Rope Preparation and Care – New and improved!

May 8, 2007 at 12:07 am (how-to)

Occasionally, people ask me how I prepare and care for the rope I use…


How is my hemp rope treated? I use a 10-step process.

0. Presoak – I soak the rope in hot water from the tap for a few minutes. I usually do this twice. This  makes it stink less in the laundry room. If you don’t care about stinking up the laundry room, you can skip this step.

1. Wash – I wash the rope in a standard washing machine with hot water and a small amount (1/4 of a normal load’s) of non-scented detergent. Then I wash it again with no detergent. This removes debris and dirt from the factory, and gets rid of much of the grassy smell that can be overwhelming during the boiling.

2. Boil – I simmer the rope overnight in a large pot, making sure that I watch it simmer over steady heat for 3 hrs or more before I go to sleep. The total boil should be at least 9 hrs – these days I usually go for 12 hrs. There is no need to stir the pot. In the summer I get a $10 single electric burner from Walgreen’s and do it outside. In the winter I do it indoors. In the morning, I turn off the heat and let the pot cool on it’s own.

3. Tumble dry – I dry the rope in a gas dryer, emptying the lint filter about 1/2 way thru the first cycle (there’s a lot of lint). It usually takes two runs (90min) of a coin-operated dryer. If the rope seems stiff, it is not fully dry. If so, I will hang it up for a day to finish drying, or run it thru the dryer some more. You will often hear people say to avoid putting rope in a tumble dryer — they are wrong, however, never put oiled rope in a dryer on a heated setting.

4. Pull – I pull the rope hard over a sharp metal bar. Other people use a cut hardwood log (do not repeatedly slide rope over a live tree, you will hurt the tree) or a length of “raw” rope. This breaks up the fibers inside the rope, softens the outside of the rope, and stretches the rope back out, as it is probably shrunk and springy from the boil and wash.

5. Singe – I run the rope over a flame, a gas stove is best. The idea is to burn off a great deal of the fuzz and straw-y pieces that are sticking out of the rope. This is never a 100% process, there will always be some fuzz on your rope.

6. Wash – repeat step 1 to get rid of the soot from the singe.

7. Tumble dry – repeat step 3

8. Pull – repeat step 4. If you feel the rope still has some give, stretch it some more… hard.

9. Oil – I oil the rope for the same reason I’d oil fine wood furniture. To preserve it and protect it. The type of oil, and how much I use, gives me a fine control over how much “tooth” (hold) the rope has. Too little tooth, and knots will slip, too much, and it will be hard to work and might jam when it should slide.
There are two “oils” I might use to treat rope:

  • Mink oil is very popular. The main disadvantage of Mink oil is that it is made from real minks, and it is not very fun for the minks to give it up. :( Pure mink oil is ridiculously expensive, and what is sold as Mink oil in shoe stores might be 10% mink oil. The rest is probably rendered pig fat (eh,) mineral oil (semi-ok,) or other petrochemicals (maybe not so OK.)
  • Jojoba extract is not a typical vegetable oil, it is actually a liquid wax. All vegetable oils will go rancid and sticky, even nut oils. Boiled vegetable oils cure stiff. Jojoba extract does not go rancid or stiff, and has a very pleasant, slightly sweet woody smell.

I saturate a 4″x4″ piece of rough woven cloth with the oil, then run it over ~25′ of rope. Re-saturate it, and run it in the other direction. Then I run the rope thru my bare hands to really massage the oil in. Be careful to not goop too much oil on the ends of the rope, but don’t worry about making it perfectly even, and capillary action will distribute the oil well. I usually do this twice (mink) or three times (Jojoba,) wait a few hours or a day, and do it one last time.

10. Whip – I cut the rope to it’s final size and whip the ends of the rope with hemp twine in a “Sail-makers whipping.” Good instructions are here: http://www.animatedknots.com/sailmakers/index.php
How do I care for my rope?

I store my rope in a breathable bag in a cool dry place, or I hang it on the wall away from direct sunlight. If the rope gets dirty I wash it in a regular washing machine, and tumble dry on no heat. (Do not dry rope in a heated dryer if it has been oiled.)

I re-oil my rope (see step 9 above) one coat when I fell it needs it, or three to four coats if I’ve washed it.

Since washing and re-oiling rope is time consuming, I reserve single pieces of rope for “wet” play with special partners.

I continuously inspect my rope for wear and damage.

Where do I get rope and rope care products?

I buy my raw rope from Rawganique.com . They sell hemp clothing and hemp food products. They are not a rope company, but their rope is great quality from long fibered Hungarian hemp. (There are many sub-species of Hemp, and not all make good rope. In addition, the plants can be turned into fiber either with with chemicals or by mechanical means. Chinese and Canadian hemp is generally used for paper and tends to be chemically pulped, whereas hemp for cloth or rope should be mechanically pulped.)

Twisted monk is, as far as I know, the best vendor of prepared rope. He ships on time, and has excellent customer service, and a great website at http://www.twistedmonk.com/ .

I get whipping needles and hemp twine from Jo-Ann Fabrics. The twine I use is a 20lb gauge, and the needle comes in a $1.79 package of “7 repair needles” from a company called Dritz.

Mink oil is available at most good shoe stores or cobblers. Be warned that “mink oil compound” could be almost anything. Open the package and smell it. If it smells like paint thinner or gasoline, it’s not good. It should also run free at room temperature, if it is congealed, it will be hard to use.

Jojoba extract is available from soap-making stores and websites.

23 Comments

  1. pmheart6 said,

    I was just wondering if any of the steps are required or not.
    I bought some 6mm rope from Rawganique.com. This rope is already pretty flexible and does not feel rough. This has some strand ends/fuzz sticking out, but they are not scratchy.

    Nothing like some 8mm I bought through a local store a year ago. That was stiff and scratchy.

    I am guessing just oil it up and go with it?

    Thanks

  2. mikewest said,

    Hey, if it works for you, go with it! Some people like the “country style” rope.

    I would suggest taking 2-3 feet as a sample and at least throwing it in the wash a few times with your other laundry. Make sure to stretch it out after each wash, and run it over a bar at the very end.

    Compare that to you less processed rope and see which you like better

  3. The Epic Hemp Rope Treatment Video said,

    […] Mike West’s Rope Preparation and Care […]

  4. Hemp rope? « Spokewench’s said,

    […] cute lady named Fivestar in it who made a comment about being tied to her bike!!) of following instructions from Mike West regarding the processing of rope. Other than the awesome host of the video, I really […]

  5. culinaryarts said,

    how much rope do you tend to finish at a time? i’m guessing it doesn’t make a great deal of difference as far as the instructions are concerned, but I’m wondering how much rope will get dry from 90 minutes in a tumble-drier. also, do you put it in any sort of mesh bag during that time to stop it unravelling?

    • mikewest said,

      I usually do 3-4.5KG or raw rope at a time, spit amongst 3-4 mesh bags. different driers are totally different in terms of drying time, but 90min in a commercial dryer will dry 6KG of raw rope, probably.

  6. zanshinhabit said,

    Thank you for the instructions they have proved quite helpful. I followed the directions to the point of oiling the rope and now I find that I don’t care for the smell of jojoba and hemp. It smells like green olives to me. Have you ever tried useing mineral oil with an added essential oil? I am considering a lightly scented blend with bergamont of Lemmon grass. Any suggestions?

    • mikewest said,

      I think mineral oil feels too heavy. But everybody has their own preference. Some even use vaseline. I know a few people add essential oils, I have no direct experience with them. Again, I would test a small section first.

      My jojoba oil is pretty oderless. Where did you get it? Sounds to me like you were hoodwinked and got olive oil instead.

  7. zanshinhabit said,

    I’ve discovered the error I made. There is a type of jojoba oil available which is clear and deodorized, I purchased the less refined product. I’ve ordered the refined odorless jojoba and essential oils of bergamont, lemmon grass, clary sage, and lavender.

  8. How to cure a rope burn | ZWear said,

    […] Rope Preparation and Care – New and improved! « Tied Out WestThe idea is to burn off a great deal of the fuzz and straw-y pieces that are sticking out of the rope. … There are two “oils” I might use to treat rope: … Boiled vegetable oils cure stiff. Jojoba extract does not go … […]

  9. lilithe said,

    Hi Mike! I was wondering if you have used or heard about using coconut oil on hemp. It doesn’t go rancid like other veggie oils due to being a saturated fat (like animal fats). I would love to use this as the oil to finish some raw hemp rope I was given by someone who had too much (yahoo!!) But I want to be sure this would work. Thanks! – Lilithe

    • mikewest said,

      I’ve never used coconut oil, I fear it might be too heavy. I would say use 3′ as a test, treat it, wait a few days and see if it has the properties you like.

  10. lilithe said,

    Great idea (as I sit here and say ‘duh’ to myself!) I will try it and let you know if you are interested. I’ll do all of the other prep work to My rope and just do a bit with the coconut oil. Thank again! – Lilithe

  11. Emma Kiana said,

    Hi, I wonder if I could use olive oil, but use a light hand and not saturate it. Thanks for the great advice! Emma in Santa Cruz mountains

  12. Hemp rope explorations…. | bdsmforbeginners.com said,

    […] which in turn is based on this Tied Out West page on rope preparation and care […]

  13. Renee Nadeau said,

    i am wondering if there are different qualities of oil. for example, i found some Desert Essence jojoba oil (120ml for 13$) (http://well.ca/products/desert-essence-100-pure-jojoba-oil_10107.html) and i noticed the possibility of swapping mink oil with macademia nut oil and/or sea buckthorn oil (http://toronto.flyerland.ca/products/well-ca-weleda-sea-buckthorn-body-oil-product-6563512) (which both contain the palmitoleic acid that mink oil has)…can i substitute these in my rope care? and are there differnet qualities of macademia nut oil ( this one is 16 oz for 23$) http://well.ca/products/now-foods-macadamia-nut-oil_19746.html)? i remember seeing some for cooking at Essence of Life in Kensington market in Toronto….
    finally i found organic mink oil spray (i guess recommemnded for hair care) at 12$ for 12 0z….but online so i can’t sniff it to know…. (http://well.ca/products/bio-groom-mink-oil-spray_38895.html)
    thanks! (sorry so many questions)

    • mikewest said,

      really your best bet is jojoba oil from trader joes. all nut oils and vetable oils will go rancid, and the quality of animal fat oils in the US is dubious.

  14. Missjennie Lovesrope said,

    Do you think it is better to store jute or hemp rope over long periods in the northern parts of the USA? Which rope is stronger to withstand the elements?

  15. Got Rope? Get Jute Rope for beautiful bondage. | Kink, etc… said,

    […] your rope including boiling and conditioning it. A wonderful site to learn how to process rope is Tied Out West. On their blog they share step by step how to completely process natural ropes. However, when it is […]

  16. Bill Byers said,

    Hard job washing 150ft of 3/4 inch manila in a standard washing machine. But, if working with it, the rope got muddy or dirty (which ever sound alright for you) then it gets hosed clean, and lightly coiled and hung to dry. I didnt recall using an “oil” to refinish the line. I had never seen it done. I do have some Jojoba oil and will use it.
    This 150 ft line was purchased about 1930. Could be older. Has a single and a double sheave block and was used in tree work in the 30’s and 40’s.
    Possibly was bought in 1938 after the hurricane knocked flat some and lodged some large pine.

  17. Sasha y Leon (@ParSeriaCCS) said,

    Hello, I’m on the step 3 of preparin my rope for my shibari practices, and I was wondering and not understanding what is the step 4 really for? and how is it done, do you have any pictures or can point to some? why do I would want to break up the fibers inside the rope, would that not make it less ressistent and more prone to break on loads? thanks for your answers

  18. Mike Palan said,

    i was looking to oil an old hemp rope i got out of a barn. i was going to use it for a rope to swing out into the lake . the rope will be out in the elements hopefully for years idont care what it smells like.

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