What is the Knot Called a Monkey's Fist?

Mary McMahon

A monkey's fist is a knot which is designed to create a tight ball at the end of a line of rope. The ball adds weight to the rope, ensuring that it can be thrown accurately across a long distance. Sailors have historically used the monkey's fist to throw so-called heaving lines between ships and onto shore, and the monkey's fist is also used by climbers and others who would have need to toss a line of rope to a specific and distant location.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

To make a monkey's fist, a series of interconnecting loops are created. First, three loops of line are wound around the hand. Then, three loops are wound around the initial loops, at a perpendicular angle. Next, three loops are wound around the second set of loops, inside the first set. When the rope is pulled taught, the loops pull together to create a tight ball of rope which does look vaguely like a fist. Although this description sounds complicated, the know is very easy to make, as you will see if you pick up a length of twine or rope and give it a try.

On its own, a monkey's fist will be reasonably heavy. Some people also like to weight this knot, by trapping a stone or something similar inside the loops. In addition to simply making the monkey's fist heavier, the weight creates a knot which can also be used in a fight, as many historical sailors were aware. When weighted, a monkey's fist can become a formidable weapon which is capable of cracking a skull or breaking a bone.

One advantage to tying a monkey's fist rather than simply weighting a line is that the knot will not come undone or break open. A monkey's fist can endure through years of hard use, and it is also very easy to tie a monkey's first rapidly. This can be handy in a crisis, or in a situation where limited tools are available to accomplish a task.

Most sailors know how to make a monkey's fist, along with an assortment of other knots which could come in handy on the high seas, even though the days of sail have faded. This knot is also very useful for outdoorspeople, and it is used by rock and tree climbers, people who engage in orienteering, and many others. A monkey's fist can also have some unexpected uses; for example, it makes a great cat toy when tied into a length of twine.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


This is usually not what comes to people's minds first when they hear of monkey's fist, but it's such a great knot for crafts. A friend of mine actually makes these adorable small monkey's fist key chains and ornaments. She uses very thin ropes in different colors and even includes beads and other items to it.

She gifted one to me which I've hung from the ceiling and it looks so beautiful. I think any craft made with the hands looks nice and doing a monkey's fist is not as easy as it looks. I tried to do it once and it didn't go too well! I suppose it does take some practice even though it appears simple.


@feruze-- I remember those too! In fact, our teacher would have us learn and do the monkey's fist ourselves. Now, some stores even sell ready-made monkey's fist which I don't understand at all. Why would anyone want to buy a ready-made one? That is no fun! The fun is trying to do it yourself.

And I know that there are plenty of picture and video tutorials available on how to make monkey's fist. I think that anyone who's out in the water should learn to make one because you never know when you might need it. I've used it several times to steady the boat against the stream when we're out fishing. It's such a handy thing to know and there's always plenty of rope on the boat.


In my physical education classes we had ropes with monkey fists at the end. We would try and climb the ropes and the fist was there to prevent us from falling to the ground if we slipped and went down. My brother said that he trained with these kind of ropes in the military too.

So I guess it's a great exercise and fitness tool as well. It's affordable and super easy to do.

Post your comments
Forgot password?