Ah, the clove hitch. It’s a simple way to attach a rope to a pole, it’s side-to-side adjustable and is frequently used to start and finish a variety of lashings. Some folks don’t like it because in various applications, it’s not the most secure or reliable choice. But, in those instances, there are numerous alternatives. See the following photos—all close clove hitch relatives.
The clove hitch is one of the most-frequently-used knots Scouts learn, so common, yet it can also be very elusive, especially when it comes to completing certain lashings. In the knot-tying universe, the clove hitch is a whole lot more prevalent than most of us realize, and it can be tied in a variety of ways and from a variety of different perspectives.
Two Half Hitches. Here’s what John Thurman says in Pioneering Projects: “The first and everlasting thing to remember about the clove hitch is that it is composed of two half hitches. What a very obvious thing to say, but there is hardly one Scout in a hundred who learns what it means. If only we can get Scouts to learn that if you make one half hitch and another half hitch and bring them together they make a clove hitch, what a lot of time the Movement would save in the amount of fiddling and fumbling that goes on when a clove hitch is the order of the day. We would be able to start in the sure knowledge that we can make clove hitches and pass quickly on to better and brighter things.”
Before addressing the various ways to approach tying a clove hitch, did you ever wonder why the basic knot, two half hitches is called “two half hitches?” (The name “double half hitch” has also been used.) What’s a half hitch anyway? Well, now we know it’s half a clove hitch, but how many of us have realized that in actuality, two half hitches is a clove hitch tied around the rope’s standing part? That’s what it is! On a side note, the very useful taut-line hitch is nothing but a clove hitch started off with a roundturn (called a rolling hitch), which is also tied around the rope’s standing part. As mentioned above, the clove hitch is whole lot more prevalent than most of us realize, and indeed it can be tied in a variety of ways. Here we go:
Open-End Clove Hitch. Back in the 60s at Camp Wauwepex, a Scout camp on Long Island, one of the attractions in the Scoutcraft area was a vertical pole about 4 feet tall with a rope attached near the bottom. This was a “Hitching Post.” It was put up so Scouts could see how many half hitches they could throw over the top of the pole as quickly as possible. Watching fellow Scouts who had mastered the simple technique provided enough motivation to learn how to do it too, and it was easy to get quite good at it. As we were throwing hitches over the pole with greater and greater alacrity, we weren’t aware that every two of these hitches was a clove hitch. Nor would we have cared. It was just fun to see how fast we could get.
When preceding from the left, all that needs to be done is:
- Form a right underhand loop and place it over the pole.
- Form another right underhand loop and place it over the pole (on top of the pervious one).
- Voila! Clove hitch!
When preceding from the right, instead of right underhand loops, form left underhand loops.
Without being informed, one can just look at two of these half hitches and see they look exactly like a clove hitch. Of course, that’s because these two half hitches are a clove hitch. Throwing two half hitches over the open end of a vertical pole is the hands down, quickest way of tying a clove hitch, After you’ve done it for awhile, it takes about a second. A common way to refer to this approach is to call it an “open-ended clove hitch.” It’s exactly what the doctor ordered when you need to tie a clove hitch over the end of a spar. It’s also the only way to tie a clove hitch in the middle of a long line, like when securing a hand rope on the top of an A-frame during the construction of a double A-frame monkey bridge (unless you want to pull foot after foot of rope through the hitches because you’re using an alternate method, or… you just don’t know any better).
It’s really surprising how many folks, old and young, aren’t familiar with this simple method of tying a clove hitch. Here’s an amusing illustration: A young Scout was competing at a camporee for the best time in completing a Rope-Toss-Log-Lift Challenge. After throwing the rope over the crossbar and tying the end to a log with a timber hitch, the third step is to secure the other end of the rope to a stake in the ground with a clove hitch. Ah! An open ended pole! So, this young Scout completes the first two steps, runs over to the stake and, bam! He ties an open-ended clove hitch over that stake in nothing flat. The jaw of the Scouter conducting the event drops down. With mouth open and a look of bewilderment on his face, he leans down, scratches his head, and examines the knot. Yes, to his surprise, indeed it’s a clove hitch! This skinny, young Scout did something the adult had never seen before, and the old guy was astonished!
We’ll get back to tying a clove hitch by making two half hitches in a little bit, but first this:
Right and Left Clove Hitch. Now here’s where different perspectives come into play! With a round lashing, shear lashing, or tripod lashing, a clove hitch is tied either from the left side or from the right. It depends which way you’ll be wrapping—from the top to the bottom, or bottom to the top. Also, when finishing these lashings, including the traditional diagonal lashing, the clove hitch is tied from either the right or left, depending on which side the cross spar is. So, right away, it can be seen the clove hitch presents itself from two different perspectives. On a horizontal spar: in a right clove hitch, the standing part precedes from the right, is underneath the outside part of the X, and the running end is coming out from the top. In a left clove hitch, the standing part precedes from the left, is underneath the outside part of the X, and the running end is coming out from the top.
The oft-taught Way. Most of the time, when learning to tie a clove hitch, Scouts are taught the following steps:
- Take the running end and wrap it around (or over) a spar.
- Cross the running end over itself (making an X).
- Wrap the running end around the spar again.
- Slip the running end under the last wrap.
- Pull it tight.
Inside the X or Outside the X? Sometimes the clove hitch is simply taught like this: Make an X on top of the spar and slip the running end underneath the X right in the middle. This method can be referred to as “inside the X.” Inside or outside the X, it really just depends which side of the rope’s standing part you’re proceeding from. Both end up the same way when the rope is pulled tight.
Finishing a Lashing with Two Half Hitches. We’re back to tying a clove hitch by first making one half hitch and then another.
Here’s the story: When you learn how to do this, number one, it’s faster. Number two, it’s also easier to securely finish off the frapping turns, because it’s a cinch to snug both half hitches in close and pull them real tight, which is definitely something you want to do.
If there’s any catch at all, it’s purely cosmetic in nature. As can be seen in the photos to the right, when completing the lashing in this manner, the standing part of the clove hitch (the part preceding from the lashing) extends out on top of the outside part of the X. By the definition above, the clove hitch tied with the “inside the X” method does form a true “right clove hitch.” Not at all a big deal, because both clove hitches still do the job, which in this instance is to keep the fraps tight and secure and hold the lashing in place.
1/2 HITCH + 1/2 HITCH = CLOVE HITCH