A half-hitch is so simple that it's hard to believe it's a knot

Tying Half Hitches

by Lily Morris

Tying Half Hitches

Genevieve Jacobs

The skillful tying of a knot looks like magic, but it is no more magical than the deft wielding of a chef’s knife, the dance of hands on udders while milking, or the flick of the wrist that lands a fisherman’s fly precisely in the right eddy; it simply takes practice. And not all knots are even that complicated to learn. The half hitch is the kind of knot that makes you wonder if it’s even a real knot—it’s that simple. Better yet, it’s incredibly versatile.

As a family of knots, hitches are used to tie a piece of rope to something else; they won’t stand on their own like the loop of a bowline will. The half hitch is the simplest hitch, and often it is made “slippery” by pulling only a bight (loop) of line through, like you were tying a bow. (See illustration on the right.) That way, it’s quick and easy to untie.

On the farm, a slippery half hitch is used frequently, and its “quick release” feature can really make a difference when you are dealing with animals that have a tendency to get spooked. With a quick tug on the tail of the rope, the knot easily comes undone. You can also use a slippery half hitch to tie open the henhouse door, or to finish off the lashing on a bundle of fencing. Start with a bowline, wrap the twine around the bundle, and tie it off tightly with a half hitch made through the bowline’s loop. A series of half hitches can also be used to truss up a leg of lamb before roasting it, the same way you would lash the foot of a sail to the boom.

When you need a bit more permanence, combine a round turn with a couple of half hitches, and you get a whole new knot. Just the other day, my friend used this knot to tie up a hammock for her son to play in while we made lacto-fermented ’kraut. At first she tied just a couple of half hitches, but they slipped a little. Starting with a round turn did the trick.

The round turn and two half hitches has the additional benefit of working well with a rope that is under strain. The friction of the round turn adds extra control and is great in situations when you are lifting lumber or other heavy things and need a tag line to keep them from swinging around. The round turn holds the strain while you tie or untie the half hitches. For the same reason, it’s also a useful knot for lashing anything down. Once the lashing is tight, all you have to do is keep a palm or thumb on the turn to hold the tension while you tie the half hitches. This knot will seldom jam, but the round turn will cinch down around whatever you tie it to, so don’t use it as a make-shift dog leash, for example. To prevent denting whatever you are tying the knot to, sometimes it’s wise to add a piece of canvas or leather beneath it as chafing gear.

The old adage “if you can’t tie a knot, tie a lot” usually does not make for a great strategy, but in the case of the round turn and two half hitches, the use of an extra round turn or half hitch in the right place can make all the difference.