As presented in Bryan on Scouting:
Tying a square knot might be confusing for Scouts. “Right-over-left” or was it “left-over-right?”
For the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some camp hacks that the BSA’s national camping subcommittee has shared with us. This week’s tip involves a technique to tying a square knot correctly every time. Special thanks to Larry Green for the tips and text below.
The square knot, also known as the reef knot, is first and foremost a binding knot. Its primary function is to secure a line tightly up against an object as when tying a bandage, a package or the flaps of a wall tent at camp.
When it’s time to tie a square knot, there’s a surefire way to always tie it right, and all you need to do is use your eyes.
- Tie the first half-knot.
- Position the ends so the blue end projects down on one side, and the red end extends up on the other side. It’s as if each end has its own area — like each is in their own “zone.” That’s where they need to stay.
- When the ends are brought together to form the second half-knot, they don’t enter the other “zone” by crossing behind the other end. They just meet in the middle. The knot is finished by carrying either end over and around the other.
- It makes no difference how the first half-knot is tied (over-under or under-over, right-over-left or left-over-right).
- When bringing the ends together to form the second half-knot, keep them in their own “zones.” Don’t cross over into the other end’s area.
- This way, you’ll always tie a square knot, and never a granny knot.
Tying a square knot from this visual perspective comes in handy, because often Scouts will lose track of whether they went over-under or under-over, or right-over-left or left-over-right. Once they get the knack of seeing how each end stays in its own “zone,” this approach is fool-proof.
Watch the video of this technique below.
This short commentary is one part surmise and three parts observation. It’s composed of a series of events with a predictable outcome. Except to those familiar with Scout Pioneering, and Scout competitions, the whole scenario will appear obscure. But to the Scouts involved, it’s far from obscure. On the contrary, whenever something like this happens, it’s downright confusing, and without being melodramatic, maybe a little traumatic too. No real names are used in this account, and no fingers are being pointed at any individuals. The characters in stories like this are always well-intentioned and without malice. There are no wrongdoers involved… just victims.
Scout Pioneering is about building structures with poles and rope. They can be useful, they can be for fun, and often they’re both. Knowing how to tie knots and lashings is a basic Scouting skill that’s been a part of our movement for over a hundred years. In all bonafide Scout Pioneering settings, when two poles cross each other, but do not touch, a Diagonal Lashing is often used to spring the poles together. The lashing is so-named, because the wraps run diagonal to the poles. Additionally, those who are experienced in building pioneering structures accept the fact that joining two poles together that cross from 45º to 90º calls for a Square Lashing. There’s more contact between the rope and the poles than with a Diagonal Lashing, and hence a Square Lashing provides a better hold. The Square Lashing gets its name from the fact the wraps run square to the poles. The name has nothing to do with at what angle the poles cross.
Enter “Ned”: Without knowing any better, Ned, a well-meaning Scouting volunteer, reasons quite innocently the Diagonal Lashing should be used whenever Scouts join two poles that cross each other at less than a perpendicular angle. So from this viewpoint, which, because of its name, appears logical, Ned concludes Scouts should use Diagonal Lashings when making an A-frame. After all, the angles formed by the poles are less than 90º. Without any real, hands on exposure to pioneering, he’s not familiar with the fact the lashing is reserved for springing two poles together when they cross but don’t touch. To him, his assumption about the lashing is obvious. He proceeds to write up a description of a Scouting activity featuring his misunderstanding about the use of Diagonal Lashings. Since he’s an intelligent, well-respected Scouter…somehow, it get’s printed, and then again reprinted, in official BSA publications.
Enter the “Raccoon Patrol”: As part of a troop that regularly embraces large pioneering projects, the Raccoon Patrol is well-versed in building A-frames. During inter-patrol competitions at Scout meetings, they do well in A-frame Chariot Races. On outings they build camp see-saws where the roller bar for the plank is supported by two heavy duty A-frames. They have also helped to build several monkey bridges relying on sturdy A-frames as sub assemblies. Belonging to a unit with a successful pioneering program, they’ve been taught to make their A-frames using three Japanese Mark II Square Lashings. In addition to being supported in certain BSA publications, their grasp of Scouting skills stems from Scouters who’ve served on the pioneering staff at national jamborees and who, themselves, have learned from some of the most esteemed Scout Pioneering legends.
Enter “Nancy”: On staff at summer camp, Nancy volunteers to conduct an A-frame Chariot Race as part of the camp-wide skills event towards the end of the week. Her reference material is one of the BSA publications containing Ned’s well-meaning misconception, directing Scouts to construct an A-frame using Diagonal Lashings. Without any real experience putting together an A-frame, she’s basing her thinking on what she has read. Furthermore, since the content is featured in an official publication, she requires each patrol taking part in the activity to build their A-frame in just that way.
Reenter the “Raccoon Patrol”: Participating in the camp-wide competition, the Raccoons confidentially arrive at Nancy’s station, all revved up to be the fastest patrol in the A-frame Chariot Race. Nancy proceeds to explain her rules for putting together the A-frame, which immediately confuses the Raccoons. In their attempt to comply, they bungle the Diagonal Lashings, something they seldom use. At the top, they ask if they can tie a Square Lashing in lieu of a Shear Lashing, and Nancy acquiesces. But, they are further penalized because Nancy insists that if they’re going to tie a Square Lashing, it must start and end with a Clove Hitch. She has never seen or heard of a Japanese Mark II Square Lashing. It isn’t in the official publication she is using as her reference. At that point, the Raccoon’s performance is so poor, they don’t even bother to race. With disgruntled comments, they leave Nancy’s station. They are hurt and bewildered.
Are these kinds of scenarios rare at Scout skill events? The answer is, no. They take place at Boy Scout summer camps, district and council camporees, and OA conclaves. Scouts have been penalized, disqualified, and even politely insulted by facilitators who base their event’s rules on material that contradicts what some may have adopted from other official publications. This is a sad state of affairs. Scouts become frustrated, angry, and disillusioned—feelings that shouldn’t obtain at a Scouting event.
What about this conflicting information presented in different official publications? Are there ways around the confusion? The answer is, yes. At the time of this writing, a national task force is taking steps to assure the publications all provide compatible information pertaining to Scout skills—approaches that are sensible, practical, and proven to be the most efficient. This is a lengthy process and will take time. Everything that appears in official BSA publications should be exemplary, but change happens slowly. Until Scout skills are presented consistently across the board, the following is felt to be an advisable practice: during inter-troop, district, or council events, in competitions like the A-frame Chariot Race, let the patrols complete the challenge in anyway they can. Don’t permit their efforts to be circumscribed by a rigid set of exacting rules. As long as what they build is safe and gets the job done, the Scouts should be allowed to experience success.
This is the fourth post in a series that will eventually comprise an activity-based, unit pioneering program curriculum.
SUPPORTING VIDEO: How to Tie a Mark II Square Lashing
IV. Simply speaking, Pioneering can be seen as building structures by lashing together spars. In most cases, the lashing that is used is the square lashing. For ease, simplicity and above all efficiency, the square lashing used here is the Mark II Square Lashing.
- A. Scouts will demonstrate they can tie a proper Mark II Square Lashing by:
- 1) positioning their lashing rope so that the crossbar is initially supported
- 2) completing three neat, tight wraps
- 3) making the transition from wrapping to frapping
- 4) completing two tight fraps and finishing with a square knot
- B. Scouts will demonstrate they can join two Scout Staves at 90° angles, by using a properly-tied square lashing.
- Crossbar(s) suspended between to uprights or supports, about 3 feet high and long enough so that each Scout can stand in front with enough room to practice
- Two Scout Staves for each Scout
- One 10-foot x 1/4-inch manila lashing rope for each Scout
- One 6-foot x 1/4-onch manila lashing rope for each Scout
1) Instructor crouches down or sits in a chair in front of a crossbar. A Scout Stave is leaning against the bar on the other side. Scouts are gathered behind and to the sides of the instructor, so they can watch his hands as he demonstrates the Mark II Square Lashing while narrating:
- First thing is to halve the rope.
- Place the middle of the rope behind the vertical spar and under the horizontal (crossing) spar.
- Start the wraps by working both ends at the same time bringing them up in front of and over the horizontal spar and then crossing behind the vertical spar.
- Start the second wrap by carrying both ends to the front, bringing them down over the horizontal spar and down behind the vertical spar. Cross them underneath.
- Just like the first wrap, bring the ends up in front of and up over the horizontal spar and then cross them a final time behind the vertical spar. You now have three wraps. Carry both ends to the front on top of the crossing spar.
- To begin the fraps, cross the ends over the top of the wraps.
- Pull the rope tightly, around the wraps between the spars, and after two fraps, finish with a square knot.
Note: An Instructor monitors each of the following steps:
2) Using a Scout Stave and a 10-foot lashing rope, each Scout takes a position in front of the crossbar, which will serve as the horizontal (crossing) spar. They place their Scout Stave behind the crossbar.
3) Scouts halve their rope and place it behind their Scout Stave with an end on either side and under the horizontal spar.
4) Scouts start theirs wraps, keeping them neat, even, and flush to one another.
5) After three wraps, Scouts bring the ends of the rope to the front and cross them to begin their wraps.
6) Pulling their two fraps tightly, Scouts finish their lashing with a square knot.
1) Each Scout is given two Scout Staves and a 6-foot lashing rope and instructed to lash the poles together in the middle with a neat, tight square lashing.
During the building process, an area adjacent to the Hourglass Tower saw a lot of action for whipping rope and sharpening pioneering stakes. During the jamboree, it was set up for rope making, for hitching and lashing instruction, and as a display of camp gadgets.
CAMP GADGETS AT THE JAMBOREE: Four useful camp gadgets were set up as displays—a wash station, clothes drying rack, tool rack, and Chippewa kitchen.
- Wash Station (an ideal “First Class Camp Gadget”)
- A Better Clothes Drying Rack (You’ve got to love this design!)
- Tool Rack (very simple)
- Double Tripod Chippewa Kitchen (the king of camp gadgets)
ROPE MAKING AT THE JAMBOREE: There were always Scouts in the rope making area where they were afforded an opportunity to make a short length of rope as a souvenir. To finish off their project, they also learned the West Country Whipping.
LEARNING THE MARK II SQUARE LASHING AT THE JAMBOREE: As in the Single A-Frame Bridge Building area, Scouts were introduced to the quicker, easier-to-learn, and more efficient Japanese Mark II Square Lashing, but here they learned on a lashing rack. Naturally as in past jamborees, all the structures in the pioneering area were lashed with this form of Square Lashing.
In the Pioneering Area of the 2013 national jamboree, we put together a couple of Single A-Frame Bridge kits, so Scouts and Venturers could build this simple crossing bridge during their visit to Garden Ground Mountain. Each kit included:
- two pre-constructed walkways
- two 12-foot leg spars (shear legs)
- one 5-foot transom spar
- one 6-foot ledger spar
- two pre-positioned anchors
- four pioneering stakes
- two guylines
- five lashing ropes
Whenever a crew wanted to build a bridge, we provided an overview of the design and gave them a quick introduction to tying a rope tackle and the Japanese Mark II Square Lashing. What follows are some photo montages of the Single A-Frame bridges built from the kits during the jamboree. For larger and largest views, click on the photos once, and then once again:
On occasion, a pair of Scouts wanted to build a bridge, and with persistence, and the help of staff or friendly Scouter, they were able to get it done.
- Single A-Frame Bridge (scoutpioneering.com)
A trestle is the basic component for building a bridge in a pioneering project. It is used to support the walkways.
The most basic form of a trestle is an H-frame. It consists of two legs, two ledgers, and two cross braces (see figure 125). When building a bridge, the top ledger is also called a transom. This is the part that supports the walkways.
To make an H-frame trestle, the two ledgers are lashed near the top and bottom of the legs and the cross braces are added, lashing them to the legs.
All of the lashing on the H-frame trestle is done with two types of lashings: a square lashing and a diagonal lashing. The ledgers are lashed to the legs with square lashings. Although it might not look like it, the cross braces are also lashed to the legs with square lashings, not a diagonal lashing. A diagonal lashing is used to lash the two cross braces together where they cross in the center.
When setting out to build an H-frame trestle, choose the two spars for legs first. These spars can be most any length, depending on the type and height of the structure you’re building.
To build a basic H-frame, lay the two legs on the ground with the two butt ends of the spars at the same end and even with each other. Then add the ledgers.
Ledgers. The ledgers are spars that are typically 2 to 2-1/2 inches in diameter. They are lashed to the legs with square lashings. Any of the three square lashings (shown in this pamphlet) can be used. The position of the ledgers on the legs will depend on the structure you’re building. There are a couple of general rules to keep in mind.
First, always keep the legs parallel and the butt ends of the legs even with each other as you’re lashing on the ledgers.* If you don’t, the trestle will stand crooked when you stand it up. As you add the ledgers, they should not stick out too far beyond the legs. You must leave enough room at the ends to tie the lashing, Any more will get in the way.
When using a Traditional Square Lashing or a Modified Square Lashing to tie the ledgers to the legs, be sure the starting clove hitch is placed on the leg so it’s beneath the ledger. When the clove hitch is below the ledger it will support it when the trestle is stood upright. As you tie the lashings, make sure they ar all very tight.
If you use a Japanese Mark II Square Lashing, you can start this lashing with a clove hitch in the middle of the rope to help support the ledger.
Cross braces. Next, the cross braces are added. The cross braces are spars that are usually 2 inches in diameter. They are lashed to the legs in a particular sequence.
First, flip the trestle over and work on the opposite side from the ledgers (see figure 125). Lash one cross brace to the back side of both legs. As mentioned before, use a square lashing (not a diagonal lashing) to attach the ends of the cross braces to the legs.
The second cross brace is added so that the bottom end is on the same side as both ends of the first cross brace. The other end is placed on the front side, the side with the ledgers (see figure 125). This is done so that the cross braces are standing slightly apart. There will be a gap where they cross at the center.
Diagonal Lashing. After the ends of the ledgers and the cross braces are lashed to the legs, stand the trestle up on end. Adjust the trestle so that the legs are parallel. Also check to see that the top ledger is parallel to the ground. If it is not, lower the trestle, untie the lashing, and adjust it.
When the legs are parallel and the top ledger is parallel to the ground, you’re ready to tie the diagonal lashing to the cross braces while the trestle is standing upright. This lashing is very important to the strength of the trestle.
The diagonal lashing creates triangles that are important to stiffen the arrangement of the spars and to keep the trestle from racking. Look around at steel towers, bridges, or buildings being erected and you will see the triangle used in many places for the same reasons as we use it to build a trestle.
When the cross braces are lashed to the legs, there is a slight gap between them where they crossed at the center. A diagonal lashing is used here because it starts out with a timber hitch. The timber hitch pulls the cross braces tightly together. This adds strength to the whole trestle. You have to keep a strain on the lashing rope as you complete the diagonal lashing with three wraps in each direction around the X. Then make two frapping turns between the cross braces to pull the wraps tight. Finally finish by tying another clove hitch on one cross brace.
Once the possibility of racking has been taken care of with the diagonal lashing, the trestle’s vertical legs provide support for a large downward load. Since this is a downward force, also known as a shearing force, the legs don’t have to be very big. In fact, the overall shape of the trestle is an engineered structure that is able to support quite a bit of weight with rather small-diameter spars for legs.
* An exception is building a Single Lock Bridge when the top of one trestle has to fit between the legs of the other.
The square lashing is the basic type of lashing for most pioneering projects. The more a Scout ties them, the more they become like second nature. That means, when the tying of an efficient and tight square lashing is “no sweat,” building a pioneering structure will be easier and more successful. This, of course, makes the experience more fun.
So, to assure the Scouts are ready and able to tackle projects that are challenging, fun, and rewarding, they need to feel confident and happy they can easily tie tight square lashings.
This challenge is very simple, but, it’s fun, and requires each patrol to tie eight tight square lashings. It’s great for new Scouts and a useful team-building activity and practice session “disguised” as a fun, fast-paced interpatrol competition.
Materials for Each Patrol:
- two 8-foot x 4-inch spars
- four 3-foot x 2-inch ladder rungs
- eight 15-foot x 1/4-inch lashing ropes
Method: with the above materials, each patrol will lash together a ladder with four rungs, spacing the rungs FROM THE BOTTOM ABOUT ONE FOOT APART, using eight square lashings. When sturdy, the whole patrol will stand the ladder up and take turns climbing to the top.
Pioneering is the knowledge and skill of using simple materials to build structures that are used in a wide range of Scouting activities. These skills are sometimes referred to as “backwoods engineering.”
Down through the ages, people have used ropes, spars, and simple hardware to build bridges, towers, and even their own shelters. In the early development of our country, pioneering methods were used in mining and transportation, to clear the wilderness, and to build roads and bridges. So it is understandable that the term “backwoods engineering” was applied.
Whatever the project, the same applied principles of physics, geometry, and math are used to build pioneering projects and structures. But, keep in mind that all the information (in this pamphlet*) is eventually used for a practical, hands-on application—that is, to build something.
Pioneering is a good foundation for many Scouting activities. You must learn, and then use, such disciplines as planning ahead and teamwork. You can also put to use the basic skills learned in rank advancement, such as knot tying.
But most of all, pioneering provides a practical way to experience the joy of accomplishment when you’ve built something that is needed for yourself or others; it can be something that makes living in camp easier and more comfortable. Pioneering can be both fun and challenging when you use your skill and knowledge to choose the right materials (ropes and spars) and build a usable structure.
The basics of pioneering, such as tying knots, making lashings, using rope tackle, constructing anchors, and basic rope knowledge can be done at home. The projects and structures (shown in this pamphlet**) can usually be constructed with materials available at summer camp or at council camping events.
James Keller, Director of the Pioneering area at the 2013 National Jamboree, related a story about the Japanese Mark II Square Lashing. He described how back in 1993, Adolph Peschke had mandated that his staff should just use the Japanese Mark II Square Lashing for the national jamboree’s pioneering projects. Some of the Pioneering staff back then had not as of yet become familiar with the lashing, and at first, some were a little hesitant to adopt it. But, after becoming acquainted, their overwhelming consensus was, why had they wasted so much time over the years using the traditional Square Lashing.
The Japanese Mark II Square Lashing has found its way into Scouting in the United States through Wood Badge training in England, and because of the work of John Thurman, camp chief of Gilwell. He observed it on one of his many world trips related to Wood Badge training.
This lashing is a straightforward approach to the task of lashing two spars together. Begin by placing the spars in the desired position. Now fold your lashing rope in half.
The midpoint of the rope is placed around the vertical spar and just under the crossing spar (see figure 108). Now work both ends of the rope at the same time to make three wraps around the spars (see figure 109).
After completing the three wraps, bring the two ends up between the spars in opposite directions to make the frapping turns around the wraps (see figure 110). Pull the frapping turns tight, and complete the lashing by tying the two ends with a Square Knot (see figure 111). It’s that simple.
The advantage of this lashing is that you’re working both ends of the rope at the same time. This makes it much quicker to tie since each hand has less rope to pull through. This lashing has the same holding effect as both the traditional and modified Square Lashings.
If more support is needed for the crossing spar, a Clove Hitch can be tied at the midpoint of the rope. Tie the Clove Hitch to the vertical spar just below the crossing spar. You can rest the crossing spar on the Clove Hitch as the lashing is being made. Then use both ends to complete the lashing as described above.
- — Up / Over / Behind / Cross —
- — Down / Over / Behind / Cross —
- — Up / Over / Behind / Cross —
- — Front / Cross / Down —
- — Cross / Up / Knot —