The Ashley Book of Knots

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The Ashley Book of Knots
Although Ashley was an esteemed painter, the cover illustration was painted by George Giguere. It shows a sailor displaying a Tom fool's knot.
Author Clifford W. Ashley
Cover artistGeorge Giguere
Subject Knots
Genre Reference work
Publication date
ISBN 0-385-04025-3
Reprint-Version: 1963-1979 AshleyBook.jpg
Reprint-Version: 1963–1979

The Ashley Book of Knots is an encyclopedia of knots written and illustrated by the American sailor and artist Clifford W. Ashley. First published in 1944, it was the culmination of over 11 years of work. The book contains 3,854 numbered entries and approximately 7,000 illustrations. [1] The entries include knot instructions, uses, and some histories, categorized by type or function. It remains one of the most important and comprehensive books on knots.


Use as a reference

Due to its scope and wide availability, The Ashley Book of Knots has become a significant reference work in the field of knotting. The numbers Ashley assigned to each knot can be used to unambiguously identify them. This helps to identify knots despite local colloquialisms or identification changes. Citations to Ashley numbers are usually in the form: "The Constrictor Knot (ABOK #1249)", "ABOK #1249" or even simply "#1249" if the context of the reference is clear or already established. [2]

Some knots have more than one Ashley number due to having multiple uses or forms. For example, the main entry for #1249 is in the chapter on binding knots but it is also listed as #176 in a chapter on occupational knot usage.

The Ashley Book of Knots was compiled and first published before the introduction of synthetic fiber ropes, during a time when natural fiber cordage - typically twisted, laid, or braided rope - was most commonly used. The commentary on some knots may fail to address their behavior when tied with modern synthetic fiber or kernmantle style ropes.

Corrections and additions

Ashley suffered a debilitating stroke the year after the book was published. [3] He was not able to produce an erratum or oversee a corrected edition. Corrections submitted by the International Guild of Knot Tyers were incorporated in 1991. [4] [5] The original list of revisions submitted to the publisher is believed to have been lost, but many had been collected from a series of articles in Knotting Matters, the Guild's quarterly publication. [6] [7] Additional errors have been identified since the 1991 corrections. [8]

At least one knot, the Hunter's bend (#1425A), was added in 1979. [9]

Cultural references

The Ashley Book of Knots is quoted extensively in the novel The Shipping News  (1993) by E. Annie Proulx, with its descriptions and illustrations of various knots providing the chapter headings. In the novel's acknowledgements, Proulx writes that "without the inspiration of Clifford W. Ashley's wonderful 1944 work, The Ashley Book of Knots, which I had the good fortune to find at a yard sale for a quarter, this book would have remained just a thread of an idea."

Notes and references

  1. Ashley, Clifford W. (1993) [1944], The Ashley Book of Knots, New York: Doubleday, p.  Dust jacket, ISBN   0-385-04025-3
  2. Warner, Charles; Turner, John (1996), Turner, J.C.; van de Griend, P. (eds.), History and Science of Knots, K&E Series on Knots and Everything, 11, Singapore: World Scientific Publishing, pp. 22, 274–275, ISBN   981-02-2469-9
  3. Budworth, Geoffrey, ed. (Spring 1985). "Profile of Knotsman Clifford W. Ashley". Knotting Matters. London: International Guild of Knot Tyers (11): 6–7. ISSN   0959-2881.
  4. Budworth, Geoffrey (Autumn 1991). "Amending Ashley". Knotting Matters. London: International Guild of Knot Tyers (37): 26. ISSN   0959-2881.
  5. Ashley (1993), p. Edition notice
  6. Schmidbauer, Joseph, ed. (September 1998), "The Ashley Book of Knots: Corrections and Observations", Knot News, International Guild of Knot Tyers - Pacific Americas Branch (13): 1–3
  7. The Knotting Matters issues cited in the above Knot News article are: KM1, KM28, KM31, KM32, and KM33.
  8. For an example see the footnotes in harness loop and butterfly loop articles. Additionally, this IGKT posting contains many verifiable examples.
  9. Ashley (1993), pp. 260–261

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Granny knot

The granny knot is a binding knot, used to secure a rope or line around an object. It is considered inferior to the reef knot, which it superficially resembles. Neither of these knots should be used as a bend knot for attaching two ropes together.

The granny knot is also called the false, lubber's, calf, and booby knot. Patterson's Nautical Encyclopedia calls it "old granny knot" and Sir Edwin Arnold calls it the "common or garden knot." The name granny is given in Vocabulary of Sea Phrases and Roding pictures the knot in 1795.

The granny consists of two identical half knots, one tied on top of the other. It has but one practical purpose that I know of and that is to serve as a surgeon's knot. Formerly it was employed for tying up parcels in five-and-ten-cent stores, but the practice was given up and paper bags substituted as they were found to be simpler.

A whipping knot or whipping is a binding of marline twine or whipcord around the end of a rope to prevent its natural tendency to fray.

Timber hitch

The timber hitch is a knot used to attach a single length of rope to a cylindrical object. Secure while tension is maintained, it is easily untied even after heavy loading.

Artillery loop

The artillery loop is a knot with a loop on the bight for non-critical purposes. The artillery loop must have the loop loaded or it will slip and contract easily. It is an inferior knot to the alpine butterfly knot, possibly dangerously so, in that it can be yanked out of shape and turn into a running knot or noose.

Carrick mat Flat woven decorative knot

The carrick mat is a flat woven decorative knot which can be used as a mat or pad. Its name is based on the mat's decorative-type carrick bend with the ends connected together, forming an endless knot. A larger form, called the prolong knot, is made by expanding the basic carrick mat by extending, twisting, and overlapping its outer bights, then weaving the free ends through them. This process may be repeated to produce an arbitrarily long mat.

Grief knot

A grief knot is a knot which combines the features of a granny knot and a thief knot, producing a result which is not generally useful for working purposes. The word grief does not carry its usual meaning but is a portmanteau of granny and thief.

Heaving line bend

The heaving line bend is a knot for securely joining two ropes of different diameter or rigidity. It is often used to affix playing strings to the thick silk eyes of an anchorage knot in some stringed instruments. In nautical use, the heaving line bend is used to connect a lighter messenger line to a hawser when mooring ships. It is knot number 1463 in The Ashley Book of Knots, and appeared in the 1916 Swedish knot manual Om Knutar.

Hunters bend

Hunter's bend is a knot used to join two lines. It consists of interlocking overhand knots, and can jam under moderate strain. It is topologically similar to the Zeppelin bend.

Buntline hitch

The buntline hitch is a knot used for attaching a rope to an object. It is formed by passing the working end around an object, then making a clove hitch around the rope's standing part and taking care that the turns of the clove hitch progress towards the object rather than away from it. Secure and easily tied, the buntline hitch will jam when subjected to extreme loads. Given the knot's propensity to jam, it is often made in slipped form.

The buntline hitch, when bent to a yard, makes a more secure knot than two half hitches, but is more liable to jam. It differs from two half hitches in that the second half hitch is inside instead of outside the first one.

Ashleys stopper knot

Ashley's stopper knot, also known as the oysterman's stopper, is a knot developed by Clifford W. Ashley around 1910. It makes a well-balanced trefoil-faced stopper at the end of the rope, giving greater resistance to pulling through an opening than other common stoppers. Essentially, the knot is a common overhand noose, but with the end of the rope passing through the noose eye, which closes upon it. It may be multiplied to form a larger knot with more than three bights appearing around the knot. It is the result of implementing a double wall knot in one strand.

International Guild of Knot Tyers Organization

The International Guild of Knot Tyers is a worldwide association for people with an interest in knots and knot tying.

Sailmakers whipping

The sailmaker's whipping is one of the most durable and stable of rope whippings known. According to The Ashley Book of Knots, "palm-and-needle whipping, or sailmaker's whipping, is the most satisfactory of all."

Turn (knot)

A turn is one round of rope on a pin or cleat, or one round of a coil. Turns can be made around various objects, through rings, or around the standing part of the rope itself or another rope. A turn also denotes a component of a knot.

Fiador knot

The fiador knot is a decorative, symmetrical knot used in equine applications to create items such as rope halters, hobbles, and components of the fiador on some hackamore designs. As traditionally described, it is a four strand diamond knot in which six of the eight ends loop back into the knot, thus allowing it to be tied with a single line. While a specific knot is discussed in this article, the fiador knot has also been treated as an entire class of multi-strand knots similarly made with a single line.


Seizings are a type of stopping knots used to semi-permanently bind together two ropes, two parts of the same rope, or rope and another object. Akin to lashings, they use string or small-stuff to produce friction and leverage to immobilize larger ropes. Seizings are not recommended for heavy loads for critical use as strain reduces the diameter of the main rope and can permit slippage even with proper construction. According to The Ashley Book of Knots, "A seizing holds several objects together." The other type of stopping knots are whipping knots.

A throat seizing is a seized round turn. It is used when turning in deadeyes, and has riding turns but no crossing turns. The end of the stay or shroud should first be stopped around the deadeye.

Double overhand noose hitch knot

The double overhand noose is a very secure hitch knot. It might be used by cavers and canyoneers to bind a cow tail or a foot loop to a carabiner.

Reef knot Type of knot

The reef knot, or square knot, is an ancient and simple binding knot used to secure a rope or line around an object. It is sometimes also referred to as a Hercules knot. The knot is formed by tying a left-handed overhand knot and then a right-handed overhand knot, or vice versa. A common mnemonic for this procedure is "right over left; left over right", which is often appended with the rhyming suffix "... makes a knot both tidy and tight". Two consecutive overhands of the same handedness will make a granny knot. The working ends of the reef knot must emerge both at the top or both at the bottom, otherwise a thief knot results.

The reef knot or square knot consists of two half knots, one left and one right, one being tied on top of the other, and either being tied first...The reef knot is unique in that it may be tied and tightened with both ends. It is universally used for parcels, rolls and bundles. At sea it is always employed in reefing and furling sails and stopping clothes for drying. But under no circumstances should it ever be tied as a bend, for if tied with two ends of unequal size, or if one end is stiffer or smoother than the other, the knot is almost bound to spill. Except for its true purpose of binding it is a knot to be shunned.

Chinese button knot

The Chinese button knot is essentially a knife lanyard knot where the lanyard loop is shortened to a minimum, i.e. tightened to the knot itself. There emerges therefore only two lines next to each other from the knot: the beginning and the end. The knot has traditionally been used as a button on clothes in Asia, thus the name.

The Chinese Button Knot is worn throughout China on underwear and night clothes. Buttons of this sort are more comfortable to lie on and to rest against compared to common bone and composition buttons, and they cannot be broken even by the laundry.

A Chinese tailor ties the knot without guide, flat on his table. But one may be more quickly and easily tied in hand by a modification of the sailor’s method of tying his knife lanyard knot (#787). The two knots are tied alike, but they are worked differently.

Swing hitch

Swing hitch is a way to tie a swing rope to a branch or other horizontal beam. Ashley describes it in ABOK as "... firm, strong, secure, and easily untied once the load has been removed."