Fraying Rope? How to Cut and Finish Natural and Synthetic Cordage

Whatever the reason,  sometimes rope just needs to be cut. Whether cutting a rope to the desired length or preventing rope from fraying, the one thing everyone wants to avoid is unraveling or loose ends. Not all ropes can be finished the same. So, how do you cut and finish rope of any material to perfection?

Let’s Start at the Beginning!

There are specific terms that describe aspects of cutting and “finishing” rope ends.  Splicing is one of the ways that rope ends are finished to avoid separation or unraveling of rope. Splicing is defined as the joining of two ends of yarn, strands, or cordage by intertwining or inserting these ends into the body of the product.  Back-splicing means to braid the ends of a rope back into the twisted rope to secure the ends. Sealing is when you melt the ends of a synthetic rope to avoid the separation of the fibers.  All of these methods will help to keep your rope from fraying.

The List Goes On -- Rope Terminology 

We could talk all day about rope terms, but the important information is how to cut and finish a rope so the ends do not come apart and your can stop your rope from fraying.  

First, you must determine the type of rope you are trying to cut and finish.  Natural twisted ropes should be finished or joined together by splicing or back-splicing.  Twisted or braided synthetic ropes are typically finished by sealing unless it is a kernmantle rope and has a sheath and inner core. Kernmantle rope can be joined using the “Manny Method”.

Natural Fibers & Back-splicing

Back-splicing is simple and very effective.  It also doesn’t require any materials other than the rope itself, and it doesn’t affect the tensile strength of the rope.

To execute a back splice:

  1. Unravel some of your twisted rope’s end. It depends on how much of your rope you want to secure back into the rope.  Two or three tucks is all that is really required to produce a secure back splice.
  2. Create a crown knot.
  • Separate the three strands so they are each pointing away from the rest of the rope.
  • Take one strand and place it counterclockwise over the adjacent strand.
  • Take the strand that you crossed over with the first strand and place it counterclockwise over both of the other strands.
  • The last strand’s end will go through the loop created by the first strand.
  • Tighten the knot – this should create a triangle at the end of the rope.
  1. Take one end and go over the strand nearest to that end, then under the strand nearest to that.
  2. Take the next strand, go over the strand nearest to that end, and under the next nearest strand.
  3. Take the last strand, go over the strand nearest to that end, and under the next strand nearest to that.
  4. Repeat this part of the process until the ends are completely braided back into the rope.   

The below video on how to make a dog leash with twisted cotton rope is a great example of back-splicing.

Splicing Natural Fiber Ropes to Join Them Using Electrical Tape

To cut and seal the ends of a synthetic rope you will need paper masking tape or electrical tape, scissors (EMT/medical shears are recommended especially to cut larger diameter ropes), and a lighter (a torch lighter may be preferable but not a necessity). While adhesive tape is the least attractive option for finishing rope and is also unacceptable on finished craftwork, it is used a lot in preparatory stages as an easy alternative to whipping.

Alternatively, tie a pair of strangle or constrictor knots , one on either side of where the cut is to be made and cut in the center. 

CAUTION: Be careful when using this technique that you do not burn yourself on the flame or the melted fibers of the cord before they cool.

  1. Loop the electrical tape or paper masking (duct tape could work, too!) tape around the rope very tightly.  
  2. Cut the rope in the middle of the masking tape to the desired length.
  3. Using the lighter's flame, burn the end of the rope (the tape will probably catch fire, just shake it out). 
  4. Allow the rope to cool entirely.
  5. Remove the tape from around the rope to expose the new end of your synthetic rope.

The video below is a great example of melting the ends of synthetic rope to seal the ends.

Ropeworkers and riggers widely practice heating and sealing rope ends. There is no need to tape or tie heat-sealed ends. Rope manufacturers like Ravenox use electrically heated guillotines to cut-and-seal the ropes and cords we sell. The average rope user doesn't need one of these heat cutters so a lighter or match would work just as well on small cords. For larger diameter ropes, or to cut-and-seal a batch of strands, heat the blade of an old penknife in the blue flame of a blow torch until the tip and edge glow cherry-red. Pause to re-heat it every few seconds for a clean and fast cut. Nylon ropes melt, drip and burn with whitish smoke and a smell said to resemble fish or celery; it may even flash into a small flame. Polyester ropes melt, drip and burns with a dense black smoke and a smell like mushrooms. Polypropylene and polyethylene ropes react at lower temperatures, shrinking rapidly away from the source of heat. It is possible to pinch the soft heated ends to a point, rolling them between a forefinger and thumb, before they harden, but take care to wet your fingertips first or it may cause a burn and blister. A cord that appears to be synthetic but actually chars and even ignites without melting, is probably made from rayon, which comes from wood pulp.

Joining Kernmantle Ropes Using the Manny Method

When joining two solid braid ropes it is best to use the “Manny Method” because this is the most durable method. The melting method mentioned earlier will not work if you have two different materials of solid braid rope since they will not melt together. This will result in the rope fraying and coming apart.    

To use the “Manny Method” you will need:

  • EMT/Medical Shears
  • A sharp lacing needle.
  • Lighter
  • And the cords you want to join.

To join two ropes together using this method follow the simple instructions below.

  1. Cut the ends of the cords that you want to join.
  2. Pull the inner strands out a little bit and cut those off as well.
  3. Pull the outer sheath over the inner threads.
  4. Burn the ends of the sheath to make sure they don’t fray.
  5. Using the opposite end of one of the ropes, attach a lacing needle to the end of the rope that was not cut or burned.
  6. Pierce the end that was cut/burned of the other rope with the lacing needle.
  7. Pull the end through the pierced rope until there is about 1 inch of the rope being pulled through at the end (this is the most difficult part of the process keeping the rope attached to the lacing needle attached without it popping off).
  8. Pierce the other rope and repeat the process with the other rope.
  9. Pull both ends of the ropes and tighten.  

Keeping Rope from Fraying: What is Whipping?

Whipping rope is when you place a whipping knot at the end of the rope so it does not fray. There are a few different types of whipping.

The simplest method of whipping is called Common Whipping and is suitable for both three-strand and braided rope. It can be used to stop the end of a rope from fraying, or to make a mark at any point on a rope. When finishing a Common Whipping, it may be helpful to use a Marlingspike Hitch to pull on the short end so that the whipping twine does not cut into the hand. 

Half-hitch knots are used in the French Whipping method to create a very tight whipping, with each turn locked off from the one before. The half hitches are tied in the same direction to create a decorative spiral effect. A French Whipping, or the more elaborate alternative, the Moku Whipping, can be made around tool handles for a good grip. 

Sailmaker's Whipping give the most secure finish to the end of a length of three-strand rope. It has the appearance of a Palm and Needle Whipping, but it can be made without a needle or a palm. Even though it is not stitched onto the rope, if made carefully it will neither slide off the end of the rope, nor will it easily unravel. When making this whipping, take care to maintain the lay of the rope. 

One method is the Palm and Needle Whipping method. Favored by riggers and sailmakers, the Palm and Needle Whipping requires a palm to protect the hand, and a needle threaded with the whipping twine. Palm and Needle Whipping works well on braided rope with a core since it locks the core of the rope to its out layers. The frapping turns need to lie as flat as possible in order to avoid unnecessary wear. When using the Palm and Needle Whipping method on three-strand rope the frapping turns are laid along the grooves of the rope.

Another method of rope whipping is West Country Whipping. This method consists of a series of overhand knots and works particularly well around the end of large-diameter rope and cable. Work back from the end of the rope so that the finished knot will not work loose.

There you have it, a nice and tidy whipping knot.

End of the Rope - Finishing Up

Fraying cordage is not a difficult problem to fix. There are specific ways that are best for finishing different kinds of ropes.  Depending on the fiber, one can choose the best way to cut and finish or join two ropes.  While some options don’t require tools and other techniques do, they are all pretty simple.  Now you can prevent your rope from fraying and have nice, neat finished rope.

Cordage & Rope Cotton Rope Dog Leashes Macrame Nautical Polyester Rope Polypropylene Rope Twisted Cotton Rope

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