Compleat Idler, Preparedness, Tool user

Idler’s tools – parachute cord

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

My Swiss Army Knife Zermatt pouch arrived Saturday, September 8—it was scheduled fotr Monday, September 10. So far, so good. I had been thinking of getting a Huntsman with pouch after seeing one in the store for less than forty bucks. My Leatherman tool is too heavy for waist carry and I could use something more than a blade. Plus, the corkscrew says I am sophisticated.

When I went back the one with the pouch was gone so I went home and searched through a drawer because I remembered seeing a basketweave Zermatt pouch for the old Explorer that I cracked the spine on. My memory still tricks me and, as I said in a post on cutlery, when I go through my old stuff, surprises await. I did not find the pouch—it probably went in a lapse in the Scout Leader accumulation instinct. No, there was my Victorinox Huntsman, waiting to be picked up and used. The scales were darker than the new ones, probably due to handling and the oils from my hands—lanolin, neetsfoot, gun oil, machine oil etc.

So I went on line to find a pouch. The general run of stuff appears to be either cordura or a black clip-on case. An outfit called Swiss Knives Express had real Zermatt pouches. I ordered one with a sharpening steel for twenty bucks. And it arrived. The knife slid in tightly. It pulls out with effort. A thong on the lanyard ring would help.

My first choice would be leather, but what I had was parachute cord which is the subject of this post. At this house we buy 550 cord occasionally, but when we do we buy spools. A 1000′ spool will provide 10 100′ hanks which is the smallest amount I carry. And if there is 25′ still intact at the end of the weekend I roll it and stick it in a drawer or the bottom of a pack. So there is always some around when I need it. About six inches was all it took to give me a small loop that leverages the knife out of the pouch.

Shelter: Using the 550 is much more convenient than carrying 3/8 inch Manila—and about as strong. Combined with a tarp or sheet of Visqueen, this provides sturdy support between poles or trees. While all nylon has more of a tendency to stretch than hemp, the parachute cord is not as loose as the polypropylene rope used for marine purposes. And it has the advantage of tying almost like natural fiber. In erecting shelter use of the taut-line hitch is critical as this allows you to loosen or tighten the lines. (The aluminum or plastic line adjusters that come with commercial grade tents get lost.

Lashings: I began scouting in January of 1955. I spent that month learning knots, hitches and lashings because that is what the troop leadership was into and I had already learned woods tools from my grandfather, having taken out a three-inch sapling with a ¾ axe at age 10. This is not the way we do things now because there are fewer necessary knots: sheet-bend, bowline, taut-line hitch, clove hitch, timber hitch, square lashing, diagonal lashing, shear lashing and tripod lashing. There are other lashings, knots and hitches but these are the essentials and are learned over a year period. In the Pioneering merit badge program the standard is ¼ or 3/8 inch hemp or sisal rope because that is the way it was done back when. (Note: were the Mountain Men still around they would use the 90 mph tape.) In training we used sisal twine that comes in 100′ bales. But I like the 1/8 inch diameter parachute cord because it lays down nicely and I generally have some.

Securing gear: Because you can tie secure knots and use the taut-line hitch, 550 is preferable to bungee cord which gives and uses hooks that break at the least opportune time. (Is there any gear failure that does not occur at the least opportune time?) My grandmother had me use cotton clothes line for this project which wears quickly and she could cut into the right length with kitchen shears. It is nearly impossible to untie when wet and starts to smell.

Bootlaces: Cut to the right length, these are the laces that say, “I can improvise.” They started as a quick fix on a weeklong outing and ended up on the boots in the closet—when you have them in, it does not pay to buy commercial laces.

Limitations: This is not rescue rope. And, unless you get the military stuff with threads inside you are just getting an outer shell—it might fasten gear but it has little utility in the field. As with all polymers it will melt quickly.

However: I consider parachute cord to be an essential part of any preparedness supply.

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