Tools Used for Making Hemp Rope

Tools Used for Making Hemp Rope image by
Tools Used for Making Hemp Rope image by


The hemp plant, native to Asia, was probably first used by people living on the steppes of Siberia during the fifth century B.C.E. Using hemp to fashion ropes and nets probably predates the weaving of fabrics from hemp or indeed any other fiber. The making of hemp rope has evolved over the eons, as have the tools used in forming it. For over 6000 years, hemp ropes were used by seafarers on ships' masts, sails and to hold cargo in place.


Prehistoric makers of hemp rope most likely used no tools. Instead, hemp fibers were pulled and twisted by hand.

Introduction of Hand Tools

Later, during the medieval era, a metal-spiked board called a hatchel was used for carding, or combing, through hemp fibers to prepare it for twisting it into yarns (thin lengths of hemp fibers). Whale oil was often used to lubricate the hemp fibers so that they could easier pass through the metal spikes.

Twisting Fibers into Yarn

Once the hemp fibers were carded, a rope maker would often wrap the hemp fibers around his waist. The other end of the fibers was placed around a hook on a rotating board that was turned by hand from the back by another worker. As the wheel was turned, the rope spinner walked backward, twisting the fibers from around his waist in thin lengths of yarn. The process was, and still is, called rope-walking.


Hemp rope is created from carded hemp fibers, which are twisted into hemp yarn. Five to six lengths of yarn are then twisted into strands. Several strands are then twisted together to form the actual finished rope.

The Machine Age

By 1850, steam-powered spinning machines had been invented that automated combing, forming and rope-laying (twisting the strands together). Rope mills with loud machinery consisting of belts and pulleys took the place of human hands, hooks and rotating boards.


Types of rope include Hawser laid rope (three strands twisted into rope), braided ropes (made by machine in which strands are woven together in a plait or braid), cable laid rope (three hawser laid ropes twisted together to form a nine-strand rope) and shroud laid rope (a thin rope runs through the center of a four-strand twisted rope).


  • The Story of Rope Making

Who Can Help

  • Hemp History

About this Author

Mary Osborne has been an educational quiz writer since 2001. She is the author and illustrator of two children's books, and her short stories have periodically appeared in literary journals since 1986. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Central Florida.

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