(1) determine size of rope /bell proportions
(2) acquire tools
(3) strop thimble
(4) lay up puddings
5) cover puddings
6) finish covers
(7) apply decorations
(8) varnishing and preservation
(9) hanging rope from clapper
Few of us have an “Old Salt” living next door to answer questions on knotting or to
show us how to turn a ball of cord into a beautiful bell rope. The next best thing is to
have a book to help answer any questions that may come up. There are hundreds of
books written on knots and knotting, but three stand out:
“The Encyclopedia Of Knots and Fancy Ropework,” by Raoul Graumont and John
Hensel, is an incredible source of inspiration, but isn’t really written for the novice.
“The Ashley Book of Knots”, by Clifford Ashley, is far and away the best for the
beginner. It uses drawings to clearly show how to tie literally thousands of knot
The Encyclopedia and Ashley’s Book are quite expensive, but worth every penny you
pay for them. They may also be available at your local public library, and are often
listed on EBAY.
I also heartily recommend "The Harrison Book OF Knots," by P.P.O. Harrison, if you
can find a copy. It’s a wonderful book and a major piece of armament for any knot
tyer wishing to know more about bell rope construction and design. (see Marty's site
Another great source of information is the International Guild of Knot Tyers. The IGKT,
has an extensive online photo gallery that showcases some of the best knot tyers
around. They also have a forum which may be utilized for questions!
The quality of the finished product is directly related to the type and quality of the line
you use. The cotton seine twine or braided nylon mason’s cord you generally find at
the hardware store is far too soft, and will not hold its shape and appearance when
Two of the very best sources for high quality line are R & W Enterprises and Marty
Combs. R & W Enterprises provides an extensive array of nylon cord in just about
any size and color you can think of. Their online catalogue isn’t much to look at, but a
phone call to them will get you samples, and I’ve found their prices to be quite
reasonable. Marty Combs carries some of the finest hard laid cotton cordage
around, (it’s my personal favorite), as well as a wide selection of books, videos, tools,
and supplies such as needles and thimbles, as well as that bell-rope video I
Before you cut the first piece of line, you should have a pretty good idea how long the
finished bell rope will be, and whether you want it tapered or straight. On small bell
ropes for pleasure craft, a straight up-and-down construction is just fine, a lot faster
to do and perfectly acceptable. On larger vessels and military craft, or bell ropes that
will be used for ceremonial purposes, a tapered profile is called for, and that's what
this tutorial will cover. You can do the straight rope using these instructions by just
making all your core "puddings" the same length.
The proportion of the diameter of the bell and the length of its bell rope is critical. As a
general rule, I like to figure on a 4:3 relationship. For example, if the bell has a
diameter of 12 inches, the bell rope would be 9 inches long.
There are two exceptions to this “general” rule. First off, for bells much larger than
20 inches, or smaller than seven, you have to use your own judgment. It’s always a
good idea to take a piece of rope, and attach it to your bell. Cut off about where you
think the bell rope will end, step back and see how it looks. Adjust as needed to get
just the right length.
The second and most important exception is for ceremonial bell ropes. These
beautiful examples of the sailors craft seldom feel the hand of a normal watch
stander, but are most often used when you need to “dress for company.” Often, they
are much longer than normal, most often tapered, and much more decoratively
covered than working bell ropes. When it comes to “show pieces”, the sky is really
This tutorial shows the construction of a ten-inch long tapered bellrope. If you want
to make a one that’s straight or tapered differently, that’s ok. There isn’t a wrong way
to do it! This is supposed to be FUN, so HAVE fun! Experiment, change, delete or
substitute instructions.... enjoy yourself! If you find something that works better, let
me KNOW and I'll amend this with your suggestions..
Depending on how small the bell rope and line are and how intricate you're going to
get, you may need line-pullers, needlenose pliers and an exacto-knife, but for this
tutorial, all you'll need are a small 'scratch-awl' with a slightly blunt tip and a pair of
good, sharp small diagonal cutters for cutting line, a bottle of THIN or FAST SETTING
cyanoacrylate (superglue - cheapes when bought in bulk...try WOODEN WONDERS
website), some scrap cardboard and (if you want to use them) some bamboo
skewers, along with your cordage. For cordage, you'll need scrap rope/cord to make
the 'puddings", a small thimble for the eye, a small shackle to connect the rope to the
clapper's bail, sufficient cordage for the coverings and also for the decorative
turkshead, plenty of small stuff for constrictor knots and some black heavy button
thread for makring locations. Stock up on patience, while you're at it... you'll need it in
For 'small stuff" to do the constrictor knots, I recommend a good sailtwine...
DUCKWORKS sells waxed and un-waxed sailtwine at a reasonable rate... I'd use UN-
waxed for the constrictors and waxed for the strop (see #3), but you can use
unwaxed for both and still get a superior job. OR: you can simply take several 3'
lengths of whatever cord you'll be using to cover the bell and strip it into three
pieces... these make good constrictors, will produce a nice cover on the strop and it's
a lot cheaper than ordering something else you'll rarely use. The colour will match, as
well... it's what I use mostly now. (Dental Floss may give it a nice, minty smell, but it
just don't look right IMHO.) You choose which you'd like to use, but from now on
when I'm referring to 'small stuff", that's what I means.
While a professional looking job requires a good hard-laid cordage, you CAN get by
with #18 mason line from the hardware store, as long as it is tightly laid. For the
turksheads especially, the hard lay will keep the turkshead's appearance good...
softer laid lines will tend to 'flatten' out when worked and this makes for a lumpy and
sloppy finished look. That's why I recommend Marty's site and materials...his lines,
especially the #15b, are a good hard lay and hold their shape despite aggressive
(3) STROPPING THE THIMBLE
This is the main support for the bell and it needs to be strong.... the thimble just
prevents wear on the inner part of the strop eye as it works against the clapper bail,
but the strop does all the work, so:
Take your thimble and lay up as many strands of cordage as it takes to fill the
thimble's saddle almost completely... you want to leave a bit so that when we wrap the
strop, the wrapping will fill it the rest of the way, and even be a teeny bit larger than
the saddle...cut your lines to 26" and middle them around the thimble... that'll give you
13" on a side... take a piece of black buttonthread and put a constrictor on each side
1/4" below the end of the thimble, then take the strop OFF the thimble....
There are several ways of wrapping the strop eye: you can serve it, you can take
another piece of small line and half-hitch it , or you can do a ringbolt coxcomb.... that's
my favourite as it looks the neatest.
At the point where you put one black constrictor, (SEE RINGBOLT TUTORIAL for a
pictorial on doing this!) take three lengths of small stuff, knot the ends and make
them fast to the strop's pudding with another constrictor... keep a tension on the
strop (I tie one end off on a chair-back and sit on the other end in a second chair: this
gives a good straight-line tension on my workpiece) while working. Take one of the
three pieces of small stuff and tie a half-hitch to the right, then the next piece and tie a
half--hitch to the left, then the last piece and tie a half-hitch to the right again.... at this
point you have two lines going right and one line going left.... take the one on the RIGHT
that's furthest from you and tie another half hitch going left...now you've got two going
left and one going right.... and that's the key.... the one furthest away of the three is
always the next one to be tied and it ties so that it ends up in the other direction...
(An' De hip-bone connected to de thigh-bone, and de thigh-bone connexted to the
DON'T pull these hitches real tight.... we're not trying to strangle Aunt Louise, just
make sure she's not getting outta the house anytime soon.... if you pull these really
tight, you'll make it very difficult to bend the wrapped strop around the thimble later
on. Pull the hitches tight enough that they just 'bed' into the pudding and check your
work to see that each turn is laying true and does not 'jump' the previous hitch on the
bottom.... this happens all the time and when you find one, stop and pull the work until
you can correct it. YOU'LL know it's there if you don't fix it now, and it will leave a void
in the pattern.
Continue this until you reach the other black thread constrictor, toss another
constrictor on the three lines and trim them off short. If you did this right (and I'm
sure you did) then you'll have a nice row of hitches directly down the centre of the top
of the strop.... that's a 'ringbolt coxcomb' and you can use it on a LOT of things.
Take the wrapped strop and put it in the thinble's saddle, even the ends and put
another constrictor on it to make up the ends together and to form the strop to the
thimble's shape. It may be hard to bend, but fuss with it until it is tight in the saddle
and the ridge of knots runs straight and centered along the strop.... this can take
some 'foozling' to accomplish, but don’t give up... the end result is worth it.
If the strop is now bigger than the saddle, you may want to put a constrictor around
thimble and strop at a few points to make the strop conform tightly to the thimble...
use up to five to do this... if you need more, the strop is too large and probably won’t fit
no matter what.... either cut that one apart and remove a line or start another that's a
(TIP: IF IT AIN'T RIGHT, RE-DO IT UNTIL IT IS RIGHT. If you have to throw something out
and start again, so be it. I can't think of the number ot times I've goten half-way thru a
project, discovered an error at the beginning and just pulled out the work and re-did it
correctly. Beleve me, it's worth it in the end....)
Now I'll assume you got the strop attached to the thimble, in place and running true
and a constrictor at the base of the thimble... on to the puddings...(
The core of a bellrope is comprised of a number of small pieces of rope/line which are
laid up together and then stopped off with constrictor hitchs in small stuff. WHY do
they call it a pudding? I’m damned if I know. I certainly wouldn't care to eat one, and I
doubt Jack Aubrey, fond as he was of "Spotted Dick," would care to partake, either.
For a 10" long rope, we've already set the main cores at 13".... (I do this so that I can
trim off nice and square and have a bit of line to pull on when trimming... and what's 3
inches more or less between friends?) so now it's really up to your taste and the
proportions of the bell you're building as to how large to make the puddings, how
many steps to put in them, and the like, but here are the basics: (If you want a very
stiff bellrope, before you do this take one or two bamboo cooking skewers and put
them in the center of the core lines and then constrictor around the whole thing.
Otherwise, just rely on the core and additional coverings to provide a firm body.)
Make fast the 13" center cores all the way to the end with a constrictor knot in
smallstuff every (appx) 3/4". Measure down from the TOP of the strop/thimble about
4" and use this as a starting point for the first layups.
(Incidentally, I am constantly asked about the size of the rope for the puddings: IF I
have some larger line, I'll incorporate the strop lines and use that as the FIRST
pudding, but I almost always make the majority of the puddings out of scraps of 15B
left over from other projects. I get a LOT of scraps!)
Take as many pieces of cordage as will completely cover the inner core without
bulging out and cut them to nine inches.... constrictor these over the core at 3/4"
intervals. Keep the ends facing the thimble (up the rope) as even as possible so as to
form a 'step"... important later on... Go down another 3" and do the same thing... as
many pieces of cordage as will cover the new core diameter without bulging and
constrictor... go down another 3" and do it again.... Now you should have three
'steps" up along the rope. Trim off all the steps so that they’re fairly flat and even
around, then put another constrictor right at the edge of the steps so as to pull the
profile into a bit of a rounder aspect. At the other end, measure from the
strop/thimble top to your final length and put TWO constrictors about 3/16" apart at
that point.... you will trim this off so it's square and even across the base of the
bellrope. (If you want a rounded bottom profile, you can shape the bottom a bit at this
point, but the finial turksheads and bottom cover will also help this.
Check your work to be sure it's even and symmetrical around and does not bend off in
one direction or another along the axis... if it does, just work it until it's straight and
plumb. A couple more constrictors here and there ain't such a bad idea, either,
especially if you used soft line for the puddings and it looks like me wearing tights...
kinda bulgy, y’know? Constrictor them bulges into shape now for a better apearance
in the finished product.
OK: we've got the thimble stropped and the puddings built up.... the end is trimmed off
nice and regular and there are more constrictors than Carter got Little Liver Pills...
essentially, your bellrope is done. All that's left is decorations! (Oh, one thing.... I like
to put a grommet or a wrap of cord around the core at each step... it softens the
transition and gives the decorative turksheads you'll put on over the covers a less
'abrupt' size transition. You'll have to experiment since I can’t tell how 'wide' a step
you'll make, but the rule of thumb is to put one grommet on that gives a finished
diameter a litle less than the next step, then one next to that which gives a transition
to the smaller core... It's NOT a necessary step, but it is a nice refinement.)
The accepted method is by using a continuous crown hitch, a continuous wall hitch,
an 'over-two' fender hitch or a simple grafting or cross-pointing. Maybe some kind
soul will do up a tutorial on cross-point work (coachwhipping), but that's one I can't do
myself, so I usually use the "over-two" hitch. I reserve grafting for only special
commission work as it takes for-(censored)-ever to do and is so easy to screw up.
Here are tutorials on OVER-TWO HITCHING and, for those who WANT to put
themselves through a torturous experience, on GRAFTING.
I’m gonna use the “over-two fender hitch” for this example.
Marty Combs made a great suggestion that you start in the MIDDLE of the bellrope and
work out to both ends.... it gives you more control and a better grip for the holding
hand, and since the pattern works the same either way, it is an invisible start, so:
For the stepped bellrope, figure out how many lines you’ll need from the SECOND step
back towards the strop eye and cut them a little longer than you ordinarily would so
you’ll be sure to allow for the increase in diameter of the third and fourth size steps
toward the end, then follow the directions in HITCHING. When you get to the first
step, drop out a couple-three lines (experiment with this....how many to delete
depends on the size of the steps involved!) so that you continue a nice tight hitch up to
the strop eye, and finish it with a constrictor or seizing about 1/4” below the thimble.
You’ll coverthis area with a turkshead or a footrope knot.
Now to do the bottom two sections: add enough strands to continue the hitching over
the increase to the next step and then do the same at that step on down to the
This time you want to end the hitching at about 1/2” from the edge of the bottom, and
constrictor it real good and tight. Trim off all the excess lines and you’re ready to
“box” the bottom.
(6) BOXING THE END
Take some small stuff and lay about nine or twelve (or fifteen, or... obviously, the
larger the end, and the finer the threads, the more you'll need and the crazier you'll
get... ) pieces in parallel across the bottom, constrictoring them so they lay flat but not
so tight as to prevent the next step:
Take a strand of small stuff and weave it under three over three in the center.... take
another and continue doing this until you’ve “boxed” in the bottom with a 3 over 3
I use a homemade line puller to do this... an 8" piece of #24awg piano wire (also sold
as a HEAVY guitar string in guitar stores... I get mine from "Musician's Friend" in
bulks of 12@ 36" long) that is then folded in half and crimped about 1-1/2 inch from the
bitter ends (bend both legs 90° into the center and then 180° back and then 90° again
to resume their former direction: do a simple 4 or 5 line crown and crown through
the crimps, continuing until the bitter ends are buried and then just varnish the whole
or wet with cyanoacrylate... I use that because it dries in less than two minutes andI'm
good to go. To get the "scimitar" shape, just take your pliers and put a tiny bend in
one of the two legs of the loop. It keeps the loop open and creates the shape.
(Yes, I DO sell 'em.)
These die after about 10 hours of use (they break at the tip of the loop) so make up a
few at once.
Stick each end under that constrictor knot as you finish the weave. How many total
you will need depends on how wide the bellrope bottom is, but usually 4 sets across
Put ANOTHER constrictor over the ends and do this one fairly tightly, then fair up the
boxweave so it’s nicely perpendicular to itself and sheet home the constrictor knot.
Once you're faired up, put a constrictor directly under the lip (by about 1/8") and
finalize the fairing up, fuss with it, then trim the ends so they are flush with the end of
the hitching and apply turksheads at each step and at the bottom. (Remove the other
constrictors when you put on the 'last one".
Viola! Finished boxed end...
(OK, I KNOW it's supposed to be "Voila"... I just LIKE "Viola"!)
(7) TURKSHEADS or DECORATIONS
I usually use a 5x4 at the strop, another 5x4 at the first step, a 7x6 and the second
step, a 9x8 at the third and an 11x10 for the bottom, being sure that the turkshead
‘laps’ over the end and hides the boxweave edges. An alternative as most people use
is to make a ‘globe’ knot (Ashley’s #2217) in a larger line and close off the bottom of
the bellrope with this INSTEAD of the boxweave. These always seem to be a bit
‘bulbous’ to me and it’s not a look I love, but it IS the most common way of finishing off
the end of the bellrope, so I’m probably outta step with the rest of the parade. Usually
am. (See the picture at the end of this tutorial of Dave CONSIDINE'S rope) There are
several excellent tutorials on turksheads at KHWW's site by Bud Brewer and others....
I stongly recommend them!
You certainly can use any combination of turkshead sizes that cover the transitions,
and NOW the reason for those grommets becomes apparent: they provide a smoother
transition from step to step and you can use a smaller turkshead if you so desire, or
none at all for a plain rope.
Another thought is to get Don Burrhus' "Turkshead Cookbook" and turkshead tool and
make one of the over 200 variations he shows therein... he also has Vol.2 out for sale
now with an additional 300(+) "oddball" turksheads, some of which are quite striking.
Whatever you use, I find that it is best to do up the turksheads (especially on the end)
in two stages... I'll cast and expand the turksheads onto a piece of cardboard. USE
CLEAN WHITE CARDBOARD! Even an index card with lines will leave blue marks!!!
You can get "OakBoard" stock from any printer in small quantities or get heavy (60#
or more) paper at Staples.)
Cast your turkshead onto the cardboard and tighten up 'till it's rather snug, then work
the cardboard out and do a final fairing up of the turkshead. It's more work, but the
cardboard presents an easier-to-move-across surface and actually speeds up the
process. Don't do the initial setup so tight that you can't get the cardboard out from
under it, though! Practise, Practise, Practice.
Varnish is the usual method of finishing the bellrope to preserve it, and it works VERY
well.... there are bellropes in various museum collections which are 150+ years old
and, while I wouldn't want to try to use one one a bell, most of them are in remarkably
good shape for their age.
Spar varnish will turn cotton line a deep golden brown, nearly black at times, and you
should varnish the body of the rope before adding the decorations, then varnish them
as well. This is to be sure the varnish is protecting the whole body of the bellrope.
Clear polyurethane is something that has been reecommended to me as producing a
hard but essentially clear finish with minimal discolouration of the line.... I've not tried
it, but it makes sense. Stay away from shellac. It softens in heat and leaves a sticky
residue on your hands and clothing when this happens.
[Those who have been here before read about the "Elmer's Glue" option for
finishing... (dilute elmer's White Glue 1:8 in hot water and either soak or paint the
Don't bother. Looks like (censored).]
(9) HANGING AROUND
Well, the only traditional way to attach the rope to the clapper of the bell is with a
small shackle connecting the thimble eye to the clapper's bail. A 3/16" for small
bellropes (such as ours) and proportionally larger for bigger bellropes/ships. NEVER
tie or lash the thimble to the clapper bail unless you have no alternative.... if absolutely
necessary, use a mini-carabinier in black.
I DO have a source for brass shackles... if you need
any, please email me. $10 @ ppd.
(Since writing this, I have seen a bellrope where they took two throat thimbles,
opened one sufficiently to accept the clapper bail and the other to go around the strop-
eye of the bellrope, then did a throat-seizing around the two and used that. Rather
permanent and a LOT of work, but it did look interesting.)
I hope that this will give you the tools to build your own bellrope and have fun doing
so.... there are many examples of bellropes on the net to look at, but I especially
recommend the examples on Marty’s site, as well as those shewn on the IGKT’s main
web gallery. KHWW has a picture gallery as well that has quite a few bellropes
I realize this and the ancillary tutorials have gotten a bit LARGE but I hope that the
information is presented in sufficient detail to aid most readers.
As always, should you have questions on this or any other knotting issue, please feel
free to EMAIL me and I'll try to help you out.
Fair winds to all
|Making a Bell-rope
by Vince Brennan with help from
Marty Combs and several great books
|Click on ANY picture
to see a larger version:
Small pictures here
are to allow dial-up
customers easy access
Years ago I learned how to do this while in the Navy,
but lost the knowledge between then and Oct 2006,
when a chance encounter with the ZUNI/TAMAROA
Maritime Foundation found me promising to make one
up for them.
I realized that I'd totally forgotten the basics, but
remembered that Marty Combs, from whom I buy a
great deal of my raw cordage, had a bellrope-making
video listed on his website. He sent one with the next
order and I watched it and it all came back!
As a result, ZUNI/TAMAROA has her 20" bellrope and
you are now reading this tutorial on how to make one
so YOU won't have to experience the sinking feeling of
realizing that, once again, your alligator mouth has
over-ridden your jaybird... ahhhh... patootie.
NOTE: This is written with the
amateur knotter in mind... for those
who have experience already in
knotying, I beg your indulgence if I
over-stress some of the basics.
As always with ANY of the tutorials,
if you feel you can clarify or
improve the exposition in any way,
please feel free to contact me,
especially if you can do better
pictures (a groundhog could do
better pictures!) than I!
If you would like to take better pictures of the process and send them to me ( a bloody SQUIRREL could take better pictures
than I !) I would be delighted to use them in the stead of these. EMAIL ME with any questions or comments you may have.
(Incidentally, no financial interest
in ANY of the companies or
individuals mentioned... although I
wish I did...)
|Hold on.... I mentioned cyanoacrylate above and then didn't expand on it..... I use this for
many things, but most importantly for treating the ends of the lines used in doing the
coverings to prevent fagging (or fraying, if you prefer)... just a drop on the tip of the line
will provide a nice "ferrule" which will stop the line from fagging out and also make it
much easier to pass one line thru the loops formed by the others. For threading thru
things like turksheads, do a 1" length and then clip the end at a 45° angle. PRESTO!
Also, there's your scrap cardboard: do ALL your CA glueing over the scrap cardboard
and you'll not get it on the floor or rug... won't have the First Mate climbing up your
nose for ruining her floors. I found THIS one out the hard way, so DO benefit from my
pain and travail. USE THE BLOODY CARDBOARD!
You can also CA over the end of the bellrope core if you want a hard surface for the
finish work...it does make "lapping" a turkshead easier.
If you're using CA for anyting, STAY AWAY FROM THE FUMES. Keep your face away from
them, try NOT to breathe them in at all....highly nasty stuff it is entirely, but it sets VERY
fast on natural lines and with about a hour's delay on most nylon lines.
GOOD BULK SOURCE: WOODEN WONDERS website!
A brief word here on the length of the
lines for the "over-two" cover: The
HITCHING tutorial says leave 6.5 times
the overall length of the finished work,
which is more than enough for the
average straight sided round object or
a bellrope with no change in diameter,
but with stepped bellrope construction,
that'll leave you short, so increase it to
7.5 times the finished length and,
depending on how many lines you'll
need to cover the fattest part, even 8
times. It's not an exact science, I'm
afraid but it's always better to have a lot
of excess than to run short. Of course,
you can always stop and restart the
procedure with an entirely new set of
lines if you need to and cover the
juncture with a turkshead, but excess
can be used for puddings for future
projects, for stropping or to tie up your
Budgie so it can't escape.
I'd be grateful if you let me know what
your experience is with this and we can
form a consensus. (May even get
elected MP for Lower Boxing!)
|Have YOU made something from the bellrope page's instructions? Here's a bellrope by David Considine using the instructions
above and after varnishing. Damn nice work!
OTHER EXAMPLES of ropes done with the aid of this tutorial (scroll down past David Largent's