When the bight bites back

Posted on Sat, 25 January 2014

There are many nuances that make the difference between handling rope like a pro, where it appears to glide effortlessly, or fumbling like an amateur. One of these diffences is the angle at which you draw your rope through.

The example that prompted me to write this was drawing rope through the bight, typically when suspending a limb.  In other words, 'burning the bight'. I should add that 'burning the bight' is quite safe for lightly loaded lines. Indeed, many respected bakushi do so on main suspension lines but I feel it is safer not to, especially when working with models heavier than they do, i.e. around 45kg/100lb. The game changes substantially when you have a heavier model as it becomes easy to overload natural fibre, particulary if one uses 5mm lines that seem common in Japan.

The ease with which the rope flows will be determined by a number of factors:

  • The size of the loop. If it's too small, you'll have trouble getting the knotted ends through. You need to be able to have enough room to easily hook it through with your index finger. You are doing that, right? If you are pushing it through, you really are wasting time and working in an ugly fashion. Always use a finger to hook unless you really have to push rope.
  • The tension on the loop. If the bight is under load, it will deform into a vertical slot.. The greater the load, the tighter this slot and the harder it will be to get the rope through. The action is a bit like a jam cleat. If you can remove the load, it will open up allowing easy passage


Jam cleat


  • The rope will form a V-shape as you pull it through. The sharper the angle of the rope, the greater the chance of the knots snagging in the bight. If, when pulling the knotted ends through, we make this angle as wide as possible it minimises the chance of the knots catching. If you try to pull the rope downwards and away from the apex of the bight, you will miminise this possibility.

The principle of angle also applies equally to things like making the half-hitches when you tie off your main line. Experiment with the angle of attack and you'll see what I mean. Smooth fluid tying is all about ergonomics. If you find rope snagging and disturbing your flow on a frequent basis, don't just shrug and carry on. Work out why and correct it! It is only by constantly examining and refining your rope handling that it will improve.