Types of Rope

You can save money and handle homestead towing and tying tasks more safely if you know the different types of rope.

| May/June 1981

069 types of rope - main view

Seven types of rope, from left to right: three-strand nylon, braided nylon, three-strand polypropylene manila imitation, three-strand polypropylene, three-strand manila, three-strand sisal, and three-strand cotton.


Over the last 20 years, the once simple act of picking out and using a length of rope has become pretty complicated: A profusion of new synthetic lines has joined the natural varieties on hardware store shelves, forcing baffled buyers to choose among well over a dozen combinations of fiber and twisting style.

Of course, each of the numerous ropes available are better suited for some tasks than others, and the material that a cord is made of will likely require specific care. So we decided that it might be helpful to describe several of the more common types of rope and tell you what they're good for, as well as what steps should be taken to get the maximum life from each.

Twisting the Right-A-Way

In its most simple form, rope consists of long fibers that are first twisted (usually in a clockwise fashion) to form yarns. Then a number of the wound strings are spun together, in the opposite direction, to yield strands ... which are in turn twisted back in a right-hand direction (in groups of three) to make "hawser-laid" rope.

The combination of these counterdirectional twists gives the finished cord more strength than that of the individual fibers composing it, since the friction between the fibers, yarns, and strands increases the line's resistance to stretch. Furthermore, the winding process prevents the material from unraveling. (In fact, if you take a good piece of three-strand rope and attempt to untwist it in the middle, you'll notice that, after about one quarter-turn, it vigorously resists unwinding.)

There are, however, a number of other ways to "lay-up" a rope. Although they are somewhat rare, it's possible to locate left-hand-laid three-strand ropes, and even four-strand ropes. But braiding is by far the most common of the alternative twist techniques. It's accomplished by weaving eight (or more) strands together in a "diamond" pattern and produces a rope that's very flexible, doesn't tend to curl, and stretches even less than does a twisted rope made of the same material and of equal diameter. (Not surprisingly, braided—sometimes called plaited—line's superior qualities result in its having the highest average price tag of all ropes.)

Synthetic vs. Natural

From a utilitarian point of view, synthetic rope has a number of advantages over natural fiber rope. For a given diameter, they are stronger, more resistant to most types of decay, and only slightly more expensive than the nonsynthetics.

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!