Binders and ratchet straps have made it so you can get through life without needing to know how to tie any but the most rudimentary of knots, but sooner or later, you will find yourself with a load that needs securing and only a hank of rope to get the job done. Before you get started with knot tying, it is useful to learn a little of the language.
HITCH: Category of knots used to attach a single rope to an object.
BEND: Category of knot used to join ropes together.
BITTER END: The end of a rope that's being manipulated. In the case of a rope that’s hitched to a well bucket, the bitter end is that which is not attached to the bucket.
STANDING PART: The segment of the rope that you aren't using at the moment. It can be coiled, stretched, or otherwise left inactive.
BIGHT: An arc in the rope. This can be a semicircle or a loose loop through which the bitter end may run.
With over 4,000 hitches and bends created for specialized use, knotsmanship can get a bit overwhelming. We’ve picked out 10 of the most versatile knots which will help you handle just about any situation that requires you to fasten two objects together, secure one line to another, or tie a rope to a solid object.
Study the numbered illustrations as you work your way through the instructions.
 OVERHAND KNOT: Run the bitter end over and under the bight. This knot is used as a stopper to prevent a rope from unraveling or passing through a ring, eye, or pulley. It's also the starting point knots such as the reef or square-knot.
 FIGURE-EIGHT KNOT: This knot makes a better stopper than the overhand, because it's easier to untie after the rope has been pulled tight. Form a bight with the working end over the standing part ... run the bitter end under the standing part to form a second bight ... then put the bitter end through the first bight. The result looks like a sideways numeral 8.
 REEF (SQUARE) KNOT: Use this knot to lash two objects together with one line, or to join two separate ropes. The reef knot will often slip under strain, especially if the two ropes knotted together are of different diameters, so it isn’t the best way to bend two lines.
The square knot consists of two overhand knots, one on top of the other. The second knot is tied in the opposite direction from the first. When correctly formed, the bitter ends and standing parts of each line will lie together inside the two bights. A granny knot looks like a reef knot, but the bitter ends are on opposite sides of the bights from the standing parts. The granny knot is not able to take a load and should be avoided.
 SHEET (BECKET) BEND: This knot is used to join two ropes of different diameters. It is stronger and less slip-prone than the square knot, but can be easily untied no matter how wet and tight it gets. Form a bight in the larger of the two lines. Run the working end of the smaller line through the loop, around the doubled heavier cord, back over its own standing part and then under the bight in the larger line. Be sure to snug this knot by hand before putting any strain on it.
 CARRICK BEND: Although not as well known than the reef or sheet bend, this knot is stronger than either and just as easy to loosen. Tie it by forming a loop in one rope, with the working end crossing under the standing part. Then, pass the bitter end of the other cord beneath this bight, over the first rope's standing part, down under its working end, over one side of the loop, under its own (the second rope's) standing part, and - finally- over the second side of the loop. This knot requires a good bit of practice to become natural, but the effort is well worth it.
 BOWLINE: The bowline is used to form a secure loop in the end of a line. Simply form a closed bight in the rope, bring the bitter end up through the bight, around the standing end, back down through the bight again, and pull the knot tight. The bowline, which holds with fair reliability in natural fiber ropes can slip when tied with slick-surfaced synthetic lines.
 CLOVE HITCH: This hitch won't be secure unless a load acts on both ends of the knot. Consider the clove as a general utility hitch for temporary use only. Roll a bight around a pole, pipe, or post and then across the standing part. Next, make a second turn around the pole and pass the bitter end under the last bight. This knot is a so-called "jam" knot, because the harder the strain it takes, the tighter the knot becomes.
 TIMBER HITCH: This knot is designed to roll around a tree to hold a temporary guy, to drag or winch a log, or to lift timber with a boom hoist. Just loop the bitter end of the rope around a tree, timber, or log, then turn it around the standing part, and twist it back along the bight for as few as two-or as many as eight turns. (The more turns, the less likely the knot is to slip under strain.)
 TAUT-LINE HITCH: Here's a handy knot for folks who climb. The taut-line hitch can slide up and down to provide a climber with freedom of movement, but should she slip, it will tighten and stop the fall.
Start this knot by throwing a rope over a branch or other horizontal member so that two lines hang parallel. The longer end, which extends down to the ground is called the ground line. Loop the other end of the rope twice through a ring in a climber's belt, leaving a working end of about two feet in length.
Take the 24-inch tail and pass its working end around the ground line in a clockwise direction to form two complete tight loops, the second below the first. Then, form two more clockwise loops around the ground line at a point above the first two each time routing the leading end under its own bight. The complete knot includes four tight adjacent loops around the ground line resembling four doughnuts on a stick.
Counting from the top downward, the loops are tied in this order: 3, 4, 1, 2.
In the completed knot, the leading end extend out 10 inches or so and should have a figure-eight knot tied in its end to prevent it from accidentally slipping through the loop of the taut-line hitch.
 SHEEPSHANK: This special purpose knot is useful when you have too much rope to conveniently handle a specific job but don't want to cut your valuable line.
To make the sheepshank, lay two long bights (in the standing part) side-by-side like a wide letter S, then secure both loops with half hitches. This knot can also be used to bypass an area in a rope that's been weakened by excessive chafing. You can just shake the knot loose when the strain is released.
There are many other knots you'll find just as useful as our "10 best" ... so don't stop once you've mastered these. You can, for example, get into such colorful specialties as the fisherman's bend, cow hitch, surgeon's knot, wagoner's hitch, packer's knot, man-harness knot, fireman's-chair knot, scaffold hitch, barrel knot, and the boatswain's hitch.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Instructions for the taut-line hitch were adapted-with the publisher's permission-from the book Tree Care by J.M. Haller (Copyright ©1977 by Howard W. Sams & Co., Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana ).
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