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Andy Webber


After tying some interesting knots in string it was time to discover what would happen if one tried to tie some of the rope knots in steel-wire. So I got hold of some stainless steel wire and had a go. I tried Turk's Heads and Monkey Fists. After I had tied a couple, I went to the Fire and Iron Gallery in Leatherhead, Surrey. Here they had some pieces made by a basket weaver who had the same idea and now does some basket weaving work in stainless steel. One item in particular that is effective is a basket-woven ball. Note a significant difference between the knots that and basket weaving is that knots use a single length of rope threaded round and round; the basket woven work will use many shorter pieces woven together. The two techniques normally find completely different applications; you can't readily make baskets, plates, chairs etc out of knots in rope. It is also a reflection of the origins of the two methods - bits of string are flexible and available in long lengths whereas wicker/cane/etc is relatively stiff and not available in very long lengths. I was therefore amazed to see, after I had made the items here, basket woven balls at the Fire and Iron Gallery.

Turk's Head in stainless steel

Above is one of the first that I tied. It is a simple Turk's Head (4 bight, 5 lead, 5 strand). I was a little surprised that it made itself into this barrel shape - I was hoping to make napkin rings, but this shape is just no good. However, the shape is very tactile - it fits in the palm of the hand very nicely.

Turk's Head in stainless steel

I had another go at it. There are some parameters to Turk's Heads that you can change that don't appear to make much difference in rope, but in wire they make a stunning difference. This one is tied in the same wire but with different parameters (4 bight, 3 lead, 5 strand), and it has come out the sort of shape I was expecting first time around. This one is much harder to build up multiple turns, since there is no gap to thread the wire through. It is much more like a Turk's Head tied in rope.

Turk's Head in brass

Flush with success, I got some brass wire and tried to work out what parameters would produce a nice long Turk's Head with a neat pattern. And here it is (4 bight, 3 lead, 5 strand).

Turk's Head in copper

Another interesting thing with Turk's Heads is that you can flatten them out. Sometimes this is called a mat, but I was thinking of coasters. this one I made by taking the solid core from electrical cable and twisting three bits together to make a simple rope. I then tied the Turk's Head. Copper work-hardens, so I had to anneal it a couple of times by heating it in a gas flame. This one is 5 bight, 3 lead, 2 strand.

Turk's Head napkin ring in stainless

Here's a 7x3x3 Turk's Head tied in 2.5mm stainless as a napkin ring. This was followed by one in silver. The silver was intended to become a set, but between finishing the prototype and starting on the set other things got in the way.

Turk's head knots on dagger handleTurk's head knots on dagger handle

I was approached by a swordsmith, Paul Binns, to tie some Turk's Head knots in steel wire as part of the handle on a restored dagger. This shows an 8x3x4 knot made in 2 strand twisted steel. The great challenge here is to tie the knos the right size. In rope it is easy to tighten or loosen a knot and feed the extra though the whole knot; in solid steel wire this is not a practical option. To make it more fun, when you "double up" the knot, the diameter gets smaller, so you can't judge it accurately when you start the knot.

Monkey Fist

A knot which is designed to form up into a ball is the Monkey Fist. The simple Monkey Fist is well known to children, the more complex ones are called high order Monkey Fists. Here is an example in stainless steel wire. Note that the fist is more of a cube than a ball. Looking closely at the fist it looks quite similar to a Turk's Head, but it is more complex. On the fist, there are places where the rope crosses to make a square/rectangle, and places where it makes a triangle. Where you get a triangle, the fist tends to make a corner, and where the crossing is square it is a smoother surface. So by examining the number and location of the triangles it is possible to predict the shape that will be formed when it is tied in wire. The simple way to tie high order Monkey Fists is to lay the pattern out flat using a pin-board to trace around. With steel wire something more robust was called for - planks and nails. Pulling the fist into shape from the flat form was not exactly easy.

Note - the stainless wire I used was 7x7 (seven bundles of seven cores). The brass wire was 4x7+1 picture hanging wire (4 bundles of 7 wires wrapped around a solid steel core wire) - this was not ideal, the steel core is problematic. The copper wire was 3x1 - manually twisted from solid core electrical cable. Silver was 3x1 manually twisted from single core wire.

Footnote 1: A special thanks to the coverage pixies!

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