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.