Book Review: The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Ashley
The Ashley Book of Knots
Author: Clifford W. Ashley
Hardcover: 640 pages
Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (June 21, 1944)
Dimensions: 11.1 x 8.6 x 1.6 inches
In a big list of knot books (yes, it will be a big list 8), where can you start but with Ashley's? Once you enter the (anglophone) world of knots you will begin to hear about "Ashley's". It is the "knot bible" they will say. It is the one knot book you should have if you can only have one they will say. It is indeed a great knot book, justly known for it's breadth and depth. Ashley both numbers and names the knots, sometimes when there was no name, just a number. It is such a part of knotting culture, that some will refer to knots by their Ashley number. As such, it is an essential knot tyer's reference with practical and decorative knots as well as most anything else to be done with string.
A note about those numbers, though: the last knot number in the book is 3854, and some will refer to the book as containing 3854 different knots. This is not the case. Ashley was enumerating knots and their uses, so the same knot may be referred to more than once and given more than one number. Also, some Ashley numbers are not knots at all, but concepts or tools (such as #85 to #147). So, while there may be thousands of knots in the book, there are probably not close to 4000. I was surprised that I could not find a straightforward index of Ashley knot numbers (often referred to as ABoK #) and knot names, but I did find a(n incomplete?) database:
One of the things I'd like to do is to list the knots contained in my books, a cross reference-able index. Obviously, I'm not going to start with Ashley's 8). For this venerable tome, I'll stop with the table of contents (which I was also surprised to not be able to find online, especially considering it's availability in a variety of formats, so I had to type it myself).
The Ashley Book of Knots Table of Contents 1. On Knots 2. Occupational Knots 3. Knob Knots. Single-Strand Stopper or Terminal Knots 4. Knob Knots. Single-Strand Lanyard Knots 5. Knob Knots. Single-Strand Button Knots 6. Knob Knots. Multi-Strand Stopper or Terminal Knots 7. Knob Knots. Multi-Strand Lanyard Knots 8. Knob Knots. Two-Strand Lanyard Knots 9. Knob Knots. Multi-Strand Buttons, Tied in Hand 10. Knob Knots. Multi-Strand Buttons, Tied on the Table 11. Single-Loop Knots 12. Double- and Multiple-Loop Knots 13. The Noose 14. Knots Tied in the Bight 15. Clove Hitch and Other Crossing Knots 16. Binding Knots 17. The Turk's-Head 18. Bends 19. Shroud Knots (Multi-Strand Bends) 20. Belaying and Making Fast 21. Hitches to Spar and Rail (Right-Angle Pull) 22. Hitches to Masts, Rigging, and Cable (Lengthwise Pull) 23. Hitches to Stake and Post, Pile and Bollard 24. Ring Hitches 25. Hooks, Beckets, and Toggles 26. Miscellaneous Holdfasts 27. Occasional Knots 28. Lashings and Slings 29. The Monkey's Fist and Other Knot Coverings 30. Flat or Two-Dimensional Knots 31. Fancy Knots 32. Square Knotting 33. Tricks and Puzzles 34. Long and Short Splices (Multi-Strand Bends) 35. Eye Splices (Multi-Strand Loops) 36. Odd Splices 37. Chain and Crown Sinnets 38. Plat Sinnets 39. Solid Sinnets 40. Practical Marlingspike Seamanship 41. Decorative Marlingspike Seamanship (Applied Knots)
While the book both names the knots and shows how they are tied, when stuffing close to 3000 knots into 640 pages, the instructions by necessity must be brief. For many people and many knots, those instructions will be too brief. So, I would not recommend Ashley's as anyone's first knot book. A beginner would be better served by a more limited knot book with space for introductory discourse, explanations and descriptions not to mention step by step illustrations.
Still in print, one generally expects that the publisher will continue to keep this reference available. There are also a numerous scanned copies floating around on the torrents not to mention other download sites you and your search engine should have little difficulty in finding.
It is also available on Google Books.