What length(s) should we cut the rope into? Depending on the diameter of the spars and what you’re building, 15 feet is the most common, 20 feet is often called for. For camp gadgets and many Scout meeting challenges, 6-1/2 and 10-foot lengths are good for working with Scout Staves.
Where can I get manila rope? 1/4-inch is commonly available at Lowes and Home Depot, but Get Pure Manila Rope and Don’t Be Fooled! For larger quantities, procure a box containing 1,200 feet from a reputable rope supplier.
Can I just tape the ends? Sure, but that’s not going to last long. Learn to tie a Sailmaker’s or West Country Whipping to assure the ends don’t unravel during use. Refer to: Whipping
Some Questions about Spars:
What kind of trees make good spars? Whatever’s growing in your area that will yield a straight spar with a minimum of taper will work. Pine is widely used because it grows so straight and when stripped of its bark and dried out, it makes spars that are not too heavy and suitable for “Boy-size” projects. Hardwoods can also be used and because of their strength, slightly smaller diameters can be selected to save on the weight. Refer to: Pioneering Kit
Where do we get them? In most parts of the country, there are large, forested areas where with the proper permission and clearance we can harvest the spars we need. Most natural and planted stands require thinning at certain stages of their development in order to sustain good tree growth throughout the life of the stand. Thinning is beneficial to the overall health of a stand of trees.* Refer to: Stumbling Block 3
What lengths and how thick? Depends on what you’re building. Most projects, that already have been happily built, come with a list of materials which detail the size of the spars you’ll need. 6, 8, 10, and 12-foot lengths are the most commonly used for “Boy-size” projects. Diameters vary from 2 to 4 inches at the butt end. Start with what you need to complete the project(s) at hand.
There was a volunteer who procured ten 50 feet x 1/4-inch packages of what was presented as 100% manila rope. He wanted to prepare the rope to be used for Scout pioneering projects and set about diligently pre-stretching each 50′ length, cutting each into various lengths for lashing, painstakingly applying a sailmaker’s whipping to each end, burning off excess hairs because the ropes were very hairy, and then color-coding the ends with a little paint.
Because the rope was so hairy, uneven, and rather stiff, the volunteer was concerned that the quality of this manila was pretty poor. But, he persevered in his labors because this is what he had to work with. During the process of coiling and storing the lashing ropes, he became more and more concerned that this manila must be very old or something, because it was so dry and a whole lot less flexible than the lashing ropes he had provided Scouts for their projects in the past. Wondering if there was something he could treat the rope with to perhaps make it a little more flexible and soft, he set out to get some information from a rope expert. In the process, he contacted a real rope man from Louisiana who’s company distributed rope to bona fide suppliers. After this man learned that the rope was from China, it became very clear, the rope was not manila at all. Instead, it was sisal that had been color-treated to resemble manila. Pure manila rope comes from the Philippines. The man said the rope in question should NEVER have been sold as manila, but instead as “natural fiber” rope!
So, please watch out! Buyer beware! Sisal is not anywhere near as good for projects as manila. There’s a big difference between the two:
Manila rope is from the stems of the abaca plant which grows in the Philippines. (The capital of the Philippines is Manila, and hence the rope’s name.) The stems of the abaca plant have long fibers that make them very well-suited for making rope. As Adolph Peschke mentions in the older Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:
“Pure manila rope is by far the best all-around rope. It is easy to handle, has good strength-to-size ratio, and does not have an objectionable stretch factor. It handles well in three important pioneering areas: knot tying, lashing, and in using a block and tackle.
“Manila rope can be spliced easily and withstands repeated wetting and drying cycles, making it suitable for boat and marine use, as well as many camping and pioneering applications. Manila rope should provide the bulk of the rope needed for your troop’s pioneering kit. (Its cost is mid-range.) Properly cared for it will give good service for quite a few years.”
Sisal rope,on the other hand, is from a cactus plant that grows in very dry areas and whose fibers are shorter and more splintery. Big difference! Here’s what Adolph Peschke says about sisal:
“Sisal rope has much the same appearance as manila rope, but it is quite inferior in strength and does not handle well when used for lashing or knot tying. When sisal rope that is tied into a knot or lashing gets wet and then dries, it becomes useless because of the kinks that remain.
“Even though it costs less. it is not cost effective because it breaks down quickly during use and when it gets wet. It might offer limited use in cases where expendable, but overall the cost is high when compared to other types of rope that can be used again and again.”
Please don’t be fooled. As for the poor volunteer who went through all the time and effort to prepare new lashing ropes and ended up with forty of lower quality, you gotta love him. And, after 80 applications, at least he’s now an expert at tying the sailmaker’s whipping.
The following text and some of the drawings are by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:
We could imagine the first lashing made by man was wrapping a few strips of bark around a stone to hold it to a tree branch to make an ax to hunt and build with. Even today with all our modern ways to hold things together, it is still fascinating to lash sticks or spars together to make a camp gadget or useful structure.
There are still areas in the world where lashing spars (or bamboo poles) is the basic means of building structures. In Scouting, we use the same methods but have replaced strips of bark and vines with natural and synthetic fiber ropes.
The best choice of rope to use for lashing the type of pioneering projects (shown in this pamphlet) is pure manila rope. Therefore, all references to rope used for lashing in this section refer to manila rope.
Yet, sometimes we are faced with a problem—we have to use what is available and economical to get the job done. When making camp gadgets for temporary use, you could use lesser quality, less expensive rope or even binder twine for small projects.
SQUARE LASHINGS ***
The basic type of lashing for most projects is some form of a square lashing. This lashing is used to join two spars together, usually at a right angle, but not always. For example, square lashings are used when building a trestle to join the ledger and header to the legs at right angles. But it is also used to hold the ends of the X bracing to the legs at an angle. (Refer to “Making a Trestle.”)
In this section, three different square lashings are shown: (1) the Traditional Square Lashing, (2) the Modified Square Lashing, and (3) the Japanese Mark II. All three types of square lashings accomplish the same thing by making three wraps and two frapping turns around the spars being held together.
The only difference between these three different square lashings is the type of knot that is used to start and complete the lashing. You may learn that one of these knots is easier to tie, if so, you can stick with the one you are most comfortable with.
In addition to square lashings, you will most likely need to know how to make a diagonal and shear lashings. Some methods of making these types are also shown later in this section.
No matter what kind of lashing you’re making, there are two basic terms you should be familiar with: wraps and fraps. The basic difference between the two terms is that a wrap is made around the spars, while a frap is made around the rope itself.
Wrap. A wrap is a turn made around the two spars to hold the spars tightly together. Usually, three wraps are made to form a Square Lashing. Some other lashings require more wraps.
Frap. A frap is a turn made between the spars. It goes around the wraps to pull the wraps tighter. Usually two frapping turns are made on a lashing.
Good lashings are not made in a hurry. Each wrap must be made with a strain on the rope. Frapping turns should be pulled up as tightly as possible before the final knot is tied.
When you set out to make a lashing, the size and length of the rope you need are among the first questions you have to answer. To determine the length of rope needed for a lashing, add the diameters (in inches) of the two spars at the point the lashing is being made. If one spar is 2-1/2 inches in diameter and the other is 3-1/2 inches in diameter, the total equals 6 inches. Multiply by 3 feet to get the length of the rope needed for lashing.
If you use a rope that is too short to make three wraps and two fraps for a lashing, you should add (Splice or join with a Square Knot) a length of rope to complete the lashing with three full wraps and two fraps. For safety, don’t leave the lashing short.
If you find you have extra rope, make more wraps or fraps to use up the rope to avoid cutting the rope or leaving long loose ends hanging out.
In most cases, 1/4-inch diameter manila rope should take care of lashing two spars together as long as the combined diameter of both spars is 6″ or less. When the combined diameter is over 6 inches, use 3/8-inch diameter rope.
If your troop or camp puts together a pioneering kit, it should contain lashing ropes that are cut to standard lengths: 10, 15, 20, 30 and 50 feet.
Both ends of these lashing ropes should be properly whipped. It also helps to color-code the ends of all ropes with a bit of paint to denote each length. When storing ropes, make sure they are dry and properly coiled. Never “hank” ropes for storage. That is, don’t wrap them around your hand and elbow to form a coil. Tie each coil with a short piece of cord and store the coiled rope on pegs or in a ventilated storage box.*
TRADITIONAL SQUARE LASHING
In Scout Pioneering in the United States we most often see the square lashing started with a clove hitch. The clove hitch is tied on the vertical spar, just below where you want to join the crossing horizontal spar (see 1).
Using a clove hitch to start this lashing allows for two things. First, you can rest the crossing spar on the clove hitch to help support it as you begin the lashing while building your structure. Second, the clove hitch helps keep the structure from racking (twisting out of shape), causing the lashing to loosen as it is moved or hoisted into position.
After the clove hitch is tied, wrap the excess short end of the rope around the standing part of the rope (see 2). Hold the crossing spar up to the vertical spar and make three wraps around the spars using the long end (see 3, 4, and 5). Pull each wrap tight to hold the spars together. Make two frapping turns around the wraps (between the spars) to pull the wraps tight (see 6 and 7) and finish with another clove hitch on the horizontal spar (see 8 and 9).
One other point to make about the square lashing is that you shouldn’t be fooled by or limited by its name. Although two spars can be lashed together at 90° using a square lashing, it can also be used to lash two spars together at any angle. For example, a square lashing is used to lash the ends of two light spars to the uprights of a trestle to form the X bracing. A diagonal lashing is used at the center of the X to hold the crossed spars together.
MODIFIED SQUARE LASHING
The Modified Square Lashing was developed because of the difficulty usually experienced when tying a clove hitch to complete the traditional square lashing. The clove hitch that starts the lashing is easy enough to make, but tying a clove hitch at the end of the lashing is a different matter.
As shown in figure 104, the modified square lashing starts with a clove hitch. When tying the clove hitch, let the running end of the clove hitch extend about 12″. Also do not twist the short end around the standing part of the rope as in the traditional square lashing.
After tying the starting clove hitch, proceed as usual using the long end of the rope to make three wraps (see figure 105). Then make two frapping turns (see figure 106).
To complete the lashing, bring up the short end of the rope that extends from the clove hitch and tie a square knot (see figure 107). Bring the short end up in the opposite direction of the frapping turns.
As in the Traditional Square Lashing, there is some disadvantage in having to make the complete lashing using the one end of the rope.
When putting crossed braces on a structure to keep it from racking (as used when making a trestle), the most important lashing is the diagonal lashing where the spars cross. (Refer to the “Making a Trestle” section.)
When the cross spars are properly assembled on the trestle, they will be standing apart where they cross. That is, there will be a few inches of space between the spars where they cross at the center of the X. To pull them tightly together, a timber hitch is used to start the lashing (figure 1). As the timber hitch is pulled tight, the spars are sprung together. Next, three wraps are made in each direction across the X (figures 2 thru 5). After the wraps, make two frapping turns between the spars, pulling the wrapping turns tightly together and taking up any slack (figures 6 and 7). Finally, tie a clove hitch on one spar to complete the lashing (figures 8 thru 10). When this lashing is added to the cross braces, it helps keep the trestle from racking. Filipino Diagonal Lashing.
WEST COUNTRY ROUND LASHING
The pattern you make with the rope for this lashing is the same as the one to make the whipping. The only difference is that this lashing is tied around two spars to hold them together.
To make this lashing, tie a series of half-knots (overhand knots) around the two spars (see figure 115). Tie one half-knot in front and the next half-knot in back (see figure 116). Make sure each half-knot is pulled up as tight as possible. After tying six to ten half-knots, finish off the lashing with a square knot (see figure 117). By using six to ten half-knots in this lashing, it makes it very strong and effective, but can be a little difficult to untie.
The West Country Round Lashing is used to tie two spars together to extend the overall length of the spars. When this is done, you should make two sets of lashings, not just one lashing. Make one lashing at each end of the overlapping spars.
TWO-SPAR SHEAR LASHING (Shear Lashing)
The main application for the Two-Spar Shear Lashing is when spar legs are to be spread apart to form an A-frame.
The Two-Spar Shear Lashing starts with a clove hitch on one spar (see figure 118). After making the clove hitch, wrap the excess part of the short running end around the standing part of the rope (see figure 119).
Unlike square lashings, the shear lashing requires eight or ten wraps around the spars before making the frapping turns between the spars to pull the wraps tight (see figure 120). This lashing then ends with a clove hitch on the other spar (see figure 121).
If you’re making an A-frame, start the spars side by side and tie a clove hitch on one spar, about 1 foot from the top end of the spars depending on the project. Then you can take ten wrapping turns around the spars, making the wraps somewhat loose. The legs can then be spread to the required distance. This should put strain on the wraps.
With the legs apart, you can make the frapping turns around the wraps to pull them tight. Finally, complete the lashing by tying a clove hitch on the opposite spar.
In some pioneering situations all that’s needed is a few wraps with a rope, a light cord, or binder twine to hold two small spars or sticks together. Wrap the rope or cord around the spars a few times and finish with a Square Knot. This is called a strop lashing.
A strop lashing can be drawn down tight, or it can be made as a loose wrap so that it allows movement or acts as a hinge.
The strop lashing can have several simple applications at camp. For example, if you don’t want to dig a hole for the staff of your patrol flag, drive a tall stake in the ground. Then use a light cord or binder twine to make two strop lashings about 1 foot apart to hold the staff to the stake (see figure 122).
If your patrol just completed a signal tower and you want to show who did it, lash your patrol flag to the top of one of the legs with a strop lashing.
When you’re adding walkways to a bridge, they need to be joined to the trestle to form a single unit. The way to do that is to lash the two walkways to the transom at the center of the bridge with two or three strop lashings (see figure 123).
The ends of the walkways also need to be held to stakes. Use a strop lashing to hold the ends of the walkway to the stakes (see figure 124).
* An approach that is seen as a practical way to preserve and organize your lashing ropes is to coil ropes of the same length into manageable groupings, i.e. a large coil containing more than a single rope, and then tying up the grouping at one end with a 3-foot light cord.
** Round lashings are more frequently used to very effectively extend Scout staves or smaller diameter spars.
*** In a square lashing, the wraps and fraps form a square. In a diagonal lashing the wrapping turns cross the poles diagonally. Both lashings can be used to join two poles together that cross each other from 45º to 90º. It’s the square lashing that is used most because there is more contact between the rope and the poles, and hence it is stronger. A diagonal lashing is used when there is a need to close a gap between two spars or when they spring apart, in other words, when we want to bind poles together where they cross each other but do not touch. This most commonly occurs when the ends of the spars are already lashed in place in a structure, as in forming the X-brace of an H-Trestle.
From certain perspectives, the following pioneering kit presented in the informative older Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet is undoubtedly very extensive for a single unit, and better suited for a kit stored in a large shed or storage facility earmarked for multi-unit use in a District or Council.
For a unit interested in putting together their own pioneering kit, a good place to start is to gather the materials necessary to undertake the specific project or projects the unit wishes to build. More supplies can be added to the unit’s kit to meet additional demands for materials, as required by the desire and wherewithal to tackle new and different projects.
The following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:
The easiest way to make sure that you have all the necessary ropes, spars, and equipment ready to build a pioneering project is to put together a pioneering kit. It saves a lot of time if the pioneering kit is organized and ready to go so you don’t have to spend time gathering all your equipment every time you want to build a pioneering project.
The pioneering kit described here consists of enough spars and ropes to build the projects shown in this pamphlet. It is designed to be used by a troop at summer camp to build “boy-size” structures: that is, projects that can be built by boys of Boy Scout age. This kit is also ideal to provide the equipment necessary for teaching pioneering skills to new Scouts.
The sizes and quantities of ropes and spars described here should be a good starting point for your pioneering kit. You can always add more equipment as the number of Scouts participating increases, or if some Scouts become more skilled in building a wider range of projects.
Knowing that this pamphlet might be used by Scouts all over the world presents some problems concerning availability of suitable species of trees to use for spars. Generally, pine makes the best spars because pine trees are straight. Also, when pine is stripped of its bark and dried out, it makes spars that are not too heavy, therefore suitable for “Boy-size” projects.
If pine is not available, cut spars from the straightest trees you can find. It might be to your advantage to make spars from hardwood species of trees. Given the strength of hardwoods, you might be able to use slightly smaller diameters as a weight-saving measure. Don’t overlook softwood spars for light, smaller projects.
Some lumberyards and farm supply stores carry round, treated fence posts that can be used for short lengths. Barn poles might also be available for a few of the longer lengths. Remember that barn poles are quoted at the top diameter, not the butt end. The supply yard might let you select and match what you need.
On all spars, you should remove the bark and cut the ends square. It is recommended that you cut all the spars to exact, even lengths, regardless of their butt diameter, as shown in the chart below.
There are several combinations of lengths and diameters of spars suggested for this pioneering kit. This is because various projects might require the same length spar, but in different diameters depending on where it is to be used in the structure.
Both ends of the spars in your pioneering kit should be color-coded with a band of paint to denote length. Here are the colors that can be used to easily show the lengths of the spars without having to measure them each time.
All ropes in your pioneering kit should be whipped on both ends. In the case of plastic rope, whether it’s twisted or braided, it must be first melted back and then whipped.
Ropes cut to the standard lengths shown above should have the ends color-coded with a dab of paint to denote the length. Here is a recommended color-coding system for all rope, regardless of diameter of the rope:
You might also have a need for ropes of specific diameters and lengths that are used for projects that are built often. These should be identified with a tag and coiled separately. These ropes, along with slings, grommets, strops, and anchor ropes should be stored in a separate box.
In addition to spars and ropes, your pioneering kit should contain some basic equipment needed for building projects. This equipment includes
2 round-point long-handle shovels
4 wooden mallets
50 pioneering stakes
4 binder twine boxes
1 bow saw
1 hand ax
10 wooden cleats and nails
8 welded steel rings, 3/8″ x 3″
8 screw pin shackles, 3/8″
10 quick links, 5/16″
You might also find that putting this equipment on a trailer that can be pulled by a truck will help get your pioneering kit to your project site. The trailer will also help you move your pioneering kit to a dry shelter when not in use.
The following text is by Adolph E. Peschke as presented in the 1998 printing of the 1993 edition of the Pioneering Merit Badge Pamphlet:
KEY FACTORS TO CONSIDER
There are several important factors to consider when selecting the kind and size of rope to use in pioneering and camping activities. Three of the most important factors to consider are the strength in both the working load and breaking point of the rope, the stretch factor of the rope, and how easily the rope handles.
Some other considerations are the rope’s resistance to mildew, its ability to stand up to repeated wetting and drying, and whether or not it retains kinks from knots after having been under a hard strain, making it difficult to use a second time.
Cost is always an important factor to consider when equipping a pioneering kit. Factors that affect cost are quality, grade, packaged cut length, and source of supply. Scout units can usually buy rope from wholesale suppliers if it’s purchased in standard package lengths. Manila rope in 1/4″ diameter comes in a standard 1200′ coil, while larger diameters come in 600′ coils. Most other types of rope come in 600′ spools as a standard package. Shorter lengths are available from retail suppliers.
Since all rope types and sizes come in different grades of quality, which can relate to the strength, it is best to refer to the manufacturer’s specifications that appear on the package. It is a good idea to keep the package for future reference.
Braided rope is about 10 percent stronger than twisted rope of the same diameter and type.
Even the best knots can reduce rope strength 20 percent.
Overhand knots reduce strength 50 percent.
Polypropylene ropes lose strength when exposed to sunlight for extended periods of time.
Nylon rope is 20 percent elastic and stretches to add 20 percent to its original length.
The working load strength of most types of rope is up to 20 percent of its breaking strength. If available, go to the manufacturer’s specifications to determine the safe working load.
Good care and storage will prolong useful life.
Frequent inspections and discarding questionable rope is essential to ensure safe working equipment.
TYPES OF ROPE
Manila. Pure manila rope is by far the best all-around rope. It is easy to handle, has good strength-to-size ratio, and does not have an objectionable stretch factor. It handles well in three important pioneering areas: knot tying, lashing, and in using a block and tackle.
Manila rope can be spliced easily and withstands repeated wetting and drying cycles, making it suitable for boat and marine use, as well as many camping and pioneering applications. Manila rope should provide the bulk of the rope needed for your troop’s pioneering kit. (Its cost is mid-range.) Properly cared for it will give good service for quite a few years.
Polypropylene. Rope made of this man-made plastic fiber should be considered for pioneering activities because it is lightweight and its strength-to-size ratio is good. Size for size it is twice as strong as manila rope, but has a little higher stretch factor. Its strength makes it suitable for anchor strops and for any application involving heavy strain.
Polypropylene does stretch under a hard pull, but should not pose a problem if taken into consideration beforehand. A hard pull will result in kinking with some knots. Polypropylene resists mildew and will float, making it a good rope for waterfront activities and in wet conditions.
It is easy to splice in a twisted three-strand form. Because it is somewhat slippery, four tucks should be made instead of the usual three tucks. Cut ends should be both melted back and whipped with a good flax cord.
A disadvantage of polypropylene is that long exposure to sunlight has a weakening effect on the fibers. But, all things considered it is is worth including in your pioneering supplies.
Nylon. Nylon is commonly available in both braided nylon and twisted forms. Both forms come in a loose braid or twist and in a hard solid braid or twist. The loose braid or twist is not as strong and its fibers can easily get caught on bark, which can be bothersome. The hard twist or braid costs more, but is well worth its price.
Nylon rope is strong for its size, It is two an a half times stronger than the same size manila rope but loses some of its strength when wet. The three-strand twisted form of nylon can be spliced, but, as with polypropylene rope, it’s best to make four tucks instead of the usual three tucks and the cut ends should be both melted back and whipped to prevent raveling.
The most prevalent disadvantage of nylon rope is that it has a 20 percent stretch factor. But in cases where the stretch factor can be taken up with adjustment to the strain on the line, its strength can be an advantage. Nylon rope also has a tendency to slip when a hard pull is put on some knots. Because of these two factors, it is almost useless as a lashing rope.
All things considered, there is a place for both twisted and braided nylon rope in the solid, not loose, form.
Polyester. This man-made fiber rope is usually seen in the braided form. It handles well, is strong, and its stretch factor is less than nylon. It costs more than manila or nylon, but some sizes and lengths could be used in pioneering activities on a selected basis. A 6′ length of 1/4″-diameter polyester rope makes an excellent rope for practicing knot tying and pioneering games.
Polyethylene. This is the cheapest of man-made fiber ropes. It is most often seen in braided form and has a distinctive shine. Don’t let the low cost lure you into buying any quantity of polyethylene for pioneering or camp use. It is not suited for either knot tying or lashing because it holds kinks after being under a strain. (Since it floats it does have some very limited use at he waterfront for ski ropes or other waterfront activities).
Sisal. Sisal rope has much the same appearance as manila rope, but it is quite inferior in strength and does not handle well when used for lashing or knot tying. When sisal rope that is tied into a knot or lashing gets wet and then dries, it becomes useless because of the kinks that remain.
Even though it costs less. it is not cost effective because it breaks down quickly during use and when it gets wet. It might offer limited use in cases where expendable, but overall the cost is high when compared to other types of rope that can be used again and again.
Cotton. Cotton rope in both twisted and braided forms is outclassed in strength by other types and today there is little use for it in pioneering and camping.
Binder twine. Binder twine is made from loosely twisted jute fibers that are treated with oil during manufacturing. Its principle use today is for tying up bales of hay as the baling machine compresses the hay.
Binder twine is readily available in varying quantities at hardware and farm supply stores. Its low cost makes it a throwaway item after use. But don’t be too quick to toss it in the trash—a balled up handful of discarded twine makes a very good fire starter in camp.
Here are some uses for binder twine:
When pioneering projects or camp gadgets call for the use of saplings less than 2″ in diameter, binder twine can be used for lashing. (Do not use binder twine as a replacement for 1/4″ rope in general pioneering use or lashings.)
Use binder twine to make a simple strop lashing with six or eight wraps and a square knot.
Use binder twine to hold the cross spars of a light bridge walkway in place.
Two strands of binder twine quickly twisted together will equal a light cord. Use binder twine for the back stays of anchor stakes.
Use binder twine to outline the ax yard for safety.
Use binder twine for the construction of pioneering camp gadgets.