I have been in the arboriculture industry for over 30 years and the industry has certainly evolved and changed over that time. The education on proper pruning techniques has improved and we now have many more tools available to get the work done. When I started working in the field the primary tools that we had were ropes and chain saws. Before mastering equipment or climbing skills, knot tying skills were the best way to gain respect from your crew and the first essential skill to be learned. Over the years, knots have evolved based on their relevance to tools and equipment utilized. For example, some ropes and hitch cords can be terminated with a splice done by hand or stitched, which eliminates the need to tie a knot or hitch terminated to a tool or connecting link.
There are numerous knots for many different applications, which are the most important to learn when starting out as a field production arborist? Let’s discuss a few essential knots and hitches all field crews should learn how to tie to be respected by your crew and successful working in the field. Let’s start with an essential knot a ground technician arborist should be capable of tying to assist someone working aloft (climbing or using an aerial platform). A competent ground arborist is a critical component to the success of the climbing arborist in the tree. As a team, they complement each other to successfully complete their tasks. The ground arborist is not only responsible for managing the climbing arborist’s rope on the ground, but also to deliver equipment to the climbing arborist while in the tree. Types of equipment or items would include a chainsaw, pruning tools, additional rigging or climbing ropes, or water just to name a few. A great hitch to use to deliver these items would be the hitch called an inline clove hitch (image #1). This hitch is very easy to tie and is very secure. With all knots and hitches, it is important to tie, dress (keeping parts aligned), and set the knot or hitch.
Another essential knot would be the sheet bend (image #2). This knot is an excellent option to tie one rope to another for the purpose of pulling a rigging or climbing line into the tree. A sheet bend is not a load-bearing knot, nor is it to be used to create a longer rope. A little trick to this knot is to “Slip it” this is done by passing a bite through the final turn. This makes it easier to untie. In rigging operations, we utilize various knots to secure a rope to a load (tree part). One of the best knots for this purpose is called the running bowline (image #3). This knot is very secure under load and is very easy to untie after loading. One limitation of a bowline (running or stationary) is that if it is loaded-unloaded over and over it tends to not stay dressed and set. It is critical to know the purpose of the knot and hitches that you are using. Finally, a great hitch with several uses is called the cow hitch (image #4). One use for this hitch is when attaching a rigging block or friction device to a tree. It is essentially a girth hitch backed up by a better half hitch. The cow hitch can also be used when using a dead eye rope sling to attach to a load. This will allow the arborist to balance a load as it is lowered to the ground.
As with any arborist skill, to become competent one must practice. Showing a teammate how to tie a knot or hitch one time will “knot” cut it. It takes time and repetitive training and coaching to become competent at tying these knots and hitches. I suggest taking a short piece of rope at home and practice while watching TV or whatever one does after work. Competent knot-tying skills are the key to a successful career as a field production arborist. A climbing arborist only goes as far as the skill of their ground technician arborist. Working competently as a team will lead to safe and professional arboriculture!
Kramer Tree Specialists
Training and Performance Manager