Thomas A. Alspaugh
Ringing knots

In my home tower, ringers tie the up knot in the tail of each bell that is up, and the down knot in the tail of each bell that is down. One must still check that a bell with the down knot is actually down (by untying the knot, taking the tail as if ringing, and checking for next to no resistance and gently rocking the bell; if there is resistance, the bell is up and the wrong knot was tied).

The down knot

Bowline

The down knot at my home tower is a bowline, a standard knot used widely outside of ringing (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. How to tie the down knot (bowline)

The traditional mnemonic for tying a bowline:

The rabbit runs out of the hole, around the tree, and back in the hole.

  1. Make a loop in the rope (Figure 1).

    The end of the rope is over the upper part of the rope as you look at it. Hold the loop in place with your left (or non-dominant) hand while you tie the rest of the knot.

  2. Pass the end of the rope up through the loop. The rabbit runs out of the hole ….

    As you look at it, the end goes first under the lower part of the loop and then over the upper part.

  3. Pass the end of the rope around the upper part. … Around the tree ….

    As you look at it, the end goes under the upper part of the rope. So far it has gone under, over, under.

  4. Pass the end back through the loop, lying beside the part of the rope that came out of the loop. … And back in the hole.

    As you look at it, the end goes over the doubled side of the loop and then under the lower part of the loop. It has gone under, over, under, over, under.

    Pull tbe knot snug.

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Figure 3.

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Figure 2. The directions
won't work if you make
the loop like this.

The knot might fall apart when you pull it snug. This means:

  1. Either you didn't make the loop with the upper part toward you (Figure 2), or
  2. You didn't pass the end under, over, under, over, under.

You can tie the down knot starting out like Figure 2, but in that case you have to also pass the end over, under, over, under, over.

You can also have the rabbit go around the tree from left to right (Figure 3).

Coleman's down knot

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Figure 4. Down knot

Another down knot, perhaps the most common, is presented in Coleman's The Bellringe's Early Companion (p.179) and Harrison's The Tower Handbook (p.12). They call it A Down Knot or down knot respectively (and then present the bowline as another down knot). (Figure 4). It is the same as a bowline except that the bight is taken around one leg of the loop rather than the standing part. I believe this is what Svennson's Handbook of Seaman's Ropework calls a turned-out bowline.

By analogy with the bowline mnemonic, for this down knot the rabbit runs down the hole, around a root, and back up out of the hole. Coleman's mnemonic runs

put the rabbit, round the tree, pick up the roots, put the roots round the rabbit, and then put the rabbit down the hole.

The up knot

The up knot (Figure 5) is something I have never seen outside of bell towers.

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Figure 5. How to tie the up knot

Taking a knot

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Figure 6. Figure-eight knot

If a rope is too long for a ringer, at some towers the ringer may take a knot. This consists of loosely typing a figure-eight knot (Figure 6) somewhere below the sally. The simplest way for most ringers to tie this is to tie the up knot, then draw the doubled tail through until the figure-eight forms.

If you take a knot, etiquette demands that you untie it before leaving that bell.

Taking a knot is discouraged at some towers because it weakens the rope. I have experienced one of the three strands of my rope break at the point where I had taken a knot — in such cases one sets the bell immediately and lets an experienced ringer and/or the steeplemaster handle this dangerous situation — and as a result I try to ring without taking a knot.

I've also found that ringing without a knot has improved my ringing form: if the tail of the rope is swinging around and being annoying, it is a sign to me that my pull has not been straight and even, and I need to do better on the next pull.

The on the wheel knot, or wheel hitch

Unlike the down and up knots, which ringers tie at every ringing session, and the figure-eight knot, which tall ringers may tie and untie every time they change bells, the wheel hitch is only tied and untied by steeple-keepers and perhaps their helpers. It is used to fasten the top end of the rope to the spokes of the bell wheel.

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Figure 7. Spiral handedness.
The spiral curls following
the fingers, while rising
as the thumb points.

In Figures 7-1 through 7-4, the end of the rope isn't shown until step 4 because there is so much extra rope until that point.

Note that all the wrapping turns in the wheel knot are made left-handed, that is, turning as the fingers of your left hand curl while the turns spiral up as your left thumb points (Figure 7), and all the frapping turns are made right-handed. There are two possible directions of spiral, left and right. Nearly all rope is twisted in a right-hand spiral, for example.

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    Figure 8-1. Wheel knot: single coil around one spoke

    Bring the rope from the garter hole (which is beyond the right edge of the figure) to the first of the two parallel spokes, and take a single left-handed coil around it.
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    Figure 8-2. Wheel knot: wrappings around spokes

    Wrap: Take enough left-handed coils around both spokes, ending at the spoke further from the garter hole.
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    Figure 8-3. Wheel knot: frappings around wrappings

    Frap: Take right-handed coils around the wrappings you made in Step 2, filling the space between the two spokes and ending up at the spoke nearest the garter wheel.
    1. If there is not enough rope to frap all the way to the spoke, back up to Step 2 and undo some wrapping coils.
    2. If there is too much rope left over after the frappings have filled the space between the spokes, back up to Step 2 and add more wrapping coils.
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    Figure 8-4. Wheel knot: finishing off

    Tuck the end of the rope between the frappings. If there is too much or too little end to do this neatly, back up to Step 2 and undo or add some wrapping coils.

    Lift the rope hanging down from the wheel enough so you can pull the first coil open enough to slip the end of the rope through it, parallel to the spoke. Then release the rope hanging down from the wheel, which will go tight again and hold the end of the rope securely against the spoke.

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