What Knots Should I Teach My Son?
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Other than tying my shoes and a necktie, I don't often come across a situation where I need to tie a knot, but when I do, I usually feel stupid trying to come up with something appropriate. The one exception is when I want to cinch something tight (a clothesline, a tent guy string) and keep it tight, because I happen to know how to tie the-most excellent tautline hitch.

But mostly I feel stupid when it comes to knots, and I'd like to not pass that on to nine-year-old Anthony, so I'd like to teach him (and myself) a few useful knots.

Suggestions on which knots to learn, and why?

All 18 comments so far, oldest first...

Y’know, when I was a kid anyway, the Scouting Handbook was sort of the definitive guide listing the most useful types of knots AND how to learn to do them all.

He might be of the right age to ask: is there a decent Scouting presence in Japan? I know they’re international. Might be valuable stuff.

— comment by Derek on December 3rd, 2011 at 11:38am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

FYI, I can only assume since I can’t read most of the site: http://www.scout.or.jp/

— comment by Derek on December 3rd, 2011 at 11:39am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

I would agree with the Scouting. It was both useful for me as a kid, and my son now is in Boy Scouts. It is a great program for young men.

I’d recommend the bowline, taut line hitch, sheet bend, sheep shank, clove hitch, and half hitch, are all very useful knots. I use these tying things down in the back of the truck, or tying things up when going camping, or at many other times. A good site is http://www.netknots.com/html/knots.html

— comment by Stuart on December 3rd, 2011 at 12:41pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

The one I’ve used the most (as a former boy scout) is the bowline (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bowline), although I can only really tie it one handed. The sheet bend is another good one.

Check out some useful knots here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knots#Basic_useful_knots

— comment by Brian B on December 3rd, 2011 at 1:11pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Definitely some of the more popular ones: bowline, figure eight, figure eight on a bight, figure eight follow through, clove hitch, water knot & a becket bend.

— comment by Greg on December 3rd, 2011 at 1:16pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Hi Jeffrey,

I humbly submit the Improved Clinch Knot:


I learned this from my dad for bass fishing in North Florida. Easy to learn. Looks really complicated and holds well. If your kid ever gets the bug for fishing, he’ll be able to tie a hook on like a pro. The included link shows a great animation.

Thank you for this post, a welcome respite from the severe envy-inducing, “Autumn in Kyoto” photo sets.

— comment by Ron Evans on December 3rd, 2011 at 1:52pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

As was stated by most, the bowline is the one to learn.. Easy to learn, and you can use it just about everywhere. Don’t mistake my talking about the clove hitch below as saying that the bowline isn’t the most important… Because it is 🙂

The other one I would teach my child is the clove hitch. It’s good to learn how to attach it to a closed object (no free end to slide a completed knot over) but if the object has a free end, it’s very very easy to make the knot quickly with a hand over hand motion that brings the loops back around on itself. I tried to look for a video to demonstrate that method, but all the ‘quick’ methods are really slow and take practice. The hand over hand method is so easy that it made me laugh out loud when I learned it, having known the clove hitch for years prior.

Clove hitch free end ‘hand over hand’ method:
-Lay the rope straight across in front of you
-Cross your arms and grab the rope on either sides, about 1 foot apart (or larger, depending on how wide an opening you need)
-Uncross your arms, this should create two loops, one in each hand.
-Bring one hand (the one that passed closest to you in the previous step) behind the other hand to join the loops together.
-Now the two loops, in proper clove hitch is created, and you can slide it over the end of the object.

This is a great knot to tie to a longer piece of lumber to hoist it up. It’s usually finished with a half hitch to keep the knot taut, and the other end of the lumber would normally have a half hitch as well to support it and to have control/safety of the load.

There’s a picture of what it would look like on a piece of lumber, except it’s showing a stranger timber hitch that you wouldn’t really need to learn 😉 http://btckstorage.blob.core.windows.net/site2990/timber%20hitch.JPG

Once you pass on the Bowline, the Clove Hitch, and the Taut Line Hitch, he’ll be set for life!

— comment by Sebastien Benoit on December 3rd, 2011 at 9:58pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Let me just add the constrictor knot with and without slip to the list.

— comment by Andreas Weber on December 4th, 2011 at 2:42am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Otoko musubi. Never found out what this is in English. Man knot???

— comment by Jake on December 4th, 2011 at 4:07am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Bowline – another vote for bowline. Strongest loop you can make against any pull on the rope.

I see other knots here that I want to learn with the automaticity with which I tie the bowline, though. I taught that to my daughter with a rabbit story (“Make a hole, Rabbit comes up out of the hole, runs around the tree…” …you get it…) Most kids can hold on to a story best.

I had come to the blog today to show someone the Rabbit Island pictures.

Hello from the Big Island of Hawaii.

— comment by Jonathan Rawle on December 4th, 2011 at 5:07am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Well? It depends on how he expects to use them. A sailor has much different needs for knots than a butcher for example. And a magician has knots all his own. As someone who used to teach knots and other things to Boy Scouts and others, I find they have their own simple elegance – this is taken to an art form in things like bell ropes for ships, but even a Masthead knot is pretty in a way. Buy him a good book on knots – they can be had relatively cheaply, and ask him to figure out the difference between a reef knot and a thief knot! There’s a small puzzle in there. One never knows, he may develop an affinity for 21-strand flat braids, and there are worse things in life to know!


P.S. Technically hitches and knots are different things… just sayin’.

— comment by Mike Nelson Pedde on December 5th, 2011 at 3:57am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

My dad and brother were both sailors, my suggestions.

Snell knot for fish hooks.

Half hitch to tie off.

Square knot. My dad used to say tie your duffel off with a square knot because if someone opened it you would know because they would tie it back wrong.

Bowline to tie off to closed hooks.

Sheep shank to take up slack.

That’ll cover most situations.


— comment by James on December 5th, 2011 at 12:48pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

On a boat, you can do almost anything with a bowline, a half-hitch, and a figure-eight (for stopper). So, the one to learn is a bowline, ideally one-handed. I still use the rabbit-hole mnemonic. (search for “tips” at http://www.wikihow.com/Tie-a-Bowline-Knot).

The half-hitch is often doubled, and with a loop-back to allow quick undoing.


— comment by Peter Ludemann on December 5th, 2011 at 10:55pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Apple Iphone App “What Knot To Do”

— comment by Casey on December 6th, 2011 at 12:30am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink


Before the computer, and Lightroom swallowed up my days, I guided whitewater rafts and worked as a ski patroller. Both jobs required almost the same knots:

1. The clove hitch.
2. The bowline.
3. The water knot. (This one is really great when working with webbing.)
4. The trucker’s hitch.

If you can teach Anthony these four easy knots he will be set for life and you will have done a fantastic job as a father.

David Marx

— comment by David Marx on December 6th, 2011 at 7:03am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

This may help. I remember them from my scouting days but could not tie any except a square knot without refering to a picture.


— comment by Dale on December 7th, 2011 at 3:05am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

I highly recommend Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot as a better knot for your shoelaces. It’s symmetrical, won’t loosen up, and is easily untied by pulling the ends. It is a little more fidgety to tie, but worth it. My kids and I have all switched to it.

While you’re at it, be sure that you teach him the difference between a square knot and a granny knot, and why such a small change makes such a big difference.

— comment by Mark Sirota on December 9th, 2011 at 1:46am JST (6 years ago) comment permalink

Greetings Jeffrey,

Your photos make me natsukashii of Nihon (1988-1993), particularly Kansai.
Anyhow. I was on my way to write back to you about the recursive regex palindrome question when this post of yours about favorite knots jumped in my face. A few years ago, I spent quite some time documenting my “Swiss Army knife” of knots. May I highly recommend a few not yet mentioned.

– The constrictor, via the speed method. Absolutely essential once you know it. A very fast way to constrict.
– To tie two pieces of rope together, the Zeppelin (as it is fun for a kid) or the double sheet bend.
– To quickly tie a super strong single, double or triple loop, your son needs to know the butterfly around the hand method, also very strong.

I could go on, but if there are three very special knots I would teach someone, these would be it.
Oh yes, and the bowline via the slip knot method—amazing.
I know you mentioned the tautline, so I won’t try to confuse things with the adjustable grip hitch.
And yes, some kind of truckie’s hitch is a must.


I’ll be seeing you on the email channel about regex.

Wishing you, your family and the good folk of Kyoto a beautiful week.



— comment by Andy on December 12th, 2011 at 1:01pm JST (6 years ago) comment permalink
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