The History of Rope Manufacturing
Rope was one of the first tools invented by humans, and its production has been documented in history as far back as 7,000 years, making it one of America’s oldest industries.
Thousands of years ago, when people still clothed themselves in animal skins, they learned to twist natural materials such as animal sinews, hair, and plant fibers to make rope. Over the centuries and millennia, new materials and new methods advanced the art of rope making.
Several cultures have developed their own methods for making ropes. Some Native Americans chewed skin and sinew into strands suitable for rope making. Rope making was so distinctive in ancient India that only a specific class of people created ropes, and the Romans even made rope out of thin copper wire. By the thirteenth century, there were ropemaking guilds in England.
The first ropewalk in America was established in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1635, and ropewalks soon became commonplace. These were long spaces, usually open-ended sheds, where workers “walked out” while twisting strands of fibers together to form rope. In 1854 American Poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow even wrote a poem, “The Ropewalk,” the long, low buildings where “human spiders spin and spin backward down their threads.”
Early ropemaking involved twisting or braiding fiber strands together to make them stronger than single strands. For a long time, it has been used to construct, lift, haul, cross barriers, support, tie, fish, hunt, snare food, fight, supply, clothe, and transport. Today, there are hundreds of different types of ropes for a wide range of applications.
Similar methods are used today, though the ropemaking process is carried out in manufacturing plants, not ropewalks.
Natural fibers are still used to make rope, though ropes made of synthetic materials have replaced natural fiber ropes in many applications. More than half of today’s rope is used in the fishing and maritime industries.
To begin, the fibers must first be treated before they can be used to form the rope. Natural fiber ropes must be coated with natural oil, cleansed, distributed, and combed to make continuous ribbons of fiber known as slivers. The slivers are then twisted into yarn and wound around spools or bobbins.
For synthetic fiber options, resins are extruded by machines into a variety of fiber diameters. The hue is typically added to the resin prior to extrusion in the case of colored synthetic ropes, resulting in a more long-lasting, durable color. The rope will next be connected into one cohesive length.
The two basic ropemaking techniques remain twisting and braiding, with a number of variations on these methods. Below we have highlighted some of the ways ropes are manufactured for different uses.
Twine, clothesline, sash cord, and marline, a tar-covered hemp line, are all examples of cordage with a diameter less than 0.1875 inches (0.5 cm). These aren’t considered genuine rope. Cordage with a diameter of 0.1875 to 0.5 inches (0.5-1.3 cm) is a light-duty rope, also known as “small stuff.” True rope is defined as cordage with a diameter of 0.5 to 1.5 inches (1.3-3.8 cm). Cordage with a diameter more than 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) is referred to as a hawser and is used to anchor huge ships.
Twisted rope, also known as “laid” rope, is made by twisting fibers together. Fibers are twisted (“spun”) into yarns, which are twisted in the opposite direction to form strands, which are twisted in the opposite direction from the twist of the strands to create rope. Twisting yarns and strands in opposing directions helps hold the rope together.
Single Braided Rope
This type of rope is also commonly known as a “solid” braid and is a great option if you need a very durable rope that can withstand the pressure and heavy weight of being used with blocks and pulleys. These ropes do not have any core and are created by braiding instead of twisting the strands together to create the final rope.
A plaited braid is made up of four different sets of strands that are weaved and twisted to wrap around the center of the rope. This sort of rope is sometimes referred to as a “square braid” and is much coarser to the touch. It is not nearly as circular as twisted rope, and as a result, it is far less likely to kink and is extremely flexible, making it very easy to knot and handle without difficulty.
A double braid can assist you if you want a rope that will be highly strong and durable. This rope has a braided core with braided rope wrapped around it. Because of the braided core and stability, the rope will keep its shape well.
Because this rope has an empty middle, it can be spliced fast and easily. As a result, it is an excellent choice for anchor lines or ski tows. It is a lighter rope that is easier to deal with, especially if you choose a synthetic one that is also water-resistant.
This type of rope is created by meticulously and firmly braiding rope around an inner fiber core, resulting in a rope that is extremely strong and durable. One advantage of this form of rope is that it can be quickly spliced, making it much easier to deal with than other types of rope.
A cover (mantle) is braided over a core (kern) to create these ropes. The core can be made up of fiber filaments that run parallel inside the rope, or twisted or braided into bundles. Kernmantle rope is a hybrid with a twisted core and a tightly braided outer sheath for increased abrasion resistance. A nice example of kernmantle rope is paracord.
Materials Used in Rope Manufacturing
Though synthetic materials are favored today for their superior strength and durability, natural fiber rope still has its uses. Below we highlight some common materials.
The natural fibers most often used to make rope include:
- Manila—the classic rope fiber from the leaves of the abaca plant (often erroneously referred to as hemp). Manila rope is strong but tends to shrink when wet.
- Hemp—fiber from actual hemp plants. Hemp rope is similar to manila rope but with a smoother feel.
- Cotton—from cotton plants, which grow in most regions of the world. Cotton rope lacks strength and durability but is soft and smooth to the touch. It doesn’t have much utility except as a clothesline.
- Sisal—from the Mexican Agave Sisalana plant. This coarse, strong, and durable fiber is most commonly used to make twine.
- Jute—comes primarily from plants native to India and Bangladesh. Jute rope has few uses because, while strong when dry, it weakens when wet and rots easily.
Synthetic fibers are now predominant in ropemaking. These include:
- Nylon—the earliest synthetic rope material and still the most common. It’s strong, durable, and has some stretch. Nylon rope tends to weaken a bit when wet.
- Polypropylene—the weakest, lightest, and least expensive synthetic fiber used in ropemaking. Floats in water but does not absorb water easily or shrink when wet.
- Polyethylene—buoyant and water-friendly, like polypropylene but more resistant to abrasion.
- Polyester—similar in strength to nylon when dry and stronger when wet. Like nylon rope, polyester rope has some stretch.
- High-tech fibers—stronger than nylon and highly water-resistant but with little stretch. High-tech materials such as Kevlar and high-modulus polyethylene are quite expensive compared to other synthetic ropes.
SEACO Industries, a leading rope manufacturer, provides a comprehensive line of high-quality rope, twine, and cordage products. We provide a wide range of cordage goods, from sash cord to HMPE ropes, nylon to manila, mason line to safety rope, with same-day shipment from warehouses strategically situated throughout the United States and Canada.
Our products can also be found in stores across the country. We are committed to establishing long-term wholesaler and distributor partnerships with our clients by providing quality products and exceptional customer service. Explore our extensive online selection and contact us immediately for more information or to place your purchase. You can also order bulk through our dealer network or contact us directly.