Knotty Notions

Book Review: The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Ashley

I want to catalogue my knotty book collection (and braids and any related crafts) and this seems like a good place to do it. Well, the main site is where it should probably end up, but here’s a good place to work on it, I can add curating on the other side.

The Ashley Book of Knots
Author: Clifford W. Ashley
ISBN: 0-385-04025-3
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.

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