Knots in Use

Knots to Know: The Timber Hitch and the Half Hitch

(As featured in the August 2009 issue of Practically Seeking)

The old saying is "If you don't know knots, tie lots!" Tying knots for specific purposes is almost a lost art today, and still confusing for most folks (which, I guess, is why it is a lost art!) Knowing the correct knot can make binding and un-binding things much faster and simpler, while the wrong knot, or just "tying lots" can make things far more difficult and complicated than they need to be.

The good news is that by learning just a few of the basic knots, which are really very simple, you can secure almost anything for almost any purpose.

The knot I most frequently use is the Timber Hitch (also known as the Bowyer's Knot). This knot is useful for everything from securing the string on your bowdrill or hunting bow to tying up a hammock or beginning a lashing project. It holds incredibly securely, yet can be tied and untied with such ease that it was used extensively to tie the end of heavy logs being dragged out of the forest. (Which is how it got it's name.) This is also a binding that works well with natural materials such as vines & rootlets that are prone to break when subjected to the kind of excessive bending required for an overhand knot.

The Half Hitch is another versatile and simple knot that is great for tying two or more things together. When used in combination with the Timber Hitch, you can secure extremely heavy or awkward objects (such as anchors) for pulling, raising or lowering.

Step-by-step Instructions on How to Tie a Timber Hitch:

  1. Take the working (shorter) end of your rope or cordage and pass it around the back of item to be tied. (In the photos we colored that end black for better contrast.) Now cross that end underneath the long end.
  2. Pass the short end behind Short end under long end

  3. Pass the short end back over top of the long end, and down between the cordage and the object you wish to secure. This is your first complete wrap. Do not yet pull it tight.
  4. Over the top Back down through

  5. Now take your shorter end and once again wrap it up and over the looped cordage and pull it down between the cordage and the object. This is your second wrap. Once again, do not pull it tight.
  6. Short end goes back up Second Wrap

  7. Repeat this step one or two more times so that you end up with three or four complete wraps. (Three complete wraps is most common). Make sure your wraps have a nice, even "twist" to them.
  8. Three full wraps

  9. Pull on the long end in order to snug the loop down firmly and tighten your knot. (It can be a good idea to hold onto the short end while pulling on the long end, just to be safe!)
  10. Pull on the long end to tighten tightenknot Competed Timber Hitch

  11. To undo the Timber Hitch, or if you need to reposition it's placement, simply pull on the loop and the knot will easily loosen up.
  12. Pull the loop to loosen


Step-by-step Instructions on How to Tie a Half Hitch:

  1. Run the working (shorter) end of the cordage in a full loop around the item to be tied.
  2. Make a full loop around the object

  3. Pass the short end through the loop and pull it tight. (This is the same as tying the first half of a common overhand knot -- just like starting to tie your shoe lace.) This secures your cordage to your object.
  4. Short end through loop Pull tight

  5. Pull the short end down alongside the long end, so they are both facing the same direction. Run the short end underneath the long end, then up over and down through the resulting loop.
  6. Bring short end beside long Wrap under long end Underneath then over top the long end Pull down through

  7. Pull the short end tight, bringing it back down alongside the long end. This is a single Half Hitch.
  8. Pull tight

  9. A variation is to tie each Half Hitch around the object itself, rather than the cordage, moving the knot farther down the object each time. This is especially helpful with heavy objects and is how it is most often tied in combination with the Timber Hitch.
  10. Tie around the object Extend the knots down the object Multiple Half Hitches

These 2 simple knots can be used to secure almost any cordage. 
Next issue we will use these knots to learn some basic lashing techniques
so you can construct almost anything you need !