Friday, November 13, 2009

Bushcraft Manifesto: Bindcraft

This i think has to be the hardest section the my mini-manual to write. Trying to describe in words the process of making cordage is frustratingly difficult. I had a friend that I recently taught how make cordage proof read it and he said it seemed fairly clear. I hope to get some good photos of the process and add them soon. Any advice or clarification that you think might help would be greatly appreciated.

The Knowledge: Bindcraft

Arguably the most important skill to have in the wild is the ability to improvise cordage or rope.
Cordage can be used to:
  1. Make fire with a bow drill.
  2. Lash a more sturdy shelter together.
  3. Weave a mat, or thatching to make a better insulated shelter or sleeping pad.
  4. Make a fishing line or snare to procure food (a.k.a. protein & fat).
  5. Improvising equipment (i.e.; pack frames, bucksaws, baskets)

As a rule of thumb the easier a material is to collect for cordage the weaker, or more brittle it is.

The skills required to make strong, serviceable in and of them selves are simple until you try to convey them to someone else. All the people I have taught to make cordage seem to have what I call an "ah-ha!" moment after struggling to understand the hand movements. The technique I prefer to use reqires the use of both hands and generates strong cordage relatively quickly.

You start by taking the cordage material and folding it into a "J" shape and holding the curve (bottom) of the "J" in your weak hand. You should have two (2) tag ends, one (1) long and one (1) short. I like to start with the short tag end away from me, and the long tag end close to me. Take the the tag end that is away from you and take it between the index finger and thumb of your strong hand. Your palm should be facing the ground. Take your thumb and roll the cordage material up your index finger then rotate your strong hand so that your palm is now facing upwards. As you rotate your palm upward use the middle finger and index finger of your strong hand to grab the tag end that is closest to you. Now rotate your strong hand back to it's original position (palm down). This action crosses the two (2) tag ends. Now while holding the cordage in your strong hand slide your weak hand down the cordage just far enough to grip the place where the two (2) tag ends cross. Now repeat the whole process.

The reason that you have one tag end shorter than the other is splicing. When collecting cordage materials you usually end up with short sections that need to be spliced together in order to end up with usable lengths of cordage. Splicing as very simple; when you get about 1.5"-2" from the end of a tag is lay a new piece of material along side of it and continue twisting. It is important to have some distance between your splices away from each other because they are weak spots. Holding the cordage in the "J" shape automatically leaves on tag shorter than the other eliminating weak splices being too close together.

Cordage Materials List:
  • Basswood (Tilia americana)-The inner bark Collection/Processing: moderate Strength: moderate
  • Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana)- The inner bark and rootlets. Collection/Processing: moderate Strenght: moderate
  • Ironwood/Eastern hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)- The inner bark Collection/Processing: difficult Strength: strong
  • Wild grape (Vitis riparia)- Pencil sized vines with shaggy bark Collection/Processing: easy Strength: weak
  • Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica)- The thin skin on the outside of the stalk Collection/Processing: moderate Strength: very strong
  • Willow (Salix spp.)- Sapplings and thin branches can be used as wythes. The inner bark. Collection/Processing: easy Strength: relatively strong

This is by no means an exhaustive list of plant for cordage materials. I chose these 5 plants because of their abundance and resilience to harvesting. Basswood trees are very popular among whitetail bucks for rubing there antlers on during the fall rut. This action strips of the bark and exposes the inner barks, and usually shreds it into manageable pieces for you. Eastern red cedar is considered an invasive by land managers that are trying to restore prairies and are often looking for people to help clear them out. Ironwoods are often looked upon as less desirable in mature timber stands of oak and managers again are usually open to the idea of someone helping them to thin them. Wild grape grow abundantly in fence rows, along forest edges, in uplands, on floodplains, just about everywhere. It is pretty easy to find a downed tree top with grapevine growing in it that you can collect with out worrying about destroying the plant. Besides make decent cordage grapevine can be woven into serviceable baskets without a lot of trouble. Finally willows are extremly useful for cordage due to the suppleness of their small limbs which allows you to use them for tying an lashing. Also the inner bark make good cordage either prepared as described above, or simply by stripping the bark and using it as is.

For more information on cordage materials as well as different styles of making cordage visit these sites:

For a good source on knots and other related topics visit:


Wandering Owl said...

Cool post. Question about splicing. Would some of these materials be flexible enough to knot? That wouldn't be recommended? Wouldn't make pretty cordage, but maybe it's not worth the time strength-wise?

I guess that's 3 questions but they kind of equal one.

Norseman said...

I am not fully sure I understand you splicing question. All the materials (except grapevine) can be knotted especially if processed into cordage. Cordage made from herbaceous plants like nettles are insanely strong (we are talking, your gonna cut your finger before you can break it strong). The bark from cedar trees was used by the tribes on the west coast tom make nets that were used to haul in large amounts of salmon from the Pacific, and the major river systems in the west. So these cordages are not only beautiful, they are functional and strong.

Johnnyburn said...

I think W.Owl might be asking whether you could knot the short lengths of plant material together instead of splicing them into a length of cord.

A series of 'bends' rather than 'splices.'