consult a diagram to tie it. In my case, most knots are a use it or lose it situation.

Hitches and Lashings

Hitches and lashings are types of knots used to secure or hold something. They are always meant to be untied after serving their purpose. Two common and extremely useful hitches are the clove hitch and the timber hitch. These knots depend upon friction to hold up and are not for use with slippery things like fishing lines. But for rope, particularly hemp, cotton or manila, they work great.

Clove hitches are often employed on the business end of tent guy ropes. These hold well and are a snap to undo. Of course with the advent of pop-up tents, who needs a clove hitch anyway? Besides that, most people nowadays “camp” in tin teepees (campers) rather than rope-tied tents. All the same, it’s nice to know how to tie a clove hitch if necessity dictates.

Timber hitches are invaluable for farmers and small-time woodcutters. The latter is where I learned the knot. This hitch is ideal for holding the end of a log that is meant to get hauled out by a rope. That’s made to order for someone with a small tractor who needs to move some downed trees. Next spring, people cleaning up from December’s ice storm may well have need of a timber hitch.

Lashes, and there are almost too many to mention, are used by primitive-style campers. With a rope and various lengths of round wood, a person can contrive to fashion ladders, tripods and even rafts. Also, certain hitches, the express hitch, for example, was once used by backpackers to secure loads to their pack frames. It’s also useful for tying up packages.

I’ve only highlighted the tip of the iceberg concerning knots. Knot-tying is an interesting and rewarding hobby and it would pay anyone to familiarize themselves with some of the basic knots mentioned here. And who knows, the time may come when such knowledge might prove invaluable.