Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Miscellany: A Paracord Primer, Part 1 - Introduction

The daily news cycle got you down? Tired of Tiger? Haggard over health care? Why not take up a new hobby? Here at Shangrila Towers, we're always doing something useful, so kick back, turn off the tabloids, and learn about paracord weaving...

This is 550 parachute cord, also called "550 cord" or "paracord" for short. The "550" stands for its minimum breaking strength. It's a smooth, lightweight, slightly elastic nylon cord that you can buy at most any military surplus or outdoor store. Online prices run about $7 or $8 per 100 foot hank.

Before you start attempting projects with paracord, you should probably know a little about knots and braids. Whether you get your ideas from the encyclopedic "The Ashley Book of Knots" (the most authoritative reference work on knots ever written) or a cheap bargain bin knot book, the important thing is to spend the time and do the research. There are few more dangerous things in this world than a knot that looks good but is tied incorrectly. The Ashley book is a classic, but it'll be a little daunting for the beginner - it might be better to start with something that has nice, pretty pictures.

Paracord is composed of two parts, the core and the sheath. The inner core is made up of seven 2-ply strands, colloquially known as the "guts" of the cord. The guts have a ton of uses - as fishing line, sewing thread...whenever a lighter-weight rope or string is needed. With some effort, you can braid some of the guts together to create small lashings of various strengths and sizes.

The sheath is a braided, seamless tube of nylon that makes for excellent wrapping material, since it has the tendency to lay flat against surfaces. Unfortunately, without the innner strands, the flat sheath can be difficult to tie knots with effectively, limiting its utility. Also, note that much of the load-bearing capacity of the cord lies with the core; don't use the empty sheath to tie or bind anything important.

Paracord's biggest drawback is its tendency to fray after being cut. Most of the time, you will have to burn the ends of the cord with a lighter (any common butane lighter will work, but a "jet" type makes things a little easier). There are also applications where paracord's characteristics (smoothness, light weight) aren't desirable.

I'd be remiss if I didn't show at least one practical knot in this introduction. Making an adjustable paracord necklace (for a neck knife, whistle, or other tool) is easy - just take an appropriate length of cord and join the ends with an angler's knot (a simple bend made of two overhand knots, one tied at each end). Pull the knots to shorten the necklace, pull the lines to lengthen it:

Next time, we'll feature tips for doing a simple paracord wrap of a knife handle for better traction and comfort.


At 7:35 AM, Blogger Jim said...

The knot you show can be called a "true-lovers knot." In nautical lore the sailor left it on a girl's doostep. She would return it to him with the two overhand knots jammed tightly together if she accepted his suit.

It is also called a
fisherman's knot and said to be useful for attaching a pe-mono fishing line to a gut leader.

At 7:54 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Ah, sailors. The world of knots wouldn't be the same without seamanship. I'm reminded of that scene in "Jaws" where Quint makes Hooper tie a sheepshank.


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