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How to make natural fiber cordage and/or rope for all situations.


This skill is essential for the construction of the bow drill if you want to keep your efforts authentic. You might not always have a handy piece of parachute cord or even a shoe string to make the cordage with so I figured that it would be best to teach you how to make your own cordage using only mother nature's supplies. Once you learn this technique, you will be able to make small diameter string, medium sized cordage, and even large diameter rope using your natural surroundings without the use of modern tools or materials.

Making cordage from natural fibers is actually pretty easy once you learn the trick. The first thing you need to do is find some suitable (dry, strong, and long) fibers. Anything will work even if the fibers are only a couple inches long. You can use inner bark from trees, weed stalk fibers, leaf fibers (cattails, yucca, palm...), roots, vines, or even your own hair. Just try what ever you have around you, something will work.

As for using the inner bark lining of dead trees, make a cut lengthwise down the entire length of a straight stick and peel around the outside of the stick to separate the bark from the wood. You want to end up with a "scroll" of bark in best case scenarios. However, that usually never happens, so, what you need to do is take the bark chunks and, bending towards the inner bark, crack the outer bark so it separates from itself and peel away the smaller chunks of outer bark away from the inner fibers. Now roll the fibers in between your hands until the rest of the chaff falls off (or at least most of it). Once you are happy with the fibers, put those fibers in a pile and go out and gather a lot more... A LOT MORE!

As for using live tree bark, instead of bending and peeling away the outer bark, use the following technique which is used for live plant stalks as well.

To use live plant stalk fibers, gather all the stringiest plants you can find. Get a bundle of them in your hand and put a "club" in the other. Pound the weed stalks over a log with a blunt stick until you see the fibers separating. Separate the fibers into single strands if you can. Try to allow them to dry a bit before you use them if you can.

As for using dead plant stalk fibers, gather all the stringiest dead plants you can find and make a bundle out of them. Soak them in water until they bend without breaking. Once they are pliable you can start separating the fibers by wringing, bending, twisting, and rolling them in your hands, and manually work the fibers until the non-fiberous chaff crumbles away and you are left with long fibers. Test a few of the fibers and try to pick the strongest ones and the longest ones.

As for using leaf material to make cordage, follow the above steps for either live or dead plant stalk fibers depending on the condition of the leaves you are intending to use. Generally, tree leaves don't work. The leaf material I'm talking about is from the long leaf plants such as the agave, yucca, or even a palm tree leaf. The longer the fibers, the easier it is to make your cordage.

As a rule of thumb, the shorter the fibers you start with, the smaller the initial twisted strands will be both in length and in diameter. If you do have to use short fibers, you will need to make a very long length of small diameter cordage to start with. You can use inner bark from trees, weed stalk fibers, leaf fibers and mosses and vines too. Just try what ever you have around you, something will work. The reason you will need to make a very long piece of thin cordage is because you will need to double back the cordage on itself a few times in order to strengthen the bond of the smaller fibers and make the cordage strong enough to withstand the rigors of being used to start a fire. In other words, you might need to make a forty foot piece of cordage if you are starting with strands of short fibers, so when you double it up a few times, you end up with a four or five foot piece of useable cordage. However, you might only need to make a five foot piece of cordage if the fibers are strong enough and long enough naturally. If this is the case, you won't even need to double it back on itself. So, if you can, use the longest fiber strands possible.

When you think you have enough strong dry fibers to make the cordage of proper size (about an eighth of an inch to a quarter of an inch in diameter - depending on materials used and about five feet in length), gather that much fiber again because you probably don't have enough to make the cordage yet. Besides, what you don't use to make the cordage can be used to make the tinder bundle, so, keep gathering fibers as they will not go to waste.

Ok, so you got all the raw fibrous material you will need? Cool, let's get started on the cordage then. Start buy dangling a bundle of fibers from one hand. Tie a single fiber around the bundle of fibers you are going to start working with. This will help insure that the fibers don't come unraveled while you work your way down the cordage. Now, divide the hanging fibers into two equal bunches and start twisting one of them for a few turns or a couple of inches down that set of fibers. Now, while making sure those twists don't come out of that bunch, start twisting the other hanging fibers the exact same direction and as far down as you did with the first one. Now, with both bunches of fibers twisted individually, start twisting them together (around each other) in the opposite direction you twisted them in the first place. Every time you twist the two bunches together, you must re-twist the individual bunches the proper direction too. This keeps the tension correct and keeps the twists tight, compact, and strong. If you can find only short fibers, you will have to splice fibers into the twisted pair of hanging strands as you move down the cordage. This means that you will need to be constantly adding more material every few twists. After twisting your cordage to about the quarter way point (three quarters left untwisted), add some fibers into one side of the raw fibers then about three quarters the way down add some fibers into the other side and keep repeating this for the entire length of the cordage.

After you have twisted about ten feet of cordage of good long fibers (about a sixteenth of an inch in diameter), or about fifty feet of cordage of short fibers (maybe only a few fibers thick), tie off the end you are working with like you did at the beginning so they don't come unraveled. Next, fold the cordage in half in order to find the center of the cordage. Grab the cordage in the center with both hands and give the cordage a twist. If it feels like it is coming apart, twist the other way. When it feels like the cordage is tightening on itself and getting stiffer, twist it in that direction until it coils up on itself and makes a very tight loop (almost like it's trying to knot up on itself). Now, following the method you used to twist the fibers the first time around, do the same thing here. Twist the individual piece of hanging cordage until it feels very tight, then twist the other piece of hanging cordage the same direction, then twist the two together in the opposite direction to make an even larger and even stronger cordage. You can double your cordage as many times as you like (as your supplies permit). You should end up with a cordage about an eighth to a quarter of an inch or so in diameter and about 5 feet long. This will give you plenty of extra length for tying the cordage to the bow.

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