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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2002
THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS (c.1944) by Clifford W. Ashley, is the definitive reference work on knots, splices, and ropework in general. Born in 1881 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Clifford W. Ashley was an antique dealer and artist, who spent eleven years writing his magnum opus, THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS, and died three years after its 1944 publication.
In his pursuit of ropework, Mr. Ashley spent six months at sea on the whaling bark SUNBEAM; and six weeks on a Delaware Bay oysterman called a 'bugeye'. He interviewed tradesmen, such as: steeplejacks, cobblers, truckdrivers, butchers, electric linesmen, and boyscouts as well as sailors and sea captains to document each nuance of knot unique to its trade. He was taught a few knots by Mr. Ringling himself of circus fame; and taught a knot to Mr. DuPont, a captain of industry.
The result of Mr. Ashley's research was a significant collection of 7,000 drawings of 3,900 knots and their application in a 620 page knot tyers tome which has become a veritable bible for rope workers the world over. In just about any capacity that a rope can be utilized has found its way into THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS. Mr. Ashley has covered: netting, lashings, block & tackle, splices, hitches, and bends. He went from purely decorative knots with no practical value to knots applied to industrial use. He included a whole chapter on rope tricks and puzzles. There is an amusing catalog of small figures the author drew to rate the quality of each knot described, such as a deuce of clubs to designate 'unimportance', or an kedge anchor to indicate 'reliability'.
Equally important as the knot's description was their utilization on incidental equipment. Mr. Ashley fortuitously included a description of a rope's application on fairleads, belaying pins, H-bitts, cleats, thumb-cleats, fife rails, pin rails, pin racks, and timberheads; as well as escoteric equipment such as euphroe blocks and crows foots.
The book also includes the important distinction between the kevel (or cavil) and the quarter cleat. The glossary in the back makes another refinement by distinguishing the knot from the sinnet, splice, hitch, and bend. Thus clearing up any misassumptions in knot application (such as that Knot Theory is a branch of pure mathematics and has nothing to do with Knot Tying!) - THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS settles any disputes in nomenclature.
The only short-coming to this significant work is that the drawings are unclear and vague in some instances, making it impossible to tye a knot in the example given. The book is dated in respect to splicing modern power braids such as Liquid Crystal Polymer, Spectra, or Kevlar; and makes no mention of the type of knot or splice found in an Astronaut's tether.
Still this can be tolerated in view of the wealth of information and history on knots, splices, and rope contained within its pages. And THE ASHLEY BOOK OF KNOTS has gained a further importance in its power of verification. For when some nimrod claims to have invented a new knot or splice, immediately the universal response is: "Just look it up in Ashley's!"
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2002
If I were to have to chose a book to be the Bible of knot tying this one is it. It covers many of the aspects of Marlinspike Seamanship and just about anything knot tying you might ever be interested in.
There may be books with easier to follow directions for different knots, but this one is relatively concise and once you puzzle out how his nomenclature works you are well on your way to tying just about any knot in the book.
This book is expensive but is well worth the price. It is a main stay of my personal reference library.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2015
Not necessarily the book for you if you want clear step-by-step illustrations of frequently used knots but if you're knotty and want to understand the range of different knots within their almost-extinct fields of use it is a fascinating read. It is a key reference for knots and other books often refer to the Ashley number for particular knots.

Another factor is that it was written for traditional ropes so the knots aren't always suitable for modern ropes so care needs to be taken to ensure the suitability for use - particularly if you are a climber!

In a nutshell this book is best for fans of knotting who want to know as many kinds of knots as possible or gain understanding of the history of ropework.
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on June 30, 2001
This book is the fruit of a live passion for knot tying; it contains approximately 3900 knots, sinnets and splices accompanied with individual explanations and 7000 drawings.
The involvement of Mr. Ashley with knots began as he relates, in his early childhood when his two uncles that were whaling captains taught him the first lessons in knot tying, after this he began the gathering and practical study of every kind of knot that crossed his path. The result is this imposing book that took him 11 years to finish.
The book presents in an organized way knots of general utility, and others that are used in more particular circumstances as fishing or camping. You can find and discover scores of very interesting uses for knots from simple ornamental to practical and useful purposes. The sections that I enjoyed the most are the one about occupational knots and the section about tricks and puzzles, one can spend hours and hours navigating through the book that is so full of interesting details and curiosities.
If you are like me a beginner in knot tying, you could find some of the illustrations and directions a little difficult to follow at first, but I can assure you that if you keep trying, in a short time you will get the knack of it, and you will agree with the author when he says: "To me the simple act of tying a knot is an adventure in unlimited space."
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on November 16, 2000
For anyone wanting to know more than the very basics, Ashley is a must: an absolute best. No one has ever done it better, and this is the standard reference work.
There are a handful of modern knots that aren't here in this edition, but that's very minor quibbling. The only people that will care about this, are people who will absolutely need Ashley's book in any case!
For the person wanting to get started, while he or she may soon find the need for Ashley's book, there is so much information that overload is bound to occur. I'd recommend "The Handbook of Knots" by Des Pawson for the beginner who doesn't want to put that much effort into it and wants a fast start. But as Ashley pointed out as his reason for having only one book, instead of also having a simplified book, the fact is that even children who were really interested in the subject proved themselves able to make even the most complex knots from his complete book, so he felt no need for a simpler book. If you have that degree of interest, then indeed you need nothing else, but if you're looking for quick, easy, yet everything you need to know to get going pretty well, then some of the smaller books are better choices (and I think the above-mentioned Pawson book is best.)
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on June 6, 2000
...if you have a genuine love for knots. My fascination with knots grew out of years spent as a stage hand, where it was a necessity to know how to tie a bowline, a clove hitch, the occassional trucker's hitch, and of course knots tied on the bight when you're sixty feet above the stage having to tie off a 100' rope to the grid.
I would probably guess that 99% of people who know knots have learned them from others, who in turn have inherited their knowledge from someone else. It's a tradition, that's how I learned. In this day and age though, where for all practical purposes the art of knot tying is dying (if it is not already room temperature), _The Ashley Book of Knots_ is keeping that tradition alive, even though it may have been published well over 50 years ago. The drawings aren't always the clearest (it does help to have some knowledge of knot tying in hand when reading the book), but they are sufficient and with enough time and perseverance, the knots are doable. On the other hand, while it is one thing to know how a knot is tied, it is another to know its history and practical use. And that is where this voluminous book shines. As far as historical archives are concerned, this is one of the best, if not THE best, and you will want to have it in your bathroom... err, your library.
Highly recommended.
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on December 12, 1999
Clifford Ashley takes you to the heart and soul of knotting.
The magic of the intertwining of line was a passion to this man -- and that passion can infect you, if you're susceptible.
In the course of his descriptions of knots, he takes us through some of the history of knotting -- his references go back to the 1700's. Mainly, this art is descended from the square-rigger seafaring trade. Mr. Ashley knows the language of these sailors.
Although written in the first half of the 20th century, this is still THE authoratative book on knots.
Thousands of knots, thousands of pictures. Knots, from practical hard-working specimens, to purely decorative; to even a few useless knots. Self-illustrated with occasional bytes of humor.
This is "the" book if you have a love of knotting; if knotting is a part of who you are.
However, if all you want is to quickly learn a few knots for very practical reasons, you'd probably be better off with one of the more modern knotting books, which usually have clearer explanations for the layman, replete with pretty color photos. Newer texts would also have recently-invented knots, such as the amazing icicle knot.
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on October 22, 1998
Ashley's book is the bible of knots. If it's a real knot that somebody in the world uses it's in here. He covers all known knots* and some other rope crafts as well. I've been looking at every knot book I can lay my hands on and virtually all of them are contained in this book.
Three Bad Points: 1) It's a whopper of a book; not something to be carried around with you on a camping trip or such.
2) Many of the drawings and descriptions are a bit unclear or edited down to bare minimum. He mentions this in the opening. He chose to do this in favor of having the desciptions and drawings of each knot on the same page rather than a whole page of instructions and the knot itself on the next page. Many of the desciptions are so short and concise that only an expert will be able to figure out what he's talking about.
3) He considers making a knot a different way or using it for something else to be a brand new knot and adds it to the book. For example the Constrictor Knot, The Miller's Knot and The Bag Knot are the exact same thing but it's three knots in the book because it's used by three different professions.
Still....there's enough here to satisfy ANYBODY!
Over all though a 10 out of 10. Five stars!
* British and American knots anyway. There are no doubt some Chinese or Japanese knots that he never found out about. It would be impossible to write a book containing EVERY known anything you know.
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As a hunter, camper, and outdoors columnist, I am constantly called upon to use various bits of ropework as I go about the day's activities. I thought I had a fair bit of knowledge on the subject of rope until I read this book. I simply couldn't believe there were so many ways to use the stuff.
If for any reason you have to use rope, you should read this book. If you are interested in macreme, this book is for you. If you like the nautical life, this book is a must-have. If you like braiding, read this book. Even if you're only going on a road trip, this book will show you a dozen ways to lash your luggage down tight.
The section on serving the ends of line to prevent its unraveling is particularly useful to anyone that uses rope a lot. And, if you have to lift heavy loads with a pulley, you'll love the section dedicated to just that jubject. I work around a farm and am always looking for new ways to use rope. Every time I breeze through the pages, I learn something new.
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, carpenters, craftsmen, hobbyists, mariners and historians, this book is for you. I never thought of ropework as an artform but it is. The day I added this title to my library was a good day. I cannot say enough about the Ashley Book of Knots and recommend it without hesitation. Every library should have a copy.
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on July 28, 1996
Today we tie things together with velcro, zippers, tape, and hypertext links. Slip knots, square knots, and granny knots are still tied; but most of us no longer use rope or knots to the extent that our ancestors did. The Ashley Book of Knots takes us back to an earlier time, a time when one's ability to tie many knots was commonplace. The author, Clifford W. Ashley, was born into a sea-faring family in 1881. He worked as a canvasman at a circus, served an apprenticeship in knots aboard a whaling bark, and dedicated over forty years to studying knots. He studied knots used by over 90 occupations including surgeons, butchers, weavers, and sailors. Eleven years were spent writing, researching, and richly illustrating this book of 3900 knots with over 7000 drawings.
The book was first published in 1944. It should be considered an important historical archive. Recently I saw quotes and drawings from The Ashley Book of Knots in E. Annie Proulx's 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Shipping News. Ms. Proulx found a copy of The Ashley Book of Knots in a yard sale for 25 cents. She acknowledged that The Ashley Book of Knots inspired her to write the Shipping News.
Ashley lived to see the death of square-rigged ships, and the decline of knots used by other professions. He carefully illustrated dying and common knots, such as the Spiritsail Sheet Knot, the Cat-o'-nine-tails, and the Department Store Loop. Finally, he organized his instructions and illustrations into 41 chapters. The lasting gift of Ashley is that his work has kept many knots from being forgotten to history. Ashley's knots are available for us to tie and appreciate. Ashley wrote that, "...the simple act of tying a knot is an adventure in unlimited space." This book allows all of us to travel on the adventure.
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