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Knots Homeowners Should Know

Unless you're a sailor or Boy Scout, there are only five knots you need to know how to tie.

Illustration by Freeman Design

If your best rope trick is a granny knot, this painless primer will make life around the house a lot safer and easier. The five knots covered here will help you complete dozens of chores, from securing a hammock to lashing a sheet of plywood to the top of your car. Don't worry if you're all thumbs. These knots are simple.

Keep a copy of these instructions in your car, shop or shed. They'll come in handy.

Bowline: A Loop That Won't Slip

One of the most useful knots, the bowline fastens securely but can be untied quickly, even under tension. The loop created by this knot is handy for slipping over a nail in laying out almost anything with string, or for securing a rope to a fixed loop or ring. A bowline is useful for so many applications that many builders keep a bowline loop permanently at one end of their line.

Step 1: Make a single loop.

Step 2: Pass the end through the loop, then around the standing part of the rope. Finally, pass the free end back through the loop and pull tight.


You can use a bowline to attach a rope to a fixed loop or ring. Just feed the loop through the ring, then pull the rope through the loop and pull tight.

Sheet Bend: Tying Lines Together

Think of a sheet bend as the perfect rope-extension knot. A sheet bend is strong, easy to tie and untie, and especially useful if you're using lines of different thicknesses.

Step 1: Make a bend in the end of the thicker rope. Pull the end of the thinner rope through the loop.

Step 2: Wrap the end of the thinner rope under both pieces of the thicker rope, making a loop in the thinner rope. Pull the standing parts of the two ropes in opposite directions until tight.


A doubled sheet bend (two wraps around the thicker rope in Step 2) can hold even slippery nylon rope.

Two Half Hitches: Tying Off

This knot comes in handy for tying a rope to branches, ladder rungs, and other ropes. One half hitch isn't much by itself, but tie two back-to-back, and you've got a loop that, unlike the bowline, will tighten around an object. This knot can be somewhat difficult to untie once secure, and tying more than two hitches doesn't make the knot any stronger. Use this knot to tie off the trucker's hitch.

Step 1: Pull the end of the rope around the object and make a loop around the standing part.

Step 2: Make another loop around the standing part of the rope. Snug up until the two half hitches are tight.


To prevent the knot from slipping along the object it's tied to, wrap the rope an extra time around the object before making the knot. Three or four loops around the object will turn this knot into a pipe hitch knot — a great knot to use when attaching a swing to a tree branch.

Miller's Knot: Bundling Loose Branches

Also known as the bag knot or the constrictor knot, this knot can also be used for closing the ends of bags. The knot grips itself, doesn't work loose, and takes less time to tie than going into the kitchen for a twist-tie. This is a tough knot to untie.

Step 1: Wrap a short length of line around the bag or bundle.

Step 2: Wrap the top line around the bundle one more time, then under the crossed lines. Pull both ends to tighten.

Trucker's Hitch: Securing Loads

The trucker's hitch enables you to cinch down a load on your car top or truck as tightly as ratcheting straps and more securely than any elastic cord. This hitch uses several of the basic knots described earlier to create a system that doubles your mechanical advantage when tightening and then holds the line tight.

Step 1: First, tie off the rope on one side of the load (not shown), then cross the rope over the load and tie an overhand loop in the standing part of the rope. Next, feed the free end under the bar or hook of the rack and then up through the loop.

Step 2: To tighten the rope on the load, pull down on the free end; pinch the loop to keep the tension between pulls. When the rope is very tight, tie a half hitch with the free end.

Step 3:To fully secure the rope, tie a second half hitch.

The Dope On Rope

In the past, rope was woven out of natural fibers like cotton, hemp, and even hair. Today, synthetics dominate.

A good cargo rope should have minimal stretch yet be flexible to handle. Braided polyester is the best cargo rope. It doesn't stretch much, is rot-resistant and holds knots well. The breaking point of a 1/2-inch-thick polyester rope is 5,700 lbs. A 25-foot length costs about $10.

To keep synthetic rope from fraying when you cut it, hold a candle or lighter to the ends long enough to melt the yarns. Secure the ends of a natural-fiber rope with waxed whipping thread or tape.