Thursday, July 26, 2012

DIY: How to Make Natural Cordage

     Rope is an essential survival item, and as a result the ability to make your own cordage is important as well. Once you know how to make cordage, no matter what situation you find yourself in, as long as you can find some kind of plant to get fibers from, you can make cordage.

     Learning to make cordage is actually quite simple. However, mastering it can actually take a while. This is a skill that I actually learned in college. During college I was an anthropology major, and one of the classes I took focused on primitive technologies, and was one of the coolest classes I took during college. During this class I learned how to make cordage and it is a skill I have kept ever since.

      To make cordage all you really need is your hands and your plant material. Collecting the plant material is the first thing you need to do. There are many different plants that work very well for making cordage. In this post I'm showing you how to make cordage with cattail. Other plants that work very well for this as well though are dogbane, stinging nettle, milkweed, velvet leaf, wild hemp, giant reedgrass, bulrushes, agave and yucca.

      After you get your plant of choice the first thing you need to do is break down the plant into its fibers. The easiest way to do this is by simpling pulling the plant apart to break it down to its fibers. This can be done with agave, yucca and cattail because for these plants you use the leaves.

      For stalk plants, like dogbane there is a different method for getting fibers. What you do is get your stalk, and then flatten the stalk alongs its whole length, and then open it up, creating a long strip. To remove the fibers you then break short sections of the stalk towards the fiberous side and then pull the woody core sections off. Then you remove the outer bark by rolling the stalk back and forth between the palms of your hands. Once the bark flakes off you have individual fibers.

     Another way to collect fibers from plants is through a process known as retting. This is done by soaking the plant in water, which helps with the removal of the fibers. Water penetrates the inner layers of the plant and causes inner cells to swell and burst. This allows bacteria to break down cellular tissue. Once finished the fibers are rinsed and dried to stop further decay. This proccess can be done for both plant leaves and stalks, and is usually used to make soft fibers for cloths.

      Once you have your fiber its time to start making cordage. The method I use is called the reverse wrap method. To start you take your first group of fibers, and hold on with each hand leaving a gap in between.  When you do this you want to make sure that your fiber ends are uneven. This will allow you to splice in more lengths of fibers easier, and without making your rope too lumpy.

      Then twist each side of your fiber in the opposite direction, until the fibers create a loop. From here your going to take the fibers on the right, and twist them to the right. Then cross over the right side fibers to the left. Keeping both hands on the rope, you want to keep the tension from your first twist. Then you want to twist your now rightside fibers to the right, and cross them over to the left. From here you just repeat until you run out of fibers.

Diagram from

      Now you can just hold on to the fiber while your making it. However, many people find that it is easier to make your cordage if you slip your initial loop over a stick that can be braced on something. Other people simple put the loop in their teeth to hold it there. By placing tension on the one end of the rope, it allows you to place your own tension on the other end of the rope as your twisting. This allows you to create a tighter twist so your cordage isn't loose.

     Now if you run out of fibers but you need more rope, you have to splice more fiber into the cordage that your working on. There are a few was of doing this. One is to just add one piece of fiberous material to the shorter end of fiber. The other is fold a piece of fibers in half and add it to both sets of fibers. Then just keep twisting and splicing more fibers in until you reach your desired length.

      Once you know how to make cordage you can make all manner of things that require cordage. Everything from rope, to cloth, to nets, to even a bridge if you need it. After all, this method is how they make those giant rope bridges out of grass in places like the Andes.

     Have you made your own cordage? Let us know! Put some pictures up in the comments so everyone can see!


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