Stage Hand Knots 101

Knowing Your Knots – Stage Hand Knots – 101

As a stage hand or rigger you need to know your knots, hitches, and bends. Here are some commonly used knots in the industry that it behooves you to know. A very special thanks to Animated Knots for such excellent video and explanation.

The Bowline is one of the most versatile and often the first knot stagehands learn in the business. Used in rigging and various other tasks it’s a “go to” knot of choice by many. The beauty of the bowline is in its simplicity. The heavier the load the tighter the knot gets. This is a “No Slip” knot that should be in EVERY stage hands arsenal.

Uses: The Bowline makes a reasonably secure loop in the end of a piece of rope. It has many different uses in the world of a stagehand. Under load, it does not slip or bind. With no load it can be untied easily. Two bowlines can be linked together to join two ropes. Its principal shortcoming is that it cannot be tied, or untied, when there is a load on the standing end.

One Handed: The bowline can be tied with one hand which can be useful

Caution: The Clove Hitch has two giant faults: it slips and, paradoxically, can also bind. It should be deeply distrusted when used by itself.

Uses: As shown in this animation, the Clove Hitch can make a quick hitch. Only two Half Hitches were used. To make the hitch secure, additional Half Hitches must be added in the same manner. The Clove Hitch has various applications. For example, in the theater it is used to adjust the height of stage curtains hanging from a bar.

NOTES: See Above

Uses: The Double Fisherman’s Knot (Grapevine Bend) is the way to join two ends of a line to form a Prusik Loop and is also an excellent and reliable way of joining two climbing ropes. It can be used for a full rope-length abseil; after which it should still be possible to retrieve the rope.

Cons: The Double Fisherman can lock up so tightly that it is effectively welded. Although it is regarded as a standard method of joining climbing ropes, the Zepelin Bend performs the same task but is much easier to undo because it does not jam. The Figure 8 Bend may be bulkier – especially when stopper knots are added for safety. It is however, relatively easy to teach and inspect.

Structure: The knot requires a “Prusik Loop” which is constructed by joining the two ends of a length of rope using a Double Fishermans or a Triple Fisherman’s.

Uses: Its principal use is allowing a rope to be climbed. Two Prusik loops are alternately slid up the static rope: a long Prusik loop allows the climber to lift himself using leg power, and a second short Prusik loop is attached to the harness.

Slide and Grip Knots: Because the Prusik is a symmetrical slide and grip knot, it is useful if a load might need to be applied in either direction. For loads which are always applied in the same direction other knots are preferred such as the Klemheist or the Bachmann.

Uses: The Figure 9 Loop resembles the Figure 8 Loop. In climbing it is used as an end knot. It creates a strong loop, reasonably easy to untie, and can be used to attach a rapelling rope to an anchor.

Advantages: The knot avoids sharp bends and, therefore, the rope retains about 70% of its strength. It is particularly suitable for use in smaller, flexible ropes but is somewhat harder to tie in heavier or stiffer ropes.

Disadvantages: It uses more rope than the Figure 8 Loop and is more confusing to tie.

Final Dressing: The animation shows the knot being tied in the elegant “Flat” form that makes structure easier to recognize. Once tied, however, the knot should be dressed and tightened so that the two outermost turns are brought in snug against the ropes they enclose (Frames 9 and 10).

Structure: The Double Figure 8 Loop (ABOK # 1085, p 197.) is based on the simple Figure 8 knot.

In the animation the two loops have been made small. In practice they are usually much larger.

Uses: The two loops can be used as an improvised seat. It is also useful for equalizing the load on two anchors. In one top-roping technique, the loops are made very unequal. The much larger one is passed around both anchor points. The center of this loop is then secured with a carabiner to the small loop. During rappelling, this ensures a more even distribution of load between the two anchor points.

Stability: Compared to some of the other double loop knots, e.g., the French Bowline, the Double Loop Figure 8 is stable. It is unlikely to slip so that one loop gets larger at the expense of the other loop.

Safety: For critical loads, e.g., yourself (!), it should not be used with ropes that differ much in size and for safety the ends should be longer. Finally, for real security, each end should be tied in a double overhand stopper knot around the other standing end as shown here.

Final Dressing: To ensure that the knot is tied correctly, it is sensible to tie it in the “Flat” form shown. However, for taking a load, this knot should be carefully dressed so that the two outermost turns are brought in snug against the ropes they enclose – as a result the turns then finish on the other side of the turns they accompany. Dressed this way the knot withstands a load better.

Pros and Cons: The advantage of Figure 8 Bend is that even after considerable strain it remains relatively easy to undo.

Inspection: Ensure that there are two strands beside each other at each part of the knot. Dress the knot as described above. Then, pull it and observe that it tightens neatly and symmetrically.

Use: The Trucker’s Hitch (Power Cinch Knot, Lorry Knot, Haymaker’s Hitch, Harvester’s Hitch) (ABOK # 2124, p 344) has the distinctive feature of providing a mechanical advantage when being tightened. The variety of names for this hitch is a tribute to its widespread use. It is a valuable knot – particularly for securing loads or tarpaulins.

Real Truckers: The Animation was prepared to show the structure of the knot. In practice at step 6, a Real Trucker will pass a bight of rope through the loop and then use the bight to tie off the knot with half hitches. This allows him to use one long piece of rope to tie many Trucker’s Hitches.

3:1 Purchase: The arrangement of line provides a theoretical 3:1 purchase. However, rope is running over rope with considerable friction. In practice the mechanical advantage is much less, may be more like 1.6:1. However, hauling on the line can be surged and then the friction is an advantage as it helps hold the gain while the end is secured. The theoretical 3:1 gain assumes that the lower attachment point is fixed and the upper point is being moved

Structure: There are several variations in widespread use. The common factors are: a knot to create an eye at the top; the three to one purchase; and a hitch to secure the end.

Several knots may be used at the top including the Directional Figure 8 (used in the animation, the Slip Knot, the Bowline on a Bight, the Alpine Butterfly, and, simplest of all, a mere twist of the rope to create the loop.

Finishing with a Rolling Hitch has the advantage that it facilitates adjustment. Whichever hitch is used, the rope may be passed around the lower hook a second time before being secured.

Classical Structure: Early descriptions show a Figure 8 Loop used to form the initial loop. However, this tends to be hard to untie after heavy loads and the version in the animation is preferred.

Taking the Strain: After the free end is threaded and tightened, the load can be taken temporarily by pinching the rope where it passes through the loop. The other hand is then used to form the two Half Hitches.

Uses: The Sheet Bend (ABOK # 1431, p 262) is recommended for joining two ropes of unequal size. The thicker rope must be used for the simple bight as shown. It works equally well if the ropes are of the same size.

Becket Hitch: The Becket Hitch is a very similar knot. However, it is a “Hitch”: it does not join two ropes, it attaches a rope to a Becket (a rope handle or an eye). In the animation the Blue Rope would be Becket and the Red Rope would be tied to it with a Becket Hitch.

Tying it: The Sheet Bend would replace the Square (Reef) knot except for the awkward fact that it is not a binding knot – it has to be tied with both ends loose in your hands with no load on the ropes (The Square Knot – with all its faults – can be tied tight against a sail, or parcel, and usually stays tight while the second Half Hitch is tied).

Double Sheet Bend: When the ropes are markedly different in size, the tail of the smaller rope can be taken twice round the bight in the larger rope to create the double sheet bend.

Structure: When correctly tied the two tails lie on the same side of the knot. The alternative version – with the tails on opposite sides – is less reliable.

Making a Cargo Net: Making a Cargo Net is tedious, time-consuming, and only to be undertaken out of necessity or by the enthusiast. The photograph shows the two knots usually used at each junction in the net. The Carrick Bend has been used in the upper row and the Sheet Bend has been used in the lower row.

Round Turn: The initial ‘Round Turn’ – actually two passes of the tail – should take the initial strain while you complete the knot. This may be critical when handling a mooring line. An additional turn, or even two additional turns, should be added initially if you are handling a heavy load, e.g., with a large vessel or in a strong wind. These turns allow you to control the load while you add the:

Two or More Half Hitches. The two Half Hitches actually form a clove hitch round the standing end. However, it is common to see an additional one, or more Half Hitches – either to make the knot more secure or to use up excess line.

Tying the Knot: Learn to tie the Half Hitches with one hand! This allows you to use the other hand to take the strain of a vessel that may easily pull with a force far greater than you could otherwise control. As emphasized above, when dealing with such force, use as many turns on the post as are necessary to control the strain.

Direction: Always tie the Half Hitches in the same ‘direction’. If you start the first Half Hitch with the tail passing away from you above the rope, then do the same with the next (and the next).

Variation Using a Bight: When there is a long tail, the Half Hitches can be tied using a bight (loop) instead of the end. This consumes excess rope which may otherwise hang in the way or require coiling.

Features: What is now known as the Alpine Butterfly Loop was described twice by Ashley: Lineman’s Loop (ABOK # 1053, p 191); and Harness Loop (ABOK # 532, p 87). It provides a secure loop in the middle of a piece of rope. Load can be safely applied: from the loop to either end of the rope; between the two ends with the loop hanging free; or to the loop with the load spread between the two ends.

Uses: It is useful anytime a secure loop is required in the middle of a rope. A good example is when a line of hikers wish to hook on along the length of a shared rope or as a possible option for the first part of a Trucker’s Hitch.

Tying it: There are several methods for tying it. We devised the method that is used in the animation. It is an improvement on other “hand-winding” methods. It helps locate the loop: the second crossing of your hand is near your fingertips and away from the other two turns. This helps you to locate it, pick it up, and wrap it around the other two strands. Setting the knot usually requires holding the loop in your teeth and pulling both ends with your hands.

Advantages: It is more stable than either the Bowline on a Bight or the Figure 8 Loop – both of which may roll over. Even after a heavy load, the Alpine Butterfly Loop remains reasonably easy to undo. In addition, it teaches the technique for tying the Alpine Butterfly Bend. This familiarity is one of the reasons that we prefer the Alpine Butterfly Bend over the other similar bends such as the Zeppelin, the Hunter’s, and the Ashley.

First Knot: The Square (Reef) Knot (ABOK # 1402, p 258) is usually learned when we tie the laces on our first pair of shoes. Admittedly it is usually a bow that we tie – but the underlying knot is a Square (Reef) Knot. We also learn just how unsatisfactory the knot is. It slips, it comes undone, it jams, and it is all too easy to tie a Granny instead which behaves even less well.

Purpose: It is intended to be a binding knot and, tied in the right material against a curved surface, the first Half Knot may bind – but it cannot be trusted. That is why surgeons use an extra turn in the first Half Knot – to achieve the binding required while they prepare the second Half Knot.

Uses: Nevertheless, the Square (Reef) knot has many uses but not where safety is critical, e.g., you can tie a sail cover over a sail; you can tie the string on a gift; and you can tie the laces on your shoes (if they still come with laces). It is also one of the many knots used in macrame. More importantly, the experience of tying a Square Knot teaches the fundamental process of tying a Half Knot or Half Hitch.

Variations: The final Frames of the Animation show several variations: the Granny is shown because it is so commonly tied in error; the Surgical Knot is very commonly used by Surgeons (the Surgeon’s Half Knot); and the Thief Knot is included for interest as the final frame, even though it is a useless knot. When the Square (Reef) Knot is used it is common to add additional Half Knots as security – a tribute to how unsatisfactory a knot it is. A better alternative may be to use two Surgeon’s Half Knots, which make better binding knots for each stage and a secure final knot. When the second Half Surgeon’s Knots is tied as a bow, it makes a Secure Shoelace Bow.

The Square (Reef) knot can also be tied using bights (loops). For example, to use up long shoelaces, the knot can be tied with loops from the start. This means the final “bow” cannot be untied by pulling the ends – but it makes a secure knot.