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How To Tie The Square Knot

The Square Knot, also known as the Double Knot or Reef Knot is a simple, handy knot for temporary ties. It is most often used to joint two similar sized ropes / lines together so they will not slip.

It tightens under strain but can be untied by grasping the ends of the two bights and pulling the knot apart. This knot is also used for tying bandages, as it lies flat. The Square Knot has limitations. It is not suitable for any application where it will take high strain.

It’s Hip To Be Square

Well, square knot at least. This is another common and popular knot that combines two overhand knots into one, slightly more robust knot. We’ll get into why we’re only saying “slightly” later. 

This knot also goes by the names reef knot, Hercules knot, and brotherhood knot. It’s been around long enough to have earned countless names in countless eras of history. Today, this knot finds most of its use in children’s scout groups, camping, and around the house. 

Let’s learn how to tie an ancient and versatile basic knot. 

How To Tie The Square Knot

Left over right, right over left. 

If you’ve heard that mantra before, it’s how most people learn how to tie this knot. This knot is built out of two alternating overhand knots which form the functional body of this particular tie. Here’s how it’s done. 

Start with two lengths of rope. It’s very important that these two ropes be roughly the same diameter to ensure that the knot will be strong. It also helps if they are of roughly the same strength. 

Square Knot Step 1

Our right-hand rope goes over the rope on the left side. 

Square Knot2

The right side rope then dips under to form the first overhand knot. 

Square Knot 3

Now, the ropes will have switched places. We still want to keep working with the same rope. In our case, this is the white-colored rope. 

Square Knot 4

Take that rope over the right-hand rope. 

Square Knot 5

Send it under again to form the second overhand knot. 

Square Knot 6

Tighten up, and you should see the classic square knot formation! 

Tips on Tying The Knot

Let’s get into some tips. 

The biggest tip to give here is to make sure what you’ve made is actually a square knot. The two loose ends should be on the same side and the knot itself should be symmetrical as in our example. If this isn’t the case, you’ve probably accidentally tied a thief’s knot or a granny’s knot. 

There are a lot of square knot lookalikes to watch out for. All of them are less effective than this technique. 

This leads us into variations on this knot. 

For a more in-depth tutorial and additional information on the Square knot, check out our video!

Variations On Tying the Knot

There are plenty of other ways to tie a square knot. The downside is, most of these are less useful and have less holding power than this knot. 

Changing up which side the ropes are on, which ropes go over and under first, and the symmetry of the final design can yield a few different types of variation on this binding knot. 

So, why would you want to use the square knot? 

Advantages of this Knot

There are some key advantages to using the square knot. 

First up. It looks great! This knot has a very pleasing look to it and using alternating color ropes makes it very easy to teach to newcomers to the world of knot tying. It’s also great for adding some style to your bindings. 

It’s also fast to tie and easy to learn. No 30-step guide needed for this knot. Just learn the basic overhand and alternate it twice. That’s all there is to it! 

The downsides of this knot, however, can get pretty serious. 

Disadvantages of the Knot

It’s worth highlighting that this knot has some pretty serious drawbacks. In fact, the International Knot Tyers Guild goes as far as to say that this knot should never be used to bend two ropes together. 

This knot is also often listed as amongst the most deadly knots for how often it is misused. Because it’s a beginner knot, and it can feel very sturdy, countless people have been injured by relying on this knot in the wrong situations. 

It’s not a bad knot, but it has some serious limitations and if done incorrectly, it could become a thief’s knot or a granny’s knot. Both of these are very similar to our square knot, but are also far weaker. 

All in all, this knot is a useful addition to your tying skills, but make sure to not use it in place of a better bending knot. 

History of the Knot

This knot is another timeless classic. 

You might have already guessed by the name “Hercules knot” that this tie goes back to ancient times.

Sailors, outdoors adventurers, and people in all kinds of crafts have employed this knot to handle safe ties. In fact, it’s still commonly used by sailors today. One of the reasons that this knot has stood the test of time is because of how useful it is. Let’s take a look at those uses. 

Uses For The Square Knot

Here’s what you can expect from this classic knot. 

Survival Situations

There are a few first aid uses for this knot. 

The square knot can be used to quickly stop a minor wound from bleeding as a stopgap solution while help is on the way. Depending on your resources at hand and the specifics of the injury, this might be your go-to knot for helping to tie down a tourniquet.  

This knot can also be used to help erect a makeshift shelter, lift bundles of food into the trees to keep scavengers away, and to bundle up emergency resources like kindling. 


Some of the camping uses of this knot overlap with the survival uses. Shelters, keeping food safe, and tying down light loads are all great uses of the square knot. 

Just be sure to save any heavy-duty jobs for this knot’s more robust older siblings. 


Don’t use this knot for rock climbing. 

This knot just doesn’t have the staying power to support the high demand of climbers. There are much more powerful knots out there that do what the square knot does, but better. If you’re interested in learning more about climbing, take the time to learn the right knots. You and the people who rely on you while you’re sending a climb will thank you for it. 

Around The House

Because the square knot is so visually appealing, make use of it around the house! You can use this knot to tie together firewood bundles, as a decorative flourish, or for a quick repair. 

Related Knots

Got a job that needs a knot with more staying power? Try a more robust knots on for size like the Bowline or the Fisherman’s Knot

To Tie a Square Knot:

Start with the two ends opposite each otherSquare Knot 1
Cross the left end over the rightSquare Knot 2
Flip the left end under the right one to make a single knotSquare Knot 3
Next, take the left end again and cross it over the right endSquare Knot 4
Make a simple knot in the opposite direction to step 2 and 3Square Knot 5
Pull the ends to secure the knotSquare Knot 6
You can adjust to make it tight or loose. To undo, just pull at the knot, with one hand on each side of the knotSquare Knot 7