Category Archives: Craft

Field Activity Magic – The Knot Bag

Whenever I have gone on an outing with youth that lasted more than a few hours, we have had periods of waiting. Often, we filled these ‘down times’ with stories, songs, and skits. I also found that these periods were a great chance to share new skills. Always wanting to be prepared for an opportunity, I started creating bags that would allow me to share new skills in an entertaining and constructive way. Some of these are just fun, others build on skills that your youth group might already teach. Most importantly, they give youth the opportunity to see that learning can be fun and share a sense of accomplishment.

I have several bags grouped into different categories, and I usually grab one to take along on a trip that allows me to teach, entertain, and connect with the youth. I rotate the bags from time to time based on my own interests but also how the youth responded the last time I brought a bag along. Two other bags that I take are Fire Starting, which includes materials for a number of different fire starting techniques, and Carving, which has wood blanks, knives, and sharpening equipment to teach that many more useful things than a sharp stick can be made with a pocket knife. Other bags that you could possibly share might be magic, games, sewing, leather craft, basketry, painting, drawing, and pottery. The list is only limited by your own interests and imagination.

Today I wanted to focus and share one of these bags: The Knot Bag.

Warning: Learning fancy knots and making projects can be addictive. Signs that you may have a problem include: 1) no longer looking at the TV at night but listening to programs as if they were radio plays, 2) your friends start calling you a knot head, and you like it, 3) you start to lurk in knotting related web sites looking for new challenges. There is no known cure.


My knot bag liberated from my wife.

My knot bag liberated from my wife.

 This is my knot bag. I liberated the bag from my wife, who received it at a work conference. (It’s okay, she has done the same with some bags that I was given at conferences.)

It works very well for a quick grab of materials for knot projects.

Three pockets allow for a little organization of your materials and tools.

Knot Bag - Top Pouch

Knot Bag – Top Pouch

 I use the smaller top pocket just for the thinnest cotton twine and some whipping cord as well. I run a small piece of twine outside of the bag and then zip it closed. This allows me to pull some twine out, cut it off and use it without needing to open and search through the bag for what I want.

The front pouch holds some tools and supplies.

The front pouch holds some tools and supplies.

 The front pouch is reserved for various supplies and some tools that do not fit into my knot tool kit.

The main compartment of the knot bag contains my various cords, tool kit, and other supplies too large to fit into the smaller pockets.

The main compartment of the knot bag contains my various cords, tool kit, and other supplies too large to fit into the smaller pockets.

 The main compartment holds the knot materials like paracord, satin rattail, and other types of cord. I keep my smaller tools together in a little kit bag inside this pouch as well.

Cords in various sizes and color combinations to allow for creation of unique projects.

Cords in various sizes and color combinations to allow for creation of unique projects.

 I bring along various cords so that there is a good size and color available depending on the project. Most of the time we use paracord for projects (it is very popular right now), but other projects call for different materials. Sunglasses keeper cords, for example, work better with a thinner cord. Cotton twine is old school, so if you want to share how sailors would have made knot projects, this is the cord to use.

I pick up my cords at various sources. I usually look for sales and then get a supply to last for a while. One of the best places I have found for paracord and other rope types is R&W Rope in New Bedford, MA. They do a great job getting the rope to you, and if you sign up for their mailing list you will hear about some good rope specials from time to time. I have also had good luck with cord shipped directly from Amazon, but be careful with vendors that ship directly, I have had both good and bad experiences.

If you are interested in going the traditional route, I can recommend Marty Combs. He has cotton cord for sale that is high quality (meets his standards) and had in the past offered discounts to scout groups. Might also help other youth groups out as well; you will need to contact him for details.

Various tools used for making knots

Various tools used for making knots

 A collection of tools is useful too. Some I have made, some are re-purposed for knot use, and some are designed specifically for tying knots. In the picture from upper left clockwise are:

  • Cylinders for tying Turk’s Head knots
  • Marlin Spikes (or Fids) used to help tighten the knot work
  • A Monkey’s Fist jig to aid in tying that knot
  • A small bag to store the knot kit
  • A clay stylus also helpful in tightening knots
  • Hemostats used to pull cord through some tight spaces
  • A lighter for fusing nylon cord ends to keep them from fraying
  • Wire cutters for cutting the cord. A knife or scissors could also be used.

Some supplies used to help create knot based projects.

Some supplies used to help create knot-based projects.

 I also have a collection of knot supplies that can be utilized for the projects.

  • Nite-Ize S-biners are helpful for lanyards and keychains
  • Inexpensive flashlights can be decorated with knots. This helps people know which light is theirs when they otherwise all look the same
  • Lanyard clasps from trade shows. I cut the from these off and save them for use with knotted lanyard projects
  • Lanyard hooks like the ones that I used for the ten cent youth award zipper pulls
  • Plastic buckles for bracelets and watchbands
  • Split rings for key chains
  • Bottle stoppers
  • Scunci hair bands for a one-size-fits-all bracelet
  • Marbles to fill the center of a Monkey’s Fist knot. I use these to create a Matinee Cowboy Lariat for the jumping rope knot trick

Some of the things that can be made using knots.

Some of the things that can be made using knots.

 I also keep in the bag some of the things that I have tied in the past to share as examples for what may be possible.

  • Eyeglass or Sunglass keeper cord
  • Lighter decoration
  • Flashlight decoration
  • Water bottle bangle for identification
  • Lanyard for a hemostat (for identification and to keep it from falling out)
  • Bell rope pulls
  • Survival Bracelets
  • Zipper pulls
  • Lanyards
  • Matinee Cowboy Lariats

A group of books that I take along to help provide inspiration and instruction. Paracord Outdoor Gear, Creative Ropecraft, Knot Craft, Knotting Matters Magazine.

Some of the books I take along to help provide inspiration and instruction.

 I like to bring along some resources for project ideas and instructions on how to make some of the knots needed. Here are some of my favorites, mostly because they focus on finished projects rather than just the knots themselves.

  • Creative Ropecraft by Stuart Grainger is the exception to the project rule. While it does have a few projects in the back of the book, it is most useful as a reference book for various knots, splices, and braids (known as sennits in the knot world)
  • Des Pawson’s Knot Craft features a lot of sea type projects, but has a number of other useful items to make as well.
  • If you become a member of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, you automatically receive issues of the magazine, Knotting Matters. These can be useful resources for different project ideas. They have given away free membership to youth organizations who are willing to teach knotting skills. See their web site for more details.
  • I just found this copy of Paracord Outdoor Gear Projects by Joel Hooks at my local scout shop and could not resist buying it. If I had to limit myself to one resource to bring along, I think this one would be it. It has some very useful projects, and covers just enough of the knots that you need to make the projects in the book.

An old scout 40 knot card

An old scout 40 knot card

 While not useful when you are in the field, these sites can also offer you some insight into possible rope projects:

  • Fusion Knots. J.D. Lenzen can be credited with creating a new generation of knot tyers with his Youtube videos, website, and project books.
  • Stormdrane’s Blog. David Hopper runs a fun site that has several knot projects along with a bunch of other things that often involve paracord.
  • Frayed Knot Arts. Vince Brennan does custom-made rope work but also features a library of projects and how to make them.

I hope you begin to start making your own ‘Go To’ project bags that you can use to share and teach new things to the youth you lead.

As always, we welcome your feedback on this post.



The Million Dollar Recruiting Activity

Every year, youth organizations have recruiting events to help bolster the membership. For groups that work with the younger crowd, this means dividing time between informing parents about the organization and making sure the children are having fun. One of the best ways to allow for a good discussion with parents and provide fun for the children is to have a youth activity.

The activity needs to be simple enough for the child to be able to accomplish it, but not so simple that they become bored right away. Also, in many cases, the activity needs to span a wide range of ages. In my case we often had to find things that would please children from ages 6 to 11 plus any other siblings that came along for the visit. The best activity that I have ever found are Stick Blasters.

Stick Blasters

Also known as stick grenades or stick bombs, stick blasters are a simple, fun toy that are easy to make. In my youth I can still remember summers where we could play outside until the streetlights came on and flagging down the ice cream truck as it trolled down the street. If you had some forethought as a kid, you would save the stick from the ice cream until you had enough to make your own stick blaster. Then you would go outside and play with them all day.

The stick blaster in these instructions uses five sticks. I have seen designs that use four sticks and six sticks. I think the five-stick design is the easiest to make.

I like this as a recruiting activity because:

  • Children as young as six can learn to make the toy and then spend the next 30 minutes happily playing with it while you talk to the parent.
  • The older children in your group who have made a stick blaster before can actually teach the younger ones how to make them, freeing up adults to supervise or talk with new parents.
  • Sticks are inexpensive and everyone can take a set home. This provides a memento of the fun times they had at their first youth meeting, encouraging them to return.

Stick Blaster

You can buy craft sticks just about anywhere. This package of 60 sticks was purchased at a local dime store. You can buy them for less in larger quantities. The cost to send five sticks home is about 25 cents for each child. I find that the thicker sticks work best even though they are a little harder to assemble. Most of the sticks that I have seen say that they are approved for play by children 3+ years old. This particular package says they are safe for 8+ years. It is a good idea to check the package to make sure you have sticks appropriate for the age group. It is also highly recommended that at least one adult in the group is supervising the youth activity to make sure that it is safe.

StickBlaster1As mentioned, we start with 5 sticks to make the toy. If you have colored sticks like these shown you can give them out in any color combination that you want. If you have natural wood sticks (not colored) you could also provide markers for the children to decorate their sticks as part of the activity.


Constructing the stick blaster starts with a single stick. Pick a stick and lay it down on the table as shown. Once you get good at building these you can build them in your hand.


The next stick is added on top of the fist stick and angled to the left.


The third stick is added on top of the other two. This time the stick is angled to the right. Note that all three sticks meet together at one point. The stick in the middle is at the bottom of the pile. This is important to the successful construction of this toy.


Take a fourth stick and add it so that it is over the two outer sticks but under the middle stick.


The fifth stick is installed in two parts. Part one is to put it under one outer stick and over the middle stick. It is a good idea while you do this, to press on the point at the bottom where the first three sticks meet to keep them from coming apart. If you are doing this in your hand then you would be pinching the first three sticks together where they meet at this point.


The final step is to bend the fifth stick down and then slide it over and behind the other outside stick. Once this is done, the sticks will hold each other in place. You may adjust your sticks so that the ends are just barely meeting, making this a more fragile toy.

The fun part now is when you throw the sticks in the air and they fall to the floor. We usually held our meetings in a school gym, so there was plenty room to let them fly. Once they hit the floor the sticks will disconnect (especially if you adjusted them so they were only meeting at the very edges) and the release of the spring tension causes them to explode into a pile of individual sticks again ready for reassembly and another throw.

At one meeting, I was talking with a new child who came to see what were were all about. I asked if he wanted to lean how to make a stick blaster. He said yes, so I showed him how to put it together. When we were done I could see the look on his face that said ‘Big Deal.’ I said, “Now, watch this,” and threw the toy up into the air about 10 feet high. When it hit the ground and exploded into a bunch of pieces, his reaction was “Wow!” and he rushed over to get his sticks and make his own stick blaster to throw again.

This is a great way to break the ice with children and give them something fun to remember about your group. Try it and let us know what you think of our recruiting activity.




Generic Expensive Awards

The Ten Cent Zipper Pull Youth Award

As a youth leader I like to find ways to encourage children when they do things that align with the values of the youth organization. If a teacher tells me that one of the girls in my group was very helpful in her class, or if a boy participates in a community cleanup drive, I like to acknowledge these things publicly. It helps reinforce the values that you may be trying to instill, and encourages others to emulate the same activity.

For a long time I would just bring the child forward and announce what they had done and why it was a good thing. Then we would all cheer wildly (we never clap politely in any youth meetings I run). I realized after a while that I could do better. One night I was making some keychain fobs from paracord and had some leftover pieces. I turned these scrap pieces into zipper pulls and thought, “You know, I can make these very quickly with hardly any expense. I wonder if they would be good as encouragement youth awards?” At the next meeting I experimented with not only cheering for the child, but also giving them a zipper pull to wear on their coat, backpack, sleeping bag, or anything else. These were a big hit. Everyone wanted the zipper pull youth award. It became a status symbol in the group. Several of the children, who received more than one pull, started wearing then on the same zipper to show off their awards as a collection.

Zipper pulls can be made in a number of ways. I will show you a simple technique that will you to make zipper pulls for less than 10 cents each. They cost even less if you buy your materials in bulk or use leftover scraps as I have done.

Things you will need to make these zipper pulls: scissors, lanyard hooks, lighter (or matches), 6-8" length of cord or string.

Scissors, lanyard hooks, lighter (or matches), 6-8″ length of cord or string.

To get started you will need:

  • Inexpensive lanyard hooks. I get a package of 45 of these at Michael’s.
  • Scissors.
  • 6-8 inches of cord.
  • A lighter or matches to fuse the nylon paracord, or some glue to keep the ends of the cord from fraying.

You may want to start with a longer piece of cord for your first few pulls until you become comfortable with the tying steps.

Start by forming the cord into a U shape.

Start by forming the cord into a U shape.

Start by forming your cord into a U shape. Hold two ends together and find the middle of the cord with your other hand and pull to create the U.

First loop.

Create the first loop by moving the end of the cord to the left, down, and back over the rest of the cord.

We start tying the zipper pull by taking the end of the cord on the left side of the U and moving it left, then down, then back to the right until it lays on top of the rest of the cord, leaving a loop to the left of the U.

Making the second loop by reversing the process with the first loop.

Create the second loop moving the right-side cord to the right, down, and behind the rest of the cord, then up through the first loop.

Next we take the cord on the right side and move it right, then down over the cord from the left, then behind what is left of the U, and finally through the loop we created on the left-hand side. When you have done these two loops your cord should look like the picture, with a small U at the bottom, left and right loops with the cord ends going through them in opposite directions, one from above and one from behind.

Cinch the first knot tightly.

Pull the loop and cord ends to cinch the first knot somewhat tight.

Now hold the U shape in one hand and and pull each cord end a little at a time to cinch up the first knot. The new loop, formed by the U and the knot, determines the length of our zipper pull. If it is too short you can pull on the loop to tighten the knot as well, giving you a little more room to work. A good length is about an inch.

First sinnet knot

Tie the first pass for the sinnet.

You now begin to form the series of knots that will define your zipper pull. We will actually be tying a series of square knots around the two strands of the loop. The result is a nice flat braid that is strong and easy to grip. This braid has various names; Cobra Stitch, Solomon Bar, and Portuguese Sinnet are the ones that I know about.

There is a very important concept in order to get this correctly:

The cord that passes in front of the loop in the last knot tied is the cord that passes in front of the loop again for the next knot.

If you remember this, then this project is easy. The picture shows the first cord for the new knot passing over the top of the loop from the right and going to the left. On your knot it may pass from the left and go to the right depending on how you started. In any case, the startng direction will alternate from side to side as you tie each knot. Just remember to keep the cord that starts in front always passing in front and you will be okay.

I teach this process to youth so that they can make their own survival bracelets. The fact that the knots start from an opposite side each time is difficult for the younger ones to grasp. It is an interesting view into how the brain matures. In my experience, youth who are 9 years and older seem to grasp the concept easier and get less frustrated with the process.

Back to our zipper pull. Look at your last knot that you tied and identify which part crosses over the top of the loop. Find the end of that cord that crossed over the top and pull it down and back over the top of the loop, again leaving a side loop . Pinch this cord in place.

Take the other end of the cord and pull it down and over the cord you are pinching then behind the loop and up through the side loop that you created with the cord you are pinching. It should look like the picture above (it may be reversed depending on which side of knot you started at). Tighten the knot.

More knots for the zipper pull.

Continue adding knots to your zipper pull

Keep adding knots and tightening them as you go. You can also pull down on the loop to compress the knots closer together for a nicer look.

Add knots as long as you have cord or a loop left.

Keep adding knots until you run out of cord or loop.

Continue adding knots until your either run out of enough cord length or you have come down so far on your loop that you cannot add another knot to it.

Clip off the ends of the cord.

Clip off the ends of the cord.

Now remove the excess cord end to a point near your zipper pull. You may use scissors, a knife, or my favorite, some small wire cutters.

Fuse the ends of the cord by melting them with a lighter or a match.

Fuse the ends of the cord by melting them with a lighter or a match. Use some glue for cord that does not melt.

Now melt the ends of the cords close to the zipper pull to keep them from unraveling. If you are using a cord that does not melt, like cotton or hemp, apply a little glue to the ends. Cyanoacrylate (CA) glue, also known as super glue, works well for this step.

Add the lanyard hook to the loop and your zipper pull is done.

Add the lanyard hook to the loop, and your zipper pull is done.

Take one of your lanyard hooks and connect it to the loop of your zipper pull.

Your Zipper Pull is done and ready to be given away.

Your Zipper Pull is done and ready to be given away.

There it is, your zipper pull is done and ready to give away. Once you get the idea down, these zipper pulls are easy to make, cost very little, and really help make a child’s day.

Keep Zipper Pulls on a keychain for each access.

Keep Zipper Pulls on a keychain for easy access.

I keep several zipper pulls on a key ring and toss them into my Cub Master bag. So when I want to hand one out I can just grab the collection, disconnect one pull, and make a spontaneous award.

I do not call these the Zipper Pull award. I give them a name aligned with the organization. It might be the “Bright Y Award,” or the “Cub Master Award,” or the “Way to Go Award.” The name helps define that these little awards are meant to highlight someone who has reflected the values of the organization.

It is funny, but the simple things really do go a long way to building trust and encouraging the youth.