Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Overhand Knot and it's Variants

I'm a member of the 1st Facebook Scout group and there's usually a steady stream of leaders asking about making knotting evenings a little more engaging. Well I happened to notice by chance that I'd replied to a cub section one from February 2015 suggesting that they could do a lot worse than teach the cubs the simple overhand knot with all the variations and other knots that can stem from it The particular thread is here and mine is the penultimate reply but I've added a couple of screen grabs below just in case you can't access it (it's a closed group).

So I thought 'Why not do a blog page and expand on this? Actually, some months after my post I noticed that Paul Kirtley did a similar(ish) article in this online magazine so it was pleasing to know that my suggestion may have been on the right lines. In fact Paul and Simon Ellar helped me to compile a pro-knotting article for the Scouting magazine's now defunct cub supplement.

On the table there's lots of cordage and a tarp and a hammock which potentially need several  knots to function. The page being shown has an overhand knot on it.

The reason I put forward the overhand knot as a suggestion is it's simplicity, usefulness, pretty much everyone knows it and the fact that it's the base for a lot of other knots. I introduce it by calling it by it's proper name and then calling it the knot your parents will know as the Flymo knot and that the kids will know as the earbud knot because it manages to tie itself in both! The geeky side of this 'self tying' knot is that a stray one in a rope decreases the rope's strength measurably.

I then explain that it does actually have it's uses. It is called a stopper knot because it can be used to stop a length of rope running through a pulley for example,or is extra security to a knot with a loop in it. I also mention holding the seed of a horse chestnut tree on a length of string but that seems to get an ever diminishing acknowledgement...

This link takes you to a Scout Association knotting pdf which explains some of the basic knotting terms and indeed, the first knot on the pdf is an overhand. Wherever possible I've linked to  the  Animated knots  website to show the knot's construction but of course the idea is that the knots are easy to do with just the ability to tie one knot...

Overhand knot

So the first knot to teach them in it's simplest form is the overhand knot. It is easily tied by forming a loop  in the cordage being used, and then passing the standing end through the loop and pulling until sufficiently tight. I'm guessing pretty much everyone can tie this but see the highlighted hot link if not...

Double overhand

This is one twist away from being a simple overhand. The standing end is simply passed through the loop one more time but it does need a bit of coax to tie up neatly. It actually makes a really beefy stopper knot.

Overhand loop

Once the basic knot is mastered they are quickly going to master the overhand loop which is essentially the same process but the cordage is doubled up into a bight first. A loop is formed when the cordage crosses over itself, a bight is a loop formed in the cordage without it crossing. 

Double overhand loop

And again the double overhand is another twist through the knot and again, it needs a little help to form up neatly like it's simpler version earlier.

Running overhand 

This is a double overhand through which the working end (ie the rest of the rope that isn't in the knot) is passed through the loop to form a variable but non-lockable loop.

Running double overhand

Predictably as has gone before. Well I say predictably but that's almost the point, that repetition has so far tied us six knots from one basic knot and all have a use. You could make these as each of the  loops are formed instead depending on time and attentiveness. 

Fisherman's bend 


A bend is a knot that is made by joining two separate lengths of cordage but it is also called a fisherman's knot. This can make a secure loop to tie a climbers knot known as a prussic knot which is well known to climbers and also anyone practising tarpology (it acts as a ridgeline tensioner).

Just as a non-overhand aside this is the prussik knot in action. The two red arrows in the above picture indicate where the paracord loop is attached to the tarp ridgline loop via a gated metal clip. the right hand arrow is pointing at the loop's knot which is locked along the ridgeline. This not only gives the tarp a more aesthetic look and helps run off, but also stops it from flapping noisily in even the slightest wind. I must get round to doing a tarp knot blog...

Double fisherman's bend 

Essentially a fisherman's bend tied with two double overhands along each length. 

Slipped and double slipped overhand


I've squished these two together as they follow the pattern from before. A slipped knot is one that has a loop inserted into it to aid untying, and overhands can be a pain to undo but I have to say that I've never used slipped ones before. Ask your audience if they know any slipped knots...They will if they can tie their shoelaces because they use a double slipped reef knot...Tie a reef knot and slip the two ends into loops and try and make a bow. Incidentally a shoelace knot can be used to put up a hammock depending on the fixings.


The bowline-on-the-bight (bowline is pronounce boh-lin) is an overhand loop doubled back underneath itself. Basically you coax b to the left whilst encouraging a (x2) to form up tight but click the hotlink animation for a very clear demonstration. This is an easy knot to tie that looks quite complicated when finished.

Cobra weave

The cobra weave knot for making paracord items is essentially an overhand knot with cordage passing through it which gets repeated. The simple bracelet at the start of being made (above right) also shows the overhand loop around which the cobra weave is laid. The stopper knot qualities are used to hold the bracelet on as it fits snugly through the loop formed on the left hand side.

 For those that know some of their knots you'll rightly exclaim that the knot featured above right is actually a bowline, but the small knot tied in the middle is an overhand knot and is being used as a stopper knot as extra security for the main knot.

From the top lhs. Me showing the cubs who Paul Kirtley is, reading out the knotting emails, showing them a bowdrill board and tying an evenk knot.

Hopefully you'll agree that this is a fair few knots from the overhand stable. I found this collage on my Facebook page which is from the second of two consecutive knotting evenings I ran, the first was the overhand night and the second featured everything from bowdrill to tarps. The list below is a few more overhand realted bits of cordage bothering.

Stopper knot, water (or tape) knot, half slipped fishermans knot, surgeon's knotmarlinspike hitch, overhand shortening, capuchin knot, zeppelin bend, blimp knot, arbour knot, bowstring loop, neck halter...

Now I don't use/ know all of these variations and I had a quick read through several books to really maximise the overhand started knots list with Geoffrey Budworth and Des Pawson being involved in most of them. Depending on the age of the section then the amount of knots featured can vary. Anyway, that's this page done so it's *ahem* overhand out.

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