The Great Outdoors


How To Have A Knotty Time

What do you do around your campfire? Do you tell stories or sing songs? Do you toast marshmallows and make s’mores? Do you roast hotdogs? Do you fly kites? Do you just set and stare at the fire and at each other? Do you work on merit badges or advancements? Do you whittle, whistle, and make funny animal sounds? What do you do anyway?

I’ve seen so many Scout leaders and Scouts waste a lot of valuable time just contemplating the burning logs and not really communicating with each other or gaining anything of a structural nature.

I generally carry a 6-foot piece of nylon rope with me wherever I go and I’m always practicing tying knots. Why? My answer is, “Why knot!” Sorry, little play on words there.

I have gone to senior citizen meetings and given demonstrations on knot tying and I usually give each resident a short 3-4 foot piece or rope and an instruction sheet that tells them how to tie 40 different knots. To keep them interested I tell them that I am there to teach them how to be ‘knotty’ and that’s what it says on the paper I hand out. Hey, it gets a laugh anyway. What really gets their attention is that I tell them tying knots keeps their fingers nimble and it’s good to keep your hands and fingers moving. It’s not an answer to arthritis or rheumatism but it helps me to keep my fingers limber.

The Boy Scout shop sells a knot tying kit that has a board that you can use to tie knots on and it has the 40 knots pictured on it. It also comes with two different pieces of rope; one is white and the other is red which helps immensely in following the flow of the rope through the knot pictures.

When I teach knot tying I don’t go into the more complicated knots (complicated only if you don’t know how to tie them). I start teaching the most simplest of all the knots, the overhand knot and then I advance to the figure 8 knot and show/tell them what all you can do with just these two simple knots.

After they have mastered those two knots I then show them the more advanced knots but I don’t let them tie them there. I tell them to practice what I’ve demonstrated and then hopefully they will get the urge to try more. When I was growing up in Scouting we were required to learn 9 different knots and then that number was later changed to 6 required knots. I’m not sure what number is required now for advancement but it worries me that not one in 10 boys can tie even the basic 9 knots that I grew up with having to learn–the slip knot, the sheepshank, the sheet bend, two half hitches, the square knot, the bowline knot, the clove hitch, the timber hitch, and the tautline hitch plus the overhand knot, the figure 8 knot and the granny knot which is at most times tied by mistake.

Grab a Boy Scout handbook and a piece of rope and teach some knot tying at your next campfire. What you teach a boy about knots may just save his life some day, maybe even yours.

So Scoutmasters I challenge you to go forth and teach your scouts how to tie their shoes which by the way should be done with a double slippery square knot if you tie it right and I challenge you to tie the square knot more than one or two ways; I have counted over 10 ways to tie it so far.

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Ray McCune

He has lived in Waynedale for over 45 years. He has taken to his lifelong dream of being a full time Outdoor Freelance Writer and author. Ray has authored one book and has written Kampfire Kookin' as well as other outdoors articles for the newspaper. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer