Traditionally, the Monkey’s Fist was a knot used in sailing as a heaving line. Sailors would tie a Monkey’s Fist at the end of a docking line so they could more easily throw the line to someone on a dock. I’ve created a Flickr set with pictures I took as I tied a Monkey’s Fist. I’ve included notes on each picture, so it’s better to click on the individual pictures instead of using the slideshow. Each stage of the knot has a frontal picture, and the more complicated turns also have side views. The Monkey’s Fist is a challenging knot to tie because it has a couple stages where the only thing holding the knot together is your hand. The shape of the knot also changes as you tighten it up. Even after tying several dozen of these knots, I still get some strange looking ones occasionally. The Monkey’s Fist is a little different than normal knots that you tie day to day. When you tie a box knot or an overhand knot, the idea is to make it as tight as possible. Those knots won’t hold if they’re not tight. The Monkey’s Fist relies on geometry and the small frictions between all those strands to keep it together.
Using a quality rope will improve your chances dramatically. You need to pass a working loop through some tight places. A quality nylon rope has a softer quality that lets it slide instead of getting stuck.
There are two stages to tying the Monkey’s Fist. First, you assemble the knot into a loose ball, then you tighten the ball into the knot’s final form. It’s easier to understand the different loops by following the pictures in the Flickr set. The challenge of the first stage is to maintain the shape of the knot when there is no friction holding it together. You have to keep everything in place with your hand.
In the second stage of tying the knot, it’s very important not to over tighten. A good example would be shoe laces. When you pull on your shoelaces, you tighten up all the bends down to your toes. A Monkey’s Fist is similar, When you tighten one loop in the knot, you’re tightening the whole knot a little at the same time. Instead of making each loop as tight as possible, you just need to make it snug. As you pass the working loop through the knot, the whole knot gets firmer. If you make the knot too tight at the beginning, it will reach its final hardness before you’ve passed the loop all the way through the knot, and you’ll wind up with a dog tug toy.
Since I lost control of my Flickr account, I’ve been slowing recompiling a new account on Flickr. I had this set on my old account, but I don’t think it’s available on the web anymore.