Cordage Making (“Joining In”)
I want to show in this page how to join
raw materials into longer cordage. This is not a difficult as it sounds,
but there are a few basic principals that we will address. I have used the
cattail leaves in this survival lesson for a few reasons. First of all, it
is very prevalent in most areas and many people recognize the plant
easily. Secondly, it is easy to work with and depending on the number of
leaves you use can make thicker cordage than other plants much more
quickly. Cattail is strong for standard usage, and joins easily.
One of the easiest plants to recognize in
the wilderness is the Common Cattail (Typha latifolia). It is probably one
of the most valuable plants in wilderness survival, being called by some a
“Wilderness Supermarket” because of it’s many uses. Every part
of the plant is usable for different purposes from cordage, to food, to
medicinal purposes, to sheltering. It’s typically seen brown
“fuzz” seedpod is readily recognizable in swamps and lowlands
is best used after the leaves have been dried and then re-hydrated. If you
use the green leaves the resulting cordage will become very loose because
of the great amount of shrinkage in the leaf. Below are some leaves that I
have stripped from a plant that was already dried in the field. I then put
them in water for a few hours to re-hydrate them, and then wrapped them in
a wet towel overnight.
Once I am ready to make
cordage, I blot the water from the leaves and lay them on a damp towel to
keep them moist as I work with them.
Cattail is basically
“ready to use” once the drying and rewetting has taken place.
You can cut the leaves thinly for finer cordage such as fishing line, or
you can use one or more leaves for thicker cordage, depending on your
need. Here I will be using a full leaf as each “fiber bundle”.
One of the things you will notice about cattail leaves is that they are
wide and thin as seen below. To “break” the fibers a bit and
allow the leaf to “roll” in my hand better I
“pre-roll” it between my palms.
Now take 2 leaves of different lengths
that have been pre-rolled and begin your “reverse wrap”
technique (If you have no idea what I am talking about please see Cordage
Part 1 Once you get to the end of one of your leaves, you should have
a piece of cordage that looks like the picture below.
One of the things you will
notice is that I am left with a long fiber bundle and a short fiber
bundle. It is very important to stagger your joints so that you do
not have a weak area in your cordage. If you put both joints at the same
spot the cordage will have no strength to it, and will break easily!
If the remainder that you
are about to “tie in to” is thick you will want to taper it and
then take the narrow (top) end of your next leaf and lay it on top of your
shorter fiber bundle. Making these 2 pieces thinner will keep your cordage
constant in thickness.
Now, keeping pressure with
your thumb on the two fiber bundles twist the new leaf and the old leaf
together and continue with your reverse wrap. Leave a bit of the tip of
the new leaf protruding to make sure you have a good grip on it as you see
in the following pictures.
Continue with the reverse
wrap until you reach the end of your old leaf. Please notice that the
joint is about 1″-1 1/2″ long. This gives the joint more
strength and tends to “tie” the two leaves together better. You
will now have 2 long fiber bundles again with the cordage looking similar
to the next 2 pictures
Notice the tips of the leaves sticking out of the
cordage. This wouldn’t really hurt anything, but to keep your cordage
looking nice and show yourself as the true “professional” that
you are, you want to trim these loose pieces off. You can either burn them
off by rapidly moving the cordage through a flame, or you can trim them
off with a knife.
Notice the small remaining
“nub” from the old leaf at the tip of the knife. Again, this is
nothing to worry about and will not affect your cordage.
Ok…continue cording and
joining in new pieces as necessary, remembering always to stagger your
joints. Add leaves until your cordage reaches the length you desire.
When you have your cordage
at the length needed, simply tie an overhand knot in each end of the
finished product and trim the ends. You can now either “buff”
the cordage over a stick, or use it as is. I do not “buff”
cattail as it is a stiffer cordage and I use it for purposes that require
more “body” in my rope.
Here is the finished
product with all of the leaves and ends trimmed. It is approximately 4
feet long. Notice the color differences from the different leaves. With
practice, your cordage will be beautiful and versatile. Have fun!!
Here is a board that I have
with different cordage materials. From left to right they are Braided
Cattail, Plantain, Human Hair, Milkweed, Corn, Grass, Cattail Cordage,
Lily Leaves, Bark, and Spider Plant. I have even made cordage out of
napkins from Burger King (You should have seen the looks I got sitting in
the restaurant doing that)! This board is 7 years old, showing how some
cordage ages after time and how some stays the same as the day you made
it! As you see, you can make cordage out of almost anything that is
flexible enough. Experiment and see what works best for you. Have fun!!