Making Twisted Rope

Writing the Carduan Chronicles I find these survivors need to master various skills including making rope. There are two kinds: braided and twisted rope.

Normally I make braided rope as I can make it slowly by myself. I use it to make lead ropes and long ropes to tie down hay bales. When I had cows, I made a halter.

Making twisted rope requires a couple of tools and three people. A friend mentioned having the devices and offered me the chance to help make some ropes.

twisted rope strand
This shows a good twist on the rope. It’s tight enough to give a good, flexible rope and loose enough to bend easily.

Both braided and twisted ropes are strong. The twisted kind made by machine is the one sold in stores.

Hand made twisted rope can be single or double strand. The device my friend has requires each strand to be full length at the beginning so any splicing must be done securely before beginning. The alternative he uses is rolls of baling twine used in balers.

gears for making twisted rope
The crank turns the central large gear. This gear turns three smaller gears attached to the three hooks. The hooks must all turn at the same speed putting the same twist on the strands to make a good rope.

The length of the finished rope is determined by the length of the working area. If the length is so great the strands sag to the ground, they must be supported. Weeds and other items must be cleared away so they don’t get incorporated into the rope.

The cranking device is clamped onto a sturdy post or trailer. It has a crank with a handle hooked to a toothed gear turning three smaller gears attached to three hooks holding the three strands. This is so the hooks turn at the same speed creating even tension on the twine.

cranking device clamped in place
The crank device must be clamped securely in place as it puts all the tension on the strands. We used the end of a small trailer. A stout post will work. The twisting strands will put a lot of tension on this device.

At the far end is a hook that swivels. The strands of twine are attached to the three hooks at the crank device. The other ends of the strands are tied together and hooked onto the swivel hook.

swivel hook for making twisted rope
Someone must hold this hook. The hook will turn as the rope forms and at the end to stabilize the rope. It can’t be clamped as the strands shorten as they twist. The twisting rope pulls you forward as you hold onto the hook.

A wooden paddle or traveler with three slots controls the twist. One strand goes through each slot. The strands can not be tangled.

Holding the swivel hook might seem simple. In one way it is: you stand there pulling back to put tension on the twine strands. In another it isn’t: you must keep that tension while being pulled forward as the twisting shortens the twine between the devices.

Cranking is work. The arm gets tired but the crank must continue to turn at the same speed until the traveler starts getting close. Then the cranking must slow down to keep from making the rope too tight and stiff.

traveler for making twisted rope
The traveler as I call it looks like a ping pong paddle with three notches in it. Each notch holds one strand for making the rope. Some ropes do have more strands and their travelers will have more notches. Starting with it close to the swivel hook end keeps the twist from starting until each strand has enough tension on it.

The traveler starts close to the swivel hook to hold the twine strands apart as the crank turns the hooks twisting the strands. They quiver and vibrate as they twist. When the twist is tight, the traveler is moved forward. The swivel turns and the strands twist around each other.

This is when making a twisted rope gets tricky. If the traveler is moved forward too slowly, the twists are tight making a stiff rope like a lariat. It the traveler is moved too quickly, the twists will be loose making the rope too soft and not as strong.

coil of twisted rope
Our work area was about 75 feet long. The coil of rope is about 65 feet long. It has the look and feel of a commercial rope.

Three strands of twine make a quarter inch rope. Double strands make a half inch rope. The more length or number of strands, the harder cranking becomes.

My Carduans may read about making twisted rope, but they will begin with braided ropes as these are easier with the fibers they find to begin with. Still, learning to make twisted rope was interesting and I will appreciate my new rope.