Preventing the ends of rope from fraying is a process referred to as “whipping.” According to The Ashley Book of Knots, “The purpose of a whipping is to prevent the end of a rope from fraying…A whipping should be, in width, about equal to the diameter of the rope on which it is put…[Two sailmaker’s whippings], a short distance apart, are put in the ends of every reef point, where the constant ‘whipping’ against the sail makes the wear excessive; this is said to be the source of the name whipping.” However, with many modern synthetic ropes, fusing may be the alternative of choice.
Learning how to whip the ends of a rope is one of the early requirements on the Scouts BSA advancement trail. To earn the Scout Rank requirement 4b states, “Show the proper care of a rope by learning how to whip and
fuse the ends of different kinds of rope.”
Indeed there are many approaches to whipping a rope, but the one that’s used for the hundreds of lashing ropes in the pioneering area at national jamborees, as well as the 2019 World Jamboree, is known as the West Country Whipping. What’s so special about this whipping? The answer is simple. It’s easy to teach and easy to tie, and most importantly, it’s easy to make tight! Hence, Scouts learn it more quickly and like it much better.1. Start by tying a half knot, the way you would start a square knot, near the rope’s end.
2. Continue by carrying the two ends of the whipping cord around the back of the rope, away from you, and tie another half knot identical to the first.
3. Keep repeating the half knots, front and back, pulling each one tight.
4. Form each half knot the same way, either right over left, or left over right, so they interlock neatly together, and snug against the previous half knot.
5. Continue the process until the whipping is as wide as the rope’s diameter.
6. Finish off with a tight square knot.
7. Finally, the excess cord is trimmed. VIEW THE HOW-TO VIDEO
The ends of synthetic ropes can be fused to prevent the fraying, but it is the lazy man’s way out. The knobs and sharp ends that fusing leaves can be a drawback too. As Geoffrey Budworth warns :
Sealing rope ends this way is lazy and dangerous. A tugboat operator once sliced the palm of his hand open down to the sinews after the hardened (and obviously sharp) end of a rope that had been heat-sealed pulled through his grasp. There is no substitute for a properly made whipping.”The Knot Book—Geoffrey Budworth
There are other drawbacks, especially as Scout leave the rope in the heat too long and it catches fire causing dangerous flaming drips and toxic fumes.
To fuse a rope, hold the end to be fused near a small flame so that fibers melt together. (Do not use a butane lighter, because some explode when permitted to burn too long.)
A candle flame generates enough heat to fuse the end of most ropes, but it should be treated like toasting the perfect golden marshmallow, not flaming Napalm like some Scouts do when toasting them for S’mores.
For ropes larger than one-inch diameter, a propane torch may work better if you have one.
Cutting rope with an electrically heated rope cutter, soldering iron or heating a knife blade can also both work. To get a neat and narrow end, wrap the rope with several turns of plastic tape, then cut through the tape.