Chapter 5 Introduction Chapter 7
Pre-Revolutionary Ropemaking in the American Colonies

6. Ending the Rope

Frayed rope ends are a curse and an abomination ...
The Marlinspike Sailor
Hervey Garrett Smith


Sketch of a frayed rope end.

Figure 6.1: Frayed Rope.


The structure of a rope keeps it together along its length. But the ends of a rope need special attention. The mere handling of a rope can cause the end to unravel. There are three common ways to prevent this: knotting, whipping, and clamping. One does not melt "real" rope. The method you use depends if you need it to be permanent or temporary, and the cost involved.

Here are a few ways to keep a rope end from fraying. "The Ashley Book Of Knots" (ABOK)[040] and "Knots, Splices and Rope Work"[860] both have many more knots and whippings for you to explore.

Sketch of a rope end with a simple overhand (thumb) knot to prevent fraying. Sketch of a rope end with footrope knot to prevent fraying. Sketch of a rope end with a back-splice to prevent fraying.
(A) Simple Knot
ABOK #1410
(B) Footrope Knot
ABOK #696
(C) Back Splice
ABOK #2813
Sketch of a rope end tied with a constrictor (whipping) knot to prevent fraying. Sketch of a rope end with a common whipping to prevent fraying. Sketch of a rope end with a sailmaker's whipping to prevent fraying.
(D) Tied with Yarn
ABOK #1188
(E) Standard Whipping
ABOK #3442
(F) Sailmakers Whipping
ABOK #3448

Figure 6.2: Rope Endings.


The first way of finishing a rope uses only the rope itself, no other material. The simplest temporary ending is to tie an overhand, or thumb, knot at the end. Figure 6.2 (A), above. This keeps all the strands together until you need to make a permanent end. If you've just made a new rope, and don't know where or when you are going to use it, an overhand knot is perfectly fine. But if the rope is on your camping gear, the rigging of your ship, or on your favorite horse's trappings, you need something more permanent. The footrope knot (B), and the backsplice (C) will take a few minutes to make, but will not come out under any normal use. Because knots are wider than the rope, they don't thread through holes. Sometimes that's what you want. If your life is hanging from a rope, you don't want it to pull through the anchor point. That's why the footrope knot is part of a class called "stopper" knots.

On the other hand, if you need to pull the rope through pulleys, harness rings, or grommets, then you need a whipping of some sort. Figure 6.2 (D) shows a rope bound with a single piece of string in a constrictor knot. If you are working a splice or stopper knot like those in 6.2 (B, C) above, a yarn tie will keep the individual strands from unravelling until your work is done. If well tied, with good quality yarn, the "Standard Whipping" (E) and the "Sailmaker's Whipping" (F) should last as long as the rope. [040] [215] [860] [470]

The authorities say whippings should be wrapped against the lay of the rope. If you have a Z twist rope, your whipping should be in the S direction. But some people insist that whippings should be done with the lay. Be sure you know your customer's preference, as this is generally an article of faith, and not to be questioned.


The last ending is a metal ferrule clamped around the end of the rope. Most commonly seen at the ends of shoe and clothing laces. On cords for clothing, the ferrules are called lacing points, aglets, aiglets, aiglettes, or chapes. Because these are metal, this is the most expensive option.

Plain and Fancy Aiglets.

Figure 6.3: Plain and Fancy Aiglets.


The aiglet in Figure 6.3 (left) is a simple strip of brass that has been wrapped around the cord, then crimped closed. The aiglet on the right is made from brass, stamped with a pattern, shaped into a cone, with its tip folded over, then crimped and sewn onto the end of the cord.

A rural ropemaker in Colonial Virginia would probably not keep the thin brass needed to make even the simplest aiglets. These are fancy fittings for fancy clothes.


And sometimes, someone will ask if you can't just melt the ends of a rope. That's when, as a Colonial ropemaker, you explain that real ropes don't melt, they burn.




Chapter 5 Introduction Chapter 7
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