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How to Tie a Reef Knot or Square Knot

Updated on June 19, 2013

When To Use a Square Knot

Many people know how to tie a square knot, also called a reef knot, but they still aren't quite sure when it's appropriate to use this knot in practice.

A square knot is a binding knot that is used to tie the loose ends of two pieces of rope together. It is not the strongest knot to do this job, but it is a very simple knot to learn and apply, which has made it a popular choice.

The reef or square knot should be used to tie a rope around an object. For example, if a box with a top and a bottom were to be tied closed with a rope or cord using a square knot, it would be a practical application of the knot. The key to this fact is that both ends of the rope will continue to be pulled by the package they surround.

A square knot is strong only when this pressure remains. If the rope is allowed to have slack, the knot can weaken or fail.

When to Avoid a Square Knot

A square knot is not a good idea for tying two ropes together, when those ropes will not be set against an object, or when slack is possible.

A good example of a poor use of this knot would be to tie two lines together to hold a boat at dock. Since the waves will cause the boat to bounce, which will cause the joined ropes to move back and forth, the square knot would quickly loosen and eventually fail.

How to Tie a Square Knot

A square knot is very easy to learn and remember. To tie a perfect square knot, simply follow these easy steps:

Overlap the ropes.
Overlap the ropes. | Source

Step 1: Set Rope Ends Together

To begin, bring the two ends of rope together with an equal length of each rope extending past the junction point.

Leave enough rope past this point to tie the knot. Unless the rope is very thick, a couple of inches will usually do.

Tie a half-knot.
Tie a half-knot. | Source

Step 2: Make the First Half-Knot

This step is very easy and everyone tends to get it right. Simply tie a half-knot in the rope much like you would when tying shoelaces together.

Remember to keep enough rope on each end to complete the knot and have at least and inch or more of rope extending past the finished product.

Put the opposite end on top this time.
Put the opposite end on top this time. | Source

Step 3: Tie an Opposite Half-Knot

Now bring the ropes back together, but this time reverse the order. If you went right over left in the first step, use a left over right approach in this part of the knot.

By reversing the order of which rope is on top you will end with the desired square knot.

Pull the knot tight.
Pull the knot tight. | Source

Step 4: Tighten the Square Knot

Once you have the last half-knot tied, pull the entire knot tight.

You will know that the proper reef knot has been tied because the ends will look symmetrical. In other words, notice in this picture how both ends on the left go under the loop and both ends on the right go over the loop.

Best Rope for Square Knots

There are many types of rope, but some are stronger than others. Depending on why you are tying a knot in the first place, the type of rope used can make a big difference.

Polyester is used frequently because it performs well in so many applications. It is durable, strong, rot resistant, U.V. resistant, and it is easy to store and lasts a long time. This is among the best rope choices you can make.

Natural fiber ropes are traditional, but they do suffer when repeatedly wet, and they are not as resistant to abrasions. Hemp rope is one of the best, with cotton trailing just behind.

The ends of the granny knot are not symmetrical.
The ends of the granny knot are not symmetrical. | Source

Square Knot vs. Granny Knot

When many people attempt to tie a square knot, they end up with a granny knot instead. The difference between the two is very small but, in strength, the square knot is superior.

Remember, to tie a proper square knot, tie the second half-knot in the opposite manner that you tied the first. If you started with right over left on the first, use left over right on the second.

A granny knot is when you repeat the same pattern, a natural thing to do for most people. So, if you tie right over right both times, a granny knot is the result. It's easy to tell the difference, since the granny knot will not have the two rope ends together on the left and right. See in the image here how a granny knot looks when done.

How It's Tied
Square Knot
right over left, then left over right OR left over right, then right over left
Granny Knot
right over right, then right over right OR left over left, then left over left

Sealing Rope Ends

When a natural rope is cut, the end can be sealed by tying and taping the end. To do this, tape the end before you make a new cut to prevent fraying of rope. Just use a sticky tape that will stay put, tape the spot that you are going to cut, and cut in the middle of the tape section.

With synthetic fiber rope, heat is usually applied to melt the ends to prevent future fraying. This is as simple as using a match or lighter to slowly and carefully heat the rope ends until the fibers melt together. Let it cool in a safe place and you're all set.

Learning New Knots

It's a good idea to have an inventory of knots in your head for when you really need them. Now that you know how to tie a square knot and how simple this knot really is, you have a new option available.

Remember, use it only when the ropes will remain taut and tie it correctly to avoid a granny knot, and you can use this technique with confidence.


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    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thanks! You did it. My camp counselors could never show me how to get a square knot and not a granny knot. That was 40 years ago! Now, I have acquired a new life skill to go with my white hair. :) Voted up and useful.

    • pisces4ever profile image

      Pisces 4 years ago from Pakistan

      Very Very Informative

    • jashmiw profile image

      jashmiw 4 years ago from Mumbai

      I had learnt it when I was in School. Had completely forgotten it. Thanks for this post. It reminded me of my school days.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      Not a bad idea to be sure of what knots we need and what knots we do not need! Congrats on the Hub of the Day award for this neat look at the reef or square knot and its uses.

    • ComfortB profile image

      Comfort Babatola 4 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

      Congrats on winning the HOTD award. Tie these knots was onw of the things learned as a girls scout/guide. Great hub.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Congratualtions on the HOTD. We use the square knot when securing triangular bandages for first aid. It's easy to use and easy to untie.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 4 years ago from Florida

      Congrats on HOTD. My Daddy taught me how to make knots when I was a child, and I was always glad I knew how. Everyone should know how to make these knots.

      Voted UP.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Congrats on HOTD! Well done illustrations.

      I taught outdoor skills to troop leaders when my kids were in Girl Scouts, in addition to having troops and teaching the girls. Your chart with the methods is helpful; we had a similar saying, but took it further, in a rhyme, to help the kids remember:

      "Right over left, then left over right

      Makes the knot neat and tidy and tight."

      Voted up, interesting and useful.

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 4 years ago from Oregon

      Nice easy to follow instructions and pictures for this standard knot people should know how to tie.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 4 years ago from New Jersey

      My husband talks every now and then about how he learned to tie different knots in the boy scouts and then when he got older as a volunteer firefighter. I think it would be useful if someone offered a quick class on different types of knots and hot to tie them. I could actually use this kind of knot to tie herbs together loosely.

    • wqaindia profile image

      Ashok Goyal 4 years ago from 448 Dalima Vihar Rajpura 140401 Punjab India

      To tie such a tag is very common in India. But with the passage of time the public is forgetting the techniques. The Hub on the issue has certainly preserved the rich trick to tie reef knot or square knot. This knot can never open/loosen by itself and it will get strengthened when used to pull wight.

    • Wonder wool profile image

      Priyanka Estambale 4 years ago from United States

      This is interesting! Detailed illustrations of the knot!

      Congrats on Hub of the day!