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Starting Out

Knots to Know—The Figure-Eight

By Tamia Nelson

As I noted in an earlier article for GuideLines, once you start putting a rope to work, you're certain to need to make a fixed loop in it sooner or later. And a bowline is a very good way to do this. Good as it is, though, the bowline isn't perfect.

Where does it fall down? Well, to begin with, the bowline holds best in laid rope. Braided rope—probably the most common type in use today—is slipperier and (sometimes) springier. Bowlines tied in braided ropes will occasionally work loose, and therefore need to be watched carefully. Back in the late 1960s, when American climbers switched from three-strand laid rope—Goldline was one popular brand—to European kernmantel (a type of braided rope with a linear core), they also began to substitute other knots for the hitherto standard bowline. The figure-eight loop emerged as the preferred alternative.

There's also the problem of tying a loop in the middle of a line. The classic bowline is tied at the end of a rope. While it's possible to tie a bowline anywhere along a rope, the resulting "bowline on a bight" is a rather tricky knot to form, and it can fail when strain comes on just one of the standing parts. The figure-eight loop is both simpler and stronger, and it's less likely to jam than a simple overhand loop.

OK. The figure-eight loop is a good knot to have in your bag of tricks. How do you make it? Happily, the name tells you almost everything you need to know. Just grab hold of the bight of your rope, form a loop and bring it back over the doubled line. Now tuck the loop under, and then thread it round and down through the resulting eye. Pull the knot taut. You're done. Easy, isn't it?

Go Figure!

And that's not all you can do with a figure-eight. From time to time you'll probably need a temporary "stopper"—a big knot in the end of a rope. You'll find this a handy way to keep a light-duty painter from slipping out of an eye in the deck of a canoe, for example. Often, however, an overhand knot isn't quite bulky enough to make a really effective stopper. It's also prone to jamming. That's when the figure-eight comes in. Simply tie it single—that is, tie it in the line itself, rather than on a doubled bight. In no time at all, you'll have a perfect temporary stopper. In fact, the figure-eight is sometimes called "the perfect knot," and if you need a non-slip loop in the middle of a rope, or a temporary stopper at the end of a line, I suppose it just might be! 'Nuff said.

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