The Decorative
Monkey's Fist
using a jig
Last updated  2013-July 20th
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Wot??? ANOTHER page about making the traditional end for a heaving line, A.K.A. "The Monkey's Fist"?  

Well, this one is a bit different: most sites teach you to make the little buggars up "in hand", using your left (or right... We're an equal-opportunity
shop here...) hand as the jig.    

That's just fine if you're using braided clothesline (the usual material for a heaving-line) or some small laid line such as 1/4" thru 5/8" manila,
but for our purposes here, we'll be working in appx. 3/16" line for making decorative fists for zipper pulls, earrings or the like, for which we will
also make up a small jig-form.

If you REALLY want to be considered somewhat strange, you could assay a ten-pass monkey's fist using dental floss.  Yes, someone
DID do that and they

As usual, there will be text down the left side of the page and my patented system of indistinct miniature pictures which may or may not bear
some relation to the text scattered down the right  side.  The font is ARIAL and the page is constructed using Yahoo's WYSIWYG, "Site Builder"
disast... I mean, program.  This will explain what happened should your browser refuse to render the page as we might desire.  I use FireFox
as my browser, and I DO check with other browsers to see if all's well, but one never knows, do one?  

Clicking on the pictures will (usually) take you to a larger version for perusal by the (like myself) visually incompetent. [Except for the line
drawings... Those are (like a portion of my anatomy) as large as they'll ever get.]

So... Off we go and I hope this will be of some help to the two of you who are interested.
All content these pages © 2004-2014 Frayed Knot
Arts.  All rights reserved.  Reproduction or use
prohibited without prior written permission.

You will need some SQUARE toothpicks, four 8d finish nails, superglue,
a sharp pair of nippers and some small, strong string.

Take about 30 - 35 toothpicks and cut them in half with the sharp nippers.  It is
to your advantage to have these cuts reasonably smooth.  You'll need 65
half-toothpicks in all, so you may want to cut some extras as well.

Arrange 25 of them in a square (5/side) and  use the superglue to glue them
together.  You may use whatever glue you prefer, but I use superglue because
I have it in quantity for many other purposes and it dries quite rapidly.  

Be  sure that you get all the pointy ends facing the same way!

Now take 5 toothpicks, arrange them flat and glue them together (do this 4 times),
then glue another five on top of them, so you now have 4 rectangular pieces as
shown.    Glue these to the square block so that you leave a notch in each
So:  Here we go with the first Inflatable Picture Of The Tutorial.

Take a look... That's where you'll put the four 8d finish nails (into
those little crochets created  in the step above...) and be sure you get
the nailheads the same end as all the wee pointy bits.  The reason will
become apparent later.

Take the strong twine and wrap the entire assembly as
shown, wrapping at least 1-1/2", but wrapping the complete
area where the toothpicks are is OK, too... Just leave a little
bit uncovered at the bottom to prevent the line we'll use to
make the monkey's fist from catching on it....Same reason
all the cuts should be somewhat smooth and the pointy bits
up at the dead end of the appliance.   Glue up the whole
megillah and let it dry well, then do a second coat.

Now, for those of you who are OCD sufferers, you are quite right... The block in the picture
IS 8 'picks across, not 7 per the diagram.   I made
it for use with larger line, then promptly lost the other one.  Klutzy, but typical.

Still, I recommend doing the smaller 7-across to start with.   

You'll notice that the nails will, after time, have a tendency to slip a bit as the glue won't "hold" to the metal that well... Just stick a bit of paper
in to wedge it and it should hold just fine.  You may also have to bend the nails a little to achieve a square box with the tips.  A square
alignment will actually aid in packing the interior of the monkey's fist later.

Since we are practising making these things, cut about 24" of line,  glue up about  2 inches on one
end and let dry, then clip of the end forming the 45° tip I am so fond of (see other tutorials).   Put an
overhand knot in the bitter end of the line so that you'll have a stopper to prevent the line being pulled
out when tightening up later.  Trust me.

Hold the jig on one hand and drape the knotted end as shown, leaving enough line so the knot
will reach the next leg.  Then clamp the line with your thumb....

As shown...   [Note:  if you are going to be making a button, a zip-pull, an
earring or something that will require a small loop, this is the way to start
it.  If, however, you will be making a model heaving-line for a knot board,  
leave sufficient line (according to your skills) to accomplish a splice of both
lines into one, or enough to do a Royal Navy heaving line, or....]
See instructions on page 2 for more info on the button loop.

Once clamped, take four turns around the jig, stopping when you get to the fourth leg....

Then, instead of making a fifth pass, make a 90° turn  and go
ACROSS the work as shown, then do four  turns in THAT plane of existence....

As (not surprisingly) shown.....  Again, stop when you have four turns showing and get ready for the
fiddley part...
up two inches on the working end) and the diagram doesn't really help, does it?

Clamp the line with your thumb and put the end THROUGH between the
two sets of four lines and out in the back.    If you put a bend in the end of the line
it will facilitate having it feed thru that 90° turn, which can be obstinate.  Having
the bend in it allows you just that little git of extra advantage to do this smoothly...
After coming down across the four turns, make another 90° and back between the
two sets of four turns...

Almost done part one...  Now do three turns as shown but do not "finish" the
last turn.... If we were finishing up the last  turn, the line would go from front to back,
but we need to "stuff the turkey"  in order to maintain that rotund little profile
everyone loves so much....

I accomplish this with cotton balls... Just strip them out and use a piece of
bamboo cooking skewer to stuff it inside the fist until it's pretty full.

If you're making a standard-sized heaving line, you'd use some cut up rope
fibres in place of the cotton, or a wooden ball or a rubber ball....  

Just how much cotton to use is a hit-or-miss proposition, and one of the
major determining factors affecting the finished size of the monkey's fist,
along with the size of the line and how aggressively you tighten things

My rule of thumb is to get it just full enough that when I start to tighten things up
(next page) I have to take just a little out so that the fist forms but the cotton
filling is still concealed.  If you take out too much or don't stuff it enough, then
the lines forming the monkey's fist will jump over each other and you won't have a
smooth-appearing finished object.  You'll find your  ideal stuffing amount very quickly.

Make your last pass while the fist is on the jig, then carefully remove the

Slide it off gently but it will hold it's shape fairly well.   If it does not, then there's something wrong
with it.

On the second page, I'll address tightening up and you'll soon bless the fact
that you made the overhand knot and left the little "pigtail"... It will prove of
great value to the effort.

Let me also stress that if you are NOT sure that all is well so far, then take the monkey's fist apart,
go have a cuppa, re-read the directions and start again.  Usually, the first time thru is a
disaster and the second time it's MUCH easier and a better result.

As always, if you are stuck somewhere, drop me an
EMAIL and I'll endeavour to get you back on