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!"